Tears in Heaven

There was yet another mass shooting in a school in Florida the other day. Or as they say in America, “Sounds like a typical Wednesday.”

I wrote about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and I’m pretty sure I said it wouldn’t be the last shooting, and therefore, not the last time I’d have to address this issue. Unfortunately. I’m not a prophet, but it didn’t take any special ability to be able to predict that.

There’s been the usual show of outrage and support on social media. There’s a renewed call for the banning of all assault weapons in the US, something I believe should have happened at least ten years ago.

One of my friends posted pictures of US Senators offering “prayers and support” for the victims and their families of the shooting in Florida. And she also posted how much money those Senators accepted from the NRA.

It was hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another friend posted a picture of a check she wrote for the re-election campaign for one of the Senators. The dollar amount was “thoughts and prayers.”

I loved that.

* * * *

Words do not suffice to express how tired I am of hearing about these events. Or how tired I am of hearing the arguments of the pro-gun lobbyists. Yes, they have the right to own firearms. Yes, they have the right to express their opinion.

But the victims and their families have rights, too. The latest mass shooting silenced seventeen voices forever. So let’s take what I hope will be my last examination of this issue.

I do not blame our current President for what happened in Florida. Mass shootings have been around longer than Trump. And if something isn’t done to change the current status, they’ll be around long after he’s gone.

If you want to know where I stand on this position, read my previous post on this subject, Viva Las Vegas. I tried to be somewhat balanced then. Today, I am over that.

This shit needs to end. Now.

* * * *

Teachers should be armed to protect our children

Yes. That’s an actual solution.

Right now, school funding is so poor that schools can’t provide pencils and notebooks to their students. A box of one hundred #2 pencils costs about ten bucks. A six pack of two hundred page spiral notebooks costs about twelve bucks.

One Glock .9 mm handgun costs about six hundred dollars. Let’s say for the purpose of this argument there are five million teachers in America. It would cost three billion dollars just to arm all of the teachers. That doesn’t include safety training, marksmanship, or any other special training they would need. Or ammunition.

Who’s going to pick up the tab for that?

I pick the NRA. If nothing else, it would decrease the amount of money they have to buy our politicians.

One of my friends suggested that school sports budgets be used to pay for arming the teachers. Why not? Everyone knows that no one has ever learned anything by playing any sport.

Sports serve no purpose. They have never created any opportunities for anyone. That’s why no sports stars ever came from a background of abject poverty. Everyone knows athletes are nothing but a bunch of pampered narcissistic morons.

So yes, let’s rape our scholastic sports programs. And while we’re at it, we might as well get rid of band and music, speech and debate, and every other extracurricular activity currently in our schools. Let’s get rid of all that crap and put that money where it will do the most good by giving our teachers handguns.

When I was a psych nurse, I witnessed many acts of workplace violence. I can’t remember how many times someone said we should be issued guns so we could safely do our jobs.

This was my response:

“Because if they gave nurses guns, we would use them.”

And I have no doubt some teachers would do the same thing. I’m pretty sure that several of my teachers wished they could’ve shot me.

There’s another popular solution on social media. America has a shitload of unemployed combat veterans. Let’s hire them as security guards for our schools!

Sure. Why not? Because nothing says freedom like having an armed guard watch you. And this is seemingly the big issue for the pro-gun argument. Infringements on their civil rights.

News flash! Your civil rights have been infringed since way before 9-11. The government was finally transparent about what they were doing after the World Trade Center was blown up.

So go ahead. Create a police state. Just finish the job and get it over with. Do whatever it is you need to do so you can still play with your precious fucking guns.

* * * *

Mass shootings aren’t the problem. They’re a symptom of a bigger problem.

The obvious answer as to what the bigger problem is is the moral and social decay of American society. My question is this: Has America really fallen that far off the map?

All of the American people I know, both here and back in the States, are decent people who would go out of their way to help someone in need. I have yet to see anyone actually applaud the fact that people are being killed to death by the dozens on an alarmingly frequent basis. This is hardly the indication of a country that has lost its moral compass.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true. You can’t perform a heart transplant on a societal level. You cannot tranfuse a new ethos into a culture. If this argument is true, there’s nothing that be done to make America great again. And nothing should be done. In fact, America should be euthanized, and the sooner the better.

This is a conversation I had today with one of my virtual friends who thinks society is the problem:

VF: I see more value in addressing the actual issues surrounding problems in society as opposed to unnecessarily limiting our options.

Me: Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. How would you address the actual issues?

VF: Individually, with reason and logic. A good understanding of the Constitution….

I’ve been trying like hell not to say this, but the people who promote this argument sound like Donald Trump to me. They identity a vague and nebulous problem. They tap dance around it, and when you ask them how to fix it they have no fucking idea.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this argument is nothing more than a diversion, nothing more than an attempt to distract us from the real issue. And that issue is all about people being killed by automatic assault weapons.

If someone tries to pull this crap on you, kick them in the balls as hard as you can.

* * * *

If someone gets a DUI, do we blame the car or the driver?

Yet another misdirection play aimed to befuddle and confuse.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a concentrated effort to get people to stop drinking and driving. And there’s a simple reason for that. Drunk driving used to be something like unto a goddamn epidemic.

I got a DUI in 1980, I think. My BAL was .28, almost three times the legal limit of .10. I didn’t go to jail. My fine was $400. Four months later, I got my driver’s license back.

You could check this out. My generation, and my parents generation–we drove drunk all the time! And then around 1980 or so, MADD was founded was founded by by a woman in California named Candy Lightner. And why was she against drunk driving? Her daughter had been killed. By a drunk driver.

Thanks to Candy Lightner and the organization she founded, the legal blood alcohol limit for a DUI is now .08. If I were to get a DUI today under the same circumstances, I would probably be in jail for one year. My fine would be at least $3000, and my license would be suspended for at least one year.

Drink responsibly

Do you really think the companies that make alcoholic beverages actually care how you drink? Sure they do. That’s why they encourage you to buy so much beer. And vodka. And rum.

Dilly-dilly on that for a moment.

Corporations have only one overriding concern. Making money, and a lots of it. But they’ve come up with some creative advertising to foster the illusion that they actually care about people and social causes. So please drink responsibly so you can continue to buy more Bud Light®. We don’t want you to start having to go to any Twelve Step meetings.

And here’s the biggest flaw in the DUI argument. No one who gets a DUI is proud of it. Everyone I know who was involved in an automobile accident after drinking regrets it. Everyone I know who was responsible for killing someone when they were drunk– Man, if there was just one thing I could do over in my life…

It’s something you never get over.

As for the guys who open fire on a group of people for no rational reason, not one of them has ever apologized for their actions.

Drunk drivers don’t get behind the wheel because they want to kill as many people as they possibly can. On the contrary, they’re praying they make it home safely, without hurting anyone or anything.

Guys armed with automatic assault weapons on whatever day of the week it happens to be, in whichever state they happen to be in, have no other purpose in mind.

This week it was a Wednesday. In Florida.

We can’t know when or where it will be next week, or the week after that, but we’re pretty sure it’ll happen again. And it will continue to happen. Until something is done to change it.

* * * *

I have one solution that I haven’t heard anyone else offer up yet. And it’s so simple you’re going to slap yourself for not thinking of it.

We should just ban schools.

Listen, the kids in school now are all idiots anyhow. They don’t actually need to know anything. They can Google it, or look it all up on the Wikipedia and the YouTube if they need to figure something out. They don’t need to go to school for that!

No schools, no more school shootings.

I can’t believe the NRA hasn’t suggested this to Congress yet.

Go West, Young Man

The rainy season has officially begun here in the Lakeside area. It’s rained pretty much every day or night for probably the last couple of weeks.

My lovely supermodel wife and I lived in Surprise, AZ for nine years before we retired in Mexico, so rain is still somewhat of a novelty to us. Everything has turned green and verdant, and the rain and clouds have moderated the heat, but the driving range at the golf course has been mostly closed of late, and that kind of sucks.

I’ve had a lots of time to contemplate writing, and I have a few hundred ideas bouncing around inside of my head, like unto super balls thrown at a concrete wall.

Yeah, I better get busy.

* * * *

My first official work for a living and get paid for it job was at the Go West Drive In outside of Missoula, MT. My two best friends in high school, Dave Nelson and Andy Hyde, worked there. When a position opened up, they suggested I apply for a job.

I had an interview toward the end of my sophomore year with one of the two gay guys that owned the Go West, Ed Sharp. The other gay owner was Robert Sias. Eddie and Bob. They were semi-legendary in Missoula’s history, mostly for their eccentricities. Especially Eddie. You can look him up if you like. At one time I think he and Bob owned every theater in Missoula. The Wilma. The Roxy. And Bob and Eddie’s Go West Drive In.

I worked in the concession stand with my high school buddies, selling soft drinks, popcorn and candy, hot dogs, hamburgers and pizzas. Initially, I was a lackluster employee at the Go West. So much so that Dave and Andy had a little talk with me.

“We think we might have made a mistake with you.” Andy said.

“Yeah. We’re not sure you’re Go West material, Rowen.” Dave added.

“You really need to step up your game, man” Andy said.

I got the message. Bring your A game, or go home. I brought my A game from then on. It was a message I never forgot. Do your job, and do it to the best of your ability, even if you’re mopping the goddamn floor.

* * * *

I have fond memories of the Go West. Working at a drive in when you’re in high school was just about the coolest thing, ever. I got to meet a lots of people–we had our regulars–and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working for a living.

My first date was at the Go West. I took three of my four prom dates there, two on the same night. I probably fell in love for the first time at the Go West. I can’t remember how many times I went there with my high school sweetheart.

It was a very popular place for young people to go in the Seventies–there wasn’t a whole lots of places to go in Missoula back then–and Bob and Eddie made a ton of money showing R and X rated B-list movies, and selling overpriced concessions to our patrons.

The concession stand at the Go West was huge. The walls looked like unto a log cabin, painted with a dark brown stain. Tanned animal skins and trophy heads adorned the walls. There might have even been a picture of Horace Greeley saying, “Go west, young man!” If there was ever such a thing as a classy drive in, the Go West was it.

A great deal of alcohol was consumed at the Go West. That was probably its’ greatest attraction for most of our patrons. Underage drinking was generally accepted at that time in Montana, and the drive in was almost every underage drinker’s favorite place to drink. And as the guys that worked there, we got a lots of invitations to “…come out to the car and have a beer!” We didn’t get the opportunity to do that very often, but when we did…

Getting shitfaced drunk at the drive in was pretty much par for the course. I helped more than one person stumble back to their car. There was one night a man got so drunk he couldn’t find his car. I think we waited until all the other cars left and took him to the only car that remained. I hope he wasn’t driving…

There was the night that my gay boss Bob came up to me and said, “Um, Maarrk, could you go to the Men’s Room and find out what happened. It smells like someone, umm, died in there…”

So, I did. And I found one of my classmates–his name also happened to be Bob–sitting on the toilet.

“Hey! Mark! I shit my fuckin’ pants, man!” Shitfaced Bob said when he saw me. And he laughed. Man, did he ever! From his waist to his ankles he was covered with shit. More shit filled, and I mean filled the legs of his jeans. I wouldn’t see that much shit covering one person again until I became a psych nurse.

And that wasn’t the only thing. In his drunken process of trying to clean up, Shitfaced Bob had smeared and flung crap all over the floor and walls of toilet stall. The stench of one thousand unwashed asses hung in the air. Guys stopped coming into the Men’s Room and drained their bladders of recycled beer wherever they pleased.

“Oh, for the love of God!” Gay Bob said when I told him what had happened in the Men’s Room. “Well, don’t just stand there! Umm, do something! After all, he is your, umm, friend!”

I spent the greater part of an hour getting Shitfaced Bob cleaned up. I probably ended up wearing half of his shit because I had never had to clean up someone in his condition before. Eddie had a spare pair of pants in the office, just in cases, I suppose, and I helped Shitfaced Bob climb into them, then helped him back to the car where his buddies were waiting with all the windows down.

They told me later the windows stayed down the entire trip to Bob’s house.

Dave, Andy and myself spent another hour cleaning up the Men’s Room. I think I took a two hour shower when I got home, and I probably burned my clothes.

* * * *

Speaking of windows, there was the night I saw a car I recognized parked close to the concession stand. I was taking out the garbage, and there was Tom’s car! I went to school with Tom. We were buds. He drove a white 1963 Dodge Dart station wagon, and as far as I knew, it was the only one of its kind still on the road.

I would buy that car from Tom at the end of my junior year for three hundred bucks. It was my favorite car, until I bought my red MR2.

I went to Tom’s car and tapped on the steamed up driver’s side window. The window slowly rolled down.

“Hey, Tom! I didn’t know you were here! Why didn’t you come in and say hi?” And a guy I had never seen before looked up at me and smiled. I vaguely saw movements inside the car so I looked deeper inside of the dark car. What I saw were the rhythmic up and down movements of a girl’s head right above the guy’s naked crotch. His pants were somewhere in the neighborhood of his knees. So I looked up at the guy’s face again.

“You’re not Tom!” I said to him.

“Nope.” he replied, and rolled his window up.

I was stunned, and impressed. That was the first time I saw a guy getting a blowjob. But what impressed me was his girlfriend. She didn’t miss a beat, not even one. All I knew as I walked back into the concession stand was I wanted a girlfriend, and I wanted her to be just like that girl.

There was one other sentinel night that left me feeling stunned and impressed, and that was the night I saw two really cute girls making out! In their car! I mean, deep kissing without coming up for air! And feeling each up and everything!! I had heard of lesbians, but I didn’t think they were real.

I was pretty sure I wanted to be a lesbian after that night.

* * * *

I don’t think anyone ever came to the Go West to watch the movies. If you didn’t come to the drive in to get drunk, you came to the drive in to get laid.

We cleaned the lot before each movie because most people at the drive in threw their garbage on the ground, rather than carry it to the nearest garbage can.

Food wrappers, candy boxes, and a whole lots of beer cans and bottles. We picked up everything we found. But there this one…thing…none of us wanted to touch.

That thing was an inflated condom, tied off like unto a balloon, filled with air and semen. And here’s the really weird thing. There was almost always an used condom balloon that needed to be picked up every time we cleaned the lot.

“Clearly, this is the work of one of our regulars,” Andy decided, and there was no argument.

“But, who could it be?” Dave asked.

That, was the question, and we spent hours discussing whom the culprits could be. We eventually decided it had to be a couple that came to the drive in almost every night.

They were an incredibly attractive couple. I’ll call them Tim and Tammy because I can’t remember their names anymore, and I don’t think I know any current couples named that.

Tim was a trim, handsome, muscular guy, probably in his early twenties. Tammy was probably around the same age as Tim, maybe a year or two younger. She was pretty much the stuff that wet dreams are made of–so stunningly beautiful it was almost like unto a superpower.

The only problem we had with our hypothesis was the car Tim drove. It was a red Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t the kind of car you think about when you think of having sex in the back seat. And if they weren’t in the backseat, they must’ve been gymnasts, like, Olympic Gold medal winning gymnasts. And, they nailed the dismount.

And then there was the matter of who blew up the condom and tied it into a balloon…  We were pretty sure that had to be Tammy.

* * * *

Our gay bosses, Eddie and Bob, weren’t just semi-legendary in Missoula. They were also semi-legendary in Las Vegas. Well, according to them they were, and they knew all kinds of famous people.

“We had dinner with Bob Newhart and his wife the last time we were in Vegas.” Eddie told us one evening as we were driving out to the drive in. Bob and Eddie drove us out to the drive in every night it was open. The Go West was almost twenty miles outside of Missoula, and they didn’t want us wasting our money on gas.

“I know him! He’s a comedian, and he’s really funny!” I said.

“He’s even funnier in person. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard!” Eddie went on.

“God, is his wife ever an ugly woman! Umm, you couldn’t pay me enough money to sleep with her!” Bob said, which made all of us bite our tongues. Like he would sleep with any woman.

“Yeah, but she’s a sweet woman.” Eddie continued.

“Hmph!” Bob added.

I wasn’t sure if I could believe any of their stories. I mean, they were talking about people from Hollywood, like movie stars hung out with regular people…

“Yeah, it’s probably true. Everyone in Hollywood is gay!” Dave said.

“Not John Wayne!” I countered.

“Yeah, he’s probably not gay. That’s why Bob and Eddie haven’t had dinner with him.” Andy agreed. “And, our gay bosses are richer than Solomon…”

There came a night when we were cleaning up the concession stand, getting ready to go home. I was near the back entrance when someone knocked on the door. This wasn’t something that happened very often, so I cautiously opened the door.

“Hi.” a guy that looked a lots like Carroll O’Connor said. “Are Bob and Eddie here? Could you please tell them Carroll is here?”

Little Known Fact: Carroll O’Connor attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Another Little Known Fact: he evidently returned to town from time to time. And he was friends with Bob and Eddie.

“Um, just a minute…” I replied, and made Archie Bunker stand outside in the dark while I tried to figure out what to do next.

“Well, Jee-sus Christ, Maarrk! Umm, let him in!” Gay Bob almost yelled when I told him and Eddie who was at the back door.

That’s how I met Carroll O’Connor. He was a very nice guy, and greeted all of us, shaking our hands. He mentioned he was hungry. Dave, Andy and I cooked him one of our crappy pizzas, but we were so starstruck we burned it to a crisp, and had to start all over.

National Lampoon was a magazine back in those days, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the funniest magazine, ever. For all time. As fate would have it, their latest issue when this happened was a spoof of All in the Family. I had bought a copy at the magazine shop near the Wilma Theater, and read it while I waited for my gay bosses to show up, and I brought it to work that night.

Carroll O’Connor saw the my magazine and asked if he could look at it.

“Sure,” I said, and handed it to him. He laughed so hard he had tears running down his cheeks.

“Can I have this?” Archie Bunker asked me, wiping tears out of the corners of his eyes.

“Yeah, absolutely! It’s yours!” I replied.

Come to think of it, that was another night at the Go West that left me feeling stunned, and impressed.

* * * *

It wasn’t all shits and giggles and celebrities and booze and sex and mysteries of the inflated condom at the Go West. There was the night the Vietnam vet brought in a porcelain bust of a skull with a porcelain rat crawling on the skull. He had a beer in one hand, and he slid the skull down the counter, so the skull could get a good look at everything available. He talked to the skull as he walked down the concession line toward the cash register. He bought a few items for himself, and even more items for the skull.

“I have to ask,” I said to the guy. “What’s up with the skull?”

“This? He’s my best friend. He didn’t make it home from Nam, so now I’m going to buy him all the stuff he never had.”

“Wow. I don’t know if that’s cool, or creepy.” I replied, adding up his purchases on the register.

“Neither do I, kid. But it’s the only thing I can do right now.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about him, and it took me a long time to forget him. In a lots of ways, he was my first Nam vet, even though I met him at least fifteen years before I became a psych nurse. It was his memory that made me want to write this story.

There was that night, the Night of the Skull. And then there was the Night Randy Was Murdered. Randy was one of Dave and Andy’s friends. I think they went to grade school with him. I talked to him casually a couple of times at the drive in, but I could never call him my friend.

On that night, the first movie had ended. It was Intermission, the concession stand was packed. People were stretching their legs and stocking up for the second show.

Randy and three or four of his friends were gathered together inside of the concession stand, shooting the breeze, flirting with the girls that walked by. A long haired guy that nobody had ever seen before walked in, wearing a pair of flowered pink colored bell bottom pants.

Randy and his friends went silent, watching the guy, then burst into laughter.

The guy with the outrageous pants didn’t like being the object of their laughter, and walked over to them. There was a brief, heated exchange, and one of Randy’s friends said, very loudly, “Those are the pussiest looking pants I’ve ever seen!”

There was another, even more heated exchange of words, and then everything went into slow motion. Randy made a fist, took one step, and punched the guy wearing the flowered pants in the jaw, sending him flying to the floor.

Randy and his friends turned their backs on the guy, and started laughing again. The guy in the flowered pants jumped up, pulled something out of his pocket, and ran toward the group of men that had insulted him. He appeared to punch Randy in his left pectoral area from behind, then ran out of the concession stand into the darkness.

I’m not sure how long it took for Randy to collapse to the floor. He didn’t do it right away. I don’t think he looked like he’d  even been injured. Then he kind of stumbled, and then he fell like his knees had been cut out from beneath him. A dark red spot appeared on his shirt. That’s when everyone realized Randy had been stabbed. In a matter of moments, he was dead.

Cardiac tamponade.

And then the world moved swiftly, once more. And it moved really fast. Randy’s friends were shouting, yelling. Then crying. There were screams, there had to be screams. People running. People gawking. I was one of those. I couldn’t move. I had no idea what to do, and my brain was frozen. I think Dave had to shove me to get me moving, and even then I didn’t know what to do.

I know Gay Bob called for an ambulance. And the police. Even if the Go West hadn’t been halfway to Idaho, the EMT’s wouldn’t have been able to do much to save Randy if they had been standing next to him when it happened. The police ordered us to lock the gate and keep everyone there until they arrived to take control of the situation.

We chased everyone out of the concession stand. I think we let Randy’s friends stay.

An army of cops descended upon the Go West. They took witness statements, got a description of the assailant, then started a car by car search for Randy’s killer, looking for the long haired guy in the pink pussy pants.

We knew a few of the sheriff’s deputies. They dropped in whenever they were in the area because Bob and Eddie comped them food and let them fill their thermoses with coffee for free. In return, the cops would make a few random trips around the lot to make sure nothing too illegal was going on.

One of the cops we called Dudley Do-Right because he looked like Dudley Do-Right. He was actually a pretty decent guy. There was another cop we called Studley Do-Right. He liked to tell tall tales about his life in law enforcement, and he always had his perps right where he wanted them.

And then we waited. And, in advance, please excuse my wording in the next sentence. The only other time the concession stand was as…dead…after the first movie was the night we showed Last House on the Left and Night of the Living Dead. After the Intermission that night, not a single person entered the concession stand.

An ambulance crew eventually took Randy’s body away. I think the police escorted Randy’s friends back to their car and made sure they stayed there. They didn’t want any vigilante justice being handed out. The police eventually let us start cleaning up. I thought there would be more blood. I mean, Randy had been stabbed in the heart!

We were all somewhere beyond stunned. I can’t remember much of anything we said to each other, except we all hoped Dudley would find Randy’s killer, not Studley.

But it was Studley Do-Right that brought the long haired guy in the flowered pink bell bottom pants to the back entrance of the building so he could be identified.

“I got my man. I always do.” Studley Do-Right said.

I think we were all surprised the guy was still there. I mean, why hang around the drive in after you killed somebody? Unless you’re getting the greatest blowjob ever given…

But that wasn’t the case. He knew he had stabbed one of the guys that had been making fun of him, but he didn’t know he’d stabbed Randy in the heart, killing him almost immediately. He simply returned to his car, and his boyfriend, once he realized no one was chasing him, and watched the movie. He was probably the only guy in the history of the Go West that actually watched a movie.

In retrospect, that was probably the first time I thought the world wasn’t as safe as they made it look on TV. Bad shit could happen to you anywhere, even in bucolic, boring-ass Missoula, MT.

* * * *

That was a long time ago, and the Missoula of my childhood no longer exists. The last time I was there, I barely recognized the place. Bob and Eddie both got dead about three decades ago, and much like its semi-legendary owners, the Go West no longer exists.

Missoula is no longer the quiet refuge of redneck cowboys. Back in the Eighties, a bunch of aging hippies from California started moving in and transformed Missoula into an eclectic, diverse, much more urbane, and possibly, quite a spifferooney place to live. I think of it now as the Austin, TX of Montana.

And a river runs through it.

Actually, three rivers run through Missoula. The Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork. It’s a beautiful place, and I still dream about it from time to time.

I may go back again, someday, before I get dead. My fiftieth high school reunion is coming up in several years. I might actually attend that one. We’ll see. Shitfaced Bob won’t be there. He got dead a few years ago. Tom won’t be there either, he got dead, too.

Sad to think that my generation has already started gotting dead at such a young age. You’ll have that, I guess.

Some trips down Memory Lane are more enjoyable than others. This one was mostly good, and I take solace in that. Not all of them have been.

You’ll have that, too.

The Horne

I’ve been dreading this post for longer than I can say.

I’ve written about some of my military madness in previous posts, and I was hesitant to even mention The Horne, knowing if that door were opened, I’d end up walking through it eventually. Once it became clear to me I’d be writing about some of my Army buddies, I knew I’d be writing about this chapter in my life, too.

Like Sarah McLachlan said, for this is gonna hurt like hell.

My Muse for this tale is Melpomene.

* * * *

Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

* * * *

Of all the people who would impact my life once I arrived at Fort Sill and settled into life at the Dental barracks, the most profound, for good or ill, was Mike Horne. Or simply, The Horne.

Mike was from Washington State, just outside of Seattle. He was a few years older than me, taller by a couple of inches, at least twenty pounds heavier. He was loud, brash, confident and in your face. He was essentially everything I wasn’t, and therefore, he was everything I decided I needed to be.

In previous posts, I’ve alluded to the fact that there were two camps in the barracks, and on the line of demarcation between them, stood The Horne. You either loved him or hated him. And being who he was, even the people who loved him hated him sometimes.

The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy all hated The Horne. All of them had almost come to blows with him, except Tommy, who probably could’ve killed all of us with one punch.

Fighting was strictly prohibited by the Army, and there were any number of punishments the Army could level upon anyone caught engaging in such behavior.

Additionally, the two Dons and Tommy were planning on becoming dentists after getting out of the Army. They even went to college classes while they were in the Army to further their goals. The last thing they needed was anything negatively impacting their military record. They mostly walked away from The Horne in disgust.

Randy and I were The Horne’s biggest fans. Roger tolerated him, but only because Roger was some kind of Zen Master or something.

“The Horne just wants to be a big fish, but he’s in a small pond.”

* * * *

To be honest, I can’t think of another way to describe my early relationship with Mike, other than I worshipped him. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone like him before. I was in awe of The Horne.

We hung out together. I started emulating him. We were going to rule the world together. Well, he was going to rule. I was going to be his trusty sidekick. And then, slowly, we started becoming rivals. I’m sure I didn’t notice that at first, but The Horne did, mostly because in his world, he had to better at everything than everybody.

* * * *

We were sitting in Roger’s room, thinking of lines of wisdom to add to Roger’s wall. I wanted to express my contempt for the military, so I grabbed a Sharpie® and wrote,

FTA

I wrote it low on the wall, in an obscure place where hardly anyone could see it.

“Ooh!” Mike said. “That was a chicken shit move.”

Feeling emboldened, Randy wrote,

FUCK THE ARMY

Eye level. In the middle of the wall. Then Mike approached the wall, and wrote,

Fuck the world and burn the babies

The next day, Mike and I went into town to a Target®. As we were walking in, a middle aged woman in a wheelchair came rolling out.

I stopped, pointed at her, and started laughing.

“Jesus Christ,” Mike whispered loud enough for me to hear. “I’ve created a fucking monster.”

* * * *

The first minor breach in our relationship was when I was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class. Mike had reached that rank before anyone else in the barracks, and you better believe he let everyone know it. I beat him by a week. Next, I could throw a Frisbee better than him. And I could draw. And paint.

Yeah, pretty big deals, huh? But to Mike, the struggle between us was real, and everything was a big deal. Everything became a contest, and I eventually started actively challenging his supreme authority. Especially when it came to drugs.

Did I mention there were a lots of drugs available back then? Well, there were. If Mike did three hits of speed, I did five. If Mike didn’t sleep for two days, I didn’t sleep for three. Or four.

They were a lots of stupid little things, but a lots of  stupid little things eventually add up to a big stupid thing…

* * * *

It was The Horne’s idea to become storm chasers. After all, Oklahoma is smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. We jumped into his car one stormy night with a some weed and a lots of beer and drove to the top of Mt Scott to watch the thunderstorms roll in.

That was pretty cool, but we didn’t see any tornadoes, and I wanted to see a tornado.

The next time we went out, we went in my car, and I headed for the countryside, looking for backroads in the rainy darkness. I got off of the highway and started zigzagging my way across the country down roads none of us had ever traveled before. And I got lost. Like, halfway to Dallas lost before anyone figured out where the hell we were.

The Horne gave me a new nickname, Wrongway.

I wasn’t going to let a little thing like getting lost stop me. I drove out to the country during the day so I could get the lay of the land until I was reasonably sure I knew where I was going, and what I was doing.

* * * *

A big storm front was rolling into Lawton from the west, so Randy, Roger, Mike and I snorted a lots of PCP and headed out in that direction, then I drove out among the backroads, looking for a tornado.

This trip went a whole lots better than the first, and we were feeling pretty damn excited. The radio was playing Riders on the Storm. A light rain was falling, but the sky was blacker than sin, and the atmosphere was ready to riot.

There wasn’t another car in sight. Actually, there wasn’t much of anything in sight, except a grove of trees that I could barely see in the twilight with my headlights, about a quarter mile down the road on the right.

Cool song, cold beer, weed and good friends with a good buzz.

“This is pretty cool, man.” Roger said.

And then the sky exploded.

A flash of intensely bright lightning ripped across the sky right above us. A blast of thunder so intense–it felt as if it erupted inside of my car–roared and rumbled and shook the very earth. Dozens of flashes of lightning appeared, as if the storm were trying to smite us. And then the rain came.

I had never seen anything like unto it before. It was like driving into Niagara Falls. Rain fell in buckets floating in barrels riding in a fucking river. It rained so hard my wipers couldn’t keep the windshield clear. And then the wind hit.

“Jaysus Christ!” Mike shouted.

“Hey, Mark, man. We should probably get out of here, you know what I mean.” Roger said.

As near as I could tell, there was only one place to go, except I couldn’t see where the grove of trees had disappeared to, and then I saw them.

Barbwire fences ran along both sides of the road, but there was a road that led into the grove, like it was sort of a rural wayside rest area or something. I saw the road, and turned into the grove.

“What the hell are you doing? Trying to get us killed?” Mike shouted. “This is the worst place you can go in a storm!”

“Not tonight.” I replied, and pulled as close to the trees on my right as I could, then put the car in Park and turned off the engine and the headlights.

Hailstones the size of cherries and golf balls fell like rain, occasionally breaking through the trees to bounce loudly, but harmlessly, off my car.

The storm raged, and I mean raged for fifteen minutes, maybe a little longer. Everything in the world had been reduced to lightning, thunder, wind, rain and hail–and then it was gone.

“Goddamn! That was fuckin’ bitchin’, man!” Randy said, laughing. We all laughed in relief.

“I thought we were going to die, honest to God!” Mike said. “What in the hell were you thinking, parking under twenty fucking trees? What if one of them had fallen on us?”

“I had to do it” I said. “That storm was trying to kill us, the only way I could save us was hiding from it so it couldn’t see us anymore.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Roger said. “That did seem kind of… personal…didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it kinda did.” Mike said, actually agreeing with someone for once, but it was Roger. “And its anger seemed to disperse a bit once we got under the trees…”

“And you fuckers think I’m cosmic.” Randy said.

* * * *

Tornado season was drawing to a close. We had mostly driven to the top of Mt Scott to watch the panorama unfold after the Storm of Murderous Intent.

The Horne said we had gotten lucky, and he didn’t feel like tempting fate again with someone who was was as hell-bent on killing themselves as I clearly was. I didn’t argue that point. I couldn’t.

The weather report said there was a storm front moving in, a big one. I decided it was time to tempt fate once more. I had done a lots of scouting on backroads with Randy or Roger.

I would do a lots of ‘scouting’ with Katie once I started casually dating her. She loved driving down the backroads. And that grove of trees we had hidden in to hide from the storm became our favorite best place to park.

We headed south, into the wilderness and the night. It was raining hard, so that wasn’t going to catch us by surprise this time. The gravel road we were on was mostly straight. Farm fields flanked either side of the road. Thunder and lightning were flaring and grumbling all around us.

We decided not to do any PCP this time, sticking to weed and beer, which we were smoking and drinking as we drove through the countryside.

“Pretty cool storm, man.” Roger said.

“They’re easier to see from Mt Scott.” Mike said. “And safer.”

“Hey, it’s just a little storm, man.” Roger said.

“At least this one’s not trying to kill us!” Randy said.

It was at that precise moment that the field to our right kind of exploded. Wind swirled, the cornstalks started bobbing and bowing and bending and weaving like they were having a group seizure or something.

“What the fuck is that?!?” Randy screamed.

“Um, I think that’s a fuckin’ tornado, man.” Roger said, peering out into the darkness.

“Sonuvafuckingbitch! Why the hell did I do this again! Move it, Rowen! And whatever you do, don’t turn right!!”

I sped up to get away from whatever it was that was tearing up the cornfield. At the time, I was mostly pissed that I couldn’t see what it was. After all, that was the reason why we were doing this in the first place.

“Faster! Faster!” Mike and Randy kept shouting, and I did my best to comply without getting us all killed. I think I was going about sixty-five. I was afraid to go much faster. What if there was

A fucking T in the road!!!

Yeah. That road came to an abrupt halt. The road it connected to went to the right, but whatever I did I wasn’t going to turn right. It also turned to the left, but I doubted I’d make the corner, given my speed and the amount of time I had to react.

I decided there was only one way to go.

“Hold on!” I shouted.

We flew through the intersection, just missing a telephone pole by six inches to the right. We smashed through a wooden fence, just missing the posts in the ground, coming to a swift stop in a field of weeds and wildflowers.

And the bogeyman wind that had been tearing up the field to our right.. vanished.

“Hey, are you all right, man?” Roger said. “Is everyone okay?”

“No. I spilled my beer.” I said.

* * * *

My car sustained no discernible damage. We were even able to drive it back onto the road. But that was the last time we ever went searching for tornadoes in the night.

I had reached an uneasy truce with Life. I was depressed beyond a doubt. I’m going to describe myself as passively suicidal. I would never try to slash my wrist again, but the risk taking behavior I was exhibiting could hardly be called playing it safe.

And then just to prove I wasn’t afraid to gamble, The Horne and I decided to move out of the barracks together.

* * * *

It was around this moment in time that my van would break down and I would eventually end up being court-martialed for Willful Dereliction of Duty.

I can’t believe that I was the first person ever to be court-martialed by my company, but no one there at the time could remember the last time someone had been court-martialed.

Even if I was the first in recent memory, I wouldn’t be the last, and Second Lieutenant Steffler would have to lose to more courts-martial before he would earn his silver bar and become a First Lieutenant.

Raoul had talked to me about being his roommate after God knows how many times he had moved out of the house he shared with his fucking Goddess wife. I suggested Mike join us. More roommates, fewer expenses…

Raoul wasn’t too wild about the idea, but I found a three bedroom house for rent that wasn’t a dump for $300/month. We packed our stuff and moved in. I’m going say that lasted a month, but it might have been less than that.

Raoul fucking hated The Horne, and decided living with his crazy nymphomaniac wife would be easier than trying to live with Mike. He moved out, and back in with the beautiful and talented Nadina.

* * * *

It was around this time that Roger got out of the Army, and that was one big reason I wanted to be anywhere but there. It took me awhile to realize Roger had been teaching me everything he could, and once he was gone I realized how much more I had to learn.

I wasn’t ready to do this on my own, and I really missed my very wise and wonderful teacher.

After Raoul moved out the house, The Horne felt, for lack of a better word, violated, and didn’t want to live in a place where his general greatness had been held in such low esteem. He wanted to move to a place that had been unsullied by Raoul’s presence.

I know. We were all so adult back then…

As luck would have it, Joe Parnell, the guy who accidentally gave me an in-service on how to successfully slit my wrist, had a trailer house.

The trailer was in a little town called Geronimo, about ten miles south of Lawton. Joe, his wife, and three boys had lived in the trailer, but had recently moved into a bigger house, and Joe’s trailer was available for something like $200/month.

So, we moved to Geronimo. The Horne and I were still friends despite Mike’s increasing paranoia about me, and the ever-increasing rivalry and competition between us.

By this time, even I was aware of it, but I had decided to try to do one of those Zen Master Roger things, and simply abide, man. We were still going to rule the world, but my role as trusty sidekick was no longer etched in stone.

I didn’t really think that much about it, but I would eventually learn it was just about the only thing The Horne could focus on. When we moved out to the trailer, Mike decided it was time to reestablish his place in the hierarchy. And I decided not to make any waves. After all, it was a really small pond…

* * * *

Right next to our trailer was another trailer. Living in that trailer were, I don’t know, twenty people. They were the Joneses, and we they were Joe Parnell’s cousins from Arkansas.

The two oldest brothers were Harold and Charlie. Their nicknames were Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie. And they had earned those names.

They were probably about my age. Both of them had been dishonorably discharged from the Army for a list of infractions two miles long. I been introduced to the boys relatively early during my time at Fort Sill. Roger and Joe were good friends, and he took me out to meet Joe and his family within the first three months of my arrival. I had partied with Joe and his weird/crazy cousins several times. They sold good weed, so they were all right by me.

Also living in the trailer was a sweet young girl, Cindy. I hadn’t met her before. She was Harold and Charlie’s cousin. She was pretty, petite, and blonde. Cindy was barely eighteen, but she had packed a lots of living into those years, and her life story was something that left me in a stunned silence. She took a liking to me. And I took a liking to her.

I can’t remember what happened, but Cindy came over to our trailer one day, crying. She said she couldn’t live with her cousins anymore, and was moving back to Arkansas.

“We have plenty of room here. Why don’t you move in with us?” I suggested.

“Really? You’d let me do that?” Cindy asked, breaking into a smile. She looked expectantly at me, then at Mike.

“So, you two want to live together, in my house. He’s gonna be getting laid every night, and I’m gonna be in my room with my dick in my hand. I don’t think I like this setup.”

“Well, I could sleep with you, too.” Cindy offered, then looked back at me.

“Sounds like a marriage made in Heaven to me.” I said.

* * * *

You’re boned like a saint…  With consciousness of a snake — Blue Öyster Cult, The Revenge of Vera Gemini

* * * *

I never sank to the level of Dave Lovelace, probably, but after Diane disappeared, I dated Crystal, then Katie, and Theresa. Casual sex was something I was more than a little acquainted with. And when it came to being able to deal with the interweavings of a potentially complicated relationship like that, I was light-years ahead of The Horne.

I was no longer a naive kid from Montana. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore, but naive was no longer part of the package.

My decision to have Cindy move in with us had nothing to do with Cindy. This was all about who was going to rule the world. Me. Or Mike. And I already knew who was going to win this pissing contest between us.

* * * *

Mike and I drove to work every morning to work. Cindy stayed at home and cleaned the trailer, read some of my books, and cooked. We would watch TV and chat in the evening. At night, Cindy slept with either me or Mike.

On the nights she slept with Mike, I slept. On the nights she was with me, neither of us slept. And neither did Mike. It wasn’t because we made too much noise, or anything like that. Our bedrooms were on opposite ends of the trailer, so noise was never an issue.

The issue was Cindy was falling in love me, even though I told her that was the one thing she couldn’t do. I’m guessing having multiple spouses is like having kids, you can’t have a favorite. But even a blind man could see Cindy favored me, and Mike was jealous. Our arrangement with Cindy lasted two weeks, tops.

Mike kicked her out of the trailer, and she went back to Arkansas. I didn’t even care. I had won that battle, and it was an overwhelming defeat for Mike. I would never be his loyal sidekick again. He had forfeited his right to rule the world.

* * * *

The weekend after Cindy left, I bought ten hits of LSD. I got them from Crazy Charlie, and gave him two hits, one for him, one for Weird Harold. I offered some to Mike. He took two. I took three.

The world didn’t turn Technicolor® that afternoon. It turned weird. I had hallucinations like unto nothing I’d ever experienced before.

For starters, I was really tall, like, twenty feet tall, but only when I walked through a doorway. I didn’t become a giant, I had Daddy Longlegs legs. I had to walk like I was plowing through a deep snowdrift, and I had to duck so I wouldn’t hit my head, which looked totally ridiculous.

“What are you doing, man?” Crazy Charlie asked.

“I don’t want to hit my head.” I replied.

“Man, you must be really trippin’!”

We went outside to play Frisbee, and the first time I tried to catch a disc, all of the fingers on my left hand fell to the ground. Weird Harold came over to help me find my fingers, but there they were, back on my hand! ✋

Playing Frisbee without any fingers isn’t easy. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. The grass turned multicolored, and…plastic. I dropped to the ground to look for my fingers again, and little faces appeared on the blades of grass.

“Get off! Go away!” the grass said. “We don’t like it!”

I couldn’t get off the grass fast enough. We went back inside to listen to some tunes and kick back. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie turned into clowns, then jesters, then ballerinas. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Then I looked at The Horne.

He was sitting across from me in the living room. At first, he appeared regal, like unto a king with a crown, sitting on a splendid throne. I stopped laughing, and almost felt like bowing to him.

But then he changed. The crown disappeared, he no longer appeared regal. His form melted and shifted, and changed. He morphed into something like unto Gollum, then into a little boy, then into something else.

And I saw The Horne for exactly who and what he really was.

“I hate your fuckin’ guts.” I said to the man I had once worshipped.

“Whoa, look at the time!” Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie said, and pretty much ran out the door.

“You want to do this now?” Mike said.

“No, I wanted to do it a month ago, but now will do.” I replied. Mike started to reply, but I cut him off. “You tried to turn me into your puppet!”

“No, you don’t get to hang that shit on me. You wanted to be my puppet!”

“Well, I don’t anymore! You’re my puppet!” I shouted, and I pantomimed the movements of a puppeteer, making the puppet I saw in front of me jump and turn.

“Man, you are totally fucking gone, aren’t you.” Mike said. “Hey,” he said softly. “Mark, you’re on acid, man. Nothing you’re seeing right now is real!” It was almost a plea.

Shut up! I am not gone! I’m here! Maybe for the first time in my life! But you!” I looked around the room, almost frantically, and picked up a sword I saw on the table, and brandished it with a flourish. “You! Get the fuck out of my house!”

The next morning I would see the sword I had threatened Mike with was a flyswatter.

“Okay, Prince Valiant, you win. Just let me grab a few things.” He grabbed his bag of weed, a pack of cigarettes, a few beers out of the fridge, and left.

Todd Rundgren was playing on the stereo. As Mike walked out the door, Todd sang, Tell them Groucho said, you’re just another onionhead…  But I didn’t know if Todd was talking to Mike, or me.

I heard Mike’s car start, heard his tires squeal as he drove off. I had defeated the Dark Lord, and claimed my castle.

But the war–the war, was just beginning.

* * * *

It was probably about 9:00 PM when I heard the planes. I looked out the front door. The night sky was filled with hundreds of airplanes. Their wings were marked with the red hammer and sickle emblem of the USSR.

Out of the low flying planes, thousands of paratroopers were floating to the ground, shooting their rifles as they slowly descended upon the sleepy town of Geronimo, OK.

If I had been a pysch nurse with highly trained powers of observation and advanced critical thinking, I would have noticed that although the sky was filled with enemy soldiers, there weren’t any soldiers on the ground.

But I wasn’t a nurse, and even though Mike had told me I was tripping on acid, and nothing I was seeing was real, I forgot all about that and did the only thing a soldier in my position could do.

I had to warn everybody.

The words came to me from The Return of the King.

Awake!  Awake!  Fear, Fire, Foes!  Awake!  Fire, Foes!  Awake!

I ran down the street, yelling at the top of my lungs. I turned the corner, and kept yelling. What I really needed, I decided, was a horse. But I didn’t know if there were any horses in town, and if there were, I had no idea where to find one.

That’s when I remembered I had a car.

I ran back to my trailer, and grabbed my keys. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie met me as ran to my car, screaming all the way.

“Hey! Mark! What the fuck’s happening, man! Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

“The Russians are attacking! Look!” I pointed to the sky. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie looked up, then looked at each other and shrugged. “We gotta warn everybody, man!” I screamed.

“Hey! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Weird Harold said to his brother.

“Yeah! We gotta warn everybody, man!” Crazy Charlie agreed. We jumped in my car and rolled down the windows, all of us screaming,

“The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!! Grab your gear! Grab your M-16!! The Russians are coming!”

I’m not sure how long we drove around the very small town of Geronimo, honking the horn and shouting, but it didn’t take long before everyone in town was standing in the streets, scratching their heads and looking around in wonder. Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie yelled their heads off, then finally looked at each other and said, “Okay, man. That was fun. Now what?”

That’s when I remembered I was tripping on acid, man.

The Russian planes disappeared. The paratroopers vanished. And I felt like a goddamn idiot. I pulled into my driveway and went into the trailer without a word.

* * * *

I have no idea how long the residents of Geronimo talked about me. The Russian Invasion of 1976 was certainly the most exciting thing that had ever happened there, and it probably still would be, if not for one very real, very tragic event.

On December 14, 1984, shortly after 1:00 PM, Jay Wesley Neill entered the First Bank of Chattanooga in Geronimo, and forced three tellers to the back room. He had them lie face down on the floor, and stabbed them to death. The three employees, Kay Bruno, 42; Jerri Bowles, 19; Joyce Mullenix, 25: were stabbed a total of 75 times. Mullenix was six months pregnant.

After that very real tragedy, I’m sure the residents of Geronimo forgot all about me, forever.

* * * *

When I crawled out of the bathtub Sunday morning, I discovered Mike had not returned. I had spent the night in the bathtub, venturing out only to change albums on the stereo, then returned to the tub.

Please don’t ask me to try to explain my rationale for doing that.

I had finally stopped hallucinating. The post-acid trip jingle-jangly feeling in my nerves was still present in body, making every movement I made sort of an adventure.

I remembered everything that had happened the day before, and I was shocked to the core of what was left of my soul by what I had done.

I flushed the remaining hits of acid I had down the toilet, packed everything I owned into my car, and moved back into my room at the barracks.

I’ve never been back to Geronimo.

* * * *

I can’t remember how or when I heard The Horne had been arrested. I can’t remember how that happened, but when he was taken to the cop shop, he had to empty his pockets, and that’s when the cops busted him for possession of marijuana.

Mike moved back into the barracks, too. He moved into Roger’s old room. I think he had Randy help him move all of his stuff out of the trailer and into the barracks.

I became part of the group that avoided The Horne as if he were the Plague, and that’s what he had become to me. The Dons, Other Mike and Tommy welcomed me to the club of Horne Haters.

And that would probably be the end of this story if not for one thing. I was done with The Horne, but he wasn’t done with me.

* * * *

There came a Friday night when we were all at the barracks. Raoul was there. Nadina had kicked him out of the house for the last time after he had an affair with my girlfriend, and Nadina had an affair with The Mystery Man. We were getting drunk in my room, listening to Santana. Black Magic Woman.

My door was open, and The Horne appeared in my doorway. He was also drunk. Randy stood behind him in the hall.

“I can’t believe you didn’t do anything the night I got arrested. I can’t believe you didn’t try to find out if I was dead or alive or anything. You’re a real piece of shit.”

“You just don’t get it, do you.” I replied. “I didn’t care what happened to you. I still don’t.”

Mike rushed into my room. Randy and Raoul tried to stop him. I stood up, and glared at him.

“Let’s finish this, bitch.” I said, taking off my glasses, and stepped into the hallway.

* * * *

Raoul was the ranking NCO in the barracks, and according to Army protocol, he had to do something, so he started yelling for everyone to take a deep breath and get our heads out of our asses. That brought the Horne Haters Club out into the hall, and they started adding their eight cents to the kitty.

“Kick his ass, Radar!” the two Dons yelled. Other Mike and Tommy joined in, and Raoul quickly found himself in a situation out of his control, so he jumped between Mike and I and set down the ground rules.

“Are you two serious about doing this? Walk away, now!” Mike and I shook our heads and told him to get the hell out of our way. “Okay! The rest of you, y’all didn’t see a goddamn thing! You got that? Okay! Either one of you throw any punches to the mouth, I stop this!”

As weird as that might sound, we were in the Dental Detachment, and teeth were our primary focus. Mike had had a buttload of work done on his mouth, and I had braces on. One wrong punch and we both might lose all our teeth.

“Are you done, Pedro?” The Horne sneered at Raoul. He grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and whispered, “Kick his fuckin’ ass, amigo.”

* * * *

I would love to be able to say that’s what I did. I did land a couple of good punches, and Mike would end up with a huge honker of a black eye, but I was no match for The Horne in hand to hand combat. He beat the crap out me, and threw me to the floor.

“Get up, pussy!” he screamed. I did. We scrapped some more, and I ended up on the floor again. “Had enough, bitch?” he said, breathing heavily. I got up. And was thrown halfway down the hallway.

“Stay down, man!” everyone said. I got up, and stumbled back toward Mike. We rained body punches on each other until I missed and fell once more.

“Stay down, man! Mike! Walk away, man! You won!” the barracks bums pleaded. I got up again, and turned to face The Horne.

“Haven’t you had enough yet, puppet?” he gasped. We took turns punching each other as hard as we could, and I went down yet another time after Mike kicked me in the balls.

I thought I might puke as I lay on floor, my crotch felt like a grenade had exploded in my dick. But I forced myself to get up again.

“That’s it! That’s enough!!” Raoul yelled. Everybody jumped in between us. I could barely stand. The Horne looked like he might fall over.

“Hey, sorry about that kick, man.” he panted. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

“You kick, like a fuckin’ girl.” I panted in response. Randy and the two Dons started escorting The Horne down the hallway. Tommy and Raoul were helping me stand up. I couldn’t do it on my own. “A fuckin’ girl!” I shouted at The Horne’s back. “You didn’t beat me, you hear? I’m still standing, bitch!”

* * * *

My memories of this time in my life are like unto a collapsed tower of Jenga® pieces. It’s pretty much a chaotic pile, begging to be put into some sort of order.

I had been beaten to a pulp, and kicked in the balls. I was bruised and battered from head to foot. I know I called Roger and told him about my titanic battle with The Horne. He wasn’t surprised, but he had no words of wisdom for me.

“Make peace with him,” Roger advised me. “And with yourself.”

* * * *

My clearest memory of this time is the mass departures that occurred. The two Dons and Other Mike left within days of each other. The Horne hit the road for Washington shortly afterwards. We avoided each other at all costs until he left.

I thought I was forever rid of him, but maybe three months after he left, he called me in the middle of the night. We talked for a long time.

“You’re the only person I’ve never been able to figure out.” he said. “You were such a…chameleon…  You were one thing one day, and something completely different the next. And I couldn’t keep up with you. None of us could.

“You were quicksilver, moving at the speed of light. You were fucking nobody, and then you were legendary, just like that. You were the one thing I needed to be, but you were too fucked up on every drug on the planet to see what you had become.

“In the entire history of the Dental barracks, no one changed as much you did. The rest of us basically stayed whatever we were before we got there, but you were different, man. You changed more than all the rest of us combined. I wish I could say I had the privilege of seeing it, but even now I can’t tell if the change was for the better or the worse…

“There was this weird rivalry between us. I’ve always needed to feel better than everybody else, even if I knew it wasn’t true. But you, you fuckin’ kicked my ass at everything, without even breaking a sweat!

“I was so fucking jealous of you–especially with Cindy. She would sit at your feet, looking up at you with those puppy dog eyes, and you acted like you didn’t even know she was in the room! I didn’t know if you were really that cool, or really that cruel. I still don’t. You’re like the fuckin’ Sphinx, man.”

I was glad we were finally able to talk about some of the weird dynamics of our relationship, and I was really glad we were a thousand miles apart when it happened. I agreed with the weird rivalry assessment.

“If I had had a better idea of who I was, probably none of that would’ve happened, but I didn’t just want to be like you, I wanted to be you. At one point in time, if I could’ve possessed you, I would’ve done it. I loved you, man, but I fuckin’ hated you, too.”

“Sounds like every relationship I’ve ever been in, man.” Mike said.  “I love you with all my heart too, and I hate you with all my guts. By the way, I think you broke my nose.” he laughed.

“Good,” I replied, laughing. “I broke my hand breaking your nose.” He laughed at that, too.

“Hey, I talked to the Cosmic Kid the other day. He thinks you’re a fucking god or something.”

“Why is that?” I asked, not really caring what the reason was. It was good to hear from my friend, and it was good that we could still be friends.

“I think it has something to do with all those strippers you were dating. He was pretty impressed with some chick you were banging, but he wouldn’t tell me her name.”

I had brought Crystal and Katie back to the barracks a couple of times. It could’ve been either of them, I guessed. Randy had been quite impressed with Crystal…

* * * *

And that, finally, is the end of my trilogy about my closest Army buds, and I think I can close this chapter, for awhile at the very least. My Muses seem content, and their voices are fading…

But before they left, they whispered stories in my ears, and they’ll return again someday. I know Melpomene will be the first to show up again.

I had completely forgotten about that tragic tale…

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

I’ve mentioned the names of some of the guys I shared the Dental barracks with, way back when I was in the Army. It would seem my Muse, or Muses, have decided it’s time to elaborate on at least some of them.

Today’s Muse is probably Urania, but Thalia will certainly be whispering in my other ear.

* * * *

I arrived at Fort Sill in January of 1975. It was my permanent duty station according to the contract I’d signed with my recruiter, Sergeant First Class Robin Hood.

I’m not making that up.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, I had to be processed in because I was new to Army life, and the half a ton of paperwork the Army had already generated on me just wasn’t enough. I was delivered to the Main Processing Station. It was a huge building about the size of a football field with an huge office filled with desks and clerks and stuff. The rest of the building was bunks and latrines and stuff.

It was essentially a way station, like unto the Army’s version of Purgatory. Once all your paperwork was processed, a clerk from the MPS would contact your company, and someone would come pick you up so you could begin your Army career. It usually took two or three days.

I was at the MPS for a week. The clerk handling my paperwork was new to his position, and he forgot to call my company.

I didn’t mind hanging out at the MPS. I didn’t have much of anything to do except get cleaned up and dressed in the morning, and march to the nearest mess hall to eat with the rest of the guys being processed in. The rest of my day was free time, which I spent reading, or writing to Maureen.

I would’ve been happy to do that for the next two and an half years, but someone in the MPS finally asked what the hell I was still doing there and my company was notified that I had been processed, and someone came to pick me up.

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

Randy was from Los Angeles, CA. If there’s such a thing as a Valley Guy, Randy would’ve been one. Totally, man. He was a tall, pudgy guy with a huge honker of a nose. He looked like an older kid that had never lost his baby fat. Or a really tall cartoon penguin…

“Hey, are you PFC Rowen?” he asked. I was lounging on my bunk, reading. I looked up at him and nodded. “Well, c’mon, let’s go! I’m here to take you to Dental Headquarters. My name’s Randy. You can be my roommate.

“Well, okay, we won’t be roommate roommates, but we’ll be kinda roommates. There’s a shared bathroom between our rooms at the barracks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. The room next to mine is empty, so you can bunk there.

“I’m so fuckin’ glad you’re here, man! Now you can take over my job and I can become a dental lab technician! I’ve been waiting to do that for a year…”

* * * *

I’m pretty sure Randy talked nonstop for the next six hours, like he was a manic bipolar trying to tell me his life story and everything I’d need to know about the Army without taking a breath in between. Randy’s monologue was punctuated with a whole lots of “…you’ll see what I mean–You’ll figure it out–It’ll all fall into place.” And, “Fuck the Army!!”

Well, it’s not like he was trying to do that. That’s exactly what he did. And years later, when I was a psych nurse, I’d discover Randy really was bipolar…

Our first stop was Dental Headquarters, where I would learn I wouldn’t be a dental assistant, I would become the new supply driver, and Randy would train me to replace him. James Toney, the clerk who would possibly save my ass with his testimony during my court-martial, couldn’t stop shaking my hand.

“Thank God you’re here.” he kept saying.

That first day was a blur to me. We stopped off at the barracks to drop off my gear, and Randy showed me my room, and I got to see what he meant when he said we’d be kinda roommates.

I accompanied Randy as he picked supplies up at the warehouse, linens from the laundry, and he introduced me to everyone at the four dental clinics on base. And when the work day ended, he introduced me to everyone in the barracks. They actually threw a little impromptu Welcome to the Barracks party for me in the dayroom.

Don One and Don Two. Mike. There were two Mikes, but Mike Two was called The Horne. If you fuck with the bull, you get The Horne. Tommy. Johnny. Virg. Brother Al. Lightning Bob. Jesse. Roger. And, Randy.

We drank beer and I tried to remember everyone’s names. They told me where they were from, and stuff. I told them where I was from, and stuff. And Randy rambled on philosophically about anything and everything.

“So, what do you think about your new kinda roommate?” The Horne asked me, when Randy finally did stop talking long enough to take a breath.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. He’s too…cosmic…for me.”

A stunned silence filled the room, and you could actually see it, the lightbulbs coming on over their heads.

“Yeah, cosmic!” Roger said softly, followed by an equally soft chuckle.

“W-w-wow!” Don One said. “W-w-we’ve been trying to figure him out for a year, and you fuckin’ nail it in five minutes!”

“It’s like he has radar or something.” Don Two said.

“He fuckin’ looks like Radar!” Johnny added.

So two nicknames were born that day. Randy and I became Radar and the Cosmic Kid.

* * * *

What can I say? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. You might think I’m overly critical of myself, and I probably am. I tend to see clearly now the things I couldn’t see at all back then, but I’ve skipped ahead, and I know how this chapter turned out.

And the things I was able to see, well, they were so obvious that probably anyone could’ve seen them.

My early adult life appears to be the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t have a plan. How I ended up faring as well as I did is probably one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but only if you don’t believe in God.

What I see looking back is a really smart guy who was seemingly addicted to doing stupid stuff. Add in loss, heartbreak, rue and regret. Gently mix in drug and alcohol abuse. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the part that kind of chaps my ass now. I really wish I had chosen to do something differently sooner.

* * * *

So, I moved into the barracks and essentially disappeared for about a month while I painted and decorated my room. I hated the pale puke green color the interior of the barracks had been painted back in World War II. I picked up some cheap ass carpeting and folded it to fit the two parts of my room.

Then I went for a cross country night march in the rain and broke my ankle. Randy and I started spending a fair amount of time with each other while my ankle healed, and we talked a lots.

“Wow. You might have a lotta book smarts, but you really don’t know much about life, do you.” was the Cosmic Kid’s assessment of me. I couldn’t really argue much with that.

We hung out with Roger and I unknowingly became his student.

Maureen and I broke up, and my free fall into Hell began. I started smoking pot, and because it’s a gateway drug, the Doorway to Oblivion opened, and I walked through.

Hashish. Amphetamines. PCP. LSD. Cocaine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Codeine. Oxycodone. Peyote. Mescaline. Heroin.  I eventually added all of them to my resume.

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

Some of my cousins did a family history, tracing back our ancestry to the 1700’s. I discovered that I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family tree were the ones who kept drinking.

So, the question is, would I have wandered down the path I chose even if Maureen and I had stayed together? The answer is yes. I wasn’t a leader back then, I was a follower. And seeing how all the cool kids in the barracks were doing drugs, and I wanted to be cool, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up where I did.

The only other question is, would I have embraced the drug culture as fully as I did if I hadn’t gone completely rudderless in the prevailing currents of the time?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

As exhausting as being around Randy could be, given his manic energy and cosmic consciousness, we ended up becoming good friends. We played Frisbee. We became storm chasers during tornado season. We played pool and fooseball in the dayroom. I helped Randy paint his room.

We drank and smoked and snorted and popped pills while we did all of the above.

Randy bought me a set of Mickey Mouse ears when he went home on vacation, and I wore them one day when I made my deliveries.

I went to dinner with Roger one evening and became a superstar the next day. I was found innocent of all charges when I was court-martialed, and became an even more legendary superstar.

“You have done well, my son.” Randy said. “Maybe you should go back to reading books…”

* * * *

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” – Freewheelin’ Franklin

* * * *

The life of a marijuana aficionado revolves around weed. When it’s abundant, life is good. When it isn’t, there are no words to describe the indescribable hell that life becomes.

Back then, pot wasn’t legal anywhere, and you had to know a guy or twenty to make sure you could almost always get it. Thanks to Roger, I knew a lots of guys, and after he left, I became the guy everyone came to see when they couldn’t get what they needed.

I never became a dealer, but I became a great middle man.

There came a time when no one had any pot, and there was a great drought of weed, and a terrible famine lay all upon the land, and all the people languished.

“Man, you gotta do something!” Randy said to me. “I’m fucking dying here!”

“Let me make some calls.”

From Roger, I knew I had to be smarter than the cops, and you never knew who might be listening in on your conversations. So I invented a code word for weed with the guys I dealt with most. I would say I was looking for Bob, and had had they seen him lately?

It was perfect.

But the cupboard was bare at the home of every dealer I knew, and none of them had seen Bob in awhile. One of them said he didn’t know who Bob was anymore, and even I started panicking.

I decided to call a guy I had met once. I tended not to deal with guys I didn’t know very well, but desperate times require desperate actions.

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

“You know, weed.” I whispered into the phone.

“Oh! That Bob! I’ve got one ounce. Forty bucks. You get here first, you get it” Click.

I have no idea what an ounce of pot sells for now, but back then the going rate was twenty bucks, so what this guy was asking was ridiculous.

“I’ll split it with you.” Randy said, handing me a twenty.

I had a little trouble finding the guy’s place. I had only been there once, but he still had the bag when I got there. He was a Mexican guy named Felix or something. There was only one problem. The weed he wanted to sell me didn’t look like any bag of weed I’d ever seen before. It looked like dried beans sprouts or something. And the baggie wasn’t half full, it was totally full, and was as fat as a proverbial singing lady.

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

“If that shit doesn’t knock you on your ass, man, I’ll give you your fuckin’ money back.”

Drugs never come with a money back guarantee, so I gave the guy forty bucks and drove back to the barracks.

“What the fuck is this shit? This isn’t even dope! What is that? Bean sprouts?!? Give me my money back! Let’s go back to that beaner’s house and beat the shit out of him!!!”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we try it first.”

“Well, it doesn’t taste bad…” Randy said as we smoked a bowl. “Actually, that tastes pretty good!” he decided. “Holy shit! What is this stuff? My head feels like it just floated away…” Randy said, and his voice sounded like it was floating away with his head. “Jesus, man! I think you better take me to the Emergency Room…”

I turned to look at Randy. He was pale as a winter morning, and drenched with enough sweat that he looked like he’d been standing outside during a monsoon. Swarms of beads of perspiration were literally running down his face in waves.

“I’m serious, Mark. I think I’m going to die. You gotta do something, man.”

“Where would you like to be buried?” I asked, then started laughing as if that was the funniest line ever spoken.

“Goddamn! That’s cold, man! I can’t believe you’re gonna just sit there and let me die! You’ve become a real bastard, man!”

“Hey, Cosmo, take a couple of deep breaths and get a grip. I smoked the same stuff you did, and I’m not dying. Suppose I take you to the ER. What am I gonna tell them? Well, doc, we were just sitting around the barracks, and we weren’t smoking pot or anything, when all of a sudden my buddy decided he was fuckin’ dying? I’m not taking you to the ER, try taking a cold shower or something. Maybe that’ll help.”

And, it did. Fifteen minutes later Randy returned, and he no longer looked like the world’s worst weather system.

“What’s that?” Randy asked, as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

“You said you wanted your money back.”

“I changed my mind. Give me my half of the bean sprouts, bitch.”

I have no idea what the fuck was in that bag, but I know it wasn’t pot. And even if it was bag of baby pot plants, those suckers had to have been laced with something, but again, I have no idea what.

Whatever it was we smoked, it was enough to get to get us through the drought, and there was much rejoicing.

* * * *

Life can be unpredictable when you’re in the military, but one thing that you can count on is the people you’re stationed with are only temporary. The Old Timers started leaving. Roger left, then Don One, and Don Two, and Mike. The Horne, Virg and Lightning Bob were gone. The FNG’s came in to replace them.

Tommy, who had never been part of our group–he’d hung out with the Dons and Mike–started hanging out with me and Randy.

“I at least know what to expect from you two. Nothing but trouble. But it’s better than getting to know someone that just got here.”

Tommy was a good old boy from Texas, and that was his given name. Not Thomas or Tom. He was a big man, and he didn’t look anything like a Tommy.

Tommy and Randy actually became real good friends, I wasn’t at the barracks a whole lots by that time in my life. I had become a legendary party animal, and I had rounds to make in my community.

Randy was next up to depart, so Tommy decided we should take him out for dinner, seeing how we were the only three Old Timers left. We decided to take Randy to a place somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. And seeing how it was the last time we’d ever be together, Randy decided to pull a nothing but trouble prank on Tommy Boy.

I know it wasn’t in Lawton, it was an out of the way place that you had to know about to find, but just where it was I have no idea. It was a big place, one of those family style country restaurants that serve Mom’s Home Cooking kind of meals.

The huge restaurant was packed. The tables were filled with families, Mom and Dad, a lots of bunches of kids of every age. Gramps and Granny were sporadically dotted around the tables in the restaurant.

We had drinks. We had appetizers. We had a down home meal with all the fixin’s, and dessert, then Randy unleashed his surprise attack.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 70’s when drugs were cool and paraphernalia was even cooler, you could buy strawberry flavored rolling papers that were an electric pink color.

The only thing anyone ever smoked in a paper that color was pot, but Randy rolled a tobacco cigarette in an electric pink paper, a good old big one, and put it in his pocket.

“Man, that was a damn fine meal. Good food, good friends, cold beer, man, I can’t think of anything else that I need right now. Actually, there is one thing. The only thing that could make this better is a joint. Oh! I have one right here in my pocket, and I’m going to fire this bad boy up!”

He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the electric pink cigarette. You could smoke cigarettes in restaurants back then. Tommy’s eyes just about jumped out of his skull.

“Randy! Jesus! What the fuck are doing, man!” Tommy whispered furiously at Randy. “What are trying to do, get us arrested?!?” as Randy put the monster pink cigarette to his lips. “Randy! Have you lost your fucking mind!! If you light that–”

And Randy lit it.

I wish you could have been there to see it, the range of emotions that raced across Tommy’s face as Randy lit that cigarette. Surprise. Shock. Stunned shock. Fear. Anger, rage and then relief, followed by,

“Oh, you sonuvabitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for that. Did you know about this, Radar? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, too!”

* * * *

Randy left in early October of 1976. Only Tommy and I, and Raoul remained of the original barracks bums.

We sent Randy off in the evening, he got off to a late start for a guy that was getting out of the fucking Army! But then, he wasn’t the most organized guy I’ve ever known.

“I’m gonna miss that cosmic motherfucker.” Tommy said.

* * * *

I wouldn’t have to. Randy and I stayed in contact for years. He called me all the time when I was still in the Army. He even came to visit me once, driving from California in an old pick up truck. He couldn’t believe Raoul and I were best friends.

He’d call me at work when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC. He called me at home. My lovely supermodel wife would shake her head and leave the room when he called. Randy moved to Wichita, KS, got married, had a daughter.

He called me at home early one morning after I gotten off of a stretch of nights. This was probably in the mid-ninties. He said he was depressed. He had a loaded gun, and he was going to kill himself.

“Where’s your family?”

His daughter was in school. His wife was at work, but she’d be home at noon. I kept him on the phone for four hours until his wife came home and convinced him to go to the VA for help. He was assessed, and sent home.

I called to see how he was doing the next day.

“Oh, they told me I was bipolar or some bullshit like that, and they wanted me to start taking a bunch of fuckin’ meds, man. I told them to go fuck themselves, and they told me to go home.”

* * * *

He called several months later at work again to tell me he had six months to live. He had cancer. It was a Friday in April. I told my horrible boss what my Army buddy had just told me on the phone, and  I was driving to Wichita as soon as my shift ended, but I’d probably be at work on Monday.

“Go! Let me know if you need anything!”

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

Lea and I arrived in Wichita at 4:00 AM. We checked into a no-tell motel, got a couple hours of sleep, took a shower, then went to see my dying buddy. His wife answered the door.

“Hi. I’m Mark. I’m Randy’s Army buddy–”

“Mark!! Oh my God! I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” she said, giving me a bone crushing hug. She was a big woman. “What’re y’all doing in Wichita?” She saw my wife, so she stepped outside to hug her, too.

“I’m so sorry,” Lea said. “This must be so terrible for you. Randy called yesterday and told Mark he had six months to live. We jumped in the car and drove all night, but we’re here!”

“What? Six months?? There’s nothing wrong with Randy! He’s not going to die!”

“The hell he isn’t!” my wife said. “I’m going to fucking kill him myself!”

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

“Oh God no! The doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, or he’d die from cancer…  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Thank God you’re here. Thank God!”

I explained to Lea that Randy was bipolar, and she decided not to kill Randy. She finally calmed down, but I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Randy for that.

We spent the day with Randy and his family. As evening fell, Randy and I went for a walk so I could explain Bipolar Disorder to my friend, and the treatments available. Randy actually listened to me without interrupting every five seconds, and he appeared to be thinking about what I’d said.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked. We were sitting on a picnic table in a park near his house.

“Yeah. What was it like fucking Raoul’s wife? Man, she was hot! Jesus, Rowen, you should see your face! You look just like Tommy did when I lit up that fake joint in the restaurant!” Randy said, laughing as if he’d just uttered the funniest line ever spoken.

I have no doubt that my face perfectly mimicked Tommy’s face that night. And for a moment, I thought I might kill Randy myself.

My affair with Nadina had happened just before Randy left. I know I didn’t tell him I was tapping Nadina while her husband was out of town. Did I?

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

“Because you went over to her house every day after work that week Raoul was at Fort Sam, and you didn’t come back to the barracks until the sun was coming up! What else could you have been doing? Playing cards? You should have seen yourself, man, you looked like you were going to die, man! And every day you looked worse! By the end of the week, you could barely walk!”

“Who else knew?” I asked, when I could finally speak.

“Only me. I was kinda your roommate, remember? I knew when you were home and when you weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone, I promise! Not even The Horne, or Tommy. And I sure as hell didn’t tell Raoul!”

I was able to breathe again, and that was good, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I stared at the ground for the longest time, unable to even think.

“Hey, are you okay? Jesus, maybe I should take you to the ER. Or maybe you should take a cold shower…”

Yeah, maybe…

I eventually looked up, and found that I could smile.

“I gotta tell you something, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever known. And the most guts. Remember when we met? You were that naive kid from Montana who didn’t know the difference between pot and acid.

“You were the FNG who walked halfway across Fort Sill on a broken ankle, man! We went tornado chasing in the dark because you said you’d never seen one in person! We goddamn near died at least twice, but you never let a little thing like almost dying to death stop you!

“You were a heartbroken trainwreck that tried to kill himself and couldn’t smile for a month, and next thing anyone knows, you’re dating strippers, smoking weed, dropping acid, snorting drugs and popping pills like candy, and getting drunker than everyone else in the barracks, combined!

“You were the ultimate party animal, man! No one could keep up with you! You beat the fucking Army at its own fucking game! You took those fuckin’ fucks in Headquarters on, and you won! Remember that!

“You didn’t have a clue who you were, but you became the leader of the barracks. You fucked with The Horne, and you put that fuckin’ loudmouth in his place! Man, I still can’t believe you did that!

“And to top it off, you make love to the most beautiful woman on the planet, and then become best friends with the guy whose marriage you destroyed, and you didn’t even blink! If that doesn’t take balls, I don’t know what does!

“And look at you now, all straightened out, registered nurse, married to a fucking supermodel! You aren’t human, man. You have to be some kind of a god!”

“Oh, I’m not all that straight.” I finally replied. That was a lots for me to take in. “I still drink, and smoke pot. I’m human, man. Just like you. Just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in the same light you do. It seems pretty dark to me now, looking back. I have no idea how I survived.”

“Dude, no one else does either! I’ll tell you something, I never knew if you’d be dead or alive when the morning came. None of us did! We were going to have a pool on how long you were going to live, but Roger wouldn’t let us.”

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

“We all did, he was the best. But you became even better than him.”

* * * *

I never saw Randy again. We talked on the phone frequently. His daughter grew up and went to college. His wife left him, she told him she couldn’t take it anymore and had to get off the roller coaster.

After that, I don’t know…

A friend of mine who reads my posts once commented that I have lived a crazy life. Well, I did hang out with a lots of crazy people.

If you ever want to know what’s happening on a psych unit, ask a patient. Randy was never one of my patients, but he had a psychiatric disorder or two. He never missed a trick, and he never forgot anything. Randy’s assessment of me was spot on.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of really tremendous friends, even when I probably didn’t deserve the kind of friendship they offered.

Thank you Randy, for your honesty and candor, and your cosmic viewpoint. I credit Roger the most for helping me become the person I’ve become. His humility and common sense were qualities I’ve tried to incorporate into the man that I am.

Okay, I haven’t done so good with the humility part…

But there’s a part of Randy in me, too. That’s the part that looks at almost everything from a different point of view. The part that looks for other solutions than the accepted ones. The part that seeks the Truth. The part that keeps searching in the dark, even if it’s dangerous.

Hey, you can’t let a little thing like the threat of death stop you. You only live once, and we all have to die from something.

The Long Way Home

If you are the one person that has read all of my blogs, I should probably buy you a beer. Or invite to spend a week or two at our spacious and beautiful retirement home in the even more beautiful Lakeside area.

I probably won’t turn into Satan if you decide to vacation here, but you might want to limit the amount of LSD you take, just in cases. I can promise I won’t pull a gun on you. And you probably won’t contract the Philadelphia flu, though Montezuma’s Revenge is always a possibility in Mexico…  And I won’t tie you up and stab you with a really big needle, or shove a garden hose down your dick.

The only reason I mention these disparate items is because all of them were things I saw, or were things that happened to me while I was in Texas.

I’ve been writing about the vacation from hell my lovely supermodel wife, her sister and I experienced way back in 1995 when we drove down to the bottom of Texas to help their father clear his house of his dead wife’s possessions after her death.

Driving vacations are twofold in the way they unfold. There’s the joyous drive to arrive at your highly anticipated destination part when your vacation begins. And then there’s the dreaded now we have to drive all the way home part as your vacation ends.

There’s usually a whole lots of fun and frolicking somewhere in between anticipation and dread, and that’s one reason why the dread part is so dreaded. You’re usually so exhausted from having fun, the only thing you want to do is sleep for forty-eight hours, not drive.

Neither Lea nor I, or her sister for that matter, could say we had had that much fun during our vacation. The sisters had cried their way through every room and closet, every nook and cranny in their father’s house as they sorted out their mother’s stuff into piles of stuff to keep, and stuff to get rid of.

We had all been struck down by the Philadelphia flu, and Lea had ended up in the hospital just this side of hell in the process. And then there was Andy, Leslie’s goat killing, hostage taking, leg breaking horse, who had lost his head in more ways than one. His misadventures would reverberate through Bill and Leslie’s lives for years to come.

And let’s not forget Muffy’s pants.

Leslie’s sudden change of plans would spare her from the dreaded drive home, and that was probably the only good thing that would come out of our vacation for her.

I can’t say I was dreading the trip home, except for the whole driving a big moving truck thing, and the having to tow our car behind the big truck thing. I had never done that before, but I figured it couldn’t be that tough. Guys nowhere near as smart as me did it everyday, and if someone named Rubber Ducky could do it, so could I.

The days after Leslie flew back to Wisconsin went by quickly. Lea and I hung out with Dave. We rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and a towing dolly for our car. We loaded truck with Leslie’s Stuff. And Lea’s Stuff. And we got rid of the Stuff No One Wants.

Dave had a lots of experience with driving a big rig and towing another vehicle. He owned a motorhome, and he had towed his car behind the motorhome all across the country.

Dave gave me three valuable rules for our trip.

“Now this truck you’re driving is much bigger than anything you’ve ever driven, and you’re going to be towing your car behind it. So give yourself plenty of time and space if you have to stop. This thing is not going to stop on a dime.

“And it’s not going to turn on a dime, either. You have to make wide turns, you understand? Just like those eighteen wheelers do. Don’t try to cut any corners, or you’ll probably lose half of your car.

“And the last thing is the most important. You can’t back up when you’re towing your car. So when you stop to get gas, or sleep, or whatever, make sure you can drive straight out of any place you pull in to, you understand? If you don’t, you’re going to have to take your car off of the dolly, and then you’ll have to unhook the dolly from the truck before you can even think about turning the truck around. And then you have to hook everything back up again.

“So be careful! Because it’s a real bugger if you have to do it, and it always happens at the most inopportune moment, of course.”

I really liked that car. It was a 1994 Mitsubishi Galant four door sedan. Metallic Forest Green, and it had a spoiler. Of all the cars I owned after I lost my little red sportscar in the fire that burned down my parents’ house, I probably liked that car the most.

Dave had good advice, so I damn near took notes. But that ended up being the extent of what he had to say about driving. Give yourself plenty of space when you stop or turn. And don’t drive into anywhere that you can’t drive straight out of.

Piece of cake.

And then Dave said something that caught me by surprise.

“You know, Lea is Wanda’s baby girl, and Wanda used to worry about her baby girl because that’s what mothers do, and Lea was living alone in the Big City, you know.

“And then you came along. Now, I’ll be honest. I didn’t quite know what to think of you when I first met you, but I tend to reserve my judgement about people, and that’s just me. But Wanda loved you–she said you were her angel–and that, well, that was good enough for me.

“But I’ve known you for awhile now, and I’ve gotten to know you better. And there’s no doubt that you love Lea, and she clearly adores you. And you’ve been there for her through some tough times.

“You’re a good man, Mark. You were Wanda’s angel, and, well, you’ve become mine, too.”

I’m sure I had no response to that. When Wanda told me I was her angel, I had an immediate response. I might be a lots of things, but I’m pretty sure an angel isn’t one of them.

Wanda could care less what I thought. I was the answer to her prayers, and that was all that mattered to her. But now I had somehow become Dave’s angel, and I have to admit, that mattered to me.

One of the truths about married life is you are rarely good enough for your in-laws, like, they’re royalty or something, and you’re fucking Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. But I had somehow transcended that status. Not only had I hit an home run, I had scored a touchdown, and an hat trick!

“I kind of doubt I’ll ever be an angel, Dave. But I’m working on that being a good man part. You won’t have to worry about Lea. I’ll take good care of her.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

You know what? Dave wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

* * * *

I think we picked up our rental truck on Monday, and spent the day loading that sucker up. The truck was quite a bit larger than what we needed for the stuff we were going to take back to the top of the country. The only reason we opted for a truck that big was for towing our car.

Dave gave me an hands-on in-service about connecting the dolly to the truck and hooking up the electricals, and putting the front wheels of our car on the dolly to tow it. It seemed simple enough…

We said our good-byes to Dave, and hit the road on Tuesday morning. It would probably take us three days to get back to Minnesota, but that would give me three days to rest and recuperate before I returned to work the following Monday.

It was the last time Lea or I would ever travel to Dave’s house.  Leslie would make one more trek down to the bottom of Texas, just before Dave died in 2011, but she would fly down. And fly back.

I remember being a little nervous as I drove the truck towing our car out of the driveway. You always wonder if you hooked everything up correctly, and you hope you did. After you’ve been driving for about an hour and nothing goes wrong, you relax and almost forget you’ve never done this before.

After a few hours, you give yourself a trucker name.

Ten-four there, good buddy! You got the Yellow Ryder over here on the flip-flop. I’m carrying a load of precious momentos, and I got my best girl by my side. We’re heading for the Great White North, so I’m keeping the pedal on them double nickels, and I got my eyes peeled for Smokey!

My lovely supermodel wife was smiling. This was going to be okay. I told Lea that I had become Dave’s angel. She was quiet for a time, and tears welled her eyes.

“He told me how much he loved me before we left. I think my mother’s death has changed him. He wasn’t like that when I was little.”

The only thing that concerned me was where my wife was sitting. She had moved from her seat to the cooler I had placed between our seats in the cab of the truck. She said she was too far away from me.

That was kind of cute, but the cooler didn’t come equipped with seatbelts, so if I had to come to a sudden stop, I was pretty sure Lea would end up flying through the windshield. And I doubted Dave would consider that taking good care of Wanda’s baby girl on my part.

But I didn’t have to come to any sudden stops. The first leg of our journey home was uneventful, and the miles flew by. And by. And by. If you’ve never driven across Texas, it seemingly goes on forever.

Our plan was to drive from San Benito to Dallas, and spend the night with Gary and Mary. Gary was my buddy that flew up to Minneapolis after Lea’s second surgery to save my life. He was living in Ferris, TX, a suburb on the southern end of Dallas.

Gary and I go way back. He was one of my brother Tom’s friends in high school, and we started doing a lots of stupid stuff together after I got out of the Army.

I can’t remember how he ended up in Texas, but he did. And then he married Mary. And then they had a kid. Spoiler alert! They would have another one nine months later. Yep. Our visit to Dallas would be a fertile one.

I hadn’t seen Gary in awhile, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. You know, drink a few beers, tell some stories, and just relax.

Lea grew tired of sitting on the cooler, and wanted to drive. I filled her in out Dave’s Driving Tips, and she took over somewhere around Austin. So Lea was driving when we hit the outskirts of Dallas at rush hour, and the route we were supposed to take to get to Gary and Mary’s was under major construction.

By the time Lea had traversed the detour, and all the twists and turns we had to take to get to our destination, she was pretty much done with driving on this trip.

* * * *

The first leg of our journey was under our belts. We had made it to Dallas. We sat out on the yard and sipped some adult beverages. I think we even listened to an album by Supertramp. They were Mary’s favorite group back in the day.

We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, and quite a few more beverages. As a result, we probably got off to a later start than I would have liked the next day.

Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

We had driven through Dallas on our way down to San Benito. Leslie had been praying for death after succumbing to the Philadelphia flu. I know I had some random thoughts about my vacation with Shorty bouncing around inside my head as I drove, but most of my attention was focused on not hitting any of the cars flying by us on the freeway. Rush hour traffic in Dallas, is a real rush.

I think the amount of traffic started thinning out a bit once we reached Denton. It was around 9:00 AM, maybe. I asked Lea to find some appropriate traveling tunes on the radio. But there was no music that morning. There was nothing but news reports. Something had happened in Oklahoma City. There had been an explosion.

A very big one.

The initial reports were chaotic and confused. It might have been a gas leak. It might have been a meteorite. Whatever it was, it had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were dead.

“Jesus. That’s crazy. A gas leak? That wouldn’t destroy a building that big. No way.” I said.

But you know what would? A yellow Ryder truck, the same size as the one I was driving, filled with explosives.

As we continued to listen to the reports, it occurred to me that our route back home went right through Oklahoma City, if anything was still moving through Oklahoma City.

“Get the map. Find another route.” I said. “We’re not going anywhere near Oklahoma City. I don’t care if we have to go through California. Find another way.”

I can’t remember the exact route Lea decided on, but she plotted a course around Oklahoma City that eventually brought us back to our original course just outside of Kansas City.

We were on the road for thirteen hours that day. We checked into an hotel at midnight, and we were back on the road at 4:00 AM Thursday morning.

* * * *

I can’t remember how many times I thought things couldn’t get any worse on this trip, but I know I was wrong every time.

It was a gray, cloudy day, and windier than hell on Thursday. I had to fight like two hells to keep the truck on the road. I was buffeted out of my lane more than once, and one of those times resulted in me careening rather close to a really big truck.

It wasn’t intentional on my part, but the truck driver’s response was. He decided to play a little trucker tag, and inched his rig toward mine. And he kept on inching.

Now I had a dilemma. This guy was clearly going to keep on inching closer to me because every time I slid to the right, so did he. So I decided to bail out and head for the shoulder of the road.

The shoulder of the road wasn’t in the best of shape, and we hit a lots of bumps and stuff. I was pretty sure we lost our car, and slowly came to a stop, then went to check on my car.

I was surprised to see it intact, but checked all the bindings and electricals, just to make sure they were still working, and those all checked out. I noticed were getting low on gas when I got back in the truck, lower than I thought we were, so I planned to stop at the very next gas station we saw.

We were in Southern Iowa by this time. The warm, shiny weather of Southern Texas had been replaced by a gray chill, and the clouds looked like rain was in the forecast.

I saw a gas station an heartbeat too late, but there was a Walmart or something like that, and all I had to do was drive around the back of the store and I could pull in right next to the pump.

“I don’t think this is going to work.” Lea said, as I headed for the back of the store.

And, she was right. I think I just about started crying.

There was no exit from the back of the store. I had broken Dave’s Third Driving Tip, and I was fucked. I was going to have to take the car off the dolly, then unhook the dolly from the truck, turn the truck around, reconnect the dolly, and put the car back on the dolly, and then find another gas station because there was no way to get to the one I missed.

“Oh, honey.” Lea said. “I’m sorry. At least it’s not raining!”

And then it started to rain.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife is really good at four things. No, five. Wait a minute, six. And, she’s really good at that, too. Okay. My wife is really good at a lots of stuffs. And one of those things is shopping.

The first thing she did after we got married was throw out most of my clothes, and she bought me a wardrobe. I’ve gotten a lots of compliments over the years about my style and taste in clothing.

That is not me. That’s Lea.

So when the rain started falling as I started the process to get us back on the road again, I was probably more fashionably equipped to handle the situation than I had been, ever.

I had a lightweight fleece jacket on, and more or less matching gloves. I had plenty of freedom of movement, and I stayed warm. Plus, I was so pissed off I think the rain evaporated the moment it hit me.

I’m sure it took me at least an hour to unhook everything, point the truck in right direction, and hook everything back up. I was able to find a different gas station before we ran out of gas, and that was pretty much the end of our adventures on what we would come to call our Vacation from Hell.

There are a couple of small details.

When we reached the Minnesota border, the rain turned to snow, and it snowed all the way back to Minneapolis.

About a month after our trip, we got a letter from the FBI. They noted that around April 19th, we had rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and we were driving it near the proximity of Oklahoma City, and the FBI wanted to know why.

I had hung onto that letter until we moved to Mexico, and then I figured it was time to let go of that, too.

I’ve let go of a lots of stuffs over the years. But I’ve hung on to a few things. Like being a Vikings fan. And wanting to be a prophet.

I should let God know that at least two of his masterpieces thought I was an angel.

It might make a difference. You never know…

Burnin’ Down the House

My family moved a lots when I was a kid. My dad worked for the Aerospace Program, and then for the ICBM Defense Program. He was the project manager in charge of building the silos that housed the missiles America had aimed at the USSR.

It takes about two years to build a silo, so that was the longest period of time we lived in one place. I think the shortest was around eight months.

By the time I started high school, I had lived in eight different states: Minnesota, Michigan, South Dakota and Arkansas. North Dakota, California, Missouri and Montana. I’m gonna take a wild guess and estimate I had lived in about sixteen different houses. We lived in multiple locations in some of those states. My parents were very good at moving.

Worst Case Scenario: When I was in the seventh grade, I started the school year in Minnesota, completed most of the year in Missouri, and finished the year in Montana.

Yeah, that was a lots of fun.

Just before the start of my senior year in high school, my family moved back to Minnesota. I would not accompany them. My sister, Colleen, graciously offered to let me live with her and her husband so I could complete my high school education in Montana.

My parents bought a beautiful home set on the banks of the Mississippi River outside of Little Falls, MN. It’s the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, perhaps the most famous aviator of the 20th Century.

I was never a big fan of Little Falls. I have no evidence to support this, but I don’t think Charles Lindbergh cared much for Little Falls either. After all, he flew all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to get out of town. And he did it when no one else had ever succeeded in the attempt.

Truly the act of a desperate man.

I would rejoin my family after I was discharged from the Army. I’d be willing to bet I was a fairly desperate man myself. I was running from a horde of demons, but there’s a funny thing about demons.

You can’t run from them. They live inside of you. Wherever you go, they go.

Fuckin’ demons!

Regardless of my feelings about Little Falls, I loved my parents house. It is my favorite house of all the places we lived. The only other place that comes close is our house in Missoula, MT. That was a cool place too.

I called the Little Falls house The Ranch. My brother, Bob, and I raised homing pigeons there, and Bob had a herd of chickens. And some pheasants. We had a lots of good times at The Ranch. My family lived in that house longer than we lived anywhere else.

It was nice to stay in one place for awhile. I honestly can’t remember how many times I moved in and out of that house. Despite the sound advice I received from Jerry and Shorty in Dallas, it would take me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and find myself.

I know I moved out of The Ranch for good when I started nursing school. I would meet Lea after I had been working as a nurse for about a year, and became an home owner when I married her. And because I was suddenly making more money in one month than I had in half a year at most of my previous dead end jobs, I bought myself a present.

A little red sportscar. A Toyota MR2.

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It was my first car that wasn’t a piece of shit. I loved that car like I have never loved an automobile before, or since.

Because it was a sportscar, it wasn’t meant to be driven in a Minnesota winter. So I asked my parents if I could store it in their garage until Spring. They had a big garage, and I did not. I actually owned three cars at that point in my life. In terms of automobiles, I had arrived.

And then came the fateful morning in February when I received a call from my sister, Julie. It was Zero Dark Thirty in the morning. I may have just completed a stretch of nights, and I had the day off.

“I hope you had insurance on your car.” Julie’s voice said into my ear. I was half asleep when the phone rang, but I woke up in a hurry when I heard that.

“Yeah, good morning to you too, Sis. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Mom and dad’s house burned down this morning. They barely escaped with their lives, and they lost everything. Not that you care!”

There’s a reason I would feel so comfortable around crazy people when I was a nurse…

“Julie, I just woke up, so give me a break.” I laughed, and sat up in bed. “Okay, tell me what happened.”

As I struggled to clear the cobwebs out of my head, Julie related what she knew. The fire started in the garage. A couple of the neighbors saw the flames, and ran into the house, getting my parents out safely. They escaped with whatever clothes they were able to grab, and my dad was able to get his car out of the garage just before the flames spread to the house.

My baby car was consumed by the flames, and was a total loss.

* * * *

I called my brother, Tom. He was living in Monticello. It was on my route to Little Falls from Minneapolis, and I would pick him up on my way.

“I think I might have burned the house down.” he told me when I picked him up.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I put a heat lamp in the dog house this weekend, for Tabitha.”

Tabitha was the family dog. She was a black cocker spaniel, and she was about two hundred years old. Her dog house was in the garage, and my own bro thought he would do something nice for the dog because she was old, and it was winter. He put a heat lamp in the dog house to keep Tabitha warm at night.

“Maybe the lamp fell off the nail, and landed in the blankets. That would start a fire, right?”

Yes. Yes, it would. And the fire had started in the garage. Tabitha’s dog house was right next to where I had parked my car to keep it safe during the winter.

I seriously thought about pulling over on the highway and killing my own bro to death.

* * * *

I’m not sure if shock adequately described my feelings when I pulled into the driveway and saw what remained of my parents house. There were no fire hydrants anywhere near their house. The fire department went through the water in their tanker quickly, and there wasn’t much they could do to extinguish the flames after that. They had no way to refill their tanker. The fire fighters basically stood around and watched our house burn. When it burned itself out, they left.

The house, and almost everything in it, was a complete loss. And sitting in the burned out frame of the garage, was the scorched remains of my little red sportscar.

The two material things I had loved most were both gone forever.

* * * *

My parents had gone into town. One of their friends had welcomed them into their home so they could shower, and made them breakfast.

Tom and I cautiously entered the shell of our former home and looked around. The smell of smoke hung heavily in the air. The interior was dark, black and burnt. Most of the windows were gone. There had been a huge picture window that looked out toward the river. Now, it was just a massive hole in what remained of the wall. There was an equally huge hole in the living room floor where the couch had been. It had burned so hot the floor under it collapsed, and it ended up in the basement.

The basement was filled with about five feet of water. Various debris and flotsam and jetsam floated in the dark water. My bedroom had been in the basement, but given its state, exploring was out of the question. It was oddly bright in the basement. The huge hole in the ceiling of the basement/floor of the living room let a lots of light in.

My parents had done at least two major remodeling projects on their house, and the place had been gorgeous. Now it was garbage, damaged beyond any hope of repair.

The guys that had gotten my parents out of the house pulled in to the driveway. Their faces wore the same look of disbelief that my brother and I had on our faces. They filled in their part of the story.

They worked together in an office kind of kitty corner across the road from my parents’ house. As they were getting ready to start their day, they saw Tabitha shivering outside the door of their office.

“What’s Tabitha doing here?” one of them wondered. She was a very social dog, and all our neighbors knew her, but she didn’t usually visit that early in the morning. They looked over toward The Ranch, saw the garage on fire, and ran into the house to save my parents.

I shook their hands, and very sincerely thanked them. So did Tom. And we thanked Tabitha, too.

Then I went to say goodbye to my baby car.

“Sorry about your car, man.” Tom said.

“It’s just a car. It can be replaced.” I replied. And that’s when I remembered I still owed something like eight grand on it. But luckily, it was insured. And that was a very good thing.

* * * *

My parents and a handful of my siblings arrived. That particular look of disbelief was very popular that day. We carefully looked around what remained of our house. Somewhat amazingly, not everything was completely destroyed by the fire.

Some glassware and kitchenware survived. A box of family photos and a plush toy Santa Christmas decoration made it through the fire by hiding in a small closet in the hallway just outside the master bedroom.

The photos, and Santa, would smell like smoke for years to follow.

My mom was very quiet as she carefully explored what was left of her life. My dad, my siblings and I tried to keep up some sort of encouraging chatter, but we weren’t very successful. I mean, how do you pick up the pieces when there’s nothing to pick up?

And then my mom spoke.

“You know, I think I got rid of the mice this time.”

And that’s when we all knew everything was going to be all right.

* * * *

Life goes on. It always does, no matter what else happens. Our old house would be totally demolished. The new house my parents built was nicer than the old house would ever be, despite all the renovations and remodeling they had done. And the new furnishings were a major upgrade from the furniture we had grown up with.

But it wasn’t the same. I never formed an emotional attachment to that house, and when my parents decided to sell it and move into town, it was no great loss to me or anyone else in my family.

My insurance company mostly covered what I owed on my car. I think I had to come up with about eight hundred dollars to pay the bank.

My lovely supermodel wife would actually buy me another MR2 to replace my little red sportscar. My second MR2 was black, and a newer model than my first MR2. But just like the replacement house, my replacement car was nice, but it wasn’t the same. When I decided to sell it, I was done with sportscars for good.

In an odd twist of fate, my wife would fall in love with them, and all of the cars she bought after that would become increasingly sportier and fastier. Her last car was a Nissan 370 Z that could probably go 180 mph. I know for a fact it went 140 mph.

Lea loves to drive fast.

The Epic Party at the End of the World

I have previously mentioned that I had an older brother named Allen, who unfortunately died from SIDS. He would’ve been two years older than me, if he hadn’t gotten dead.

In a strange twist of fate, my best friend, Shorty, was two years older than me, and he had been born in November, the same month as Allen.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe I adopted Shorty as my older brother back then. Like Jerry, I had real brothers that I loved far less than I loved Shorty. Our relationship would be tested by this trip, but it would not be destroyed. And when we really needed each other, we would have one another’s back.

That’s what brothers do.

* * * *

The Big Epic Amazing Party continued despite the fact that one of its hosts and the central figure that inspired it were no longer in attendance. And it continued despite the Wrath of God thunderstorm raging outside that seemed intent on washing Dallas off the face of the earth.

It rained like a bastard. Rain came down in buckets. It rained cats and dogs. In buckets. But the epic party would not be denied. The only thing the rain did was keep everyone inside. No one in their right mind wanted to venture out in that downpour.

Why should they? It was warm and dry inside. There was food, and beer. Pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, and beer. Whiskey, and beer. Vodka, and beer. Red wine, white wine, and beer. Quaaludes, and beer. And there was music!

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with

Thank you, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That was very good advice, and I took it. I mostly forgot about Shorty and Martha, and focused my attention on Randi, and on having as much fun as I could before the flood waters reached the sixth floor.

It rained like hell for at least two hours, and then it just rained. When the rain lightened, some of our guests decided to hit the road. I have no clear memory of when Phase One of our epic party came to a close, but at the end only four people remained: Michael, Hillary, Randi and me.

We sort of cleaned up, you know, threw stuff in the refrigerator, picked up abandoned glasses and plates, random trash. I checked the keg. I was sure it would be empty.

I was wrong. There was a lots of beer left in that keg. I know, right! How the hell was that even possible? And yet, it was. I pumped the taper to keep the pressure up, I didn’t want the beer going flat, and threw a half ton of ice on the keg to keep it cold. Then I turned off the lights in the party room and locked the door. Randi and I helped each other make it up the stairs.

The door to Michael and Hillary’s bedroom was closed when we returned to the apartment, so we tried keep the noise down, like there’s such a thing as a quiet, stumbling drunk.

“Where do you guys sleep?” Randi whispered loudly. The pillows we used as mattresses were easy to find, but where the hell did the blankets go? Oh yeah! Hillary put them in the closet!

I have no doubt half the stuff stored in the small closet came falling out with a crash when I opened the door. Randi came over to help me, and we laughed, not quietly, and kissed and kissed and kissed and kissed. We eventually extracted the blankets from everything else and shoved it all back in the closet to get it out of the way.

“I gottagottagotta amember not to open that door again!” I burped loudly. Randi shrieked! Yeah, we were quiet, all right.

“Oh, this is so…open.” Randi said when she surveyed the landscape in the living room. She had a point. Luckily, there was no longer a coffee table cluttering the space, so I scooted the far end of the couch out away from the wall a few feet, creating a semi-secluded space. I tossed several pillows into the space, and just like that, I had created a love nest.

“That’ll work.” Randi announced.

Home run!

I might kiss and tell, but I do not write Letters to Penthouse. The most I’ll say about this was there was a point in time when I wished I had saved a few of the condoms Raoul had so thoughtfully provided for me in Fort Sill.

I never went past a certain point if birth control was an issue.

Never.

It was the only thing I’ve ever been totally committed to and responsible about in my life. Yep, the Mother’s Curse would modify my behavior far more than all of the sex education classes I took in high school ever would.

“It’s okay. I’m on the pill.” Randi whispered in my ear.

Green light!

“Here, try one of these.” Randi offered me a ‘lude. I declined. “Well, then take half!” I agreed to that.

It has been written that Quaaludes enhanced sexual intensity and performance. Yeah, I don’t know about that. It has also been written that lions copulate approximately one hundred times a day when they’re mating. I can honestly state that neither Randi nor myself were lions, but we did make excellent use of the impromptu love nest I had created in the living room. I was actually still a little sore from my erotic wrestling match with Shelly, but not that sore.

* * * *

I woke up looking at the back of the couch. I was laying on a pile of pillows on the floor, and I was naked. But I knew how all of those variables had occurred this time, and that made me smile. I rolled over and found myself

Alone.

There are times when the emptiness deep inside your soul cannot be filled, no matter what you do to satiate that cavernous void, and this, was one of those times for me.

I missed Randi. I missed Martha. I missed Shelly, but I especially missed Maureen. We had broken up in May of  1975. I hadn’t seen her almost three years, and I missed her more than I missed Randi, Martha and Shelly combined. At that time, I thought she was the reason my soul was so inconsolably miserable, but the depth of my emptiness would far surpass her absence. And even if she had been present, it would’ve surpassed her ability to fill.

I curled up in a ball of spiritual pain, and cried. I mourned my losses, grieved over my heartaches, until I cried myself to sleep.

* * * *

It’s a good thing I didn’t have to respond to any emergencies when I woke up, like, you know, an actual flood. It had stopped raining. It was gray, and cloudy–just like the inside of my head. Michael and Hillary were in no better shape than I was. We slowly took turns taking showers. We slowly cleaned the apartment some more. Even the conversations I had with Michael and Hillary were slow. I’m not sure I ever completed a sentence before I ran out of the necessary energy to finish what I was saying. And just about the only thing I could say was, “Man. Was that a great party, or what.”

We ate leftover whateverthisstuffis for breakfast. I can’t remember if any of us felt any better after eating or not.

Shorty had not returned. I was still pissed off at him, so even if I was concerned, I wasn’t about to admit it. He was a big boy, he could take care of himself, even if he was in the foreign country of Dallas.

Besides, all he had to do was open his damn mouth and half of Dallas would’ve welcomed him into their homes, and the other half of Dallas would fight to take him into theirs. Shorty was all right. I kept telling myself that.

I think we all took a vote and decided the apartment was clean enough…and quit cleaning. Michael and Hillary laid on the couch. I mustered enough energy to go check on the keg and make sure she was safe and the beer was cold. The keg was fine. I could relax. I returned to the apartment and laid down on a pile of pillows in the middle of the living room.

We watched a black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. For all I know, it was the same movie I had kind of watched with Raoul my last night on Fort Sill.

One person could lay on the couch comfortably, but two people the size of Michael and Hillary could not. They tried changing positions, slowly, but they eventually gave up and retired to their bedroom because they could both lay down on the bed comfortably. And more than anything else in the world on that dreary day in Dallas, all three of us were sorely in need of comfort.

I had recovered from my attack of transient global heartbreak. There was a lingering sense of loneliness, or emptiness, somewhere deep inside my soul, but it was quiescent now. I was feeling more exhausted than anything, and it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. I was awakened by the sound of someone knocking on the door.

“Fuckin’ Shorty’s finally back.” I muttered to myself, and heaved myself off the floor. It seemed like it took me an hour to walk ten feet to the door. I opened the door to let Shorty in, and those two guys in suits… don’t… look… like… Shorty…

Actually, they looked like cops. I somehow mustered enough energy to be surprised.

“Hi, how’re y’all doin’? I’m Detective Murtaugh, and this is my partner, Detective Riggs. We’re here to serve a warrant on one Mr Michael Schrödinger. Is there any chance that Michael’s here today?”

“And if so, could y’all have him come to the door, please.” the other detective added. “We’re here to arrest him.”

Back in the USSR

I departed from Dallas with Raoul on a Friday afternoon, heading for Oklahoma and Fort Sill, a place I was sure I’d never return to once I left. And yet, there I was…  The trip was uneventful. It was about a three hour drive from Dallas to Lawton. I talked a lots; about my life since leaving the Army, and how I was seriously thinking about staying in Dallas and not returning to Minnesota, ever. Raoul drove and listened.

Raoul could not get over my appearance. I did look a lots different–long haired afro and a beard. He couldn’t wait to show me off to the few people on base that still knew me. There weren’t many left.

Fort Sill didn’t look any different to me. The buildings were still familiar to my memory, and somehow foreign at the same time. It was an odd sensation. The Dental barracks wasn’t any different. It was a bland two story wooden building, ten rooms on each floor.

It was a full house of twenty guys when I lived there back in 1975. There were maybe an half a dozen guys living there in 1978. Raoul’s room was at the far end of hallway from the main entrance on the first floor. He was the sole occupant on that end of the building. Everyone else was living in the rooms nearest the main entrance on either the first or second floor.

There were a couple guys I knew living in the barracks, but I can’t remember their names. They were FNG’s about the time I left, and I didn’t spend much time getting to know them, but they welcomed me back as if we had been friends forever. They couldn’t get over my appearance either.

Everyone wanted to know what it was like being a civilian. It’s weird how the military brainwashes you into thinking you won’t survive once you get out. I assured them I had readjusted to civilian life, and they would, too. We sat in the dayroom, drinking beer, reminiscing about the past, waxing philosophic about the future. Every guy in that room looking at me had one similar thought: I am totally doing that when I get out of the fuckin’ Army!

After about an hour of talking to the guys, Raoul announced we had stuff to do. We headed down the hall to his room. He made a couple quick phone calls, and we waited for his mystery guests to arrive. He wouldn’t tell me whom he had called, but whomever he had called were on the way over. While we waited, he showed me the room he had set up for me.

The rooms in the barracks were identical, but you could decorate your room any way you chose, within reason. I had to change my design at least once because the Army didn’t approve. I recognized the carpeting in Raoul’s room. It had once been mine. Some of the posters in his room had also once been mine. I didn’t take much with me when I was discharged. Raoul had a couple of lounge chairs and lamps, and a pretty big console TV in his living area. A bookcase was centered in the passage between the living room and the bedroom. It was very cozy.

Each room had a living area and a sleeping area separated by a partition wall. There was a single bed and a sink in the sleeping area, and a shared bathroom between the the adjoining rooms. The bathroom had a toilet and a shower. My room was on the other side of Raoul’s bathroom. The only thing in it was a bed, and a side table, but the bed was made.

“Thanks for going all out for me.” I said.

“You’re not moving in! You’re only going to sleep here, if you get any sleep this weekend!”

“But I like what you did with my stuff.”

“We raped your room ten seconds after you left. I had to pull rank on the FNG’s to get the stuff I have. Part of you is in every occupied room in the barracks.”

I did have a pretty cool room, back in the day. I can’t remember if we went to look at it or not. We might have. Raoul had keys to all the rooms. I know my room was unoccupied, it was the third room from the stairway on the right on the second floor. Only the first two rooms on either side of the hallway were occupied on the second floor.

He opened the drawer of the bedside table in the room he had set up for me. There were six condoms inside.

“You never know when those will come in handy.”

I can’t remember if Raoul had been a Boy Scout or not, but he had been in the Army for a very long time. He was prepared for anything. If the Russians had ever attacked Fort Sill, Raoul would’ve been ready. He probably had a tank hidden under his bed.

We heard loud footsteps, and laughing and shrieking in hallway. Raoul smiled.

“Amigo, the putas are here!”

Puta is Spanish slang for slut, or whore. The putas Raoul was referring to were three WAC’s from my Army days. They were possibly the only three WAC’s left on base that knew me. And they had primed themselves for my party by drinking a lots of beers before they arrived.

Gloria, LaVerne and Shelly.

Gloria was recently divorced. She had been unhappily married when I knew her, and she generally looked miserable. She didn’t look miserable anymore! She had long, light brown hair, pale blue eyes framed by oval wire rimmed glasses, and she had lost at least fifty pounds. She was short and sleek. She looked great!

“Marky! Is that you?!? OhmyGod!” She ran to hug me.

“Oh. My. God.” LaVerne said from the doorway. She was a light skinned African American. We had the same hair. She broke into a grin and pushed Gloria out of my arms.

“Jesus Christ, Rowen. Is that you?!?!” Shelly said as she walked in. “I didn’t think you could get any uglier…  Actually, all that hair hides your ugliness.”

“Good to see you, too, Shelly.”

Shelly was a lesbian. She was my height, short, dark brown hair and eyes. She was an hot little package, and I had had the hots for her back when I was in the Army, but I didn’t have a vagina, so…  I was surprised to see her. She was pretty much the last person I expected to see. Back when we had our Get to Know You party at the barracks that the FNG’s had organized to meet the WAC’s, Shelly didn’t come. I would learn she had recently broken up with her girlfriend, so she had nothing better to do. She looked great, too.

“Man, I can’t get over the new you!” Shelly said, running her fingers over my afro, then all the girls were touching my hair and my beard.

“Hey, what about me?” Raoul said.

Gloria and LaVerne giggled and started messing up his hair. But Shelly stared at me is if I were a creature she had never seen before. And then she kissed me. And I kissed her back.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning looking at the bottom of the bedframe to my left. I was laying on a mattress on the floor. The mattress that had been on the bed was missing. It was probably the mattress I had been sleeping on, but I couldn’t figure out why I had taken it off the bed. Or why I was naked.

I rolled to my right, and rolled into Shelly. We were laying on two mattresses on the floor that had been placed next to each other to make one larger bed. And I wasn’t the only person that was naked. Shelly opened her eyes and giggled softly.

“Hi.” she whispered.

“Hi!” I replied, surprised. “Excuse me, but I have to pee.”

“Warm up the seat for me, please?”

“What?”

“Sit down, and warm up the seat for me, okay?” She smiled and kissed the tip of my nose.

“Oh, okay.”I said, once I understood what she wanted. I found my glasses and stumbled to the bathroom. Shelly giggled softly again. She had a really cute…giggle. I had gotten a glimpse of her body under the blankets when I got up. Shelly was cute all over.

I sat down–the toilet seat was cold, and peed. And I tried to put the pieces of the previous night together. I flushed the toilet and peered into Raoul’s room. Mattresses covered his floor too, and sprawled across the mattresses were Gloria, Raoul and LaVerne, in that order. They were sleeping in a heap. Clothing was strewn everywhere. And I think Raoul had a pair of panties on his head. Probably Gloria’s.

Shelly rushed into the bathroom, wrapped in a sheet. She lifted it above her waist as she sat down. I left so she could have some privacy, still trying to remember what got happened. I couldn’t remember much.

We had been drinking beer and smoking joints and cigarettes in Raoul’s room, listening to music, dancing, laughing. And kissing. There was a lots of hugging and kissing going on. I think I even kissed Raoul…  I sort of remembered that.

“Hi!” Shelly whispered, rushing back to bed and diving under the blankets. “I’m freezing!”

I was sitting on the edge of the box spring, staring at the sink.

“You look surprised.” Shelly said. I nodded, distractedly. “Actually, so am I. You’re first man I’ve ever slept with. Aren’t you cold?” I guessed I probably was, even though the radiator was emanating a fair amount of heat, and climbed under the blankets with Shelly. She snuggled close to warm up. She felt very warm to me.

“I was your first?” I asked, trying to take that in.

“Uh-huh. I’ve always liked girls.”

“Yeah, me too. Does that make me a lesbian too?” Shelly laughed, her dark eyes twinkled brightly.

“I don’t know, but if you didn’t have that beard you could probably convince a lot of girls you were one.”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but how was it, your first time with a guy?”

“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but it was amazing!”

I had to smile to myself when I heard that. And then I had to make sure it would be an experience I’d remember.

* * * *

I had a lots of Saturday mornings like that, not the making love to a lesbian part. I’m pretty sure that only happened once. The trying to remember what happened the night before, and putting together the pieces of my life as they drifted into my consciousness part. I had way more of those experiences than one person should have had.

There’s probably more of my life that I have little or vague recollection of than I have total recall of. That was perhaps the most disconcerting part of the early stages of my sobriety. I started remembering stuff–random images popped into my head when I least needed them–but all I got was pieces, never the complete picture. I had no idea where that piece fit into the puzzle of my life; what came before, what followed. I was like unto an amnesia victim, maybe…

Raoul and his girls eventually woke up. Shelly and I listened to them moaning and groaning and laughing as they untangled themselves from the blankets and made their way to the bathroom.

I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. Shelly was so content she was absolutely glowing. That memory of her is forever filed in my Happy Box, and I know where to find it.

Raoul and I walked the girls out to their car. Gloria and LaVerne looked bleary-eyed and pale. But Shelly smiled and glowed, and blew me a kiss as they drove off.  It was the last time I ever saw her.

* * * *

Raoul and I decided to take a booze cruise after cleaning up ourselves and Raoul’s room. Well, we didn’t do a lots of cleaning. We emptied the ashtrays, and policed empty beer cans. We left the mattresses on the floor, just in cases.

Raoul said the mattresses were my idea. It wasn’t safe for the girls to drive, as drunk as they were. There were a lots of empty rooms and available mattresses…  And the girls were drunk enough to agree. Even Shelly.

We went to a little diner just off base for breakfast, bought a twelve pack at the store next to the diner for the road, and headed out to the range roads on base.

The range roads led out to the firing ranges on Fort Sill. There was a lots of artillery training at Fort Sill, and the ranges were where all the training took place. Artillery fire is incredibly loud, so the ranges were placed as far from civilization as possible by design. There was probably five thousand miles of paved roads crisscrossing the outlying areas around the base, leading out to the ranges.

I liked the range roads. They weren’t greatly travelled, and once you learned your way around, you could get almost anywhere quicker on them than driving the main surface streets. There were even unmanned gates you could use to get into Lawton.

I’m sure those are long gone…

There wasn’t much to see on the range roads. There are some very scenic places in Oklahoma, but not so much out on the ranges. The terrain was hilly, covered in scrub brush, weeds and wild flowers. The vegetation was mostly brown and dead that February, awaiting Spring, and rebirth.

I was feeling reborn that morning, and couldn’t stop smiling, no matter how much I tried. I was driving, Raoul wanted to kick back and relax. Also, my new appearance was incredibly distracting to him, and he glanced at me frequently, as if he was trying to figure out who I was.

We were driving on a road neither of us had ever been on before, and we had put a lots of miles on our cars traveling the range roads.

“You look real happy, amigo.” he said.

“I am.”

“No, I mean, really happy! What happened with you and the lesbiana last night.”

Some guys don’t kiss and tell. I’m not one of them, obviously. The only real problem was I had no clear memory of what actually happened the previous night.

“I looked in the drawer, amigo. Four condoms were missing. Four!” Raoul said.

“Yeah, well. I think we filled a couple of them with water and threw them at the Marines.”

“Yeah, right! You fucked that little girl four times! In one night! You’re a fucking machine!! You must have one of them bionic dicks or something, amigo!”

Yeah, I’m still not sure about that, but I had noticed something while I was taking a shower. My groin was sore, and tender. And my penis was bruised. It was actually black and blue! I did tell Raoul about that. I may have even showed him my battered penis later…

I think Shelly had tried to kill me. That last erotic wrestling match in the morning was almost more pain than pleasure.

Almost.

“Me? What about you! You banged two girls! You, are the true fucking machine!” I countered.

We laughed a lots, and drank a toast to our penises, those brave little soldiers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that said, BUMP. I looked down the road, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a bump. And then the road… disappeared.

Seriously, it just vanished. The car fell into a pit about ten feet deep. The sides had a slight slope, and possibly looked something like unto this:

\___/

We flew through the air like stuntmen in a movie. We might have even been screaming. The car ricocheted heavily off the bottom of the pit, then bounced up the other side, and we were back on the road again. I hit the brakes and swiftly came to a stop.

“Whatever you do, don’t turn off the car!” Raoul’s voice said. I couldn’t see him. He was sprawled upside down on the floor. In the backseat. Spilled beer drenched the interior of the car. Raoul and I were soaked in beer.

“What the fuck was that?!?” we both shouted, and got out of the car to check it out.

I tried to find a dry spot on my shirt to clear the beer off my lenses so I could see again. The “bump” we had hit was a trench roughly ten feet deep, and maybe twenty feet wide. Raoul figured it was used to teach guys how to drive tanks.

I marvel about that event to this day because we probably should’ve gotten dead that day. And if we hadn’t been so incredibly lucky, we would have been. If we had been moving any slower, we would’ve fallen into the trench with no hope of ever getting out because we weren’t driving a tank. We would’ve been stuck there until someone came along. For all I know, we could be there still. If we had been moving any faster, we would’ve crashed headfirst into the far side of the trench and that would have killed us to death instantly. But we were moving at the perfect speed to bounce in and out of that deep sonuvabitchin’ crevasse without gotting dead.

We were stunned.

“My car!” Raoul said, and ran to look it over, swearing feverishly in Spanish as he ran. Another miracle! The car had sustained no external damage. We couldn’t even find any damage to the undercarriage!

We were so surprised and happy, there was only one thing to do. We popped open a couple of beers and drank another toast. While we were standing around in awe and wonder at our incredible good fortune, it started raining. We didn’t even care.

We laughed, and asked each other repeatedly, Are you okay? Did you get hurt? and laughed harder. Neither of us had so much as a scratch. We stood in the rain, letting it rinse the beer out of our hair and dilute the smell of beer in our clothes. When we were suitably wet, we climbed back into the car and turned the heat up.

Raoul drove. I don’t think he wanted me hitting any more bumps. And fortunately, there were no more bumps to hit. We found a gate, and headed for the nearest liquor store. What else do you do when you don’t got dead? We kept the car running until we got back to the barracks, just in cases. It started right up again. Yep, that was a miracle for sure.

We changed into dry clothes. I did some laundry, there was a washer and dryer at the barracks. We drank beer and smoked until we fell asleep watching TV, some black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. Then eventually crawled to the mattresses on the floor and slept until Sunday morning.

* * * *

Well I woke up Sunday mornin’, with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more, for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day

Thank you, Kris Kristofferson.

That’s how I felt that Sunday morning, February 25, 1979. I’m not sure you could call this blessed, but I rarely had serious hangovers back during my drinking days. I might have an headache, but I rarely vomited.

I think I did have a beer for breakfast that day. And another for dessert. By the time Raoul woke up, I was half drunk already. I was heading back to Dallas that day, and Raoul would be driving, so…

We moved all the excess mattresses into my room, then went to the little diner again, then headed for Dallas. I have no recollection of this trip. But Raoul safely delivered me to Dallas and Michael and Hillary’s apartment.

Raoul didn’t want to come up to the apartment. He just wanted to get back to the base and sleep.

“It’s been great, man.” I said, hugging him. He was one of the best, truest friends I’ve ever had.

“If you stay in Dallas, let me know, amigo. Maybe Shelly and I will come visit you.”

It was the last time I ever saw him.

* * * *

The mood in the apartment was noticeably different when I walked in. Hillary’s ex-boyfriend, George, had won his lawsuit against Hillary for their disputed possessions. Did I know about the lawsuit? I wondered. If I did, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Michael was sullen and aloof, and numbed out by ‘ludes. Hillary was livid! She was pissed beyond reasoning, and she was just getting started.

And to top it off, most of the pot I had smuggled into Texas was gone!

“Oh, I sold some of it while you were gone.” Shorty explained. “You brought so much of it, and I was running low on cash.”

I was initially irritated, but I got over it quickly. There was no way I was going to try to smuggle any dope back to Minnesota, so Shorty had actually done me a favor, and we still had enough weed to keep us high for the reminder of the week. I was running low on cash too, so I asked Shorty for half the cash he made selling my pot. He got a kind of sheepish look on his face, and handed me a twenty dollar bill.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“I kinda spent the rest…  We went out, and I started buying drinks…” I would later find out Martha was one of the people in the group Shorty went out with, and he wanted to greatly impress her.

Shorty had sold about five ounces of weed while I was gone. He had to have made at least two hundred bucks from his transactions, and he gave me twenty bucks. I shook my head, wondering if I should kill him now, or wait and make it look like an accident. I had about fifty bucks in my wallet. Shorty had less than me. And we weren’t leaving until the following Monday.

Eight more days, not much more than eighty bucks between us. It was going to be a long week.

Bon anniversaire

Almost twenty eight years ago I married my lovely supermodel wife, Lea. We actually got married on a Monday, and our anniversary falls on a Monday this year, so it’s kind of a double anniversary–day and date.

I’m not sure when I started to begin to commence to get ready to think about proposing, but I knew I would marry this woman. I was working at AMRTC. It was a Saturday in September in 1988. Lea and I were walking through the Crossroads Mall in St Cloud.  We were strolling along, holding hands, and we walked past DJ Bitzen’s Jewelers. On an impulse, I swerved in and asked the clerk if she had any engagement rings.

“What?!?” Lea exclaimed. I had surprised her.

“Do you see anything you like?”

“Ohh! All of them.” Lea sighed. This was going to be easier than I thought. I pointed to a ring. The clerk took it out of the display case and handed it to Lea to try on. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m so nervous.” she said to the clerk, and something like this happened:

unnamed-2

Yep, slippery little suckers, aren’t they? The clerk retrieved the ring. I shook my head, Not that one.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“Um, how about this one?” the clerk suggested. She handed it to Lea, whose hands were quite possibly shaking even more. And this happened:

unnamed (3).gif

This ring flew even farther than the first. The clerk retrieved this ring and put it back in the case.

“I’m so sorry!” Lea apologized. “Let’s go–”

“Not yet. You pick a ring this time.” Lea took a couple of deep breaths, composed herself for a minute. She perused the selection of gold and diamonds, and pointed out a ring. The clerk looked like she didn’t know whether to hike the ring to Lea and go deep or what to do. She smiled at Lea, handing her the ring she had selected. I seriously think both of them held their breath. And this happened:

images-2

Lea placed the ring on her finger without throwing it.

“This is the wedding band.” the clerk said. I guess they come in sets… Lea slipped the second ring onto her finger, and admired how it looked for a moment or two.

I thanked the clerk for all her hard work, and we left the store. We probably went to get something to eat. If it has anything to do with shopping, I get hungry. Not sure why that is.

I called DJ Bitzen’s on Monday morning. The store is closed on Sundays. As chance would have it, I ended up talking to the clerk that had waited on us. She had no problem recalling who we were.

“Do you remember which ring my girlfriend didn’t throw?” I asked.

“Yes, I do!” she laughed. I told her to upgrade the diamond, and wrap it up. I’d take it.

* * * *

A few weeks later, Lea’s ring was ready to be picked up. I called my cousin, Danny W. Long, and told him my devious plan to propose to my lovely girlfriend. He agreed. Now all I had to do was convince her.

Lea and I were living in Minneapolis. Her ring was in St Cloud. All I had to do was get Lea to go to St Cloud.

“No, I’m not interested in going to St Cloud…” was Lea’s response when I suggested it. As chance would have it, the day I was going to propose to Lea happened to be her birthday. I told her I needed a tune up and oil change on my car, and Cousin Dan and I were going to do that. Dan’s girlfriend would be there, so she’d have someone to talk to. And then we’d go grab something to eat…for her birthday…

Lea reluctantly agreed. We drove the seventy-five miles or so to St Cloud. I dropped Lea off at Cousin Dan’s. She and Margie were chatting away in the kitchen. Dan and I actually bought a bunch of tune up stuff, my car really did need an oil change. And we went over to DJ Bitzen’s.

Lea and Margie were still in the kitchen when we got back. I couldn’t wait to show Lea all the cool stuff I bought. Spark plugs, condenser, oil, oil filter and…a…ring!

I got down on one knee, and asked Lea to marry me:

images-3

Lea said, “Yes!”

It was the last time I surprised her.

We were married thirty-four days later. I don’t think anyone at our wedding was giving us more than six months. I should’ve taken that bet.

There have been plenty of times when we could’ve gotten divorced. I know thought about a couple times. I have no idea how many times Lea contemplated it, but I know she did.

I think our secret for staying together has been this: we didn’t hate each other at the same time. It might sound weird, but I think that’s it.

I’m taking Lea out in a few minutes. We’re going out with a few of our Ajijic peeps tonight. Lea’s actually going shopping with the girls in Guadalajara on Monday, so we decided to celebrate our anniversary tonight. We’re going to Go. It’s one of the many fine dining establishments down here.

Happy anniversary, honey. Buen provecho.

The Devil Drives a Chevy

Back when I was in Oklahoma, I had a couple of Army buddies that were from the Great State of Texas, which just happened to be conveniently located due south of Oklahoma. Several of us would pile into a car after work on Friday afternoon, fill up the gas tank, load up on beer and munchies–and hit the road. It was party time.

We’d end up at Johnny’s parents’ house. Or Kim’s parents’ house. Or Tommy’s parents’ house. Or Raoul’s parents’ house. The parental units were always happy to see their son and almost always happy to meet his new friends. We were happy to be out of Oklahoma and the Army, if only for a couple of days.

On the weekend that the devil went down to Texas, we ended up at Raoul’s parents’ house, and it was just Raoul and myself, not half the company. He had a blue, two door Chevy Nova. It was a beautiful car.

Raoul’s parents lived somewhat west of the middle of nowhere, if memory serves me right. We got in late Friday night, grabbed a couple hours of sleep, ate breakfast (Raoul’s mom could’ve made one of my boots taste great), and headed out to party down with a couple of Raoul’s cousins.

Raoul was about ten years older than I was. He was divorced, and that, is going to be one fuck of a story if I ever find the courage to write it. Raoul was an Hispanic guy, and the first group of his cousins we partied with were on par with his age. We met up at a little bar in a little town, and started drinking our way toward the geographic center of the middle of nowhere.

Sometime around midnight, maybe, we ran into another group of Raoul’s cousins that were closer to my age, and they knew about this monster party out by the river that was east of the middle of nowhere. So we all decided to go to that.

Raoul’s younger cousins were less into booze, and more into pot and psychedelics. They asked if I wanted to try some acid. I said make mine a double, and smiled. This was going to be an epic night.

I’m sure my memories of what happened next are a bit blurry, but they’re the only ones I have. The Party at the River was huge! It was like Woodstock, only smaller. And there were no live bands. And it didn’t last three days. There was music, and people dancing in the moonlight. Lots of beer, lots of pot. And then the acid kicked in and the world went Technicolor®.

I wandered around the party grounds with Raoul’s electric younger cousins while the Old Guard kicked back by the tables where the audio system was set up, and drank beer.

At around 3:30 AM, the party was still going strong, I was tripping my balls off, but Raoul thought we should head for home and catch a few hours of sleep. We still had to drive back to base, and go back to the Army, and all that buzzkill crap.

I was going to be up all night tripping the Light Fantastique, so to speak, so I told him what I thought he could do with his idea. Raoul got really pissed! He started yelling and swearing. His electric cousins told him to chill out, man. He started yelling at them in Spanish. The Old Guard Cousins formed a line, facing off against their younger Electric Cousins. And then there were a lots of people, all of them yelling.

The Electric Cousins and I decided enough was enough, and started to walk off. And then Sergeant Raoul Killjoy got all up in my grille and said, “Get in the goddamn car! We’re leaving!”

I refused. Raoul shoved me in what I think was the general direction of his car, then he punched me in the jaw. That’s when I lost my glasses. A brawl broke out, and we were all kicked out of the Epic Party at the River, East of the Middle of Nowhere.

Once we got kicked out of the party, Raoul’s cousins started laughing and helping each other up, clapping each other on the back. Raoul and I were not laughing. I was essentially blind without my glasses, and I had somehow broken Raoul’s arm when I retaliated against his unprovoked aggression, though neither of us knew that yet.

We said goodbye to all the cousins, got on the highway and drove off into the night. Raoul was pissed off as two hells at me for being such a goddamn hammerhead, and not listening to him and disobeying a direct order. He did outrank me. He was an E5. I was an E4.

I was tripping on maybe a couple thousand micrograms of LSD, and I wasn’t too happy either. I couldn’t see anything clearly, except the hallucinations I was having, and they were vividly intense. I looked over at Raoul, but he wasn’t there. In his place was the Devil!

Yes. Satan himself was my chauffeur, driving across Texas as the sun was starting to come up. I had been raised Catholic and the stereotypical image of the Devil–horns growing out of his head, red skin, pointed tail, glowing eyes, evil smile–it was all there, just to my left, driving the car down the highway to hell.

I’m not sure if I screamed, but I think it would’ve been appropriate, don’t you? At the very least, I should’ve done the Home Alone face, but I know I didn’t do that. I did what any other hallucinating former Catholic would’ve done in that situation. I opened the door and jumped out of the car. The moving car, that was traveling at least 55 mph.

Whatever you think should have happened to me for doing what I did, probably didn’t happen. I didn’t got dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. I didn’t break any bones. I don’t think I even ended up with road rash after sliding across the highway. What I did end up with was a very small, very superficial cut on the top of my head.

Raoul slammed on the brakes and got out of the car. It was right about this point in time he figured out he had a broken arm because his left arm hurt like hell when he tried to open the door.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?!” he screamed at me. I could kind of make out Raoul’s features in the distance, and this was a relief to me. Satan, the real Prince of Darkness, was gone. And at that moment the sun rose over the horizon.

We drove to a military base that was kind of in the general direction of Oklahoma. Raoul had x-rays taken, his bones manipulated back into place, and a cast put on his left arm. He also got a bottle of Percodan for dessert, which we washed down with a twelve pack we bought at a convenience store to get us back to Ft Sill.

I’m not sure anyone believed the story we told them–and the story you just read is the story we told everyone–when they asked us what happened.

If I hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t believe it either, but I have had a blessed life and what appears to be ten thousand guardian angels protecting me or I wouldn’t be here now.

You might think Raoul and I would be anything BUT friends after this. Nope, we were buds right up to the day I got out of the Army. He came to see me when I took a trip to Dallas in 1978 with my then almost best bud ever, Gerald ‘Shorty’ Girtz.

And if you think The Devil Went Down to Texas trip is the weirdest thing that ever happened to me, you’d be wrong. It’s in the Top Five, for sure. Maybe the Top Three.

That trip to Dallas though, that might be Number One.

The Piano Man

We had a piano in one of the day rooms at the Minneapolis VAMC. And we had a patient that played it whenever he was in the hospital. He was an old guy, so he played songs from the 40’s and 50’s, and he even sang the lyrics. He was really good! Everyone loved him.

The last time he was admitted, there was something distinctly different about the Piano Man. For one thing, he repeated everything I said, really loud.

“THE PACKERS ARE GOING TO LOSE ON SUNDAY!”

And it wasn’t just me. He repeated everything anyone else said.

“NO! THE VIKINGS ARE GOING TO LOSE ON SUNDAY!!”

I figured the guy had had a stroke, so we ordered a Neuro consult, and he was transferred to a medical unit. And he stayed there.

A couple weeks later, my gut asked me whatever happened to the Piano Man? I looked him up in the computer and found the unit he’d been transferred to. My shift would end in about half an hour, it was ‘pink’ on the unit–nurses never use the Q word–so I went upstairs to see him.

The Piano Man did not look good. He was shiny and sweating. He breathing was labored and irregular. And he looked terrified!

“I’M SCARED!!” he gasped. I reached out and took his hand.

“It’s okay. I’ll stay here with you.” I said. His breathing calmed down a bit, but he still looked afraid. His eyes darted all around the room, as if he were trying to locate the source of a spooky noise.

“Maybe we could sing a song,” I suggested.

“NO! I DON’T WANT TO SING!” he said. But I started singing.

“Every time it rains, it rains…” I started.

“Pennies from Heaven…” the Piano Man chimed in, his voice returning to a normal volume. It was the only song I remembered from the songs he used to sing. Despite his reluctance, the Piano Man and I sang two verses of the song. He relaxed a bit with each word of the song.

“There’ll be pennies from Heaven for you and me…” We finished the song. I smiled at the Piano Man. He smiled back. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He closed his eyes…and he died.

I went back to my unit. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. The Piano Man had left this world, but he had done so unafraid, with a song in his heart.