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.

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.

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.