Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Young and the Gullible

I could not abide high school. I was the painfully shy loner, who wasn’t even significant enough to bully. I got decent grades, but I would have probably had a higher average if I hadn’t been absent every other Monday. Thirty-nine days absent in my last year alone. One more day out and I could not have gotten my diploma at the end of the year. There was a moment when I was so close to quitting school that I sat down in guidance counselor’s office, accompanied by my mother, with that exact intention, although my mom was against it. My counselor, like so many high school counselors, was useless. He looked like an overgrown Barney Rubble, and when he spoke, a ball of spit would form on his lower lip, and I would be held in suspense, not knowing whether the spit would be sucked back into his mouth, or come flying out in the direction of me and my dear mom.

After some discussion, I decided to stay in school with the intention of graduating at the end of my junior year. I loaded up on classes, including an independent study I created with one of my teachers on film-making. I walked onto the stage with the other graduates of 1978 on a sunny summers' day, holding my diploma. We then sang our class song: Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name.” I still cringe every time I hear that song. Nothing against Jim Croce, but for my class Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle or even Foreigner's "Feels Like The First Time" would have been more fitting.

Once out for the long summer, I was at a loss for what to do. I was not one of those energetic teenagers, driving my mom’s Ford Granada to a part-time job after school. I wasn’t browsing through college catalogs, trying to decide on my future. My future was up in the air…literally. The U.S. Air Force. It didn’t take long before some go-getting recruiter, got my name off of a list of recent graduates, and the next thing I knew, I was in his darkly paneled office in downtown Taunton, Mass., hearing his sales pitch. Let me just say that anything that begins in the city of Taunton cannot be good.

After the recruiter's spiel and the requisite audio-visual presentation, he asked if I had any questions. I only asked one: Was there any term of enlistment less than four years? The answer was nope, just four and six year terms. Rather than hot-footing it out of there, and running for the hills, I told the fool in blue that I would sign up for four years. I was still seventeen years old -- I wouldn’t turn eighteen for nearly another year -- so my parents had to sign a permission slip, so that I could go on a four year field trip, with chaperones from hell. I was on delayed enlistment, which meant that I got three or four months to tie up any loose ends before taking the oath.Unfortunately, losing my virginity was not one of those loose ends that got tied up before my departure.

It was when I took the oath of service that I realized I was signing my life away; allowing myself to be used as cannon fodder, if necessary. If I thought things were strict at home, I was in for a whole new ball game: a haircut every two weeks, ironing my uniform before work, and not calling in sick every Monday.

My parents drove me to Logan Airport on December 15, 1978. They stood with my siblings in their 70’s clothing and tearfully waved goodbye, as I boarded an Eastern Airlines jet for San Antonio, Texas. The beginning of anything new is usually blurry and confusing, and this wasn't just a job, but an adventure and often times a test of extreme boredom, while living in extreme climates. I was in the service that advised us to "Aim High." It wasn't until later that I realized that getting high was more fun. I became an adult in the service, or at least made my best attempt at maturing while living under the watchful eye of the biggest mutha' of them all, the U.S. military.

An obvious example of false advertising.
After that fateful day there followed nearly four years of below freezing weather, drunken weekends, and lots of missile maintenance. The only gunfire in North Dakota was the farmers, shooting up the street signs after a night at the bar. I did manage to lose my virginity, while on leave with a friend in Nevada, but luckily I found it again once I got out and before I got engaged to my first wife. Today I voluntarily got a haircut, but my mustache is totally out of regulations.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cops and Robins

There has been a recent spate of helicopters overhead, which makes me always think, “Attention all personnel. Incoming choppers with wounded, Report to the hospital.”  Sometimes they hover, while the police SUVs zoom by, as if they’re in some type of machismo parade. They boop their sirens through the intersections, briefly pausing to avoid killing innocent citizens on their way home from work. The rescue vehicles have these new sirens that sound like we're having a disaster in Seattle, Brussels and Madrid all at once. Okay. I heard your sirens already. I'm trying to avoid the rocks, because I don’t want my crew and I perish in eel-infested waters.

I've witnessed a couple of road rage incidents recently, that belie that increasing madness of the surrounding society. I was at a nearby park, when a goober in a pick-up truck, and a goober in a crappy SUV starting a slap-boxing match at the adjoining intersection. One of the drivers shouted, "You're going to jail." The amazing thing was that no police were called. It seems that citizens are more hesitant to call the police -- our thugs in blue -- these days. They often escalate the most minor situation, making them escalators and troublemakers, rather than servants and protectors. The police force is a fraternity that has been poisoned by power, and men with power have a habit of really fucking things up. Am I wrong? Tell me I'm wrong.

When I manage to filter out the cacophony of sirens, helicopters, buses and jets, I can hear the wonderful songs of the birds of spring. I noticed last year, as the sun sets, that a Robin with alight upon the top of a nearby evergreen tree and run through an amazing array of melodies that he keeps to himself during the day. Then I noticed that when the clouds moved in and obscured the sun, the robins would start their varied melodies again. I've convince myself that they are trying to sing the sun back into the sky. I have a natural affinity for crows, but my dad once told me that he didn't like crows, because they would tear a robin's nest apart, and consume the babies with relish....maybe a little mustard too. It's a cruel world, especially without condiments.

Walking to work helps me to pay attention to the little moments. I pause to hear the robin's song. I say hello to Sophie, a little black cat, when she is sharing my break spot behind the Lutheran church. I marvel at the cloud formations, only to have my serenity interrupted by a low flying helicopter that then proceeds to hover over the neighborhood for the next twenty minutes. Humans have always had a tendency to disrupt the peace of our natural surroundings, with strip mining, logging, hydroelectric damns, and so forth. All so we can watch some sub-intelligent reality TV show, while sitting in a comfy chair and wearing clothes made by slave labor on the other side of the globe.

[audible sigh]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Salad Bar of Memories

We have a tendency to cherry-pick our memories, choosing only the ripe and tasty moments to savor. We avoid those memories that are not under the sneeze shield, or that look neglected and stale. Sometimes you think to yourself, I'll just try a bite of this memory. How bad can it be? But like the pasta salads at Shoney's, some memories are so heavy that they stay with us for the rest of the night, and may even cause indigestion and bad dreams. We wake up in a cold sweat, muttering "I can't believe I remembered that whole thing."

When I recall the memory of my younger brother, showing his pubescent friends where I stashed my small collection of adult magazines -- those precious Penthouse issues, hidden on a shelf behind the heating vent -- it brings to mind the day I came home from an outing, and went upstairs to find that my mom had cleaned my room. (Why do mom's do that?) I looked under the bed, and it was obvious that she had found my two issues of Oui magazine. Obvious because they were no longer there. I can still feel that young male anxiety, knowing that I would get a "talking to." They just wanted to know where I got them and they were adamant, but I wasn't about to give up my source. (I got them from my neighbor down the street. He stole them from his older brother. There! Forty-five years later. I finally said it! )

On the positive -- and non porn side, I have a vague memory of winning a major award at some local yokel fair when I much younger. I found a needle in a haystack, or rather I scrambled around in a big dusty pile of hay, grabbing as many pennies as I could find. The prize was an oversized Teddy bear that I kept for years, but, as with most major awards, it eventually found its way to the landfill. (I still have my original Teddy bear, with his threadbare coat, and his appendectomy scar.) There were no other major awards in my youth, but I once won a weekly coloring contest in the local newspaper. I don't have any real recollection of this event, but I do have the newspaper clipping, showing me accepting a check for ten dollars, which is more reliable than any memory. It's there in black and white.

I'm sure the memories that my siblings and I have of our common childhood vary greatly. We don't share the same DNA, although we do share the same DAD and MOM. We grew up in the same household, but what one child may have experienced as traumatic, the others may not have even witnessed. My brother perfectly recalls all those times when I teased him, acting like the typical older brother. I remember riding in the back seat of my parent's old baby blue Rambler with my sister, going to pick up my brother from the foster home for the first time. For years I had a very clear memory of a puppy being stuck at the bottom of the uncovered sewer tank in the backyard, but my parent's swear that tragedy never happened. I have enough animal tragedies in my head that did happen, so I guess I can let that memory go, but that's easier said than done.

We may think that we freely browse over our past, choosing the memories that best suit the present version of ourselves, but maybe our memories choose their own moments to reveal themselves. Every time we reassemble a past event it is slightly different from the previous time that we recalled it. Details fall away. Names are forgotten. Who are we without our memories? Or maybe the better question is who are we with our memories?

Every Sunday is all-you-can-remember Sunday!!
 Kids always remember free!!
Adults $17.99, plus a few years of therapy.
(We do not recommend under-cooked memories.)

Just a few of our many tasty choices!!