Good News Department. Professor-Cousin Jack, of Jack Bog’s Blog, writes an uplifting piece about a gutsy principal in Portland who is serious about educating children in that financially strapped city, and who is actually doing something about it. The parents and teachers are excited about his proposed changes, which, as Jack describes, include “having his public school renamed re-named an ‘academy’; extending school days; revamping the curriculum; and (get this) requiring the kids to wear uniforms to school next year.” Yes!!
February 27, 2003
February 25, 2003
The E-Mail Guy. Nothing last night (MSG Steele was occupying my time) and a busy day today making living. However, I did want to suggest that you take a look at the Wacko E-Mail Guy. As you will see, he writes comical e-mails to various companies and governmental entities. He publishes the e-mails as well as the replies he receives. Check out the exchange of correspondence between him and UPS.
February 23, 2003
Sunday, Lousy Weather, Pings, and the French. Itâ€™s Sunday; itâ€™s cold and it has been raining since yesterday morning, melting the large snowfall we had last week. Next comes the flooding. Can locusts be far behind?
Oh, yes. I succumbed to Ritaâ€™s prodding over at Res Ipsa and followed the directions provided in Amish Tech Support to manually ping weblogs.com after each posting. I think I have it right. Weâ€™ll see.
Finally, before I tend to some stuff I have to do, I wanted to direct your attention to an article that I came upon via Newmarkâ€™s Door. The article, by Jonah Goldberg, points out that the U.S. has only two problems with the French â€“ what they say and what they do. Bingo!
February 21, 2003
There are certain things that appear on the radio, television or CDs (formerly known as â€œrecordsâ€) that I find to be such an assault on my senses that I get panicky and flail at the remote, or volume knob, or on-off switch to make them go away. I want to be clear. These things are not just a minor annoyance. They make me temporarily crazy until I can abate the sensory insult. Here is a partial list. I say â€œpartial,â€ because I suspect that this may become a regular Department around here.
Wheel of Fortune. Just hearing the audience say in unison, at the beginning of the show, â€œWheelâ€¦.ofâ€¦Fortuneâ€ causes my blood pressure to spike. Pat Whatâ€™s-his-name and Vanna â€“ Buy a farookinâ€™ vowel and k_ss my _ss!
Rap â€œMusicâ€. Can anything be worse? No need to spend years learning how to play an instrument â€“ No need to be able to carry a tune. You can become an â€œartistâ€ by dressing in clothes that donâ€™t fit and shouting juvenile rhyming couplets into a camera. Pure ca-ca. Shut that shit off, immediately!
Award Programs. Oscars, Grammys, Peopleâ€™s Choice, Tonyâ€™s, Countryâ€¦etc. Itâ€™s all the same crap. Idiots being interviewed by idiots; Idiots reading from cue cards idiotic lines written by idiots. Then there are other idiots commenting on it all. Gag City. Turn it OFF!
Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and their Imitators. These people, many of whom I suspect can actually sing, always manage to turn a nice tune into a screech fest as they dazzle their tin-eared audience by vocally slipping and sliding all around the correct note before getting around to hitting it. Yo, ladies. Only the bats can hear that shit. This hurts my hair down to the roots.
Montell, Jerry, Maury, Sally Jesse, and the Like. What a clever concept. Drag human refuse before the cameras to talk about having sex with their best friendâ€™s brother/sister/wife/husband/cat. Even better â€“ have the host take a microphone into the audience so that one of the mutants in the audience can â€œtell offâ€ the mutants on the stage. My hair is doomed. Weâ€™re doomed.
Irish Music for More than Ten Minutes. I can handle ten minutes worth. There are even some good tunes, but they can be done in about ten minutes. But from eleven minutes on, enough already. Apologies to my grandfather from County Sligo. The foregoing does not apply on St. Patrickâ€™s Day, provided I am well oiled by minute 10.
Television Judge Judy, or Television Judge Whomever. This is a slick variation on the Montell, Maury, Sally Jesse theme. Some of the same mutants that appear on those shows appear as litigants before these TV judges. Bonus treat â€“ after the â€œtrial,â€ the losing litigant is interviewed in the hallway by the jurisprudential equivalent of a â€œcolor guy.â€ My hair actually wretches. Your real-live municipal court provides a better show, and there are no commercials.
â€œRealityâ€ Shows. Survivor, Big Brother, Bachelors, Bachelorettes, Joe the Construction/Millionaire, People eating worms â€“ Whose reality is this? If it were possible, my hair would vomit. Turn that shit off!
Sports Talk Radio. My God. Itâ€™s 4 a.m. and Joe from Brooklyn calls in to talk about a â€œDream Trade.â€ The only reason these people listen and call in is because they are not quite pathetic enough to qualify as guests on Judge Judy, Montell et al. This gives my hair a rash.
Hillary Clinton. The mere sound of her voice makes my hair stand on end, but when she is in â€œspeech mode,â€ I damned near have a seizure. Turn that horrible woman off before my hair and I need the emergency squad!!!
Itâ€™s been a rough week. I feel better now, thank you.
February 20, 2003
Saddam Gets a Call. Comfortably tucked away in the study of one of his many palaces in Iraq, Saddam Hussein sits in a leather recliner enjoying the news coverage of the peace demonstrations that took place in various countries. He chuckles as he alternates between CNN’s coverage and that of his state-controlled television news organization. His favorites are the posters depicting the American president as a cowboy or as Adolph Hitler. As he picks up his glass of Chateau Angelus Bordeaux 1990, a gift from a good friend in France, the phone rings.
Hello! This had better be important. I am watching the peace demonstrations! I gave strict orders that I not be interrupted.
Hello, Herr Hussein. I really didn’t intend to bother you, but I do not get too many opportunities to use the phone, and I very much want to speak with you.
How did you reach me? Only three people in the world have this phone number! Who in Allah’s name is this?
Well, this is a rather special phone. They tell me that it can reach anyone. However, I must say, even using this special phone, you’re a hard guy to track down.
Damned right I’m hard to track down. You think that’s an accident? You better tell me who the hell you are and how you managed to reach me. I could have your head for this, and I damned sure will if you don’t start talking right now.
I was sort of hoping that you would recognize my voice.
You must have the brain of a camel to think you can play games like this with Saddam! I swear; you will not see another sunrise!
I hate to break it to you Herr Hussein, but you cannot hurt me. Now can we chat a little, as I don’t get all that much phone time.
I cannot hurt you?? I cannot HURT you?? You piece of camel shit! Wait a minute. I think I do recognize your voice. But it can’t be. No, it cannot be. Who IS this? Speak now, or I will have my bodyguards rip your innards out with their bare hands.
This is Adolph Hitler speaking.
You must be a lunatic. Adolph Hitler has been dead for more than 50 years.
Of course I’m dead. I’m calling from Hell.
You expect me to believe that? You must think that I am some kind of stupid Iranian.
I can prove it to you.
Impossible. Iâ€™ll grant you that you sound like Hitler, but there is no way you can convince me that you are calling me from Hell.
Well, from down here, I can see everything that you do â€“ everything.
That is ridiculous.
Is it? How about yesterday when you were alone in your study and you locked the door so even your closest bodyguards couldnâ€™t see you? I happen to know that you put on panties, fired up a CD, and sang â€œStrangers in the Nightâ€ with â€œOlâ€™ Blue Eyes.â€
Oh my God!! In Allahâ€™s name, is this being recorded?
No. Donâ€™t worry. It is impossible to record my voice. In fact, you are the only one who can hear me. I have no plans to tell anyone about this call. I just want to talk with you about what Iâ€™ve been seeing from down here.
OK, youâ€™ve convinced me. In fact, Herr Fuehrer, it is wonderful to speak with you. I have been an admirer of yours for a long, long time. I even read your book. Well, I tried to read it, but I must confess I found it to be a bit opaque in spots.
I know. I know. Others have said that about the book. Hell, I was young, and I wrote it in jail, for Chrissake. By the way, may I call you Saddam?
By all means Herr Fuehrer. In fact, you may call me â€œSad.â€
Thanks, Sad. Please call me â€œAdi.â€
OK. â€œAydie,â€ it is.
No, Sad, it is pronounced â€œAH-dee,â€ but thatâ€™s OK.
So, Adi, what did you want to talk about?
Well, Iâ€™ve had my eye on you since â€™91 when your forces rolled into Kuwait and kicked some ass. Itâ€™s too bad that some of the big-time sheiks got away, but you did manage to grab the oil wells, set up the torture chambers, kill lots of people and steal lots of stuff. You were on a roll there for a while.
It was great, wasnâ€™t it? I showed those Kuwaiti asswipes who is boss. Reminded me of how your guys rolled into Holland, Belgium and France in no time flat. Kicked ass and took names, Iâ€™ll say.
Yeah, but ultimately it didnâ€™t go very well for you in Kuwait, did it?
No, I supposed it didnâ€™t. Damned George Bush. Man, he pissed me off. I even hated the way that son of a rabid camel mispronounced my name. He used to call me â€œSAD-im.â€ Not fair. I couldnâ€™t figure out a way to mispronounce â€œBush.â€
I think it was a helluva lot worse than simply having your name mispronounced, Sad. From down here, it looked like your Army took quite a thrashing.
Yes, I admit that some of the soldiers behaved like cowardly sons of Satan, but I did manage to light up the oil fields though and shit up Kuwait pretty good, eh? And, donâ€™t forget my valiant Republican (Iâ€™m growing to hate that word) Guards. They unsheathed their mighty swords in the name of Allah, andâ€¦.
Sad, the oil field thing just pissed everyone off. People can deal with seeing dead people, but those oil covered birds always manage to really honk folks off, Sad. And, as for your Republican Guards, I believe I saw them surrendering to those little toy planes with the cameras inside them.
Oh, yeah. Those guys. I fixed their Satanic asses when they returned to Iraq, let me tell you. It was fun to watch. I really like watching people being tortured, you know.
Of course I know. In fact, I watched you watching those videotapes â€“ with the panties again, Sad. Whatâ€™s with the panties anyway? Never mind. I donâ€™t think I really need to know that.
Enough about the Panties, Adi. As I recall, you had a little bit of kink going on too. Wasnâ€™t there something about you and a very young girl who â€œkilled herself?â€ And, what the heck was the Eva Braun thing really all about?
OK, you made your point, Sad. No more panties talk. We were talking about your Republican Guards.
Yes, aside from those yellow-bellied camel turds who surrendered, my valiant Republican Guards stood fast to keep the infidels from Baghdad.
Sad, come on. The only thing that kept the infidels from rolling into Baghdad was that the tanks had brakes, and the Americans decided to use them. As I recall, you surrendered.
I really donâ€™t like being reminded of that, Adi. But, the truth is, surrendering was a snap, really. I showed up and pretended to agree with everything the infidel assholes demanded.
You mean things like the U.N Resolution that said you couldnâ€™t make certain kinds of weapons?
Exactly. Like I said, itâ€™s a piece of cake. You just pretend to agree, and the next day you return to Baghdad, shoot some guns in the air and proclaim victory. Not a problem.
But then came the UN Weapons inspectors, no?
Now THAT was really fun. A couple dozen geeks running around the country wearing baseball caps. Jerking them around was like taking candy from a baby. We knew where they were and where they were going. None of my scientists would talk with them. The scientists love me, you know. It was sweet. Finally, the asshats just packed it in.
Yeah. Great word, no? I read it somewhere. I canâ€™t remember where.
But, what about now, Sad. I have to tell you. From here, it looks like you might be in for another ass-kicking, this one worse than the last one.
Iâ€™m not worried.
What the hell do you mean youâ€™re not worried? It looks to me as if the Americans are putting their forces in place to really stomp you into the ground this time.
Adiâ€¦Adi, there is a difference between this time and last time.
What difference? The only difference I see is that the Americans have fancier weapons, and theyâ€™re not going to stop until you are — excuse the phrase– â€œout of the picture.â€
No, Adi, there are differences. First, now I am dealing with the Great Satanâ€™s son, not his father, and, second, the last time there was a broad coalition. My friends tell me that these are important differences.
Well, they tell me that I donâ€™t have to worry about George W., because he was â€œselectedâ€ not elected. Iâ€™m not sure I completely get that, but they tell me that it is a really big thing. Hey, I was elected by a vote of 100%. Did you know that? Oh, yeah, my friends also tell me that George W. is a moron. They also remind me that there was a coalition last time, and that’s a big thing too.
Sad, please spare me the 100% stuff. It sounds silly. And, as for calling George W a moron, you should know that down here we laugh at those who still say that. They are the hardcore Gore gang, and no one who doesnâ€™t need a brain transplant takes them seriously. You really should get a PR guy. I should have had one too. Damned Goebbels. But, you knocked me off track again. What friends are telling you these things?
Are you kidding? My friends are the smartest people in America.
Well, who are you talking about?
Hey, I got lots of friends in Berkeley as well as a shitload of buddies in Hollywood.
How is it that you think these people are so smart?
Because they tell me all the time how smart they are. Hey, they also make movies and shit. Some of them even win Oscars, Adi. They must be smart. Iâ€™m surprised you didnâ€™t know that.
Oh boy, Sad. I worry about you sometimes. You mentioned that another reason that this time is different than last time is because there was a coalition last time. What did you mean by that?
Adi, give me a break. You must not be paying attention down there in Hell. Last time the Americans had the help of France and Germany. This time, France and Germany arenâ€™t going along. See? Itâ€™s simple. I got nothing to worry about.
You canâ€™t be serious, Sad. France? Puh-leeze. Who knows more about France than I do? The only thing that Frenchmen do fast is surrender. And as for Germany, this ainâ€™t your daddyâ€™s Germany, Sad. The good old days of the SS, dueling scars, and cool uniforms are gone. Hell, todayâ€™s German army officers look like bus drivers. From down here, it looks like the Americans are ready to tell France and Germany to piss off and team up with the frigginâ€™ Brits to kick your ass.
You really think theyâ€™ll do that Adi? Americans and Brits? Ha ha ha. Their blood will fill the streets of Baghdad. My Republican Guards will unsheathe their mighty swords in the name of Allah.â€¦..
Sad, you gotta get a grip. Back in â€™44 and â€˜45 the Americans and Brits whooped my ass pretty good.
Yeah, but the Russkies helped them back then.
True enough, Sad. But, face it fella, Iraq is not exactly the Third Reich. You know what Iâ€™m sayinâ€™?
Hmmmm. The protesters!! What about the protesters? There were zillions of them, Adi. Iâ€™ve been watching them on TV all day. Itâ€™s great. Hey, did you notice that some of them refer to George Bush as â€œHitler.â€ Iâ€™ll bet that gets a rise out of your ass, no?
Focus, Sad. Focus. Donâ€™t let CNN fool you. There are zillions more who did not protest and who, in fact, think youâ€™ve been jerking them around for the past dozen years and that you deserve a final ass whooping. Have you thought this through, Sad?
What do you think I should do, Adi? After all this time, there is no way that I can simply direct this new crop of baseball hat guys to where Iâ€™ve hidden the nuclear, biological and chemical stuff. And, didnâ€™t you notice? I outlawed those things in Iraq just a couple days ago.
Sad, please. Youâ€™re talking to olâ€™ Adi here. Remember, I knew about the panties.
OK, already. But, there is still no way Iâ€™m ponying up all those weapons. And, if thatâ€™s the only way to avoid having to tangle ass with the Americans and Brits, so be it.
Now weâ€™re getting down to cases, Sad. There may be another way. In fact, there may even be two other ways this could shake out.
Well, the first way Iâ€™m sure you wonâ€™t like.
What do you mean?
I mean that it could well be that some of your military guys might want to save their asses by taking you out.
You mean like those bastards I had arrested a few days ago?
Exactly, Sad. It can happen, you know. Some of my guys tried to blow my ass up in â€™44. They failed; I tracked them down and hung them on meat hooks. But the point is that it can happen, Sad.
Youâ€™re negging me out, Adi. Whatâ€™s the other way?
The other way sounds to me like it could be a winner. You can make a deal with the U.S. to let you, your family and your cronies disappear somewhere. Theyâ€™ll let you take all your money. Hell, knowing them, theyâ€™ll even give you a bunch more cash. Theyâ€™ll make sure that you are real comfortable. And, you could pick a place that has a nicer climate than Iraq’s.
You think theyâ€™d let me go to Berkeley? Great climate there. And, like I said, I have friends there.
I donâ€™t know about that, Sad. I suppose you could ask.
But, I would have to spend the rest of my life in obscurity. You know how hard that would be for me, Adi. I like a large public presence. Youâ€™ve seen my picture everywhere in Baghdad. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d be happy spending the rest of my life out of the public eye.
Sad, youâ€™re forgetting that the American attention span is only slightly longer than that of a fruit fly. In addition, with time, Americans forgive anything. They love to forgive people. My guess is that you would have to lay low for just a couple of years. Then, you get yourself some good lawyers and a fancy PR firm, and before you know it, Barbara Walters will be knocking down your door to do a network interview. After that, ABC will have Peter Jennings do a special about what a swell guy you have become. Who knows? CNN might even offer you a broadcasting gig.
You think that could happen, Adi?
I sure do. Americans love to forget about unpleasant things. You got O.J., Chappaquidick, and Al Sharpton. Hell, look at Bill Clinton and his wife. Sheâ€™s a frigginâ€™ senator, and before you know it, heâ€™ll be a Goddamned saint.
Well, Adi, you have really given me something to think about. I have some pondering to do, I suppose.
I think you really ought to consider it, Sad. I really do.
I will. And, by the way, why are you so interested in helping me?
I guess a large part of it is a dictator-to-dictator kind of thing. But to be perfectly candid, I know that sooner or later you will be down here with me. And, presently, the room next to mine is unoccupied. And, well, I was sort of hoping to keep you on the earth until someone a bit more â€“ excuse the term â€“ Aryan â€“ takes that room.
Wait a Goddamned minute, Adi. You got something against Arabs?
Youâ€™re breaking up, Sad. I think Iâ€™m losing the connection here. Listen, consider making that deal, OK?.
Adi! Adi! Are you there?
February 18, 2003
February 17, 2003
The trip from Fort Dix to Baltimore lasted approximately three hours. It had occurred to me that it was the first time in eight weeks that I actually was sitting in a relatively comfortable seat. In basic training, there are virtually no chairs. True, one sits in training rooms and in the mess hall, but those chairs are built for function, not for comfort. Sitting on a bunk is just not the same as sitting in a real chair. I wonder if today I would find a seat on Greyhound bus quite as wonderful as it seemed then.
More importantly, however, the trip meant three hours alone – away from other soldiers and drill sergeants for the first time in more than eight weeks. It had been easy to forget that the world did not stop at the Fort Dix gates, but rather it was humming along quite nicely. The tiny island of civilian life on the Greyhound bus gave me three hours to stare out the window and think about the past eight weeks, about my life prior to those eight weeks, and how strange it seemed that things I had nothing to do with and had no control over placed me on this bus headed south to some damned place no one seemed to know anything about.
Once in Baltimore, I dragged my jam-packed duffel bag off the bus, and asked a few people where I could catch the bus to Fort Holabird. One person said, â€œI heard of Fort Meade, but I really donâ€™t know anything about Fort Holabird. Are you sure you donâ€™t mean Fort Meade?â€ A couple other people were equally as ignorant about Fort Holabird. I thought Christ, these people live here, and they never heard of the place? What the hellâ€¦??? Finally, I asked the information person at the bus terminal, who mercifully knew what bus I should take to get to this mystery military post.
Shortly thereafter, duffel bag and I boarded the local bus that would take us to the base. I asked the bus driver to let me know when we got to Fort Holabird. â€œNo problem,â€ he said. I was more than a little relieved to confirm that I was on the right bus and that the driver actually knew where the damned place was. The uniform again provoked stares, smiles and glares from the other passengers. By this time, I was becoming accustomed to it. Besides, I was tired, and I just wanted to get to wherever the hell I was supposed to be.
â€œHereâ€™s the base, son,â€ the driver said, as he stopped the bus by the gate, in front of a guardhouse. I struggled with the duffle bag down the bus aisle and thanked the driver as I turned to step off through the bus doors. As I got off the bus, I was horrified to see an MP (military policeman) looking at me and walking at a brisk pace from the guardhouse in my direction. Oh hell. Here it comes. He was a tall, staff sergeant, the same rank as my drill sergeant. I didnâ€™t think it possible, but the MP looked even more frightening than the drill sergeants I had just spent eight weeks with. He was wearing the white MP helmet and a black MP armband. His trousers were bloused over his spit-shined airborne boots, and he wore a 45 semi-automatic sidearm. I braced myself for what I was certain would be a ration of shit about something or other I was not doing right.
Before I could say that I was reporting for duty (thatâ€™s what one is supposed to say), he said, â€œHi. You need help with that bag?â€
I said, â€œPardon me?â€ What did he say??
He repeated, â€œHow ya doing? You look like you could use some help with that bag.â€
I was speechless. I could only nod my head in the affirmative, something that would have unleashed a torrent of invective from a drill sergeant about the importance of â€œsounding off like you got a pair!â€
The MP looked at me for a moment, and I thought, OK, let the hollering begin. He didnâ€™t holler; He said, â€œYou look beat,â€ and he effortlessly tossed my duffel bag over his shoulder and carried it to the guardhouse. He set it down and asked, â€œWhere on the base are you headed?â€ Still in shock, I told him that I had no idea where I was headed. I just knew that I was ordered to come here. He smiled â€“ he actually smiled â€“ and said, â€œNo problem. Let me take a look at your orders.â€
He took a quick look at the orders and said, â€œO.K. The building you have to report to is about a quarter mile down this street on the right side â€“ big brick building â€“ you canâ€™t miss it. When you get there, ask for Sergeant Perez. Heâ€™ll get you squared away.â€
I thanked him and began walk in the direction he had indicated. The MP shouted behind me, â€œWait!â€ I thought, OK, I knew that this was too good to be true â€“ this must be some kind of trap. Now, the hollering will begin.
I turned in his direction and said, â€œYes?â€
He said, â€œItâ€™s really too far for you to walk with that bag. Iâ€™ll have someone drive you.â€ OK, Jimbo, this must be some kind of a Twilight-frigginâ€™-Zone thing. There is no way that white-helmeted, bloused-trousered, pistol packinâ€™staff sergeant MP just said that he would get me a ride because it was too far for me to walk with a heavy bag.
But, thatâ€™s what he said.
The MP got on the phone, and in a minute or two a corporal appeared in an Army car and said, â€œYou the guy who needs a ride? Hop in.â€. During the short ride to my destination, I couldnâ€™t think of anything to say to the corporal, other than to thank him for the lift. â€œHereâ€™s the barracks buildingâ€ he said. â€œSergeant Perez should be in the orderly room. Heâ€™ll check you in.â€
I found the orderly room, and, just as promised, Sergeant Perez was there. He was a sergeant-first class (three stripes up and two rockers). Again, I found myself thinking that it was absolutely impossible for a sergeant-first-class to be anything other than mean and ornery. When I entered the room, breathless from having lugged the bag up the stairs, Sergeant Perez looked up from the papers on his desk, and said, â€œYes? What can I do for you?â€ Wait a minute. This is the way civilized people speak. Sergeants donâ€™t talk this way. What in Christâ€™s name is going on here?
â€œIâ€™m reporting for duty, sergeant.â€
â€œOh, you must be one of the new students. Youâ€™re a little early, but that is not a problem.â€ Did he say â€œstudents?â€
I could no longer contain myself. I blurted out, â€œWhat is this place?â€
â€œYou donâ€™t know?â€ the sergeant said.
â€œNo I donâ€™t, and I have not been able to find anyone who knows anything about this place.â€
â€œThis is the United States Army Military Intelligence School.â€
I stood there in silence trying to process it all. After a few seconds, I asked, â€œWhat will I be doing here?â€
â€œLetâ€™s take a look at your orders, and weâ€™ll see.â€ I handed him my orders, and he said, â€œYou are a 96C. Youâ€™re an interrogator.â€
â€œAn interrogator?â€ He remained patient, despite my stupidly repeating everything I had just heard.
â€œYes, thatâ€™s what a 96C is. I also see that you speak German.â€
â€œWell, I took the German test. How can you tell from looking at the orders that I speak German?â€
The sergeant explained, â€œIt says that your MOS (military occupation specialty) is 96C2L29. The â€œ96Câ€ tells me that you are an interrogator, and the â€œ2L29â€ tells me that you speak German.â€ I couldnâ€™t help thinking back to that miserable bastard at Fort Dix who tried to intimidate me into not taking the German test. (see 1/3/03)
The sergeant, still looking at my orders, continued, â€œOh, now I know why you might be a little puzzled by all this. I see that you are a draftee. We donâ€™t get many draftees. Most guys enlist in order to get into Military Intelligence and they know in advance what it is all about.â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s close to the end of the work day here, so let me get you some bedding and show you to the barracks.â€ Hold it. A sergeant-first-class is going to get my bedding and show me to the barracks? People in hotels show you to your room. People in the Army donâ€™t show you to your room. Twilight Zoneâ€¦.definitely.
He emerged from another room with sheets, a pillow and a blanket, and walked me down the hall to a large bay area, with approximately twenty double bunks on each side of the room. Lockers ran down the center of the bay. â€œI believe youâ€™re the first one here, so you can pick your spot. Make up your bunk, and stop by the office when youâ€™re done to pick up some forms.â€
I made up the bunk on autopilot and emptied the contents of my duffel bag into my locker. It was all still too much to think about. When I finished, I reported back to the orderly room.
Sergeant Perez handed me a couple forms, and said, â€œFill these out when you have a chance. Weâ€™ll need them next week.â€ He took out a map of the base, and circled things like that mess hall and the PX (Post Exchange â€“ i.e. the store). He said, â€œI think you may have missed dinner at the mess hall, but you can get a burger or something at the PX.â€ A burger? I can eat by myself? I can go to a store? And, Iâ€™m not being hollered at?
â€œThanks, that sounds great,â€ I said, beginning to actually speak to Sergeant Perez as if he was a regular person.
â€œSo, what are your plans for the weekend?â€
â€œPardon me? My plans?â€
â€œâ€Yeah, are you going to hang around the base? You could go into Baltimore. You could go to D.C.â€
â€œYou mean that I can leave the base when I want?â€
â€œSure. Just be back here by 7 oâ€™clock, Monday morning. Thatâ€™s when we start the classes.â€
â€˜You mean I can go home for the weekend, if I want?â€
He smiled and said, â€œThat depends on where you live. I donâ€™t think going to California would make much sense. Where do you live?â€
â€œNew Jersey,â€ I replied.
â€œThatâ€™s no problem. The buses run regularly between Baltimore and Newark.â€
Absolutely stupefied, I said, â€œPlease forgive me. I just want to make sure that I understand. I just checked in here, and I can turn around and go home for the weekend, if I want?â€
â€œThatâ€™s right. Just be back by Monday Morning.â€
â€œDo I need a written pass or anything?â€
â€œNope. Not necessary. Do you have civilian clothes with you?â€ Did he say civilian clothes? Whereâ€™s Rod Serling?
â€œNo. We werenâ€™t allowed to have civilian clothes at Fort Dix.â€
â€œWell, you may want to bring some back with you from home. You only have to wear your uniform during duty hours. Unless you have some kind of extra duty, civilian clothes are fine around here after duty.â€ This cannot be.
Perez continued, â€œIf you have no further questions, Iâ€™m going to hit the road. See you Monday morning. Have a nice weekend.â€ And he left.
I sprinted to a pay phone to call my family and girlfriend to breathlessly tell them I was coming home. â€œAre you in trouble?â€ my mother asked. So did my girlfriend. I promised I would bring them all up to date when I got home.
A few hours later, I found myself back on the Greyhound bus, this time heading north. I wondered how the cosmic cards fell such that I ended up being selected by be trained as an interrogator. Had some of those psychological profiles we took identified me as a latent knuckle-breaker? I reasoned that the job of an interrogator is to question prisoners of war, and the only place I could think of that would have a supply of prisoners of war was Vietnam. Was this a good thing? All this was happening way too fast. I would wait until Monday to think about being an interrogator.
All I knew was that I was going home for the weekend and that for the first time in months I felt just a little bit like a human being.
Farookin’ Snow! I spent the last three hours outside pushing the snowblower. I did my driveway and my sidewalk and the sidewalks and driveways of a couple neighbors. I wore a heavy parka, and when I came inside, I was soaked to the skin. And now, just now, it started snowing like hell again. I’m getting too old for this shit. To hell with it. I poured myself a snifter of Felipe Spanish Brandy (There will be no more Cognac in this house), and it feels MAHvelous going down.
February 16, 2003
Sam Adams, Life 101 and Snow on the Way. Last night it boiled down to a choice between blogging or going out with some good friends for a bunch of fattening pub food, a few pints of Sam Adams and a large helping of laughs. So much for blogging. Today, Life 101 may well get in the way of posting, as there are a few things that have to be done here in the house near the Parkway. It’s a bit frustrating, as I do have a couple things percolating in my cruller that might be entertaining and that are just itching to be written, but they will have to wait a bit.
Oh, yeah. The forecast for New Jersey is for heavy snow, starting later today and continuing through tomorrow, with some forecasts suggesting the possibility of accumulations between one and two feet. Thrilling.
February 14, 2003
The drill sergeant told us, â€œGentlemen, tomorrow is graduation day. Be sure to look sharp for all the mamas in the audience.â€ The eight weeks of other-worldliness that had been basic training at Fort Dix in 1968 had finally come to an end.
That night we spent hours carefully spit shining our shoes, polishing our brass, and packing all our uniforms (other than the dress uniform we would be wearing to graduation) into our duffel bags. We had to be packed and ready to leave the next day, because, after graduation, we would be receiving our orders. Although I was glad that basic training was finished, I shined, polished, and packed in a bit of a daze, wondering what my orders would be. I knew that, as a draftee, the odds were that I would be an 11B (â€œEleven Bravoâ€ â€“ Infantry). That would mean eight weeks of Advanced Infantry Training, most likely in Fort Polk, Louisiana, a thirty-day leave, and then a trip to Vietnam, and the thought of that frankly scared hell out of me. I didnâ€™t sleep very well that night.
The following morning, we all donned our â€œClass Aâ€ dress uniforms. Some of us, who in the eyes of the Army did better than most in basic training, sported the single stripe of a Private E-2 (referred to by the drill sergeants as â€œskeeter wingsâ€). At the formation that morning, the eight weeks of training and the spit and polish showed. We actually looked like a real Army unit. The sergeants and the company officers also showed up in their “Class A” uniforms. It was the first time we had gotten a look at the decorations that the drill sergeants had earned. There were more than a few bronze stars and even a greater number of purple hearts.
We marched to the auditorium, where the ceremony was to take place. As we entered, I saw that members of my family were seated in the audience. They had taken the Friday off from work to be there. Just eight months earlier, they had attended different graduation â€“ my graduation from college. I had more hair for that one, and I wasnâ€™t wearing green.
I donâ€™t remember much about the ceremony other than that our platoon sergeant won the award for the â€œDrill Sergeant of the Cycle.â€ I recall how crisply he executed his facing movements while he was on the stage to accept his award. It must have been the result of all that practicing he told us he regularly did in his bathroom. (see 2/3/03).
After the ceremony, we got to spend only a few minutes with our families, and then it was back to the barracks to get our gear and await orders. Shortly after arriving at the barracks, we were directed to report to the orderly room in company headquarters, as our orders had â€œcome down.â€
In the orderly room, one of the sergeants had a list from which he read each name, followed by the military occupation specialty (MOS) that had been assigned to that person, and the personâ€™s next training destination. So, it went something like, â€œAnderson, Thomas, Eleven Bravo, Infantry, Fort Polk. Jones, Edward, Thirteen Bravo, Artillery, Fort Sill.â€ This went on for some time, with most of the guys getting infantry or artillery orders. The sergeants, all infantrymen, referred to the guys with artillery orders as â€œcannon cockersâ€ or â€œlanyard pullers.â€ (One fires an artillery piece by pulling a lanyard.)
My heart was in my throat as each name was announced. After a while, it seemed as if everyoneâ€™s name had been called but mine. By this time, I was actually feeling nauseous. Finally, the sergeant stared silently down at the list with a puzzled look on his face. As long as I live, I will remember his exact words: He looked up from the list and said, â€œWe have one man goinâ€™ to some f*****g place called Fort â€˜HOLLY BIRDâ€™. What the f*** kind of place is that?â€ He then identified me as the one man and told me to see the First Sergeant for a copy of my orders.
Army orders are a mishmash of jumbled abbreviations and numbers, presumably necessary to keep track of thousands of people moving all over the earth, but utterly unintelligible to all but those whose job it is to understand them. I looked at the alphabet soup on the paper and could see that what the sergeant had referred to as Fort “Holly Bird,â€ was actually “Fort Holabird.” I never heard of the place. I looked all over the document for my MOS, hoping not to see an â€œ11Bâ€ anywhere on the page. It appeared to me that my MOS was not a tidy two digit number followed by a letter, but rather it was a messy â€œ96C2L29.â€
Completely confused, I asked the First Sergeant if he knew anything about Fort Holabird and what my MOS was. He said, â€œDamned if I know. Youâ€™ll just have to go there and find out.â€ Great. Just Great. When will I ever be out of Bizzaro Land?.
We were taken on a bus to the Fort Dix Transportation Center, where we would be issued tickets to our destinations. Most guys got airplane tickets and would be traveling as a group. I would be traveling alone. When it was my turn, I expected to be given airplane tickets, but the guy behind the counter handed me two bus tickets. I asked, â€œCould you please tell me where I am going?â€
He looked at my orders and then at the tickets and said, â€œFort Holabird. Itâ€™s in some town outside Baltimore. This ticket gets you to Baltimore and this other ticket is for the local bus that takes you to the base.â€
I asked, â€œWhat kind of base is Fort Holabird?â€
I guess my previous question had been one question too many, for he replied, â€œHow the f*** should I know what kind of base it is. I never heard of the place until just now. My job is just to get you there.â€
I wondered how it could be that the sergeants, some of them with twenty years in service, had never heard of the place? So, what the hell kind of place I was being sent to â€“ alone?
When the bus to Baltimore arrived, I dragged my heavy duffle bag aboard and took a seat. It was the first time in eight weeks that I was among civilians. All of them stared. Some of them smiled, some of them glared. Thatâ€™s the way it was then.
I looked out the window as New Jersey slipped by, and I wondered what would be next.