Tuesday, December 07, 2010
The 7th ID Lightfighter stood out for two reasons; the first being their distinctive rag-top helmet covers that lead to their various nick-names: Cabbage Patch Kids, Swamp Things, and Bob Marlies, and they stood out because of their above average soldiering skills. The 7th ID was the first unit to be built upon the lessons of the Vietnam War, and its many officers and NCOs were veterans of that war. The Army raised its standards for fitness and performance in 1984, and the new Lightfighters responded to the challenges and then raised the standards to a new level. At the same time the Army instituted the COHORT (Cohesion Operational Readiness and Training) system wherein entire platoons would serve their entire four year enlistment together from Basic Training onward. These platoons were usually the various weapons platoons such as the mortar crews, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, engineers, and artillery. These platoons received an extra three weeks of training on their weapons before moving to Fort Ord. Upon arrival those Vietnam era NCOs could take the freshly minted GIs and mold them into soldiers in their own image.
Hiking the maneuver ranges of Fort Ord (known as the “Back Yard”) can be a lesson in infantry archeology. Fighting positions (Fox Holes) can be found in the textbook locations at trail intersections all over. Where the Lightfighters made their mark is where they put their positions. Well camouflaged holes can still be found almost intact throughout the entire base. These are invisible until one walks right up on them. The mark of the Lightfighter seems to be the impossible fighting position that can be found on the steep canyon sides. Even more impressive is that after the position was occupied another team of Lightfighters attacked this impossible position; the spent shells of .556 and .762 rounds complete with the rusting detached belt links from the assaulting SAW (a light machine gun) along with four or five pulled hand grenade rings still lay where they fell.
Over the next ridge from this forgotten skirmish site is Fort Ord’s MOUT-Site. MOUT stands for Military Operations in Urban Terrain; Fort Ord’s MOUT-Site is named “Impossible City” because its design made successful assault on any building impossible without massive casualties. Unlike MOUT-Sites at other Army or Marine bases Impossible City is one square mile of densely packed buildings with many tight allies and only one road. Here the Lightfighters trained for potential battles in Korea, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, and Peru. Impossible City is today owned by Monterey Peninsula College for its police academy, and it is routinely used by various military special operations forces and SWAT teams from all over California. It is here where the Lightfighters excelled in gleeful ruthlessness as the attacking forces would encounter booby-trapped staircases, hallways, and alley ways. Blackhawk Helicopters would swoop in and the men would “Fast Rope” sixty feet down onto the rooftops. The mock battles sometimes ended up in actual fist-fights as the OpFor (Opposing Force) laid waste to the attackers. The MOUT-Site was where the majority of Fort Ord’s serious injuries occurred as soldiers went flying out of third-story windows, or dove down flights of stairs avoiding improvised explosive devices made from the plastic MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) packs that were armed with the charge from a practice grenade and stuffed full of unpleasant bodily excretions.
Booby-traps were the 7th ID Lightfighter’s signature. Lightfighters booby-trapped their booby-traps, and it is unwise to pick up anything one might find walking through the back country. A few years back I was hiking with a friend who had been stationed at Fort Ord from ’89 to ’93. As we cut through an off-limits swath of land he suddenly stopped and told me in a hushed voice to slow down, and to walk directly behind him. He had walked me into a kill-zone where his unit had once operated in a defensive action. They had strung the trees with practice Claymore mines and when I suggested that they must have been cleared by that time he pointed to a trip-flare still attached to the nearest tree. Then he pointed to the second wire that leads away to where a Claymore had once been placed. Over time even the aging charges inside practice munitions can ruin your day.
It is eight miles from the brigade area to the rear gate of Fort Ord. Round trip is sixteen, and with creative trail use this can be stretched to twenty miles. Lightfighters could cover that distance in four and a half hours. Not as fast as the Ranger Battalion’s mandatory four hours but still respectable. The twenty-mile ruckmarch was performed once a month, but because the 7thID had few trucks their Lightfighters often logged ten or miles each day under full 70+ pound packs. They bitched about it too. Once a year some brigades would land the men on the Big Sur coast, walk into Fort Hunter Liggett, and then once the exercise was over they would then ruckmarch the eighty-five miles back to Fort Ord. Lightfighters were in great shape, and when they weren’t training they could play just as hard.
Basketball and football could better be titled murder-ball and the death-bowl as rivalries between the companies were fierce. It was so bad that the different regiments rarely played each other out of concerns by command of crippling injuries. The Enlisted Man’s club today is CSUMB’s student center and store. The Army named it “The Rallying Point”, and up until 1984 it was also a topless club. The Lightfighters nicknamed it “The Punch & Jab” because fights broke out early and often and only the base stockade can boast more murders, but not by much. The classic fight at the Rallying Point came in 1987. The 2-9 Manchus were celebrating the regiment’s birthday, and some guys from 3-17 decided to crash the party. What ensued was out of a John Wayne western as tables were overturned, chairs crashed into heads, bodies flew through the air, glass broke, and a blizzard of fists filled the place. A call went out to every police agency, and soon sixty police officers descended along with fifty MPs to shut the festivities down. However the Lightfighter is always in combat mode; as soon as the first cops were sighted the men exited the building and into the Oak forest behind the club. Lightfighters were masters of night warfare, and even though there were estimated to be three hundred men involved in the fight only nine were arrested. The rest simply used the darkness and their comfort with walking long distances to evade capture by walking the longest way possible back to their barracks.
Today I wonder about the kids who attend CSUMB. Do they understand that there is a level of excellence that was established by the men and women who had once called this place home? Do they know what is possible if they push themselves? Do they know that the only limits they face are the limits that they impose upon themselves? For ten years the Army challenged the 7thID’s Lightfighters and the Lightfighters took it all in stride. The Army quit on the 7thID, not the other way around. Although the transformation from military to university is complete this is still a place of transformation. The lesson to be learned from the 7thID Lightfighters is to face the challenge, stick out your chest, and ask “is that best you got?”
When Les Paul invented the solid-body electric guitar in 1940 it is doubtful that he fully understood what his creation would eventually unleash. As the solid-body guitar became mated with the powerful amplifiers of Hiwatt, Vox, and the sublime creation of Jim Marshall it evolved from a musical instrument into a portal that removed the barrier between the conscious, subconscious, and the divine. Most rock guitarists recognized this on some level, and even a few are fully aware of the secret. The act of playing the guitar at high volume creates a closed-loop vortex wherein the music flows from the player’s mind out through his fingers, and then is zapped back into his head. Plato talked of divine enlightenment, and the act of the creation of music is divine, and this is the secret element of this closed loop. To put it another way the guitarist is in direct communion with his creator via his guitar and amp.
How the electric guitar works is that electrical current is fed through magnetic coils called “Pickups”, and the pickups transmit the vibrations of the guitar strings out to an amplifier. The amp takes that signal and makes it louder by pumping the vibrations of the strings through (usually) 12-inch speakers. Once the amp is set to a certain volume a good guitar player can manipulate the exchange between the string vibrations, the magnetic pickups, and the magnets in the amp to cause sustain or feedback. Feedback is where the sound from the amp is cycled back through the guitar. If fire sang it would sound like a guitar feeding back. There is a second kind of feedback that occurs within the player’s head as the gifts of skill and knowledge flow out from deep within the brain, and then return through the ear seeming to inspire more creation. It is a form of fusion; which is what powers the sun, but instead complex heavy gasses being compressed it is ideas and inspiration.
I used the word demigod because that is what it feels like when standing in front of your fully cranked amp blasting cords, and unleashing screaming scales. There is a transmutation that takes place as the guitar is played, and the player temporarily becomes something more than mortal. Between the player and his audience there is transubstantiation as the listener becomes part of that divine closed-loop vortex which in turn unlocks parts of their mind. This process can actually have a negative effect on some guitarists as they try to reconcile the difference between the guy they are while they are playing and the guy that they revert to the rest of the time. Unaware of their inadvertent divine interface, many guitarists seek to recreate that high through the ingestion of artificial substances. This is what happened to Hendrix; almost lead Clapton to kill himself with heroin, made Page, and Van Halen drink like fish. The tragedy is that these substances become a barrier between the player and the divine, and the players that don’t end up prematurely dead face a harsher fate of becoming only a shadow of their former selves.
For the guitarist who has self control or has discovered the truth life takes and interesting turn. That connection to the creator provides a cushion between the hard realities of life, and the possibilities that exist here and beyond simultaneously. We can make people dance, smile, and even cry with our instrument. The rock guitarist intuitively understands that good music connects us to the larger universe and our deepest selves. Now rock guitarist may move on with their lives and put the guitar away, but their intuitive knowledge of deeper truths of man and the universe remain. We know that people are not bad but simply lost; lost from that connection with the divine. The rock guitarist may no longer play regularly yet when that guitar is picked up and plugged in it becomes a time machine as well. The feel of steel under the fingers transports the player back to the very first day they picked up the guitar. The connection is quickly reestablished and the act is much like drinking from a mountain spring.
Guitarists can also pick out other guitarists in a crowd, but they couldn’t tell you how. When this happens total strangers speak as brothers or sisters. They will discuss their guitars, crazy gigs, and other guitarists. I have never met a fellow rock guitarist who felt like a stranger. The reason behind this is simple in that the same divine thing that inspired me also inspired them, and because I was part of that divine loop I was connected at some level with every other rock guitar player who had ever played and will ever play in the future. It isn’t something that I can quantify; it is only something that I know it true.
I described the rock guitarists as an anathema because we are a threat to the current establishment of social cool. Today it is considered foolish to feel connected to the divine; it is popular belief that to do so is primitive, and backwards. The rock guitarist embodied a truth that people could connect to something pure through music, and this is a threat to the materialistic 21st centurions. So we wait and we teach the young. The revolution will continue one day when the time is right.
Friday, October 29, 2010
There was a feverish fire in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly
like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they
Descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard
Who entered, a little travel stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella.
He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know
There had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry;
Of a joy that kills.
Half the class didn’t like the ending. They didn’t like that Louise had her new freedom taken away from her along with her life. The people who didn’t like the ending were actually pissed off about it all. I liked it. It is good writing, and it is a good exercise in time-frame writing (like “24” takes place in 24 hours). It was fun to listen to the class exchange opinions about the story and how upsetting the ending was to them. That got me thinking; why not just fix the ending?
So for you, my loyal readers, I give you alternative endings in the styles of my favorite writers. The story will pick up where Mr. Mallard comes through the door and Josephine screams…
The Edgar Allen Poe ending:
…Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife. But it was too late. Aghast, Brently shouted at Josephine “ run and bring Doctor Howard, and be quick about it woman!” As Josephine’s sobs and footfalls faded in the distance Richards looked at Brently and said “She’s gone. My condolences.” Then Richards and Brently shared a smile as Richards dropped Louise’s lifeless hand to the floor and stood. “Will Dr. Howard be paying you directly for his fresh cadaver?” Richards asked. “Yes, $1500, and your cut will be $300 as agreed” said Brently. Richards thought to himself for a moment and then offered “Do you think that Dr. Howard would pay the full $1500 for a second body?” Brently was no in front of the Brandy reaching for two glasses, “Are you thinking of Josephine?” “Why not? I wouldn’t need the $300 share.” Brently nodded at Richards and handed him a glass. “You are a crafty one, good Sir” he said as he handed Richards the glass. “Cheers” said Richards as he gulped back his Brandy. Brently knew that Josephine would not be returning from Dr. Howard’s, and then he wondered how long the poison in Richards’ drink would take.
Jacqueline Susann ending:
Josephine screamed but Louise was strangely still. Brently stood at the bottom of the stairs with quizzically looking at Richards, then Josephine, and then his wife. Louise looked at Brently like he was a slice of bologna. Then she turned to Josephine and said in a calm voice “Fuck it, Jo, I’m going to go to bed” Then she turned and retreated into her room locking the door behind her. After she’d put on her night gown she sat at the vanity looking at her reflection. Then she reached for a medicine bottle and poor a single Quaalude into the palm of her hand. For a brief second she considered taking the entire bottle and ending it all, but as Scarlett O’Hara said “tomorrow is another day.” She stood up and turned towards her bed, but then turned and for the bottom right drawer of her vanity. Her hand found the vibrator and pulled it out. Louise clicked it on to check the batteries, and then climbed into bed and turned out the light.
Quentin Tarantino ending:
Louise looked at her husband and then at Richards. “What the fuck? When I pay for a dead husband I fucking expect a dead husband!” “Jesus Christ, Louise” Richards said “He was supposed to be on the goddamned train. I’m not a fucking psychic.” “Yeah, if you were a fucking psychic you’d see this coming” she said as she pulled the nickel-plated .357 from her thigh holster. BAM! Brently’s face was instantly covered with Richards’ brain matter as his body dropped to the floor like a sack of shit. “If you want something done right…” Bam! Brently took a shot to the balls, and then Louise walks down the stairs to place the muzzle in the base of his skull. Bam! “Whoa! That’s some serious fucking shit, Lou.” Josephine said from behind her. Louise turned to Josephine and hissed “What the fuck are you doing standing there like a fucking statue? Get your ass back upstairs and grab our bags. We’re switching to plan B.” Josephine paused for a second; her face looked like a goldfish, and then she spun and ran back to the bedroom. Louise looked out the front window to see if the gunshots had attracted attention, but everything was normal, and that was good because they would need to put thirty miles between here and the next town where the train still ran. Louise then went into the parlor and poured kerosene from one lamp onto the floor. She then grabbed the second oil lamp and emptied the contents over the two bodies. Just then Josephine came running down the stairs. She made her way around the bodies and went outside and tossed the bags into the back of Richards’ carriage. Louise stepped outside the front door, struck a match, and tossed it on her husband’s back. Flames erupted across the floor as she closed and locked the door. Louise climbed into the driver’s side of the carriage and whipped the horses into motion. “Why can’t I get a fucking break?” Louise asked to no one.
The Stephen King ending:
Louise put her hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. Whatever was standing at the bottom of the stairs may have looked like Brently, but she knew that it wasn’t the same man who’d walked out of the house. In fact she knew that it wasn’t even human. A dim scent of sulphur entered her nostrils. When Louise Mallard had promised to sell her soul to take away her husband the last thing that she’d thought was that the devil would come to collect in person. The thing that was now Brently locked eyes with her and grinned.
The Frank Miller ending:
Richards looked at Louise, then frantically at Josephine, and then back at Brently. Louise looked at her healthy, living husband and let out a sigh. She turned around and walked back to her room. She walked to her vanity and pulled the .38 from the top-left drawer, and then stuck it in her mouth. “I’m fwee” she said as she pulled the trigger, showering the duvet with blood, brain, and skull fragments.
So there you go. I’ve fixed it. There should be an ending here that will make one feel better about Ms. Chopin’s little story.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
The figures ran around $20 each and I decided that if I spent money on action figures I wouldn’t have any left to waste on beer or wine. This seemed to work as my intake of alcohol dropped off to an occasional bottle here or there. The funny thing is that it wasn’t the money it was because GI Joe was filling a void in my life which made me feel better about myself.
You see, I could never win as a child. I could never get a break. This was painfully true on my birthdays when I would get some of the things that I had asked for or hinted at, but then I would be presented with an expensive game or toy that I didn’t want. I know this sounds selfish but I knew that my mother didn’t have a lot of money and it always burned me up that she would waste it on a toy or game that I would never play with. Worse still was when the new SEARS catalog came out and I would find out that for the price of that toy I could have gotten some kick-ass GI Joe command center or vehicle. I think the most GI Joes I had at one time was three, and one didn’t count because it was a talking GI Joe (“I have a tough assignment for you!”).
I had a few friends as I was growing up; it wasn’t like I lived in a cave. The problem was that most of the kids my age moved away around 1971 and the rest of my friends lived too far away to play with on a regular basis. Since I couldn’t always get permission to go down and play at the Carmel River I’d make do with our backyard which featured many locations that were GI Joe-friendly. I also suffered from asthma which often kept me at home as well and GI Joe was there to keep watch as I fought for air. I did have other toys and I loved to build plastic models but GI Joe was my go-to toy most of the time.
So when they reissued the 12 Joes I snapped them up. I didn’t save the boxes; the Joes were placed on display in my room. They made me happy and after a while I understood why this was. I was finally in control of my life; I could buy a GI Joe at will, and in the morning when I woke to see a growing army of little dudes on the top of my dresser it made me happy. I didn’t have to ask permission from anyone and I realized that now that I had control over the GI Joe thing I could also gain control over other aspects of my life. That’s when the drinking stopped.
Then one day I looked at all of the GI Joes that now dominated every flat surface in my room I realized that I had more than I would ever need. Technically I had too many. So I bought a couple of plastic storage bins and I put all but a dozen away into the closet. A few smaller Superman and Batman action figures have popped up to take their place but for the most part I have somehow moved into a happier life. It is funny how something stupid like a bunch of GI Joes can patch a hole in your life. I allowed myself to do something that made me feel good. Something that didn’t involve chemical alteration and something that was not destructive. By indulging in a childhood dream I ever so slightly righted my ship and put myself back on course.
The Joes are still packed away in my closet. Down the road I will give them away to some kids who need a friend too. Today I don’t drink and I haven’t bought a 12-inch action figure in over two years. I’m back in college working towards a degree. My life is far from perfect but it is far away from the person al disaster it could have been. Today my challenge is my weight and my crippling fear of success but now that I cannot hide behind a bottle success seems to be heading my way regardless of what I feel. I have reconnected with old friends and I am making a few news ones along the way.
I guess what I want you, dear reader; to come away with is that you don’t need to buy a ton of toys to make you feel good. However there are times when that kid deep inside of you screams out to be pleased. Maybe it means that you buy that stupid HALO action figure and put him on your desk at work. Perhaps it means just letting yourself have a banana split before you get home so you don’t have to share it. Or finally it might be as simple as jumping into a mud puddle on a rainy day or rolling on the lawn. If you can in some way undo that bad day you had as a child it could either break a chain that holds you down, or it can launch you to the next level.
Thanks for being there, G.I. Joe.
Friday, September 10, 2010
As a reformed conspiracy nut, the 911 Truth movement (such as it is) has been an amusing side-show. Like a former alcoholic who walks past a bar on a Friday night and watches the drunks stumble out; thinking to himself how lucky he is to no longer imbibe, and how sad the drunks are, I view the 9/11 troofers with both disdain and pity. Pity because I was once a fool who would have bought into the bullshit that they pedal, and disdain because of the emotional pain that they cause the survivors and families of the victims of 9/11. They are not in the least bit interested in the truth, only their version of it, the one that advances their fucked up world view. As the ninth anniversary is upon us, I have a few questions for them:
1. Do you expect me to believe that the U.S. Government – under the leadership of George W.Bush – was able to pull off the greatest act of mass murder on U.S. soil and keep it secret for nine years? The same administration that couldn’t keep illegal wire-taps secret, couldn’t keep torture secret even though it was performed at secret foreign prisons (which they also couldn’t keep secret)?
2. Do you expect me to believe that operatives placed over 5000 pounds of explosives inside of the Twin Towers and World Trade Center 7, but nobody who worked there saw these people nor the explosive charges?
3. Do you expect me to believe that they put explosive charges in only three WTC buildings, but not the others?
4. Do you expect me to believe that the 123 witnesses you list as hearing explosions are right, but the 170+ witnesses who saw American Airlines 77 fly into the Pentagon are wrong?
5. Do you really expect me to believe that some secret government cabal staged to hijackings as a pretext for going to war in Iraq, but they couldn't frame one Iraqi national as a terrorist?
6. Do you really expect me to believe that the Thai intelligence service has never uncovered any proof that 9/11 didn’t happen the way we accept that it did?
7. Do you really expect me to believe that Dick Cheney would allow a plane to fly into the largest bond trading firm in North America that trades billions of dollars each day?
8. Do you really expect me to believe that the billionaire clients of that bond trading firm would not rest until no stone was left unturned in the search for the truth?
9. Do you really expect me to believe that if these billionaire clients once they had proof of government involvement in the attacks would not hesitate to burn the Bush Administration?
10. Do you really expect me to believe that the thousands of NYPD, NYFD, NY State investigators, FBI, BATF,NTSB, and other investigators at the Ground Zero and Fresh Kills sites either never saw anything incriminating in the tons of wreckage, or decided to keep silent instead of reporting directly or leaking information to the news media? This in spite of the fact that many of them had lost personal friends in the attack?
11. Do you really think that if Osama bin Laden worked for the CIA that we wouldn’t have faked his death by now in a very public way thus allowing the CIA operative to shave his beard and move to Aruba?
12. Do you really think that Dick Cheney would invade Iraq on the pretext of WMDs, and then forget to plant WMDs using our special operations forces (or just Halliburton aircraft)?
I could go on, but these are the biggest questions that I have for them. Belief in fairy tales take a lot of work to avoid reality. They have to be on constant guard to replace the insulation between their fantasy world and the real world. Not me. It feels good not to be a nut-job any more.
As a reformed conspiracy loon I do feel sorry for the Troofers. So wrapped up in their sad, sorry egos that they have lost all self awareness. In many way they are worse off than that homless guy with the hand-made sign that reads "The End is Near" because deep down that guy knows he's a freak. Troofers do not.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The reason for taking the creative writing class is that I need to be pushed outside my comfort zone, and I need to bounce my work off the brains of people who don’t know me (friends are great, I love you guys, but I need to hear feedback from neutral or even hostile sources too). I already have a list of poets and poems to check out from our second day of class. Right out of the gate we have to write poems in the form of Haiku and Cinquain. I had never heard of a Cinquain before last Thursday. The Cinquain for is as follows:
So you get something like this:
Where to hide them?
Flick them out the window?
Stick them under the table-top?
I am sure this is exactly what the guy was thinking when he invented this framework. This is the kinda stuff you guys will have to endure from me through December.
I am pretty stoked as my professor, Henry Marchand, actually knows who Ambrose Bierce is which qualifies him to teach writing in my book. Plus he went to Penn State as did my high school English teacher, Mr. Scheckler, who was the first important person ever to believe in my writing. There must be something in the water at Penn State. Mr. Scheckler pulled me aside one day after class and told me to write him stories. He said that they would be extra credit, and that I would still have to do the regular assignments too. He said that the stories would not be graded for grammar; instead he said “just write, tell me a story!” So I did just that. My spare time was spent writing “Twilight Zone” type stories about parallel dimensions, time travel, and a double-crossing drug smuggler who gets his in the end.
Henry Marchand seems to be in the same vein of teacher. He knows that there is some great stuff stuck in everyone’s brain and he wants to get it out onto paper. He says that we will end up looking deep inside ourselves as we explore the writing process. You guys know that I have already done this, and that work is archived here. The class is orderly yet comfortable so I can’t wait to see what comes out of my brain.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The first serious exposure I got into this conspiracy world was a documentary called “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”, and it featured most of the mythology that surrounds the event. It is a good starting place if you wish to understand how conspiracy theories feed on themselves and spin into competing theories that soon do battle with each other. The movie’s theory is that Kennedy was murdered by a professional French hit man hired by powerful Americans via the CIA, who used the mafia as a proxy for hiring the hit man. Why? Vietnam, Texas Oil, Cuba, and all kinds of evil right-wing stuff.
The Men Who Killed Kennedy features all of the standard elements that you can find in just about every conspiracy theory:
1. New eye-witnesses with fantastic stories.
2. Former government/intelligence insiders who are shot in silhouette who say that the assassination looked like a professional job, but either have no direct knowledge about the events of November 22, 1963 but “know a guy who told them everything.”
3. Both the new witnesses and the government insiders “‘fear for their lives”.
4. Interviews with “Experts” who aren’t really experts in the subjects that they discuss.
5. Frame by frame analysis of film of the event but the analysis has a narrow focus.
6. Informants. In this movie’s case they are Mob guys. Bottom line on Mob Guys is this: Mob Guys don’t talk. They sure as hell don’t talk on camera. The ones who do are full of crap.
7. The Men Who Killed Kennedy also features an interview with the alleged assassin, but of course he can’t go into detail. He writes a letter that is put in the warden’s safe with instructions that if he is murdered that only then can the letter be released to the press. Oh yeah, the assassin is already in a French prison and will only speak to investigators if he is moved to the U.S..
8. Enhanced photographs showing, well, showing nothing but a mess that is open to interpretation.
These elements are usually present in conspiracy theories and should be a giant BS-flag whenever they appear.
Conspiracies are real, they do happen, but they tend to fall apart which is how we know about them. Watergate is a prime example of a conspiracy and how it unraveled. It started with a break-in at Democratic head quarters in the Watergate building in Washington D.C. There were guys arrested soon after. Then the Washington Post got a tip that someone should take a closer look at the guys who were arrested. It turned out that they had interesting pasts. Then the source, who became known as “Deep Throat”, would lead the Washington Post to more evidence that eventually lead back to the Nixon White House. From there Federal Investigators jumped in and eventually Nixon resigned and members of his staff went to prison. At every step there was evidence that lead to more evidence. This evidence was solid. While “Deep Throat” remained anonymous to the public his identity was known to the Washington Post. The Post never ran with Deep Throat’s claims, instead they double and triple-checked them before they were printed in the paper. Nothing about Watergate was open to interpretation because most of the conspirators confessed.
If the “Plumbers” had been less inept, would Nixon have gotten away with it? It is hard to say, but probably not because it had too many moving parts. Nixon had ordered the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal records. The problem is that there would have been other break-ins after Watergate and with each one the odds of being caught would grow.
Of the dozens of books that I have read about the Kennedy assassination the best one is Live by the Sword, by Gus Russo. It does two things; the first thing is that it firmly establishes Oswald as the lone shooter, and the second thing it does is outline the actual cover-up after the assassination. The cover-up was not to obscure Oswald and his possible accomplices, but to separate the President (and his brother the Attorney General) from their clandestine operations to kill Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Russo’s book isn’t perfect in that he falls into the trap of alleging that Cuba offered to allow Oswald to immigrate there as a reward for killing Kennedy. While he lays out his argument he has no actual evidence. However, the rest of the book is outstanding as it documents RFK’s suppression of evidence and shaping the investigation away from the CIA and Cuban nationals in the Gulf Coast area of the U.S.
I have written before about my conversion to reality. I had gone to Dallas to visit my brother and we went to the Dealy Plaza Six Floor Museum in the old Texas Schoolbook Depository building. Looking out onto Elm Street from the window next to the “Sniper’s Nest” one thing became immediately clear to me – it was an easy shot. Roughly 300 feet from the window to the fatal head shot, and with that rifle’s scope Kennedy’s head would have looked like a pumpkin. Then as I was checking out the famous grassy knoll the sound of a helicopter filled the plaza (they were filming the first X-Files movie a few blocks away) and I was stunned by the amount of echo the buildings cause. So those witness reports about shots coming from other locations around the plaza all made sense. In recent years recreations of the assassination have proven the devastating effect of the Mannlicher –Carcano’s round, and I have learned that the rifle was once sought after by Olympic marksmen and prized by elephant hunters because of the penetration power of the bullet. The Carcano was hardly the cheap piece of crap that conspiracy kooks had led me to believe. They also wanted me to believe that Oswald couldn’t shoot, which his Marine Corps records show otherwise.
Standing in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository that day it became clear that I had been fooled and willingly so. This made me a giant douche-bag. Worse still was the fact that I had bought into other conspiracies too like UFOs and secret societies. After re-evaluating those I felt like a bigger chump. Why was I such a giant sucker? This was depressingly easy to answer: I like being smarter than everyone else and I like the idea that I am special. Being “In” on the biggest secret of the 20th Century made me feel special and I ate it all up. I was too clever for my own good. Today I have learned to wait until most of the facts are available before I express an opinion on an event.
By September 11th, 2001 I was immune to conspiracy-itus. I had watched the conspiracy rise up around TWA 800, and it followed the usual patterns of the government conspiracy. Mysterious naval movements, witnesses who thought that they saw a missile fired, and later Pierre Salinger would come forward with exclusive footage from a radar screen. The thing is that the FBI brought the plane’s wreckage up from the bottom of the ocean and reconstructed it in a hanger. There was no evidence of a missile strike. So as I watched the events of 9/11 unfold I wondered how long it would be until a conspiracy would be woven from that day. It literally started the next day. I stopped by my friend’s place to discuss the attacks. He told me that he had received a fax listing all kinds of anomalies and that we were being fed a lie. He told me that the footage of the Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of the attacks was actually four years old, even though one of the cars in the footage is clearly a 2001 model.
It wouldn’t be until after the invasion of Iraq that the “9/11 Truth” movement would pick up steam. The first book was written before the invasion by Thierry Meyssan called “The Horrifying Fraud”, and it claimed that the Pentagon was not hit by American Airlines 77 but by a missile. Meyssan also believes that the Beslan massacre was carried out by the CIA to gain control of the Caspian Sea. While he is an obvious nut-job, his book was a big hit in France (the French also think the Kennedy was killed by the CIA too) and gave rise the domestic 9/11 Truth gang. The premier zeitgeist of the “Truthers” is the film “Loose Change”. “Loose Change” was written and directed by Dylan Avery and produced with his buddies Korey Rowe, Jason Bermas, and Matthew Brown.
“Loose Change” is a piece of work, and it contains all of the red flags that I mentioned. The first version insisted that there was some kind of a pod under the wing of the plane that hit the South Tower of the WTC, and then suggested that this was proof of the plane being under remote control. Although the first version of “Loose Change” had been released in 2005; at which time the American public was well aware of the Predator drone, for some reason they felt that a pod was necessary to enable remote controllability. The movie has had to be revised three times as the claims are soundly debunked. It is nowhere near the masterpiece that The Men Who Killed Kennedy is. Avery and his pals produced their movie right after they graduated high school, and I can see myself in their rabid zeal to expose the truth. I suppose that if the internet had been around in 1982 that I would have done something similar because I had bought into the whole thing. I genuinely feel sorry for them because they seem like nice guys but they are oblivious to the pain that they are causing the survivors of those attacks and the families of those who did not come home on 9/11/2001.
There is a larger problem today as I see it. While the 9/11 Truthers are clearly nut, there is a secondary layer of kooks that operate freely within the media and politics. The myth of vaccines causing Autism is prevalent today in the US and Europe even though the original report has been redacted from the British medical journal because it was a fraud, and the doctor who wrote it has been stripped of his license to practice medicine. Yet even after all of this the subject is still treated with a serious tone by newscasters. The CIA is still given way too much credit for things it could never possible pull off.
Today I am free from conspiracy-itus. I no longer see the Illuminate behind every tree. I review the issues of the day on their own merits and the facts that surround them. It is liberating because I don’t have to find a way to make them fit into some larger, twister conspiracy framework. I am amazed at the level of stupidity I was gleefully willing to indulge in. I consider myself lucky for finally seeing the light. It is easy to get sucked into conspiracies; I need to warn you about this fact. They are presented with enough facts to make them plausible. Before you know it you have bought into some seriously crazy stuff.
Friday, August 06, 2010
Suddenly I am walking with a little more authority and moving faster for longer. I am less winded climbing the stairs at work. My legs want to go places. The truth be told it seemed as if they swung themselves out of the bed and just dragged me along to the bike. I like the feeling I’m getting from my body, so I hope I am on my way to a healthier me.
Here’s what has made the difference from the recent failures. My boss suggested that I just put a colored dot on the calendar for every time I worked out. So each day when I get to work I see those blue dots accumulate I feel good, and adding another dot also makes me feel good. I’m kind of an addictive type, or a binge-type and right now I’m just building upon each session. This week I’m at 30 minutes on the bike, next week it will be 45. Then I will have to find stuff to add, and that will probably be weights at the Fitness Center once a week.
That is in the future. Right now it’s just one workout session at a time. Nothing fancy.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
I need to point out that I had been going down to the river since I was four years old, but that was always with my mother. When I was eight I was allowed to go down there by myself, something that I doubt the young kids who live in Mission Fields get to do in today’s world ruled by irrational fears. There were just as many dangerous people back then as there are today lurking near that bridge; fading drugged-out hippies were common in the hidden camp-sites that dotted the berry-bushes under the trees that lined each side of the river’s banks. I never had a problem with them, but I remember one guy who scared me pretty good. I had come down the riverbank under the bridge and had begun walking up the dry riverbed when I saw a pair of blackened feet. My eyes followed the legs up from those feet until they met the eyes of your standard burn-out hippie. He had the full Taliban beard, and was pretty sunburned. The thing that struck me was that his eyes were black, and as he stared back at me it was like looking into an empty hole in space. Today I know that his eyes were dilated from a psychedelic drug, but that day he just looked frightening. He didn’t move and he said nothing, he just looked at me. I turned and walked up the river until I knew I was out of sight, and then I ran like hell back home.
That was one of the few frightening moments I had. The river was a happy place for me. The main attraction for me was the reptiles that could be found there. The county had built up segments of the river bank with concrete brickabrack to reinforce it against flooding. They had also piled two mountains of sand in an area behind the Safeway. One pile was over thirty feet tall. I guess that the county would come along and load some of that sand onto dump trucks for use somewhere else. In the mean time between those sand piles and the concrete slabs I had plenty of hunting grounds for the Blue-Bellied Fence Lizards. I got pretty good at catching them with my bare hands, and often came home with two or three to keep in a terrarium for a while before turning them loose on our woodpile on the back yard. They kept the spider population in check.
Snakes were around too, but they were often too fast for me. Every once in a while I would get my hands on a Garter Snake, which I would soon regret because those things release a foul stink. I don’t know why they aren’t called Skunk Snakes instead. The grand prize was the Gopher Snake. Gopher Snakes look like Rattle Snakes because of their color and their size (Gopher Snakes can grow to almost four feet long). I learned early on that if you wanted to catch a Gopher Snake you had to accept that you were going to get bit. It made no difference where you grabbed them they’d whip around and take a chunk out of you. The trick was never to hold it too close to your face. I think that in my snake-catching career I caught four Gopher Snakes. I only brought one home because my grandmother had a fit when I did.
That area behind the Crossroads Center that stretched all the way to Rancho Canada had once been some kind of access road. There were three rusting hulks of 1950s Chevys hidden in the berry bushes that I and my friends would discover in our explorations. This road is still back there today but it is over grown. Back then it served as a dirt-bike track and motocross bike track. We’d ride our bikes up and down that road, and we’d build jumps so we could be Evil Knievel. The McCurdy brothers and Arlen Moore would take their dirt bikes down there too and race around. We would have to clear out when they came or they’d beat us up. Sometimes we’d hide out in the bushes and watch them ride.
The county suffered a four year long drought that ended in 1977. At one point the county dredged a mile-long section of the river bed to expose the water that ran about six feet below the sand’s surface. It was deep enough to swim in and we bought some inflatable mattresses at longs to float around on. This sudden water supply had a side effect that was awesome for a ten year old boy. Snakes converged on the water holes in the hundreds, and when you walked along the side of the pool it looked like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in the snake-filled Well of Souls. With each step dozens of Garter Snakes would slither out of the way. I remember reaching down to grab one snake only to pull up three of them. The other thing that the water brought was thousands of baby toads. About three weeks after the dredging I had come down to the river and as soon as I reached the water there was a mass rush of tiny toads. It looked like D-Day. So I returned with a coffee can and filled it with more toads than I knew what to do with, and I took them home.
As I got older, around the age of ten I extended my range a bit to include the area that cut through the golf course. This led me up to Middle School where I discovered that the toads that lived near the lower baseball field were friggin’ huge. They lived in the holes dug by ground squirrels, and would liter near the entrance. To catch them you had to approach the holes from the blind side and then jam your hand down fast. Toads will pee first thing when they are captured, and I quickly learned to hold them away from me until they were done. I think that I personally de-populated a few square miles of toads. There was nothing like catching a big toad too, for me it was like catching a tiger.
When the drought finally ended I was there to watch as the river rose to about three feet below flood stage. There is a picture of me sitting on the river bank with a few other people watching the water flow past the depth marker that was painted on the first support pillar. I remember looking at all of that water rushing past and then trying to picture the empty river bed. Needless to say the following summer the river was all new again as the flow of water had reshaped much of the landscape.
As I got older I spent less time down at the river as my interests changed to other things. When I did go I found myself down in the lagoon area, back in the tidal marshlands behind the Carmel River School and Mission Ranch. There was easy access via a through-way between the school’s fence and the last house on the 16th Avenue. Between 1977 and 1978 I often went into the lagoon dressed in my military cammo pants and jacket. My grandma had bought me a nice set of binoculars, and I used them to indulge in my new passion of bird-watching. The lagoon was (and is) home to over two hundred different bird species, and that grows during the winter and spring migrations. Walking around through the marsh I learned to accept being wet all the time, but hanging out on the reeds was the best way to get up close to the Herons, ducks and other birds that sought privacy there. I learned that the channels were not too deep and could be crossed as long as I didn’t mind getting wet up to my chest. The reeds were also where the babies were hidden, and it was always a special treat to see them paddling along behind their mother.
As I became a full-fledged teenager I stopped going down to the river all together. The last time I ventured down was when I was twenty. I was working at the Crossroads Cinemas then, and I had an hour to kill before my shift started (I think that I was working a split shift). I walked the familiar trail down to the water’s edge. The river was flowing, but it was not too deep. I became nostalgic as the river gurgled its greetings to me like a long lost friend. The wind whispered through the trees making to late evening sun sparkle on the water. I was thinking that there was still magic in the world when I saw movement on the opposite bank. A Bobcat emerged from the brush; the first one that I’d ever seen, and it casually walked along its side of the river. Time seemed to stop as I watched that beautiful cat move along the river, and for a split second I felt like I was going to live forever and all that I had to do was stand in that spot. For that moment everything was perfect, I was part of some ancient dance between man and nature with the river and the wind providing the music. The suddenly the Bobcat caught sight of me and made his exit into the bush again, vanishing like a ghost, and leaving me there alone again on the river’s edge. I looked at my watch and turned around to walk back to the theater.
Today the old Carmel River Bridge is gone, torn away during the great flood of 1996. Parts of it are still lying on the southern bank of the river but they are slowly being buried by sediment and covered by plant life. The brickabrack that I spent hours on catching lizard has been buried completely by the river. Down at the lagoon the old channels that I’d cross in search of birds have all shifted as they’ve been filled in by sediment. All of the people, I grew up with in Mission Fields can no longer afford to live there and have moved off to new homes all over the world. The river is still there. The eastern side is often hidden these days by the trees on each side of the bank. If you are driving over the new bridge you should look west to the ocean if you want to see the river below. The Carmel River was my second home, but I don’t really miss it because it still runs wild in the back of my head. There in my head I stand upon a slab of cement brickabrack that once jutted out like a bowsprit over a small patch of the river. I am still nine years old and I am scanning the northern bank for pirates, Nazis, or the McCurdy brothers. The river was a place where I could find adventure, and if I couldn’t find it, it would find me.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Working at Thinker Toys usually insulated us from the many fads that came and went in the toy world. Transformers, Go-Bots, and the various other mass-market trends passed us by because as a small toy store we couldn’t afford to carry such items. Not that we wanted to because Thinker Toys specialized in games, high-end plush, European wooden toys, educational toys, and various hobby items (model trains, die-cast cars, and models). We also didn’t carry toys that glorified violence, no guns, swords, or even plastic army men. So while we sold a lot of toys, we most sold the good stuff. So imagine our surprise when we found ourselves in the eye of the storm of Beanie Baby loons.
The first warning that we had was one summer day when a nine year old girl from Illinois discovered our basket of Ty Beanie Babies on the real plush table. She called her parents over to the table and excitedly pointed out all the Beanies we had. Her parents bought all eleven of them, and told us that they were the next hot thing. So my boss, Mark, called up Ty and ordered a bunch more. They showed up about ten days later, and we priced them and put them on the plush table again.
While they continued to sell, people were freaking out because we put a price-tag on the Ty heart-shaped tag. “It lowers the value” one lady hissed at me. Soon we had to move the Beanie Babies behind the counter because they were getting stolen. Soon people began calling us to ask if we carried the Beanie Babies. This is where the nightmare began. They’d ask if they could be notified when the Beanie Baby shipments came in, and stupid us, we said “Sure”. The thing is that they’d call us before the boxes had been opened. In the early days of the Beanie Baby craze the Ty boxes were proudly marked with their logo, and people would follow the UPS trucks around noting where they’d stop. Some would even quiz the UPS drivers as to where the boxes were going, and this would result in people calling us up before the boxes had even arrived. Eventually TY stopped marking its boxes to prevent theft.
As the craze grew, we found that the Beanie Babies would end up on back-order. This pissed off our customers to no end, and many accused us of hording them for the re-sale market. The problem was that as the Beanie Babies grew into a phenomenon everyone started to sell them: butcher shops, tobacco shops, beauty salons, hardware store, and so on. So we never knew when we’d actually get them and when we did they would be in quantities of six to twelve. The bears almost never showed up.
The day I realized that the Beanie Baby thing was out of control was the day of a powerful storm. Trees were coming down, and the power was out in Carmel as the rain and wind hit us like a story from the Bible. In the middle of all of this came the UPS truck, and low and behold there was a single Ty box onboard. We popped it open and to our surprise we found twenty-four “Peace” bears inside. The Peace Bear was a tie-dye fellow with the peace symbol on his chest; he was made to commemorate the passing of Jerry Garcia. Anyway, we put them up on the shelf and while we did have a small list of people we needed to call we couldn’t because the power was out and the phones were down. As it was, all but a few of those people came in anyway because they knew the phones were down and they didn’t want to miss out. San Carlos Street was blocked off while this was going on because a large pine tree in front of Wells Fargo was showing signs of coming down, and a tree cutter was out there cutting it down. The wind blew and the rain came down in sheets. I went downstairs for lunch because there was nothing else to do, and Mark and Nancy ran the front counter. The power came back as I returned from lunch. I sent Nancy on her way, and I noted that all of the Peace Bears were now gone. We had a two-Beanie limit so the word must have gotten out somehow. Now that most all of the Beanies from this shipment were gone I had a pretty quiet hour or so until the phone rang. “Did you get Peace bears today?” to which I stupidly answered “Yes, but we’re sold out.” The woman on the other end of the phone; calling me from Pennsylvania, flipped out and just went ape-shit. She actually threatened to scratch my eyes out, to which I told her that threatening people across state lines was a federal crime. She huffed and hung up the phone. Wow, just freakin’ wow.
From there we developed a system and because I was smart I made sure that I had nothing to do with it. I made it clear to Mark that I had no sense of humor about the Beanie Baby craze, and if a customer threatened me again I was going to tear their arm out of the socket and beat their skull in. So I was just never around when the new Beanies went out onto the floor. Nancy handled the Beanies and the customers, she had a list of names, and she would go through the shipment and pull the desired Beanies for each customer. Were these customers happy? No, they gave Nancy grief anyway, and Mark eventually had to ask some to never return to the store. I often asked Mark if it was worth it because most of the Beanie Baby customers were not buying anything else in the store, and he’d just shrug saying that it was hard to say what the long-term effect would be.
Although I had managed to stay clear of most of the Beanie Baby crap, I was still amazed at the things that I did learn. First there was Cancer Lady, she told us that she was dying from cancer and that the Beanies made her feel better. So Mark made a point of getting her the hot Bears first, to which she was grateful. Come to find out the bitch didn’t have cancer, and she was using the same BS line on a dozen other gift shops to get the valuable bears, and then she was selling them for $50 a pop at the Flea Market in Santa Cruz.
Then there were the two adorable nine year old twin girls who came into the store on Christmas break. We happened to have a Peace Bear or two that day, and they marveled that it was only $5. As their mother bought them each a bear at what they thought was a bargain price she told us that they had spent their Christmas money on a pair of Princess Bears. I asked how much they paid, and the mother told me that they paid $200 each. Unfucking believable. I told her that while we only got 24 Princess Bears we only sold them for $5 too. The mother just shook her head. The Princes Bear was Ty’s first attempt to cash in on the hype. Venders were only allotted 24 bears each, and only 2000 would be produced. Some people paid up to $1000 for a Princess bear, and this made me realize that some people were too stupid to have $1000 in the first place.
Beanie Babies cost .35 cents to make. Their wholesale price was $2.49 and they sold for $4.95. Anybody who paid more than $5 for a Beanie Baby is a moron, and if you are offended by this because you bought one for some ridiculous amount well tough shit. What’s that Beanie worth now? .50 cents? Less? Shrewd investment there, Forbes. I have no problem with those folks who bought the Beanie Babies because they thought they were cute; they were pretty neat, and they were a valid stuffed animal. Just like baseball cards, die-cast cars (Hot Wheels, Johnny Lightning, etc), comic books, and baseball cards that all got the “Collectable” treatment Beanies are pretty much worthless today. There is a reason for this fact. Things become valuable because they are rare and hard to find in “mint” condition. The first Superman comic book and Mickey Mantle’s rookie card are worth a ton of cash because there are not that many of them floating around out there. When that first Superman came out in the 1930s kids didn’t keep them around too long because they usually got traded with friends or got destroyed from the usual wear and tear of childhood. When Mantle was a rookie kids bought the cards to get the bubble gum, and those cards often ended up in the spokes of bicycles. The kids who actually took care of their comics or baseball cards often came home from college, WWII, or Vietnam to find that mom had tossed their collection out or gave it to the kid down the street. This is why baseball card and comic book collectors celebrate Mother’s Day as a religious holiday.
The fact that Beanie Babies were produced and sold to people who were collecting them as an investment made them worthless before we had even taken them out of the box. The Beanie Babies were a symbol of everything that was wrong with the economy of the mid-1990s through 2008. Beanie Babies were seen as an investment, and some people did make money off of them. The problem is that they were making money off of speculation; speculation that was not supported by any reasonable facts whatsoever. The demand for the Beanie Babies was fueled by media hype of people getting rich quick from the sales of the rare bears. Soon the secondary market grew with the help of the growing internet population, and by 1998 there was a national black market network of Beanie Baby collectors nationwide. Soon people who had no prior knowledge of the collectable toy market were sucked into the Beanie Baby frenzy, and they were throwing away money on them right and left.
I knew that Beanie Babies would mostly be worthless, and I tried to tell every customer who told me otherwise. I never once sold a Beanie Baby to anyone with the promise of future riches, and neither did anyone else at Thinker Toys. We had so many people tell us that we were stupid because our Beanie Babies sold for $5 when so many other places were selling them for more. The rival gift shop in town actually never put their Beanies on the shelves and instead sold them online for outrageous prices. To my boss’s credit, Mark would respond by saying that we were a respectable business, and we were a proud seller of toys. He said that eventually the Beanie craze would end, and the reputation that we were over-charging for them (essentially ripping off people) would kill off our long term business. He was right too, Thinker Toys is still around in a world where independents are being crushed by the giant corporate trash stores.
A few months ago I was on Cannery Row and I walked into one of the gift shops. They had shelves full of Beanie Baby bears. I guess Ty had reissued the classics. They were selling for $5, as they always should have been. I asked the lady behind the counter if they were still hot sellers and she told me that there were a few die-hards who still came in, but for the most part they were no big deal. There is a number of morals to this story. There is no such thing as easy money. The only smart investment is in the bond market – not toys fresh off of the truck. Just because everyone thinks that something is going to be worth money doesn’t make it so. Always do your homework and never pay more for an item than it is worth in the present, the future price is always unknown. Buy something because you like it. Nobody ever got rich by buying retail. If this didn’t involve children it would be funny, but kids got ripped off. Some people would say that they learned a valuable economic lesson. I think people that say that should die in a fire because ripping off children leads to children not trusting adults, or thinking that ripping off people is okay. I can walk away from the Beanie Baby wars knowing that neither I nor my employer stole money from children or those sad people who lined up in our store. I can smile today knowing that I was right about the long term worth of the Beanie Babies as well.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I had walked maybe twenty yards before encountering a woman coming down the hill. “That’s a lot of clothes for such a hot day” she says, and I reply “yeah it is.” I was wearing my woodland cammo BDU pants, my assault boots, a tan BDU shirt with a black t-shirt underneath. This is pretty much the same thing that every soldier wore out at Fort Ord going back to 1914. I wonder if she was trying to be helpful or if she just had no clue. Anyway, I end up removing my BDU shirt about half way up and shoving it into my ruck because the wind didn’t slip into the canyon so the temperature here was in the upper 70s. This kind of thing is why Fort Ord was called “The Planet”, or “Planet Ord”, the place has its own weather patterns.
My climb up the switchbacks was hampered by cramps as diarrhea made its presence known. Taking a duce outside is not one of my favorite things, and the larger problem was finding a spot to deal with this. I clenched my way to the top of the ridge, which is a saddle between to taller plateaus, and I urgently began to look for a suitably remote spot to let fly. I notice a small rise above the trail, a spot where a good soldier would set up an observation post (OP), and sure enough after a mercifully short distance up this hill there was a suitable clearing to take care of business. I backed up to the sage, making sure that a rattlesnake was not relaxing underneath, and I dropped my pants and then released the Kraken. I felt 100% better now. I must admit that taking a dump out in the open in front of God and Mother Nature is empowering. The world is my toilet. Having no toilet paper I pull my boxers way up and then pull up my cammo pants, not the greatest feeling in the world but them’s the breaks. As it is still my intention to write about the 7th Infantry Division’s Lightfighters, the need to experience a minor case of “Monkey Butt” is necessary…I guess.
I hike around the rim of the small box canyon and then begin my return leg. The climb back to the top of the ridge is not as steep, but as fatigue has set in the climb is still a challenge. Humping. Every infantryman I have ever spoken with referred to the act of marching with a rucksack as “humping”. To a civilian the act of humping is a slang term for having sex, and there on that trail the feeling was far from even bad sex. Sure there was sweating and heavy breathing, nothing beyond that. All I felt was the drag that the extra weight placed on me, and the straps digging into my shoulders.
I stop at the end of a spur trail that overlooks the parking lot, Salinas River, and the Salinas Valley all the way to the Santa Cruz Mountains. I unsling my pack and sit down on the bench that was there. The breeze from the ocean filled my lungs, and my head cleared a bit. I knew that the best way for me to spur weight loss would be to hike or walk with that ruck on my back. So sitting there on that bench I made my mind up one last time that I would get into shape again. I don’t know if it was fatigue from the extra weight, or the surge of real-manliness from taking a dump in the great wide open but out there in the back nine of Fort Ord I suddenly had a grip on things. I needed to get my weight off, period, end of story.
I stood up to stretch, and take in the view one last time, and then turned to grab my ruck. I noticed a fast-food to-go cup next to the bench, half full, and this angered me briefly. I walked over and knocked the cup over to spill the contents out on the hot ground. As I crushed the cup and picked it up to fold, my anger turned to pity for the idiot who had left it. I slid it into the cargo pocket on my right leg and then began my return jaunt back to my truck. I return to the purple BLM rope and work my way down to the saddle. From there it is a pleasant and lazy stroll down the hill under the welcome shade of oak trees. As I walk down I think about the litter bug and his/her cup now in my pocket. The litter bug had to walk over a mile and up a steep hill to leave their garbage. How empty must their soul be to sit on that bench and take in a spectacular view, and then leave their crap to mar the scenery? Sure, I took a dump, but so did 3 million other guys out at Fort Ord. It blew my mind that someone carried that cup up there, and then left it. Why even go on a hike? It is obviously lost on that sad person, so why go to such great effort to pollute?
I decided that that cup was just another sign that our society was already dead. That the reason that zombie movies have such appeal is because they are actually an accurate mirror on where we are at as a people, and that we have become nothing more than bodies going through the motions like chickens with their heads cut off. In this case, my litter bug probably wanted to go on a hike or bike ride to get into shape or stay healthy; yet before they were even out of their car they had loaded crap into their body, and thus any benefit from their outing was already lost. Then I thought of my own pre-hike meal from the burger place, and that just reinforced my decision to get my personal act together. Even as I neared the end of the trail I realized that I was now on a longer road.
I returned to my truck and got my ruck off my back, and then tossed it into the cab. I dumped some water on my head, it felt great. I then got in and fired my truck up and pulled out of the parking lot. As I drove home I began to formulate a plan to get in shape. This was not going to happen overnight so I didn’t rush into anything. I would put together a plan over the next three week.
On a final note, the next day I went to school for my last regular class of the semester before I had my final exam. I got out of my truck and pulled my ruck out and slung it onto my shoulders. Although I have had this ruck for two years; when I put it on this time it actually hugged my back, and this strange feeling came over me. It was like that ruck was now a part of me, and it now sat against my back in a strangely friendly way. As I began my walk to class the ruck seemed to move as though it was an extension of my back muscles, seeming to now move with my body. This is when it finally dawned on me; I was now humping my way to English class. From here on out every time I put that ruck on I would be humping it. It made sense, at least to me, and I found myself smiling as I walked to class.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, followed by the Iraq War, and then the banking/mortgage/economic collapse of 2008 America has begun to change. What Reality Matters illuminated for me were some of the deeper causes of the cultural change as each individual writer expresses very real connections to these shows, and then reveals some positive under lying change in them. To be honest, when I talk about a cultural shift I confess that I cannot put my finger on what exactly it is, but I get the feeling that what is shooting through the undercurrent of American society is akin to the regret and horror people feel the morning after they’ve rioted. The realization of just how out of control we have been as a people at every level of society from the nightclubs of Hollywood and Miami, the exclusive offices of Wall Street, the Mortgage guy at your bank that you thought that you could trust, and Washington D.C..
While the Tea Party is the most visible reaction to this awakening I would point to the election of Barak Obama to the Presidency as the left’s version of the Tea Party. However I submit that reality TV has played a big part in this awakening as well. Instead of pretty actors pretending to be somebody that they are not, reality TV pointed cameras at a wide variety of real people and gave us a new version of reality. Sure most of those shows are scripted, and all are edited for enhanced drama yet they ring true. Desperate Housewives is a well written and wonderfully acted show, but on many level The Real Housewives of New Jersey was far more decadent and juicy. Plus you could feel better about hating characters on Real Housewives because they are themselves, where as when the director yells “cut” on the Desperate Housewives set those women disappear as the actresses who portray them wander off to their trailers. One time I met J.T. Walsh, who played the evil Sgt. Major Dickerson in Good Morning Vietnam, and he was just the sweetest guy you could ever want to meet. Conversely when I met Michael Bean, who played “Hicks” in Terminator as well as many other “Cool Guy” roles, Bean turned out to be a dick. Generally with reality TV stars you are getting what you see.
I think that this underlies the cultural shift, while we still enjoy good fictional TV shows we also want to see what the neighbors are up to. When we watch those idiots on Jersey Shore we are confirming that our society’s decadence needs to be replaced with something else, something more real. Okay, when the two cast members tried to light charcoal on a gas bar-B-q I was indeed hoping that it would explode and disfigure them. I’m not going to try and tell you that there isn’t a gutter-level of enjoyment to reality TV.
My first reaction about reality TV shows is disgust. This reaction is based on MTV’s stable of shows headed by The Real World, which always bothered me and has continued to degenerate into worse anti-social behavior with each new season. What Reality Matters did for me is force me to think about the shows that I do watch, and low and behold many of them are reality television shows. I have sat through the Military Channel’s Making Marines and BUDS: Class 234 multiple times. Both shows took an often traveled road and used a reality show-style format to present their stories. Recently I sat through the Discovery Channel’s Two Weeks in Hell about the first two weeks of U.S. Army Special Forces selection, and this show also used the reality show-format. Compared with the Discovery Channel’s classic show: Navy SEALs, the Silent Option, Two Weeks in Hell new show offered much more insight into the men who try out for Special Force, and featured much more of a human connection.
Then I am forced to admit that my favorite TV shows are Deadliest Catch, and Ghost Hunters. In many ways Deadliest Catch is a thousand times more manly than “24”. The show features rugged dudes risking their lives to catch Alaskan King Crab, man against the sea, man against man as nerves and fatigue wear away nerves, and all around man-stuff (smoking, drinking, swearing, not showering, and missing their women). Ghost Hunters features a Rhode Island paranormal research team headed two Roto-Rooter plumbers. Each episode consists of the team rolling up to a haunted historical location, unloading the van, setting up the equipment, and running around in the dark saying “Shhh! Did you hear that?” The climax of each show is called “The Reveal” where they unveil the findings from the investigation. The show is a lot of fun and sometimes they don’t find anything. Both shows feature regular people doing extraordinary things in scary places.
As the 21st Century takes shape and we dust off the residue of the decadence of the last 20 years of the last century; I believe that reality TV will be a proven factor in our progress as a culture. I know that this sound wild, crazy and more than a little stupid, but I think that there is a connection. I think that as we search for the new “Truth” that reality TV offers us a glimpse; either as a window onto a world that we want, or a world that needs to be discarded.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
The Mesa sits at about 1000 feet above the Carmel River below. Once it was to become a subdivision of nice homes but fate and water rights left it to be donated to the county. There is a pond that was once intended for cattle and now provides water for wildlife. It is fed by a well, which is about 100 meters up the hill, and the Park pipes the water down using gravity. The pond is home to a couple of large Bullfrogs, a mating pair of turtles, and water-borne insects. In the fall, migrating water fowl feed on the baby frogs. The pond is a great source of information about animal activity as they many creatures who come to drink will leave their footprints in the mud. Raccoons, Coyotes, Opossum, Skunks, White Tail Deer and Turkey tracks can be found on the shore of the pond. I look for the Mountain Lions and Bobcats. The Mesa is my last stop before dropping into Garza’s Canyon, so I took my time that morning.
As I came around the curving trail that feeds onto the Mesa I was met by a dazzling scene. The dew caught in the grass and trees made the Mesa sparkle in the bright morning sun. It looked like a thousand diamonds had been sprinkled across the Mesa’s meadow. I paused to take in the view. Next I circled the pond to see what secrets it might reveal that morning and aside from panicking the Bullfrog I found nothing more than deer tracks. As I made my way back to the trail I saw the most interesting and amazing thing. Between me and the trail there was a bush. A small Western Meadowlark had perched itself on an outcropping branch. The Meadowlark was signing away and I stopped to watch it as it put on a show. The bird would pluck at the branch to pull it towards him and then let it go. This caused the dew-drops to spring from the leaves and the result was that the Meadowlark got a shower. I watched the bird shower, popping the branch back and then puffing up its bright yellow feathers, and then chirping out what I realized was a rhythmic cadence. Once it had finished “showering” the Meadowlark hopped up to the highest branch (about chest high) and began to sing and flap its wings in a pattern that served no other purpose than as a rhythmic dance.
There on that bush, facing the sun above a dew-sparkling spider web, that Meadowlark sang a greeting to the morning sun. The bird was doing a joyful dance, possibly a ritual or worship to the sun, and I was there to witness it. It may have been an instinctual thing caused by thousands of years of evolution. Maybe it is just something Meadowlarks do. Yet I was aware that the bird was happy, and that this dance was out of pure joy.
The scientist in me says that this is nothing more than anthropomorphism, and that bird was just cleaning itself. I admit that my observation of this type of bird is limited, and yet the bird was alone. Since this was early October the mating season had long passed this bird by, so his song and dance had no purpose to attract a mate. I know that animals do not think and feel as humans do, but I also know that they do think and feel. That Meadowlark was seeing the beautiful Mesa the same way I was seeing it on that spectacular morning. He was thanking his maker for it too. In the years since that morning I have never seen any other animal perform like that Meadowlark, so the event may have been a one-of-a-kind, but somehow I doubt it.
I don’t mean to imply that there is a spiritual aspect to nature. The meadowlark may have just been happy to see the sun, but there was an element of joy in his act. I have seen birds hunt, forage, and flee and this was entirely different. The meadowlark was responding to an aesthetic and not to a concrete reality. It was a beautiful sun-lit morning and it chose to dance and sing. That vision has always stuck with me, and whenever I hike I hope to catch another glimpse of this kind of behavior. I suspect that one day I will experience this again. I suspect that this kind of thing goes on in secret in meadows and forests all over the world every day.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Al Qaeda should start their own airline. Call it AQA.
AQA would have many advantages over the other airlines in that their entire staff would be former and current terrorists. So right off the bat the company would save money on security background checks. They would most likely be popular with travelers because AQA would have no security checkpoints whatsoever, and thus check-in would be a breeze. They wouldn't serve booze during the flights, and the flight crew will stop to pray at the appointed times (the plane would be on auto-pilot). Kids would once again be welcome to visit the unlocked cockpit and talk to the pilots, after which they would receive the honorary pilots wings and a red bandanna that says "Death to America and Israel" in Arabic embroidered upon it.
The pre-flight safety briefing would consist of a video of a guy in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of five or six AQA employees wearing balaclavas and armed with AK-47s. The flight attendants would be all male, and would have the option of wearing either the red bandanna or a black balaclava, or a combination of both. The scariest looking Al Qaeda fighters would be assigned to the check-in desk at the airport, just like Delta Airlines does. The AQA check-in counter would feature a hand-made banner (another money saving idea), and the check-in clerk would have a couple of guys behind him dressed in black and wearing masks. The threat of physical violence should make check in much faster, and this in turn will make the airline that much more popular, especially with business travelers.
Because Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization, they will inject terror into the AQA travel experience. I see this as a benefit. For example standard airlines will turn on the "Fasten Seat belt" sign as the pilot quietly warns the passengers of turbulence ahead. The result of this is that many passengers ignore the warning and either get hurt themselves or injure others. On AQA, the pilot would simply start yelling "Allah Akbhar" into the intercom and put the jet into a brief nose-dive. It is safe to assume that all seat belts will be on within seconds. The passengers might need to change their underwear, and AQA could accommodate them upon landing. The baggage handlers could place simulated IEDs into the passenger's luggage before returning it to them. When the passenger finally opens their suitcase, the IED "explodes" sending confetti and small candies into the air along with little fortune cookie-sized messages that read: Thank you for flying AQA, death to America, death to the infidels!" They could include vanity luggage tags that read "I flew AQA and all I got was this stupid luggage tag, and a death threat." Perhaps they could have their own private lounges where alcohol could be served. There they could sell t-shirts that proclaim: "I got bombed by Al Qaeda at [insert foreign airport name here]." At their lost luggage claims counter there could be a poster featuring Osama bin Laden with the slogan "Hey, if they haven't been able to find this guy, your suitcase is history."
In short, AQA would be much like the other major airlines, only they could wear their disdain for humanity on their sleeves.
Saturday, April 03, 2010
What pissed me off were the references to the problems that women - still - face being taken seriously as guitar players. GP even adds excerpts from their Facebook debate which reads like a bunch of long shore men sitting in a bar in 1969. I have been away from the guitar community for 21 years, so I am more than a little shocked to see that my male guitar-playing brethren are a bunch of pencil-dick-slack-jawed-ass-backward-knuckle-dragging-asswhipes.
Let me get this straight, in 2010 women fly F-15s, 16s, 18s, 117s, B-52s, B-1s, and drop 1000 pound bombs on Al Qaeda and Taliban scum. Women are Nobel Prize winning scientists. Women are among the top surgeons in their respective fields in every country around the world. Our last three Secretaries of State have been women. The Speaker of the House is a woman. Women occupy almost every kind of job that is available in the United States. Yet if those same professional women pick up a guitar and master it they are not to be taken seriously, and are instead to be treated as a novelty.
Are you guys out of your fucking minds?
You can't play guitar with your dick, I know I've tried and there is bleeding and blisters involved. Seriously, the guitar doesn't care if the person playing it has a penis or a vagina, and all that should matter is the music. That would be all that mattered if guitar players would fucking grow up. Do you guys still wear pajamas with feet? Does your mommy still do your laundry?
Are you guys afraid of cooties?
It is disgraceful that in 2010, guitar players seem to occupy the lowest wrung of the evolutionary scale. I'm a conservative guy, but if a woman is good at something then you support her and let her do it. Everybody wins. Worse, some of these misogynous dinosaurs consider themselves liberals and progressives. Shame on them. I didn't like this crap back in 1983, but at least then women were just breaking into the greater world and were still treated as second-class citizens. In 2010, when 70% of popular music on the radio is made by women, some of them even writing their own songs, then the male guitar player needs nut up and shut up.
I could point out that there is a name for men who only want to hang around other men, but that would be an underhanded cheap shot.
Is big bad Orianthi a thwet to your wittow ego? Does the fact that a girl plays better than you somehow undermine your fwagile manhood?Does the idea of someone who uses tampons and can play as well as you and your hairy-assed buddies somehow diminish all that you have worked for? Have you ever considered that this is why you and your band will never get out of the garage? Have you given any thought to the fact that your narrow-mindedness is why you are an abject failure in life? How many ex-girlfriends have you had? Let me guess, it was always them and their problems, right? And those of you who are divorced? Same thing, she never saw it your way?
Let me clue you in , Scooter, you are an immature buffoon. You are a walking, talking cartoon character of a man. Well, sort of a man, because you have never made psychologically it off the kindergarten playground. You are a sad and pathetic waste of male genitalia.
Any time a new talented guitarist shows up on the scene and has success the rest of us guitar-playing types should rejoice. Orianthi is out there inspiring new guitarists, this is a great thing for the instrument. I would point out that all the great guitarists wouldn't care less about a woman playing guitar, and maybe this is why guitar playing has vanished from the real world and now only exists in video games along with dragons and ninjas. Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Andy Summers, and Steve Vai are all grownups.
It is a sad day in Mudville when in 2010, guitar players cannot deal with a chick who is as good or better then them. Sad indeed.