Saturday, January 30, 2021

Uh, Okay

A conversation between my father and I in the early 1970s. Originally posted 10/13/05.  Edited some.

When I was a youngster I watched John Wayne and his Leathernecks storm beaches. assault hills, and bomb Jap carriers. At age 8, I longed to be just like him. The war movies of the 1940s and 50s were epic adventures of men larger than Life itself. They walked tall, killed many enemies and died like all men should;  with their boots on. Their cause was always just, and the good guy always prevailed. Germans, Japanese, and later North Koreans were the evil menace. They preyed upon the weak. They killed, tortured, and pillaged like they were born to it. Never in all those childhood Saturday matinees were our boys anything but heroic in their efforts and humble in their victories.

It was around age 15 when a friend's brother came home in a box from Vietnam that I began to question the nobility of war. I was 17 when an aging John Wayne tried to do for Vietnam what he had done for us in World War ll and Korea, "The Green Berets" was full to the brim with noble causes, chock full of heroic gestures, and full up with dead bodies, mostly those evil Viet Cong. And John dutifully died at the end of the flick like any good hero should. At least that is how I remember it.

When once I used to feel the patriotic juices welling up at the sight of the Duke blasting his way into a bunker to save his battalion from sure annihilation, I just sat there and and felt sad. It had only been a few days earlier a good friend had come home in fewer pieces than when he left. His unwillingness to speak of the evil he had witnessed and the evil he may have done spoke more to me than if he had given me the blow by blow. The year in Vietnam had made him old before his time. Maimed and bitter he turned up the drugs he had fallen into in the Army and ended up dying of an overdose 2 years later.

By age 19, I was against the war, but willing to go if called. Something inside me still clung to the images of God and Country the Duke had embedded in my brain so many years earlier. The war may be wrong but it was still a noble undertaking. Naive and sure of my own immortality I had decided to enlist if my lottery number was low enough. It was a sure thing my grades would not keep me out. 

I sat in my dorm getting drunk the night they drew the birth dates. About 10 o'clock, the phone in the hall rang. Someone hollered for me. It was my father. My Brigadier General, retired ole man. He was shit-faced too. 

We began that conversation in mutual inebriation and when done talking we both hung up our phones sober as judges. What he said to me that night rocked my world. What I told him rocked his. 

He began by saying he had decided that Vietnam was of no purpose and made no sense. An exercise in stupidity that would have no effect other than people would die. He ended with an offer of a one way ticket to Montreal, Canada. 

I was speechless. Was this same man I grew up wondering if he had any other clothes than the uniform he wore everyday? Was this the man who spent 31 years protecting our shores from the menace across the seas? The same man I never felt a connection with? 

An awkward silence I remember next. Moments dragged on while we both contemplated what he had said and what it must have taken to say it. Regaining some composure, I managed a barely intelligible "Uh, okay." More awkward moments while we both chewed on this awesome recognition of a man questioning basically his whole life. 

I snapped out of my astonishment and struck back with my own news. " I appreciate the offer Dad, but I decided I would join up if my number was low enough." I quickly added my reasons. To not be willing to do my duty would be disrespectful to all of those before me who had sacrificed. But most of all I did not want to shame him. His life had been dedicated to the defense of our country and I would not dishonor that memory by running away. 

Some serious silence now. Loud silence. I could hear the blood pulsing in my ears. And then he spoke. "Uh, okay. But promise me you go in the Navy or the Air Force. Only dum-asses are Jarheads or Grunts." 

"Uh, Okay. Thanks for calling Dad. Talk to you soon."........Click. 

The Epilogue 

As it turned out my number was 200 something. They only drew a few over 100 dates that year. I did not end up serving. But I still remember that night like it was yesterday. It was one of those important moments in a life when a father and son connect on a level neither had reached for before. We both hung up feeling pride in the other.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Bowie and the Whacko Redhead - Revisited

I did not appreciate how close to the edge I was flying back in 1978 when I was driving Rock n' Roll bands from one end of the continent to the other. I had been on the road pretty much non-stop for two years. The mind numbing miles built up. One hall began to look like another. I often had to check my itinerary the morning of a stage call to remind me what town I was in and what town I was heading for.

My time behind the wheel became a blur of interstate super slabs interrupted by nightmarish back ins to backstage loading docks run by surly stagehands. Sleep was often a luxury. Food, while plentiful, was always the same leftovers found in Green Rooms across the nation or the classic gut busting fare served in truck stops.

I was on the David Bowie tour in the spring of 1978. We were on the last leg, the whirlwind part. The bunched up series of shows on the East Coast meant travel distances dropped but the strategies to make it safely in and out of a city grew ever more complicated.

The East was where I had learned the ropes of driving. I was back in my element. I could get 6 or 7 trucks to Madison Square Garden without much hassle as long as everyone stuck together. I could back into holes the western drivers considered impossible. In other words, I came east and I was a star.

We had three towns left. Providence, Boston, and we finished with two shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was in Providence the comedy of errors began for me.

A normal crowd of groupies and sycophants were hanging out in the lobby of the Providence Howard Johnsons when I stumbled through the roulette door to check in. How these clowns seemed to know where to go puzzled me. But they were always around.

Whacko Redhead was parked on one of the over stuffs tapping her feet. I only noticed her because her red hair was a couple of feet long and looked like it had not seen the business side of a comb or brush in years. And on her head was a Red Sox cap. Our eyes met. Mine stopped at her face. Her stare went right through me. Kinda scared me if you want to know the truth. I smiled weakly and continued to stumble my way to the front desk. I checked in, got my key and directions to my room.

Maybe two minutes after throwing my shit on the bed and collapsing next to it, someone knocked on the door. Not happy in the slightest, I dragged my sorry butt off that bed and opened the door.

"You're with the Bowie Tour aren't you?"

There, in all of her 5 foot grandeur stood Whacko Redhead with her feet apart like an umpire and her hands on her hips. She pushed past me and came into my room.

"So what do I have to do to get backstage?" She plopped on my bed.

By this point in my Rock n Roll career, I had grown tired of the groupie scene. The easy sex for backstage passes had gone stale for me. Add in the fact that I was dead on my feet and my mood was not all that agreeable. So I lied.

"I don't do backstage passes anymore. I'm tired. I need some sleep. Please leave." And I continued to hold the door open.

Whacko Redhead did not get up off the bed. Instead she began to tap her feet again like in the lobby. "Well then", she started, "I am sure one of you drivers is horny enough to cough up a pass. Who should I see?"

Her direct manner and her piercing blue eyes cut through me hard. I began to chuckle. "Well, Billy Boo is perpetually horny. He's always ready for some head."

"Which one's Billy Boo? Not the 400 pound whale with the whiny voice and scraggly beard?"

"That would be Billy Boo."

"Uh, no thanks. I picked you. So, what's it gonna take?" Her blue eyes bored right through me.

"Darlin, all I want is some sleep. Even if I had the urge, I don't think the engine has the fuel." But I closed the door and walked back into the room.

That was my first mistake.

At age 26, we guys always have the urge and the fuel even if we don't think we do. And this is something all the women know. An hour later Whacko Redhead and I were saving the planet by taking a shower together. That sleep I thought I needed traded in on easy sex for a backstage pass.

I lost track of Whacko Redhead during the show that night. But come time for load out, there she was sitting on one of the speakers waiting to be loaded on my truck. When a stagehand slapped that speaker, she hopped off and walked over to me at the back door of the trailer.

She reached around my waist with one hand and pulled my head down with the other. After planting a screamer of a kiss on me, she backed up. "Well, I guess that's it then. You are off to Boston now."

"Yeah, I guess so."

And then I made my second mistake.

"How'd you like to go to Boston with me?"

I don't think I had even finished talking and she had the passenger door of the truck open and was scrambling up the looped footstep. By the time I had climbed in behind the wheel, she had a doob lit and was passing it over the dog house to me.

With traffic, the Old Boston Garden was at most a two hour drive from Providence. Once there, I figured I would finally get that sleep I needed. It was possible my head could be on a pillow by 2 AM. With stage call not until 8 AM, I might get 4 hours of solid shuteye.

Whacko Redhead had other plans. On the way out of Providence she insisted I stop at her apartment so she could grab some clean clothes and maybe gussy up some. Since finding Boston Garden should be no problem for the other drivers and the fact they had over 8 hours to find it, I cut them loose with a call on the CB radio. I pulled into Whacko Redhead's apartment complex around midnight. I didn't pull out until 6:30 AM the next morning. And again like so many times before, I made stage call with only minutes to spare. Buford, the head engineer for SHOWCO was not impressed. Damn women.

I got my trailer unloaded and then headed to the Holiday Inn in Somerville. After a quick romp in the sack with Whacko Redhead, I headed for the shower and left her in bed thumbing through the itinerary for the tour. As I toweled myself off, there was a knock at the door. I wrapped my towel around my waist and opened the door expecting one of the crew or a hotel employee. There standing in all their Parental intimidation are Mom and Dad. I had forgotten that I had invited them down from Maine to see the Bowie show and hang with all the cool people backstage.

I didn't move. I didn't say a word. I just looked at them. In the meantime, my dad's eyes had gotten bigger. My mom's eyes had become slits. I turned around and sitting there in one of those hotel room chairs buck naked was Whacko Redhead. Her eyes had grown big also. She jumped up and scurried to the bed and began to gather her clothes.

I still just stood there saying nothing. What was there to say?

Mom finally spoke. "Well Mike, are you going to invite us in?"

"Uh, yeah, come on in." I stepped out of the way just as Whacko Redhead made a beeline for the bathroom with her clothes clutched so to cover her naughty bits.

Mom and Dad come into the room. Mom's eyes are still slits. Dad is grinning from ear to ear. He said, "So all those stories are true huh?" Mom shot him a hard look of disgust and then began to scan the room for a safe place to sit.

I heard the shower kick in. Good, Whacko Redhead was cleaning up. I turned to my parents, “Folks, make yourselves comfortable. I'm going to get dressed. Be out in a moment." Mom and Dad just looked at me. They still had not sat and that grin on Dad's face was beginning to unnerve me.

Once I was dressed I came out of the bathroom and was relieved that Mom and Dad had figured out where to sit. It seemed to take the edge off the situation that had started so badly. I began. "So this is kinda awkward......"

Mom immediately interrupts. "Awkward? Christ on a crutch Mike, you invited us down. You know how hard it is to get your father to go anywhere, and when we finally get here, you are shacked up with some whore."

"Mom, she's not a whore. They are called Groupies. And besides..........." I can't finish. Mom was not listening. She had made her decision.

Dad piped up and said, "Well I for one am glad we came. She seems a delightful young lady."

Mom turned and stared at my father. "Delightful? Why do you say that? Because she was naked?"

"Why yes dear. Because she was naked. All young ladies are delightful when unclothed."

I can tell my parents were getting primed for one of their daily spats. It always started the same way. One baits, the other bites. I spoke up. “Okay that’s it. Stop right now. Let’s head to the Garden. I’ll leave Angie here. She won’t mind.”

My mom could not resist a parting shot as we moved towards the door. In a loud voice she warned, “Don’t leave any valuables here Mike; they might not be here when you get back.”

Whacko Redhead, her head hanging out of the bathroom door, stuck her tongue out. Dad smiled at her, then said, “Nice to have met you.” Mom tugged on his arm, glared at Whacko Redhead and we left.

Thankfully, the following hours at the Garden were so special for my parents and myself, the incident at the motel became but a footnote to one of the most bizarre days I had while driving Rock n Roll.

Since it was near the end of the tour, David Bowie had a catered high end meal set up for the crew. Chefs with big hats cooking while waiters wearing white waist coats served food that was absolutely some of the best I have ever eaten. Mom and Dad got to sit down with us. As it happened, David Bowie sat at our table and talked with my parents. He chose our table because their elderly presence was so out of character for this business. My dad was able to hang out at the Sound board while Buford ran his sound check. Both of them ended with respect for the other. They were both geeks. Dad asked questions that Buford had to strain to answer. Geeks just love that kind of shit.

It turned into a good day. If I had had a plan to begin with, I could not have come up with a better series of events to completely impart just how insane the Rock n Roll business was. My parents begged off when I suggested staying for the concert. The meal, meeting David Bowie, the sound check and of course Whacko Redhead was excitement enough for one day. They drove me back to the motel. As I got out, they both insisted they had a wonderful and if nothing else, an interesting time. They drove home to Maine.

I still had to deal with Whacko Redhead though. She had been cooling her heels at the motel for 5 or 6 hours. Even though she could have robbed me blind during our previous two days together, my mom’s warning skittered through my mind as I walked to the room. What is it about moms and their ability to weasel their way into our minds? It must have something to do with that bonding during pregnancy. After all, they have nine months to implant whatever insidious control device they want.

With this floating around my mind, I opened the door of the motel room. The mess I left was straight now and a fully clothed Whacko Redhead laid passed out peacefully on top of the bed covers. The king size bed wrapped around her like an acre of pasture wraps around a cow. Her red hair seemed under control now. Her eyes closed, she was the perfect picture of calm. I crawled on the bed beside her and was asleep the second my head hit the pillow.

Later ....................................................
Originally written in March of 2010. The slight edit is to replace real names and clean up obvious grammatical and spelling mistakes.

The story is true to the best of my memory. The dialog is added to create connection and color to the events as they unfolded. 

2,178 words

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Anger & Sadness

So I lasted a tad over two minutes into Trump's final Presidential Bloviation at Joint Base Andrews before I had to leave the kitchen and come in here to my office and begin an effort to find some personal perspective that might help me understand what I , my family, this nation has gone through over the last four years.

This will take some time.  Closure and Perspective can be elusive when Anger and Sadness mix in such volatile quantities. 

Keep it 'tween the ditches .................................

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Bean and the Elevator

I posted a cartoon on my Facebook page this AM.  A crude joke involving bodily functions and an elevator.  I posted it with no comment.  

I was hard into my second cup of coffee when I remembered a connection between the elevator in the New Dorm at Towson State and Bean, a best friend struck down before his time.  The cartoon I had previously posted became that much funnier and I laughed out loud again as memories of my old friend drifted in from the edges of my mind.

Bean and I attended the same military school in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. He was a senior when I enrolled as a new cadet in my sophomore year.  We did not really become friends until Lacrosse season.  I had never picked up a lacrosse stick and Bean, well, he was an awkward 6'5" stringbean who was not athletically gifted. Neither one of us were on the coach's top ten list.  We were fixtures on the JV team.  We had great fun making snarky remarks about well, everything.  Bean was a very funny guy.  He sure could tell a story.

Bean graduated in 1968 and immediately was filed as gone and soon to be forgotten.  I graduated from Charlotte Hall in 1970. 

Two weeks into my freshman year I was cluelessly wandering around the Student Center at Towson State when I hear "Crum" shouted from across the big room.  Coming towards me in his signature disjointed walk was a hippie version of the Bean I knew in high school.  No amount of hair or tattered hippie attire could hide him. We became very close friends who often saw each other daily even though Bean was a day hop who lived off campus. 

In the Spring of my Freshman year construction began on a new dormitory behind my dorm. It was to be 14 stories and when finished would introduce Co-ed living to Towson State. 

Bean's and my first brush with the New Dorm was while construction was ongoing.  Because college students are really just big children, a construction site is still a big draw.  And we were drawn to it often as a spot to smoke weed and explore stoned.  The view from the top was outstanding.

Our very first exploratory mission started with me discovering what I thought was a huge closet on I think, the 3rd floor.  Baked out of my mind, I said, "Look.  A big closet.  Wonder what this will be?" 

I stepped into it.

I had stepped into the main elevator shaft. Stepping into nothing is a very strange experience, especially when I noted the construction debris coming into focus at the bottom over 40 feet away.  I knew in an instant I was screwed.  Nothing I could do but follow the rules of gravity.  As I quickly approached face down, this is gonna hurt position, a hand grabbed the waist band of my jeans and pulled me to safety.  I am sure Bean saved my life that day.

Fast forward to when I was living in the completed, fully functioning New Dorm.  It was the first dorm Towson erected that was higher than 3 stories.  Mistakes were made.  One was inadequate elevator service.  Daylight hours found the only two elevators constantly in action and students having to wait for sometimes 5 -10 minutes.  The higher you lived, the bigger pain in the ass they were.  So of course on occasion Bean, Toole and I had to make the trip even more difficult when we could.

Since the people on the lower floors were used to dealing with overfilled elevators, we came up with our "Act Full" schtick.  An empty or close to it car would open for us on the 9th floor.  We would stand shoulder to shoulder as if we had been the last bits of human flesh able to be stuffed into this elevator.  "Now act full".  Nobody ever challenged us on the way down. We thought it was hilarious. However, most of the occasional innocent bystanders trapped in the same car with us were not.  I remember one nice looking coed calling us assholes when she walked out.  Oh well, college students are often assholes.  I will own my part in being one from time to time.

And of course I will never forget the time Bean farted in the elevator when it was chock full and he and I were the last people in for a trip to the first floor.  Bean looked down at me, nudged me with his elbow and then let loose with a deafening, lengthy, and odorous fart that slowly expanded to the rear of the elevator car.  It was a slow progression you could follow with your ears as it caused coughs and at least one noticeable gag reflex when it hit the rear wall. It made my eyes water.

So here we are not even to the 8th floor yet and Bean has gone and poisoned us.  I look up at his face and I see a face of beatific calm. He looked at me and winked.

At the 8th floor the door opened to a group in a hurry to get to class.  Several charged the elevator hoping they could muscle their way in.  Suddenly, as if on cue, they stopped like they had hit a wall.  One fella coughed and said, "I'll walk."  Floor after floor to the bottom it was like this.  All the while Bean stood there in innocent wonder looking around for someone else to blame.  As we stepped off he raised his hand and pointed at me and held his nose.  Asshole.

Damn, I miss Bean.  He was one of the greatest friends I ever had.  Sadly his life was taken in a farm accident in 1980.

R.I.P. Bean.  I still miss you.