Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fishing With Dad

Originally posted Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I love my dad. Even better, I know my dad loves me. The only trouble is that we are very much alike.

Oh, sure, growing up I used to hear some of the "small town chatter" that people of my grandparents' generation still believed about fathers and sons. Talk of the way Dr. Eismann's boy acted just like his old man, right down to sitting on his foot when he spoke to people. The whole "he has his eyes and her nose" game they play with newborn babies. I always blew that stuff off until I saw my own sons turning into me. Then I began to look at my dad in a whole new way.

I mentioned one time how I had noticed that I was beginning to turn into him, and he blanched in horror. "I'm so sorry," he said. We laughed about it, too, but there was no denying that sense of dread that men of our line were inescapably cursed to be...well, to be like us. Easy-going, funny, amiable, and yet, hapless. A little accident prone. Somewhat likely to say the wrong thing in public when we got nervous. Nothing flamboyantly evil or wrong, but just us. Frustratingly and unavoidably passing along some kind of dork gene.

My grandfather had a history of clumsiness. He used to restore Volkswagen Beetles - the old kind that used to come to life in movies - and no matter how careful he was, he always picked up some new and unlikely injury. The trunk lid would fall on his arm when he reached for a tool. A fender would leap off the car and crush his toe. Once a tire exploded while he filled it with air. One car was particularly creative, leaving his arms all scabbed up like a nine-year-old skateboard novice: he named it Fang and painted it a horrible shade of orange out of spite.

Dad's luck was more subtly bad, and of a more self-inflicted nature. On long car trips, when we made a rest stop, he would accidentally lock the keys in the car. At church picnics, if he was asked to carry any food into the church, he would slip and drop whatever dish or pie he held top-down on the floor. (He quickly learned to only carry unbreakable things with lids.) I recall one occasion when, after locking the keys in the car while picking my sister and I up at school, we had to cross a busy road to get to my mom and her spare set of keys. Half-way across, while cautioning us to be careful and not to run, his shoes slipped on the hot tarmac. As he went down, flat on his back, he shoved us up onto the curb with his last bit of balance. That was my dad; hapless, but always heroic.

I think it was his resistance to this haplessness that made him so careful. He always had a number of little projects going on; house repair, car repair, painting, mending, landscaping. He always focused hard on things he did around the house, and didn't like it when I came around distracting him. It's not that he didn't want me around; he was just too used to doing these things alone by the time I was old enough to take an interest in them. For my part, I was perfectly content to wander about in my little fantasy world, playing "Star Wars" or "Indiana Jones" by myself. Whenever I got too close to what he was working on, he would gently mention something else I could be doing.

After he had finished the project at hand, he would always come find me to play ball, or go swimming. I think now that he must have felt bad for excluding me, though I didn't take it that way. I never felt neglected at all. Even if I had, I really couldn't blame him; after all, I am his son. I am the Crown Prince of Accidents.

I am the kid that was playing on the frame of his pickup truck while he tied down a full load of lumber the summer he built our cabin in Colorado. Just as he cinched the last knot around the last bundle of 2X4's, there was the soft but definite *POP*Hiissssssss..... of me stepping on the valve stem of his right rear tire. I am also the kid that threw a softball to him while he wasn't looking, and popped him in the nose - this happened on the same day that his bandages came off from the surgery on his "doubly deviated septum".

I think it was my flamboyant display of haplessness that led him to seize that chance to prod me into the military. Of all of the slackers in my generation, I had shown a special talent for apathy and my shoulder muscles were overdeveloped from all of the shrugging I had done.

"What are you going to major in?" Shrug. "What school will you go to?" Shrug. "How are you going to pay for it?" Shrug. "What kind of job are you going to get?" Shrug.

Dad didn't exactly call the recruiter and tell them to come and get me, but after I signed the papers, he acted like he had. His guilt was palpable. I tried to reassure him, telling him that if I hadn't thought it was a good idea I wouldn't have signed up. We weren't at war at the time, and despite the prevailing family trait, he and grandpa had both survived the Army, hadn't they? Besides, I was going into one of the more cerebral desk jobs in the Air Force. (As we were to find out later, there was no way they were ever going to let me so much as look at a weapon.)

He still felt a pang every time we talked about it, though. It was a whole long month before I was to ship out, and while I got more and more excited about the idea of moving on, he seemed more and more concerned. Until one afternoon, when he came to me with a twinkle in his eye and invited me to go fishing.

I knew he had bought a boat. I had seen it under the tarp in the back yard. I also knew that it wasn't ready; most of his projects of late had been related to boat repair. At last, he had made it lake-worthy, and was ready to go. He wanted one last father/son event before I left, and I agreed whole-heartedly.

We dragged out of bed at 3:30 the next morning, packed a cooler full of sandwiches, sodas, and snacks. He waved me off while he hitched up the trailer, so I dozed in the cab of the truck until we were ready. It was about a 45 minute ride to the lake. There were about half a dozen other boats ahead of us at the little concrete launch slip. When our turn came, dawn was creeping over the circle of low hills (we in Arizona called them "mountains") around the lake. The lake was still steely gray and in shadow, while the hills erupted with gold rods of light. Half an hour more, and the dome overhead would already be a pale blue, and the lake would already have overflowed with glare and would have started casting shards of it back at the sun. It would have been nice to see.

However, being who we were, it wasn't meant to be. Our turn came, and I stood by the water, guiding dad as he backed the trailer down into the lake. He set the brake, came back, and we shoved it off. I held the rope as he went and parked, pulling the boat along the little rocky shore so someone else could launch. Dad came down, and we hopped in. The water was lower than either of us had ever seen it, what with the drought being in its third or fourth year. Dad wanted to row out a good distance before firing up the motor. We got out about 100 yards, almost halfway to the line of buoys marking the edge of the lake proper. Dad dropped the engine down and fired it up.

Vrrrr-RRROOOMMMMM!!! *clank*

It was a small sound, like a rock off your windshield. He almost tried to start it again, but thought better of it. When he pulled the engine back up, the propeller was already ruined. It looked like a rose; all of the "petals" were folded up and in on each other. Dad looked down into the water, and saw the large, concrete block that we could see in the settling murk. He uttered the worst profanity I ever heard him use: "Crap." Then his jaw set, and he unshipped the oars.

Yeah, it was funny later. We chuckled wryly over it seven years later, in fact, after I had served my time and returned home with a growing family. He was standing on a chair, helping me put up a shelf in the laundry room. The baby-gate was up across the hallway to keep my son from getting into the nails.

"I better watch it. I'm getting to be as bad as your grandfather, clumsy-wise," he was saying.

Just then, he whacked his thumb with the hammer. Startled, I leapt forward to catch him, and only managed to upset the box of nails. Dad shook his head as they scattered everywhere.

"Well," he said, shaking his head good-naturedly and nursing his thumb, "there's still hope for the boys." The older boy chose that moment to charge around the corner, and ran headlong into the gate, which gave out. After a brief flurry, he landed on his back, blinking up at the ceiling and gripping the gate which lay on his chest.

We sat there, not wanting to laugh, and watching pained, embarrassed, or dazed expressions alternate on our strikingly similar faces. Three generations of hapless men, slowly turning into each other.

"Okay," said Dad, "There's still one more boy."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Part Two: Saying Goodbye

Originally posted Sunday, July 25, 2004

My recruiter told me to stay out of trouble. I was shipping out to basic training in two weeks, and all of the paperwork was done; if I got so much as a speeding ticket, it would screw everything up. I figured I was a pretty easygoing fellow, staying out of trouble should be easy, right?

I tried to have some last minute fun, went crazy and saw some concerts with my friends. Saw Elvis Costello with the Crash Test Dummies, Huey Lewis and the News, and even Kenny Loggins (thanks to the State Fair). Believe it or not, that was great. The last weekend before I was to leave, my oldest friend, Brian, came up with tickets to Jesus Christ Superstar.

Now, Brian and I had known each other since at least seventh grade, when we sat next to each other in band. In all that time, he never expressed any desire to learn to drive or to saddle himself with the expense and bother of owning a car. Until now. We were going to travel across town to Gammage Auditorium to see Jesus Christ Superstar in his brand new - to him - 1978 Honda Civic. He had, inevitably, dubbed it "The Beast."

I lived in my parents' house in the extreme northwest of Phoenix, and Arizona State University is in Tempe, located to the southeast of Phoenix. About 40 miles in The Beast.

We made it, and parked, and waded through the picket lines. Four nuns were marching with signs that said "Don't Make Fun of My Lord" or "The Savior Isn't Silly" in front of the theater. A couple of fundamentalist types were standing off to one side smoldering at the Catholics for trumping their own demonstration. It made me nervous, and I planned to head for exits on the other side of the theater if they started rioting.

The show was great, though they went a little too "campy" during Herod's big scene. It was the scene the protesters objected to, of course. Herod was dancing around in a leather S&M suit, smacking his butt and vamping around Jesus, who stood stoically at center stage. I leaned over to Brian and pointed out that Herod's mockery of Jesus is recorded in the Bible, but you never see anyone protest at the book stores. On our way out, we wondered whether the picketing nuns might have appreciated this point... but this conversation died a quick death when we got to The Beast.

The Beast had developed a problem while we were inside enjoying ourselves: three flat tires. One of them was the spare. After a bit of head scratching, we decided to limp the aged monster across the street to a filling station and try to inflate them for the ride home. Our plan was to see how far we could get before they went flat again, thinking we could leapfrog across town from air pump to air pump. The only danger there was in running out of quarters.

Alas, after filling them up, they were flat again after half a block. We debated turning around to go back to the filling station when I recognized the neighborhood we were in, and suggested that we stop at Bronwyn's place. Bronwyn was my former roommate. He had returned from his summer in South Africa to attend ASU, and set himself up in a tiny little one-bedroom place not far from the campus. We invaded his house, and tried to phone Brian's dad to come and rescue us. No answer.

"It's alright," said Bronwyn. "I'm borrowing a car for the summer. I'll just run you back to Glendale, and you can come pick up The Beast tomorrow." Brilliant!

So, we piled into a tiny little two-door contraption belonging to one of Bronwyn's classmates, an exchange student from Bangladesh, who had left the car, but no insurance or registration documents.

"Well," I said, "just don't get pulled over, because I can't afford any trouble this close to shipping out."

Brian was dejected. His "new" car was a bust, and he was fuming over the possible costs of getting it repaired, towed, and otherwise relocated back to our side of town. As he fumed, he smoked Camel after Camel, flicking the ashes carelessly out the sunroof. Most of them made it out of the car, but I had to duck a few stray cinders that blew back into the microscopic back seat, where I had folded myself up like a very heavy map.

We were cruising down the road, laughing at our own absurdity, when I began to choke on smoke. It didn't smell like cigarettes, though. I looked down, and saw that it was pouring out from UNDER the driver's seat.

Bronwyn noticed it at about the same time, and began furiously changing lanes, trying to get to the side of the road. We careened across eight lanes of traffic, screaming as thickening, blackening smoke poured out the windows. The car finally stopped, and Bronwyn and Brian leapt from the car like it was about to explode, leaving me stuck in the back. I frantically reached around looking for the latch that would release me from the charbroiler I was trapped in, and realized that there was no way out. I heard yelling from outside the car, and heard Brian fumbling around, trying to rescue me. I slipped, and landed head first on the floor of the car, which was littered with papers, and came eye to flame with the smoldering upholstery.

Then I saw salvation: a water bottle!

I unscrewed the cap, and tried to dump the contents on the glowing edges of the carpet, but couldn't fit the bottle under the seat. I tried pouring the water into my hand, but there just wasn't enough room for maneuverability. Somehow, though, I managed to soak some of the papers and stifle the flames. The thick, plastic-smelling reek began to clear, and Brian finally managed to work the latch and hauled me out by the ankles into the relatively fresh air along the side of the highway.

We sat on the berm looking down at the car for a long time, making sure the smoke didn't start up again, and watching for emergency vehicles. Four cops passed us, and didn't notice three smoke-streaked college guys with panic-stricken eyes sitting there on the side of the highway.

Then, since these tragedies happen in threes, Brian asked, "Where are my keys?"

After a brief search of the car, he looked down at the road... And saw there, eight feet down in the only sewer grate for ten miles, the glint of metal from his keys. There was nothing that could be done, but pile back into our illegal firetrap and make our way north.

By the time we got to Brian's place, we were dirty and desperate. We only wanted a drink, and a soft couch to collapse into. My plan was to crash there and call my folks for a ride in the morning.

Except that we couldn't get into the house. Brian's parents were gone, the house was dark, and not one car sat in the driveway. We just looked at each other for a long minute. Both of us were probably thinking the same thing: This will be funny in a few years.

Fortunately, we didn't get caught breaking into his house, since I was supposed to be staying out of trouble.

Next: Six Little Words

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dog Blog: The Death of Doots

From a dog's perspective, it is difficult to see a story unfold. The distractions that bound out of bushes and cause one to charge to the end of the lead - not to mention the sudden, sharp yank that results - make keen observation difficult. The beauty and wonder of the variety of smells defy the description of mere words. And the perplexing behavior of the giant, pink gods that control food, water, and access to the outdoors are frequently a mystery that only becomes clear at distant intervals.

Most of the time I lie around listening to them. The little ones babble and squabble, the bigger ones charge about, moving things and grumbling. There is a lot of noise, and little excitement. But there is something to be said for listening.

I have told some of the tales of the terrorist rabbits, and I shared some of my more embarrassing moments. I even told the story of my friend, the mouse, which was probably not one of the best series of choices I have made. Since then, a lot of waiting has gone on, and a lot of significant events.

The most significant thing, other than waiting for dead mice to show up, was this thing called "vacation". I have been to visit someone called Dr. Andrew several times, mostly to have my nails clipped, and to get shots. You would think this would spoil the allure of Dr. Andrew, but there is just something about him that I find enchanting. I think... maybe... I have a crush on Dr. Andrew.

But it's always been an intermittent thing, since I see him so rarely. But a few weeks ago, the people packed me and some of my things into the car, and took me to Dr. Andrew's office. I was thrilled, until they all hugged me, and petted me, and sent me back... and left me there!

My first thought was that they had gotten tired of me, or blamed me for the mouse situation, and I was being given away. But then Dr. Andrew came in, and it finally sank in that it wasn't supposed to be a "forever" kind of thing. Not that I have any concept of time, but it Dr. Andrew says it's alright, then it's alright.

We had a good time; I spent most of my days with the staff (since I still can't stand other dogs). And eventually, the family came back. We had a joyful/tearful reunion, and we came back to a house that felt... different.

Before leaving, I knew the big folks had made an extra effort to super-clean, and lock up and trace of food. And they set out extra poison and traps all over the place. But the poison was gone, and the traps had been empty when they got back. There were doots all over the usual places. At least they couldn't blame me, since I'd been in the klink.

Things were morose and tense, partly from "coming down" off their vacation high; partly from having to face the mouse problem. And then the other morning, the Hairy Guy went downstairs for a bag of human kibble - they call it "cereal" - and he came back up in a frenzied state of joy. He woke up the Mom Lady, so I knew it was serious.

"We got one!" he announced.


"Dead mouse! Downstairs!"

"Ew! Throw it away!"

"I will," he said, chuckling. "Did you want to see it?"


So, he grabbed a ziploc bag, and a few minutes later, he brought it upstairs. He didn't try to show it to me; he's not cruel that way. But I saw it. He was a little bigger than last time I saw him, but it was Doots.

The people are happy, now. There has been a victory, and a trophy, even if they did chuck it in the bin. But they're still waiting, and so am I. Because we all know there have to be more, hiding somewhere, working up the nerve to appear.

And what will happen when they do?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lb4Lb#5: But We're Okay, We're Fine

I wanna clear my head,
I wanna drink that sun,
I'm gonna love you good and strong
While our love is good and young.
Get Out The Map
Normally, this "" thing is about an album (or two) that particularly moved me in some way. Nothing is as frustrating as buying an entire CD that only has one or two tracks that you really like on it; and few things are as satisfying as finding a collection of songs that flow together and keep you coming back for the whole set.

But THIS time, I want to talk about a "lb4lb" career.

The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life, after all.
Closer to fine
Folk music doesn't get paid the respect it deserves, partly because folk fans pay it FAR too much respect. It's an art form based on intimacy, and the fandom associated with other genres simply spoils the effect.

Nothing kills the joy of listening to Peter Paul and Mary like hearing someone blather on about the symbolism of Puff The Magic Dragon. (I know it's a work of subtle genius, man, you don't need to explain why!) Nothing makes a noble Woody Guthrie protest song more boring than hearing about how noble and historic it is.

(That's not to say covering folk isn't a great idea. Billy Bragg and Wilco paid a fine tribute to Woody with Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2; and Bruce Springsteen didPete Seeger proud with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.)

Folk is at its best when it is left alone; a troubadour with an instrument. A guitar, three chords, and the Truth. And a little bit of history.

All the shiny little trinkets of temptation
(make new friends)
Something new instead of something old
(but keep the old)
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface
(but remember what is gold)
And it's fools gold
Power Of Two
They've played with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. They toured with The B-52's bassist, Sara LeeStephen King set part of a novel around one of their concerts. They sell out tours around the world.

But, there is no reason on earth why the Indigo Girls should be so damned popular. They don't get airplay. They aren't "pretty". Their songs are arguably "all the same" (unless you're actually listening to them). If you're looking at surfaces, theirs is dusty, and someone has written, "Best Buy is that way" in the dust to help move you on.

Scratch beneath that surface, though... you see denim. You feel the calluses on your fingertips. You might smell some weed smoke. But you'll hear those voices. You'll look up to see two women with guitars, and you will swear they are angels giving you something that will change your life.

My friend tanner she says you know
Me and jesus were of the same heart
The only thing that keeps us distant
Is that I keep fuckin up
Shame On You
I don't really know many facts about Amy Ray and Emily Saliers; I heard they were Christians, I heard they were lesbians. I heard they used to be a couple, and I heard...

I heard the music.

That's all that matters, in the end. There is nothing I can say as a fan that will matter, or make a difference to you. But if you listen to that music, those words.

It took a long time to
become the thing I am to you.
And you won't tear it apart
without a fight, without a heart.
Become You
They are tough, honest, beautiful. You won't care about every song on every album; at least, not at first. But they will speak to you, and you will feel something; and it will be like the realization that part of you was asleep. Something you didn't know was hurting will be soothed.

When we get a little distance some things get clearer
Give em the space our hearts grow nearer
I ran as hard as I could and still ended up here
but it's alright
It's Alright

Friday, July 11, 2008

Part One: How did THAT happen?

Originally posted Saturday, July 17, 2004

I'd had a terrible year. 1993.

It might have made a great country song if I had changed a few of the details. My girlfriend completed a rather drawn-out breaking up process, my roommate went home to South Africa, I lost a great job, and my Datsun's transmission failed on the way home from Tucson (where the now-ex-girlfriend had given me the boot). I ended up moving back into my parents' house, which seemed to have shrunk a bit in the 9 months since I had moved out. And, most telling of all, walking the five miles to work at the Wards department store in the mall was the best prospect I had going.

Things dragged on, and steadily drifted downward over the course of that summer. I had a brief affair with a girl I didn't like, which alienated my best friend because he DID like her. My parents anxiously brooded off-stage, hoping I would pull my head out and grow up. I took small comfort from the small friends - one of the Southern variety, the other of the Philip Morris variety - which I pretended not to have, and my parents pretended not to notice. School started, and for the first time since I was five years old, I wasn't going.

Basically, I could do nothing right, and wasn't sure how to turn it all around.

I still had my dignity, though. Well, maybe not. But, as the song says, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da... and something about a bra. I mustered what professionalism I had, and tried to figure out how I was going to pay for the next semester of school while working in housewares. The job itself wasn't bad. It was a step and a half up from the bottom-feeding drudgery of telemarketing, or the series of grocery stores I had been working at for seven of the eight preceding summers.

With a little effort, I was able to deal with people cheerfully day after day. After a while, I became the "problem" guy; which didn't mean that I was the one causing trouble, for a change. Any customer that one of my co-workers couldn't handle would be thrust my way as though I had some imaginary authority. If I may brag a little, I was good at it.

One lady, for example, was a regular problem; she would bring in all of the junk mail she had collected every two weeks like clockwork. Because she had a store card, a large portion of that mail was from Wards, and she seemed to think that we were personally stuffing all of the envelopes there in our housewares department and sending them to her as some kind of personal attack.

She was wheelchair bound, immensely fat, and also a victim of throat cancer - which had left her with one of those voice boxes that generates a horrible mockery of human speech in lieu of an actual voice. Her husband acted the part of the tall, gaunt, and silent valet who propelled her wherever she wanted to go under a fusillade of unintelligible, computer-generated barks from the voice box. Whoever was at the counter when she arrived would be met with his blank, fishy stare and her robotic tirade compounded by the added assault of stacks of unopened fliers, circulars, coupon books, pre-approved applications, and full-color advertisements being hurled at the counter top. Invariably, they sent for me, because I could understand her.

One afternoon, while helping two flamboyantly homosexual men in matching ruffled leisure suits select throw pillows for their couch, I heard the bi-weekly cyber-attack starting up on Michelle, our newest employee. "Chintz!" I said, tossing an armful of pillows at the indecisive couple, and whirled to Michelle's rescue, leaving them to argue in lisping Spanish over the relative merits of magenta versus burgundy.

"NGET UZ OVF YERR GODDAMNG NGAILING LISZT!" I heard, followed by the soft thump of mail on formica.

"Let me help you, Mrs. Foster," I said, smoothly. She wouldn't be happy until I "called corporate" and set them straight. I dialled Gary, the owner of the tobacco shop next door, and told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't remove Mrs. Foster from our mailing list, I would testify in court that he wore women's undergarments and abused zoo animals. Or something like that. Mr. Foster nodded solemnly and eyed a pile of toaster ovens.

Meanwhile, a man had wandered over from the lighting department with a set of almost-matching lamp shades. I tried to ignore the brewing storm as Michelle began to argue with him about the price that came up on the register. I had my hands full appeasing the Robot Queen.

"You got the cyber-twins over there?" Gary was asking on the phone.

"Yes, sir," I replied in my sternest tone, "And if you don't stop sending them our fliers, we will lose their business forever!" (They had never bought a single thing from us that I was aware of.)

"Hee hee, thanks for the warning!" Gary said. "I'll take my break before they get here! Even I don't feel right selling her all those cigarettes!"

"But the sign says '20% off', and it's sitting there with these shades," the other man was insisting to Michelle.

"Well, it's ringing up at $10 each, that must be the sale price," Michelle said. She was casting me anguished looks, begging to be bailed out.

I hung up the phone, and turned back to the Fosters. "If you get any more mail from them, you let ME know," I told them, and sympathetically dumped their letters into the trash bin. They rolled away, satisfied... until the next mail delivery.

"Help me get rid of this guy," Michelle whispered at me behind her hand.

"Why don't you just give him the discount?" I asked. "It's only two bucks."

She paled at the suggestion. "Not on MY account! Won't they fire me for that?"

Not wanting to argue in front of him, I turned to the man with the shades. "Where was the sign, sir?" He showed me; it wasn't supposed to be there. It wasn't even one of our signs; some joker had brought it over from another store. This guy didn't care about that, though. He by-God wanted those lampshades, and he by-God wanted a deal! I just wanted him to go away.

So, I logged in on a register, rang him up - with the discount - and took his money. "You have a nice day, sir," I said, as sincerely as I ever say it. Just between us, whenever I say the word "sir", it has a special meaning in my mind; an acronym suggesting a profane act combined with criticism of the mental capacity of the one being "sirred." Unless, of course, I respect you.

The man smiled, and cocked his head to one side. "You know," he said, "that showed a great deal of professionalism and leadership. Have you ever considered a career in the military?" I demurred, without laughing. He handed me a business card. "I'm an Air Force recruiter down at the Processing station in downtown Phoenix. Give me a call sometime, and we can talk about getting you out of retail." I politely tucked the card into my breast pocket.

Dad picked me up from work that night, and asked how my day went. I was dying for a cigarette, but didn't want him to know I had ever so much as seen one lit. I reflexively brushed the breast pocket of my shirt, where my smokes had formerly resided, and remembered the card.

"I was offered a job in the Air Force," I said, laughing.

Dad didn't laugh.

Next Week: Saying Goodbye

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Bachelor Party

(originally posted July 04, 2004 - all names have been changed to protect the guilty)

The Smoke Deck was the focal point of social life for everyone in the U.S. Air Force squadron at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. Even people who didn't smoke would go there as soon as their duties were done for the day, just to put in an appearance. Some were fresh out of Basic Training, and glad to spend their 20 minutes of freedom outside; some were "sharking", which involved circling amongst the newbies, looking for one that would be easily wowed by the "seniority" of someone who had been there for as long as three weeks already.

I know of several young men who got their first dates this way.

I was one of those who went to smoke. I had never been more than a pack-a-week kind of guy, but just being able to go out and have a cigarette after eight weeks of stress and mind games was a temptation that I couldn't even think of resisting. It was October, a month after I had arrived at DLI, and I was lighting up a couple of stogies to celebrate being allowed to wear civilian clothes again. I was relishing my flannel shirt and Detroit Tigers baseball cap (I've always been a big Magnum PI fan), and I had on a pair of jeans that seemed much looser than they had last time they were worn, four months before. Bert came up to me, took the cigar I offered, and said, "I got someone who wants to meet you."

Then she stepped out from behind him. "Hey, aren't you the guy that can put a quarter up his nose?" she said. It was that adorable girl I had been admiring in formation for the last four weeks.

"Got a quarter?" I replied dashingly. She laughed, and to make a long story short, by February we had decided to get married.

Of course, most of our friends were scandalized. After all, it is common knowledge that DLI marriages usually don't last more than six-months beyond the end of the couple's stay in Monterey. And most of those marriages are just a temporary arrangement for the sake of qualifying for off-base housing. The odds for a marriage like ours were not good. Maybe that explains why I was more nervous about telling people about the wedding than I had been proposing.

Most people who heard our happy news offered flaccid congratulations before moving on to more interesting subjects, and most of my close friends seemed worried when I told them. But not Glenn. He became visibly excited at the prospect, and his first words were, "Can I throw the Bachelor Party?" So I said, sure.

When the big night arrived, we borrowed my fiancee's Saturn, and swung by the liquor store on our way to the motel where the festivities would be held. Glenn had outdone himself. He'd secured a suite under the name "Nick Nefsik" (Arabic for "F*** yourself") which had a kitchenette, and a balcony overlooking the Chinese restaurant behind the motel.

People started to show up, and we all started to get blasted and watch porn. A typical night, for most of the guys, and a bit boring. Then someone suggested getting a stripper. Everyone ponied up a few bucks, and Don Law (whom everyone called "Dong") went to work with the phone book. She showed up about half an hour later with her bouncer; a beefy, sullen woman that stood in the corner of the room watching us watch her friend.

Then the fun really started.

And then, there was a knock on the door. Apparently, there was an Air Force girl in the room next door with her boyfriend, an Army sergeant. I probably don't need to point out that their relationship was not legal, but I will. They didn't let that stop them, though. They were so upset about all the noise coming from our room, that they came over to do something about it.

First, the guy came to the door and demanded to know who the "ranking NCO" was at the party. Dong explained that there wasn't an NCO in charge of Bachelor Parties, but that the stripper would be leaving before 10:30pm. All we asked was a little patience. The guy seemed to agree, and left.

The Stripper was quite good. She zeroed in on the Bachelor (me, of course) and did a very naughty dance, which I wasn't able to fully appreciate because I had misplaced my glasses, and was totally obliterated. When she was done with that, she made a little pitch about needing extra money to play a game called "Feed the Kitty", after which everyone bolted from the hotel to find the nearest cash machine. This was fortunate for most of them. While we waited for the bank roll patrol to return, the Stripper disappeared into the bathroom (where my roommate turned out to be hiding in the tub), and a few of the guys had gone out on the balcony for a smoke.

Fred Kreigler was by the window staring myopically at the porno on the TV, when there was a knock on the window behind him. There were about a dozen guys in the room, and I was by the wall dividing the bedroom area from the kitchenette when Fred pulled back the curtain to see a grinning death's head with a chin divot and a hair-line that was retreating like a Redskin's defensive line.

"IT'S SERGEANT KNIGHT!!!!!" he shouted... and mayhem ensued.

I don't know who opened the door, because Kreigler swore later that it wasn't him. Maybe TSgt Knight really was the supernatural being we all thought he was. That night he burst through the door, and grabbed as many people by the back of the shirt as he could reach. The stampede flowed by me in my place against the wall, and I stared stupidly into the panicked faces of my companions followed swiftly by the leering, gleeful face of retribution.

When the dust settled, there were about six of us left in the room with TSgt Knight, who looked around the room, smirking and braying threats into our faces. The Incarnation of Death was turning to each of us and trying to find out who had escaped his clutches by diving off the balcony.

"Who booked the room?" he shouted. "I want to know who 'Nick Nefsik' is." We were trying to make it look like we couldn't remember, but we were really just trying to figure out who we would have to turn in. I remember reluctantly giving Glenn's name, but tried to make it sound better by pointing out that he hadn't bought alcohol for anyone but me.

After much soul-thrashing, we managed to come out with only five names of people we were pretty sure he'd already seen. He had to be satisfied with that. Then it occurred to our Ranking NCO that one of our drunken runners might have been injured diving off that balcony, so he sent someone around to see.

Sure enough, the guy returned with Dong draped across his back. Dong looked around the room blearily, whether through pain, inebriation, or both. He looked hard at TSgt Knight for a few seconds, then burst out, "Who invited THIS asshole?"

We all froze, and our blood ran cold as the smile of the Grinch crept across his malignant mug. TSgt Knight leaned back, took a deep breath (as we held ours)... and laughed! "You're alright, then, Airman Law?"

In the end, it turned out pretty well. Nobody got into too much hot water, though a few of the people there had been student leaders, and had their positions of responsibility taken away. The two under age guys (including my roommate) were put back "on phase", which meant they had to keep a curfew and stay in uniform all the time.

Most importantly, my wedding went on as planned. My lovely, new bride was mad that I had worried her so much, but I was forgiven for not actually causing any damage to either our plans or her car. Fortunately, I had been able to convince our apprehender that I should stay at the motel that night, since I was unable to drive it.

Glenn showed up after everyone had been dragged off, and he helped me clean up the room.

"I'm sorry your Bachelor Party got busted," he said.

"I'm sorry I ratted you out," I said.

"That's alright. Everyone knew I'd set it up; someone would have told on me," he forgave me.

"Where were you, anyway?" I asked. "How did you get away?"

"Well, when everyone else was going off the balcony, me and Duke hopped over the dividing wall to the balcony of the room next door. We lit up a couple of smokes, and just watched. TSgt Knight didn't notice us, so we slid down the drain pipe. I've been at another party down at the other end of the motel." Typical Glenn!

And the chick that turned us in? We made sure everyone knew she and her boyfriend had made the call to TSgt Knight... including her husband.