Tuesday, April 6, 2010

T-Square Blues...

Ok, just had to put this one up on the blog. I wrote it for Donna Cunningham's "Skywriter" blog for National Humor month..don't know if y'all are still around...

Pluto sat at the head of the table looking back and forth from his son, Saturn, sitting to his left and his grandson, Jupiter, sitting to his right. Uranus, the drunken uncle was walking toward Jupiter's back, unseen.

Pluto, the patriarch, was mediating an argument between his son and grandson. His granddaughter, Venus, was the subject and Mars, the antagonist and her angry boyfriend, stood against the wall with his arms crossed. Jupiter wanted Venus to experience life on her own and her father, the righteous one, wanted her as far away from Mars as she could get. Neptune, the drunken uncle's wife was in the kitchen making the potent Swedish drink, cosmic glug. It was part of the evening they had all planned and everyone was going to get snockered.

Pluto was dressed in his usual black suit with the wide lapels, black shirt and gray tie. He had hung his wide brim hat on the hook by the door. He had a drooping moustache and dark, piercing eyes. He didn't look four billion years old; he looked like five.

Saturn, somewhat more than four billion, wore a staid gray suit that draped him like sheet rock. His clothes were a throwback to days less complicated. His visage was stern and unyielding and he believed in tough love and education. But in this instance, he wanted Jupiter to compromise with him and Venus to abide by their construct. If she didn’t, he thought she was in for sex without ending and would probably get pregnant. Mercury and his twin, Ditto, sat on the floor making plans to get at the glug.

Jupiter, a large man, wore voluminous sweat pants that hung low and showed too much of his rear end when he bent over. His polo shirt was too small and rose up over his belly and he was hirsute to say the least. He didn’t care what the construct was going to be, he just wanted it to be big, negative or positive. He was one who liked to feed the fire and with Uranus stumbling toward him, everyone was waiting for an explosion. When Saturn and Uranus got together, especially with opposing viewpoints, you could expect some cracks in the sheet rock and flashes of temper. They all knew nothing would be the same in the morning.

“She doesn’t need this wild and crazed idiot with no common sense or direction” said Saturn. “All he wants to do is fight and have sex. How is he going to support our Venus? Go start a war and bring home some plunder? Hire himself out as a gigolo?”

Venus tried to hide a smile at the mention of sex. Pluto glowered at her and she quickly turned away, a little embarrassed but content in the knowledge that Mars would bring her what she needed most. Just as long as he didn’t get carried away.

Jupiter, his belly rubbing against the edge of the table, said, “She’s old enough to decide for herself, Pop. Heck, in a millenium, she’ll be four. We have no right to decide her life for her. Besides, Mars is a pretty cool guy, though I admit he can get full of himself, especially when he’s hanging with the Lions.” He was full of energy and determined to go straight ahead with this.

Uranus, never satisfied with the status quo, leaned over Jupiter and glared directly at Saturn. He was dressed in an ultra modern style with sharp edges and razor creases. His outfit was colorful and his ideas radical. And he was drunk. No one knew what would come out of his mouth next.

“I say let ‘em be, Saturn. Who in the hell are we to get in their way? I kind of like the boy lately and I can identify with him. Besides, if you try to corral them with your crappy old ideas, they’re gonna run off by themselves.” He coughed, then sneezed and his breath smelled like absinthe. Jupiter tried to move away but Uranus had him pinned against the table. He felt the back of his head for foreign material.

“Look, you upstart! said Saturn. “No one even knew about you until recently and we all know you’re liable to go off in any direction, maybe all of ‘em at once! You need to chill here or I’ll shut you down like a bad idea!”

“What!?” screamed Uranus. He wasn’t going away without a fight. “I’m your brother. I can’t help it if your mother isn’t my mother, but you gotta get with the times! The world wants more freedom to choose than you’re willing to give. I’m telling you, Jupiter and I are gonna give you more than your money’s worth. The two of us together can create a lot of havoc!” Jupiter perked up at the sound of his name. His eyes grew wide and he had a silly grin on his face because he had always chafed at the limitations set down by his dad.

“Don’t you threaten me, you half baked son of a drunken bitch!” Saturn was beginning to turn red with anger and everyone knew that he could cause a lot of pain and misery if he chose to. You don’t have a clue as to what I can do! I’ll lock you up so tight it’ll take you another billion to get free!”

By now, Pluto had seen enough. Always calm and supremely dangerous, he could draw upon resources that the others wouldn’t believe. He could cut the legs off anyone who doubted his power. He was already tired of this childish bickering and decided to do something about it. He turned slowly toward Saturn, his eyes flashing.

“Okay, boy, I’ve heard enough. You’re trying to exert controls that have no place here. You’re going to change your attitudes about your daughter and her boyfriend, Mars. I’m the one who’s going to determine the new structure around here. Nothing is going to be the same, and if you fight me, I tell you that you’ll crumble. There’s no place left for this rigidity you’re always forcing on others. You will change with the times or you’ll never see peace again!” Then he turned to Jupiter with the same fire in his eyes.

“Grandson, you have always been too big for your britches. No common sense and no caring where you send that energy of yours. It’s up to the choice of the individuals in this world to use or abuse it. It’s generic, boy, and you give it out like candy. You need to start all over and decide how to present yourself. I suspect that in about twelve years you’ll have figured it out, but right now, with Uranus on your ass, you’d better think fast.”

He turned his head toward Uranus, who was growing more sober by the minute. “You, too, boy rebel. If you’re gonna blow in here and upset the place, you’d better have a purpose in mind because you and Jupiter together with Mars over there, can turn this world upside down.” Venus was now sitting quietly, her eyes wide. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen now. She did know, though, that come August 20, she and Mars would connect regardless of what was decided here. It was inevitable.

Pluto looked around the table his gaze settling on one planet at a time. He had everyone’s rapt attention and it was time for his ultimatum. “What we all need to do is get my daughter-in-law, Moon, to open her arms again and provide all of us with a place to go when it gets tough. No matter what’s going on, what mischief you create, you can always come home. I know all of this fighting is upsetting her, she’s just so damn gentle.”

Everyone turned to see Moon coming out of the kitchen with two freshly baked loaves of bread. She took her seat across from Pluto and smiled the sweetest smile you’ve ever seen.

“He’s right. Home is always sanctuary and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So you guys go out and change the world and Venus, Neptune, the twins and I will work to make this the best home you’ve ever seen.”

“Uranus, sober up, Jupiter grow up, and my wonderful, faithful husband, Saturn, loosen up. Mars you’re going to have to make me proud to have you as part of this family. A lot of refinement is in the cards for you. If you’re going to lead, you have to sacrifice some of that ego of yours. Calm down and make us proud.”

And to Neptune, still in the kitchen making the booze, she called, “Just for once, don’t cloud the issues with that cosmic confusion of yours! You’re in a position to offer creative new ways of working through the chaos. Pretty soon you’ll be asked to join them.

Is that brew ready yet? I’m pretty thirsty and I know everyone else needs a jolt!” With her smile wide she was happy and satisfied with her family. Each had their own talents and she knew that they would work together to bring Spirit into the world.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Times They Are a Changin'...

Hello, dear readers. That is if anyone is listening. According to my analytics, I've not had many (if any) visits to this page for a while. Since I have much on my plate at the moment- FB, Astrology, Astrology lessons, a book to write and a life to live with my wife, I am going to stop writing here. Remember, I was unsure of it just before Mercury went Rx and decided when it went forward to give it another shot, and now I have revisited that decision.

My main plan is to write my book. We want a couple of snowmobiles, a Harley, we need a roof, a new well, a new porch and a million other little things, so my plan is to write a bestseller that will make these things possible.

While writing this blog, I have received enough incredible feedback to make me understand that I now have the tools necessary to do the book. I want to thank you all for listening (reading)and when the book is done, it is to you all that I will give the credit.

It's a difficult decision but one that I must make if I am to reach my goals. So thank you and thank you again for your amazing input...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Czar Comes Home to Deal...

The following story is absolutely true. The parking lot, the parakeet and the mangy cat are pure fiction but the rest of the story is not.

Joyce had called. She’s my aunt, deceased now, a local celebrity who had a psychic talk show on a local television station. Sometimes I produced her shows. I loved her dearly; she’s my spiritual guide and had been since I was a kid. This particular night, she asked me to her house, wanting me to meet some people who had just appeared on her show that evening. She usually has a get together with the guests after every show, and told me that I might be interested in meeting them.

When I arrived, I learned that my aunt had already filled them in on some of my various interests; the professional (investigative) and paraprofessional (clairvoyance, psychometry) and they wondered if I might be interested in looking into what they believed to be a haunting at their restaurant. New owners, they had spent the two years previous in renovation. Now, open just less than 6 months, they were having trouble with strange occurrences in the building. Hot and cold changes. Lights going on and off, some vague reports of apparitions. The usual stuff. Intrigued, I asked if they would mind me “calibrating” my perceptions.

From the picture on the inside of my forehead, I began describing the building. I covered the construction style, windows, porch, outbuildings and was accurate until I said the color was gray with black trim. Nope, they said, it’s white but it has black trim. Well, I saw gray but it wasn’t a problem for me. You never get everything right. Sometimes you get nothing right but lots of times you get something.

They described shuffling and banging noises, temperature changes and a strange recurring light in the basement. Several employees had reported visual experiences. I told them that I was interested and that I’d be out a few nights later right around dinner. I wanted to be there when the activity was said to occur.

I arrived with my entourage, a parakeet and a mangy cat. No, wait, that wasn’t then, that was somewhere else. Ah, I remember now, I was alone. No one would go with me. Not even the mangy cat. So, I got there and couldn’t find a parking place. My intuition told me to go right and I did but it was a dead end and I got stuck. No, I didn’t get stuck, I remember, I got lost. It was a really big parking lot. I thought things had started out pretty well.

This is where it gets serious. Very serious. It was actually a really small parking lot. I finally parked fairly straight and got through the vestibule on my own. I had been told I’d be expected. I was. Two waitresses and the cook let me in the door, but they wouldn’t let me sit down, I had to wait in the rear of the vestibule. While they weren’t looking, I took some creamer packets and a spoon. Teach them to mess with me.

Once they realized who I was, they assigned a busboy to guard me . I guess they didn’t recognize me in my black biker leather, jackboots and two dollar shades but hey, I was incognito. You never want ’em to see you coming, especially the ones that play with the lights.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this bizarre story. Well, at least this story in a bizarre way. It’s because - don’t look around - they’re listening. I have to speak in code so they won’t know that I know and take me away to do remote viewing in the Pentagon with a bunch of dweebs and strange looking women. You understand.

And now this is the real part. Really. I toured the restaurant’s three floors and a dark, dank basement. I’ll admit to feeling constricted - and dank - there, but picked up no identifiable perceptions. Not until I found myself in an upstairs dining room, where I saw a picture on the wall of a young, uniformed Russian soldier with blazingly intense eyes. As I approached the picture. the room got colder. I know, I know, a “cliche,” but it did. It got much colder. Fast. As I moved away from the picture, it got warmer. When I went back, it got cold again. My curiosity rose with the short hairs on the back of my neck.

There was something very familiar about the picture but I couldn’t place it. The impression was strong but vague and when I asked, I was told simply that it was the previous owner. Later, I learned from the hostess, who was also part of the new ownership, that they had gotten a pretty good deal on the place. The way that she said “good deal” led me to thinking that it might have been maybe a little too good. Of course she was Russian, just in this country with a pretty strong accent and maybe a little uncomfortable. But I saw it in her eyes, too.

I first saw Yuri, the owner of the restaurant when he walked into the room. Hulking, dark hair, dark eyes, moody type. The kind who looks out from beneath an overhang of a forehead and bushy, wild thickets for eyebrows. I had to crouch to see his eyes. When he came over to shake my hand, the room got even chillier. I instinctively turned around to see what the picture had to say. Nothing. Just staring. Glaring. Blazing.

He didn’t introduce himself but said that he’d heard how accurate I’d been with my descriptions and was impressed. He didn’t look impressed. He looked moody. And dark, with a heavy, hanging brow. I thanked him and mentioned I’d gotten the color wrong; that the restaurant was white, not gray. He looked at me strangely and said that yes, the building was white now, but it had been gray before the renovations. Hmmm, I thought to myself, “bitchin!” Cookin’ on all burners now.

I asked him about the man in the picture on the wall next to me. His eyes shifted ever so slightly from mine and I knew, from my years of experience, from all of my seminars and lectures on interrogative technique, that the man definitely had something stuck in his eye. No, just kidding. I knew he was hiding something. But, since he was technically part of the group that had invited me, I couldn’t beat it out of him. I had to find another way. Just then the hostess told me they were closing and asked if I could find my way out. Something just didn’t feel right. I looked around and sure enough, everyone was still eating.

I put on my irritated face but that was just a cover. I wanted them to think I was ticked so I could come back and get my car unstuck. No, wait, that wasn’t it, no. It was so I could come back alone and talk with this picture myself. As snitty an act as I gave them, they must have figured I’d never be back. But I would. I knew something was going on and I knew it was something they didn’t want me to know.

They knew I knew and that they knew I knew. It was simple. I was too close and they wanted me gone. I left knowing that I’d be back, and knowing that they didn’t really know that I knew what I knew and that they didn’t. See? I wasn’t sure what was going on but I did know that it involved the man in the picture. I had spoken to most of the waitstaff who all agreed that there was something strange and frightening going on in the restaurant. But that I had to leave anyway. More people were being seated.

To this point, I hadn’t communicated with any discarnate entities but had the distinct impression that there was some kind of struggle going on. It was strong and tickled my hairs again. When I mentioned this to Yuri, the look he gave me was very dark. And I mean very dark. Darker. More controlled fury than fear.

I left Yuri with the understanding that I was going to pursue the issue. He wasn't happy but the other two co-owners whom I had met at Joyce’s seemed so. Story was they had only recently met Yuri while acting as stateside representatives for the purchase and knew little about his history or background in Russia.

A funny thing, they mentioned as we walked out, was another picture that had once hung in the same room as the picture I had seen. Gone now, they said that it was a picture of Yuri‘s great uncle. An exact likeness. When they had asked Yuri about it, he had shrugged it off, saying something about it being wrong for the room.

A few days later as I was reading the Detroit Free Press, I saw the face that I had seen in the picture at the restaurant. It startled me because the face was the face of the Czar who had been killed along with his entire family during the Purge in Stalinist Russia. Next to his picture was a picture of Yuri. At least I would have sworn it was him. The caption described the Czar’s death and the alleged involvement by the man in the adjacent picture. According to the article, he had been complicit in the murders and the seizing of the family property.

Through further research I learned that the young man in the picture in the restaurant, a descendant of the Czar, had purchased property in the U.S. of which the restaurant was part. But, he’d been killed in a mysterious accident in Russia only a year before. The property had then been sold to pay off family debts. The purchaser? None other than Yuri. A living replica of the dark Yuri-like man in the Free Press picture.

I went back to the restaurant that evening and asked to wander again. Yuri wasn’t pleased but he was outvoted. This time there was no busboy assigned to me. I left them and went back up to the room with the picture. As I stood in front of it, I knew that he was looking straight at me, into my eyes, into me. Through me. I felt an overwhelming sense of pain and anger. Great anger. Then I heard the words, “It is him. His family.“ in my head. It was so acute that I thought someone was in the room with me. And suddenly, I understood.

I knew that Yuri and his family had murdered again, the Czar’s great nephew this time. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to prove this, but I knew. And I knew that the Czar had relocated, at least temporarily and dimensionally, to the restaurant in which I was standing. And I understood why Yuri was acting the way he was. It was the truth in him that I was sensing and it was a deep, dark thing to behold.

I went down to the kitchen where I found him. Pulling him aside, I gave him my impressions. His eyes narrowed, his face went even darker, which might have been caused by those damn eyebrows blocking out the light. His jaw muscles clenched. At that moment, I then knew there was nothing left to do, no further words were necessary. I smiled sweetly, looked straight into his eyes for a long minute and walked out the door.

As I reached the parking lot, a feeling of crisis coursed through me like lightning. I don’t know how else to describe it. Flashpoint is the closest I can come. Then as quickly as it came, it passed, replaced by an empty, vacuous feeling and a sense of peace. Suddenly, I understood what was going to happen. I left believing that I had somehow accomplished something. I made it to my car without assistance. Others may have been stuck. Not me.

It was a few months later that I read a newspaper article describing the arrest of Yuri and others for the murder of the young man in the picture - and the Czar, I thought. According to the article, the authorities had received an anonymous tip, leading them to Yuri and his people. I wondered who that could have been. Or how. I grinned at the mangy cat hanging by her claws on the refrigerator door, looking at me. I got up and headed toward the kitchen. It was her way of saying she was hungry. No, not the parakeet, he was caught in the drapes somewhere.

The two remaining partners, one of whom looked a great deal like the man in the newspaper photo, were left with full ownership and continue to run the business successfully. I spoke with them not long after things had quieted down and they told me that the strange occurrences had stopped shortly after my visit. Go figure.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Julius, o Julius...

I looked over at the first chair saxophonist in envy. The man could play some sweet, sweet sounds and I knew that I would never challenge him for the chair. I had no discipline and I liked sports too much to devote much time to the band. But I could still appreciate what he could do with that sax in 9th grade.

Four years later I sat, engine rumbling, at a light on Telegraph, the main drag through our town of Dearborn, Michigan, the home of the Ford Motor Company. GM and Chrysler were not far away and it was the day of the muscle car. I was driving a 1968 Dodge Dart GTS that was damn fast and, had I kept it and in good condition, would have been worth $300,000 today. Suddenly, to my left, I watched as a dark green fastback Barracuda pulled up to the light. I could see the numbers 383 on the hood and thought, 'I can take this guy.' The driver looked over at me and I could see that it was first chair sax. I smiled to myself.

The light cycled green and we jumped across the intersection, tires squealing and two Mopar engines building to a roar. No one had ever beat me off the line and I found myself a car length ahead. I kept that car length up through fifty, sixty and on into seventy. By seventy five he began to creep up on me. At eighty, his big 383 pulled past my 340 and by ninety it was all over. I just didn't have the stuff to take it to the finish. I broke it down and turned off Telegraph to the side streets just in case the cops had seen us. If they had, I wasn't the one they would go after, anyway. They always tagged the winner in these things unless both cars got caught at a light. I had been nailed once that way.

I traded in the Dodge for a jeep and spent a year tooling along in front of big convoys. My first year and a half had been spent in southern Georgia patrolling the streets and ranges of Ft. Stewart. I found my way to Vietnam by way of wearing out my welcome at Stewart. It was okay because that was what I wanted. My friends were dying over there and I felt impotent not fighting along with them.

I did other things that run convoys during that year; I pulled gate and law enforcement duties in Cam Rahn Bay. As a new guy, I burned shit from the latrines with kerosene and pushed the ashes around for twelve hour days. To say I was happy to leave the Orient was not saying much. I was overjoyed and unable to contain myself. My parents met me with wide smiles on their faces and my old friends seemed like children to me. All in all it was pretty strange coming home.

Nine months later I found myself walking into the lunchroom at the Detroit Police Academy. Everybody was dressed in light khaki uniforms and wearing short hair. As I turned to the vending machine, a face caught my attention. It was first chair, last seen pulling away from me in victory. I'll tell you it's a strange feeling seeing someone you know in that kind of situation, almost surreal. I felt myself time-shift for a second and then he turned to see me.

Like long lost friends, which we were, we greeted each other with handshakes and laughs. The "what the hell are you doing here" conversation lasted for several minutes and we promised to catch up with each other but I never saw him again in the Academy. After twelve weeks of intense training, I spent some time with the Tactical Mobile Unit, sort of our SWAT of the day. This was considered on-the-job training with the elite of the police force. From there I was assigned to walk a beat in downtown Detroit for several months and finally assigned to the thirteenth precinct.

I walked into the precinct on my first day, full of trepidation. This was it, the place where I would lose my law enforcement virginity, even though I had three years of previous experience in the field. This was the fertile ground where cops were being killed at a rate unheard of and the precinct right in the middle of it all. But this is where I wanted to be. Right in the center of the action where adrenaline is a daily disease and quick thinking was a prescription for survival.

I had no sooner walked in the door when I saw first chair. Carrying a clipboard and ticket book and heading out to the garage. Our eyes widened in surprise and grins filled our faces. What were the odds? Almost five thousand cops on the force, sixteen precincts and here we were again. After hand shaking and back slapping, he went his way and I went mine. I looked up a sergeant and reported in.

After walking a beat for a month, I was assigned to a shift; there were three of them. Would you believe it if I said I was assigned to first chair's shift? His name was Mike Cardinal and, because he had started the academy before being drafted, his seniority went back three years. It was enough for him to have his own scout car unit, even though he had no experience at being a cop. I was assigned as third man on another scout car with veterans and began my real career as a cop.

Our shift lieutenant was a great guy who recognized talent and desire. Both Mike and I showed a generous helping of each. Mike had a veteran assigned as second man on his car so he didn't hit the streets without some backup. We saw each other every day and spent a lot of time rehashing the past and becoming close friends. Mike had opted for warrant officer training - helicopters - and was first in his class until his wife had a falling out with the commander's wife. He was booted out of training and assigned to a signals battalion. He was brokenhearted; flying was his main desire. Of course, the average life span of helicopter pilots in Vietnam was pretty short, so maybe serendipity had played a part in this drama.

After only a month and a half, we convinced our lieutenant to put us together on Mike's car. After that it was Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin. We quickly began to pile up statistics. Most felony arrests, most misdemeanor arrests and most tickets written. Accurate, well written reports and professional court testimony. Most of the veterans on the shift disdained us, saying that we were hot-shot rookies who didn't have a clue. Maybe we didn't but we learned fast.

Because there was no veteran on our scout car, we did things the way we thought they should be done. We volunteered for radio runs when no other cars piped up. We took the dispatchers pizza whenever we could, making friends there and enjoyed great latitude in the type of runs we got. We never "hit the hole" on the midnight shift, hiding somewhere and sleeping, because we didn't want our obits to read that way. We worked hard for the full eight hours. This ticked off the desk crew who also wanted to crash from about four a.m. till seven. We wouldn't let them and got disgusted groans whenever we would bring in an arrest in those wee hours.

We learned to talk to people instead of treating them like lower class citizens. If there was one phrase we heard all the time, it was "treat me like a man." And so we did. It didn't decrease our production one bit and it left people with a new appreciation of at least two cops. We were working the inner city, the toughest part of Detroit, where all we ever saw were black faces. Imagine two, wet behind the ears white kids from the bastion suburb of racial discrimination, Dearborn, Michigan. The most racial community north of the Mason/Dixon line, patrolling the depths of human depravity in the city of Detroit, Michigan. It was actually ludicrous if you stopped to think about it.

We didn't believe in anything more than necessary force in effecting arrests. While some cops - racial cops - liked to work people over whenever they got the chance, we did not. We believed in making friends out there, understanding that friends were much better than enemies in that environment. Who were they trying to kid? We were disgusted by the philosophies and actions of some of the cops on our shift, so we created our own. If we had to use force to arrest someone, we would take the time in lock-up to try to explain why. We never used blackjacks or sap gloves (gloves whose finger tops were filled with lead dust) or brass knuckles. I didn't even use a nightstick.

We went about our business as absolute professionals and went home after every shift to discuss what had happened that day and how we would handle it differently if it showed up again. We went to school with each other. By this time, Mike and I were closer than man and wife, and spent more time together, too. We became a self-contained unit, almost telepathic in our responses to each other. Well, not almost, we were telepathic. We never had to speak in response to each others actions, we just knew what to do.

It was early one evening that we were called to a domestic dispute. A man and his wife were fighting, very loudly and somewhat physically. These situations were the most dangerous runs we got; you never knew when a couple would stop fighting and turn their rage on you. The key was to separate the combatants and try to use reason to calm them down. Sometimes it didn't work and when one half of the couple saw the other being restrained, they suddenly fell in love again. That's when you had to watch your back and hope your partner was doing his job.

On this occasion, the man, named Julius, just absolutely refused to be restrained. He had hit his wife and caused her nose to bleed and therefore had to be taken in for assault. It wasn't that he was attacking us but more just being adamant about not going with us. He was short, built like a fireplug and strong as hell. By the time we got him outside there were six of us trying to get the handcuffs on. He would just shift his body forcefully and throw half of us off. It was impossible to get his arms behind him he was so strong.

When we finally managed to get his wrists behind him, we discovered that they were too large to get the cuffs around. Seeing this, we knew we were in trouble. He had to go and we were going to have to use necessary force to get him to do so. All of a sudden, Julius just relaxed and promised us he would go quietly. I took him at his word. Since we couldn't get the cuffs on him, one of us had to ride in the back with him. Mike and I thanked the Gods and headed in to the station.

We finally got Julius into the precinct lock-up and started taking his fingerprints. He was still dazed and compliant. As his head cleared, we began to talk to him, explaining what had happened and why it had to happen. It wasn't long before he started to listen, and by the time we were done, Julius was inviting Mike and I over to his apartment for wine. So, instead of a citizen complaint, we got wine which made our lieutenant very happy. This is why he loved us.

Life went on and Mike and I continued to work in our style. Soon it was July and the middle of a hot summer in Detroit. 1974 to be exact. Heat makes for increased activity and the action barometer went way up. On this day, we responded to a run to the Bamboo Bar at Pingree and 12th, the intersection where the riots started in 1967. The Bamboo was the last bastion of those horrible, violent days. It was where the hardcore hung out. We always liked to have backup whenever we went there but today the other cars were busy. The run was "Man with a gun" and we prepared ourselves for an interesting few minutes.

As we entered, we heard metal hit the floor and looked to see several guns and a some knives laying there. Since we couldn't determine who had dropped what, we put everybody up against the bar and started frisking them for more weapons. Actually I frisked while Mike watched my back. We soon realized that we were in trouble; there were way too many of them and too few of us. They began to get agitated and unruly.

Discretion being the better part of valor, we slowly backed toward the door, deciding to leave them all alone this time. As we backed into the sunshine, we realized that a crowd had gathered outside the bar. Mike and I looked at each other and thought, 'this is not good.' I reached for my radio to call it in, "Officer in Trouble" which would cause all the other scout cars - in our precinct and the adjoining ones - and the helicopters to drop whatever they were doing and respond to our call.

As we were slowly managing to get closer to our car, a roar went up from the crowd, "Let's get 'em!!" Oh, shit, we were in for it now, I thought, and we started to reach for our weapons. We didn't want to have to shoot anyone but when it comes down to your life or theirs, there's only one decision to be made. It was going to be a bloodbath. The crowd kept edging closer.

Just as we began to clear leather, a lone voice rose above all the rest. "Hey! Leave these guys alone, they're the good guys! Back off!!" The crowd stopped moving, became quiet and I looked over and was amazed to see Julius standing up on the fence. He must have held tremendous respect in the neighborhood because the crowd began to slowly disperse. Hands on our weapons, Mike and I looked at each other and the relief was evident. Thank the Gods for Julius!

He came over and said, "'bout time for that wine, y'all?" I said, "No shit, man, you lead the way! You da man, Julius, you da man!" The chickens had come home to roost and the truth became evident; it was so much better to make friends than enemies on the streets of Detroit."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dave Berjeski, the Common Superman...

This story is in tribute to a very dear friend, now deceased, whose daughter is compiling stories about him for her sister.

It was a hot summer afternoon in 1974. It was Detroit and the 13th Precinct and we were cops protecting the lands and the citizens on a shift filled with young guys on fire. My name is Larry Fowler and I was partnered with Mike Cardinal, as usual. Mike and I had grown up together in Dearborn and found ourselves together after stints in the service. It was synchronistic and we were perfectly matched. Mike the logical and Larry live on the edge.

We worked with a gentleman - and he was - named David Berjeski. David was a big man, a little bit crazy and one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. He and I hit it off from our first meeting and became solid friends quickly. There were some guys who didn't care for Dave because he was bigger than life and a force to be reckoned with. They just didn't understand him and it was their loss. I understood him and loved pretty much everything about him.

This day, we were working our regular scout car, 13-4 and our scout car area encompassed Woodward to the west, I-75 to the east, Highland Park to the north and Arden Park to the south. It was an area that had everything, just like the rest of the precinct. It had ghetto and dark alleys, it had mansions and high rollers. It was retail, it was wholesale and it was a drug dealing heaven. Detroit's first gangs started up in our scout car area and it was the funniest thing: West siders never crossed Woodward and East siders respected the same boundary. We believed that the west siders feared the east siders and never the twain should meet.

Dave was working a one man car, 13-41. It's seems a little crazy that we even had a one man car in our precinct. Detroit had just earned the moniker "Murder City" and the 13th precinct led the place in homicides that summer. It was a pretty dangerous place. The concept of the one man car was that of a report unit. The cops working it were tasked with taking reports on B&E's, larcenies, trespassing and all the other misdemeanor/after-the-fact type crimes. The one man car was essentially prohibited from responding to active crimes or other violent type activities. This policy wasn't always followed to the letter. Especially by Dave.

On the radio we heard, "13-4, the National Bank on Woodward, robbery-in-progress." "Roger that" we responded and took off for the bank. We weren't that far away, two minutes maybe. It was a high adrenaline run, the kind we lived for. Of course, you never knew if it was false or not, and you wouldn't know until you found out first hand. We treated them all as in-progress, live runs and had policy driven approaches, planned out to the letter.

As we got there and parked down the street, we could see another scout car parked on the other side of the bank. Who the hell was that, we wondered, and how the hell did they get there so fast? It wasn't long before we found out. As we walked carefully up to the side of the bank, Mike went to the rear and I stayed at the front. We saw no activity, heard no sounds and it appeared that everything was normal. No one had called in that they were there and no one gave a situation report. I looked over and saw 13-41 on the blue bubble sitting on the roof of the other scout car. Oh, shit, I thought, it was Dave.

I leaned around the corner of the building and peeked in the window. What I saw almost made me fall to my knees. Inside there were people laying all over the floor. No tellers were in evidence and standing in the middle of the room, a huge gun in each hand was Dave, looking around calmly as if nothing were out of sorts. Dave always carried two guns, as most of us did. Our primary weapon and a smaller back up gun. Not Dave. Dave carried two massive .44 Magnums, one in his holster and one in his belt. He had both of them out now.

"Radio" I called, "Everything is under control" as I knew it was. I tapped on the glass and Dave looked over at me. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "It's just me, man." I smiled back and shook my head. I wasn't really surprised and actually, I found it funny as hell! Just about then, Mike burst through the back entrance and stopped in his tracks. I saw his eyes widen, then a grin come to his face. It was all cool, Dave was in charge.

Dave had responded to the run against policy. Way against policy but we knew Dave. He wouldn't go in blindly but would calmly assess the situation and make decisions. As he entered the bank carefully, he couldn't see anything amiss, much less armed robbers taking over the bank. Since he was by himself, with no backup, he decided to take control and ordered everyone in the bank down on the floor. No one argued with him and got down quickly. If there were robbers in the bank, they wouldn't go down quietly.

"Radio, everything is under control, no robbery in progress," I called as Dave allowed everyone to get to their feet. He explained about the radio run and apologized for the inconvenience. Mike and I could barely stop from laughing out loud. We would later.

The whole incident was caught by the surveillance cameras in the lobby. It wasn't long before a still picture taken from the tapes began to circulate. It showed Dave standing there, a fierce look on his face, waving those two 44's. Dave was now a legend. And that is how I will always remember him. A great cop and a rebel, for sure, and certainly not a man who would shy away from personal danger. If you can't tell, I loved the guy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The VA Jungle...

It's pretty tough to admit this but I've been hooked on painkillers since 1975. Oh, the pain is there; my body is a temple that looks like the Parthenon. Too many car and motorcycle accidents for four men. Broken bones, knee shattered, ribs cracked, neck broken and I've been knocked unconscious at least 7 times. So I've been taking narcotics to ease the pain for a long, long time. Trouble is they're hard to control.

Since I'm 100% disabled from Vietnam, the VA sends me my meds by mail and half the time they're late. Every time the pain meds are late, I have to deal with withdrawal symptoms till they get here. Let me tell you, it ain't no fun at all. Sometimes they're a week late, three days late, once it was two weeks! Whatever the case, I keep going back to them.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago I said enough is enough and I'm going to get help to deal with this crap. So, I called my doctor at the VA, who is 60 miles away, and told him that I needed help. An inpatient program somewhere. He said that he would get right on it and would call me back as soon as he knew something. No more than a couple of days he told me. He said that he would put his most efficient nurse on it, too.

Five days later I hadn't heard a thing, so I called. In the VA you can't call your doctor directly, you have to go through a communications center who then relays the message. It's a real pain in the butt, especially if you've got a problem that needs immediate attention. I explained that I needed to talk to my doctor, and that he was supposed to have called me back a few days ago. He took down my information and said he'd send a note.

The next day, around dinner time, he called. He said he was sorry for not getting back to me but things were busy. Whatever. He explained that he'd done some checking and that the Battle Creek VA hospital had a program that fit my needs. They were going to call me, he said, and that I should hear from them shortly. I thanked him and hung up. I told my wife what was going on and she said that she was proud of me. That meant a lot.

A week and a half later, today as a matter of fact, a nurse at the hospital called me. She informed me that she would be conducting an intake interview that would take about half an hour. For about that long she asked me questions about my health, my meds and my life in general. It was fairly in-depth. After I explained to her about my back, that I couldn't walk more than a minute at a time before the pain became excruciating and my legs went numb, she hesitated. Do you mean that you can't climb stairs then? I laughed and said, in your dreams! We had developed a good rapport by then.

I waited, listening to the silence on the other end. Finally she said that she would love to help me but they had no beds on the first floor. There were several flights of stairs that I would have to climb. Since I would be unable to do that, I couldn't join their program. I asked her, do you mean that because I am, in essence, crippled, I can't receive treatment for a drug addiction that they, the VA, had supported for years?

Just a note here: the VA is very supportive of the troops and gives us all the pain killers we want. It keeps us quiet. Just like in Vietnam when the CIA - with Air America - was funneling heroin through the Viet Cong to our soldiers. To keep them quiet so they wouldn't upset the apple cart with protests against the war. It worked, pretty much. But, as an MP, I had to respond to near riots when the government insisted on detoxing the troops they had hooked on heroin, over a three day period. Cold turkey. It was horrible.

Anyway, she said again that she was sorry and there was nothing that she could do. I asked her, what about the troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs or other horrific body injuries? Would they, too, find no help when it was time to quit the painkillers? I listened to silence again. Mr. Fowler, she finally said, it was nice talking to you and then she hung up. Denise and I just looked at each other in shock. We didn't know what to say!

We live in a remote area of northern Michigan, twenty miles in every direction (except east to Lake Huron), away from civilization. There are no AA or NA programs up here and I would have to drive 120 miles round trip to find one. The only detox programs are private and very expensive, far beyond our ability to pay. The VA has done it again, we said. On our own once more.

For those of you who have never experienced the Veteran's Administration, it's a wonderful thing (we need a sarcasm font here) that is dedicated to serving our veterans. When you apply for benefits for service related disabilities, they automatically turn you down and tell you that your records don't exist. I spent five futile years trying to get mine until a friend told me to call one of the advocacy groups, who would represent me. I called the Military Order of the Purple Heart and six months later I had my disability authorized.

We all care about the troops fighting two wars, but we should be very concerned about the treatment they're going to get when they get home. Oh, yeah, the news reports show amputees working hard with a support crew, to enable them to lead a good and productive way of life. But that's the media. The reality is much different. Much worse.

There are not enough VA hospitals, especially for those vets who don't live in a major city. To get any treatment or evaluation, I have to drive 300 miles to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Driving distances is pretty hard on me so I avoid it as much as I can. Some vets have 1500 miles to go to reach a treatment center.

The point I'm trying to make has nothing to do with me. I'll figure it out and Denise and I will do this on our own. Once I get past the first week or two it's going to be no problem. The point is the VA and the way they treat vets. They have hundreds, if not thousands, of policies and regulations that they never tell you about. When you don't follow procedure because you knew nothing about it, they say tough, you should have asked. Asked what? I didn't even know there was a question!

I want you to speak up about this if you have a chance. If you know a veteran who is trying to fight through the system, have them call me. My number is 989-734-2908. With luck maybe I'll be able to help them. I always count on spirit (luck) to guide me...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Look Homeward, Angel...

It was 1997 and I had just lost my private investigation business. It was a great run but it got away from me and became too much to handle. We were living in a rented house in Dearborn, Michigan and times had become tough. My mother was laying in our back bedroom hooked up to a feeding tube in her stomach; I just couldn't put her in a nursing home.

Denise's parents were both dying slowly. Her mother had breast cancer that had spread to her bones and her aging father's organs were slowly shutting down. In addition to caring for my mother, Denise would go to her parent's house daily to take care of them; cook, clean, medicate, bathe and comfort. The rest of our family had little to do with it all, a situation that was much too common we came to understand.

It was all very stressful but we had learned to keep a smile on our faces and faith in our hearts so we were able to deal. The kids - our daughters, 12 and 14 at the time - handled it along with us. They had learned about the vagaries of life early on and were pretty tough little characters. We met each day as it came and took solace in the laughter we could create.

It was early fall and the leaves had yet to turn colors. I was out washing my car in the driveway one day, enjoying the sunshine and the act of caring for my ride. All of a sudden there was a rush of wings and a mourning dove landed on the hood. I stood there, stunned, with the hose hanging from one hand and a sudsy glove on the other. It was hard to believe as the dove just stood there watching me, head cocked, one eye gleaming in the sun.

When I recovered, I put the hose down, dropped the glove and began to walk slowly toward the front of the car, thinking this bird is gonna fly. It didn't. Just stood there placidly watching me as I moved, never budging an inch. I thought to myself, 'this is pretty weird but very cool, too.' Then I decided to ignore the whole thing as a hallucination and go back to washing my car. I picked up my hose and glove and started washing toward the front of the car, top to bottom, as the manual says. My spectator watched with obvious interest as my hose and I moved closer.

As I reached the front of the car and started washing the hood, the dove flew but only to the top of the car. It stood there quietly amused, I thought to myself. I finished washing and got the towels. Surely this bird is going to take off when I start throwing the towel around. Nope. It just stood there, moving only when my towel and I got too close. It would slide sideways, hop a little and flap it's wings to get out of the way so I could dry a new spot. I remember thinking, 'man, this bird better not crap on my clean car!'

When I was done, I put my supplies away and looked back at my car. There was the dove, still sitting on the hood. I shook my head and went into the house. The kids were gone and it was just Denise and I. I explained the situation and she just smiled. We looked out the front window to see that the dove hadn't moved. We kept going back to that window every few minutes, not believing what we were seeing. Finally, after an hour or so, the bird took off, flying high into the trees at the end of the block. Wow, we thought, we just witnessed something totally cool. We were nature, bird and animal lovers and to us, this was a very special experience.

That night we told the kids about it. They laughed and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. But they were also upset that they missed it. Understandable. When I told my mom about it, she just smiled a too knowing smile and kissed me goodnight. We went to bed that night, light in the heart and wondering at the nature of nature.

The next afternoon, Denise was doing some weeding and gardening in the back yard. It was another beautiful fall day and I was upstairs working in my study. The kids were out with their friends and it was quiet in the neighborhood. All of a sudden I heard an "aaah!" from the backyard. It wasn't very loud but it was distinctive. I looked out the window to see Denise bent over at the waist with a spade in her hand. She was looking back over her shoulder at the dove, who had landed on her butt. Afraid to move, she just stared at the bird who seemed as placid as it had the day before. Finally, she had to move and the dove flew off, back toward the trees down the block.

When she came into the house, we just looked at each other and started laughing. This is too nuts, we thought. What is the deal with this bird? We couldn't wait to tell the kids and when we did, we got the same reaction as before only with more disbelief. Emphatically, they swore that they weren't going anywhere until they got to see this dove. We all laughed some more and agreed that this was just some kind of anomaly and that they just weren't destined to see it. There was a lot of discussion that night about the possible motives of the bird, even looking in the encyclopedia to see if there was an answer about doves. Nothing matched our experience.

The next morning, Denise and I were sitting on the front porch having our coffee on another beautiful day. Cool and crisp, we could feel fall coming on strong. We could hear lawnmowers in the distance and there was activity on the street. Our neighbors were stepping out on their porches, smiling at the day. We sat, enjoying our coffee and taking in the world around us.

Suddenly, there was the distinctive sound of a dove: "whoo, whoo" and a flapping of wings. With a great rush of air, our dove landed directly on top of Denise's head. Her eyes went wide and she sat there still as a rock. My eyes went wide as I looked at this dove less than 2 feet away from me. The dove, on it's part, just sat there looking at me as if this were the most normal thing in the world. A couple of pecks to Denise's head and it settled in as if her head was an egg. She was afraid to move and I started giggling softly. Soon, Denise couldn't help herself and she, too, started laughing quietly. Pretty soon we broke out into guffaws while the dove just sat there, bothered by none of it.

An elderly couple took that moment to walk by, looking over at us. Two adults, laughing and sitting on the porch with a large dove on the head of one of them. Never blinked an eye. Just kept walking as if they saw this everyday. It was amazing. I don't know how long we sat there before Denise moved to get up. It was only when she started in the door that the dove took off. Of course she checked her hair for droppings, found none, and went into the house.

Later that afternoon, we bought some birdseed and poured it into an old coffee can, took it out to the porch and set it on the sidewalk, thinking that we would spread it around shortly. We sat back in our chairs to enjoy the day. Soon, we heard "Whoo, whoo!" and the flapping of wings. The dove landed on the sidewalk in front of us, looked around and hopped over to the can. Upon arrival, it looked into the can just as if it had been put there just for her - or him - we didn't know how to tell the difference. After a moment it hopped up onto the top of the can and looked down.

Suddenly, the dove disappeared! Looking closely, we could see two little pink claws clinging to the top of the can. The rest of the bird was inside! This was just getting too crazy! After a moment the bird reappeared, looking around and checking around, then dip, back inside for more. This continued for about fifteen minutes. Apparently it had had enough. With the flapping of wings, it took off back toward the trees. We sat there in wonder. How did that bird know there were seeds in that can? We left it on the porch and went about our day, shaking our heads and laughing together whenever our eyes would meet.

Later, we saw the dove in the can again when it tipped over, spreading seeds on the porch. Unshaken, the bird continued to eat the seeds that had spilled.

This continued every day for the next month or so. Who - we named him "Who" in honor of the noise he made coming in for a landing. We decided that he was a he because of the way he defended his seeds. Should another bird get close to that can, Who would jump up and down and flap his wings in an angry demonstration of sole entitlement. We even watched him drive away a gray squirrel one day, a feat we thought was prodigious.

As the beautiful fall colors began to drop from the trees and temperatures began to drop, we spent less and less time out on the porch. But Who was still there, like clockwork morning and afternoon. He would sit on the porch next to his can of seeds and observe the goings on of the neighborhood, head tilting one way then the other, craning his neck around to watch us in the window watching him. When we did venture out onto the porch for coffee, Who, seemingly much more familiar now, would sit on our knee while we sipped. He wouldn't let us touch him, though. For some reason that was verboten. If we tried, he would move just far enough away to avoid our fingers.

My mother-in-law grew worse as the days wore on. We had brought a hospital bed into their living room to make her more comfortable and to make it easier for Denise to care for her. Denise's father would now wander around, confused, and unable to deal with the sickness in his wife. She had cared for him their entire marriage, making his breakfasts, lunches and dinners. He couldn't even make a bowl of cereal by himself he was so dependent upon her. It was heart wrenching to watch.

For her part, Denise's mom made a valiant go of it, understanding just how difficult it was for her children and her husband. She would attempt to take control of the activity around her and we could see that the charade made her feel better just for the trying. Every so often, Denise's sisters would come by, taking over just by their presence. My wife was the youngest of the four, coming ten years or so after her closest sister. She was always treated as the baby who couldn't possibly know what she was doing. It was exasperating to watch. Denise had seen tougher times than any of them could comprehend, but she kept it to herself. I loved her for her humanity, her kindness and generosity and for the beautiful spirit that dwelled within.

Back at our house, my mother grew worse as well. She was listless and uninterested, resigned to watching her soaps and game shows on TV. If she needed anything, she would ring the little bell we gave her. To tell you the truth, that bell became a symbol of stress for us; we would be waiting for it to ring 24 hours a day. It was impossible to totally relax waiting for that little tinkle to start. Our one release was still Who, who had taken up residence on our porch. He was the rock to which we clung, knowing that we could walk out onto the porch and he would hop up onto our knees.

The days grew colder and there was no doubt winter was just around the corner. One morning it began to snow and we knew for sure that Who would be gone because of it. Resigned, we kept up our vigil over our parents as their health continued downhill. We felt so guilty thinking it but a part of us wished that their suffering would end - for us as much as for them. It was absolutely agonizing to watch and our guilt at their pain and ours wrapped us like a heavy blanket.

One afternoon, sitting in the living room, we saw movement at the side window. It was Who, hopping around on the ledge outside. He was peering in and he looked so cold. We didn't understand why a mourning dove would linger in the snow. This went on for a half hour or so until I couldn't stand it anymore. We had three cats and they, too, were watching the window with interest. I got up, walked to the window and slid it open. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect what happened next.

Who hopped over to the opening, stepped inside and looked around. The cats were absolutely mesmerized, unmoving and obviously wondering just what in the heck was going on. Who ignored them. He looked around, stepped inside a little more and with one little "whoo" took off and flew to the back of my chair! The cats - and us - were completely stunned. Who, with his patented equanimity, just settled right down on the top cushion like he owned it. The cats just sat there, eyes wide, but making no attempt to move on the bird.

I shrugged my shoulders, looked at Denise and the kids, and sat back down in my recliner. Who never moved, rocking back and forth as the chair settled, obviously in for the long haul. I turned my head and looked up, right into the cocked head and the eye looking right into my soul.

Denise's mom had taken a turn for the worse and she was over there most days, all day, just being there for her and to support her dad who was having a very hard time of it. My mother-in-law was semi-conscious most of the time, her eyes moving around as if she were watching something. She only reacted to outside stimuli infrequently and the doctors told Denise that it wouldn't be long.

Back at home, Who kept me company every day, appearing on the windowsill every morning and waiting to be let in. The cats paid him no attention now and I would sit in my chair, reading and feeling him looking over my shoulder. In the early afternoon, Who would fly over to the windowsill and wait for me to open the window. More often than not, he would come back for a while before it got dark and Denise came home. It was as though Who wanted to be near her for a while before he flew off into the trees for the night.

I went with Denise to visit her mom and dad one day and many of her relatives were there. Some were in the kitchen cooking, some were just wandering and some were in the living room with me holding up the walls. I looked over and Denise's face was mere inches from her mom's. They were looking into each others eyes with a fierce focus I had never seen before. They stayed that way for interminable minutes and a couple of times I heard her mother speak and Denise would speak softly in return. I couldn't imagine what they could be talking about.

Then I saw her mother smile and it was as though her entire face was suffused with a lovely glow. Denise smiled back and slowly relaxed as her mother's head lay gently back into the pillow and her eyes closed. With an effort, Denise stood up and walked over to me and whispered "later." She then turned back to the others in the room and announced, "Mom said that she talked with Jesus and that all of you were loved." I smiled and watched everyone as they looked around at each other as if they were saying to each other, "delirious." I had been watching carefully and knew better. Denise told me later that her mom was talking about seeing her relatives and friends and that they were waiting for her in a warm and beautiful light.

We went home that night to find the kids in the living room with Who, both of them sitting in my chair with the dove perched up on the back cushion. They were both looking at the bird in wonderment, smiling. When we came in, they said excitedly, "Who was walking back and forth between us!" Denise and I smiled at each other and sat down to enjoy Who's presence. We stayed that way for quite a while and all of a sudden, Who flew over to Denise and landed on her knee. He sat there for a while, head cocking back and forth, looking up into Denise's face. It was a beautiful sight.

Finally, Who flew up to the windowsill and waited for me to open the window. As I did, I heard him say softly, "Whoo, whoo" and then he was gone. We all sat around, not making a sound because we sensed something different; the fact that Who was no longer there. We didn't understand at the time that that was the last time we would see him, the last time he would sit with us in the living room watching television and talking, part of our family.

The next day, they took Denise's mom to the hospice and she died the day following that. Who didn't come back those days and we wondered what had happened to him. Had he been killed? Was he hurt somewhere and needed help? It was anguishing not knowing; we had become so used to his presence, so gladdened when he would show up on the front porch or the window ledge. It had been like a dream those past couple of months. But it was also like he had deserted us in our time of need. How could he?

It wasn't until a week had gone by that we finally understood. Denise told me that she had seen him, sitting up on the roof of the house when he first showed up, and that there was a beautiful golden glow around him. She hadn't mentioned it because she thought that it was just the sunlight playing tricks on her. Now, she said, she knew better. Who was an angel.

We had both seen angels before, Denise one night in bed when she awoke to see a vision standing at the foot of her bed. Me, in the garb of real people who had saved me from certain death and who had disappeared after the incident, beyond my capability to find them.

Who had come to us in our time of need and spent his time lightening our spirits through an unbelievably tough time. Then, when his job was finished, he was gone. We were able to sail those stormy seas because one mourning dove chose to keep us company, leading us through to the other side, and every time we think of him and speak in terms of wonder, we know that our life has been blessed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

There but for the grace of God...

I recently became aware that my old Military Police Company from Vietnam is having a reunion next September in Branson, Mo. I have kept in touch with only one of my buddies from that time and we've decided to go. We are the only two members from our particular platoon which was located away from the main unit. We think that's strange.

Anyway, just the other day, the organizer of the reunion sent out an email notifying us all of a new contact from the unit. His name is Tom Trice and when I saw the email, I was stunned. His is a name that I'll never forget because he is a central figure in one of those, There, but for the grace of God, go I...and, why not me?

It was cold in the barracks that night and I remember pulling my GI blanket around me and trying to forget about it. Normally, Cam Rahn Bay was a hot sand box, but this was the monsoon season and we'd already endured one typhoon. I had just fallen asleep when the lights came on and one of the company sergeants began pulling guys out of their bunks.

"Git up, git up, pack your shit, you, you and you! Put everythin' in ya'lls sack and git the hell outside!" In that kind of environment it takes only seconds to come wide awake. I had flashes of boot camp when they would actually tip over the two story bunks with guys in them. Falling from the top bunk onto concrete could be an eye opening (or closing) experience.

Outside, about 15 of us stood shivering next to our bags waiting for the next thing to happen. After what seemed like an eternity, we were ordered to our jeeps and began to convoy across the huge base. We drove in the darkness until we arrived at an air strip on the Air Force side of the complex. Lined up on the strip we began to drive up onto the loading decks of 4 C-130 transport planes. You see them taking off and landing in Haiti..

After securing the vehicles to the floor of the plane, we were finally able to start asking some questions. "What the hell is going on, Sarge? Where the hell are we going?!" The answer was always the same: "Shut up, troop. I'll tell you when I'm ready!" Um, ok. We looked at each other, wondering what in the hell was going on? This was not normal procedure for us. We were tasked with gate security on the Army base and patrols in the villages nearby. Nice, comfy duty. There was a lake (Tiger Lake) that we could go to and lay in the sun. We could snorkel off the shore in a beautiful lagoon where it was another world. Until you surfaced and looked up at the beach and all the barbed wire and gun emplacements. All in all, it was great duty and we thanked God every day for it.

The planes lumbered down the runway and we took off. It was a very strange feeling to be sitting in your jeep and flying. Those transports are very loud so there wasn't much conversation in the hour and a half we were in the air. By the time we had landed, none of our questions had been answered. Just like mushrooms; fed shit and kept in the dark.

When the planes finally stopped, the loading door came down and we backed our jeeps off the plane. Right into 40 degree weather, rain pouring down,thunder and lightning lighting up the sky. The worst weather imaginable! We then formed another convoy and headed out. Mind you, some of our vehicles were topless and we were cold and wet, angry and miserable. From heaven into the depths of hell...

We had landed near a city named Quang Tri, which was just miles from the North Vietnamese border and the DMZ. We finally stopped at dark barracks, unloaded our stuff and entered. There were no bunks, no lights and no other furniture. I was quick and spotted a Yucatan hammock handing from two of the rafters. I had my hand on it just as another guy ran up. With a wicked grin, I put my bag on it and claimed it for my own. Everyone else was going to have to sleep on the floor.

It was three days before any bunks arrived and everyone was sore as hell except me. I slept well, never fell out into the water covering a lot of the floo from leaks in the roof. Monsoon season up here in the north was much worse than it was further south. Cold rain, my hated enemy. We had never gotten along.

We were finally told that we were supporting an operation by the South Vietnamese Army into Laos. Operation Lam Son 719. Some of us would be going on to Khe Sahn, made famous during Tet, 1968, when the Marines were almost completely wiped out by North Vietnamese regiments. In the meantime, we were tasked to patrol the cities of Quang Tri and it's sister, Dong Ha. Much the same duty as we had had in Cam Rahn Bay but without any of the comforts.

One evening at roll call, a guy came up to me and asked if I wanted to switch assignments with him. He had someone to see in Dong Ha but was assigned to Quang Tri. I said sure because it made no difference to me. His name was Tom Trice. We cleared it with the supervisor and lined up for instructions. Just as we did, a guy from HQ came up to our duty sergeant and passed him a message. Sarge then called Tom Trice and Doug Crooks out and said that there was a traffic accident out near Camp Evans, about 25 miles away and at the very edge of our area of operations. They took off and we continued with roll call.

I was a Spec 4, actually a corporal without the supervisory responsibility, and so was Crooks. Trice was a PFC, therefore a rank under us; Crooks and I were jeep commanders and the PFC's drove with us riding shotgun. We were working 12 on and 12 off, the night shift. It was just beginning to grow darker when we hit the road and our assignments.

About 2 hours later, we began to hear loud screaming and static on the radio. It was constant. Non-stop. It was unintelligible, just a mass of noise coming out of the speakers. It was extremely unnerving. Our first thought was that Charlie (the enemy) had gotten hold of one of our radios and was trying to jam the channel. HQ couldn't get a word in edgewise and freaked, all the patrols headed for the base.

When we arrived, the screaming continued but every once in a while a word was understandable. It was "Help!!" Now we knew it was one of our guys who was in trouble but we didn't know who, what, where or when. We finally re-assembled into roll call formation and with everyone looking around, realized that Tom Trice and Doug Crooks were not there. All the while, the screaming continued.

All of a sudden the words became intelligible. It was Trice calling for help and for someone to open the gates to the combat base. His voice was so high pitched he sounded like a woman, and the anguish and fear were so evident that we cringed as a group. A unit was sent out to open the gate as we all waited, wondering what in the hell had happened. Soon, the two jeeps flashed by, lights and sirens on. We all looked at each other and wanted to hop into our vehicles and follow but our duty sergeant said no way. God, it was such a helpless feeling, knowing that something terrible was going on but being unable to do anything about it.

Finally, the word came back. Trice and Crooks had arrived at the site of the alleged accident but found nothing. They used a land line at Camp Evans and reported that they were returning to base. Minutes later, driving in the dark, they were ambushed. Mines (they call them IED's now), machine gun fire and rockets strafed them from the darkness. A large piece of shrapnel took Crooks in the throat, nearly decapitating him. Trice was hit several times but managed to keep driving. According to the report, Trice hung on to Crooks all the way back, knowing that he was dead. At one point, they were stopped by a South Vietnames security team and forced to halt. Reportedly, Trice aimed his M-16 at them, telling them he would kill all of them if they didn't get out of the way. They did.

The point of the story is this: If the situation had been normal, I would have been riding where Crooks was and would have been killed instantly, losing my head in the process. Needless to say, I was stunned and grieved by what had happened and immediately began to think about what the alternative might have been. Why? I asked myself. Why had I been spared? What great cosmic wheel in the sky determined that Crooks would die and I wouldn't?

For decades I kept these thoughts and feelings locked away yet unable to hide them entirely. Every once in a while they would surface and I would thank the powers-that-be for sparing my life. Mostly it came out in my dreams and eventually I had to start taking anti-depressants to deal with it. PTSD they called it. It wasn't the only traumatic thing I had experienced as a soldier and a cop, not by far, but it was the most poignant.

When I saw Tom's name on that email a few days ago, it all came rushing back, like I was reliving the experience. I couldn't write to him fast enough. At first he didn't recognize my name but when I asked if he was the same Tom Trice that had switched with me that night, he said shivers ran up and down his spine. He, too, of course, had been haunted by the events that night. We discovered that we both lived in Michigan only about 4 hours apart. We have made plans to get together next summer and I already know that it's going to be a harrowing experience for both of us. For almost 40 years we have kept this to ourselves, talking to no one about what had happened.

I wish I could say that it's been cathartic but it hasn't. It has only served to bring out in stark relief just how capricious life can be. For the last week or so, I have been under the weather. I first attributed it to my 60th birthday but when I coupled it with memories refreshed, I understood more clearly. I'm handling it just fine, I think and writing this has been cathartic. I think. We shall see when Tom and I hug and say "Welcome back" to each other...

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Jazz that a Saxophone Plays...

Mercury went direct this morning and I'm taking this opportunity to relate a story that still pulls at my heart when I think about it...

It was a beautiful day in September, 1974. Detroit had just been honored by being labeled Murder Capital of the World. The summer of '74 had been one horrific homicide after another and 8 cops had been killed so far. The year ended with 12. We were being shot left and right. The citizens were killing each other in alarming numbers and the anger and mayhem had been transferred to us. We were all on edge every day, approaching traffic stops with our guns drawn, in broad daylight no less, and we didn't care who complained.

On this particular day, my partner Mike and I had just come from a gangland style killing. The radio run had said, "13-4, see the neighbors." When we arrived the people said that they hadn't seen their neighbors in several days and that there was an strange smell coming from their apartment. When we went to knock on the door, we could smell it and knew immediately what we were dealing with. But we didn't know the extent until we kicked down the door.

Inside were four bodies laying in a row, all beginning to swell in the September heat. All four were tied, hands behind their backs with electrical cord and had their throats slashed. With syringes and vials and rubber tubing laying about, it was obvious that these deaths were drug related.

It was a horrible scene and one that shakes the faith of even the hardest of cops and it was the kind of scene we had been seeing all summer. By the time we were done, Mike and I were drained, almost oblivious of the world around us. It was the kind of experience that you had to lock deep within you, shoving it in a compartment never to come out again. No way could you go home and tell your spouse - or anyone else for that matter - about it because it would be impossible for them to relate. It would do nothing but disgust others and you in the telling. A necessary part of the job was to file it away in the darkness.

We had just finished the paperwork and left the station for our scout car area which was north of West Grand Blvd., behind the Henry Ford Hospital campus and just across the street from the Motown Museum made famous by Berry Gordy. Driving down a residential street and basking in the warm sunlight, it was just after school had let out for the day. Kids were walking down the sidewalks on their way home, laughing and talking, a lifetime away from the horrors we had just witnessed less than an hour ago.

One young gentleman, about 13 or 14 years old, was walking down the street by himself, singing and whistling some unknown song. He was carrying a music case larger than a trumpet and smaller than a violin. Without a word between us (as was usually the case; we were telepathic with each other) we pulled over to the curb and beckoned him over. With the tension in the city he was nonplussed to say the least.

I was driving and Mike was sitting shotgun and as the boy approached, he asked what was in the case. Guns? Of course not the boy replied in the negative, emphatically. Well, Mike asked, what was in the case then? The boy replied, a saxophone, just as we had expected. Really? Mike said, show it to me, I want to be sure. Mike was playing it like a gruff cop and the young boy was getting nervous. He shuffled closer to the scout car and fumbled to open the latches. Nervous, eh? asked Mike. A muffled mumble in return.

Finally he got the case open and showed us the saxophone. Mike looked at me and I nodded. He asked the boy to take the saxophone out of the case and hand it to him. I knew and Mike knew but the boy didn't, that Mike was an accomplished jazz saxophone player. He affixed the mouthpiece, adjusted the reed and began to play.

I held the microphone for the P.A. system over the mouth of the sax and began to broadcast Mike's renditions over the speakers on top of the car. Mike was (is) a great sax player; he was first chair in high school and I was, well, seventeenth or something. And he loved jazz and that came out over those loudspeakers. I had the gain on high and the music was blasting, turning the neighborhood into a concert hall.

Pretty soon, people began to come out onto their porches wondering what in the hell was going on but it wasn't long before some of them were dancing. You could just feel the atmosphere in that neighborhood; it was like bright sunshine and joy all wrapped together in a flashing, smiling bundle. So far from the atmosphere of the last neighborhood that we had visited that it seemed like years since we had been there.

Mike's concert went on for a good twenty minutes and we had the whole block involved. The boy stood by the car with a huge grin on his face, knowing that he would be the stuff of legends, and loving every minute of it. He would be forever remembered as the "Concert Master" and those twenty minutes did more for the image of the Detroit Police Department than any ten positive news stories could. The department would never know but the people would remember, and that's the way we liked it. Mike and I had a reputation to uphold as those "cool cops with the number 4 on their bubble; Mike and Larry."

When Mike finally slid down his last riff, the neighborhood began to clap. It was a standing ovation for an extemporaneous display of civic connectedness and a bridge between cops and public like nothing ever seen before. We drove away as they all clapped, waving to the people of our scout car area. Though it all was heard only on one block, word would spread and we would be treated as one of their own, helped instead of dismissed.

And that's the way we rolled. Our eyes on making friends and patching up strained relations. It made everyone's day...especially ours.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Faith and Laughter, my friends...

As Mercury begins to slow down toward going direct on Friday, I have come to some conclusions about the issues facing me. I have decided to keep writing this blog, and writing it for myself, even though the things that make me laugh may not make you do the same. For survival's sake I have cultivated a rather bizarre and macabre sense of humor that I understand may make others wonder at my sanity.

I hold myself to a higher purpose, that of writing a spiritually uplifting memoir, to write of things I endured and things that kept me sane. I have seen so many things in my short life that sometimes they blend together, but not for one minute do I regret any of it. Yes, I have made decisions that hurt others but they were the best decisions I could make at the time. I will not weep over them any longer because life is too short to live it in the past.

I found my Faith so many years ago and have, as intended, been subjected to trials and more trials to see if it were true. Those who think that once you have accepted the Divine, it's clear sailing ahead are in for a rude awakening. It is in the joy of surmounting challenge that we find our most precious moments, and the genuine substance of our Faith.

So, I will reach back and find those moments and the moments that caused me to laugh. Without a sense of humor there is no point to the rest of it and I shall never lose sight of that...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Oral Board...

On this second to last day of 2009, just before the moon transits into Cancer and spends it's last hours in Gemini, I feel like talking..

I remember a day in November of 1971, this one as clear in my mind as if I were there today, when I was challenged in a manner I had never experienced before. Just having returned from Vietnam a couple of months previously, still trying to adjust to life in the new world, I had applied to the Detroit Police Department. My last three years had been spent as a military police officer in the good old US Army of A. Trained in law enforcement and combat operations and having spent a great deal of time in both, I was ready to take on my chosen career.

It had been almost six weeks since I applied and three weeks since the physical and psychological examinations. I was notified that I had passed both and had been scheduled for my oral interview. Throughout my Army service I had experienced oral interviews, always a staple of the promotion process. Having exited as a Sergeant, there had been three of them to get that far. They were all the same.

"Private, what is the muzzle velocity of an M-16 rifle?" "Yes, sir, 2386 feet per second. Sir."

"Specialist, how many rounds are carried in the magazine of an M191A1 Model .45 caliber, semi-automatic weapon?" "Uh, yes sir, 7, sir." And on and on. They tried to trick me in the Sergeant's exam by asking, "Who won the Triple Crown in 1968?" "Hmmm, yes, sir, Secretariat, sir." (I think) There were always several "What would you do if?" questions, the answers always being common sense which luckily I seemed to have in bundles, and I was promoted up the line.

On this day, I arrived for my oral interview at the Detroit Police Department dressed in my best suit, new haircut, tight, GI shave - smooth, very smooth - and shoes that shined like mirrors. After waiting for nearly an hour, I was finally called into the interview room. I must say that the state of the building and the decor was better than I had seen in the service, but not by much. Solid wood doors, dull, drab tan and green walls with pictures of the president an chief of police placed precisely in the center. The furniture was old, scarred and mismatched, looking like it had come from the days of post-World War II.

The lighting was low wattage, buzzing florescent and there was an odor in the air that I knew but couldn't quite describe. Like a combination of bad paint, old wax, sweat and fear. It was the fear and sweat part that bothered me a little because I had smelled it before. But, as a veteran of that element, I wasn't bothered that much.

Placed directly in the center of the room was a long wooden table. It had stains and scars and part of the side molding was peeling away. On one side there were three chairs and on the other, one. This singular wooden chair had armrests with shiny finish, except where hands had worn away the gloss. Sweaty hands, squeezing hands, hands that shook and slid. I smiled because I knew what that was about. I was alone in the room.

I sat in that lone chair and waited. The room was hot and the heating vents lifted the dust from the floor and swirled it around the room. I wanted to sneeze but wouldn't. The morning sun beat through the windows to the east, shining directly on the side of my face, causing little beads of sweat to erupt on my forehead. I ignored them. It was another half an hour before the door at the end of the room finally opened. Through it marched three large individuals.

The first was a grizzled, uniformed police sergeant, his face craggy with weather, worry and a fierce, fierce intention. He had short, wiry, salt and pepper hair and looked like he could best a lumberjack without breaking a sweat. Wide shoulders, a slight bulge at the gut and hands that could break your neck in a flash. He snapped back his chair, staring at me with small, close set eyes that were black as coal. He sat in his seat with a cool calculation.

The second person through the door was a tall, immaculately uniformed black man. His face was unlined, his hair perfectly cut to his features. He wore lieutenant's bars on his shoulders and he carried a clipboard like it was a bible. He was intensely good looking but I saw no emotion in his face. He, too, sat down directly opposite with precision yet his eyes showed no interest in me.

The third man just slouched through the door, his arms too long for his body. I judged his age at mid-forties though it was a little difficult to tell. He was white but his cauliflower nose sort of bloomed and spread to the left on his face. He had a Clutch Cargo mouth, nothing more than a slit across his jaw and his moustache was thick and black. His eyebrows matched it, connecting above his nose. He wore a uniform with no insignia and I knew that meant he was - or had been - just a street cop. He slid into his chair, huge forearms on the table and smiled this cruel little smile, looking deep past my eyes into my soul.

Those little beads of sweat kept popping out just below my hairline and the room kept getting hotter by degrees. But I never moved and after meeting their eyes as they entered, stared straight ahead like a statue. I knew what was going on and it was pure, undisguised intimidation. I was grinning inside but kept it there where it quietly amused only me.

We sat for what seemed like an hour while the lieutenant checked and re-checked his clipboard. No one moved and I sat with my hands on my knees, back straight, head erect, eyes looking directly forward.

"Larry Fowler," said the lieutenant, his voice flat.

"Yes, sir." Clipped, respectful and direct.

"Why do you want to be a cop?" asked the sergeant to my left. His dark, penetrating eyes burning holes into mine.

"Yes, sir" I began before I was cut off by the lieutenant. "Honorable discharge," he said.

"Yes, sir, two years, nine months and 8 days. US Army, sir." You could never use too many sirs. The sergeant glared at me.

"I asked you why you want to be a cop," he growled. "Didn't you hear me?"

"Yes, sir," I said, "but the lieutenant asked me a question." I knew the game; rank had it's privileges and policy dictated that you answered the higher one first.

"Says here you finished as a sergeant," said the lieutenant. "That's pretty good in a Corps as small as the Military Police. Not much attrition and a lot of competition. Also says that you were awarded the Bronze Star."

"Yes, sir, I worked hard and did my best." Keeping it short, smart and direct.

"How many times have you had intercourse with your mother?" snapped the police officer to my right. His grin had gotten wider, pulling back like a grimace.

I looked calmly to my right, directing my attention to the Cruel Grin. "Sir, approximately fourteen thousand, five hundred and sixty five, if I recall correctly, sir."

"What!" he screamed. "You screwed your mother fourteen thousand times!? Jesus Christ, that's sick!"

Without looking directly, I could see that the sergeant and the lieutenant were horrified, thinking what in the hell do we have here? How did this guy get past the psychologicals?

"Sir, I've had verbal intercourse with my mother for as long as I remember, sir." My close kept amusement started to waver but discipline kept me like granite.

There was a stunned silence and then the lieutenant started to laugh and the sergeant followed. The cop was slower on the uptake but his grin turned to raucous laughter while I sat there like a rock.

"Oh, shit, that was a good one!" laughed the sergeant and the lieutenant looked at me like he had seen the promised land. "Damn, you are quick, arent' you?" he asked.

"I try, sir, I try," barely keeping my face in control. Score one for the recruit.

And on it went, back and forth, question to question. Most were innocuous dealing with my background and experience. I answered quickly, respecting rank and keeping my posture erect. These guys had nothing on me.

"I see you have a roommate," said the cop. "He's from, where, uh, oh, Beaver Island, eh? What, you gay?"

"No, sir," I said, "He's applying for the force, too, and needed a place to live while he did. My landlord, who's on the job, asked if I could put him up. Sir."

No one else said anything so I figured I had handled that one okay. Suddenly the sergeant produced a joint and threw it on the table. A big, fat splib that landed and rolled right in front of me.

"You were in 'Nam," he said, "and I know that pot was everywhere so I'm sure you smoked some. So why don't you fire that one up for me?" The grins were back except for the lieutenant who looked at me with equanimity.

Of course, having smoked my share during the war, my mouth started to water at the sight of that white, fat joint on the table. My composure was wavering but I remained strong.

"No, sir." My eyes were locked on the lieutenant, gauging his reaction. I wasn't falling for this one. "Never touch the stuff."

"I said smoke it," he growled.

"No, sir, thank you, sir" I said. "That's an illegal substance and I do not indulge."

"I gave you a direct fucking order!" he swore. "And I expect you to obey it!"

"I'm sorry, sir, but that's an illegal order and I'm not required to follow it. Sir."

I could almost see the smoke coming from his ears as the lieutenant and the cop watched the action. I was sweating profusely at this point but would not raise a hand to wipe my face.

"Get the fuck out of here!" he screamed. "Just get the fuck out of my sight!" He stood up knocking his chair to the floor. Spittle was forming in the corners of his mouth and I was sure he was going to come across the table at me.

"Yes, sir!" I stood straight up, pushed back my chair, smartly did an about face and exited the room.

By the time I found a chair in the waiting room, I was shaking. Aw, fuck, what did I do to myself? I thought. Nope, I did the right thing, I know I did. I found a men's room and toweled the sweat from my face. My shirt was wet and sticking to me and I felt like crap. My head hurt and I was sore all over.

Back in the waiting room, I sat on another ancient, uncomfortable chair with 10 other faces looking at me like, what in the hell happened to you? They had yet to go in and now I could see their faces were filled with fear.

"They kicked me out." I said softly and sat there wondering what in hell was happening. God, I wanted a cigarette! Twenty long, nerve shattering minutes went by before the door opened again.

"Fowler!" snarled the sergeant. "Get your ass in here!"

I returned to the room and sat in my chair. By now the sweat was pouring down my back.

"I'm gonna give you one last chance," said the sergeant. "Are you gonna smoke that joint?"

"No, sir," I said with as much confidence as I could muster. "I will not. Sir."

Silence that lasted an eternity. I stared at the lieutenant across from me until a smile broke across his face. "Ok, son, that's all. We'll be in contact."

I was afraid to move but I did. Performing another perfect about face I left the room never looking at the sergeant or the cop.

Three weeks later I was accepted to the department, first to work as a trainee until a slot at the academy opened up. I was gainfully employed in the career of my dreams and sang "Joy to the World" for days.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Heartlight, Lovelight and Peace...

The Moon is in Gemini today which presupposes that we all want to communicate about everything. The night sky is getting brighter in the evening as it makes it's way to a full blue moon New Year's Eve. I'm not sure about all the talk and blather that's supposed to be going on because I sit in solitude up in the wildwoods of Michigan. More like the moon in Cancer on the last day of the year.

I like it this way, no one around to ring my doorbell, no traffic up and down our street which is only a few hundred feet long anyway. Up here, in the winter, there are only 92 residents living along a 7 mile stretch of beach on Lake Huron. Everyone else has gone home. Not till May or June will we hears sounds of tourists and summer residents. It is God's country and God's peace.

All year long we park the truck near the carriage house with the keys in it, doors unlocked, home windows open to the night. In the winter there is a fire going in the woodstove and the cats laze in their cat tree near the heat. It is a bucolic sense of well being living here and the only intrusion is the television which is never on during the day.

If the square between Saturn and Pluto is causing havoc and disarray elsewhere in the world, we do not feel it here. Uranus moving toward the cusp of Aries, a harbinger of great and tremendous change, has no effect on us. Even the mighty Mars, retrograde in Leo, slides silently by on it's way to war. Somewhere, but not here.

It is my sense that it takes the friction of people together en masse to distribute the energies symbolized by these planets and no such friction exists in the north, where we are. No telephone lines buzzing with the conversations of millions, no great and blasting cacophony of city sounds to rend the nerves and shatter the eardrums with constant disharmony. No, here there is peace, warmth and a feeling of love for all creatures.

This is what heaven must be like. Where the only sounds are the waves lapping at the ice building on the shore. Where you can only feel the rhythm of your heartlight as it thrums softly along. Where pain exists somewhere far away and joy de jour is the special of the day.

I wish everyone could have what we have, no tears, no fears, no regrets. Just the love between two people whose souls have connected over years. Who have come to know one another in spirit, to love one another gently and to care in unconditional ways.

But all we can do is hope and to keep our fires burning, sending lovelight into the ethers, lighting, for moments, the way home to the heavens for all...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Simple Joys of War...

It was a long ago Christmas. 1970 Vietnam to be exact. We were 18,000 miles from home and secluded in a bunker high atop Khe Sahn, just a few miles from the demilitarized zone and North Vietnam. We were Military Police leading convoys up and down QL1, the main "highway" west to east. It was only a lane and a half wide dirt road through mountains and valleys and elephant grass. At some points we were curling round a mountain pass with a 150 foot drop on one side and a sheer cliff upwards on the other.

We had no armored vehicles, no Humvees, nothing but an open jeep mounted with a machine gun. We didn't call them IED's but simply mines. Ambushes were commonplace; they usually hit the middle of the convoy trapping half on that narrow dirt road. We would have to go back to the truck that had been hit and push it off the cliff so we could continue. It was pretty tricky duty.

This day, in our sand bagged bunker, the incoming was non-stop while Charlie was trying to take out the airfield behind us. Every so often a short round would land near us and shake us to hell and back. The sandbags would tremble and dust would cover us from head to toe. We had built it solidly but a direct hit would have sent us all to the promised land.

The concussions were so constant that the ringing in our ears never stopped. We would wrap our arms around our chests so that the innards wouldn't shake out. But, like GI's and Cops and Firemen, when you're in a situation like that, you use humor to get you through. You laugh or cry but you have to choose one.

The names I will use are to protect the guilty, because none of us were innocent then. The gentleman I am referring to, Standish we'll call him, slept on a pillow full of marijuana. Everywhere he went, his pillow went, too. We didn't care as long as he took care of business, and he did. Never smoked it on duty as far as I knew.

So, with the calamity around us, with the walls shaking to beat hell, Standish decides to fill his pipe. Dust all around now mixing with the smoke we all started to catch a contact high. Then, of course, the pipe started moving around the bunker. There were 6 of us and only two had ever tried the stuff and one of those wasn't me. Up until then I was a straight arrow patriot.

Well, it wasn't long before the giggles started; the pot from the Golden Triangle was some very potent stuff I discovered. Then the giggles turned to hilarious laughter as the explosions continued. Booom! Boooom! Dust everywhere to the point we couldn't even see each other. But, boy, that pipe continued around.

Pretty soon we began to rate the explosions on a scale of 1-10. Whaammm! Uh, 7, no shit, that was only a 6! Laughing and choking and rolling on the dirt floor. It hurts we're laughing so hard. Boooom! Oh, shit, that was a definite 8, Jesus! That was waaay too close! Bullshit, man, I give it a 4, you're a wuss! The metal roof is shaking, the sandbags are shifting and we're 6 crazy people on a raft filled with pot. I think we just bilocated, all of us as a group!

We had constructed a toilet in the elephant grass about 50 yards from our bunker. It was a milk carton with a toilet seat we had stolen from the Cam Rahn airport. It was the only toilet seat in Khe Sahn. Through the dust and the smoke and the shaking roars, Bricker says he's got to go. Of course, we all stopped laughing long enough to look at him like an idiot. Ah, fuck, he says, I can't do it here!

Gathering himself as we started laughing at him, he low crawled out the hole into the night. It was silent for a few moments, Charlie deciding to take a coffee break, I guess, and then came a huge explosion that knocked us all to the floor. Fuckin' A! That was a 10 for sure, yelled Standish. Oronsky seconded that and we all lay there stunned but still giggling.

A scream like a banshee ripped through the night and we thought Bricker was a goner. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't stop laughing, though! All of a sudden, through the hole comes Bricker, low crawling like a madman. His head was high, his neck outstretched, tendons taught and he had a deathly grimace on his face. His eyes were wide and he was covered with dirt, chunks of it sticking in his hair. There was even a shaft of elephant grass caught behind his ear and he was making these grunty little sounds with a growl that seemed to start deep in his throat. Spittle filled the corners of his mouth while tears ran rivers down his face.

Of course, we all stopped laughing for a moment; were far beyond sober but we took turns holding him till he calmed. We could find no injuries, no obvious trauma so we laid him down on his cot. He told us, voice shaking, just as he got 20 yards or so from our 'men's room', it took a direct hit, blowing the only toilet seat in Khe Sahn to hell. Ah, shit, I said, pass the pipe, we'll have to dig a trench like everyone else.

And that's how you survive war...