Tag Archive: army brat


School Sux


The new school sux.  It’s huge, it’s large, it’s empty, and crowded at the same time.  I don’t know anyone there, for I am a fresh arrival from overseas . . .

The other kids avoid me like the plague. They don’t know me and I don’t know them.  I don’t like them, either. They are mean to me.

I am in the band.  I play a sousaphone.  I played one last year, only it was over in Germany and it was for an orchestra band.  This one is shitty, but at least it’s fiberglass.  I’m gonna be glad of that when I march in a parade.  Only the parades here suck. Their people are so undisciplined. They throw trash in my horn.

I am marching for miles.  A long parade – Easter down in Augusta, Georgia.  The weather is cold and damp and there’s a cold mist blowing.  We march over a bridge.

I haven’t seen so many black faces in my lives.  There are so many of them.  They throw trash as I march by.  Every once and awhile I dip my huge sousaphone, dumping it out.

They are scum.  So is my life.

I am a quite bitter child.  And I understand this.

I hate my life and I am at school.  I work in the lunchroom for chow, saving my cents for purchases of “Ludens Throat Lozenges” – Wild Cherry Flavored – when I have time and walk by the little room they have in a hallway for just this sort of thing and school supplies . . .

I palm my 3 or 4 salisbury steaks under my tray after working the line. They serve them on Tuesday. They are my favorite food here, but they are dry and breaded and thin.  I can feel my fat growing and wish I was thin.

There is a boy in my Sociology class.  He is a boor.  He’s black and he walks around like he’s proud, and he’s the class clown. He’s obnoxious and loud and disrupts everything.  The teach cannot control him; she is afraid and she knows it.  He snatches up my book for no reason, my notes – everything.

I spend my time studying him, making notes of my own.  My dad has started me on my psychology lessons, on big books about Freud and Maslow and more.  Abnormal psych is ahead, as well as some sociology lessons on my own, of my own.  This boy – this ‘class clown’ – is one of them.

I hate him and express it in my notes there.

I hate this class and I hate this school.  Despite testing out with college level reading & comprehension skills, I’ve been placed in a remedial class.  “Dick runs.  See Jane.” That kinda shit.  When I’ve been reading adult level material now for three or four years, including my favorite novel of all time, the “Lord of the Flies”.

How I began to wish I was on that Island.  And I would, one day . . .

tho’ it was just in my mind.

They’ve also put me into advanced math class.  Me! – who cannot divide a fraction to save his life, who doesn’t know anything – I’m missing “math” from the 5th grade on and now they are wanting me to do calculus . . . I’m serious; I can NOT turn a fraction into a decimal or go the other way . . .

My parents suck.

So much was lost during delivery, too – that’s when our “goods” came in: all the stuff we’d entrusted the Army to put into storage during the three years we were gone.  So much is missing!  Most all of my toys, my mom’s Corningware – that kind of stuff.  Even now the adult in me misses my G.I. Joes and the original Apollo ship I’d stole during my North Carolina visit up North . . .

they’d be worth so much money.

My mom says such stuff happens; movers stealing stuff.  But it ain’t right and I don’t like it.

I’m all alone.

Coming in in the middle of school always sux.  But this one is different.

I’ve been going to the Army schools the last three years of my life.  These are much less successful, much more riotous.  Their crowds are so unruly, and they have “teams” and everything – and a gym!  The only one I’d known was on post, and it was open to the G.I.’s.  But this ones different.  For one thing, they have no weight room.  And they have no known organization.  Once a month or so they gather there for something called a “Pep Rally”.  I find it noisy, needless, confusing, a useless waste of time.

I wanna go to the library but they keep kids outta there.  And since so I am so new I’m not allowed to check out books.  Nor later.

But the book mobile comes by our neighborhood every 30 days or so.

That sux, too.

This school sucks

and

my clearest memory of the whole thing is standing outside that great big gray brick building, in the field down low on the hill, staring up; the building surrounded by gray twilight and swirling clouds, and a few students scuttling about

and I hate it.

and I can hate it so thoroughly I want to throw up.

and I hate my life as well.

(back then . . . news from “13”)

 

Back In the ‘Hood . . .


So we’d finally come back from my dad’s overseas tour with the military, arriving in our new (old) neighborhood in style.  We were the envy of the ‘town’ – albeit it be just the dozen or so houses that made up the majority of “the ‘hood” – because we were fresh arrivals from a place that was all but unknown – a figure on a map, a name in their geography books.  Yet we lived in a house that was poor as dirt, and the living conditions weren’t a lot better – not what I’d been used to ‘over there’ (meaning in Germany and the adjacent countries).

Yet I managed to get along just fine – and yet not.  All my old friends were gone.  I was okay with them not being there, yet I longed for my old friend, B.W.  I had my homosexual urges; I took them out on the boy next door.  That was okay, too, for awhile, then he grew tired of me.  That was okay, too . . .

Yet the house I lived in seemed haunted – haunted by ghosts gone past, years gone past.  There was always a particular ‘haunting’ in the room I had – the ‘guest’ room in days gone past, and Sarge’s room, too, I’d rather suspect – but he was killed, dead, by a wheelbarrow coming into the back of his head at high speed.  “Broken neck,” is what they say killed him.

At the very least the house was ‘haunted’ by Mr. M.  And his father, the fat man, who had such great arms he could gather four or five of us kids in his one embrace and lift us all to the ceiling.  A great big fat rolling man, he earned his living laying bricks & building block. His son (Mr. M. I’m gonna keep on calling him) had been my ‘abuser’ at one time, teaching us boys of the ‘hood about sex and things.  I still find it quite shocking he was doing ‘it’ with his younger sister; she was only about four at the time – the time I met her and could have “did it”, too, but didn’t.

But don’t get the wrong idea.  “He” (Mr. M) was about – I dunno – 14? 15? – when we met him the first time.  13 maybe.  But he was our babysitter at one time – I was about 7?  More than once, actually.  He took care of a lot of the kids in the ‘hood.  In more ways than one, if you know what I’m meaning (wink! wink!). Ugh.

We had just moved in and everything was going fine.  (Okay, not school, but I’m saving that for a very different kind of story.)  The house was falling apart – slab floors, the linoleum tiles loosening from the floor every here and there and you had to watch where you stepped or suddenly you’d find yourself scooting on a loose one and sliding across the floor – taking you down with it.  The house was clammy and cold, and it was ‘fall’ – or late fall in the South.  There were baseboard heaters and that was it.

It was weird, looking out the back window into the next yard.  “Mine” I kept on thinking, looking at it.  We had lived there, in that redwood house, for so long, but it was no longer ours.  Now we were renting our neighbors (for that’s how I kept thinking of them – and it).  And I was living in it.  And the house was falling apart – like the neighborhood I’d lived in for so long seemed to be doing.

There across the now-paved once pristine white sandy road lay my ‘friends’ house.  Only there were several of my ‘friends’ living over there, as well as one awesome mother.  She was to be ‘my best friend’ for life; still is.  Just hear from her now and again; not much.  But she’s changed, too . . .

As have her kids.  The youngest one – he’s quite a bit of a daredevil.  The other one, more my age, is built like a brick mansion.  His arms are strong and he lifts weights all day long . . . and apparently he’s begun smoking (or at least his parents – and my mom – are saying so) – and they want me, who is smoking right now (but I’m only 13) – clandestine, of course, but they know – they want me to go and advise him on quitting!

Can you imagine that one.

So I go over there, talk to him one night while he’s lifting weights out in the yard, and he starts – we start – arguing.  He doesn’t believe I’ve been smoking for over a year now, and he isn’t smoking anyway – and he’s angry at me.

We make back up, but there’s always that ‘thing’, some distance between us, as if we’d discovered some deep division between us – a cliff that had formed.  His stepdad was very abusive; I know that hurt and haunted him; their entire family suffered.

I got to watch that, too.

~ 13

Homecoming


Home.  “Home is where the heart is,” they say.

But what if you have no heart? What if it’s dead and buried?

Ripped

“Home is where you are at; wherever you stand.”

That’s I learned moving around so much.  Home is where you hang your hat – whether it be a tent, a house, apartment, or truck.  ‘Home’ is where your stuff is.

Home.

It was early winter, 1973.  We’d finally arrived.  ‘Home’.  Back in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A.  Coming down the gangway stair from the jet to terra firma, solid ground, and not the four thousand miles of ocean we’d just covered . . .

As per custom and sworn duty, I got on my knees and kissed the dirty white tarmac, then looked up, wiping sand from my lips and spitting grit out.  My mom and dad scolded me for doing that as they attempted to herd us toward Customs in a low white hanger.  There wasn’t much – just long white stretches of concrete lined by pine forest, burned jet fuel’s acrid stench wrinkling your nostrils; the shrill scream then thunder of the distant jets laboring airborne, burning off precious gallons of fuel in dark swirls and leaving acrid  haze behind them . . .

My brother and I struggled across the open tarmac towards the building with our carry-on bags, our parents in embracing us like brackets.  I was 13; we’d just arrived from Germany, and the future was a big blank – just like the blank white wall in front me with the man-door.  The straggling line weaved towards it,  passengers in bunches and gathers, separated by social graces and grim tired faces – making a rather unsteady beeline for . . .

CUSTOMS” it said in plain black block letters over the door in English on a white sign.  Like everything military in which I’d spent the last three years of my life . . .

Customs.

Customs were about to change, that was for sure.  My whole world was about to get different. And I knew it.

I had been briefed going in.  We weren’t going to be living in our own house anymore.  That had been sold. Rather, we were going to be living in our next door neighbor’s house – now a rental, and the one . . .

the one . . .

even then my mind had stumbled.  Those last days were a daze in the ‘hood – Mister W gone: dead. Sarge, his trusty sidekick and companion: gone, dead as well.  My entire family, life, and childhood had been upset in a rapid series of transitions.  Things that had gone wrong.  It has been like shock therapy to my mind.  Then the move . . . nearly four years gone . . .

The Hood.

Our car was waiting for us. A family friend – the people who lived across the street from us – had gone to pick it up from Customs.  She squealed her delight and gave me a good hug, Southern style.  She had always been like a second or third ‘mom’, only much more loving and kinder than my own – and also a lot more sympathetic.  Towards everything.

Then:  The Drive . . .

The change in scenery: we had been in winter, here it was like fall. The Southern pines were green and tall, the grass visible, though splotched brown.

Where was the snow?

I was calm, but also upset.  I had had this Dream . . .

The Hood.

The miles rolled under the tires like a tolling bell.  Not many, for the airport off Tobacco Road, not far from our former home.  The sand hills rolled by, decorated in scrub and barrens.  I saw the run down clapboard houses with shingle and metal roofs, a hunkering trailer park, roads lined with trash and weeds . . .

Not at all like the Germany where I’d been twenty-four hours before.

The Hood – the neighborhood I associate with my childhood (between 5 and 10). When I left, it was a single dirt road lined with a few tract houses sheathed in clapboard or siding, or, as with our former house, redwood. Only one had brick, and it was the envy the neighborhood. It was across from ours and belonged to the family which had befriended ours so many years ago.

As we made the turn, our family friend still chatting about the changes ahead, I tried to access what I knew.

Most of my friends (or former friends, anyway) were gone. The army family up the road – friends I had known for years – had followed us overseas, coming to visit us while on duty. They were still gone, would be for another two years. They were the “other Army family” in the ‘hood. The rest were civilian, having lived civilian lives, and would continue to live them for as long as they lived. Others were gone, teens grown up, moved out . . . scattered to the winds.

My best “childhood friend” was gone – they’d moved soon after we’d left.  Their father was dead and I’d heard their mom had gotten a new husband soon after, and they’d went to live somewhere over in South Carolina.  We were going to be living in their house, renting it next door to our old one.   As we pulled in – on a paved road – I could see it.  Gone was the barn where my girlfriend and I had cuddled and kissed after getting ‘married‘ one day. Gone were the relationships. Gone were the ditches where we used to sink in cool sand while water ran in clear sheets around our knees. . .

So the isolation would remain.  The nearest store – a 7/11 – had been built about five miles away. There was a book mobile which would come around about once a month, but it was slim pickings compared to what I was used to – a real library, PX, and a whole lot of freedom.  Gone were the bus and train.  The only ones left – the only ones I played with as a former child – were the kids across the road.

Worst of all:

We were in HIS house – the same house – as the guy who had groomed and sexually abused us kids.  Sure, he was gone . . . but I remembered, him and his little brother,  my former best friend . . . still I didn’t know it was ‘abuse’, but the pain of his final rejection and betrayals still stung, that whole mess  near the end . . .

Gone – but unresolved.  It was still there.  Fresh, like a wound that bleeds that you can’t see.  And it was affecting everything I was, everything I felt, along with everything else I’d experienced.  As it would for years . . . all of it.

Return To The Hood


GermanflagIt was a wet, rainy afternoon at the Frankfort International  Airport. I stood in front of the big wide windows looking at the big jets on the tarmac.  I had lost the required thirty-five pounds (in three months, no less) to get my dog shipped home with me; there was a piece of carry-on luggage, and my family behind me . . .

I was ready to go. I had lost my best friend ever, and was aware that I was going into a great unknown. Sure, my parents had told me we were ‘going home’ – but I just knew everything had changed. It had to . . .

After all, I had changed.  I was heavier – fatter – and I wore glasses now.  I had learned a little something of the world.  I had taken up smoking – a heavier smoker, now, though a pack would still last me a week or two or three . . .

and I’d heard (and met) my old compatriot from the U.S. Army back home – a kid up the street who’s family was Army as well.  They’d come over when we were two years into our tour, and weren’t going to be back home until much later . . .

and things had been in such an uproar when we’d left The Hood before . . . with the death of my best friend (and lover) and his abuser’s (and mine – sexually, that is) dad . . . their family breaking up, poor as dirt mice . . . all that was gone; had to be different, much different . . . but how?

I stared out at a jet, wondering if it was hijacked.  It had been sitting there a long time.  A lot of hijackings were happening about then (it was November, 1973, I am sure of it).  Wondering what lay ahead . . .

I can barely remember my family getting on.  But it was a Lufthansa jet.  Wonderful airline.  I can remember the dinner – filet mignon, chunked roast potatoes, some kind of cheese, and a nice fresh salad – and I gotta beer.  My parents allowed me – almost as a celebration of what we were leaving: Germany, going home, going to the Promised Land where we had been once before, a place where you could drink water out of faucets and there weren’t men peeing publicly (and sometimes the women as well) . . .

I didn’t think about it – and I guess I didn’t know . . . but what lay before me was a tremendous change:

AmericaTown

Going from military schools to civilian ones,
Getting away from the military bases, PX’s, cafeterias, AFEES & more . . .
No more sitting with the G.I.’s outside marching, or singing, while dinner went on . .
No more post theater, library system, reasonable source of transportation, or the rules and regulations that went along with living on a military base overseas during the Cold War – and a military base that dealt in secrets, and secret technology as well . .

Instead I would be arriving in a rural environment, just a few miles from Tobacco Road (of novelist & Southern fame – or infamy).  It was a poor area, poorer than most – even poorer than that of the Tobacco Road crowd – and far from everything – a dirt road last I met it, with a scattering of Craftsman style slab houses (plus a few old farmhouses, mostly falling down) – around it . . .

A place of dirt and poor, ignorance and poorly read, with nary a library – not even a store

Dirtroad

and all my old friends? None of them left?

How was I to know?

I don’t know.

So I ate my meal, my bag stored overhead – and enjoyed it.  It was quite good, and Lufthansa seemed to put on a special flight just for me – until the kid behind me threw up in his seat . . .

and so I had to ride with the smell of vomit in my nose, a decent steak setting in my abdomen, and the silver clouds drifting by below as the moonlight – the moon was riding full and bright – with the occasional dark glimpse of the ocean . . .

and we arrived.

I couldn’t tell you much about that – the brief kiss (custom) – when getting off the gangplank – where you get down on your knees and with much gratitude and love kiss the ground you are thankfully! – finally! – soundly!  on . . . then marching over to Customs to make your “I don’t declare anything” declarations, the open bags; the searching & rifling through, the hand passing you on . . .

gathering your things . . . into the airport, a new beginning, a rental car . . .

and we are going home.

In twenty-four hours my life had changed from what I’d known . . . into something new. Something alien and different again, only in a big way.

And I’d be living here for a very long time . . .

I sighed, shouldering my suitcase across my back, and heading for the taxi cab . . . hoping this ride would be fun . . . and filled with dread . . .

For we were going back to my old neighborhood . . . and would not be living in our old house.

Instead we were renting the house next door.

The house my abuser had lived in.  My friend, my lover and betrayer, and the one who had hurt me so much in the end . . .

Escape


It was freezing night, a silver sliver of a moon showing through scattered rents in the racing clouds.  Streetlights threw yellow rays across slushy streets, and stark trees threw spidery silhouettes across the road.  We were walking the deserted streets from dependent’s housing section to the base’s amenities area, my family and I, surrounded by the impersonal military buildings, each with an identifying number, and some by symbols on the signs they wore.  We were on our way to see a movie.

What movie, I can’t recall.  It was on Fleigerhorst, a small military base.  It had it’s own little PX, an old theater, and a cafeteria for enlisted soldiers and people like me: dependents, brought with their father as part of his own army while he served the one we all worked for – in one way or another.  All part of earning a paycheck and doing duty to God, Country, and more . . . a tradition we’d been steeped in since I’d been born.

There wasn’t much to do – no internet, no TV, and only one radio station – but we still found things to do.  I ‘played’ with the G.I.’s, was in Scouts; we met in bunkers, and school dragged on, albeit on a different base.  I commuted on one of those old green shuttle buses, slugging through the crunch snow in the morning, coming back in slush in the afternoon . . . and god forbid you were too late for the last bus. It was a long walk from one base to another, though they had plenty of biking paths.

I had already gotten into trouble once about the theater by going to see “The Yellow Submarine”.  My parents had forbidden it.  They hated the  Beetles, didn’t like rock and roll, and were very conservative.  The only music they listened to was “Mystic Moods” (easy listening) and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Band.  I had gotten beaten for going to the movie but I didn’t care.  I’d been beaten so much it didn’t matter.  I was tough, used to them.  It was just another in a long string of ‘spankings’ – all my life.  It seemed normal.  I was used to having my ass pounded.  The trick was hiding it all.  My sense of self. The things I’d done – and was still doing.  And the crimes I’d committed, whatever they were (or were perceived to be) at the time.

But it didn’t matter.  During the “Yellow Submarine” the theater had caught fire.  It was a matinee so the G.I’s weren’t there – they were at work, which is how I managed to get there without my father knowing.  Us kids were sitting there in the semi-darkness when smoke began to billowing out from the bottom corner of the screen, and there were low red flickers behind it.  Us kids shifted restlessly; we were waiting for the movie.  Then a voice came on the PA saying “Stay in your seats! There is no cause for alarm.  The theater is on fire and we have it under control.”

I wasn’t dumb.  I sat there thinking this is a classic nightmare (I’d read enough books to know) – where the theater actually was on fire! – and here all us kids were just calmly sitting eating our popcorn and watching the smoke pour around the screen while the red glow grew brighter.  No panic, no popcorn throwing – just rows of quiet kids watching the scene.  Only in the Army would you see that.  In the civilian world there’d been a riot, people trampling each other as they raced to the doors . . .

But not us.  We were Army kids. We wanted our seventy-five cents worth.  We wouldn’t run until we saw the flames were higher than us.  But . . . true to their word they got the fire put out, we watched the Beetle movie, smelling acrid smoke.  I was happy, but puzzled.  I could not figure out why this movie was forbidden.  It didn’t make sense – the ban, not the cartoon, though the cartoon made little sense either.  However, I came home smelling of smoke and talking about the fire. Bad news: my parents knew what was showing, so I got my beaten and restricted again.  Another few days in my room. (sighing)

But this time it was an ‘approved’ movie.  The whole family was going.

We trudged through the snow and slush to the theater . . . saw some movie . . . and then when we came out I rushed over to the cafeteria and spent some of my own hard earned money for an ice cream.  Walking out to the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria I encountered my dad.  He stood there staring at me.  Then he walked up and with a scornful look snatched the cone from me and dashed it into the trash.

“If you can’t buy enough for everyone you can’t have one,” he said as I looked with horror at the pristine, brand new ice cream planted upside down in the garbage.

And I broke down and cried.

Because here’s the thing:

I had been taught and trained – it had been enforced and beaten into me over and over again: you don’t waste food. Not ever! – not a single crumb.  It’s an issue still for me, big time.  I have a hard time controlling myself when someone wastes food.  Why?

Well, when dad went to Vietnam, or overseas, or TDY, we’d go from thick to thin in a hurry.  Food was . . . hard to come by.  Hunger was an issue.  Money was thin.  I had to work for every dime I had, hauling trash and such.  Why?  Because he would give all his money away! – to missionaries to look good, and whores when he thought they weren’t looking.  With the former he was trying to feed his ego; with the second his selfish self wants – while we went without and he knew it.  Lord knows my mom knew how to complain (and we got the brunt of it, him not being there).  We were not with him.  We were a thousand miles, if not half a world away and more.

Why should he care? Except in a most superficial, distant way . . . the way he often cared for us when he was home – or not ‘disciplining’ us according to his needs . . .

As a result my mom always – always – fought to make ends meat, and barely succeeded. He would fight about her getting more education, fought about it when she had a job.  He wasted money at every turn of a dime.  It go so bad when he was away that sometimes our neighbors would come just to make sure we had food.

Meanwhile dad ate steaks – sometimes in front of us – and ate good.  He never knew a day of hunger and he kept his sweet tooth fed.  Sometimes he would eat steak while the rest of us had plain boiled hotdogs. No buns. Boiled in thin tomato soup, served up on noodles.

And that night that was cold as a freezing moon I ‘felt’ something ‘in me’ change . . . harden a little bit more.


I’ve seen the movie “Hunger Games”, me and my wife.  I wasn’t impressed.

I guess it’s hard to gain an impression of that lifestyle when you’ve lived one as a kid, courtesy of the United States Army and a few other folks.

I grew up in a wartime culture, as lot of my peers did: steeped in the consequences of Vietnam, our father’s fresh from the horror of Korea (and the PTSD symptoms that followed – at the time unrecognized, but visited upon their kids and immediate family sometimes).

I well remember the hunger games.  The real ones.  The ones that WE played – for real.

Kids, gathered or ganged, platooned or assigned, guardian and guerrilla – we came in all kinds, and all kinds of us had our own specialties.  We’d gather in squads or platoons in the woods under the guidance of some counselors, be they military men or civilian, it really didn’t matter.  I even had a Scout Master – Colonel R., from the time I was 14 or so until I grew up and went into the military myself.

We were all a bunch of Army kids – always ‘fighting’, often playing war.  Our Scouts skills consisted of learning a bunch of survival; our overseas training, even more.*

Often the ‘award’ from such a fight was a can of C-Rats – C-Rations, to you civilian folks.  The favorite was fruit cocktail, pound cake (in a can) fell behind as a distant second.

A stack of “Silver Bullets” co-offered by some counselor (gathered from us, of course!) – would be enough for a reward.

To the spoils goes the victor.

They would set the “goody” somewhere (perhaps), divide us into battle groups (divisions, platoons – squads).  Generally the ‘armies’ were divided evenly, but not always.  Sometimes the ‘smart’ kids would be given the little kids to fight with – and the other team would be a lot of big boys.

Very big boys indeed.

I remember laying curled face down in a ravine, knees against my chest as dozens of kids, charging, dove across the ravine, their heels hammering along my spine and ribs.  I served as kind of a footbridge for a lot of them, or so it seemed.  Not that I was there for that, mind you!  I was a spy, and these were my enemies.  They had come up the hill (stealthily, you know), but I had ‘a-spyed’ them, lurking through the bushes, taking little ‘rushes’ from cover to cover, and had sent my young ‘aid’ a runner, about an eight year old kid (I was 14) to go and fetch help, give warning, do something.  Assemble the troops or whatnot.  Set off the alarm.  For I wasn’t the commander – just an infiltrator into enemy territory seeking a few goals.

Often the rules were uneasy.  You were allowed to hurt other kids – but not too badly.  Nothing that needed first aid (and we’re talking here in the serious days, where a small burn or scratch would get you a look of contempt were you to bring it to their attention, much less whine about it.  Kids today are so ‘tender’ . . . but there again, I had such a high pain tolerance (gee, wonder where that came from?  LOL!)

We “played” hard for that little treat, that can of syrupy sweetness, all swathed in green . . . O.D. green, that is, the color of war and canvas.  (How I like the smell of fresh tinted canvas – that military ‘stuff’, thick, green, and sturdy . . . there’s something about it that says . . . something.  Like ‘welcome home’, somewhat . . .)

I remember (and now this was in my older days, when I was 16 and had learned a lot about survival – and torturing folks) – we caught a kid.

He was from the other team, and he knew where in these deep woods (bounded by a highway and stream on one side, a tremendous lake on the other, bordered by woods and mud, and cut-through with ravines like an old man’s face . . .)

So I had him – or rather my helpers – tie him up.

At the first they were amazed when I took his shoe laces and wrapped them tight around his thumbs.  I tied a noose-knot, one that wouldn’t come unbowed, and would tighten whenever he drew it.

And then I showed them how . . .

to tie him up (to a stump) – and then to torture him . . .

without ever leaving a mark.

(That’s kinda funny, seeing as his name INDEED was Mark; Mark T. is all I’ll say for his own protection here . . .)

He had been boggle eyed and incredulous when I had tied him by his thumbs, sneering and saying:  “I’ll get out in no time!”  He was sure of himself, and that he could break those shoe laces.

While he was struggling with his bounds, I turned to my ‘men’ and began telling them – rather, teaching them what to do.

“We’re gonna tickle him,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  He was sweating now, and his thumbs were hurting – I could seem them turning blue.

He, overhearing that, stopped struggling (whilst I went over and loosen his thumb braces a bit there) – and laughed again.

“Tickle me?!!”  He barked a laugh again.  “That’ll never work!  You can’t hurt me, you know!  Not really.”  And he smiled with a show of self-satisfaction, and leaned back, confident.

I smiled grimly.

He knew little of what was coming.

Turning to my three or four young charges, I looked over my team and said:

“Like this.”

And we began.  We all took turns in tickling him – him bound against the rough bark of an old (and somewhat soggy) tree stump, and those kids taking turns tickling his ribs, and up under his chin – using every trick in the book, even leaves and soft branches.  We had his shoes off, so his foot soles were bared.  At first he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then he couldn’t stop crying.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from peeing himself.

While we all stood around laughing at him he gave us the information we need . . .

Such is the fate, and the victor’s spoils.

He was only a little younger than me, by a year or two.   After ‘extracting’ our information (and me having two swift young runners go back bearing the news, by different ways should one of them get caught) – we found their camp and made havoc on them, taking care not to snap any of their tent poles, but otherwise ‘destroying’ their tents, and pity he who left a bit of food laying out . . . we would take it, every last drop and crumb . . .

Hunger games.

Yeah.

I’ve played them.

.

.

*We were being ‘trained’ to be infiltrators and ‘helpful little hands’ (in some terms guerrillas) for NBC war.  Those skills included, but were not limited to, learning to fire the minigun from a Cobra’s co-pilot seat using a HUD.  Just in case too many Army pilots got wounded . . . during a nuclear war.

The Girlfriend

“You wanna go together?”

“Huh?”, I said, not understanding the question.

“Girlfriend and boyfriend. You wanna be my boyfriend?”

I looked at her, a mushroom shaped girl with long dark hair draped below her shoulders. Her face was fat, a bit like mine, and she sat on a low bench, scuffing her feet in the schoolyard dirt of the playground.

She was fat, like me. I had gained a lot of weight during my trip to this ‘new’ land. The food was great, and the pastries to die for. There was lots of candy in my diet – I was used to doing a lot of work now, hustling to get jobs, anything where I could earn some money. I cut grass. I watched kids. I hauled garbage on a predetermined schedule – and this was back in the old days before plastic bags, and they put everything into paper. Paper could bust out and drop everything on eight sets of stairs; I had learned to be careful.

I thought about it. I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about ‘sex’ – I’d done some reading, too. One of the most valuable books I’d found was in the school library: “Everything A Boy Needs to Know About Sex” – and it pretty much covered it. I read the Girl’s version, too. I wanted to be sure I knew both sides, including their point of view.

Those books were pretty good, too – a lot better than the coach we had, the one who taught sex education in the basement. It looked like the boiler room: dim and dark, stacked with pipes and dark shapes running this way and that, the boys stacked wherever they could fit in the darkness. The coach sat in the middle (it was a poorly lit place, that’s a matter of fact!) and made a few raunchy jokes – just one or two – and set in with a five minute explanation of everything, as if that should cover it. In his mind, anyway. He sort of expected us to know and we did. So for the next thirty minutes or so we sat there – there was a lot of joking, nothing to be done, sat around and then got outta there.

That was the extent of the Army’s ‘to-the-point’ explanation of a sexual education. If you couldn’t get it on the run, you weren’t going to get it anyway else.

So I’m looking this girl in the eye, trying to wrap my head around my feelings – and I don’t have any, not really, not for her. But I’m lonely and bored. Lonely, in a way. I’ve got three months or so left to go (more or less) before we’re shipping Stateside (back home! My other way of life! If anything is left . . . providing dreams don’t come true . . .)

“Okay,” I say, my voice guarded. “I’ll be your boyfriend.”

Because, to put it quite simply, I am not sure. Cultures are always changing – people are in and out of my life like roses, blooming and fading – and I’m not sure how this ‘relationship’ will go. I’ve been bitten and burned by quite a few of them. I’ve lost all of my friends. Either we or they have all moved away . . . But what else are we to do?

Her name is Debbie, by the way (a wonderful coincidence later, you’ll see. Much later, in one of the stories I’m going to be writing.)

She’s a fat girl, just like me.

And lonely, too.

Her friends have all ‘moved’, she’s a short-timer, too. I had just lost my best-ever friend, DB. Later on I learned it was in part due to a betrayal by my father. I was lonely and bored. No one knew me, nor I them, and no one gave a damn. I hung out at the youth center, or in the bunkers, or over at the airport where the spying went on – hanging out, getting into things then getting out again. There was a lot of ‘snooping and pooping’ with the G.I.’s out in the field, plus our ‘games’ and training in the bunkers. There were several beneath the airport, and we became quite big fans of theirs.

Anyway, here’s this girl, asking me out to something . . .

I guess it was more in name than in something else; love (or even ‘like’) that is, if there were remotely any feelings involved. I didn’t love her, not at all – nor, I think, did she, I. I was something for her to hit on and hang onto – something to take up our time.

Having not had much experience with other kids (they kept on moving, shifting around) – she and I became a partners in the ‘permanent’ scene for awhile – going to the Youth Center, touring the woods, until someone gave up or someone had to fly. I think it was her, transferred back to ‘here’ (the good ol’ U.S. of A). A lot of my friendships (and acquaintances – and enemies) came to an end like that: all of a sudden, with the brute force of an Army Officer’s call (or some kind of Orders, anyway).

So we hung out together – bored in school, sitting around, that kind of stuff. There wasn’t a lot of romantic ‘kissing’ going on. There wasn’t any kissing altogether, not for a long time, not until

The Castle.

We went on a trip, one we had to get our parent’s permissions for. It was for a 3 day trip to a castle where we would be staying courtesy of some sort of Christian Fellowship. I didn’t know about the Christian thing until I got there and discovered this was the source (or one of the sources) of all those little religious pamphlets or “cartoons” that I kept discovering. Sometimes one would find one in airports, or in some restroom – they kept a pile of them by some cash registrars sometimes – and always there were ‘funny’ in some horrible tragic kind of way, featuring some goon or loser getting his just dues, maybe sent to Hell (or some other kind of eternal damnation) – then getting Saved (or else going on into Hell anyway). We liked them because they were kinda funny – in a way. Christ was always the Savior. I found them corny – one I remember featured a boy propped against a wall, smoking. I had been smoking for some time . . .

But Debbie and I had been planning this thing for a long time – or it seemed like a long time for kids like us. About three weeks or so I guess . . .

And so it was that her brother (and her BIG brother I’m talking about, mind you!) took it into his head to remind me that we were NOT to “do” anything with his sister (and this is his “little” sister, mind you, so he’s especially protective) – or he’s gonna “whip my ass.”

Fine, I’m thinking, because I’m not planning on “doing” anything or going there (though I probably would, had the opportunity presented itself). I’d already had sex on my mind. I had since I was eight or so.

So we go on this field trip with her.

And it’s a wonderful place, this old castle and all – and we’re given a tour of it, Debbie and I hand in hand, and they assign us segregated sleeping quarters (a long hallway with a bunch of bunks on either side) and/or a “day room” to ‘play’ in.

Now this day room is kinda cool. It’s in the center of a tower, or an old turret, so the room is kind of round and all, and there’s tall windows letting the light in – nice, big windows – and there’s a hidden circular stairway in the middle goes to the top of the castle turret through a square hole with a trapdoor . . . Nobody goes up in that dark old hidey-hole . . .

Except us.

So we do.

Eventually we end up making out – going on top of the turret where she shows me how to ‘do’ things (like rubbing her breasts, which were, I guess, just kinda budding – kinda hard to tell when you’ve got a fat girl there) – and she has me stick my tongue in her mouth, right between her teeth (something that I hadn’t realized, since it wasn’t covered in the book I’d read). So . . . I went along with it . . . but memories of her brother kept popping in my head.

But it was quite beautiful there on the turret in the spring air. And my friend taught me to play cards as well – “War”, it was called, the first card game ever I learned with standard playing cards. I ate my first ‘raw’ egg there – or rather, it was undercooked, or at least by ‘my’ standards (and my momma’s, so therefore I had judged it underdone) – and it was one of the best eggs I ever ate in my life. Boiled, and slightly done, cracked in butter and a whole lot of salt – stir it up . . .

yummm.

But we spent a lot of time in that turret . . . in the darkness under the trap door, groping, fondling, finding one another, not that a lot went on . . .

and discovering the beautiful countryside from on high, between the stones of the turret,

I found a little peace and beauty, holding hands with a girl who wouldn’t cry when I left her.

The Omph-Pah Band


I had a choice of an elective, one of the few choices I had, being a twelve year old Army brat stationed on a base overseas.  “Home Eck”, ‘something sports’, or join the band.   However, as I said, choices were limited and even those were whittled down by the parents, peers, and doctors I had.

“You can’t play basketball – you might fall,” my parents had said, based upon an Army doctor’s advice.  Nor could I play football – or even climb trees! – or run, jump, or do anything but walk and swim.  Walking – I’d done a lot of that! – going on 20 kilometer marches, sometimes with a backpack, and climbing trees?  I still did it as best I could.  But the doctors had forbidden me any decent physical activity a boy of twelve or thirteen might have.

It was my knees, of course – those worrisome, troublesome things that hurt and ached and swelled up like grapefruit at times.  The doctors were so interested in them that they kept x-raying them every month or so.  It’s a wonder they don’t glow.  It took them six months to diagnose the problem, and there was a bone tumor as well.  They had to ship the x-rays overseas – back to the USA – then wait for a reply afterwards.   And then they proclaimed their ban.

Home Ec – “Home Ick” to us boys – was a girl sport, one which I or any boy would have been horrified to be in.  Plus my mom had already taught me how to sew and cook a bit; I made up my room, cleaned – the whole bit.  Not to mention my father would have been as horrified – if not more – than the little boys my age, had I shown such a desire to sign up for such a course.

So there was only one thing left: the school band.  Military schools – even army ones run by civilian principles and guarded by some really weird teachers – had those.  Or at least most did.  While the schools were consistent, the courses weren’t – some ahead or way behind, some far, some near . . .

You could find me tripping (knees made me unsteady) reading a book in one hand while navigating between classes; a book on the table while I ate, or a book neatly tucked into another book so I could pretend to read one thing while reading something else.  I was an avid reader, gobbling novels down.  I used to go to the base libraries (when I could) and rob them –  huge stacks at a time.  That’s where my love of reading really blossomed and grew.  By the time I was 17 I had read every science fiction book I could get my hands on.  Anywhere.  So I had to give them up.

“What instrument do you want to play?” my parents asked when I announced my decision (such as it was).  It wasn’t the first time I’d played an instrument (besides those little recorders  in elementary school – though the teacher usually handed me the tiny cymbals nobody wanted.  She didn’t want me, too.).   I thought about it for a moment – just a moment – then I said:

“I wanna play the tuba.”

(Now, at a later date, I wish I’d been much smarter and gone with a violin – or flute – or harmonica instead.  Something I could haul in my back pocket rather than this big old brass tube I’d have to hang around my head!)

“The tuba?  Why?” they asked quizzically.  After all, it’s not the most ‘normal’ instrument to want to play.  But I had my heart set on it.  I loved those big bass tones, that thumbling subsonic under-roar that accompanied most bands.  That deep bass tone drew me like a charm.  To my credit, I also liked the kettle drums – but imagine hauling those around!  At least with a tuba I could play in a marching band . . . something I was to discover later on.

And so I got it – and as I found out, it was easier to play than say, a trumpet or French horn.  The mouth piece was huge by comparison, and suited my misjoined lip from an accident I’d had.  The French horn was tight – you had to pinch your lips together so hard! – and my lip made it difficult to operate the reed on a woodwind (or so I was told).

All would have been wonderful, had it not been for one lad – a black boy, my age, who hated whites with a passion – and who had been there for some time, and resented this white interloper who sat in the class beside him.  He, too, played the “Sousaphone” as the marching band version of a tuba is known – and made my life torture in that class.  Our teacher, too, was black, but I didn’t mind.  He was a good guy.  But that boy taught me all about racism, that’s for sure.  However, that  for another story about how racism can be taught by those who are prejudiced against you, because it was never an issue in my own home.  Not even back then.  We were all Army and the only color was green.

And so it was that I joined the Omp-Pah! band, and the school?  They gave me a Sousaphone to take home to practice on.  This in military apartments.  And truth be told, I loved making “Chicken Heart” sounds from an old Bill Cosby story (about a  “Chicken Heart”, of course).  How our apartment neighbors stood it! – the “OOOMMMMPPP! . . . . PPPPPAAAAAAA!!!!” rattling their walls . . . but then again those old World War Two German barracks had some mighty thick walls . . . .

Time went on – I stayed in this school almost all year (joining late) – Mz. McManus would become a steady threat – I became more  bewildered – and then hateful towards my fellow tuba partner – and I joined the symphony band – playing concerts for the G.I.’s late at night (yes, a real tuba, sitting in my lap and all) – enjoying the show their kids put on . . .

The Dick Knot


“It’s a dick knot,” the boy was explaining to me, swinging it in loose circles between his fingers.  Then he threw out a challenge.  “Nobody has been able to untie it.  If you can – ,” his eyes rolled towards the gray fall sky, “you’d be the very first one to do it.”

I examined the thing.  I had come across it while wandering the playground – a small one on a small base we were on.  This was the last base we would be on; after this we would be going back overseas.  Stateside. We were far from being “short” (that is with only a short time to go) but we could sense a change over the far horizon.  Only about a year left to go . . .

I sighed, taking the knot.  It was huge, the size of a soccer ball, tied in a rope which hung from a massive tree on the playground’s edge .  Facing us was a row of identical apartment buildings, each five stories tall, with identical windows, balconies, and curtains.  The upper floors were more desired, but no one wanted the top one.  That was for “transients” – people who were either coming or going – and consisted of a long hallway the two stairwells, with eighteen identical rooms with 18 identically slanted roofs.  They each had dormer windows.  There’d be a room with a stove and a W.C., but there was no way of locking the doors at the end of the hallway.  As a result kids would occasionally run through, playing chase or escaping foes while a family was cooking dinner or going about their business up there.

Around me stood the playground – one slide, two teeter-tooters, and not much else.  There was, however, the eternal jungle-gym which haunted every playground – a huge cube constructed of pipe iron, set into smaller cubes.  The ends were joined with plain crosses and fittings, and if you fell through – woe to the child who did! – you would crash through all that iron, maybe breaking a bone or your head.

There was another playground once, on another base.  The way the military constructed their toys back then – this time one took off a girl’s fingers – almost took her entire hand – chewing it up in the center pivot of a merry-go-’round they had made out of old sheet iron, a post and some fittings.

But this dick knot – I studied the knot, then looked up.  The rope was tied high on a distant branch.  Looking down, I picking at the knot.

I was about twelve and we’d already been “here” (overseas in Cold War Germany) for two years.  I was tired of moving, the constant changing of schools and ‘friends’.  I appreciated this move – we were on an air corps base now, where my dad belonged and worked.  I had just arrived this afternoon, and dark came early in late autumn.  The rope was easily an inch plus some in diameter, stiff and strong.  I fought the tag end, finding where it looped under a tight coil, and began unraveling.  It was harder than it looked.  The kid who had been encouraging me suddenly turned wandered off . . .

I stood toiling.  Below my feet was sand.   I had become used to kids wandering off – disappearing in and out of my life until it was just a blur in my head.  Not knowing, I was depressed.  I felt it, but didn’t know the word for the situation I was in.  After all, life seems ‘normal’ while you’re living it.  It isn’t until you get to the end that people tell you it wasn’t so . . .

We were on the ‘outskirts’ of the main military bases around Hanau, a region in Germany.  Isolated from the other ones by about five miles through ‘Krautland‘.  There was a shuttle bus that ran from one base to another – old civilian Bluebirds converted to military use, and our school buses in the winter.  Now I was five miles from school, and I’d have to get up even earlier to get on, whereas before I’d lived right across from the school on Old Argonner.

I looked around.  There was no one in sight.  I felt lonely, tired, and bored.  It was best to stay out of the apartment while my mom got things settled, and she’d shooed me outside, telling me “go out, explore!”.  I was beginning to make progress . . .

There was no one around me when I had begun, but after awhile a few kids came up.

“What have you done?!” one of them exclaimed, almost in horror, as the last few kinks in the knot fell away.  “You unraveled the dick knot!”  He came up and grabbed the rope from my hand, glancing between it, me and his companions.  He looked frustrated, looking up at the tree.  “Now we can’t swing on it!”

I felt confused.

“What?” I asked.

“Dumbass,” the kid said, thrusting the rope back at me.  The other two kids (there were three of them) glowered at me expressively.  “Tie it back.  TIE IT BACK!”

Somewhat alarmed, I began redoing the knot again while looking him.

“I thought – someone told me – that this knot needed undone – ,” I feebly protested.  It was going to take a little while – the knot had been huge.

“No it didn’t.  It’s for riding this thing.”  And with that he shook the rope, making my task a little bit harder.

After I’d gotten done, then he showed me how – and why it was called a “dick knot”.

“You ride it like this,” he said, grabbing the rope and jumping up, putting the large knot behind his butt.  The rope disappeared between his legs in the front.  Then he bounced against the tree – feet first – told us to stand back, and took off.

Shoving himself hard with his feet, he spun around in circles while going around the tree.  “Thunk!” – his feet came down on the trunk just as the rope got too short to support another go-around.  Then he took off again, only this time in the other direction.  Shooting past his original starting point, the rope coiling around the tree – his spinning on that knot – then his boots came down on the trunk again; the rope was all wound up, ready to go again, and he did.

“The trick is!,” he yelled as he spun around, “to come down with your feet!”  And with that he smacked his shoulder in the tree as he attempted to turn around.  He winced, fell, and stood rubbing his shoulder.  As I watched another kid got on.

“The trick is: who can get the most go-arounds while you’re going around the tree,” he said, pointing at the kid who had replaced him.  “One-two-three-four – ,” the kid smashed, back first, into the tree’s rough bark, and he groaned, falling to the ground.

“Ouch,” he said, standing up and rubbing his back.

I stood and watched for awhile.

Then after awhile, they left.

Then I tried it on my own.

It grew to be one of my most favorite things – spinning and twirling around that trunk.  I’d go for hours and hours.  I got good at it after getting busted up a few times – sometimes good! – and I’d taken my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises – but I loved it!  The sensation of flying through the air at speed, the world whirling and spinning around you – the perfect (and careful) timing that was required.  I got to where I would win those ‘contests’ – where you had to get off if you messed up on the landing – going around and around until my audience would get tired.  I kept testing my limits – how wide I could take off, how many rolls I could complete before having to come in for a landing – until the other kids learned it was useless in challenging me.  And I’d be far off in my head – thinking about back home, thinking about the woods; the ‘games’ we played ‘playing’ war – our fears and desires and the great unknown, back home, waiting over that far horizon.

Berlin: 1972 – Behind the Red Wall


We weren’t supposed to go to Berlin.  The Army forbade it.  They were afraid due to my dad’s job and security rating the Reds might kidnap us and hold us for “intel” ransom – therefore any trip to, from, or through a Warsaw Pact country was strictly forbidden.  This held true for a lot of dependents, something we were constantly aware of.  After all, the enemy was “right over there” with their forbidden chemical weapons, atomic bombs, and engines of war.  Just as we were.  At least one base I know had atomic warheads – and in my late research I found an entry by a G.I. that confirmed it.  And I’m quite sure those were Pershing missiles I saw cruising through our neighborhoods – packed on the back of some old flatbed semis, and covered with green canvas.

But somehow my dad wrangled it – he was good at getting his way sometimes.  He held a position of mid-level power in the field where he worked, a Chief Warrant Officer – WO3 or 4, I believe.  And he was always doing things – strange things, like taking off for a week or so – or months at a time (after we’d come back to the United States) – and the oddest thing of all was how career-wise he didn’t seem to deserve it – though I suppose he did.  However, he had quite a few bad marks on his record during his first decade or so of beginning his career with the Army, including getting locked up in the psych ward on an isolated island where they kept “people like him” away from the general world.  They were often considered too violent – or messed up – to even associate with the Army.  So they kept him locked up for a year after Korea, plus he had numerous complaints and dings on his record, as well as a reputation for backstabbing and random betray (because he could, he said, explaining why he screwed over my best friend’s dad) . . .

And before I knew it I got the news, and we were on a train bound for West Berlin – “the free country” within an enemy state; an isolated segment of the country, like an infection locked within the enemy’s side – for a tourist trip.

I’ll never forget that ride . . .

The German trains were always on time, clean, and friendly.  The coaches were warm, even while the snow fell outside and our breath fogged the windows.  Sometimes when you’d go to the “W.C.” (the bathroom) when you ‘flushed’ you’d see a trapdoor open up under your turd and it would drop out on the ties flipping by – toilet paper strewn, sometimes, especially near the cities . . .

But the dining cars! – the rich thick coffee, bordering on expresso, souped up on caffeine cut with sugar (and heavy on the creamer, please!) – confined to walking the narrow isles of the train watching the landscape go by – the cold blustery winds on the platforms between trains (when there was not a ‘tube’ joining them) – cheeks red like apples while tears frosted in our eyes . . .

But this trip was a little bit different.  For one thing, we had to have our passports.  For another thing, the soldiers got on.

These were the East German soldiers – grim faced men, all of them frowning, running up and down the corridors with Uzi’s in their hands.  Their uniforms were strange to me . . .

We had come to a stop in the middle of the night.  I, asleep in my bunk, was awaken by some commotion and the lack of movement.   I could hear gruff voices in the corridor beyond the wall, and my mom sat up, looking shaken.

“It’s just the East Germans,” she said, opening the door a crack.  This was when I watched the soldiers running by.  They passed, checking the train (but mostly putting on a show, I was to later learn – to impress the Westerners with how tough they were).  They passed, and we moved on . . .

Berlin.

What can I say?  Kennedy went there – and declared himself a doughnut.  Comes from not knowing the language, I know – but when he said “Ich ist ein Berliner!” he was saying he was a doughnut – since a Berliner was a specific type of cream puffed pastry there – however, the Germans understood what he was trying to say – tthey are very good – and tolerant of our attempts at their language – and they applauded him, if not for nothing else than the fact he was trying . . .

We saw the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, and the museum that was there.  There was an old car with more bullet holes than Swiss cheese, and lot of stories about people who had come over, through, or under the wall – and even more poignantly, those who didn’t make it.

I saw that wall – high, hugging a neighborhood in the distance – blank windows, all bricked up, the dragon’s teeth in the ‘no-man’s land’, curling barbed wire . . . knew there were sensors (and mines, it was rumored); there were the East German sentries staring (hard again, as usual) back at us – the curious milling civilian crowd, for the East German wall and Checkpoint Charlie were tourist checkpoints as well – places to go if you were going to see Berlin – and we did.

After that – indeed, during that trip a feeling of sympathy began growing in my heart towards these people, the East Germans across the wall.  You could see – practically smell! – how gray and hard, how restricted, regulated it was.  There were very few people, if any, that I could see.  The buildings were all either brown or grey.  There was none of the color and glamor of West Berlin.  Just what seemed a dismal dull and somewhat lifeless city ‘over there’ that the people who lived there were desperate to be rid of.  But there was nothing they could do – they were powerless – and so was I.  And so I read their stories – wished them luck, wistfully wished that I could help them . . .

and we left East Germany behind.