Uncategorized

9

Camp Shelby

Early Fall, 2005

Finally, some good news came.  My doctor managed to make an appointment for me to go and get an MRI in late September.  This was another hard-fought victory, and a solid piece of news that once again helped to boost my morale and repair my faith in the system ever-so-slightly.

I was also still on an emotional high since my visit to JAG.  For the first time, I felt that I had a measure of protection from the people who wanted to simply smack me down.  I wasn’t sure if the lawyer really did want to follow up on the other things that went on with the unit, but at least I finally had somebody represent me.  That alone helped to snap me out of my angry rut and compel me to keep being a decent guy.

But then Hurricane Katrina hit, and that unruly bitch wrecked up my plans almost as much as she wrecked up our coast.

*****

Maj. Dwyer informed us that the 40th PAD would be going to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where we would be responsible for sending out press releases and covering the hurricane relief efforts.  It was another TDY that had no definite end date, which meant that if I had to go, I would have to cancel my MRI appointment.  I begged Maj. Dwyer to simply leave me out of it, but she said it was out of the question.  I told her that if she did this, there was a chance that I would not be able to get an MRI again for months, and maybe even not at all if we kept hopping up and going to different installations like we were.

Maj. Dwyer was not moved.

Not only did Maj. Dwyer volunteer our unit for their third TDY in year, but she also saw this as an excellent opportunity to duck out and attend an officer’s school herself.  Not only did she make me cancel an appointment I had waited half a year to get, but she also left me to fend for myself with two people who were going to do whatever they could to prevent my medical discharge.  This wasn’t about me being essential to the mission.  This was about her not having to bother with the situation.  This was a cheap trick to run away from the problem and deal with it later.

How could I see this as anything but a betrayal?

****

Somehow, I ended up with driving duties in one of the two vans when we were heading out to Camp Shelby.  Those who know me know that I love to play DJ, so I focused on playing all of my most abrasive albums (especially the Sex Pistols, who I knew she hated).  I was going to try and get a rise out of SSG McDonald in any way I could.  I knew she would be on edge from having to separate from her daughter, so my plan was to show Maj. Dwyer and the rest of the army how crazy this woman was.

About halfway through our trip, we started to encounter swarms of flying insects that are known as ‘lovebugs’ where I am from.  They have a horrible tendency of splattering and smearing on a windshield, and are quite difficult to remove without some intense scrubbing once their guts dry.  When we made a stop for fuel, I discovered that was a special formula of windshield cleaner for these bugs, so I bought a couple of bottles to clean our vehicles.

While I was pumping gas, SSG McDonald began spraying the windshield of the van furiously with the windshield cleaner.  The wind was rather strong that afternoon, so while she was spraying, the wind blew some into my eyes.  I involuntarily blurted out something like “Ow” or maybe “Ahhh,” something monosyllabic and not quite a word.  SSG McDonald completely freaked out.  She stormed over to me and got directly in my face.

“What the fuck did you say?” she demanded.

My instincts flared up.  I thought we were about to fight.  She was my height, she was my build, and she had her shoulders squared.  As calmly as I could, I drew in my breath and gritted my teeth.

“You got bug spray in my eye, sergeant, and I said ouch.”

She glared at me long and hard.  I could see a nervous twitch in her eye, and I was beginning to wonder if she was going to take a swing at me.

“Don’t you say another fucking word to me,” she growled.

“Roger that, sergeant,” I said, holding eye contact until she broke it off.

*****

Randell was riding shotgun in our van, with Camp being the only other person willing to ride along.  Camp was still my friend, but he was never going to do anything that went against the structure of the army.  As such, I really couldn’t count on him to do anything other than what he was currently doing, which was silently supporting me by sticking close by.

I always appreciated his professionalism, by the way, and I still do.

But Randell hated SSG McDonald, so he played along with my plan to drive her crazy.  He even put on the Sex Pistols a second time, and I could see that he was trying his best not to smile as he did it.  We began to chat as if nothing was wrong, and it felt nice to get away with acting like a couple of bratty kids.

However, I felt that it was a pity that everything had gotten so ugly in our unit, because I truly believed that we all could have been friends if things were different.  That’s the main reason I try not to hold a grudge, by the way.  The army makes jerks out of even the nicest, most timid individuals at times.

*****

Camp Shelby was not at all like any of the other military installations I had visited.  It was a lot smaller, had almost no places to buy anything, and on top of everything else, there were places where the electricity had not yet been restored.  In fact, the main command tent outside of the headquarters building was powered entirely by generators.  The installation had been hit hard by the storms, as evidenced by the fallen trees that had not yet been cleared out and the huge puddles of water that had not yet dried.

Even worse, the barracks were set up like a shitty summer camp.  They were open-bay just like in basic training, except they had no toilets or showers.  The bathroom was a good fifty-yard hike away, which, in my mind, made the whole scene the ultimate shitshow.  No electricity, nowhere to get any food, and showers so far away from where you slept that by the time you made it to your bed, you’d be sweating all over again.

And that wasn’t all.  The barracks were cooled by two wall units.  This was fine, in theory, if you chose a bed close enough to feel it, but even then, you’d have to wait several hours for the concrete and steel enclosure to cool from the extreme heat and humidity that still lingered.  This was one of those situations where I just had to laugh at how perfectly crappy everything was.

*****

As it turned out, we were the lowest-ranking soldiers on assignment by a long shot.  The whole camp was occupied by senior-ranking NCOs and officers.  This added an extra bit of tension in the beginning, as we expected everyone to have very stern demands of us little people.

However, the vibe of the place was far more relaxed than any of us would have expected.  Nobody was particularly stressed or uptight like I thought they would be.  Colonels would insist that you called them by their first name, and a master sergeant might even ask you to take a ride with them into town to find food.

Of course, the only person who was unable to relax was SSG McDonald.  If she wasn’t dressing me down for some random nonsense, she was barking at Cohen for appearing too happy.  Struck seemed to be having a great time, however, skipping around and name-dropping to any who would listen.

But none of that was important to me.  I needed to somehow break away from the PAD and bend the right ear.  I still had thirteen days before my appointment, so I had not yet abandoned the idea that I might be able to leave early.

Somehow, however, SSG McDonald knew this.  Perhaps she didn’t know what my exact intentions were, but for the first few days she did her best not to let me out of her sight.  When we got to our office one morning, I saw that the trash cans and recycle bins were full, so I started grabbing bags and asking around where to dispose of everything.  SSG McDonald demanded that I stop and go sit in the office, but an officer praised my attempt to stay busy and asked that I continue.

In truth, I did want something to do.  Not only was I being denied a crucial doctor appointment, but I was being forced to sit in the corner like a kid in time-out.  It was some of the most perfectly orchestrated meanness I had seen since I joined the army.  I truly had no function there.  She was going to make me sit and watch the days go by leading up to my appointment.

But what was guiding this woman to be this way?  What could she possibly be getting from waking up angry with me and carrying that chip on her shoulder all day?  We actually had some good luck with an informal TDY this time, and she was the only one who couldn’t chill out.

Of course, I didn’t need her to chill out.  I needed her to get even more angry at me.  I needed her to lose her cool in front of these nice people.  Screw the doctor appointment.  I wanted to embarrass this woman.  Judging by how she had been acting for the first few days, it looked like I already had the upper hand.  All I needed to do was keep pissing her off, and she would definitely crack.

 

10 

Graveyard Shift

 

It came up in conversation after a few days that there was a soldier needed to check for press releases overnight.  This soldier may also have to write speeches for any officer who might have to address the media.  This sounded like the perfect way to distance myself from everyone, so I volunteered.  SSG McDonald once again protested, but no other soldier wanted to take an overnight shift.  I won by default, but once again my bad luck reared its ugly head.

On the fourth or fifth day, we were introduced to an air force captain and a subordinate of his.  I don’t know he was an actual public affairs officer, but I know that he loved the sound of his own voice almost as much as he loved smooching army butt cheeks.  His name was Morgan Ottman, and you’re damn right he loved working it into conversation:

“Good afternoon, this is Captain Morgan Ottman.  Ha ha.  Yes, sir.  Ha ha. No, sir, they didn’t name it after me.  Ha ha ha.  I wish, sir.  Dur-hur-hur-hur-hur.”

What a moron.

And I’m not just being a jerk here.  There’s no way for any of you to know this if you’ve never been in the military, but when you’re on the phone like this, you generally don’t give your first name.  You give your rank and your last name only.  He knew that.  He just thought he was being cute.  I hate people that have to do these dumb little tricks to try and superficially warm up to a stranger.  Insecurity breeds all kinds of absurd behaviors like this.

It can also lead to some extremely unfair treatment.

*****

Later that same day, I managed to hear a conversation between SSG McDonald and Capt. Ottman.  I couldn’t hear any of the particulars, but I did hear my name and judging by the tone of her voice, it was not a happy conversation.

Wow.  She wasn’t wasting any time, was she?

“Don’t worry.  I’ll keep him under control.”  Capt. Ottman said.  I quickly walked down the hallway, down the stairs, and out of building.

My hands were shaking as I stormed out of the building, fumbling for my cigarettes.  I just couldn’t seem to catch a break.  It was hard to know exactly what Capt. Ottman meant when he said he’d keep me “under control.”  What had SSG. McDonald told him?  Did he take it at face value, or did he think he was going to be a hero?  It was hard to get a read on him, because honestly he seemed like a little nerd who didn’t know what was going on.

However, I doubted that he was simply going to try and abuse me.  There were too many people around, and let’s not forget this was an army mission.  He knew he was outnumbered.  I reasoned with myself he wasn’t going to do anything stupid.

After all, the aftermath of our country’s largest natural disaster in a hundred years was just outside of our building.  That should take precedence over our quarrels with one another, right?

RIGHT!?!?!

*****

One morning, I heard a few officers bellyaching about there being no coffee in the building.  I was bored, so I grabbed the local phonebook and called a Starbucks.  I wasn’t even prepared to talk to anyone, so when they picked up, I awkwardly asked if they had coffee.  The woman on the other end laughed.  I told her that I was at Camp Shelby, and that we had two dozen soldiers who could really use some caffeine if they were serving.  There was a pause, and then the woman on the other end told me to come out and pick some up.  She said they had plenty of coffee and they were more than happy to provide some for us.  Armed with an excuse to grab a vehicle, I departed quickly and quietly.

The response was beyond what I expected.  Starbucks had three of their five-gallon jugs ready to go when I arrived.  They didn’t even ask for any money.  It was a donation for the poor souls who had to sit out in that miserable situation.

That was a classy move, Starbucks.

I was absolutely thrilled while I was driving back to the installation.  Here was another one of those situations where the screw-up managed to get something right.  I was intensely proud of myself.  For the duration of my brief military service, I always struggled to find some sort of use.  Today, I had found one.  Yesterday and tomorrow could suck it, because I was the coffee guy today.

When I arrived back at Camp Shelby, who did I see but the big man himself:  Lieutenant General Bartholomew Gundersson.   I just happened to pull up right as the general’s Humvee was arriving.  His aide noticed me struggling with the three bulky containers of coffee, so he came over and helped me out.

I briefly explained the coffee donation to the general’s aide.  He nodded, impressed, told me to go offer the general a cup.  I almost peed my pants.

“Big Bad Bart,” as he was known in many circles, was a man’s man; even a non-soldier like me could recognize that.  He stood three or four inches taller than me, easily, and though he was well into his fifties, he was lean, muscular, and spoke with a booming voice that simply compelled you to do what he said.  He had served numerous tours overseas, and now he had been tapped to come and oversee the relief efforts.  The country had a great deal of confidence in this man, especially the locals, as Gundersson was a native of New Orleans.

I cautiously approached the general.  He was sitting on a bench, chomping on a cigar with his back to me, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to do or say.  He had brought his own coffee mug, which had just a little bit left over in the bottom.  My plan was to quickly pour it out and refill the mug, then say his name and hand it over.  I would then be given the Medal of Honor and then the big man himself would personally sign my discharge papers.

That’s how it went in my head, anyways…

But that’s not what happened.  What happened instead was that Capt. Ottman swooped out of nowhere and jerked the container from my hand.  He circled around the bench and offered to refill the general’s coffee mug.

I was too shocked by this childish, sycophantic act to do anything but walk away.

*****

Unfortunately, the day of my doctor appointment came and went.  I was particularly morose on that day, so I decided to get up and take a look around the building.  I waited until Capt. Ottman was out of the office, and I quickly busied myself emptying the garbage cans and recycle bins.  Capt. Ottman came back and saw what I was doing, and to my surprise he simply nodded.  Granted, he did make a remark about the task being perfect for me, but I didn’t care.  At least I wasn’t sitting around listening to him call himself ‘Captain Morgan’ all night.

From that point on, I opened every shift by taking out the trash and the recycling.  The officers seemed impressed that a soldier did not consider himself to be above this kind of work.  A little at a time, they began to chat with me.  I met an IT guy who was into heavy metal, I met a medic who let me bum cigarettes, and I met an extremely nice lady who was a chaplain.  These positive interactions would help me to brace for around 2 or 3 in the morning, when I would have to return to the office to scan the Associated Press for articles.

The first few nights of my new routine went smoothly, but there was a major problem:  I had begun to experience serious insomnia.  The barracks were so hot during the day that I often would only fall asleep for an hour at a time.  Not only that, but after my doctor appointment passed, I found myself so angry with everything that I could never seem to make my brain shut off.  No matter how tired I was or how close I positioned myself to the air conditioners, I could not get more than two or three cumulative hours of sleep.

I had finally managed to fall into a deep sleep on the third day, but as luck would have it, I was awoken an hour later by Claire.  Foggy and absolutely certain she wasn’t traipsing around the men’s barracks, I demanded to know why she was bothering me.  I thought I heard her say something about a camera, but I rolled over told her to go away.  Claire said that she wasn’t leaving until I came back to the office with her.  Furious, I gave her an earful as I struggled to put my uniform back on and pull myself together.  I tried to convince her to go on ahead, but she refused.  She stood there, smirking, as I stumbled to dress myself.

When I arrived at the office, I was stopped by a marine colonel.  He looked me up and down and insisted on knowing what I was doing.  I told him I was probably in trouble, and that I needed to go see my sergeant.  He shook his head and said that I needed to come with him.

The colonel took me to a room and sat me down.  When I asked what was going on, he said I looked dehydrated and about to pass out.  I admitted I hadn’t slept for a few days.

“Yep.  I knew something was off,” he said.  He wagged a finger at me and told me to stay put.  After he left, however, I got up to confront SSG McDonald.  The sooner we got this over, the sooner I could go back to bed.

As I walked into the room, I noticed both Claire and Struck looking rather smugly at me, like a couple of younger siblings who just ratted on me to mom.  Cohen looked away conspicuously, pretending to be reading.  God, what a bunch of dicks.  Camp and Randell were in the corner looking sympathetic, but I tried not to look at them.  I was sure that not hating me would have some kind of repercussions.  SSG McDonald, who was breathing heavily through clenched teeth, stood amongst them like a hulking mass of pure rage.

“Is this your camera?” she asked impatiently.  She was lifted up one of our camera bags and held it out, as if that was going to give me any clue as to what was going on.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”  I blurted.

The room became quiet.  SSG McDonald’s eyes popped wide open and her face began to turn red.  She looked like an angry zombie.

“McCollum,” she said with that kind of calm that precludes screaming, “is… this… your… cam-er-a.”

Too tired to care about the consequences, I let her have it.

“You have everybody in the fucking unit but me here, and you can’t figure out whose fucking camera this is?  Did you really wake me up for this shit?”  I looked over at Claire and pointed.  “Furthermore, sergeant, why the fuck are you sending a female soldier to the men’s barracks?”

Claire stopped smirking, but Struck did not.  He crossed his arms and smiled arrogantly, glancing over to SSG McDonald as if to say “sic ‘em.”  Camp very quickly walked out of the room.  SSG McDonald shook her head in disbelief.

Right then, the marine colonel entered the room.  “Soldier, come with me,” he said, clearly annoyed that I didn’t follow his directive the first time.  He and took me by the arm, walked me to the door, and told me to go back to the other room and not to move until I drank the entire bottle of water that was sitting on the chair.

As I sat entered the room, I noticed that the chaplain I had been getting to know was seated in the room.  She looked concerned.  As I gulped down the water that was left for me, the chaplain asked why she heard shouting coming from the other room.  I assured her it was all a misunderstanding, so she nodded and left it alone.  The look on her face told me that she didn’t believe me, but I think she was still trying to process everything before asking me any other questions.

From the other room, I heard the medic’s calm voice, but I could not hear exactly what he was saying.  I did, however, hear SSG McDonald’s voice very clearly, informing him that it did not concern him.  I couldn’t believe she said something like that to a person who so greatly outranked her.

I didn’t hear the conversation that followed.  All I heard was his calm voice and her harsh voice going back and forth.  I wished that he would write SSG McDonald up for insubordination, though I doubted anything like that was going to happen.  The chaplain heard what was going on as well, and she once again asked if there was anything I needed to talk about.  I motioned to the other room with my head and shrugged, as if to say that pretty much sums it up.

The colonel came back to the room a few minutes later and asked about why I hadn’t been sleeping.  I told him that the barracks did not get cool enough.  He said he would send somebody to fix it right away.  In the interim, he had me sit and drink another bottle of water while he questioned me about what was going on with my unit.  I knew that I could have gone into detail, but I chose to refrain.  I simply told him that a few of us didn’t get along.

The colonel could tell I was deliberately holding back information.  He told me to talk to the chaplain if I had any more trouble, and I agreed to that.  If I had an inkling that he could help the situation, I would have been a little more open.  However, SSG McDonald had seemingly just gotten away with telling him to mind his own business, so I decided just to let it lie.

I did get a little bit of justice, however.  The colonel ordered that I take three days of bed rest.  As it turned out, he was a medic, so he drew up the temporary profile himself.  He even gave me three Valium to make sure I stayed down.  After we were finished, I went back to talk to the chaplain for a while.

We didn’t talk about what was going on in the unit.  Instead, we talked about religion.  I needed to talk to somebody who wasn’t in the PAD, and I needed to talk about something that wasn’t related to the military or the task at hand.  The chaplain was an extremely motherly African American woman, and she had such a presence about her that I couldn’t help but let my guard down.  Truth be told, I wanted to cry on her shoulder.  That’s what kind of peaceful presence she had.

I’m sure she would have let me, too.

*****

The colonel had made good on his promise to cool the barracks down.  I don’t know how he managed to do it, but that evening when I got back to the barracks, it was actually cool in spite of the humidity that still lingered.  Showered and as free from sweat as I could make myself, I remembered the Valium.  I popped two of them, and I ended up sleeping for well over twelve hours.

After my first real sleep since I arrived, I got Randell to sneak me the keys to one of the vans.  I took the remaining Valium, then I searched around outside of the base for any businesses that may have been open.  I managed to secure a pizza from a Little Caesar’s, I picked up a pack of Parliament Menthol Lights from a gas station, and I also grabbed a few donuts from a local shop.  I returned to the barracks to enjoy my rest, my snacks, and my Valium buzz.  It was a well-fought and well-earned reprieve.

On the final night of my mandatory rest, I called Maj. Dwyer and told her everything that had happened (minus the Valium).  She didn’t have much to say on the matter.  She simply sighed and changed the subject.

Why did I call her?  Because we were close at one time.  I used to trust her.  I used to try my best to be a good soldier because of her.  I wanted to hear that she had a reason for it doing what she did.  Lie to me, I don’t care.  Just please tell me that you didn’t leave because you didn’t know how to handle the situation.

Out of nowhere, a kitten walked up and rubbed on my leg.  I had no idea where it came from, but it was nice to see something other than a human during this stressful time.  I sat down on the ground to pet it, still talking with Maj. Dwyer.

We talked about cats.  We talked about life.   She talked about trying to get back into the dating game.  I talked about what I would like to do after the army.  For a few hours, it was just two humans talking on the phone.  It was like the Christmas cease-fire during World War I.

I hung up the phone, somewhat relieved, but not exactly satisfied with how the conversation had gone.  I knew now that Maj. Dwyer was not going to be able to help me in any way.  I was just going to have to figure this out on my own somehow.

But that was tomorrow.  Tomorrow I would be back in the trenches, but tonight I was going to stare at the stars with this random kitty.  I put the tiny creature on my chest and laid back on the soft grass.

 

 

Obligatory Year-End Post

Alright, dearies, 2018 is coming to a close, and I feel the need to scratch out some kind of send-off, as I am feeling particularly grateful (albeit exhausted) from all that has transpired this year.

 “Of course, you’re grateful, Iron Paul.  You’ve got an inheritance.”

#1 – Screw you.  Everybody died.  That’s how I got this money.  I lost all four grandparents and both of my parents, along with my favorite aunt who was violently killed by a drunk driver… all before I turned 40.  They will never see my beautiful half-Asian babies.  They will never get to see how high I soar.

I also lost a few family members to greed, so again I say screw you.

#2 – I spent half of the money on my wedding, taking care of my wife, fixing up our marital home, taking care of friends, and tithing.  So again, screw you.

#3 – Maybe try being happy for a person who has a change in their luck, especially when you know how tough this particular person has had it, asshole.

#4 – Try to imagine yourself in my position.  Try to imagine people you really love completely flipping their script as a result of your change of fortune.  Try to imagine all the mooching and the pandering I’ve had to endure.  You know I have a hard time turning people away, so the disappointment has been pretty devastating.  It ain’t fun.

 

But now that I’ve gotten that business out of the way, let’s look back at 2018 and see all the wackiness that has taken place:

  • Sasi and I tried our hand at a few business ventures. Nothing really panned out, but it was fun getting out there and learning new things.  Actually, I can’t say that nothing has panned out, because I do get random work from the universities in the area.  My name is finally out there, so I’m hoping for a few Spring semester papers to wind up on my desk soon.  I have a shiny new red pen filled with the blood of a dire wolf and the tears of my IEP students.  Bring it.
  • I lost a bit in the stock market trying to figure out how to day trade. No regrets, however, because, again, I learned something new.  Plus, if anybody ever buys out Neovasc, your buddy is going to end up with a very nice return.  It is entirely possible.
  • I started reading more. Actually, I started a dozen books and finished maybe two or three.  Still, it counts.  And if you factor in all the tiny snippets I read day in and day out, then I’m sure that adds up to a couple of full-length books.  Regardless, I’ve enjoyed learning new things from all the reading as well (especially my in-depth study of the Torah).
  • I’ve learned a lot about marriage during our first year. Lots of laughter, lots of tears, lots of compromise, lots of late nights racking my brain trying to figure out how to do things better.  Wouldn’t change a thing.
  • Restarted my writing project, with some rather incredible results. Looking forward to getting this thing off my desk and out there in circulation.
  • Reconnected with some family! It has been wonderful catching up with Cousin Kayla and Sista Sherri… ummm… Sister Sherry (couldn’t resist the old school WCW reference).

It hasn’t all been a bed of roses, however.  I’ve had to cut quite a few people out as a result of the mounting hysteria over He Who Apparently Must Not Be Named.  I’m truly disappointed in many of the people I have had with me on this journey.  Stuff just started getting good, and some of you people just lost your damn minds.  Now you are no longer welcome to share the road with me until you figure out how to apologize.

And, no, this time I’m not apologizing first just to help you save face.  I said precisely what I meant.  Try focusing on the people you love, and you may come to discover that who our Commander-in-Chief is should have very little bearing on what is truly important in this life.

We also had a couple of health scares.  Sasi and I are both on the mend, thanks to some rather persistent efforts to figure out what constitutes a proper diet and exercise program.  At least we figured it out.  I’ve got a doctor appointment in a couple of days about my back, and while I am a little nervous, there is a feeling of relief knowing that I have access to some great healthcare.  Furthermore, at least I will finally find out if it is just a bulging disc or a pinched nerve.  Operating without a diagnosis has made it a little harder to figure out the right exercises for the injury.

I did spend quite a bit of time lost.  We’re out here in the suburbs, so finding a job for me that fits our situation has not panned out at all.  Of course, what came of it was a very patient wife insisting that I stay home and finish writing my book, so I can’t quite chalk it up as all negative.

I also spent quite a bit of time in a bit of an emotional rut.  I may have not gotten along with most of the people in my family, but only when they die do you lose your opportunity to see eye to eye (cue Mike and the Mechanics).  It kinda messed with me that I never really got that opportunity.  I did get to talk to Grandpa Pete and Grandma Joanie a few times before they passed.  I also was in constant contact with Aunt Lynn, so I’ve had to remind myself that some people were rooting for me all along.  However, it’s how things ended with both of my parents that has been messing with me.  I did all I could to honor and respect them.  I have needlessly blamed myself for how a lot of things turned out, and now I just need to pick myself up and carry on.  In then end, my mother did take care of her firstborn, and in a way I would have never imagined.  I miss you, Mama, and I love you so much.  Shine a light on me and let me know you got the message.

 

As for 2019, you know I’m not big on resolutions, but this year I’m making an exception.  As the great poet Muscle Man once said:  “It’s hard to make a New Year’s resolution when you’re always bringing your a-game,” and that’s basically how I see it.  However, there is always room for improvement, so it is my aim to do the following:

– Exercise more.

– Eat better.

– Read more (and not just my random, 1 a.m. fact checking on how old Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are).

– Try harder at the things I attempt (and not give up so easily).

– Love my fellow man and try my best to forgive acts and deeds that are borne of fear and frustration.

That’s a full enough list, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m already hard at work on all of them.  Stay tuned, dearies, because we’ve only just now reached the cool part of the book.

With that all out of the way, I want to thank the following people for sharing the road with me this year:

Drew and Todd – I had to put you two at the top of the list for reading so much of my gibberish.  I don’t care if I end up with a billion readers.  The two of you remain OGs.

Nicole – Where would I be without my bitchy, more than slightly intimidating big sis?  I love your grouchy ass more than you realize, girl.  I’ll let you know when we get a Taco Bell.  Can’t have you starving when you’re out here.

Erin – You may as well be another sister.  I’ve enjoyed our long talks.  You have so much to offer this world.  Still got them Spellfire cards?

Josh B. – Another grouchy oldster, but a great dude.  I appreciate all the encouragement, especially since I know I drove you nuts back in the day.  You’ve damn near morphed into my big bro by this point.

Vo – There’s a lot more to you than I realized.  Now maybe you will realize it as well and start smiling a little more.  Don’t give ‘em too much, though.  Always keep ‘em guessing.  Also, if you find any weird Kit-Kats, you know I’m game.

Risner – Man, you’ve had absolutely no reason to stick with me, but you’ve done it all the same.  You’ve also played a MAJOR role in this book, and I will not forget that.

Pammy Terkins – We love the crap out of you, girl.  Keep the faith.  And if you ever need a vacation, we’ve got you covered.

Holly – Thank you.  You know why.  The invitation stands.

Brother Chang – Next year, brother.  Just you wait.  A new era awaits us.

Pearson – I think I bitch at you more than any of my friends.  It’s because I probably love you the most and wish the world would stand by and let you do your thing.  Don’t ever start taking me seriously.  It’s the secret to a long-term friendship with me (though I suspect you already knew that).

Matthew – We don’t talk very often, but until you tell me otherwise, we’re still friends.  My opinion of you remains slightly above average, and I dislike you less than almost everybody.  You are one of the few people who I do not actively root against.

Shivers – Buddy, buddy, buddy… how much can things change for two OGs like us?  Following your story has inspired me and really made me so much less cynical about life.  Looking forward to scotch, cigars, and bad golf once we find a nice break in all the action.  Stay safe, keep bumping SOAD, and give Craiggers a good ear-scratch for me.

Groves – You are one of my favorite people on this planet.  We shall meet again.  Just lemme get this paper first.  We’ll do another batch of brownies, then you can teach me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em.

Dr. Jamison – How much can one professor influence and inspire one student?  I’m at a loss, really, because you of all people know just how perpetually stoned and panicked I was during those challenging times.  You embody what it means to be a professor and a mentor, and I wish nothing but the very best for you and your family.  Let’s see what happens with this book in 2019!

Pastor Harvey – I love you guys so freakin much, man.  Looking forward to sitting down with you all and feeling that spirit again one fine day.

Spicy Jeff – I’m not giving up on your ass, so don’t get any ideas.  Real talk, I love you, brother, and I pray for a good year for you.

Aunt Brenda – I love you and I appreciate all you’ve done for my brother and I.  I’m gonna keep sending you sweets at random until you tell me to stop.

Aree – You know I can’t split without giving you a shout.  Love it when we talk.  You’ve got one amazing mind, brother.  Wishing you continued success.  We shall meet again.  Bank on that shit.

Also, lots of love and respect to the following people:

Lisa Amani, Feather, Shawn Sattazahn, Skipper, Robby (mad gropus), Sterling, Tim Bond, Mama Karen, Morgan, Michelle, Big Carl, Porkchop, Judy, all them Kerstens (and Pedro), Laura Slaughter (Sarah Laughter), Kim ‘Bassinger,’ Willum, Mandy, Mark and Denny (save me a spot on that fishing boat), Miss Netta (a true all-star), Noble Travonius (so glad to be back in touch), C.A. (maximum respect), Dr. Morris, Dr. Town, Dr. Torres, and finally Pluem, Nont and Yudai for being my staunch supporters (I hope, hope, hope you remember the smart things I said and not as much of the crazy shit).

I also want to thank my Thai family for being so loving and patient.  I have to admit, I’m not quite used to the kind of tolerance and patience you’ve shown.  I am truly humbled.  Khun Niwat, Khun Yupin, Pii Noi, all my sweet aunties and cool uncles (and the cousin who always feeds us well)… I love you guys and I hope I don’t confuse you half as much as I suspect I do.

Lastly, I need to thank my wonderful, beautiful mermaid wife for being my rock and my inspiration to be a better human being.  I will never find another person like you.  I love you more than words can ever say (and you of all people know how much I talk).

 

That’s all for now, dearies.  Keep your eyes open for one or two freshly edited chapters, and with a bit of luck the winds will stay strong and I can get back into a lot more writing in the coming months.  Also, we’re hoping to have some news for you all very soon… wink, wink.

2018 was a great year.  Looking forward to riding that wave of momentum into 2019.

 

Oh, internet… you’re so silly!

In spite of my own better judgment, I’ve gotten back on Facebook to kinda poke around and keep up with the people I like.  I’ve done my best not to get too involved with it all, because it so easily turns into me looking at memes all day or, worse yet, my mood becoming affected by some really dumb shit.

My mood isn’t really altered from this most recent thing, but I feel myself wanting to bail once again because I encountered some more really dumb shit just a few minutes ago and I can’t believe how hopelessly idiotic people can be.

I’m a member of a page that has weird, silly, and cringe-worthy album covers.  I’m sure you’ve seen some variety of the site.  There are plenty of them out there.  Between oddly worded gospel records (“Let me Touch Him”) to the infamous Biz Markie album with said artist on the toilet picking his nose, this site is supposed to be where you post a weird album cover and then you and all the other members drop little one-liners talking trash and having a laugh.

But it never turns out that way.

Apparently there are a few people who have apparently taken to rabidly defending certain albums with bad covers.  The admin has gotten a little annoyed with it and called for the guilty parties to cease and desist.  After all, it’s not the purpose of the page.  It annoys me that stuff like this even needs to be said, but I’m glad somebody has taken immediate action to keep negative bullshit off of a genuinely light-hearted page.

But about twenty minutes ago I was browsing the page for updates, and I came across yet another weird-looking gospel album.  It was the typical bad art that you see on a page like this, but there was a comment below it that was horribly out of place.  Some guy apparently decided that this was a good time to bitch about his issues with the Almighty, calling Yahweh a few choice words and really just showing his ass for all the world to see.  In light of recent events, I’ve chosen to stay out of arguments on the internet, but in this particular case I took the guy up on his bullshit.  I can’t find the comment now and I don’t care to look for it, but I said something to the effect of:

“Oh, look.  Somebody is airing out their issues on a joke page.  How unlike the internet.”

Guys, I’m sick of this shit.

I’ve blocked and unfriended a lot of people for all the uninformed bitching they do about current events (that or their abject ignorance of the world around them), and I’ve also unfriended people for interjecting far too much on my page (talkin’ ’bout YOU, Traver).  Some of these people I actually really do like, but their behavior online has really made me wonder if I need to take inventory and re-evaluate who is important to me.

Yes, I used to argue.  Actually, what I used to do was interject when a person made a dumb, baseless statement.  The goal was to maybe make people stop and think before they made stupid generalizations (i.e. “all Republicans are fascist,” etc.), and possibly remind them that they are representing themselves poorly.  However, as you might imagine, my efforts rarely made a person stop and think.  Rather, it made them throw me on another “bad guy” list, and ended abruptly with sucker-punch insults followed by being blocked.

Anyways, it’s this kinda shit that really turns me off to social media.  I know I’ve said most of this before, but it’s just so weird how people are so willing to represent themselves in such an idiotic way.  To take something as simple as a weird album cover and turn it into your own personal vendetta against God is not just awkward, it really makes you look like a piece of shit.

It reminds me of that one girl at Armstrong… Kristen something?  That one idiot with the mohawk.  Bleh.  I’ll think of it later.  Regardless, this girl joined Dr. Baker’s Bible As Literature seminar and spent the entire semester arguing with the professor about the existence of God.  Now, nevermind how self-masturbatory her smugly satisfied dumb-shit interjections were.  She interrupted the class every time she did it.  Dr. Baker patiently allowed her to speak each and every time, basically letting her wear herself out before smugly returning to silence as though she had “won,” but she never seemed to understand that aside from this class having nothing to do with converting you to Christianity, she was making the other 28 of us sit there while she hijacked the lesson.

And it’s people like her, unfortunately, that are the most vocal on Facebook.

Which is why I just clicked over and deactivated my account.  Maybe I’ll peek back in at the end of the year to see how some people are doing, but I’m hoping that this time was the final straw.  I can’t stand what a shit pile of angry graffiti social media has become, especially when it started out as something to link up friends who had become geographically separated over time.

Unplug, people.  Do it less.  Try something else for a while and see how you feel.  If you realize that you can, indeed, do without it, then by all means… UNPLUG.  Who cares if people don’t keep up with you?  Our parents never knew what any of their friends were doing by the time they reached their thirties.  Do we really benefit from these things, or are we all so shitty, biased, and lonely that this is what we have to do to pass the time and justify our own existence?

But enough of that.  I’m stalling again.  Back to the book.

#387

March 8, 2017

Matthew,

I’ve just completed a rather lengthy task. Since I am finally on a break, I wanted to get back to work on my writing projects, starting with putting all of my letters into one master document.

Now I feel emotionally drained.

First, watching a decade pass before your eyes on paper is strange in and of itself. It reminded me how rapidly and unrelentingly time marches forward. Second, reading the letters from the second half of 2016 was particularly tough, because it was abundantly clear that I was trying desperately to brace myself for the bad news that I knew was coming. Third, it was hard watching myself struggle. It was like looking down on myself while feeling a bit of the emotional pain at every stage: the desperation of when I moved back to Savannah, the repeated attempts at learning how to socialize, the hopelessness I felt up until very recently… damn, dude. This has been one rough journey.

In a way, it reminded me of Uncanny X-Men #138. It was like a huge flashback of all my greatest battles and all the great losses and defeats I suffered. It was just wave after wave of problems. It was conflict after conflict. It was like a highlight reel of terrible shit that inevitably prompted the evolution of my character. Like the comic, it was a story, en media res, being told in flashbacks on how I had gotten to this point.

I’m glad I documented it. I’m glad I take the time every now and again to organize everything and update it like this. Things have been touch-and-go for the better part of four years now, so there has been little time to sit and collect my thoughts this way. All previous vacations have been spent pushing my mind as far away from reality as I could, mostly because until now I had no idea how I was going to get out of the mess I had created for myself.

Now it is time for the next chapter. The horse has been sufficiently kicked, and not much else remains to be said about these last ten years. I have a lot of thinking I need to do and a lot of planning as well in the coming weeks. In addition to all these new factors in my life, I need to take some time to be selfish and irresponsible. I’ve done about all a guy can do for the moment.

Nuff said, Pete

#338

November 2, 2015

Matthew,

Yesterday I witnessed an automobile accident. I did not see the exact moment of impact, but right as I was leaving the gym, an SUV managed to hop over about six inches of concrete and onto the median where it smashed into a palm tree. As I turned to see what had happened, a wave of disgust swept over me. I looked at the scene, and it didn’t make sense. I was still processing everything when a man burst frantically out of a store like an action hero, whipping open the vehicle door and grabbing the woman who was inside. He ran across the street and lay her on the sidewalk like a soldier who had just removed his battle buddy from a firefight, and, unfortunately, due to the low impact and exceedingly low chance of any kind of serious injury, he looked rather stupid in what I’m sure he felt was a heroic deed.

Taken by the absurdity of it all, I tried my best to see if the woman was conscious or was bleeding while trying my best not to make it obvious that I wasn’t looking out of concern, but morbid curiosity. Personally, I always thought that running in and tearing the person out of their seat was not exactly the prescribed course of action, so I had that running through my mind as well. But once I was certain there was no blood, I turned back to the scene of the collision. It didn’t make sense. Traffic on that road is far too slow, especially mid-afternoon on a Sunday. How on earth did it happen? How did she manage to hop over the concrete and then not have the wherewithal to hit the brakes? It just didn’t make sense.

There are things I will never understand here. I have grown rather accustomed to being unaccustomed, but quite often in my day-to-day life I am thrown for a loop and left wondering what I should feel. My initial reaction to this event was shock and sympathy, but the longer I surveyed the scene, those feelings quickly turned to disgust. The accident just didn’t make sense. It seemed to defy the laws of physics. It just seemed like somebody wasn’t paying attention. That’s all.

I like living in Thailand. I don’t love it, but any creative slump for a lack of material is long gone. However, this long look at humanity from an entirely different perspective leaves me wondering sometimes what is left of my own humanity. As that woman slumped on the sidewalk clutching her head, I found myself disappointed in the whole thing. I found myself disappointed with the people around me. Not that the Thai are here to please me, but every now and again you get a glimpse of the “Too Much, Too Soon” effect of a rapidly developing nation, and it shows you not only the folly of such a drastic economic leap from one generation to the next, but it shows you the folly of your own people as well.

I could delve further into these observations, but this journey isn’t about trying to figure out the Thai. That has stopped being my objective. Identity is something they are still trying to sort out, so I am just out of luck if I am looking for patterns or well-defined mores. No, this has become a look at myself and my own people. There is no becoming embedded in this culture. The couches are treated with Scotchgard and covered with plastic on top of that. The best I can hope for is neutrality as I try to sort myself out and begin to understand what it means to be American. Events like the one I have described in this letter often prompt a great deal of self-reflection, especially regarding my rather uncharacteristic bloodlust and absence of sympathy for a victim of something bad.

-pETE

#200

3/31/12

hey stupid,

despite my best efforts, ‘chore day’ always takes an entire day.  between cooking, cleaning, and shopping, i cannot seem to formulate any shortcuts.  not that my routine requires shortcuts.  it’s just that i never have time during the week to pull everything together.

but on a lighter note, i am having a second honeymoon with 90s music.  the grunge-punker in me still loves pearl jam and soundgarden, but the mild-mannered individual who is trying desperately to emerge is enjoying the breeders and liz phair.  splash in a little blind melon and… bam!  i’m sixteen again.

at least for the duration of my cardio set.

that’s all you’re getting today, you balding clown.  i still have a few articles of clothing to fold, then it’s back to… (groan)… piers plowman.

i’m pretty sure i’m smarter than you by now.  how do you like them apples, crap-boy?

diligentiam adhibe,


paulus ferrum, vir de magna facta

#234

july 7, 2012

matthew,

here is what one day is like with my roommate.  these are all of the weird, gross, or stupid things that he did today (that i observed).

1.)  mopped the kitchen floor without sweeping, effectively playing hockey with culinary waste and overflow.

2.)  woke me up twice as i was resting during the day:  once to tell me that his girlfriend was bringing over cookies, and the next to tell me that she wasn’t bringing over cookies.

3.)  made baked chicken and dumped the grease into the trash can.

4.)  i was sitting in the common area with he and his girlfriend and he committed two socially repulsive acts in a very brief period of time.  he has a terrible habit of picking his ears, examining his finger, and wiping it on his pants, but this time he also began vigorously scratching his crotch.  this was the kind of scratching that is to be done in private.  i called him out on both acts as well.  he really needs to stop being so fucking gross.

5.)  he and his girlfriend made brownies and he took the pan out of the oven and put it into the refrigerator.

6.)  microwaved some mysterious oil and stunk up the whole house.

now, matthew, i will be straightforward and say that this was an atypical day for two reasons.  first, i am never normally around him for as long as i was today.  second, when i do have to be around him, i like to not directly observe what he does.  i don’t care who you are; if you are a moderately responsible adult, moderately hygienic, and of moderate intelligence, there is no way you should be doing two-thirds of the things my roommate does on a regular basis.  it is far too easy to spot the backwards, poorly planned, and oft-reactionary habits that he has.

face it.  all but the greatest of simpletons should have learned by now that cooking grease requires a little more care in its disposal that tipping a still-warm pan into the trash receptacle.

HOWEVER…

i was feeling particularly tolerant this day, or perhaps just curious, so i decided to observe what a day was like for him and how he got from “point a” to “point b” with simple household and personal decisions.  i often find strange messes and miniature disaster scenes around the house, so now i have a pretty good idea why the house is never really clean (also why women will never talk to me when he is around).

i have realized something.  he was probably a little more coordinated, a little more fit, and a little more decisive before his military career, but the grossness was already there.  i think that somehow he never figured out what not to do… as a human, as a male, as a man of reason and understanding.

i don’t hate him.  i will never again say that i do.  he is a very sincere person.  he is a very generous person.  but the man only gets so much of my time because  he is a wall of social stink that repels even the bravest individuals, including me.

i try to teach him how to live normally… maybe not normally, but in a manner that is organized, a manner that doesn’t cause him to stumble so easily over himself.  it becomes difficult to observe, i assure you.

yet all of these actions are bereft of malice.   he is just a simple, dumb bastard.  he is not mean.  he is not evil.  he has a generous spirit and a respectable moral compass (given his intellect).  but he has very gross habits, from picking his ears to watching ten hours of anime in a day.  i think he is completely lost in a closet of reality that he has created.

so how does one find reason to bear anger?

i cannot.  i reserve the right to be repulsed, even to remark when he commits a more vulgar act, but i cannot fault him and i cannot hold a grudge.  at the end of the day, at least the weird son of a bitch has the courage to be himself.

happytimes,

iron paul

#60

 

January 21, 2007

Matthew,

Pete is a little tied up right now because he is hanging out with me, Hulk Hogan, Tiger Woods and Al Gore.

This friend of yours sure is cool.  Hanging out with him has been the best experience in my life since I found Jesus.

Before he walked into a room with at least fifty hot girls in it, he told me to let you know he wishes you could be here.

I have to go as well, because Tupac just pulled up in the driveway.  I knew that guy wasn’t dead.

Sincerely,

Tony Hawk

#75

 

February 13, 2007

Matthew,

Money is such a pain. So is finding weed. I wish my job would just pay me in weed since I never seem to be able to hold on to my money anyways. Hell, I would budget the weed better than I budget my money:

“One doober, two doobers, this one’s for the landlady, this one’s for my student loan…”

Keep that bowl packed,

Pete

#77

 

February 15, 2007

Matthew,

Yesterday while I was at a flower shop searching for a “valentine” I noticed a small child, about eight years old, who was trying to open a bottle of soda with a pair of scissors.  She was using the scissors to thrust upward on the bottle cap in an attempt to force the top off.  Her mother, seated right next to her, watched on, saying not a word.  One thrust, two thrusts, three…

Holy fucking shit… I thought to myself… is this woman going to let her child do that?

Finally, the silence was broken.

“Go give it to nana,” the woman said.

The child proceeded to skip across the floor swinging her arms back and forth, scissors still pointed upward.  Mother watched her all the way, beaming with pride.  Mama’s little angel…

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Perhaps she shouldn’t be doing that.”

“It’s ok,” the woman replied.  “She’s going to give it to her nana.”

I paid for my flowers and left the store without another word.

Pete