Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pablo Picasso...for no reason at all. lol

Cherry blossom time

My favorite things ever -- cherry blossoms. They bloom like nothing on this earth for a couple weeks a year and then they're gone until their brief appearance the next year. Maybe what makes them so special is that they're not around that long. I don't know. But I could get lost in these. I shot this photo at my old condo in Freehold, NJ. I miss the condo, the tree these bloomed on and a lot of stuff from back then. Like these pictures of 'my cherry blossoms,' I treasure the memory of all that junk.

One fine day at Bahrs Restaurant

Well, I was home from the Army in 1986 visiting my parents with my then-wife, Patricia. I was 20 at the time. My parents and I had a chilly relationship, at best, but for some period of time everyone concerned worked very hard to try and make it work. This story was set during one of those periods where I could say I had parents and they actually tried to do this family thing, to their eternal credit.

Mom and Dad wanted me to wear my dress greens with my new corporal stripes. I was a young paratrooper also and they liked showing everyone they did a good job as parents, I guess, and me growing up and being in the Army was somehow proof of that for them. Anyway, it's not that much to do, as I saw it. So, I got into the greens, topped off with my maroon beret and jacket with the 525 patch and the "Airborne" tab on top. I had some ribbons on and some shiny stuff on my chest. I was just hoping I didn't drop anything on my greens when eating, as fish is notoriously oily and I didn't want to buy any new stuff when I returned to Ft. Bragg.

Everything was going fine. My ex-wife was always charming and my father really liked her (more than me, I think. lol). Everyone was laughing and having a good time and I didn't spill a thing on my uniform. Inevitably I had to use the bathroom ('inevitably' everyone does at some point). So, my beret is tucked under my shoulder thing on top of the uniform and it was visible.

There I am, contemplating how nice a day this was -- using the urinal in the men's room at Bahr's Restaurant in Highlands, NJ and it was busy. Well, it was Sunday and eating places like Bahr's gets a lot of family traffic over the weekend. So, there were a lot of men in the restroom.

All of a sudden, this big burly guy yells out, "Hey! hey! Maroon beret over here! Paratrooper!" He startled me so much I jumped and narrowly avoided an unfortunate stain. "Hey pal! You a badass or something!?" I took it he was talking to me but my back was to him, naturally, and I said, "Well, not right now. Can this wait until I'm done?" There was a pause and as I was finishing he said, "You don't have to be all stuck up cause you're in uniform, buddy!" I finished and was washing my hands when I responded, "Well, I'm not stuck up. I don't usually have conversations with guys while I am either standing at a urinal or taking a piss. So I want to get to my surf and turf and if you could please get out of the way I'd like to do that."

So, as I headed back to the table, the unknown burly man shouted after me (from his bathroom cave), "Hey, f--k you, pal. I hope you fall on your f--king head and break your f--king neck!"

These days I am not the oldest of old vets but I have some gray hairs. Younger vets seemingly always want civilians to understand what they have been through and their unique needs in getting back on their feet in regular society. When asked, I always say about the same thing: As a group, or individually in uniform, a lot of people do not know how to take members or former members of the armed forces, especially messed up ones. It seems they are either afraid of them, or hate the fact the VA or DoD gets substantial funding, or somehow believe service members or veterans "have it good" on all the government concern and programs offered for them. Just being a service member or a veteran can, for a chunk of the population, be something that solicits a strong reaction, be it positive or negative. This is my experience after 48 years or so. The way I handle it as a vet and how I handled it as a service member, was just not identifying myself as a veteran and leaving it at that.

I tend to think cynically, I suppose. But, I don't need strong reactions either way. Life is hard enough, and packed with enough drama, without having any I don't solicit or wish to indulge in.

Once, during a dining in, my former battalion commander at a unit I belonged to, was drunk when he came to the microphone and said with a deep slur, "You know, I actually hate civilians. I just hope my kids join the Army when they're old enough so I don't have to hate them." Well, nothing said at a dining in is ever up for being reported afterward so the comment never went anywhere. Yet, while I do not agree with  the substance or extent of the BC's message, I do understand its core: There is a difference between military people and civilians; there is a gulf between the two kinds of people that requires a lot of work to bridge, if anyone were so inclined (and most people of either side are all that inclined).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 'War of Normasis Hill'

The 'War of Normasis Hill' is a fond memory from childhood. First off, "Normasis Hill" was so named by a 6-year-old named James Urig from the block over from my house. He was trying to say "Enormous" but it came out Normasis. Still, the name stuck and it was perfect because "Normasis" sounded much bigger to a lot of us kids than "enormous."

Anyway, the "hill" started as a body of dirt dumped illegally in the backwoods of Howell Township, down the dirt road from my house, in the woods, in about 1973. Originally, the mound was about 15-feet high and 30-feet wide. It was an impressive site to a bunch of kids a shade over 4' tall.

Immediately, the kids found a perfect use for it: playing war! The teams were fairly stable with minor variation: the 'Evil Empire' that consisted of the dread and diminutive Jimmy Calendrielo, his steadfast companion John Urig, his cousin Freddy Sorino and this overgrown kid whose name I can't remember. Anyway, they would usually begin up top. Meanwhile, the 'Allied Forces' of Johnny Hunter (an impressive rock-throwing force) and his brother, Hugh, would usually join my neighbor, Paul Fiquet, and myself trying to take the high ground from this 'evil foursome' with some regularity.

Here is how the battles of Normasis Hill were waged. Kids would climb up top, with a lot of big rocks (yes, rocks) and throw them down on anyone trying to climb up on their strategic heights. Meanwhile, the kids at the bottom of the hill enjoyed a generous supply of rocks all around, while the defenders of the hill had to bring their supply with them (rationing raised its ugly head. lol).

So, the attackers took one of two routes: They would wait out the enemy, in World War I trench warfare mode. This was logical. Always worked and made perfect sense. But, it was boring. So, ultimately it came down to four screaming kids running up the side of Normasis Hill throwing rocks (yes, rocks) as hard as they could at the four kids up top. In the meantime, the defenders up top would be throwing both sand and rocks down on the attackers. Once up top, if anyone made it there, (after all, rocks really, really hurt when you were nailed with them. A shot in the head was off the hook pain) the fighting became hand-to-hand and kids were either taking swings at one another or throwing each other as best they could off the top, wrestling style. At the end of these battles the kids were dirty, bloody or bleeding, tired as heck, bruised and sometimes with sprains. It was glorious! There wasn't a better feeling out there. For a couple moments we were John Wayne fighting bad guys at Fort Apache ... or John Wayne fighting someone else in any of the billion movies he made. Then, after the obligatory name calling and posturing, we would go home for dinner around dusk. We did this for a couple years, between 1974 or so and probably 1976. It was great.

But then, as we all knew would happen one day, the game became boring and felt like kid stuff (despite the generous amount of blood and thumping that took place). Then, Normasis Hill started being used as a dirt bike feature by the kids really into that back then (which were few). Nevertheless, sovereignty of the hill had passed hands and that was it. When they were done with it, who knows when -- I think that was it for a while. Of course, the kids became high-schoolers and Normasis Hill, now a good deal smaller from its long and arduous service, became nothing more than a rise in the ground of four or five feet and kids used it to smoke weed on and get drunk or occasionally score with their girlfriends there during good weather.

Many years later, when I was an adult, I strolled down that old road, past the blackberry bushes that no longer produced any blackberries, into the woods (that looked so much smaller now) and found my way to the hill again. It was not a hill or a mound or even much of a rise anymore. It had become 'Normasis bump in the ground.' In a way it was sad but in another way it was a very proud thing for that little hill. It had been the playmate of nearly every kid in my large neighborhood for so long and so unselfishly that this one-time illegal clop of dirt turned out to be almost a surrogate parent to these kids. I mean, after all, in those days our parents drank pretty good after week. I would have trusted the hill behind the wheel of a car a lot faster than most of my relatives (lol). Anyway, that was the War of Normasis Hill. Don't know who started it. Don't know who won. But, it was a great campaign nonetheless.

Some nice memories

I remember these summers in Howell, New Jersey that were just wonderful. I didn't have a family, none that I will claim anyway, but it was nice being a kid there. I'm going to try and rescue good memories in my life, because they are all I have to show of it. And, I suppose I will share them with God because there sure as hell isn't anyone else around anymore.

But those summers were something. Things got uptight for me when I was like 9, so I guess we are talking the summer of my ninth year and before. First, it's not just me who says the weather has changed: very extreme now. Back then, it was almost perfect seasonal weather. Summers were absolutely glorious. Even the rain seemed warm.

Local kids were rabid about sports: and we played everything -- baseball, basketball, football, stickball, we ran races. Lord knows, we liked boxing I guess because we sure as heck fought with each other enough.

Back then, Paul Fiquet was my neighbor and best friend. He was like a year older than me. We didn't have much choice about becoming friends. In a rural place like Howell there were only so many kids nearby and it was inconvenient to have a best friend down the block because that block was like a quarter mile, at least.

Sometimes, Paul was the only thing that kept me going being in that house. Oh, and there were girls. I was never, ever one of those little boys who thought little girls had "cooties" of any kind. I think God must have made me to adore women -- because I fell in love easily a dozen times before I was 10. Mostly, I was in love with Debbie Ketchur and Jennifer Hunter. Debbie's family moved out after I was eight so I spent most of my time mooning over Jennifer, who was my friend Danny's sister.

Funny thing is Jennifer went on to marry another friend of mine, John Urig. He was a nice enough guy. And, he was a fair pick-up basketball player, a good shortstop in baseball and an amazing stickball player. That boy could wear the hell out of a rubber ball.

There were these blackberry bushes right down this dirt road in back of my father's house. They produced the most outstanding blackberries in the history of blackberries. Adults never went back there, so mostly kids used to pick them and eat them. They were wild and delicious and there was nothing wrong with chomping on them. In fact, they were wonderful -- and they only belonged to kids; how appropriate.

Those summers went on forever, and I loved them. I went back to the old neighborhood some years ago. Michelle Anderson still lives there. She is all married and had kids. We were all married. Of that group way back, I feel comfortable saying I was probably the most married. Before all that, though, there were just a bunch of kids running around a rural, backwater town having their fun in their own world. That world ran parallel with adults' world, of course. But it was our own, for good or bad -- and it was definitely more for the good.

Tom Atkinson was the best athlete on our block in that world, and would never be what he became later. It was all so innocent, really. It's been a good long time since I played stickball. In fact, I never played it again after I left at 9. Damn shame, really. Wonderful game.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chilling -- just chilling

My best friend, Winston. He has a nice couch in Heaven now.
It is a slow day. Not too much to do, by design. Recreation is important too, and I'm in with both hands. lol

Never underestimate the power of a good nap!

When Old Man Time comes knocking

I was talking to an old friend, a very good one, and they were talking about life like it wasn't time to start thinking about retirement and planning on which cabana I am going to pick out in Florida sooner than later. Do not get me wrong, I ran into some hard times. But, between SSD once I get it and Service Connection, once that happens, I really feel like things will turn out OK.

At least I will be able to retire decently, I think, after this nightmare of the past three years. Hey, I do not need to reflect on the bad stuff. If I live to be 100 years old I will not forget the bad times. Maybe it would be better if I did. It would take the chip off my shoulder.

Likewise someone asked me about having another family: Well, I am not talking to nearly all of my current family, from brother to cousins and finishing up with daughters (with my daughters actually not talking to me, while I am still trying to talk to them). So, true to form -- total and utter dysfunction. With a track record like that, I think I will buy a dog and leave it right there. People are hard. Dogs are forever. I would rather have my skin peeled off than have a child or put up with another in-law.

Our relationships define who we are, I think, more than what we do and how we do it, or how we are educated or any of that. Well, my track record isn't exactly setting the world on fire with regard to long-term relationships with anyone so I am going to quit while I am behind and work as hard as I can getting what is due me and then concentrate on daytime television and fishing.

I think it is funny when people say, "Well, you're only as old as you think you are!" Someone needs to hit people like that. I am very damaged physically and psychologically -- so enough of the rah, rah crap. lol

I am old before my years. OK, it happens. I look forward to doing retirement well, though, and actually having some fun without someone's voice raining on my parade. I have no interest in 'showing' anyone or 'proving' a gosh-darn thing to a gosh-darn body. In everyone's life there comes a time when you realize that 'I did all I am going to do and a certain part of my life is over.' Well, Old Man Time came a knocking and I was home. Fine. Now, get out of my way, give me my AARP card, point me in the direction of the nearest restaurant offering a Senior Special and take up any concerns you have about me to my hand. lol