Monday, February 23, 2015

Lippman, Papernick and Lippman to appear at DIRE

The DIRE Reading Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a phenomenal one. I have not been there recently, but whenever I have gone in years' past it has been phenomenal.

On March 6, 2015, series creator and Soft Skull poet Timothy Gager will host Sara Lippman, Jon Papernick and Matthew Lippman.

Sara Lippman recently penned "Dollhouse Stories," her first book. Jon Papernick has written "The Book of Stone Novel," critically acclaimed by critic Caroline Leavitt of The New York Times. Meanwhile, Matthew Lippman has recently published "Salami Jew."

The event takes place at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery, 541 Massachusetts Avenue, in Cambridge, at 8 p.m. It is a wonderful experience and I personally enjoy the venue very much. It brings out a wonderful following and only top-flight authors headline.

For more information, go to the DIRE site.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jail or Pills - Not a Long-term Solution for Chronic Pain, Addiction and/or Unhappiness

By David H. Kerr                  February 18, 2015

According to the Vera Institute of Justice report, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” 731,000 people are incarcerated in American jails every day.  See the article below.  According to data reports from jails and prisons, most of those incarcerated are addicts whose crimes were committed to support their growing addiction.  Some polititions will argue with pride that they have been tough on crime, putting all those who commit these crimes in jail or prison for as long as possible.  Now the streets are safe? 

The report states that “Three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime and are simply too poor to post even low bail to get out while their cases are being processed. Nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses.”

The report goes on to say that “Despite the country growing safer—with violent crime down 49 percent and property crime down 44 percent from their highest points more than 20 years ago—annual admissions to jails nearly doubled between 1983 and 2013 from six million to 11.7 million..”

Suggest mandated drug treatment rather than jail

Jail is not the answer for the disease and pain of addiction but legally mandated long term treatment may be for many hard core criminal addicts not ready to stop.  The data on the Drug Courts around the country backs this claim.

The active addict on the streets needs money to feed his/her growing habit.  Once his/her family is tapped dry it is likely that a growing number of normally law abiding people will have to turn to crime for their drug money.  No one wants to suffer the pain of cold turkey withdrawal from addiction, but without help the addiction lifestyle can grow desperate.   

Drug Kingpin opportunists have benefitted from our growing countrywide obsession for drugs designed to mitigate pain.  Heroin and prescription pain management drugs appear to be the number one choice and are saturating the market.  Some “street people” have become creative turning to the lucrative drug trade for money to feed their own heroin habit and that of dozens of others.  I have said that the addict is above average intelligence.  In spite of this, the relentless physical and emotional pull of the indescribable heroin “high” have caused the creation of successful “addiction networks.”  Smart dealers are capitalizing on the disease and the needs of addicts, victimizing both young and old.

Heroin Still King for urban and suburban folk
I have met with, understood and learned from tens of thousands of addicts since my work as a parole officer in 1965 and my work at the Integrity House addiction treatment program from 1968 to 2012.  Most of the people coming to me were heroin addicts and they were from the urban areas, the suburbs, the hood, and “high class” neighborhoods.  They were black, white, Hispanic…  Race and/or culture made no difference.  Most drugs and especially heroin, do not discriminate!  Heroin will take all that is human and precious from you and while you are feeling so great from the “high” don’t think your children aren’t watching as you lose weight, the desire to eat, and sink slowly into a desperate “me first” depressed lifestyle, ignoring everything that has been precious to you. I have seen this happen to thousands of people.

Our country continues through a major drug epidemic the likes of which we haven’t seen since morphine use became an epidemic in the U.S. suburbs in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.  The alleged cure for the morphine epidemic came in 1898 when a German scientist distilled heroin from morphine.  The Harrison Act of 1914 made heroin use illegal but allowed for the dispensing of heroin from approved clinics.  This didn’t work.  In the mid 1920’s, all clinics were closed and now heroin is still an illegal substance, only available illegally from dealers on the streets.

The abuse of and addiction to opioids for pain today is very similar to the addiction epidemic in the early 1900’s.  Taking another opioid product like heroin is a guaranteed failure with likely dire consequences over time for you and your family, as people are discovering.

Some suggestions to those suffering from chronic pain:

1.    Change your lifestyle to include healthy food and eating habits and time for daily physical exercise and/or walks, mindfulness exercises such as Yoga, meditation, and prayer.
2.    Avoid taking ANY addictive pain killers unless the only alternative is to be bedridden or hospitalized!  This is particularly critical advice for those with a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction. 
3.    With your doctor’s recommendation, take aspirin or other nsaids for temporary pain relief but also begin a daily routine of healthy eating, exercise including walking, meditation, relaxation exercises, prayer, yoga and other forms of self discipline and what is now called mindfulness.
4.    You might have to learn to live with some degree of chronic pain.  It can be done.  I have been dealing with the pain of neuropathy for the last 15 years.  First, I had to realize that the pain would always be there in spite of the Lyrica that I take for it. I bought steel toe rigid shoes and I can now walk nearly 2 miles/day with minimal pain.  I am now used to the pain to the point that for the most part I just don’t even notice it.  I think that the mind/body eventually adapts to it. 
5.    If none of the above work, enroll in and complete long-term residential drug and/or alcohol treatment.

Finally it is clear that we need to expand prevention programs and residential drug and alcohol treatment programs to meet the needs of our growing chronic addiction epidemic and to avoid the more expensive alternatives of incarceration and/or the continuing abuse of addictive legally prescribed pain medication.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Fire in Ice

By Jim Purcell

There is a killing face to winter, which hides its blade until the right time, when its prey is defenseless. Like a thug in an alley, killing-winter averts the light and holds back its lunge until the mark has wandered too far from the street, the lights and the rush of people. I have seen this killer before, when it turned its steely gaze toward my comrades and I.

An infantry battalion in the U.S. Army in 1986 had about 500 people in it. I was a 20-year-old soldier that December, with the rank of specialist in the Intelligence & Security section for my battalion, when everyone was notified at our base that the unit would be undergoing cold weather training in Denmark from mid-December to mid-January. I had just arrived to the 4th Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, which belonged to the 2nd Armored Division (Forward) when the news came down.

The 2nd Armored was a storied unit where, unlike everyplace else in the Army, soldiers wore their “Hell on Wheels” unit patches over the left breast pocket by tradition; a tradition begun by one of its former commanders, the late Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. In Germany, they were known as a tough unit that did their share, which was saying it all. It meant a lot to become part of a new unit, especially an infantry unit. Generally, one never knew when they actually ‘belonged.’ One day, someone woke up and they just knew that the unit was their home. It happened when it happened.

The base 4/41 Infantry was located at was named Lucius D. Clay Kaserne, after a famous American general who was important during the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift, and it was one of the coldest the Army had to offer anywhere. It was the most northern of any infantry unit in Germany. When I stepped off the bus along with the other replacements from Frankfurt, where I received my orders to the 2nd Armored Division (Forward), I was struck by the stark cold. It was at least 10 degrees colder than in the south of the country and every building was encased in snowy ice. The wind lashed anyone who ventured outdoors. There was no color to the sky, the place or the people; it was all shades of gray, white and black. Still, green-wrapped mummies huddled about their normal day, clad in heavy jackets and boots. Coming from my post in North Carolina only a few weeks before, following a wonderful Indian Summer, I was unprepared for the reality of this new environment.

My battalion was not the only one on the post, but would be the only unit from Clay Kaserne to go to Denmark. In all, there were probably 4,000 or more soldiers assigned to the kaserne, which hosted another infantry battalion like mine, an armored battalion of M-1 tanks and various support units. At the time, little Clay Kaserne was even in the news as it was one of the first overseas places where the then-new Bradley Fighting Vehicle was being fielded by mainline Army units. Reporters from the U.S. and Europe had been known to hang around the nearby town of Osterholz-Scharmbeck wanting to get soldiers on the record about the new weapons system. One of the first things I learned at the unit, the very first hour I was there, was told me by a young corporal at the Division’s Reception Center. With the 20 or so of us from the bus all sitting down, the young man came into the classroom we were in and began with a few “do’s and do nots.” He said, “The Chow Hall (Army-speak for the Dining Facility) is located here…,” he indicated the building on a map. “And, do not talk to any reporters about anything at anytime for any reason whatsoever.” So, I figured if they told me not to talk to reporters before they informed me of where the bathroom was then that must be important stuff.

I was sent to 4/41 Infantry from the Division Reception Center within an hour or so. I was new to being in Europe and in someplace that looked like the lot where the 1968 movie “Ice Station Zebra” was filmed, but not new to the Army. Soldiers in Germany were the same as soldiers in the States. For that matter, American soldiers were no different from soldiers anywhere else: They complained without stop, always had a rumor to pass among each other, could be tough as nails and always, always wanted to go either home or somewhere other than where they were at the moment. Being a soldier in the Intelligence career field, it would be unlikely to find my way into an infantry battalion. There was only one slot in any infantry battalion for an intelligence analyst. I drew that one job over at 4/41 Infantry, though, which was fine because I liked serving with “grunts,” as infantrymen were termed affectionately, better than anyone else.

                After bringing my bags to my new company, getting settled in, getting a meal in me and finally finding out where there was a toilet, it was time to report to my new bosses at the S-2 over in the Battalion Headquarters. It was a new place with familiar sounds of an Army during its day. Yet, as I walked through the door there was one familiar face: I had served with 1st Lieutenant Anthony P. Deal before. Well, not served with him really. 1Lt. Deal was the executive officer for my training company at the Army’s Intelligence School, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, when I was there going through training. The executive officer is the second-ranking officer in a company, and he was known for being very ‘no-nonsense.’ There was also 1Lt. Robert Scherer, who was a head taller than Deal, and was in charge of the section. He had a face that was long and his looks were dark compared to the neon of Deal’s almost orange-blond hair. Then, there was Sergeant First Class Craig Fisher, who presented the inevitable stereotype of the ‘old school’ non-commissioned officer, with his graying moustache and salt and pepper hair. He was a solid man, a strong one and had an authoritative presence. Then, finally, there was Specialist Mike Harsh, who was my rank. Lanky and strong, Harsh was an Ohio boy who was doing his first tour in the Army, like me.

                When not deployed with the battalion in the field, the S-2 Shop was all about obtaining necessary security clearances for soldiers in the battalion; ensuring that its six arms rooms, which contained God only knows how many weapons and weapons systems , were run properly and accountably; ordering maps for the companies; and it was the repository for whatever small amount of classified information that may be on hand for whatever reason. There were some other things, but that was most of it. However, no one was thinking about any of that as everyone started gearing up for the deployment. No one knew what the heck was going to happen at “cold weather training,” suffice to say it was going to be damn cold. It was already cold at Clay Kaserne, apparently not cold enough, though, for the battalion to avoid going somewhere even colder just to do it.

                The plan was a simple one, really: the battalion would put its vehicles on a train and pull up at a Danish kaserne (“kasernes” are what we’d call “forts” in America) at the Danish base in Borris. Then, everyone would off-load and there would be gunnery for the units in the battalion that had Bradley Fighting Vehicles. This would go on for a week or so. Then, with that done, the battalion would head out to a Danish training area near the sort of  town of Oksbol for cold-weather maneuvers.

The S-2 didn’t have any Bradleys. We had an M577 Command Post Carrier, which is actually nothing more than a roomy armored personnel carrier used to haul some extra large radios and map boards for the battalion’s Tactical Operations Center, called a “TOC.” The TOC was comprised of the S-2 M577 and the S-3’s M577 Command Post Carriers. We would park next to one another and then roll out enormous tarps, 10 feet long, next to one another. Then, we’d raise the tarps with a PVC-boned skeleton and it would give a space for the battalion commander to lead his unit from and do the work of the business. The S-3 was the Operations Section for the battalion, and it was led by the battalion operations officer, in this case Major James Bowden. The battalion operations officer basically made sure the unit’s companies were doing what the battalion commander wanted them to do in the field. When company commanders needed guidance they called him, and when they needed to do something the battalion commander wanted then he called them. Bowden’s staff supported that effort. In all, there were about a dozen or so people assigned to the S-3. And, they did have a Bradley assigned to them, which was used by the operations officer when he wasn’t using his tactical vehicle, a High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).

                I had come to the 2nd Armored from an airborne unit, which had nothing to do with vehicles. Airborne units get rides from helicopters and jump out of airplanes to get around. They didn’t do armored vehicles there, so there was a lot to learn. Being the new guy, my job was to help Harsh in the Motor Pool get the M577 ready for the deployment. It was freezing, sweaty, dirty, greasy work. No one had the time to really show me anything about the unit, other than the M577, which was called a “track.” The canvas for the TOC was located above the back ramp of the track, at the top of the vehicle. I cannot count how many times Harsh and I rolled and unrolled the damn thing looking for holes or places to be mended. It was a job. The tarp had to be more than 150 pounds when wet. On one occasion, Harsh told me, “You don’t just show up here from some light unit and - Bang! - you know your ass from a hole in the ground here. It sucks for you.” I told him that, maybe next time I got orders somewhere, the Department of the Army should run them through him. He shook his head.

At Borris, the Bradleys were at gunnery drills day-in and day-out, practicing with their 25mm Bushmaster I chainguns at the range.  Meanwhile, the TOC practiced getting put up and put down by the guys from S-2 and S-3, performing radio checks and keeping each of the company commanders and the battalion commander in touch. The TOC also coordinated closely with the battalion’s trains, which was the fuel, food and ammunition supply point. Everyone thought cold weather training was going to be a ‘cake walk,’ even though single-digit Fahrenheit temperatures were normal for Southern Denmark in the winter. While bone-cold, the battalion was housed in barracks by night, and there hadn’t been a lot of wind. In fact, it was clear as a bell most of the time in Borris.
                There was another train ride, this one about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Danish Royal Army’s base at Borris. The weather started to set in quickly. But, it was Northern Europe, right next to the North Sea, in the middle of winter -- there were going to be storms. Deal told Harsh and I, “If everyone wet themselves every time there was a storm around here they’d freeze off important parts of their body after a day or so.”

                I didn’t know a lot of the people who worked for the S-3 at this point, even though we’d been working and sweating next to each other for weeks putting up and tearing down the damn TOC. Most of the time, everyone was covered in some kind of dirt, diesel fuel exhaust, grease or sweat so conversation wasn’t tops on the list.  Life was rugged and work was everywhere from dealing with the canvases, to the vehicles to portable generators. Everyone was good at their job, and they were all tough and that was as much as anyone could have expected. I was in ‘doing as I was told’ mode and trying to learn.

                The battalion off-loaded from the train at Oksbol and by that time the weather was bad. There were high, frozen winds that started shearing through the layers of extreme cold weather jackets and gear soldiers were wearing. Breathing became hard as the air punched out one’s insides with every breath. It started sleeting from the moment 4/41 Infantry arrived at the railhead in Oksbol. In the most punishing state I have seen before or since, armored vehicles, Bradleys and every other sort of vehicle in the battalion’s inventory were guided off long railcars as the show was starting to begin. Once off the railcar, SFC Fisher popped into the commander’s hatch at the top of the M577 and barked commands loud enough for Harsh to hear over the radio headset put in the track commander’s and driver’s helmets. Meanwhile, Scherer and Deal opened the rear door and slid in.

                At Oksbol, the rest of the battalion headed into a separate direction from the S-2 and S-3, so the two tracks that made up the TOC were on their own. Like ships crashing through the angry Atlantic, the two, 13-ton vehicles smashed through icy snow and through the worsening gale to a spot on the map where there was nothing. The ride was tumultuous, as anything not strapped or bolted down flew around the crew cabin of the vehicle. Scherer, Deal and I were thrown about while Fisher, in our track, and the S-3’s SFC Arvid Johnson, in their track, guided the aluminum giants to a completely deserted location, literally in the middle of nowhere, just before nightfall.

                It was about zero degrees Fahrenheit as a handful of S-2 and S-3 soldiers unfurled the frozen tarps, banging out icy spots with hammers and wrenches to erect the command post. The two tracks’ heaters were on high and it turned out the S-3 folks even brought along a pot-bellied stove to put in the TOC when it was up. This would have been gratifying to me if NCOs and officers were not huddled around it at all times. It reminded me of when pups are born, when smaller ones are edged out of nourishment from their mother by larger, more ‘ranking’ siblings.

                After better than an hour putting up the tarp bitch that was the TOC in frozen weather it was finally up. Covered in snow, ice and sweat afterward, SFC Johnson looked at me and told me and the S-3’s driver, Bruce Fogle, to take the portable generators out of their cradles on the vehicles and set them up, one on either side of the TOC.

“Right, Sergeant Johnson, on the way!” Fogle barked enthusiastically.

I ran to catch up. “I’m Purcell, the new guy in S-2,” I introduced myself.  We both climbed the top of the S-2 track and started reaching for the first of the generators when Fogle said, “Hi, I’m Bruce and this stuff sucks. It really, really sucks. Yeah, it does.” I couldn’t help but laugh, despite getting hit with biting wind and sleet to the point of pain in my exposed hands and face. “I can see your point,” I responded smiling.

The night had been long and hard on the soldiers of the TOC. The weather made doing everything a lot harder than it was supposed to be, but then that was probably the point of the whole exercise. I did get a chance to actually meet some of the guys from S-3: Fogle; a private first class named Bob Crumby; and specialists Anton Guyton and Randy Sellers; as well as sergeants Jud Myer, William Beadle and Frank Wells. Everyone else assigned to the S-3 seemed to be an officer, which meant they didn’t work at all in putting anything up.

Fisher and Johnson worked hand-in-hand in the field. If one told you to do something, it meant the other one ordered it too. Johnson was about to dismiss most of us for sleep when Major Bowden breezed into the TOC. We’d strewn lights inside from the generators so the place was lit. “Alright, alright, everyone seems to have been on their game so far. OK, Sergeant Johnson, tell your men to go out and dig the officer’s quarters through the snow, put up a tent and then we will be alright,” Bowden said. The three or four junior officers huddled against the pot-bellied stove acted like they hadn’t heard Bowden. Johnson’s face said he was going to make a comment but then he looked at four of us and said, “Alright guys, get at it.”

By about 3 a.m., the officer’s quarters were dug, padded and put up. I was asleep on my feet, which were barking from the cold. Fisher informed me this was a good thing, as if I lost that sensation of pain it would mean frostbite had started to get hold. With that piece of wisdom in mind, I found a light truck that had caught up with the TOC before I got off duty and SGT Beadle was good enough to let me catch some sleep there.

It was about 7:30 a.m. when the sun came up and Oksbol was freezing and clear. The cold was an invisible force one had to break through to move. It was a lot better than the night before. The NCOs let the guys at the TOC sleep in a little and if anyone was on guard through the night it wasn’t me. But, if I may, who the hell would want to be out there? Oksbol was between the Filso and Ho Bugt lakes, which not that many people from south of Hamburg have heard of, I’d venture. It was 196 miles away from Copenhagen, 372 miles from Berlin and 280 miles from our home base at Clay Kaserne. The sun was only up from about 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., or thereabouts. The average temperature during the winter was 0 degrees Fahrenheit and Oksbol’s closest neighbor, Billum, was about three miles away and there were bus terminals in Kansas that were more active than that place was. It was about two or three miles to the North Sea, and in the middle of a Danish winter that wasn’t a hotspot for anyone I knew. So, the need for a guard, while perfunctionatory, was not a real need for the force. No animals were alive above the frozen snow and I didn’t see any trees. Mostly, Oksbol looked like a frozen tundra and no one was stupid enough to be there but us.

Between 1945-1947, more than 37,000 refugees from World War II were sent to Oksbol. Winters were hard and deaths from frostbite and exposure were frequent. During World War II, the German Army held the town for a while, until they abandoned it. I suppose they figured that if anyone wanted to claim victory for that slice of Denmark they could live with it. Of course, before all that, the place had been a post for the Danish Royal Army, which it now was not because the Danes had a lot more sense than all that.

I just about opened my eyes when everyone heard Major Bowden: “I want everyone in front of the TOC right now! I want every NCO and enlisted here now!” He was hot about something. At least it was a clear day with some sunshine. I’d take an ass-chewing in the sunshine in a minute over an ass-chewing in the rain. The difference was being wet and miserable instead of just miserable. Nevertheless, the wind was moving pretty quick, so it wouldn’t be as good as, say, getting my ass chewed out in Miami, which I would have paid for if I could.

When everyone was assembled in three ranks, which is rows, in front of the TOC, Bowden started blowing: “You people were asleep and I saw no work getting done, no guard, no radio checks getting done for more than two hours between 5 and 7 a.m. Where the Hell do you think you are!?”

Bowden went on in his rant, informing everyone that, when he was a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division, he had brought a bunch of clerks and cooks out on cold weather training in Wisconsin. He said it got down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit there. “Those people had no idea what they were doing, but they were motivated. They made every mistake in the book, and two of them died there under my command, but I was proud of those people...more proud of them than you right now!”

I was not the only one with an open mouth. Standing next to me in formation was the driver for one of the officers in S-3, Sellers, who said under his breath, “If this motherfucker thinks I’m going to make him proud by dying out here he is out of his fucking mind.” Sellers was a native of San Diego. He was 23, older than most of the guys who weren’t NCOs, and he had a misspent youth as a member of the Crips street gang. He always talked about how getting out of the gang was the best thing he ever did but he was still plenty rough around the edges.

Bowden continued, “You men need to start acting like men and stop acting like it is so cold around here! Those boys from the 82nd Airborne fought it...and a few paid for that fight with their lives! Strive to be better. Strive to be like them!” With respects to the major, he was reminiscing about a  winter training environment that was 15 degrees warmer than Oksbol so far, and that was before discussing the wind. No one was about to remind the weak-chinned, bird-nosed field grade officer, though. He dismissed us and in little groups we men processed his diatribe. I fell in with Fogle, Sellers and Harsh near a running vehicle that gave off some heat.

Fogle, in the meantime, with his perpetual smile on his face, mocked Bowden, “Men...I led a bunch of cooks right to their graves in cold weather training and I was proud of them! I want to be proud of you pick out your hole where we’ll leave your frost-bitten body and we’ll send a note to your loved ones when we get back from training.” I couldn’t help but laugh, though even tears from my eyes threatened to ice up. The sun played a major difference on the effect of the cold on my face. The cold is more bearable in light. In the meantime, Harsh contributed, “That was some fucked up shit...yes, it was.” I said I had never heard an officer be proud of killing his men before and that I didn’t know what to do about it. “Tell your officers, Scherer and Deal. They are probably the only ones with half a brain in this outfit,” Sellers said. Both of the lieutenants had gone off with LTC Voessler before I woke up. It was true, I didn’t think either would have cottoned to the ‘Brave March to the Snowy Death’ speech. Still, it was only words and the best thing new guys could do is shut up. If anyone wanted to complain about the battalion operations officer it was going to be someone else.

Bowden made the guys at the TOC practice tearing down and putting up the headquarters  throughout the day, while making radio checks. I heard him tell Johnson that he’d get a refueler out to top off the two tracks. However, he wanted little stone walls built around the generators and improved officer quarters and pathways leading to the officer’s quarters also. In all, it was a bright, long and busy day. But, the weather was changing again and slowly became more overcast.

By the time the sun was setting at 3:30 p.m., I was on radio watch in the S-2 track fighting to keep my eyes open. Scherer and Deal came back. Deal told me there was going to be a bad storm and the S-3 would get the word out. It marked the first time anyone told me anything about what was happening. I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ but what could we do about it? We were as ready for the weather as the TOC could be. Maybe it was being from New Jersey that made me always hold the weather in contempt.

To a very real degree, the S-2 and S-3 for 4/41, and maybe every unit for that matter, has a lot more chiefs than indians, so to speak. From the sound outside the TOC’s flap, it was plain to hear Beadle and Guyton speaking loudly about Bowden’s HMMWV. “I want this thing cleaned off and spotless,” Beadle said. Guyton made the remark that the first time it rolls five feet it will be dirty again. “This isn’t going to be driving on anything other than over ice, snow and mud until whenever, and it’s almost night” Guyton said. Nevertheless, Beadle was firm. It went without saying that Beadle, whose job I never quite figured out and no one ever noted, liked the idea that the nearby brass could hear him giving an enlisted man hell for doing something that was both disagreeable, very military and without any real substance. I think he regarded it as very NCO-like. Of course, that was not the way with all NCO’s, or officers for that matter, but it was with a few of them.

Before the lieutenants from S-2 left again to join the battalion commander, the cold had already re-asserted itself as the temperatures dropped noticeably below zero. It was like a blanket of ice had settled over the TOC and, despite any pot-belly stove, onboard track heaters, kicking one’s feet about or being next to the engine compartment, icy pain slipped through the skin like a scalpel. Bowden was gone, as were the other officers. They went wherever most officers went when things weren’t happening, to some land unimaginable to specialists and privates (I was sure that whatever place that was had a nice bar and cake). The commander’s Bradley was gone now too, with Crumby, after it had joined up at the TOC during the afternoon. Sellers was gone also, being the driver for one of the absent lieutenants. It was a handful of us left, the two tracks and the storm. Meanwhile, that refueler Bowden ordered hadn’t showed up; it was as simple and hard as that. It was like the storm had been waiting for us to break-up, like some silent hunter hanging back until there was a straggler in the herd he could then isolate and kill.

Myers and Wells took to working with the rest of us, who were trying to weigh down the flaps of the TOC so as little heat as possible escaped. The two then assisted myself and Fogle when it came to raising the generators higher off the ground. All the while, the wind sped up, soft snow turned to icy hail and the wind bellowed like an angry storm god from Greek myth. While we were doing that, Fisher and Johnson were alternately taking turns barking into the handsets of the tracks’ radios, through static, telling the guys at the battalion’s supply area to get the fuel tanker to our location. Before the radios outright died from the storm, they were told the refueler had already been stuck going on a run to Charlie Company. The wind laughed at us. The storm didn’t show its true face until 5 p.m. or so, when it was made clear to everyone that the Army wasn’t in charge at Oksbol right then.

                The temperature fell fast, to an insane level I have never felt before or since. The new cold wanted to turn people into statues, I think, as the NCOs gathered around the pot-bellied stove, even Fisher, despite the fact the generators for the lights were now fast eating what was left of our gasoline. There was no communication anymore with the rest of the battalion, only heavy static over the air. Neither the S-2’s nor the S-3’S radios were able to get the smallest message out. Our tracks’ engines were the only real source of heat, though one could scarcely know that from the feel of it. Every nerve ending in my face, feet or hands was in pain. The storm now slashed at the TOC’s flaps as it raged in its full glory outside. The temperature had dropped to -25 degrees Fahrenheit by 7 p.m. and that wasn’t the worst of it. By 11 p.m. the temperature hit the last low that I cared to retain, at -38 degrees Fahrenheit.

                The tracks were in bad shape fuel wise, with both breathing fumes. The radios were still out. Now, our anti-freeze and even the remnants of whatever gasoline we had froze. I wasn’t the only one who thought not everyone might make it through this episode unscathed. Despite this, there was apathy everywhere. No orders were coming out of the NCOs. Johnson and Fisher were silent like the rest of us.

                While working down at the Motor Pool on the S-2  track before leaving, I noticed an antenna and its stand wrapped up on the top of the track -- a big one called a 254. It could be mounted to the track and it helped boost the range of radio signals. “Sergeant,” I said to Fisher, “I want permission to go put up the 254 antenna for the S-2 track.” Fisher said it was fine by him but neither he nor Johnson were going to tell anyone to go help me. “I’m not a brain surgeon, sergeant, but if we don’t get off our hands about now bad shit is going to go down here,” I said. Fisher agreed and told me to go put up the 254 then. The antenna was about eight feet tall, the case it was carried in was no doubt frozen, it was getting hard to breath in the TOC let alone in the storm beyond that flap, and the wind had sped up to more than 120 mph, as I would learn later.  I paused at the flap of the TOC and yelled, “No one!? You guys are the fucking experts -- I’m the goddamned new guy! It’s like that?”  I realized I was terrified. 

                   When I went beyond that door it was like oxygen disappeared. Even with a ski mask on I could barely grab any air out of the torrents of wind that beat me up. The ice storm was like a giant that was beating on my stooped-over frame. Icy blasts of wind were like white fire. My unprotected eyes were battered with snow and ice as I slugged along the side of the M577 until I came to the front of the vehicle, where I could hoist myself atop to the driver’s cupola. As I made my way up the icy front of the vehicle, the storm god screamed and beat me with his wind. I struggled, a breath and a movement at a time until I got to the bag and was bashing it with a hammer left up top.

                I opened the bag and started putting the antenna sections together when I saw Fogle crest the top of the track. There was no talking. We were lucky to be breathing. Behind him, there was Myers. As I moved toward them with the mostly pieced-together antenna, a gust of 120-something per mile wind caught me from behind, blowing me off the top of the 7-½ foot vehicle, slamming me into the ice below. I don’t know what happened from there. I woke up later, enroute to a large, hospital-like building that was on the grounds of the training area, probably left over from the old refugee camp. There was a major bruise on the side of my head, my lips were cracked, my shoulder barked angrily and my left knee was walkable, but not by much. I was OK enough to amble into the abandoned hospital like everyone else, but was incredibly sleepy with everything moving in slow motion. It wasn’t for me that the entire battalion took shelter from storm, but it worked out fine for me. I couldn't stay awake.

                Once inside, I got the story from the guys: Myers and Fogle got the antenna up. The TOC got a call out. A refueler somehow got out and the TOC was given coordinates to the abandoned hospital. Myers and Fogle had carried me from the snow, or I would have died there. Sure as hell, no one else would have been coming. Corporal Chris Larsen checked me out and diagnosed, “You had the hell beat out of you, pretty good.” He laughed like a veteran would to a rookie. “But, good job there, bitch.” He put me on bedrest a few days, gave me a knee brace, ice pack, sling for my arm and the Army equivalent of Ben Gay for my knee and shoulder. There were no doctors with the battalion so it was the best he could do.

                The guys at the TOC, enlisted and NCO’s, stopped by my bunk at one point or another to check on me. Finally, Myers and Fogle turned up. In my book, they were heroes and probably saved someone’s life; at least mine. They were never going to see recognition. Their heroism and initiative would have reflected upon their bosses’ lack of ability to handle the situation. ‘You guys saved my life,’ I said. ‘Thank you.’ Maybe the other guys in the TOC that night were just used to the kind of situation we were stuck in and knew it was going to work out. Maybe they had seen this kind of thing a hundred times before, I don't know. Maybe I just lost it and had to do something because doing something was better than nothing, I thought. I am not going to get stuck in the 'maybes.' It was what it was. I was just scared of sitting on my hands and not doing whatever could be done, but the guys backed my play. I didn't ask them. At that point, they didn't know me. All they knew was that I was wearing the same patch they were, and that we had the same shit luck.

                Fogle joked, "Well, that was fun. We have to do that again some time...or not." He was 17 years old, covered in thick, black oil from head to toe and had a smile that cut the night. Myer was more subdued, though still had his slanted smile: "You did OK. But, watch out where you're walking next time, specialist." Walking away, he looked over his shoulder and said, "Oh yeah, welcome to the 2nd Armored Division," and I heard the echo of his laughter as he walked down the hall. It all worked out, but I was lucky enough to be someplace where people had your back when you needed it. Such a thing is the definition of good luck, because other people would, if someone needed it, pick up the slack for them and stick their neck out too. Thank God for that.  

                No one died at Oksbol from 4/41 Infantry. I don’t know if that disappointed Bowden or not. He was later relieved by LTC Voessler saying that Bowden was the only S-3 he ever met who should have been afraid of getting killed by his own troops during peacetime. The battalion wasn’t able to leave that abandoned hospital for another almost two or three weeks. By that time, though, I was feeling a lot better -- which wasn’t hard to do after having my ass kicked by the storm and the fall. By that time, 4/41 Infantry was home, and a place I belonged. I still feel the knee and shoulder on cold days, but along with the pain I also remember the good and the bad of Denmark’s worst piece of winter real-estate ever.

("The Fire in Ice" was submitted to the "Nivalis" Short Story Contest 2015, sponsored by Fabula Press, on Feb. 6, 2015. It is a true story, or at the very least the way I remember it.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chris Corcoran is the Devil!

I submitted this short story to Blackbird, an online literary journal from Virginia a few days back in the "Short Story" category of submission. I like the story and tweaked it for them some. Before this it was never submitted anywhere. Hope you like it. 

By Jim Purcell

A long time ago, in an era far, far away it was 1978: Jimmy Carter was president of the United States, Blondie was at the top of the charts with “Heart of Glass,” “Chips” was the No. 1 show on television and I lived at Admiral Farragut Academy, in Pine Beach, down in South Jersey.

The academy was a boarding school and its students ranged from those who were bright with a few rough spots to the kids of rich folks who were dumb as a bag of hammers but needed to go somewhere their parents’ money could do the talking and not their grades. I had sprouted four inches during the summer after my first year, when I had been a plebe,  and had no idea why my cadet uniforms were so tight and short from just a 3 or 4 months ago.

There were about 15 kids in my class and maybe 30 in my 8th Grade class; the same could be said for every class, ranging from the 5th Grade to the 12th Grade. Everyone in the 8th Grade was staying on the top deck of Farragut Hall, which was one of two main housing areas at the then-all boys military school.

There were any number of ways cadets were billeted. The way the academy ‘ powers that be’ chose to do it that year was to put some cadets in rooms ranging from single-occupant to four-person in rickety, ghost story-prone Farragut Hall. The other option was much newer cadet housing at DuPont Hall, which had a reliable heating system (something Farragut Hall could not boast).

Farragut Hall was well-known to cadets for two reasons: It had a great view of the Toms River and a real problem getting warm air or water during the winter. Old pipes in the place bucked and banged like an asthmatic 90-year-old man climbing up the Statue of Liberty. I was always very flexible when it came to living arrangements, though, by and large, and didn't mind a four-person room or being cold. I liked most of the people I went to school with. Sure, there was no privacy. But, at 12 years old, what is anyone going to do with privacy anyway?

I shared my four-person room with cadets Alfred Bibeault, Luciano Licursi and Chris Corcoran. Bibleault was a new guy, while Licursi and Corcoran had both been going to Farragut for a couple of years. After the long march of time, I can say aloud that Chris was considered an absolute genius by some of us kids, myself included. Among anyone in the school, let alone the Junior School, it was only Corcoran who figured-out and implemented a program of fermenting fruit juice and turning it into alcohol -- subsequently giving it or selling it away so kids might have their first glimpse into alcoholism. It wasn't wonderful tasting alcohol...but it was alcohol nonetheless.

The ‘wine’ concoction Corcoran created occasionally had a slight mildewy taste, but that even made it more authentic to some -- because actual drinks don’t taste good for the most part. No one would drink vodka or whiskey or any of that for anything other than to get lit. It’s not like that stuff tastes like Tang. Undeniably, though, there were batches Corcoran produced that tasted like the better part of a putrid sock (is there a better part of a putrid sock?). If Bartles & Jaymes ever sold a batch like one of Corcoran’s clinkers they wouldn’t have lived long enough to become successful. Still, it taught us to take the good with the bad, I suppose. It felt very grown-up to come home from school and extra-curriculars and toast over armpit-tasting cocktails.
Corcoran himself  was from Florida and athletic and blonde, the very stereotype of a laid-back, future surfer guy. He was easy to get along with, had a good sense of humor and absolutely avoided trouble or anyone who went near trouble at all (other than what trouble he made). Still, he became our class's rough equivalent of a 'moonshiner.'

Corcoran had found the perfect place to ferment the juice. As it turns out there were two large windows in our room that looked into a deserted  quad. So, the scene was unremarkable, at best, when someone looked out and saw the window across from them on the opposite side of the quad: that was it. And, I don't think any of us -- or the cadet or adult staff -- ever really bothered giving the exterior boxed-in area a look by so much as opening the window and looking down. Why would we anyway? The levels below the dorm were closed off and kind of scary looking. After all, the doors were sealed-up downstairs and it was very difficult to see anything wandering in and breaking a window in the lower quad or in anyone's room. Even a lone, deranged bird would have great difficulty breaking a window in the quad, because it wouldn't have the room to really build up a head of steam before it hit window glass in what would have to be a theoretical Kamikazi attack. So, there was nothing going on there...except darkened, plastic containers of fruit juice hanging out of my room's window, tied together with a thin, but strong, rope and lowered down in-between the outside of our room and the downstairs, close to the side of the building exterior (where no one had apparently inspected since the Lincoln Administration was in Washington). Maybe everyone had gotten so caught up with the South losing and everything that they had simply locked up the lower floors and left them vacant while singing their rendition of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.”

Yeah, Farragut was pretty old -- you could practically hear flatulent, ghostly old men, huddled, coughing in the corner and bitching for you to stop making so much noise. The place was distinguished and spotless, top to bottom.  But it had an antique feeling, like when someone visited their grandparents’ house.

Our room was inspected many times and Corcoran's homemade hooch was always there, present with a thin rope attached around a nail inside the window pane. Meanwhile, Corcoran and the rest of us were always very cool during inspections: method acting at its best. I have no idea why, I was actually anxious kid. I think I was confident because Corcoran and Licursi were. They were there a year before me, I reasoned, so they must know the right thing in almost any situation.

The whole thing was both brilliant and devious to me -- two of the most important things for cadets of any kind through the ages to enjoy! The darkened plastic bottles (Corcoran explained later the fermenting process required a dark place) were outside, occasionally clunking into one another during bad weather, and producing Corcoran's wine cooler almost in plain sight. This was a closely guarded secret in our little community and such a secret required not only no one ratting Corcoran out to the cadre or the administration, but also for all his roommates to shut up and not tell anyone else. Even if we didn't rat on Corcoran, anyone else we told might have ratted him out. So, it was strictly a TOP SECRET project. And, since we were in a military academy, I equated the need for security for this project with the same need to keep a military secret in the real world, especially against the 'hated' Russians: 'The fortunes of lives hang in the balance here, we cannot be found out by cadre so we should arrange code words so we can talk about Corcoran’s still without talking about it,' I seriously told to my roommates, who rolled their eyes at the sentiment. Licursi responded, “Okay, Donald Duck, this is the Lone Ranger -- don’t be a dumbass, we’re not going all James Bond on this shit.” In that moment I knew I went a little nuts, but it was OK. When you’re around friends you can go a little nuts, figure it out and have a laugh. We all laughed at my nonsense and, in general, we laughed a lot. We had fun the way only kids can, regardless of any uniforms or marching, saluting or getting lectured about Navy stuff, old battles, as well as going to school, of course.

Licursi was a tough kid from the Bronx, in New York City. He had a dry sense of humor and was pretty much our unelected class leader. To me, Licursi kind of spoke like someone from the “Godfather” movies, but he was very cool and helped a lot of kids when they needed to bend someone’s ear. He also had the distinction of having the only chocolate “Reggie Bar” anyone ever heard of south of Central Jersey. Corcoran was just Corcoran. He never argued with anyone and never got into a fight I heard about. He had this shaggy blond hair, along with his younger brother, Sean, who was  in the 6th Grade at the school.

Bibeault was the son of a casino manager in Atlantic City. He was a rich kid with the worst case of Attention Deficit Disorder since “Odie,” the dog in the comic “Garfield.” But, he was awkward interacting with the guys. Not helping anything was that, at 12 years old, he was the better part of 6-feet tall. Being overly excited and at least 6 inches taller than everyone made him stand out a little.  He loosened up, though, despite being a plebe (first-year student).

I was a weirdo, who at this point in my life was telling everyone I going to be a Catholic priest when I graduated high school -- despite the fact I wasn’t even Catholic. Yet, as much as I had seen so far was that priests had cool uniforms, nice places to stay and never got crap from anyone. I thought it may be some kind of mortal sin to give a priest crap, which meant they had built-in clout. I was serious too but it was all that being nice to everyone all the time stuff that made me think this might get really old after a while. By the following summer, when I discovered girls, the priest plans were on a respirator.

At the academy, into the late summer and early fall the Toms River was still warm enough (and clean enough back then) to swim in. So, we’d bolt from class, get changed into swim trunks, and race down to a little dock in back of the school, then hurl ourselves into the water just as fast and hard as we could. Splash fights and water wrestling were favorite activities there: academy insurance company adjusters would have “ lost their shit,”as we used to say, if they knew about it. We were being kids, though, and did ‘being kids’ real well, I guess.

In a few months, each of us were moved to single- or two-person rooms for one reason or another. It stung a little. I mean, we just got done breaking each other in and making the place liveable. Meanwhile, four new guys moved into our old room (Who the hell did they think they were?). Interestingly enough, though,  Corcoran kept using the same room for the fermentation process -- without the current residents even being aware of it; they never bothered to open the window and look down. Priceless. They had no knowledge of the moonshining going on right next to them. It was better than watching Adam West’s “Batman” slip in unobserved into a super-villain’s lair.  I asked Corcoran what something like that was called and he said, "Plausible deniability. My Dad is totally into politics, so I learned about it on television with all that Nixon stuff when I was little."

It was a little tricky hoisting the bottles up and getting them out in a bag, but Licursi, Bibeault or me would usually divert the news kids’ attention or Corcoran went all Ninja and stealthy. This didn’t make any of us “Robin,” though. The uniform with the skivvies pretty much was a deal breaker for us guys.

However, running cover for Corcoran did give us an excuse to get innovative. Once Licursi ducked his head into their room and yelled “FIRE DRILL!” Another time, Bibeault stole one of the kids’ wallets right in front of their eyes and made them give chase to him. Meanwhile,  I brought some shiny garland left over from Christmas to the news guys’ room, when Corcoran needed to get in, and shook it at the door while I yelled, “Look, something shiny!” and raced down the hall with them chasing me. I got the idea from Mr. Langford, our English teacher, who had talked recently about how people and dogs weren’t all that different in a lot of ways. The family dog at my parent’s house, he was named “Bullet” by my dumbass brother, would have gone nuts if I dangled garland at him. I guessed it was the same for kids and tried it out. It works.

Gradually, Corcoran befriended the new inhabitants of our room so he had a regular cause to be there. I don’t know how -- honestly. None of them spoke English and I hadn’t heard Corcoran do so much as pronounce “burrito” right. Yet he did. Since doors were kept open anyway, if he were caught in the room with no one there, Corcoran would just say he was waiting for someone; truly, an evil genius. I think he even legitimately learned some Spanish to get by, but I’m not 100 percent on that one. Sure, it was against the rules to wait in someone’s room when they were not there. But, it was far from a hanging offense. Usually, a member of the cadet cadre or adult staff would just tell the waiting cadet they couldn’t wait there and to wait somewhere else. Corcoran also had a laundry bag with him, usually, when he went to the room for his hauls and had gotten pretty good at getting his bottles up or down really fast.

In fact, Corcoran, who might have been taken as vacuous because of his laid-back manner of speech and demeanor, was a closet intellectual: amazingly smart and very quiet about it. He had my vote for 'most likely to own the world' after school days.

Before we moved out and went to other rooms on the same floor, though, Corcoran had tried another idea. Basking in our admiration from the whole fermented fruit juice thing, he came into the room on a rainy Saturday afternoon, when we were all there and sleeping or reading. He hurried in and dragged the empty garbage can from the hall into the center of the floor. OK, he had our attention. Then he told us he had something cool that would make us feel great. Bibeault speculated, “This is usually the speech someone gets before they start drugs, isn’t it? I don’t know if I want to start drugs now or later, in high-school,” he said seriously. Corcoran looked at him and broke into laughter, then said: “Dumbass.” Then, he withdrew from his pocket a can of Copenhagen snuff, pride of the U.S. Tobacco Company. Almost made the stuff feel patriotic. I discovered the nationalistic tobacco container held a kind of chewing tobacco called “snuff.”
"Guys! I found the most incredible shit! Get this, you put some of this between your cheek and gum -- don't swallow! -- and then spit it out," Corcoran said.

Licursi was the first one to comment: "Why the hell would we do that?"

I chimed in, ‘Why spit? I never heard of just spitting for its own sake. I know camels do that.’

“Yeah, I heard that too...about the camels and spitting and stuff. I heard it --,” Bibeault said and was interrupted by a smiling look from Licursi.

“I don’t know about any camel shit or spitting camels or any other kind of goddamn camels, but I want to hear a little about this,” Licursi said in his thick New York accent.

Corcoran explained that, as the tobacco rested in someone's cheek, the snuff mingles with saliva and mouth tissue to transfer nicotine to the bloodstream. Corcoran immediately transformed from empty headed surfer guy to Professor Tobacco Wizard on a dime. He said the transfer was quick and very powerful and that this combination would result in us "getting high."

Everyone was doubtful, but Corcoran was the class evil scientist. If science has taught us nothing, it has stated the need to venture forward and try new things. So, Licursi said, "Alright, let's give it a try."

We all placed a chair next to the garbage can and took a pinch of snuff, some of us more than a pinch. While we were doing that, Corcoran said, "OK, let's try to fill up the garbage can with tobacco juice we spit out."

‘Why? What’s the point in that?’ I asked.

“Because no one has done this before here!” he responded.

“How do you know it’s never been done here?” Licursi said.

Corcoran laughed and was ready for the question. “There is nothing in the Cadet Handbook about chewing tobacco, no one tells us we can’t do it but they won’t let anyone smoke, and there hasn’t been a memorial built for it -- and everything around here that is OK has a damn memorial with a nameplate. So, it hasn’t been done. We’re like astronauts here, guys,” he said.

“Yeah...true,” Licursi said. We all laughed at Corcoran’s bullshit logic.

I don't know why that sounded intriguing at the time, but it was a boring enough Saturday to do something stupid. It just happened.

So, the four of us talked and joked with each other as we chewed this snuff tobacco. At first it was awesome! It made us each feel really high and good. It was a friendly feeling that was very nice. Sure, the taste was terrible -- but the effect was good. If there was a Nobel Prize for science, we would have conferred it immediately upon Corcoran, without delay. There would be additional accolades from the fine people at Winston-Salem for turning three new people onto a potentially life-long habit: Is there a ‘downside’? Not from where I was standing.

‘How does he come up with this stuff?’ I asked myself. Bibeault immediately started talking about his father after he took a ‘dip’ from the little tin. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, Bibeault was always talking about his father. He quoted his father more than Jesus did his back in the day. This is despite the fact hardly anyone in school talked about their parents. What would we say, ‘Yeah, I’m their favorite, which is why I am in a boarding, all boys military academy before high school.’ Not so much.

Hearing about parents was right there with hearing about dentistry or the history of the urinal. This was our place where we could be us, not someone else’s kid. Licursi was talking a lot with his hands -- that was different. Corcoran just sort of sat there and listened to everyone else looking mellow. Meanwhile, I gave my reasons why New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver was the best big league hurler ever -- especially better than the Yankees’ “Catfish” Hunter. This sparked a quick, caustic response from Licursi, because he loved the Yanks and was sure “...the Mets suck. They sucked since they began and they sucked through the World Series in ‘69 even though they won it.  Tom ‘Shit Face’ Seaver is a big deal only because he sucks a little less than everyone else on the team!”

‘Well, Catfish Hunter is a girl -- everyone knows that! And, he throws like one!’

“Tom Seaver is a butt pirate who sells his Mom’s old underwear door-to-door!”

‘You bought them!’

“You did the sniff test!”

I defended, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until the Yankees start playing in a men’s league before you go talking like that!?’ Everyone broke up with that one, even Licursi. I made that joke up right there and having been boring people with it for almost 40 years ever since. It was only really funny that one time, I admit, but I have been waiting for it to draw a laugh ever since.

Corcoran was the first, however, to spit out all of the tobacco he had after choking on it. He washed his mouth out with a soda he had squirreled away, spat the vile liquid into the garbage can, and went to bed unceremoniously. Not long after that, in succession, Licursi and Bibeault did the same thing, leaving me the sole survivor of the 'Great Experiment.' I wasn't feeling all that good myself, though. The room was spinning. I swallowed some of the tobacco trying to get it out of my mouth and caught the sight and smell of the venomous waste of all that spitting at the bottom of the trash container.

Looking into the garbage can, we hadn't managed to fill it all the way up with spit but we managed to create quite a bit at the bottom. It sloshed back and forth, lolling about in a sickening wave of thick grossness, which could easily make someone heave -- or kill animals outright by the smell.  I looked down into it and ended up puking into the can with a lovely sound. If I looked in a mirror at that point my reflection would have been green. I washed out my mouth with an orange drink I had in my footlocker and was in the process of crawling back to into bed for some much-needed sleep. The other guys were out like a light and I was going to get there too.

Well, it was Saturday and no one was there and so, when Corcoran came in and started all this, none of us thought to close the door. Before I managed to get back into bed, a cadet petty officer third class, his last name was Kelly, walked into our room out of nowhere and went to the trash can. He lived on the other side of the hall. It being a weekend, him and his roommate, another 10th grader and cadet petty officer, Joe Van Fleet, would have been a lock to be home on pass and not on campus. I guess it wouldn’t have been a lock this weekend.

"Hey, you guys don't get a personal trash can! This is for everyone on this side of the wing, not just you guys" said Kelly to me, as the only conscious person in the room. I nodded and said I was sorry. The teen-aged petty officer quickly inspected the can and then took note of the most vile concoction ever spewed  at the bottom of it.

"What the hell is this!?" Kelly barked. I really didn’t want to explain. I was too far along with nausea for all that.

I thought, 'How can these guys be sleeping through this? They're awake...jerks, assmunchers.' I told Kelly we were playing a kind of game and I would get one of the other guys to help me take it out after I woke up.

Not good enough. I knew what was coming somehow.

"You're going to get your ass down here right now, and bring this downstairs and empty this shit onto the grass outside is what you're doing!" he said. “Them you’re going to wash this can out and put a bag in it!”

Really? Really -- no one is going to lend a hand here? I knew they were awake.

I asked, 'Are you sure this can't wait until someone else is awake to help me? This thing is pretty heavy and it's disgusting on top of that.’ I also tried to tell him my back had been aching and maybe it’s too much.

Kelly was firm. “You’re 11 years old, for Christ’s sake, how bad could it be? So, I’ll take the chance -- get this downstairs now.”

I grabbed the trash can and waddled outside and down the black, metal staircase to ground level; ironically, next to the chow hall. I have never been so sickened. I put the sloshing trash can down momentarily on the upstairs landing just so I could puke into it again -- but all that came up this time was bile.

Unable to puke anymore, I dry-heaved once or twice as I brought the trash can to ground level. The only thing I could puke at this point was my lungs or intestines. I dumped out the hellish soup into the grass and then rinsed the can out with a green hose not so far away. I washed the lingering puke and tobacco off my mouth and face and then drank some water from the hose too. It stayed on my stomach and made me feel a little better. These days, people buy bottled water by the tons. Back then, we had something a lot like that -- but it was a garden hose -- and we didn’t pay anything for it and it was the best-tasting water ever.

Then, I brought the trash can upstairs and placed it back where it belonged and put a trash bag in it (which did not always happened). Kelly was gone also, satisfied I did what he said.

Finally, I headed back to bed. En route to my rack, I said out-loud. ‘You guys suck!’ There was muffled giggling to be heard. Of course they didn’t suck. They got one over on me, but that’s what we lived for. There was always another day to get revenge. So much for killing some time on a Saturday, though.

It is for sure that Corcoran was not the Devil (at least I think not). He was, however, a precocious, inquisitive, bright youngster who was adventurous and a leader. Sometimes, adventure meant great things, and other times -- not so much. This was just one of those latter times. In the end, though, it just went to show that all of us just have to take the good with the bad. In this case, the bad was really, really bad...and sickening and bad. But, even then, I knew it would make one heck of a story one day.

I never found out what happened to Licursi or Corcoran when they grew up. I did, however, find out about Bibeault. I talked to another ex-classmate online a few years ago and he said Bibeault put some money behind this little  company some friends of his were making in the 1980s -- if they had asked me I would have laughed them out of the building. First off, I would have thought, ‘Who uses the Internet all that much? This thing will never catch on.’ And, why would anyone want to go to a “virtual casino” when they could go to a real one instead? Waitresses do not wear skimpy uniforms online, I would have affirmed. As it turns out, though, the company got white hot in the early 1990s and just kept getting bigger and bigger. Today, Bibeault is a gazillionaire who never married, owns houses all over the world and hasn’t worked a day since like 1992. I have never quite forgiven him for being crazy successful.

I went into the Army after high school, then got out and went to college and became a journalist in New Jersey. I married and divorced but have two amazing and beautiful daughters out of the deal. You remember that priest thing and me? Well, I went so far as to go through investigation of the process of becoming a priest while in college, under the supervision of a really nice older Jesuit. After months of struggling with the celibacy thing, Father Norman said we could cut through all of this right now, after so much hashing for months. “I need you to do something -- go out with every fine young lady you want or will have you or you will never, ever be able to figure out if you can do without a woman. Check that box, son!” So, I saw if I could do without female companionship and discovered I couldn’t. The guy knew what he was doing; some people were not meant for celibacy.

At Farragut, sometimes people thought kids weren’t really kids there because they basically lived like they were in the Navy. I challenge that: Kids can find a way to be kids anytime, anywhere if they really want to do it. We did.
What had been Farragut was sold and paved under for condominiums during the 1990s. I went back to visit, but too late. All that was left was the football field.

I actually met one of my classmates in the 8th Grade at the Veterans Administration, in 2013 -- Joe Van Fleet, Kelly’s old roommate. We cut up and laughed like we were kids for an hour over lunch and then he told me the gossip he knew and I told him what I knew about old classmates. He said something to me as we started to head off in our separate ways. The former Coast Guard warrant officer immediately reminded me of his younger self when he said, “Being grown-up sucks.” What he said touched me and I agreed, ‘Yeah, it sure does, Joey. I sure could use another dip in the Toms River.’

In youth, the summers are always golden and orange, many kids make a ton of noise and laugh about anything and the sound of the ice cream truck was more important than Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine against polio. I always thought that if someone did it right as being a kid that there was always something good to remember when you got older; it turns out that was pretty much true. I really do wish there hadn’t been quite so much vomiting involved with whatever life lesson this was supposed to teach me: ‘If at first you don’t succeed with a dumb idea: Stop!’