Saturday, April 12, 2008

War of the Bridges - From Lurch


I was just patrolling the old blog entries, looking up some info on longtime friend (and one of my original readers), Lurch. He passed away not too long ago, a sad event which I have yet to fully address in writing. But while over at Left is Right, I caught a blurb linking to one of his reports at Main and Central. "The War of the Bridges."

And in the process, I had what I think may have just been my first flashback. I can't explain it, other than simply to say: "Oh my God, this was us."

This was ME. This was what I DID. These attacks are what kept me awake for forty-plus hours at a stretch, trying to undo what those bastards wrought. This is what nearly broke us, stripped us of supplies, equipment. I thought I'd moved past most of it: the mortars, the times getting shot at, the late nights, the back-breaking missions.

But this, this is different. I'm actually dizzy. I need to get up from the computer.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Yeah, I Changed Subtitle. What're You Going To Do About It?

And I have to credit Athenae for the idea. Athenae may have first composed the phrase for her Ferret, Riot, but I've never run across a better descriptor for our bipolar, lurching attitudes of literacy.

And while I think of it, Ferret Riot makes a damn fine blog name too. Or a Dave Barry band.

However, I think some of us are more likely to belt out increasingly drunken versions of other songs rather than Skynnard. At the moment, Pearl Jam's Jeremy is stuck in my head, although I suppose that Dave Matthews Band's Crash is the next top finisher. We're not going for art here. We're going for embarrassing confessions of inner self that honestly reflect your craptactular times of formation. Like how you so fantasized over Susanna Hoffs rather than Tori Amos.

Name it, you know you want to.

Those of us watching Galactica will be checking in after 10PM CDT :)

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Logos (For Alina)

I am the Writer, the Creator,
Keeper-Of-Songs, Shaper-Of-Worlds,
A stroke, and I set the stars in motion
A raise of my hands, and I reap the tides.
My fingers spark, blue lightning at their tips,
And in them is the spin of a world's particles,
The ionic fires of birth and oblivion.

Imagine a door, a place, a moment,
And seeing it as it will be, as it will become,
Imagine seeing it, held in the Inner Eye,
And when you come to that door, that place
Step into it, into what you have seen and known
A synchrony like no other, an understanding.
This not power. It is the Godhead.

Create a world, and you will know,
That there is no All-Good, All-Just
Only a restless and questing Mind,
For the act of Creation is Division
A sundering of the Self, a re-birthing,
And in that cleaving, a holding-up to Light,
A seeing-of-ourselves, pain made beautiful.

It is a gutting-of-the-heart, this thing,
A self-destruction that brings ascension.
You come to understand the Samana,
The scourger, the ascetic-of-Walden,
For this act, this Creation, is a Sacrifice,
Shouting: "This is beauty, and it was mine once.
"It is yours now! Take it!"

When all else in the world is dead,
This torment, this salvation remains.
It is the eye of Another, a Girl
Who might show me of Herself
And take me with Her.
Her story is mine, a hidden life
Whose mysteries might reflect in my own.

I live and weep for this,
This communion,
This search for answers.
And yet for all my words,
I am afraid, afraid that all the words,
A million words might never be enough.
What is explained? And what done justice?

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Just a reminder

The future will curse us for it...

Go read.

The Stain. IT. WILL. NOT. WASH. OUT!

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I Thought She Was Gone...

Jeez, just when I thought I'd be free of listening to her, Randi Rhodes gets a new job.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Michael Nyman - The Promise

Music plays a huge role in my writing. Entire stories have sprung up from hearing a simple lyric. Part of my routine, aside from coffee and smoke, has been the presence of music that moves me, lifts me, takes me into the mind of a character.

Years ago, my wife picked up an audio cassette at a yard sale. It was labeled simply "Piano Reflections." One one side, a collection of works by Chopin, Debussy, Pachelbel and others; on the other, an orchestral piece comprising strings and piano together in a clearly neo-classical movement-based symphony. We used to fall asleep to this, and for years I tried to seek out its composer, to no success.

The defining theme of the piece is this piano concerto. Closing my eyes, I used to lay in bed at night and think of the snowstorms that ravaged the Michigan landscape of my upbringing. I'm one of those rare people for whom music elicits a synesthetic response, so forget the video that comes attached to this piece--I just close my eyes and let the music do for me what it does.

Seriously, close your eyes and listen to this. It's technically English, but tell me it doesn't carry the unique minimalist touch of an American composer. I honestly thought of Copland and Barber when hearing this for the first time. I think that this piece carries a certain correlation to elements in the natural world, and I think that there's something unique in the response of American musicians in their exposure to nature.

This song will inspire my next book. I can't wait. What do you guys think of it?

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New puppy

She's called Oreo. Part dachshund, part ?? Isn't she cute?

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Happy Thoughts

We had a saying downrange: "Complacency kills."

It was true then, and it's true now. Especially in the realm of politics. We owe our Congressional majority to complacency on the part of the Republican Party (not to mention a list of corruption charges that make the House Appropriations Committee look like an ATM). Given the lessons of the last eight years, I'd not advise us to heed this saying well, but I've been thinking about the Presidential race, and I'd like to share a thought.

The blogosphere: As a whole, we've been pulling out our hair lately because of Hillary and Obama. I understand this, and it frustrates me too. I hear the cries about how we should be focusing on the GOP, and I agree wholeheartedly. Do I see the polls indicating that McCain has a lead on both candidates, and feel just a hint of fear? Sure. "Over the dunes and IEDS, back to the Mideast I go."

But as Gandalf said, "I bring tidings in this dark hour." I'd like to share a vision, if I can.

Picture a Dem candidate... say Obama, because I support him. Different strokes, whatever. NOW, picture the candidate of your choice, having secured the nomination. We have a black man and a woman, each arguing for improvements on the domestic fronts, who argue for better healthcare, for troop reductions in Iraq, and for a host of other wholesome liberal values that we can all get behind, right?

Okay, I've set up the pins. NOW imagine the other guy: John McCain. Pudgy, confused, easily angered: keeps company with George Bush and Joe Lieberman. A guy who obviously knows nothing about the economy, nor foreign policy. A guy who cannot be inoffensive no matter how hard he tries. A guy who openly champions EVERY SINGLE FUCKING policy move of the last eight years--who calls BAGHDAD safe. A guy who, if you might remember, flips out and calls his wife a "cunt," in public, to her face.

Now picture, a few months from now, the first debate. The first BIG debate, nationally televised. Picture, for my sake, Barack Obama, charismatic speaker, diehard liberal, fresh-faced junior senator, against this Grumpy Munchkin. Picture the questions, the responses. And tell me that McCain's fraction of a lead isn't going to just disappear before they get to the first commercial break.

Even Hillary Clinton, as much baggage as comes with that name, is more than strong enough, smart enough, to dance circles around this guy. She'd have him stumbling around like Rocky after going ten rounds with Apollo Creed the first time. She might take some real dingers from the wingnuts in the crowd, but damn it, she'll convince the centrists, I bet.

And Obama? Please. Obama would fucking destroy him.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

What it All Means

It’s not just a waste of ink.

Apparently, doodling actually means something and can tell us something about ourselves. (Yes, a study was commissioned.)

“Abstract shapes signify freethinkers unlimited by boundaries. Boxes within boxes could mean feeling trapped or overwhelmed, while linked boxes point to linked ideas and a desire to construct.

Flowers, the study said, are the work of creative or self-absorbed people. Spirals drawn outward show the desire to move on; toward the inside, a desire to focus.”

My doodles tend to be extravagant asterisks, where the feathery circle rainbows out from the center. I also doodle lines that look like flames. I always doodle when on the phone and I will do it on whatever paper tends to be lying around. In my house it is usually envelopes (because it takes me forever to deal with my mail.)

So, do you doodle? When do you doodle and what do you doodle?

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Charlton Heston passes away

Odd that snark would bring up Heston in his earlier post, only to have the actor die this weekend. Kiss of Death, much, snark?

In any case, Steve Clemons has an interesting tidbit about Heston from way back when Clemons worked at the Nixon Center. Take a look if you're interested, including the comments.

So. What was your favorite Heston movie? I must say, I was a Moses fan from way back. We watched every year during Easter, of course (there's a good rundown of what the film really meant at the time it was made in Steve's comments), and every year, I remember wondering why the hell Moses went and let himself be outed as a jew when he could have been king and gotten the girl, the throne, the dancing nubians, and could have freed the slaves with lots less hassle! Oh well, I guess it's all about the ten commandments or something like that...

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Blue Falcon

It wasn't supposed to end this way.

For years, I defended him. For years, I tried to argue his virtues, his professionalism, his loyalty as a friend. For years, I covered for him--even went before the commander myself and pleaded with him not to chapter Oz from the Army. Now, with the unit moving to Knox and my ETS date rapidly approaching, I find myself in a place I had hoped never to be. I've become caught between two very different definitions of friendship, and not sure which one is worse.

I've had to cut ties with Oz.

Oz is an alcoholic--"recovering," anyway. I've known it for a long time, and so has he. His problems started not long after I arrived at the unit, just as the main body was returning from downrange in '05. At the time, he was sidelined by a knee injury, sent home early, and so he was subjected to a great deal of scorn by his compatriots for "shamming out," for "being a shitbag." For a long time after the redeployment, nobody wanted anything to do with Oz, and even if nobody else saw it, I certainly did. Wracked by guilt, isolated from his peers, Oz began to drink more often, and more heavily, until before long he was showing up to formations reeking of vodka.

I saw it, of course. People laughed, called him a drunk, on top of everything else. I tried to defend him, tried to argue that he was under stress, but perhaps I just wouldn't see it. Can I be blamed? He was the first person to actually make me feel welcomed into the unit. Could I be expected to simply leave him by the wayside? Perhaps. But that's not how I wanted things to end.

He got busted, of course. I tried to get him away from the barracks, tried to get him help, but nobody listened, least of all him. He ended up in the Krankenhaus for alcohol poisoning, and so he got stripped down to E-1. He was on extra duty for so long that we barely got to hang out until just before our deployment in '06. A lot of things happened for him during that time, and he went through some pretty emotional periods. He got involved in AA, met a German girl who was supportive. Little by little, he came to acknowledge that he was an alcoholic. He became serious about his meetings, became serious about maintaining contact with his sponsor. Myself, I've never been a heavy drinker, so it was easy for me to abstain from beer when he was over at my house. Things were rough, sure, but all the signs suggested that he was getting better. He was, as we say, "taking the hit and driving on."

Then we deployed. Soldiers in combat are prohibited from drinking alcohol, and so for a time, it was good. I won't lie--it sucked. We were in the same squad at first, with the same incompetent crew chief. We hated life, but we made do. Then he got transferred to Support Platoon, Recon Section, and I followed a month later. With a new mission and longer leashes, Oz and I did pretty well. Oz became a star performer. He earned over 11 separate awards, and gained all of his lost rank, plus one, inside of a year. Now SPC Oz, there soon emerged talk of sending him to the board. He certainly had the time in service, and more than enough of the experience. None would have denied him the rank. Even I, as jealous as I was, had to admit that he would have made an excellent NCO.

And so it was. Cut away from the booze, with a better chain of command and better resources available to him, Oz managed to make a name for himself. He became known as a hard charger again, if perhaps one fueled by too many Monster energy drinks. He gained the respect of his fellows within the unit, and by the time we returned home, it was easy to see something in his bearing, his eyes, which had never been there before: Pride.

I'll say it again: we got lucky. No kills, no deaths, and over 150 missions out the wire, some as long as two months. Neither I nor Oz saw anything which should have permanently warped us, though to be certain we had our scares. So why am I left feeling like a fool?

Came back to Germany, Oz got orders to Leonard Wood. He proposed to Saskia, invited me to be his best man. Of course I accepted. As was his right, finally free of the stressors that had once fueled him, Oz allowed himself to cut loose a little bit. I didn't necessarily like it, but despite my concerns he handled himself well. A beer here, a glass of wine with dinner. Nothing major. I raised my eyebrow, but he never gave me any cause to doubt. Time passed, the unit began to shrink, and Oz informed me that Saskia was pregnant. My best friend was going to be a father. I was ecstatic of course. Plans for the wedding were made, preparations for his move to Leonard Wood set in motion. We all hoped he'd get a few years with his wife as part of the training battalion there, but we all knew he'd be going to 50-Boat. Oz said it didn't bother him,

I went off to my old job at the Legal Office, working as my unit's Tax Advisor. Oz and I saw less of each other, which saddened me. But come on, I told myself--we work in different offices, we both have women at home. It bothered me, but I wasn't about to complain--after all, I have a wife as well. But then Oz gets busted again for Drunk on Duty. He has a relapse. I'm upset of course, not least of all because he didn't call me for help. But making it worse, not two days later I call him up--his fiancee miscarried. Horrible, of course, but I'm on it. I cancel my plans for the day, talk him into coming over to visit. And then it hits me, halfway through our conversation. He's drunk. He's drunk again, and arguing with me about his right to be so. And then I find out that he had help from the guys in the barracks.

It's eight a.m., and a bunch of guys in my unit are playing beer-pong with a known alcoholic There is no curse vile enough to describe my contempt for these people.

I call up my crew chief, of course. I talk him into not punishing Oz. I get him out of the barracks, get him to my place where he can sleep and sober up. He gets busted again, of course, but he takes the hit this time. His orders are coming up, and so we don't have much time left. His wedding day is near, and we agree to make plans to go out sometime before the bachelor party.

So where does he want to go? The Irish Pub.

Go out, play pool. He drinks. We talk about the bachelor party, and he tells me what he wants. He talks about wanting to go out one last time with some guys from the barracks. "Are you going to drink?" I ask him. He doesn't answer. When I press him again, he gets defensive. For the next three hours, I try to gently nag him on the subject, pointing out that he's not had a good record with the demon rum. He doesn't want to hear it. Meanwhile, next to him his fiancee, who isn't exactly a model of temperance herself, works on her fifth Jack and Coke, saying nothing even as I remind Oz that he currently has FIVE alcohol-related offenses under his belt.

"That's a full-house, bro," I say.

"I'm fine, dude," he replies. "I'm cleared out of the unit. They can't touch me until I get to Leonard Wood."

This isn't quite the response I was going for.

I let it go eventually, but here the first whispers of guilt begin to fill my mind. I'm worried--is this the right thing? Am I asking too much to insist that he NOT drink at his own bachelor party? I spend a day or two mulling this over, while I sleep it off. Things go back to normal, and I decide I'm going to call him about it, one more time. As it turns out, however, I'm not going to get that chance. Oz calls me up, last night, already drunk. He says he's getting ready to come over, that he wants to hit up Pure Platinum by around nine. "What are you talking about?" I ask. He says: "The bachelor party, bro."

"Dude," I say, having to pause my game of Half-Life 2. "The party wasn't supposed to be for ten days yet. I haven't even sent out the invites yet, or made the reservation."

"Well, everyone else thinks its tonight," he tells me. "Come by the barracks when you're ready, I should be there around 8."

A pause. I tell him I have to call him back. A few minutes go by, and finally I dial him again. My first words: "Who exactly is 'everybody else?'"

Inside my brain, something snaps. He's drinking again, he's asked me to be his best man, he's talked over and over about how I have to pay for everything (it's CUSTOM), and now he wants to change the DAY on me? On top of which, he tells everyone BUT the HOST? I don't want to be rude here, but I have some stuff on my mind. I proceed to give him a polite but pointed earful, telling him that he can't just change things on me, that he has to let me play the host and handle this myself. He doesn't want to hear it. He whines that I never call him, and I point out that he never answers his phone. I tell him, "Look, I'm already compromising with my morals here by letting you drink at the party I'm hosting you, but now this shit? I'm starting to feel a little taken advantage of."

Silence. Over the phone, I hear his fiancee, yelling in her broken English for Oz to refill her drink. I start to fume. I resume the upbraiding, until finally Oz tells me, "All right, look dude, we'll do it on the 12th, like you wanted."

"Look," I say, "you want to just go out and get drunk, we can do that. You want a fuckin' PARTY, you gotta let me arrange some shit, okay?"

"Whatever, dude, it's fine," he says. "Look, man, I gotta make some calls yo. I'll talk to you later."

"All right. Hey, thanks for understanding, all right?"

He burps. "Whatever." And then he hangs up.

Relief. My worries are growing though. What does he think he's doing? Does he think he can just sweet-talk me into giving him his way? Is that it? This isn't the Oz I remember. I try to shrug it off. Brooks and my friend DeSoto from Legal come by for dinner. We spend a good couple of hours talking and laughing over beers, and then by 9 o' clock first Brooks, then DeSoto bid us adieu. All is quiet for perhaps half an hour after they leave, until at last the phone rings. It's Brooks.

"Hey, man," he drawls. "I just ran into Oz and Kenneth. Them and Stein're goin' out to Pure Platinum. I think Oz's been drinkin' again."

I can feel myself biting the inside of my cheek. "No shit," I say. "All right, man. Thanks." And I hang up.

We have a term in the Army: Blue Falcon. Among the rank and file, it's usually pronounced "Buddy Fucker," and it can refer to a number of different things. It can refer to one who, for whatever reason, goes out of one's way to betray a fellow soldier. However, most of the time it refers to one who, through either ignorance or sheer laziness, leaves a battle buddy out in the cold, either through lack of information or simply by not policing up his friend's performance. This is the term that I am left with.

Who is the true Blue Falcon: the one who drinks with a known alcoholic, or the one who tries and fails to save him? I come to the realization that night: I can't support what he's doing anymore. I've tried my best, and no, I didn't want it to be this way, but I'm getting ready to leave the Army. He's getting ready to move to Leonard Wood. We only have a few weeks left, and I wanted to try and part ways with him on a positive note, but I see now that he's just sliding down too far. I have to do as SSG Mueller said: Cut my losses.

Even now, it's a bitter feeling. I could just leave it be, maybe long enough to say goodbye, to see him happily off into the world of marriage and his next duty station, but now I see that I can't. He's gotten to this place because he was surrounded by Blue Falcons, Buddy Fuckers, who knew his problem and yet did nothing to try and stop him. He may be getting ready to leave, but even after I'm gone, maybe he'll look back and see what a friend he had in me. Maybe he'll see what I tried to do, and maybe it might dawn on him.

Or maybe it won't. Maybe I'm the Buddy Fucker. Maybe we all are. All I know is, I've tried to do the right thing, tried to show integrity, and failed. I failed him, failed my best friend. Fifteen months and a safe return home, and I couldn't pull security when he needed it most.

I'm calling him. Right now. Going to tell him that I can't be his best man anymore. It ends here.

I'm sorry, Oz.

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