Growing Up…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2015 by me

When I was a young pup, probably 12 or 13, I used to have a nightly ritual on weekends, holidays and summer vacations.  Two shows, late at night.  “Spenser:  For Hire” on Lifetime and “Route 66″ on Nick-at-Night.  Each show spoke to me on different levels, maybe defined me in some subtle ways.

By this time I’d read most of Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” series.  His mythology was already deeply engrained in me.  As was Travis McGee.  Tough old guys who weren’t emotional, who shoved emotions down and just focused on the job.  Who’d seen some pain and as soon as that pain could be worked through they went back to the mission at hand.  Guys who were mostly self contained and independent.  They were sexier versions of the men I thought I was supposed to grow up to be. That I thought all men were supposed to be.  Spenser was a fighter, literally and figuratively, and kept getting back up no matter how hard life or the bad guys beat him down and he almost always accomplished what he promised to do.  He always accomplished his personal mission, the that HE chose to accept, but once chosen he followed to the end, no matter what the price.  That was in me.  On some level, the way I thought my dad was telling me, had trained and sculpted me, I was ready to grow up to be that man.

On the flip side there was Route 66.  Happiness and wonder was found by those two guys touring this great nation in a convertible corvette.  Two guys, both bumming around and being small time heroes in each story, helping people out as they went, finding time to work and earn money to drive on down the road to the next adventure and the next great love.  I had no home, I had no great love.  How could that NOT appeal to me.  I was already traveling across the country already, just at a slower pace.

I liked those last night routines.  They were a sign of me gaining trust and responsibility from my parents.  I was the only one staying up watching the shows.  I was the one responsible for protecting the family by locking the doors. I was the one expected to shut the house down for the night.  And I was expected to wake up early enough the next morning to do whatever chores were required of me for the day.

While doing those chores the wheels were turning.  Plotting.  Dreaming.  How could I travel the world like that?  My dad was too…  responsible, too organized, not trusting enough.  As a product of him and his upbringing I never had the confidence, the trust to walk away from good housing, food, warmth and safety to strike out on my own without a guarantee of the next job and the accompanying paycheck.

Not too long after that the motorcycle bug really bit me.  I’d always liked them, always wanted to ride, but this was different.  I couldn’t stop dreaming about touring the country on a bike.  I started dreaming about getting a job like Charles Kuralt, paid to tour the country and report on quaint stories.  Or of being a motorcycle reviewer, talking a magazine into letting me do long distance/touring reviews of bikes.  At one point I added the detail of taking a camera to the dreams.  Not that I wanted to take lots of photos at that the time.  For some reason as much as I loved the idea of being an artist, I couldn’t get serious about photography since my sister was a photographer.  I think I wanted my own “thing”.  But I thought if I had a gig as a travel writer, it’d make sense to take a camera with me.  And I used to think the camera would give me a level of access to locals while touring.  Like a conversation piece.  I even said maybe I’d take the camera without film, just carry it around to give me an excuse to wander around.

So.  That started over 25 years ago.  And I thought about it and then forgot about it as I moved on to other dreams and fantasies for years.  But the other day it kind of hit me.  The motorcycle is ready to go.  I’ve dumped a lot of money into getting things “just right” on it over the last six months.  I’ve got the money and vacation time in the bank and to go on short tours.  The boy is old enough and independent enough that I don’t feel guilty having “me” time.  Last summer was the start of it.  Just weekend trips, but they happened.  The photography is coming along.  I don’t HAVE to do travel photography, but if I wanted to, I could.  I probably couldn’t sell the photos or make a living off of it, but I could enjoy it and I’m good enough that I’d be able to surround myself with beautiful shots that I took.

Parts of my life haven’t gone/aren’t going the way I want them to.  Pretty normal for anyone, right?  That’s ok, I do my best to balance accepting life as it comes and dreaming/planning/plotting to get things the way I want them.  It’s really weird to have this realization that although I wasn’t actively working on this master plan for the last three decades, I’m really close to having, to some extent, exactly what I was fantasizing about all those years ago.  Especially since I’d either forgotten it or repressed it because it didn’t seem possible for so long.

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Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2015 by me

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Movies and Such

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2015 by me

American Sniper is a topic of discussion for a lot of people lately.  So nothing special here.  A friend saw it weekend before last and sent me a pretty heart warming message.  I finally saw it this past weekend and it’s been on my mind a bit.  They’re in Boston and there was the big snowstorm so I emailed them today to see how they were doing and let them know I saw it.  They asked how was it for me.  I was telling them that the war stuff, the footage in Iraq that everyone thinks would be the hard part, wasn’t, not really.  There were some tough scenes to watch, but some of them made everyone squirm.  What was hard were the scenes where he was yoyo-ing between home and down range.  And when he finally came home for good.

The phrase I used in my email was “choosing between family and family”.  Dad called me tonight and we were talking about the movie and we talked about that phrase again, and it’s true.  He gets it, he did Vietnam.  But the reality is, that was tough for me, that guilt tore me up for years.  Choosing between the two.  And I beat myself up for that, probably even more so this last year with everything that’s happened.  But the funny thing?  Do you know how many people have come and gone since some of those trips?  My ex, for sure.  Girlfriends and friends.  Jobs and houses and apartments and cars and pets.  People I loved and things that made me happy.  But that other family?  They’re still there.  Those Army guys are still calling me, emailing, touching base with me.  We’re still having beers and running ten-milers and going longboarding and checking in on one another, nagging one another for our health and well being.  So maybe I’ll let myself off the hook a little more.

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2015 by me

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Surreal

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 25, 2015 by me

Caveat:  I started writing this about a week and a half before American Sniper came out

There’s a scene in the new trailer for the new American Sniper movie.  I wasn’t paying attention to the trailer, so I don’t know exactly what was going on, but there was an Iridium satellite phone on the ground and the wife was on the other end calling for him.  I guess he was calling home and they came under attack and he dropped the phone.

When we went to Iraq we first stayed on these palace grounds that belonged to Saddam’s sons.  The place had these big palaces and then about 20 separate guest houses surrounding a man-made lake.  The Tigris River  flowed past the grounds and fed the lake.  We lived in one of the guest houses and it was situated between the lake and the river.  The guest house we lived in had an elevated tower and our company commander appropriated that as his living quarters/office.  The windows of the tower were sandbagged to protect him.  the river was a natural boundary for the base we lived on, but it offered neither cover nor concealment.  Cover being the military term for protection from enemy fire as well as sight while concealment only protects you from being seen by the enemy but offers no protection from projectiles.  This existence alone was surreal.  We called the place a “base” and outfitted the buildings with military equipment but the buildings were opulent.

I was the computer guy over there and we had a computer that had failed and we needed some parts for it.  I had to take the Iridium phone outside to get a signal and call back to the US to talk to computer support.  As annoying as they are when you NORMALLY call, try calling from a combat zone.  I was trying to get the guy on the other end to understand that I couldn’t take it to an authorized repair center, that I was the closest thing we had, that the government had a contract, that I was more than qualified to diagnose, etc.  I was getting frustrated and was walking around outside.  You had to be outside to talk on the Iridium unless you had an antenna outside and had it plugged in.  We’d been there several months and while the base had taken indirect fire (rockets and mortars) there had been very few cases of direct (aimed gunfire) fire.

I had wandered around to the back of building and had sat on the steps so I could watch the river flow by.  While I was on the steps I heard gunshots but they sounded far away.  Then I felt something small and light fall on me from above.  Dust and small bits of… rock?  where falling on me.  No.  Not rock, chips of the stone wall of the building.  That gunfire was aimed in my general direction, hitting the wall of the building over my head.  I remember thinking I had to get inside and warn the Company Commander and call the incident in to QRF.  I was hustling back around the building, telling the guy from Panasonic who still wasn’t believing that there was no way I could get the computer to a repair facility that I had to hang up now, we were under attack.

So, it’s funny.  I’ve told that story a times since then, for the humor factor of telling the stupid customer service rep that I had to get off the damned phone, and I’m pretty sure that when I’ve told the story, that I’ve said “I’ve got to get off the phone, I’m being shot at!”  But for some reason, until I saw that clip, the full emotional impact of what had happened had been lost on me.  It took ten years for me to say “Oooooh.  They really were shooting at ME.”  They weren’t lobbing rounds in the “general direction” of the base.  I was the lone American soldier out there, talking, probably loudly on the stupid satellite phone.  I was a target of opportunity, they felt fairly safe, saw or heard me and started shooting at me.

So not what?  Now nothing.  It’s not like I can go back and find that enemy combatant and have my revenge.  It’s just been an interesting reflection point.  Why didn’t I think they were shooting at me then and just get my ass down?  Why was my first instinct to warn the others and expose myself hustling around the building?  Why did it take so long to realize?  What was it about that scene that brought it all home for me?

So why surreal?  Well, I remember at the time thinking how weird it was to be making that call, one so similar to ones that I’ve made a ton of times before, but so different at the same time.  Such a sense of normalcy in such an abnormal environment.  And then, years later, to see that scene on the t.v. screen.  While it played out much less dramatically for me in real life that tiny clip on the t.v. just sucked me back in a flash to ten years ago.  And while I remembered it so well, it seems so completely different now.  Like now there’s two clips playing at the same time in my head and while they’re identical, they’re not.

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2015 by me

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