Archive for July, 2013

Reinventing Myself: the Internationalist

July 28, 2013

I lived an insular life during my first 18 years, although I did not know that at the time. When your horizons are very limited, you simply cannot see larger ones.
The Army sent me to Arkansas and then to Texas, but even so, my early friends shared much of my own culture. Call it Americanism; we soldiers had that. The Army encouraged that mindset.
I drifted for two years between my first and second hitch, finally becoming exposed to college education via a course at Fullerton Junior College in California. When that ended, I went back into the Army. The things I’d disliked about the Army were also present in civilian life, in spades. And with less security, something I sought because of my impoverished early life.
This time, the Army sent me to Chicago. For the first time I left the Sun Belt. It was a revelation in many ways, but not what I expected. Southerners believed that the north was a bastion of liberal equality. Surprise…it wasn’t so. My own attitude continued to evolve.
From Chicago, I went to Germany. I’d been a part of a custodial team that kept federal custody of weapons assigned to the Army’s Illinois National Guard. The first overseas deployment handed me the same job, except that this time it was the German Luftwaffe rather than the ING.
I had no knowledge of Germany other than that it was in Europe and we had fought a bloody war that had ended just 20 years before. I married in Chicago, and both my wife’s parents were veterans of WWII; she, part of the British armed forces and later a war bride, had been a radar operator who via the Chain Home stations watched the raids from German bombers as they formed up in France. He was a combat vet, infantryman, who had made all three of the big assault landings by the famed 1st Infantry Division. He’d gotten severely wounded a number of times and still suffered from what’s now called PTSD. One of those happened on Omaha Beach; he’d been shot by a German. Getting the picture? I was ignorant and suspicious. Not that the Army cares; unlike the German services who come to the US for overseas deployment, the US just dumps soldiers in to sink or swim. I learned to swim.
Green, trying to figure out just what I was supposed to be doing and where I was, I was handed a train ticket for four and told I was in charge. Specialist 4 is a rank equivalent to corporal as far as pay is concerned, but you are actually more of an overpaid private. You have few responsibilities other than to do what you’re told. Now I was responsible not only for myself but for three others, all of us equally bewildered. We couldn’t read the signs or even converse with people. Complicating this, we were going away from the zone of Germany where Americans were common; instead, we joined a German batterie, several hundred airmen and about 25 Americans attached to them. I got them safely to where they were supposed to go, an astonishing feat in a way!
My wife could not accompany me there, but I would be able to bring her over later. Sp4’s aren’t provided family support, or weren’t then.
Fortunately, the German airmen I worked with often spoke excellent English. For the first time, I got to know well people who weren’t American. The airmen had trained at Fort Bliss, just as I had. Germany had a base on that post. So we began with something in common.
Germans considered most of our issues to be quaint and thought we’d work our way through them. Politics? They loved it, but of the European variety. I began to widen my horizons because of the contrast. I was curious and began to pick up a few words of German. A promotion got me permission to bring my Wife over and we moved into a temporary apartment owned by a widow. She had two adult or near-adult children.
At that time Americans didn’t ask what had happened to her husband. I was still a bit suspicious, but I was learning.
Frau Tigges couldn’t have been sweeter to us. We couldn’t converse, but by sign language and a few words we gained understanding. And if I was bewildered by this strange country, my wife was even less equipped to deal with the strange customs and restrictions that the military authorities placed on how we acted in this host country.
Frau Tigges became her second mother, and a grandmother to our small family after my son was born. We adjusted to our new addition. Frau Tigges might say nothing; a knock, and then an arm comes in and takes a pail of dirty diapers out for washing, to come back later clean and folded. We didn’t ask for her to do this; she understood. Forty five years later, I still hold affection and gratitude to that sweet old lady.
Back to the states for a tour at Fort Bliss, then back to Germany. That was the pattern of my remaining career. During the second tour, I met a German family. Our tiny custodial team put on the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey and the usual trimmings. We were allowed to bring one guest each, but I was by now a senior NCO and Team Sergeant, what would be First Sergeant in a battery or company sized unit. So I invited two guests and their families. We had become friendly and I’d kept working on learning German.
One of my guests pointed out the failing of our security sergeant. He’d decided it was his duty to invite the First Sergeant of the German batterie we supported, and had then abandoned him and his wife. Essentially, he’d pointed them to the dining hall and ignored them thereafter. So Wolfgang and Gisela joined us.
They essentially adopted me from that point on. Wolfgang became my best friend, and they decided I shouldn’t be spending my weekends alone in a room in a barracks. On weekends, it was understood that Jack was a guest at the Sauer’s and I slept on their couch. Finally Wolfgang arranged a room for me in the NCO wing of the German Kaserne in Delmenhorst. I became an honorary member of the German NCO Corps.
For the next two years, I spent Monday through Friday working with Americans. Friday night until Monday morning, I lived as a German. I barely spoke a word of English during weekends, usually when a German insisted that I do so in order for him to practice learning English. I also traveled through Germany, usually with one of my German buddies. History, art, even literature; I read German magazines and newspapers.
By the time I returned for my third deployment, I conversed readily about politics and international issues such as the partition between the DDR, East Germany, and the FRG, West Germany. I met Norwegians and Dutch and French and Swedes as my wife and I visited around Europe. English and Scots, too, and Italians and Spaniards and Swiss and Greeks…I have many good memories of Europe.
I had first gone to Europe ignorant and suspicious. I had changed. I was ready to reinvent myself for the third time.
Next: extending my wings.


Reinventing Yourself

July 24, 2013

I have an unusual talent. I have periodically reinvented myself during my lifetime. Let me explain.

I grew up in a small town in segregated Louisiana. School was not challenging, and none of the teachers or counselors took any particular interest in me. I was average, and my family was quite poor. My only extracurricular activity was band, and even there, I could only play an instrument that the school provided.

I was something of what would become known as a nerd later, although I didn’t see myself as such. My fellow students did. I didn’t find this out until my 50th high school graduation reunion. But my grades were not good enough for a college scholarship.

My family were unable to provide any support for further education. And I had no idea of whether I could do college-level work. My school was not known for academic achievement post-high-school.

I had worked for a number of people around that small town. My last job was working for an old man. I did a number of jobs and clearly he liked what I did; I could see a future working for him, unlike the clerk-style jobs I’d had before. I was happy and I began an effort to really learn how to do the jobs I was hired to do. I went to the local library and checked out books on the subject.

And then he died. My job died with him when his estate became tied up in the courts. His children fought over his various businesses and they closed down while the infighting went on. This occurred during my senior year of high school. I was out of school and out of work.
And the draft was waiting. Usually that ‘friends and neighbors’ greeting card arrived in the 20’s. But I saw no reason to wait. I tried the Navy and the Air Force, but I am color-blind, and both rejected me. The Marines weren’t interested either. The Army was not so choosy.

I became a soldier. I did not realize it until later, but when I joined the Army I reinvented myself for the first time.

For the first time in my life, I now associated closely with people of other races. My horizons expanded. After basic combat training, I went to a course I’d signed up for before enlisting. I would work on rockets, because I had been an avid reader of science fiction. After BCT in Arkansas, I was sent to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

El Paso was a city. I had no car, but that didn’t matter. There were buses. Even taxicabs, but they were expensive when your income is a private soldier’s pay. My first paycheck was $77.10. The Army took $20 of that for haircut and required supplies.

Change? I resisted for a time. The desert was strange and lifeless after growing up in Louisiana. The people were dark-skinned, and they freely crossed the bridges back and forth from Texas to Mexico. They often spoke Spanish, and some on the streets and in the shops barely spoke English if at all. But I adapted.

Within a few months, my best friend was a Black man. I learned something of his problem, trying not to be different within a society that wouldn’t admit you. Not all of it, of course. But when we went out to have a few beers in Juarez, we learned to be very careful which bars we went into. Some wouldn’t accept him, some wouldn’t accept me, even though we were together. Friends and drinking buddies that we were, patrons of some of the bars simply didn’t want one or the other of us around.

I was aware of the life I left behind, but it no longer meant much. The things I’d been told were obviously false. I left the old life and barely looked back. Just as a snake sheds its skin, I shed my past.

We finished school, and now I had a basic education in things I’d barely been aware of before. Pneumatics. Electronics. Hydraulics. Mechanics. Basic nuclear weapons design. And logic; how to diagnose what was wrong with a missile by looking at symptoms. If this, then that. And not just missiles, but launchers, complicated test sets, high-pressure air compressors, generators that produced 45 kw of 3-phase electrical power. This, to someone who had grown up and never had electricity beyond that provided by batteries in a flashlight until I was a teenager. It was a long way from that huge diesel-powered generator back to the kerosene lamps I’d depended on when I was learning to love reading.

I became a soldier. Except for a short break for two years, living and working in El Paso and then California as a civilian, I remained a soldier for the next 20+ years.

I lived in Chicago for a couple of years and married before transferring. I found that Chicago, despite what I’d believed, was as racist as anyplace I’d been. California was a model of tolerance compared to Chicago. My future wife and I shared a distaste for that; we went on one block-busting expedition together to try to find housing for a young Black woman, a friend of my wife, in a ‘neighborhood’. Chicago is famous for them; they’re ethnically isolated. And racist.

I emphasize the racism because that’s the greatest illustration I can think about to show how I had changed. My life didn’t revolve around race relations, far from it. But when the situation intruded, that was my mindset now and so I acted not as I’d been taught but as I had learned.

That willingness to totally change outlook based on what I learned, and then move on in a new direction, is what I call reinventing myself.

More tomorrow; the Internationalist.


July 23, 2013

A departure from my usual topics, all non-fiction.
I started writing fiction about three months ago. I finished a novel, posted it in serial form (to keep myself writing! I work best under pressure.), began a second one halfway through, and then posted a chapter of each ever week. No writer’s block! The first novel is now running as a serial on another free site, much expanded, rewritten, and edited. If you’re interested, it’s Combat Wizard (Speculative Fiction, SF, under a pen name) on a site called Beyond the Far Horizon. I’ll post the second novel there, totally different, when it’s finished. Meantime, I’ve begun book three, a sequel to Combat Wizard, called Wizard at Work. Got all that?
This is chapter one of that last book; if SF, psi stuff, isn’t your interest, skip this.

Chapter One

T and Shezzie had toured the Southwest. They spent a week in Las Vegas and then moved on. California had been fun and they had enjoyed San Francisco. By mutual agreement, they avoided southern California. Surfer had spent much of his too-short life there before dying in Mexico and finally being cremated. T had attempted to recover the remains but had not been able to prove family connections, so the request had been rejected. Surfer’s remains had finally been buried in a cemetery in Juarez, just another among the many unknown and unwanted dead in a city and nation with too many such.

They traveled up California through Big Sur and then to Seattle. The city had engaged their attention for three days, but they had left before it began to pall. From there they had driven down through the Utah desert and marveled at the erosion all around. The Grand Canyon had fascinated, but only for a day. In the end, it too was erosion, and they had seen much of it by that time. A reservation had been made so that they could visit Yellowstone, but again only a day was needed. Finally, by mutual consent, they had headed home.

New Mexico was gripped in drought. The Rio Grande was nearly dry, and in fact was dry in stretches. Conservationists were worried about the wild populations of the endangered silvery minnow. A captive breeding program might provide a restocking resource when the rains finally came again.

Wildfires had broken out in Arizona and Texas, and of course in New Mexico as well. The state ranked as the worst-hit among all states regarding damage from drought. The tall pines and firs in the mountains, normally so cool and damp in the summer, baked. The standing trees, the ones that still lived, were as dry as kiln-dried lumber. Bark beetles infested and then killed the weakened trees. Great swathes of them then fell victim to lightning-sparked fires.

Shezzie was clearly worried when they returned to the Jemez Mountains. The village of Jemez Springs was located in the mountains, just north of the Jemez Pueblo and south of Los Alamos and the Bandelier National Monument, a preserved ruin from the days before the Spanish invasion. Their cabin lay north of the village and was surrounded by the dry forest. Some stretches of the forest had been closed to visitors because of the extreme fire danger.

A short distance away lay the Valles Caldera, a super-volcano that had been a part of the process that formed the mountains. There were still several hot springs scattered through the mountains showing that the area was still not extinct but only quiescent.

T drove back to New Mexico in near silence. He had again been troubled by nightmares. Night sweats, panicked look in the morning, exhausted and wrinkled face when they ate breakfast together, sour smell of sweat from the night’s terrors; if it all wasn’t as bad for Shezzie as it was for T, it was still bad enough. She feared that his PTSD might have returned and had no idea what to do about it. Whatever had happened in El Paso, T refused to discuss it. Ray was quiet as well regarding this topic. The nightmares had returned soon after the two had split up, with Ray going home to see about developing his relationship with Ana Maria and T vanishing into the small town in the mountains of New Mexico.

T disappeared the morning after the two of them arrived at their cabin. Shezzie noticed that his side of the bed was damp from the sweating he’d done and that his truck was missing. She had heard nothing. Perhaps he had allowed the truck to drift quietly downhill, only starting the motor after he was some distance away from where the two parked their cars in front of the cabin.

T blamed himself for allowing Ray to become involved in the murderous outcome where the two had confronted a street gang in South El Paso. Ray did not blame T; far from it. He had lost no sleep over the deaths of a murderous gang of thugs. T neither knew about this nor would he have cared. Logic played no role in his depression.

Sleepless, he had unlocked his truck and left the cabin. He drove aimlessly through the backroads and finally through the eastbound Interstate 40. He had tired of the sameness of the road and had headed south through Tijeras after gassing up the truck. He had stopped where he found something of interest. In one of the small towns, he had found surprising amounts of graffiti. It was a moment’s work to erase every bit of it that he could see as he drove slowly through the town. An infuriated gang of taggers and a bemused group of residents would wonder what had happened. For the first time in days, T let a smile crinkle his face.

He found a pull-off and slept for a time in the truck. He ate a late breakfast in Mountainair and then pulled off to investigate a ruined Indian construction. Abo ruins had once been a thriving pueblo, but had fallen into disuse and finally had crumbled after the native inhabitants had moved on. T wondered why they had settled here, so far from the river that other Puebloans had sought to water their crops. Clearly, they had. Perhaps they had fled from enemies. The oldest ruins were quite primitive and were now partially blocked off and hidden by drifted sand and dirt.

T hiked the short trail through the monument but avoided the ranger’s station. There were no visitors as yet on this day. The solitude suited T’s mood.

A warning buzz announced a large western diamondback rattlesnake. T could clearly see the reptile, loosely coiled in the shade of a scrubby bush. The snake might have been waiting in ambush for a mouse or rabbit to hop by.

Motivated by impulse, T used his Talent to softly grasp and lift the big snake. It was as thick through as his forearm and was nearly six feet in length. Did the numbers of rattles tell the age of the snake, as legend had it? Or did a successful hunter need to shed the skin more often and therefore add a new rattle every time it discarded the old skin?

The snake coiled frantically in the air in front of T’s face. He took control of the forward end of the snake and brought the head up until it faced him, mouth open, tongue flicking out. The eyes were poised a few inches forward of his own eyes, and he studied them. A membrane flicked across the eyes and the mouth opened. The fangs erected from their resting groove in the snake’s mouth. T tried to read any thoughts the snake might have. He picked up nothing. No thoughts at all, not anger, not hunger, nothing. Perhaps the snake functioned not on thought but solely on instinct.

The snake found no purchase to support a strike or an escape. Frustrated, it coiled and uncoiled in the air, heavy body knotted with muscle under the scales.

Finally, T tired of looking at the snake. He floated it away and gently released it near a partly-concealed dwelling that was marked as off-limits to visitors. The snake rapidly disappeared into a hole that was there in the drifted dirt. Perhaps a western pocket gopher would not appreciate the new tunnel neighbor. Very likely, the angered snake would have folded on its own length as it disappeared into the hole. The gopher, organic digging machine that it was, would quickly wall off the snake by throwing up a barrier of dirt. The snake would eventually crawl out and resume it’s hunting.

T walked back to his truck. He nodded at a family of four and watched them nod back. One of the children called to him in greeting. He smiled and went on.

The drive, or perhaps the incident with the snake, had reminded him that his troubled mind was not alone. Many others had troubles and some of them might be much worse than his own.

T took state highway 47 north, gassed up in Los Lunas, and caught I-25 north past the Isleta reservation. The casino was apparently busy, judging from the cars parked out in the several parking

T took the time to comm Shezzie and let her know he was heading for home. He had worked his way through the worst effects of the shock and nightmares, and he had done it himself. Ultimately, that falls to everyone who finds themselves troubled. Combat veteran dealing with shock, any veteran or police officer who finds that the demands of duty have broken a marriage, even a prisoner or drug addict; rehabilitation does not come from others, it must come from within. By your own bootstraps, you lift yourself.

T drove north and arrived home by late afternoon, depression ended.

For now.

That night, another murder was reported in Ciudad Juarez. The bodies hanged from bridges, decapitations, those things the city had learned to take in stride as gang warred with gang. The usual victims were at the bottom of the gang hierarchy, soldiers in the wars who could be sacrificed without worry by those at the upper levels. There were always more of them. Money from the drugs sold to the norteamericanos and poverty among Mexicans ensured that recruits would not be hard to find.

This, however, was different. Even jaded Mexicans who still survived the gang-fights and the unsolved murders of so many young women felt a sense of shock.

The victim, unusually, was from near the top of the Zeta Cartel. No stranger to violence himself, he had trained at the School of the Americas and then an advanced course for selected soldiers conducted by special operations forces. The courses had been designed to enable Mexican and other Latin American military leaders to combat guerillas and drug gangs. Instead, many had turned that training around and used it to make the drug operations and anti-government efforts more effective.

None of that had helped him. Nor had the weapons he carried on his person.

Like five before him, he had been simply ripped apart. Blood, body parts, all scattered around the hotel room where he’d reportedly gone to meet with another of the series of young women that found it exciting to mingle with the drug men. They were celebrities in Mexico! Songwriters and musicians even sang songs celebrating their activities!

In the streets of Juarez, the graffiti had begun to change. Now, there was a line drawing that frequently appeared among the stylized lettering. Spare, an animal’s head, sometimes the pointed ears were upright, sometimes they were laid back. The eyes were mere slits, denoted by single curved lines. There was a black nose the suggested dog ancestry, and improbably long and sharp teeth below that.

The well educated Mexicans knew that the murders were human caused. Some speculated that whoever was doing it was engaging in terror to cause the drug gangs to leave and find a less-dangerous place to set up operations.

But not all were well educated. The sketch sometimes had a label, now. And people whispered the name and looked over their shoulder.

Chupacabra. The legendary ‘goat-sucker’ had found a new taste he liked.

The taste of human blood, and in particular the blood of drug bosses.


Comment, and Reply

July 3, 2013

Submitted on 2013/07/03 at 2:46 pm

It is not the government’s job to Nanny sit and the military is not for patrolling the United States. That violate posse comintatus. Free medical health care is not a right. That takes money from hard working people to pay for health care for able bodied people that refuse to work for a living. And for people that broke the law by the way of getting into the United States and we should pay them for it? We the people are supposed to run the government not the other way around,.
Select comment jlknapp505
Submitted on 2013/07/03 at 5:23 pm | In reply to 1wanderingtruthseeker.

I approved your comment, even though I disagree. It’s precisely the government’s job to take care of citizens, what you call nanny-sit.
Only government can rein in the excesses of corporations. Their task is profit, not the wellbeing of people. They also have no interest in the economy other than to extract the maximum possible profit.
Only government can, or is willing, to do those things, because there’s no immediate profit involved.
As for hardworking people who refuse to work for a living, many of those same people work two or even three ‘temporary’ jobs for minimum wage. Others continue to apply for jobs, day after day, week after week. Post an opening for ten jobs and there are likely to be hundred applicants, perhaps as many as a thousand. And you cavalierly dismiss these as people who refuse to work for a living?
As for people who ‘broke the law’ by entering the United States: I’ve known some of them. They risk the lives of themselves and their families crossing that desert, and some of them die. They’re looking to become those ‘hard working people’ you’re so fond of, and they take the jobs that ‘real Americans’ refuse. Installing roofs or repairing them in the heat of a southwestern summer. Picking your vegetables for the owners of farms who won’t provide even minimum wage for workers. Get the idea?
They’re not ‘illegal immigrants’, at least not at first. Instead, they’re economic refugees. They don’t come for welfare, they come to work, to find a job that isn’t available where they were born. They may later apply to become citizens. And sometimes they serve in the armed forces even before they receive that citizenship. Some of them die before that happens.
You, of course, insist that this is YOUR nation, even though we simply took much of the land and built the nation on the backs of people who came as slaves and indentured servants. Irish people, also economic refugees. Chinese people, come to work on building the railroads. You conveniently ignore that the people who actually built this country were often the people you now disparage. Economic refugees, back in their time.
Or immigrants, just as your ancestors were.
I hope you’ll begin to think for yourself rather than simply adopt a bumper sticker as your source for ‘truth’.
And one thing at least you got right: we the people, ALL the people, are supposed to run the government. Not the artificial majority that Republicans have built and maintained through gerrymandering of districts and restricting of the right to vote. One person, one vote. Ever heard that? Not from a TeaPublican, you didn’t. You might also have heard of something called taxation without representation? Such as, for example, Republican elected officials who consistently ignore the wishes of a majority of citizens, the people who pay their salaries and expenses? Such that the Congress has the lowest approval rating of any agency, or even of cockroaches? Really. Cockroaches.
But do you defend that gerrymandering and vote-restricting? It’s not Constitutional, but it serves your purpose, so what say you? Is your complaint really moral or simply a self-serving sham? It’s so much easier not to think; just believe whatever clown from Fox News pollutes the airwaves.
Interesting name you have, wanderingtruthseeker. I wonder where you find the ‘truths’ you espouse? Really. I have no idea if any reputable economist or even politician can claim all those things without his pants catching fire.

A final addendum: the comment writer wrote that he won’t read or comment on my blog again. OK

But he made no effort to refute the things I’d written in my response to his comment…

Responsibilities, Political Leaders and Citizens

July 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking. Somehow, our political ‘leaders’ have managed to forget their jobs and how those jobs should be done.

The job is to care for the American people. Period.

Included within that is the need to provide protection for those people. Protection from invasion by military forces, but also protection from natural disasters such as wildfires and floods and wild weather. And where protection isn’t possible, assistance in recovery should be available. Protection from criminals, too, people who prey on others.

And after you’ve identified the needs, it’s then necessary to pay for those solutions. It’s necessary to raise money, through creation of money or taxation.

If the land and water and air are not being protected, our political leaders aren’t doing their jobs.

If old people, sick people, people who have become jobless because of economic fluctuations, veterans, and citizens in general have no medical care or support structures in place for protecting citizens from the economic criminals we call multinational corporations, our political leaders are not doing their jobs.

If our foods are not the healthy sorts that we expect, if our medications aren’t free of tainted drugs, if banksters steal a lifetime’s work due to foreclosures, if gamblers rule the markets that define capitalism, then our political leaders are not doing their jobs.

And if we keep electing these ‘leaders’, then we citizens are not doing our jobs.