Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear William . . . (Third Letter)

This is the third blog in a series of letters that I wrote to my son when he was in the US Navy basic training. I would suggest that you may want to read the other two first so that this will make better sense:

The flight from LA to Fort Sill Oklahoma had a couple of amusing moments. Of all things, I was reading one of the Airplane disaster novels and the recruit next to me kept looking at me, then the book, and shaking his head in disgust. This flight landed in Dallas where I was to catch a connecting flight to go the rest of the way to Ft Sill. I was sitting in the gate area waiting for my next flight, and was of course in awe of the beautiful women walking through the airport, most well dressed and on their way to somewhere in the world for meetings with family or colleagues. The man sitting next to me in the gate area apparently noticed my head swiveling back and forth and made a comment about it.
“The women here are gorgeous!” I told him, blushing and embarrassed.
‘Yep, they are. The only problem is that most of them know it!” he said with a laugh before returning to what ever it was he was reading.
When it came time to board the airplane to Ft Sill Oklahoma, I started to regret reading a novel about an airline disaster because they boarded us on a little propeller driven airplane that spent the entire hour or so bouncing up and down so badly that the flight attendant wasn’t allowed to get up. Several of the guys were laughing and making bets about whether the plane was going to make it or not. Once the plane landed and I made my way down the stairs, the first thing I noticed was the heat and oppressive humidity. Coming from a lifetime in the Mojave Desert, I was of course used to heat, but humidity was something entirely new to me. I swear I felt like I was swimming down the airplanes steps as much as walking down them and this made the comment I heard from someone behind me that much more ironic.
“Wow, it sure is dry here!” he said. I wondered where the hell he had come from that he thought that this was dry?!
Not far away from the plane was a truck and trailer - more or less a military 18 wheeler. I didn’t know it yet, but this would turn out to be their preferred method for transporting soldiers from place to place. They opened the back door of this large trailer and herded us all up into it. “Herded” turns out to be a good word for it too, as it was referred to as a cattle truck. Inside the trailer were no seats, but there were poles from floor to ceiling every few feet that you could hold on to as the truck turned corners and tried to throw you off of your feet. In very few minutes we arrived at Ft Sill and we all exited the trailer. The people that met us there were very calm and polite and soon were handing us blankets and pillows and showing us to bunks. I fell asleep thinking to myself that this wasn’t going to be so bad after all. What I didn’t know was that this was just the reception station – the real fun wasn’t going to start until we got to our training unit.

The next morning they once again had us up well before sunrise. A young soldier, probably a specialist or corporal, got us all together outside and tried to form us all into something resembling a formation. We spent the rest of the day going from one huge, hot, and oppressive warehouse to another collecting duffle bags, uniforms, boots, and other gear. The combination of long lines, heat, humidity, and air filled with the chemical reek of the gear they were issuing to us, all combined to make this a fairly miserable day.
I had gotten my hair cut before leaving, because someone had told me that I didn’t want to arrive at basic training with long hair. Well, that turned out to be a complete waste of time and money because it didn’t matter what you looked like or how long your hair was when you arrived, they cut it all off. The old man that cut my hair pushed the shaver so hard against my scalp that the entire hair cut literally hurt. Every single one of us left the barber chair doing the same exact thing – rubbing our hands over our now very bald heads.  After the haircut, we all entered a long line to get our photograph taken for our military ID, and I couldn’t help noticing that everyone was frowning and looking as mean as they could for their pictures. Everyone frowned until I got up there, because when my turn came, I grinned like an idiot for my picture. At least I did right up until the shouting started.
“What in the HELL is wrong with you son? You think this is fun? You think this is a God damned game or something? You get your happy ass to the end of that God Damned line and when and if you make it back up here, you had better not be smiling!” The man shouting at me was huge, looked mean as a junk yard dog, and as far as I could tell, he really was mad as hell at me. I took my “happy ass” to the end of the line of about 100 soldiers and by the time I got back up to the front again, I was most definitely NOT smiling.

Now bald, in possession of a military ID complete with a picture of a very mean and angry me, and loaded down with two duffle bags full of equipment and gear, they separated us according to the units that we were assigned to and loaded us up on light green busses for the trip to our actual training units. If I remember right, I was in Bravo Battery 7th training battalion. On the ride there, everyone on the bus started talking about what to expect when we got there. Apparently many had been briefed by family members that had “been there, done that” and they were telling everyone that the Drill Sergeants were gong to start screaming at us as soon as the bus stopped, and that we had better get ready to get off the bus as quickly as possible. I pulled my gear a bit closer to me and made sure I was ready to heft and carry it in a hurry. As the bus pulled into the parking lot, I could see through the window that there were at least half a dozen men standing there waiting for it. Unlike all of us in our new and heavily wrinkled uniforms, these men looked absolutely picture perfect, with not a single wrinkle on their uniforms, very deep and sharp creases in their olive drab pants and shirts, and large brown “Smokey the bear” type hats cocked at a very precise angle on their heads. Before the bus had even come to a complete stop, the driver had opened the door and one of them was stepping up on to the still moving bus.
“All right, listen up! Take your gear and move to the formation area under the barracks.” He said this very calmly, no yelling, and with no hostility at all, but a lot of the guys still panicked as the Drill Sergeant stepped back off of the bus. They were throwing duffle bags and other gear out of the windows, and several of them were crawling out of the windows and out of the emergency exit. The drill sergeants stood there watching, some of them shaking their heads, and some of them outright laughing.
“Take your time, take your time!” shouted one of the drill sergeants with a laugh in his voice.
I was hefting my two duffle bags full of new gear, and my own civilian bag with the few things I had brought with me over to the designated area when I hear someone shouting at us from the adjacent unit, a couple of hundred yards away.
“You’ll be ssssssoooooorrrrrryyyyy!!!!!!”
To this very day, almost 30 years later, I can still hear that assholes voice in my head, and I swear, if I could find him today I’d smack him.

Not much later, they had us separated by battery and by platoons, and then taught us how to make a formation. There we were, all in evenly spaced rows and columns, each of us with our gear stacked in front of us.
“All right trainees, take your duffle bags and empty them out in front of you. I want everything out of the bags! All right, you see the two wet weather bags – the bags with the rubber coating inside? These are the bags that are going to keep your things dry in the rain, so you are going to inspect it for holes. Take one and put your head in it. . . “
I was still digging through my pile of gear and looking for the bags he was talking about when I saw another trainee holding the bag open above his head and peering inside it. The drill sergeant practically ran to him, grabbed the bag, and yanked it down onto his head.
“I said ‘put your head in it, not under it, not near it, IN it!” he was shouting not more than two or three inches away from the bag that now covered the trainees head. About that time I found my own bag and had my head deep inside it, inspecting it for pin holes. Over the sound of my own breath in the bag I can hear the drill sergeant yelling again.
“Do you see any light coming through the bag?”
I hear a variety of responses “No Sergeant”, “No”, “No Sir”
“Sir? SIR?! Which one of you called me sir?” I still have the bag over my head and so I can’t see him, but it sounds like he’s moving around while he talks.
“I am NOT a sir! I WORK for a living God Damn it! My name is Drill Sergeant King. YOU will refer to me as Drill Sergeant. Do you understand?!”
“Yes drill sergeant!” everyone says weakly
“What? I can’t hear you!” he shouts again
“Yes Drill Sergeant!” we all shout quite a bit louder, but apparently not loud enough.
“God Damn it, I STILL can’t hear you! Sound off like you’ve got a pair!” I still have my head in the damned bag and can’t see him, but I think he’s just behind me, and so I shout for all I’m worth.
“YES DRILL SERGEANT!” we all shout at once, voices reverberating off of the walls quite impressively.
“Better!” he says with grudging approval. “Now, do you see any light entering the bag through pin holes?”
“NO DRILL SEGEANT!” we all shouted at the top of our lungs. It’s really kind of impressive to hear the sound of 30 or so young men shouting as loud as they can in an enclosed space!

Hours later we had our web gear and Steel pot helmet and plastic liners put together, everything else inventoried and stuffed back into two duffle bags, and were told to hump it all up the stairs and into the 60 man bay we would all be calling home for the next couple of months. Among countless other rules, we were informed that we were never to walk when going from place to place, even when it came to the stairs. If we were taking stairs, we had damned well better be double timing (running) on them. Have you ever tried to “run” carrying at least 100 pounds of gear? In the next few hours and days, we learned many of the very “basic” skills considered to be of vital importance to the Army.
  • Marching, marching, marching, and more marching.
  • Physical Training (PT)
  • How to function on no sleep when utterly exhausted
  • How to run a floor buffer.
  • How to run, and run, and run . . . mile after mile. . .
  • How to make a bunk – the Army way!
  • How to make a room and common bathroom that 60 men were sharing look like it was brand new and had never been entered.
  • How to make black leather boots shine so well you could see your face in them after they had been dragged across rocks, soaked in rivers and pits full of water, coated in mud, and caked with the salt from your own sweat.

When we had time away from these vital and important skills, they sometimes taught us things like the chain of command, marksmanship, first aid, map reading, etc, etc.

Most of the rest of my memories of basic are snap shots, just quick little snippets that are now forever out of context because I no longer recall everything that lead up to them or followed them.

Why is Smokey the Bear yelling at me?

Sitting in a huge class/conference room with a couple of hundred other guys shortly after arriving at basic, and the drill sergeants are picking out trainees and yelling at and belittling them. I was utterly shocked at the yelling, because believe it or not, I hadn’t expected it or known that it was coming. It’s now so hard for me to believe that I had ever been that na├»ve, but I was raised almost entirely by women and hadn’t had the foggiest idea what basic training was going to be like. I had never seen a war movie, never seen a movie or read a book that included anything about basic training, and hadn’t consulted with any of the males in my extended family that had gone through basic. I quite literally hadn’t known that people were going to be in my face and screaming at me. To see grown men, wearing Smokey the bear type hats, jumping up and running on tables to get in front of young men and shout at him just floored me.

Sleep Falling

Several weeks later we were having a class in the same huge room mentioned above. With very long hours and very little sleep, it was often very difficult to stay awake when sitting still in a class room, and apparently one of the trainees fell asleep. The drill sergeant steps directly off of the stage and onto the front row of desks to make his way to the sleeping trainee. Of course he scared the hell out of the kid, had him AND the guys on each side of him do a bunch of push ups, and then he gets back up in front of the class. This drill sergeant came from the Philippines I think and so had a heavy accent. When he got back up to the podium he points at the trainee and then the rear of the class room.
“You go stand back of class! I never seen trainee fall asleep while standing!” he said with an evil laugh. Not five minutes later we all jerk around when we hear a loud “Thump” from the back of the room. I’ll be damned if the trainee hadn’t done exactly what the drill sergeant had never seen and fallen asleep while standing on his feet. When he fell, he fell flat on his face giving himself a bloody nose.

“I was wondering. . . “
A trainee was talking to the same drill sergeant I mentioned above.
“Drill sergeant, I was just wondering . . . “ the trainee started to say before the drill sergeant interrupted him.
“You were what? You were wandering? You like to wander huh? Well since you like to wander, why don’t you wander around the battery a few times and double time it!”

Slide for Death

We did a number of obstacle courses through basic training and some of it was actually fairly dangerous. They were referred to as “confidence courses” because the intent was to build your self confidence. I think that most of us really enjoyed these things because it was a nice break from the monotony of the class room, the constant running, and constant marching. Considering that I had spent the last half a decade living in the mountains and doing crazy things in the rocks with my brother, they didn’t really scare me in the least, but there were those that had a real fear of heights. One of the obstacles was called the “Slide for Life”. It consisted of a tower with a heavy gauge rope going from the top at about a 45 degree angle to the ground a few yards away. The idea was to climb to the top of the 30 foot poles, grab the rope with your hands, Swing your feet out to the rope, then slide down it ground.

One of the trainees was fairly over weight and not in the best of shape, and he was scared to death. He got to the top of the tower and completely froze up. They yelled at him, teased him, and even threatened him, but he wouldn’t move. Not only would he not slide down the rope, but he wouldn’t even make his way back down the tower. Along with the taunts, one of the drill sergeants started throwing rocks at him. At long last the kid grabbed the rope with his hands, and swung his feet out to hook them over the rope. The problem is, he failed to hook his feet on the rope so they swung back like a pendulum, and then he let go . . .
He fell the entire 30 or more feet and landed face down, making absolutely no attempt to break his fall. To this day, the sound he made hitting the ground sends shivers up and down my back. About half a dozen drill sergeants converged on the kid who wasn’t moving, and as far as we could see, wasn’t breathing at all. Soon, an ambulance arrives and they cart him off, never having moved the entire time he was being cared for or loaded into the ambulance.
At the end of the day, confidence course completed by all, they had us in formation.

“Private Smith (I don’t recall his name) has died. He died because he failed to have faith and courage in himself and his abilities. He died because he was a coward. He died because YOU did not properly motivate him!” he paused for effect, slowly looking at each of us.
“Fortunately, the United States understands that training soldiers can be hazardous. We are therefore authorized a mortality rate of three percent per training cycle. This means that in all likelihood, two or three more of you will die before basic training is complete!”
Talk about motivation . . .

Today I would have never have believed that one, but at that age and experience level, I bought it hook, line, and sinker, and so did quite a few others. I wound up stationed at Ft Sill after training and several months after I graduated basic I saw that kid on the post. He was still using crutches, but he was alive and well.

Racism and the Army

In some parts of basic training, they focus on you as an individual. Later, they focus on team work and failing or succeeding as a team. To help instill this in you, they start punishing you all as a group if one of you screws up.

We were standing in a platoon formation one morning, and when in formation, you are not allowed to speak. None the less, with no sergeants around, there are always going to be a few that just have to chatter.

My platoon had two drill sergeants. One was an older white guy who was a little on the pudgy side, relatively easy going (as easy going as a drill sergeant can be), and maybe just a bit of a nerd type. I don’t recall his name so I’ll call him Doe. The other and primary drill Sergeant was Dennis King. He was over six feet, one of the blackest men I’d ever seen, and mean as hell. HIS name I will never forget.

So there we are in formation, waiting for the drill sergeant to come back out of his office, and people start to argue quietly.
“Drill Sergeant Doe is prejudiced!” someone says.
“Like hell! Drill Sergeant King is prejudiced!” someone else replies. Soon they are arguing back and forth, each giving examples of why they thought each drill sergeant prejudiced. Sick to death of push ups, and knowing that there would be a lot of them in our immediate future if any of the drill sergeants heard the talking in formation, I finally spoke up.
“Why don’t you both shut the hell up! They are BOTH prejudiced OK? Now drop it before we get more push ups!” I loudly whispered toward the two that were arguing. For the next minute or two, things actually did get quiet, and then drill sergeant King exited the building to stand in front of us. Much to our surprise, we hear the voice of a trainee from the front of the formation.
“Drill Sergeant?! The private requests permission to speak?!” he shouted loudly.
“Granted!” the drill sergeant replied grudgingly.
“Is it right for a private to call a Drill Sergeant Prejudiced?”
“What? WHAT?! Why?!” the sergeant yelled at him.
“Drill Sergeant – Private Huddle called you prejudiced!”
Awe shit . . . (and no, “shit” was not the word I really thought of)
They hauled me off in front of the commanding officer and at least four drill sergeants and screamed at me for at least an hour about making false accusations, the seriousness of making that kind of charge, etc, etc. All kidding aside, if I’d had ammunition I would have shot that punk at the front of the formation. Another life lesson learned – not everyone is your friend, and people WILL go out of their way to screw you over for no reason.

“I lied”

Toward the middle and end of basic training, most of the people and platoons were given short passes to go to the small store across the street for detergent, personal hygiene stuff, and that sort of thing, but mostly for the sheer pleasure of getting an hour or two away from the drill sergeants. I never got a single one. The first chance for a pass came and went and found my entire platoon stripping and waxing our floors – what the army calls a “GI Party”. While we were scrubbing and mopping, we got to watch the other three platoons head off for a few minutes of peace.
For the next chance for a short pass, drill sergeant King had us all lined up in front of the Pull Up bar. He would eyeball you and give you a number of pull ups he thought you should be able to do. If you met that goal, you got the pass, if you didn’t meet the goal, you didn’t get to go across the street.
“Ten!” the drill sergeant told one guy. After he barely got the ten out, the drill sergeant would say “Pass Granted” and the lucky guy would head across the street. Apparently unimpressed with the next guy in line, the drill sergeant gave him only five, which he just barely managed to complete.
“Pass Granted!”
“Twenty” he said with a grin when my turn came up. I almost smiled, because compared with unloading and stacking an entire 18 wheeler truck and trailer loaded with bails of hay, twenty pull-ups wasn’t going to be much of a problem for me. Still, at this point in basic, we are all exhausted and things that you might think would be easy and of no consequence can often be seriously difficult. In very short order though, I had completed the required twenty and dropped to my feet.
Instead of the sought after “Pass granted” phrase, drill sergeant King said “Twenty more!”  This kind of surprised everyone, most of all me, because he hadn’t done this with any other trainee. I jumped back up and grabbed the bar, and gave him twenty more pull ups, then I dropped to my feet again. The drill sergeant just stared at me for a moment.
“Twenty more. . . “ he growled out.
“Yes drill sergeant!” I yelled and jumped for the bar again. By now I was working hard and it wasn’t in the least bit easy or amusing, but still I managed twenty more before dropping to my feet panting. Once again he stared at me for a moment.
“Pass denied!” he said calmly.
I just couldn’t stand it and did something you never, ever, EVER do in basic – I called him out on it.
“But Drill sergeant, you said if we did the pull-ups you gave us, we would get the pass?!”
He walked up to me and leaned in so close that the rim of his Smokey the bear hat was touching my sweaty forehead before he spoke.
“I lied!” he said quietly and then gave me smile as he turned and walked away.

“Take six miles and call me in the morning”

It was September when I arrived at Ft Sill Ok, so we had the pleasure of living in Oklahoma during the worst of the summer heat, and then had the added pleasure of living through the fall and part of winter. When we hit the bunks one night, it was after a miserable day in the heat. The very next morning found us in PT formation, wearing shorts and T-shirts, and freezing to death with sleet blowing sideways. Coming from the desert, I’d never even seen sleet, let alone stood in it wearing shorts. Still, this was the US Army, and it never rains on the US Army, so we did our PT that morning while freezing in shorts. I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised when I started getting sick the day after that. As luck would have it, two days after that, we went to our first night fire at the range, and for our first long road march back. Six miles, in the dark, after a long day at the range, and yours truly got to make the entire march with a fever of 103 degrees. That was probably one of the most miserable few hours of basic training for me, but I made it. Later in basic we did a 21 mile road march in the heat of the day, and I thought it was easy compared to the six miles that I had done with a fever.

“Get out of the foxhole son”

My entire life I have been more or less blind out of my right eye. Having been that way my entire life, I’d never known that there was anything unusual about the fact that everything was terribly blurry in my right eye. Never having told her that I had a problem, my mother hadn’t taken me to an optometrist until I was 16 or 17, and by then it was too late. I guess if they had caught it early, they could have corrected the whole problem just by making me wear a patch over my good eye for a while to force the lazy eye to adapt, but by the time they had discovered my problem, it was too late.
It’s something that would never occur to you until you encounter it, but this caused me a serious problem when it came to firing a M16 rifle. With all of the fire arms I had fired growing up, I could fire them right handed, and still get my left eye down to the sites to see what I was shooting at.
The M16 however is designed just perfectly so that you can not do this.
If you are right handed, the army teaches you to place your right check against the stock, nose up against the charging handle, and then of course you site with your right eye. Being right handed it was natural for me to hold the rifle that way, but when it came time to site with my right eye, I was blind as a bat! I was in the four foot deep fox hole, desperately trying and failing to reposition the rifle so that I could get my left and good eye down to the sites, when a sergeant struck me hard in the back of the helmet with a range paddle.
“Private, what in the hell are you doing?” he demanded. In a few moments I had explained my dilemma to him, and in the very first visible sign of human feeling I had yet seen from a drill sergeant, he shook his head sadly.
“Get out of the foxhole son, your going home. There’s no room in the Army for a soldier that can’t fire his weapon.” He said sadly. The first thing that stunned me was the honest humanity and disappointment the drill sergeant had just expressed. The next thought I had was of my going home a failure.
“Drill sergeant, I’d like to try it left handed!” I shouted, close to tears of frustration at the very thought of heading home. I was standing in a four foot deep foxhole looking up at him, and he was staring down at me shaking his head. He stood there a moment with my future in his hands. It took him a moment, but I’d swear I saw a look of respect creep into his face at the thought of my not giving up.
“Go ahead son.” He said quietly, and then stood back to give me one last shot. Just reading that phrase “go ahead son” doesn’t put it in to perspective. Drill sergeants do NOT refer to the trainees as “son” and they sure as hell don’t act human and show sympathy. It was immediately clear to me that he was sure that the weeks I had already spent in training had been wasted and I was going home. While everyone else at the range was just worried about trying to learn the basics of marksmanship, my entire future was suddenly at stake. The good news was, though I was awkward and slow, I did manage to just barely make a passing score firing left handed for the first time in my life. My army career may someday come to an end, but it wasn’t going to be today.


I remember when we learned how to rappel – descend cliffs and buildings by rope. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. That very first moment, convincing yourself to back over the edge of a building or cliff while hanging from a rope really takes quite a bit of will power. After all, it goes against every survival instinct that you have. Still, once you have convinced yourself to go over the edge, it’s a huge rush and a hell of a blast! At Ft Sill, they started us off on a two or three story tower to learn the basics. Once you have the basics, you move on to rappelling down Medicine Bluff – the very same cliff that the Indian chief Geronimo jumped off of to avoid capture. We are talking about several hundred feet of sheer cliff face, and that moment going over the edge was the very definition of a “pucker up” moment. Once over the edge and descending the cliff, it was the most fun you will ever have in your life. Once again though, most people had not grown up in the mountains like I had, and they had a healthy respect for heights. Me not so much . . . I’d get to the bottom and then run like hell to get back in the line climbing back up to the top so I could do it all over again. The third or fourth time I headed back up the cliff a Drill Sergeant caught on and stopped me.
“Private Huddle, haven’t you done the cliff already?”
“Yes Drill Sergeant, but it’s a fucking blast and I’d like to do it again!” I replied. He looked at me a moment.
”Carry on. . . “ he said with a smile.

E.T. phone home

It probably seems so strange to you, but when I went through basic training, cell phones were the size of a brick and cost thousands of dollars – only the very wealthy had them and the rest of us were still stuck firmly in the “pay phone” era. One young and enterprising individual had a calling card – essentially a credit card for making phone calls, thus saving you the hassle of getting ten or more dollars of quarters just to make a call. For a small fee, he would initiate the call, punch in the calling card number, and you could call home for about half the price of placing the call yourself. I should have known that it was too good to be true, because one day they stopped training and gathered us in formation. They explained that this guy had stolen the calling card, and that all of us that had let him place calls for us were now accomplices. As every single one of us was slated to work on the Pershing Missile (a nuclear weapon) and were required to have a top secret clearance, this literally meant that our careers may have just ended. In this case though, the Army was going to me lenient – if you confessed to the calls you had made, and paid for them, you would have amnesty. If they had to track you down to get you to pay for your calls however, you were done and would go home after a brief visit to Leavenworth.
The entire platoon got in to the line to go pay Ma Bell. . .

The day that I graduated from basic training was a mixture of intense pride and pleasure, mixed in with the worst disappointment of my life. On that day, I was no longer a desert rat or a “Trainee” - I was a soldier in the United States Army! The downer was that not one person I knew, loved, or cared about was there to see it or share it with me. There was a crowd of hundreds of family and loved ones there to see the ceremony - fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and wives. They were all there for other people, and not a single person there to share in my moment, or to congratulate me, or to say “well done”. I don’t think it was that no one cared, it was just that they had no idea what that day meant to a soldier. I’m sure it also had something to do with the fact that the cost of the trip was more than anyone in my family could have afforded. As most of the others headed off for a day with their loved ones that had come to see them graduate, I returned to my bunk, packed my things, and caught a ride to a unit across post where my advanced training was to begin.

“Where oh where can my baby be?”

Basic training is where they teach you, well, the “basics” of the military. Things like customs, courtesies, the rank structure, first aid, and countless other things that all soldiers are supposed to know. Advanced Individual Training (AIT), is where they teach you the skill you signed up for, in my case, how to program and operate the Pershing missile, and maintain and repair the electronics, hydraulics, and anything else associated with the system. Since the school was something like eight months long, they couldn’t continue to treat you like they had in Basic, so you did have a lot more freedom. One Saturday I found out that they had these things called “Recreation Centers” where you could play pool, other games, and even check out guitars, and so off I went. The guitars were total crap – cheap to begin with and now antiquated and beat to hell. Still, it was the first time in months I’d had a guitar in my hands and I was delighted as I grabbed it and headed outside to find someplace I could sit in peace. The first thing that I saw as I walked around the building was an older guy sitting on the grass playing guitar. I can’t help but laugh now calling him older because he was all of 27 years old, but since I had just turned 18, he seemed old to me at the time. He had a small crowd of 6 or 7 people sitting around him, and as I approach I can hear them singing “where or where can my baby be” – the lyrics to one of my favorite songs “Last kiss”. I went and took a seat with them and started picking out the chords with him. This turned out to be the start of one of my most cherished friendships and his name was William Mozzetti, and he is in fact the most significant factor in your being named William.

One evening, a few of the guys were going to the snack bar to drink beer, and they invited me to go with them. The last time I had tried beer, I had literally gotten physically sick with the first and only swallow. I don’t know if I really thought it tasted that bad or if I just had too much emotional baggage associated with beer, but I had serious reservations in trying it again. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to tell the guys no, and so I joined them. Surprise, surprise, I found that I quite liked beer all of the sudden. Looking back on this 25 years later, I consider my trying beer again to be one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life.
The school was fairly difficult and there was definitely a lot of pressure to perform. A lot of the guys didn’t seem to care much, but I did devote some effort to studying and began to do fairly well. Quite often I would refuse to go out with the guys the night before a test so that I could study and so I could be at my best the following morning for the test. One night before a test though, I gave in to the ribbing and taunts and went out with the guys. What do ya know, I actually did better than usual on the test because I wasn’t so nervous and tense. It set a bad precedent though, as I made it a point to go out with the guys on test nights after that.
By now it was no big surprise to me when I discovered that the guys at the MEPS station had misled me about what I would be working on. I had been told that I would be working on some of the most advanced guidance and control equipment in the world. The reality was that the only thing I was allowed to do with the missile itself was to do preventative maintenance on it, mate it (put it together), and to trouble shoot any problems to the point of proving the fault was in the missile itself. If the fault was actually in the missile, the offending section was sent off to higher maintenance. More or less, I went from the promised “You will be working on some of the most advanced guidance and control electronics in the world” to the reality of troubleshooting and repairing only 1960’s electronics.

Surprisingly enough, I placed 4th or 5th in the advanced training and as a result I was stationed right there at the school where I helped maintain the equipment being used to teach the very course I had just graduated from. One of the most important things that I took away from the school? Having devoted just a little effort, I had placed near the top of the class, and that kind of surprised me! For the first time in my life, I made it a point to devote myself in classes and schools, and I have literally graduated every single class, academy, and school I have ever attended since then as the number one highest scoring student in the class. ALL of them. Who would have thunk it. . .
The moral of the story? If you really try and really devote yourself, you can excel and go much farther than you might have thought you could.

I am so terribly proud of you William – hang in there – you are earning a future for you and for your children!

Love Dad

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear William . . . (Second Letter)

Dear William,

You know, I don’t recall how I came in contact with the Army recruiter. I do remember recruiters speaking at my school, but don’t recall being terribly interested in their message. I had started off by talking to the Air Force recruiter but he made it clear the air force would not take me until I had graduated from high school and since I knew that I wasn’t going to survive another year at home that just wasn’t going to be an option.
I don’t recall if the Army recruiter came to me, or if I called him, I just recall him sitting in our house and talking to me. He assured me that the Army would take me as long as I passed their tests, my mother signed the paperwork, and I agreed to get my GED after going active duty. During all of these initial meetings, my mother had no idea that I had no intention of waiting until graduation - that conversation came later.

I clearly recall the day that the recruiter picked me up and drove me to the city to take the ASVAB test. He picked me up first, and then stopped to pick up two other young men who both appeared to be a little older than I was, and he even bought us breakfast on the way. I recall taking the test and being full of anxiety over much of it, especially the higher math that I hadn’t even had in school yet. In the end, I was unsure if I had done poorly or done well and so I was a nervous wreck as the recruiter picked the three of us up and we got into his car. He turned around in the drivers seat so that the two of us in the back seat could see him, and he clearly wasn’t thrilled. First he spoke to the other two guys as one.
“I’m sorry guys, but you didn’t make it. There are a number of books you can get at the library to study and improve your scores. You can also try the Marines – they might take you, but I’m not sure.”  When he turned to face me, my heart leapt in to my throat, because I just couldn’t bear the thought of failing and having no options.
“You really surprised me.” He told me. “Yours were the highest scores I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure that you will have your choice of what ever job you want in the Army.” I was so relieved that I pretty much collapsed in his back seat. He bought us all lunch and then took us home. A few weeks later and he once again made the drive to pick me up and take me back to the city and to the Military Entry and Processing Station (MEPS). Here they interviewed me, inspected my test scores, and gave me a long list of jobs that were available to me.

I don’t know if it was part of the game or what, but the man I was dealing with kept calling others over to look at my scores and the list of jobs that the computer said I was qualified for based on them, and they all seemed to be excited about it.
“Son, you qualify for pretty much anything you want.” He said, showing me the computer print out several feet long, line after line of jobs that I could apparently choose from.
I told him that I wanted electronics, and after a lot of looking, they came up with a job that I thought sounded awesome – Pershing Electronics and Material Specialist. The man explained that the Pershing Missile was a mid range nuclear missile and that I would be working on some of the worlds most advanced guidance and control systems and electronics. He said that they normally had videos describing and showing the various career fields but that he couldn’t find one for mine. That was OK though, because the job description sounded awesome and exciting and I had visions of my wearing a white lab coat and carrying a little black bag of tools, and working in a missile silo somewhere in the mid-west. Of course nothing could have been farther from the truth, but I didn’t know that yet. . .  

I completed and signed a truly awe inspiring amount of paperwork before we hit a major road block. At the age of only 17, I would have to have my mothers’ signature and approval to join. When I returned home, the conversation with my mother, and yes, my father as well, went through many levels of pleading, threats, and promises on both sides. My mother pleaded with me to stay and finish high school. As an incentive, she even promised to get me piano lessons, something she knew I’d dreamed of my entire life. That one actually made me pause for a moment, but then I realized that my mother had really never kept a single promise along these lines – why would she suddenly become reliable? She had never gone to a single event I’d participated at in school. No basketball games in Junior High, none of the few events I’d been a part of in stage band, and to the best of my memory, not one single event or award ceremony in my life. In the end, that hollow promise simply hardened my resolve. For quite some time she refused to sign the paper work until I finally convinced her that all she could accomplish was to annoy and inconvenience me, and possibly cause me to loose the desirable job that I was slotted for. Whether she signed the paperwork or not, I would join the army the very day that I turned 18. With hurt and hard feelings, yelling and tears, she did finally sign the parental approval.

One morning I was in the back room of my grandmother’s mobile home while she and my mother talked in the kitchen at the other end of the trailer, and I over heard part of their conversation.
“He will never make it there.” My grandmother was saying.
“Why not mom?” my mother asked her.
“Sharon, he’s never been in sports or shown any interest in that kind of thing. They’ll eat him alive.”
“Mom, he’s in great shape, he’ll be fine”
“You mark my words Sharon, he wont make it through basic training.” My grandmother grumbled.

One day after I turned 18, and a day or two before I should have started my senior year, I left for Basic Training.

Up until now, the recruiter had picked me up and taken me everywhere that I had needed to go during the recruitment process, but now that I had signed the contract and the Army owned me, all I got was a bunch of bus tickets in the mail. I’d never been 50 miles from home, never been in a town larger than about 8,000 people, and lived the last five or six years a long way from any kind of community, and now I was going to have to make my own way from Palm Springs to Los Angeles. Let’s just say that I was a bit nervous. It’s funny, I know darn good and well that my mother didn’t take me to the bus station by herself, and yet I don’t remember anyone else being there. I just remember my frail and tiny mother standing there with tears streaming down her face as my bus pulled away. Despite my best efforts, I also had tears running down my cheeks. To be truthful, even the very memory of it chokes me up so many years later while I write this.

In a couple of hours the bus pulled in to the bus station at one end of Los Angeles and this scared to death, 17 year old, timid desert rat got to make his way to the hotel clear across the city where the Army was putting me up for the night. I desperately tried to grow eyes in the back of my head so that I could see behind me as I walked through the city to make my way to the city bus stop. I’d never been in a city and I’d never ridden public transportation, and I was scared to death the entire time. Eventually I did make it to the hotel though, and I stood just inside the door for a minute or two and gawked like the ignorant hillbilly that I was. At the front desk they gave me a key for the room I was to stay in that night and so I headed for the elevator (another first for me) and made my way to the room. As I entered the room, I was shocked to see a man and woman in one of the two beds. I practically shouted “I’m sorry!” and backed quickly out of the room. I looked at the room number on the key, and the number on the door, and it sure seemed like I was in the right room. Not knowing what else to do, I headed for the front desk where I explained that there was someone in my room already. The woman behind the counter just laughed.
”Honey, he’s your roommate. You don’t get your own room - the army puts two people in each.”
Feeling a bit sheepish, I made my way back to the room where I knocked this time. I could hear some rustling and talking inside, and soon the door was opened by a young man, maybe two or three years older than I was.
“Yes?” he asked politely.
“Umm, I don’t know how to tell you this, but according to the front desk, you and I are both assigned to this room for the night.” I told him. He looked kind of sheepish himself, he glanced behind him into the room and then stepped aside and waved me in.
“Ok, no problem. Come on in!” he said with a grin.
As I entered the room, I immediately noticed two things. In one bed was a woman that I assumed was more or less naked being as how she had the covers pulled up to her neck. The next thing I noticed was that the other bed, presumably mine for the night, had clearly been “slept” in already. Apparently noticing where I was looking, and deducing what my thoughts were, he spoke up in an embarrassed tone of voice.
“Look man, I’m so sorry, but I didn’t know I was gonna have a roommate, and this is my last night with my girl friend, so . . . “ he sort of waved toward both beds and grinned. In all honesty, I was more than a little irritated at the thought of sleeping in a bed where he and his girlfriend had just said goodbye to each other, but I wasn’t about to raise a fuss or start anything right at the beginning of my Army adventure. Funny how it never occurred to me that I could have just called the front desk and got new sheets or moved to another room. Instead, we got a towel and laid it across the mattress. I honestly don’t remember anything else from that night. I don’t recall if I left the room for a while to give them privacy, I don’t recall if I had dinner, I don’t even recall going to bed. What I do remember was the phone ringing at 2 or 3AM to wake us up for the day of in-processing. I was emotionally and physically exhausted as we exited the hotels front door. It was about 3 or 4 AM and still dark outside when several dozen of us quietly boarded the bus that took us to the processing station. With my tired head leaning against the bouncing bus window, I was struck by how beautiful the city was as we descended a long hill into it, and all of its millions of twinkling lights were spread out before us.

At the entry station, I began to realize that all of the polite and nice treatment we had received up to this point was coming to and end. The word “please” had apparently just been removed from the vocabulary of everyone we encountered.
A man wearing what I would later learn was the Class B uniform, dark green slacks, light green shirt, and shinny black shoes stepped up into the buss
“All right, all right, let’s cut the chatter. As you get off of the bus, I want you to form a single line starting at the door over there.” He says while pointing at the door to the building.
“Keep the talking down and listen for instructions. When you hear them, follow them. This is going to be a very long day for you, so the faster you move and do what your told, the sooner we will all be done. Any questions?”  he asked in a tone that made it clear he didn’t really expect to get any.
This was one of the longest days of my life, full of one long line after another and one examination after another. In one line of about 50 men and boys, we were all told to take off all of our clothes, and so there we stood absolutely naked, shuffling forward one at a time. When you have a bunch of naked guys standing in a line, they have kind of a natural tendency to give each other as much “personal space” as possible and so the folks in charge kept yelling out “Tighten up the line. Move up closer. Come on boys, make your buddy smile!”
As shy as I was, my face was lit up like Rudolph’s red nose when I made it to the front of the line where an elderly man reached out and grabbed a very private part of my body that had not been touched by anyone but me in at least 13 years!
“Turn your head to the side cough.” He said. The only saving grace was that he didn’t look a whole lot happier than I was to be doing this . . .

At one point, I was pulled out of the middle of one of the countless and endless lines by a man.
“I was told that you hadn’t had a chance to see the video for your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). Follow me and we’ll give you a look at it.” He told me with a smile, and then led me to a small office with a huge Betamax VCR and TV. He pushed the huge cassette into the machine, turned on the TV, pushed play, and then left me to watch it. My heart started to race as I anticipated seeing what I had just signed up to do for three years. The video started and my heart plummeted as I saw that there were not going to be any nice, clean, air conditioned missile silos, white lab coats, or little black bags in my future. Instead of my silo fantasy, I saw a dozen men in the forest wearing mud covered BDU’s and gas masks, scurrying around on a missile mounted on a huge tractor truck and trailer.
 “As a Pershing Electronics and Material Specialist, Army MOS 21 Golf, you will be responsible for maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing the electronics and hydraulics of the erector launcher, programmer test station, and all associated support hardware for the Pershing Missile. . . “ and the narrator went on and on.
“Awe shit . . . “ I said to myself. One moment I had thought that I was headed for a nice clean silo, and the next thing I know, I’m gong to be wearing a gas mask, in the woods and the mud, and working on the hydraulics of a tractor trailer. Talk about a let down . . .
“Can I back out? Can I get a better job?” I asked myself, but it didn’t take me long to reach the conclusion that I wasn’t about to do anything that would risk my being delayed and being sent back home, even temporarily. I hadn’t realized that he had entered the room again and so I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard someone speaking.
 “So, what do you think?” he asked, all bright and bubbly, clearly thinking that I must be ever so thrilled to have qualified for such an awesome job.
“It looks fine,” I told him with the best smile I could dredge up. “Thank you for showing it to me.” We said a few more words to each other and then I followed him back out of the room where he returned me to the very end of the long line that he had earlier pulled me out of. Toward the end of that very long day, I, and a room full of other enlistees, stood and took the oath for the United States Military.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dear William . . .

A few months ago, my oldest son, my little boy, went to and graduated from basic training in the United States Navy. Words just cant describe the mixed feelings that this brought about in my own heart. Overwhelming pride in my son, sadness that he was now gone from our home, and worry about the hard things and times that he had in store for him. It also brought back a flood of memories from my own past when I joined the United States Army.
Basic training is probably one of the hardest things that most people will ever go through, both physically and emotionally, and so I wanted to write him a few letters that might help him to pass the time. In the end, all I could think of to write to him about was my own experience. and so two or three very long letters were born.
 The other day I was looking through my computer looking for things that I can get rid of to clean it out and I came across these letters. The more I looked at the letters, the more that I thought it might be kind of cool to post them here as a blog. And so, here is the first of three or four letters to my son . . .

Dear William,

You have absolutely no idea how proud we are of you that you have chosen to serve your country. There are very things that you will ever say in your life that will make you feel as proud as saying “I defend the United States of America”. One of the very few things that you may one day be able to say that will make you feel that proud would be “My child has chosen to serve his country and defend the United States.”  We are so very proud of you . . .

My own trip through basic training was over 27 years ago, and you have no idea how that thought stuns me on so many levels. Considering how poor my memory is, one of the amazing things here is that I remember so much of my Basic training so well. You don’t know it yet, but you are probably already surrounded by guys that will be your best friends for the rest of your life. Bonds that you build going through basic together are like nothing else you have experienced. I am STILL in touch with several of the men I went through basic training with. You are in fact named largely in honor of two of them – William Mozzetti and John Jeffereson.

I know that you will have very little time for reading letters, and even less time for writing them, but I also recall just how very precious a letter was. For the few moments you have while reading letters from home, it takes your mind away from what you are going through, and reminds you that you do have a life that doesn’t revolve around Drill Sergeants, trainees, exercise, and studying. I don’t have much of interest to share with you, but will make it a point to try and write you at least once a week anyway. We would appreciate it if you send us even the shortest of notes as you find time. Even if it is only to say “I’m alive, this sucks, and I’m gonna slug you when I get home for not talking me out of this.” Even a short note would be most welcome.

I have no idea what to write to you that will be of any interest to you. It’s not as if you don’t know what my life consists of these days, so maybe I will write to you about the time in my life when I joined the military. If it bores you, you can rip it up and throw it out. If it interests you and takes your mind away from Basic Training for a few minutes, then I will have succeeded!

My life was in fairly poor shape at the time that I joined the Army at the age of 17. We lived in a one room cabin, about two miles from our nearest neighbor, and twenty miles from the nearest town – Yucca Valley.

I know this sounds like the typical jokes you hear about parents and grand parents telling children about walking miles through the snow, barefoot, and up hill both ways, but it really was a little like that for me. For the first few years that we lived there, my brother and I had to walk three miles just to catch the bus that we then had to ride for another 40 minutes to school. After school, we had to make the same three mile walk back home. Once home, I would drop off my books, IF I’d bothered to bring them home at all. Let’s face it, knowing that I had to carry them six miles round trip, I wasn’t really motivated to bring them home from school. I would then walk three miles the other direction to work on a small ranch where I groomed the horses, cleaned corrals, and that sort of thing. Dirty, nasty, and often disgusting work, and then I had to make the trip home after working. In later years things got a little better when they moved the bus stop closer to home so we only had to walk one mile each way, and I eventually bought a ten speed bike to get me to work and back.

We had very little money and virtually no luxuries. I only had the one pair of shoes and so I often went to school with my shoes reeking of horse, cow, pig, and chicken manure. You can just imagine how very popular this made me at school. In the early years we were so damned poor we couldn’t even afford to get water – a commodity that had to be delivered by truck. I recall my brother and I making treks through the desert to the water tanks at cabins people had for vacations and stealing water that we then had to carry home in washed out milk jugs. Trip after trip after trip carrying jugs of water. I suppose I should feel guilty about it, I mean, it was stealing after all, but I just can’t find it in myself to feel guilty about having been so desperate.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t really the lack of money and luxuries that drove me to want to leave home though, but rather it was a combination of several other things and events that all added up.

Living in a desolate area so far from town, the only way you could possibly socialize with others your age, or even participate in school events, would be if you had access to a car. My mother couldn’t afford drivers training and I understood this. What I couldn’t tolerate though was that I had convinced my school to give me the drivers ed class for free, all it required was my mothers signature. She refused to sign it, fearing that if I had an accident while in the class, she would be responsible and they would take our home as it was the only thing we had of value. Since my mother was in fairly poor physical condition, and quite honestly not the type to go too far out of her way to make it possible for her children to participate in school events or be social, this essentially meant that I was spending the vast majority of my high school experience confined to a cabin in the middle of no where. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I never did forgive my mother for this.

The small ranch that I worked at was owned by a popular jazz singer named Nancy Wilson. Nancy was a fine person, but it was really her father Olden or “Butch” that my brother and I came to love. He was in his 60’s, and when he was away from the women, he had one of the dirtiest minds and mouths that I have ever known. The man could make a rough and seasoned sailor blush, and so you can just imagine the effect he had on someone as shy and introverted as I was. Despite his “dirty” mind, he was probably the number one best human being that I have ever known. Within six months of moving to our canyon, he knew far more people than we had met in the years that we had been there. He never once drove past someone walking through the desert without stopping to ask if they needed help. He was always doing something good and decent for us, and for strangers and the other people that he knew. In very short order I think everyone in that canyon, and most in Yucca Valley, loved that man to death.

As I already mentioned, I was a painfully shy teenager. Between my being so shy, living so far from town and the other kids at my school, and having no transportation to get to town for anything social, I had very few friends and no chance in hell of having a girl friend. One evening I was in Nancy’s home, probably playing cards with Butch since that was his favorite thing in the world to do, when I heard someone playing the piano. I’d never actually heard a piano played live and in person before and so this was immensely interesting to me and I made my way to the piano room for a look and listen.

As I entered the room, I saw Nancy’s two young daughters standing around the piano, and a pretty girl about my own age was playing it. She hadn’t noticed me yet and so I had the chance to watch and listen for a while. The music was lovely and unique, often slowing and building the anticipation before it would soar to something intense and moving. I could hear her speaking to the girls as she played, describing the scene of a battle field with God’s Angels on one side, and devils and demons on the other. As they joined to battle, the piano music would soar, becoming immense and filling the room as God’s angels of course prevailed. She was about my own age, had a full head of long and glorious dark hair, and when her looks were combined with her music, she was probably the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She played several more songs that she had written herself, and I sat there listening, absolutely lost in her and in her music. I never had a chance – I instantly fell head over heals in love with her and I even managed to overcome my shyness enough to talk to her quite a bit that night. Her name was Angela and she was there to baby sit Nancy’s daughters. As you may have guessed based on my description of the narration of her song, Angela was a very religious girl. In fact, I had never met or seen her before because she went to a private school at the Baptist Church in town. Since I had not believed at all in God at that point, there was absolutely no chance for us to have ever met before. I spent the next two days obsessed at the very thought of her, and finally I called Butch and asked for her phone number. I stewed over it for a few days, with my stomach twisting, turning, and spinning at the very thought of calling her. She was beautiful, talented, and a three times a week church goer - what did a poor kid like me, with no car, and wearing shoes that reeked of the horse and cow manure I worked in possibly have to offer a girl like her?

Believe it or not, she did indeed agree to meet with me, and even go to a movie with me – I think it was “The Dark Crystal”. I have no idea why, but she eventually did become my girl friend and my very first serious heart throb. It turns out that in addition to the piano, she also played guitar, something that I had always been interested in but never pursued up to that point. Of course she had to drive anytime we got together since she had a car and a drivers license, and you can imagine how embarrassed that made me. I dated her for at least a year, and during most of that time, I went to church with her and her grandparents every week.
I went to a church/school function with her one night and they had some sort of competition on the football field that I joined in on. I can’t even remember what it was, but I remember that no one there could even come close to running as fast as I could. With all of the exercise I got every single day of my life, I was in fairly good shape, and left every one of their best jocks in the dust. Less than a week later, her school contacted my mother and offered me a scholarship to attend their school if I would agree to compete in their athletics program. I was of course thrilled at the very thought! What do you know – someone was impressed with me, actually wanted me, and had gone through effort to get me! I could get a private school education and go to the same school that Angela did! To me, it was like a dream! At least it was until my mother refused to allow it. . .

Inspired by Angela’s talent, I decided that I really wanted a guitar, the problem being of course, that I couldn’t come close to affording one. Remember I told you about Nancy’s father Butch always doing good things for people? Yeah, turns out he knew a guy with an old guitar and amplifier, and I think he twisted the mans arm to sell it to me for something like $150 – far less than it was worth. Butch gave me a ride to the mans home where I was thrilled to take ownership of a beautiful guitar and amplifier. Once again I was obsessed with something – this time the guitar. Other than Angela, it was all I cared about, all I spent time on. I took it to school with me so that I could practice during lunch and during the 80 minutes I spent on the bus every day. I stopped doing homework, I stopped reading books, I stopped going for bike rides and hikes, and instead I spent the time with the guitar, often playing it until three or four in the morning. In about six months I was playing at least as well as Angie and probably better, and it’s been a life long obsession and joy of mine ever since. In less than a year, being self taught and never having had a lesson, I had impressed the band teacher enough that he accepted me in to the high schools stage band. Ultimately though, I had to leave the band because I could not make it to events. I couldn’t get a drivers license and my mother wasn’t about to ferry me back and forth.

Things got complicated when my mother started dating, of all people, my own father. They had separated due to his alcoholism when I was about a year old. The only memories I had of him were from the occasions I had lived with or visited with him since then, and they were all bad. Memories of kicking Coors cans aside walking through the house and yard. Memories of the over powering stench of stale beer everywhere you turned. Memories of his berating, belittling, and beating my half brothers. Memories of his periodically trying to take me away from my mother and family. To this day I couldn’t tell you how they had met again, or what possessed my mother to believe that he had changed, or what she had on her mind when she allowed him to move in to our home, but she did. Anyone who has been around alcoholics could guess what was coming next, because it wasn’t long before he was drinking again and abusing those around him. This man that I had been ashamed of being related to for most of my life, was suddenly living in my house, and in many ways in charge of it. I couldn’t stand this . . .

Through the year or more that I dated Angie, I went to church with her and spent many Sunday afternoons and evenings at her grandparents home. Much to my own surprise, I actually began to question my own beliefs regarding the Universe. Until then, I was a fairly staunch atheist, absolutely convinced that there was no God, and no higher power.
I had started and continued going to church with her simply because it allowed me to be with her, and in her world, it was just something you were expected to do. Regardless of the reasons I had started going to church with her, I had gradually began to doubt my own beliefs. After all, is it really so much harder to believe that God exists than to believe that the matter of the entire universe just magically appeared in a small clump, exploded, and created the universe that we now live in? The world started to look different to me and to this very day I recall a moment when I was riding my bike to the ranch where I was to meet her for a horse ride and I swore I felt the very presence of God. The canyon was beautiful, the sky a dark and beautiful blue, and the air filled with the rich smells that you will only find in the Mojave desert. The world just looked and felt like a different place to me, a nicer place, a place of wonder . . . Of course it wasn’t going to last. About a month after this epiphany of mine, this change in my entire view of the world, Angela kindly and gently told me that she could no longer date me. It seems that she and her grandparents had decided that I was not a good enough Christian. How very ironic that she would give this as the reason for leaving me so soon after I had actually begun to believe what she beleived. I still remember standing in front of my bicycle watching her drive off after she dumped me. To say that my entire world shattered right there just doesn’t do the event justice.
  • The only girl that had ever paid the slightest bit of attention to me had just told me that I wasn’t worthy of her.
  • There was an abusive alcoholic that I had a lifetime of emotional baggage with living in my home and calling the shots.
  • I had been denied the chance for a private and presumably better education because my mother didn’t like the fact that they were Baptists and believed in corporal punishment (as if I was ever in trouble or would have to worry about it).
  • Most of the friends I had were gone to college or elsewhere while I still had another year of school to go.
  • I was stuck in the middle of no where, with no drivers license, no friends, and a home I now hated going to.

It was time for me to leave . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is it about the shoes?!

Well hell, there really isn’t much to say from the last couple of weeks. Been pretty busy, but very little of it had to do with this part of my life.

I had to make a long and nerve wracking service call to Manassas VA, but I couldn’t leave the house dressed because my wonderful Mother-in-law was staying with us. For those of you that haven’t managed to keep up on every little aspect of my life, my mother-in-law stayed with us a couple of years ago, and while my wife and I were both at work, she apparently went snooping through the house. I still have no idea at all what she found or saw, but she was kind enough to tell everyone that mattered in my wife’s family that I am a cross dresser. My wife’s aunt and uncle in San Antonio were kind enough to actually tell me this and it explained quite a few things, for example, why the husband of my wife’s sister wont stay in the same room with me. Anyway, let’s just say that for carelessly and thoughtlessly hurting my wife, she is WAY down there on my favorite person list.

When I arrived in Manassas, it turns out that my customer was no where even close to being ready for me to be there, despite the fact that they were the ones that demanded they needed me right then. They had taken one of our machines that was idle apart to farm out a lot of it’s components to other systems that had broken down over the years. Now that they had it in pieces, half of which were missing, they wanted me to come put Humpty Dumpty back together again and make it work. To really complicate things, this is normally a very reliable machine, and so I work on it very rarely, and this means that I have to pretty much learn the thing from scratch every time I go work on one. Anyway, I arrived to try and put the thing back together and make it functional again just to find out that they didn’t have any of the plumbing or power connected to it! It’s really hard to repair, setup, and test a complex machine when it has none of the gasses, water, and power that it requires to operate, and so I wound up spending an entire week unable to do much work on it until they got their end of things done.
Does this mean that Kimberly got to spend a lot of time out and about? Nope! Instead I spent that week taking an online OSHA course to get a certificate that another customer of ours is demanding we have in order to work in their fab. When I wasn’t working on that OSHA course, I was reading the manuals and training materials that I had for the machine that I was here to put back together so that I would hopefully have a clue when it came time for me to get my hands on the thing. After a week of late nights studying OSHA and the machine I was there to repair, I suddenly found my self burned out on a Sunday morning and decided it was time for Kim to get out of the hotel for a bit.

I recently bought this gorgeous 100% silk dress on closeout sale without trying it on and I was horribly disappointed to discover that it was just a hair too tight around the chest area. I probably could get away with wearing it, but if I did, I would spend the entire time wondering if I looked like some desperate old woman trying to look “sexy” by wearing a dress that was clearly too small. In the end, I decided that I just cant do it, and so I took a picture of it so that I can put it on Ebay.

The next dress I tried on was one I just got from JC Penny’s and I was also going to put it on ebay, but changed my mind after I saw it on. I was gonna get rid of it because I thought it was just too short, but the more I looked at the photo, the more I thought it looked terrific, and so it is a keeper!

Well, the short dress might be a keeper, but my confidence wasn’t all of that high today and so I really didn’t want to be out and about in something that was likely to attract that much attention. Instead, I chose a skirt and top for a bit more of a casual look. I had brought three wigs with me, and spent an hour bouncing back and forth between them, absolutely convinced that they all looked terrible no matter what I did with them. In the end, I took the plunge and went with my short flippy hair. It makes me look older, but at least I feel reasonably confident in it.

I started off by going . . . where else . . . to the mall. Bargain shopping has become something of a hobby for me, with my hitting all of the department stores and raiding the closeout and 75% off sales racks looking for treasures. One of the up sides of being a cross dresser is that I like many of the things that your average woman apparently doesn’t, and so surprisingly often I find things that I think are awesome on closeout racks being almost given away. The sky was dark and ominous as I made my way from my rental car and into Macy’s. No rain yet but it was clearly about to seriously unload on the world. I briefly considered heading back to the hotel before I got caught in a downpour, but I was pretty sure that if I spent one more uninterrupted day in that hotel room I was gonna shoot myself in the head. As I entered Macy’s, the door hadn’t even finished closing behind me when a sales associate appeared in front of me.
“Can I help you with anything?” She asked very nicely and with a friendly smile.
“Sure! Where can I find shoes?” I asked her with a grin, and why not? Doesn’t everyone want to go shoe shopping?
“Are you looking for men’s shoes or women’s?” she asked me. I hesitate a moment trying to figure out if she had just slammed me, or if that was a sincere question. She seemed honestly nice and friendly, so I didn’t think that it was a not so subtle way of saying “I know you’re a guy”
“Women’s please.” I replied, and then made my way in the pointed direction.
Well, I made my way through the entire Manassas Mall and didn’t find a single thing that I just couldn’t pass up. The bad news is that I also felt my confidence flagging with just about every step, and by the time I got back to the Macy’s door where I had entered the mall, I was really ready to get back out to the car where I could relax. It wasn’t gonna be quite that easy though, because the rain had decided that this was a good time to wash the world, and it was coming down with impressive power. It was raining so hard that when it hit the pavement it was sending spray back up into the air a good foot or more. I had brought my umbrella with me, but with rain and wind that hard, it wasn’t going to do me much good. Instead, I took one of several chairs by the door and decided to wait for it to at least slow down a bit before heading out in to it. I’d been sitting there for maybe five minutes when an older couple came up and reached the same conclusion that I had. The woman looked at me, smiled, and then turned to speak to her husband.
“I think this young lady has the right idea. How about we just take a seat and wait for a bit?” she asked him.
“Oh I dunno, I can go get the car and bring at around for you.” He said doubtfully while staring out of the glass door at the heavy rain.
“No, no – I know you! You will run and you might slip and fall. Let’s just take a seat and wait for a while.”
Well apparently this was a grand idea, because in moments there were about a dozen people all gathered at the door and watching the rain pound the snot outta the pavement. After about 15 minutes it finally slowed enough that my desire to get away from the crowd at the door exceeded my desire for dry feet, and so out into the thunder storm I went.

I have no idea why my self confidence was so low, but I returned to my hotel fully intending to take a shower and go back to being a guy, but I just hated the idea of having spent two hours to get ready, just to take it all off after only an hour. I looked in the mirror and thought that I actually looked pretty decent, but I just didn’t feel confident. Still, I had spent two hours getting ready and I’ll be damned if I was gonna let it all go to waste, so I headed out to the movie theater to see “8 MM”.
I guess a lot of people wanted to pass their wet Sunday watching movies because the place was absolutely packed and I had to park way to hell and gone out in the parking lot and make a hike up to the counter. As I approached the door, there were two teenaged girls wearing identical burnt orange shirts standing outside chatting, and they both stopped talking to watch me approach. As I got within three or four feet of them I gave them a great big smile and then watched their reflection in the glass doors as they turned to watch me walk past. When I got to the ticket counter, I found myself face to face with a young lady with absolutely awesome eyes and very elaborate eye shadow and eye liner applied. I got the usual reaction from her that I seem to get from most young women – a moment of confusion while her mind tried to figure out what it was about me that just wasn’t “quite right”, and then a huge grin as she figured it out. As I handed over my money and she prepared my tickets, I kept trying to figure out exactly how she had done her eye makeup, but ultimately I gave up and just decided to appreciate the fact that her eyes were incredible. The very thought of getting into another line of people for soda and candy just made my stomach do flip-flops, and so I just headed directly into the theater.
It looked as though my timing was just right, because just as I was taking my seat, the lights dimmed and the previews started. Soaring music began to fill the theater and a line of bright and flashing stars started to progress across the screen and everyone in the theater leaned forward in anticipation . . .  and then everything stopped. The music stopped and the dancing stars froze mid way across the screen, halted dead in their tracks. We all just kept watching the screen, convinced that any moment now the stars would resume their interrupted journey, but it was in vain – the stars refused to move and the music refused to play. In about five minutes people started to get annoyed and loud, and at least half a dozen people walked out, presumably with the goal of rounding up an employee to resolve the issue. About ten minutes after the screen froze, a young woman with a radio and a flashlight entered the theater and we could hear her talking to someone over the radio about the frozen movie.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but there appears to be a glitch of some sort and we have someone looking at the projector right now. It should only be a moment.” She announced to the crowd.
The stars disappeared and the screen went dark. The house lights came up, then dimmed, then came up, and then dimmed again, but still no movie.
“Well, it looks like the problem is more serious than we thought, but we have a technician on the way right now to look at it. We will have the movie started shortly, and I will also meet each and every one of you after the movie to give you a free ticket to the movie of your choice. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” The young lady with the flashlight loudly told us. Of course you could hardly hear her apology at the end because the crowd was applauding and shouting their approval at the idea of free tickets to another movie.
The movie was all right. Not awesome, but not bad, and clearly intended for the youngsters, but I knew that when I went in to it. It surprised and impressed me by focusing far more on the emotional interactions between the people than it did on the “monster movie” aspects of the film. I would say that it is worth seeing, but you should probably wait to see it on video instead of paying for the theater experience. As I was leaving the theater after the movie, I felt like a big, ugly, old cross dresser, and not at all like a woman, and so I all but ran for my rental car with out even considering sticking around to redeem my free movie ticket. Only four to five hours after spending two hours of effort to try and look like a woman, I was in the shower washing it all off, and for the very first time in almost a decade, I seriously considered purging – throwing away all of my female things. Don’t panic folks - I only considered it, I didn’t do it.
After my shower I sat at the desk in front of my laptop just staring at it. When I found myself seriously considering taking my two thousand dollar company laptop and heaving it against the wall, I decided that maybe I would go and see that free movie after all. Back in boy mode I was once again at the theater, and once again face to face with the young woman with the awesome eyes, and this time I decided to tell her so.
“You know I have to tell you, you have really awesome eyes.”
“Thank you.” She said with a smile as she handed me my tickets. Unless I miss my guess, she is probably told that a lot and has long since stopped being surprised by that compliment.
The next movie I saw was the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” and it was a good deal of fun. I wont spoil the movie for you, but let’s just say that I’m never gonna watch “The Little Mermaid” in quite the same way again.

A little bit at a time, my customer was managing to get the required electrical, water, and gasses that my machine required plumbed to it, and so I was able to do a little work on it Monday, and by Tuesday, my work was able to start in earnest. No great surprise to me, but Tuesday morning when my machine at last had all of the things that were required for it to operate, I found that it had many problems, and I was not able to make it work correctly. I spent the next two days pounding my head against it with no success, and by Wednesday night, with my face red with shame, I was sending emails to my customer and my manager letting them know that I had failed to find the root causes and resolve all of the issues, and that we were probably going to have to bring someone from our factory in Berlin over to pick up my slack. That was a pretty bad moment and day for me, because in the 16 years that I have worked for this company, I have never failed to fix an instrument just because I couldn’t figure out what the root cause of the failure was. I have failed to fix instruments because they required work that can only be performed at the factory, but never because I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what the problem was.
I went to bed that night feeling horribly depressed and ashamed of myself. I’d been laying in bed for about an hour, listening to people in the hallways, slamming doors, and the sounds of someone moving around in the room above me, when my eyes flew open – I had it! I hadn’t even realized that I was thinking about it, but just like that and completely unbidden, the solution to my customers failing instrument had come to me!
The following morning I charged into my customer fab (factory) and just about ran to my machine where I adjusted one stupid little gas regulator from the low end of our spec (75 PSI) up to the high end of our spec (85 PSI). I moved around to the front where the control panel is located and initiated the start-up process, and all but held my breath while everything began to come on line. I’m not sure, but I think I actually shouted “YES!” at the top of my lungs when the thing started to function flawlessly! At least it was operating flawlessly right up until the Ozone safety monitor started to howl at me, warning me that my machine was leaking a HUGE amount of Ozone inside of its cabinet, and if I didn’t shut it down, things and people were going to start getting hurt. I was still laughing though, because leaks I can find and address, and now there was no question that I was going to go home leaving a working machine behind me and a happy customer.

By about 3PM on Thursday, my customer and I were both satisfied with the performance of the machine, and I found myself sitting in a very hot rental car in the customers parking lot trying to decide what to do with the rest of my afternoon. There wasn’t enough time to get ready and to do anything pretty, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of returning to the hotel room where I’d spent the vast majority of the last two weeks cooped up. In the end I decided to indulge my bargain hunting hobby and raid the sales racks at all of the local department stores that weren’t in the mall that I had already raided. I went to Sears, Marshalls, Ross, and at last found myself at the Burlington Coat Factory. I found three tops selling for $10 or less each and then found a cute light green lace top on the clearance rack. It didn’t have a price tag on it, and I figured that might be a problem, but I decided to take it to the counter with me anyway. I got into one of the two check out lines, and when it was my turn, I laid the top in front of the young lady.
“This was on the clearance rack in the back of the store, but it doesn’t have a price tag on it. Does this mean I don’t gitta take it home?” I asked her while batting my eyes at her. “Not a problem! I’ll just look it up!” she told me after stopped laughing. She started entering a lot of numbers into her PC off of the tag, but it was in vain – the machine kept coming back empty handed.
“Uh oh, this doesn’t look good for the home team!” I told her with a grin. She told me not to worry about it, and then called a manager over who then trotted off to see if she could find the same top with a price tag still on it, or one that was at least a lot like it. We stood there waiting for at least five minutes, which is a long time when you have a long line of people glaring at you for holding them up. Not exactly an ideal situation if you’re a guy buying several womens tops and you had really wanted to stay under the radar.
“You know, I like that top, but I’m not sure I want it that bad!” I told her at last.
“No problem!” she said, and was just starting to set the cute little green top aside when the manager finally showed up, holding a top that was similar but not quite the same as the one I had wanted to buy.
“OK, just sell it to him for the same price as this one.” The out of breath manager told the cashier as she was handing the garment and its tag to her. I was pleased to see that it was also less than $10 and then I noticed that I really kind of liked the top that the manger had brought.
“You know what? I like that one too and I can’t believe that I missed it when I was shopping. Why don’t you go ahead and chuck that one in the bag too?!” I told her with a wink.

Friday, almost two full weeks after leaving my wife and children behind, it was finally time to head back home. I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I should fly home as Matt or as Kim. My confidence has been exceedingly low lately and that can be a problem if your gonna enter the airline system. Once you take the plunge and start your trip, your pretty much committed, because once you leave the hotel there isn’t much you can do if you suddenly decide “Gee, I’m not having fun and wish I hadn’t done this.” On the other hand, every time I have taken a flight as Matt that I could have taken as Kim, I spend the entire day beating myself up, and hating myself every time I see a woman in an outfit I like. It seems like my choices were between spending the day anxious and self conscious as Kim or angry and jealous as Matt. The more I thought on it, the more I figured it was a  “get back on the horse and ride” kind of thing, and so I started getting ready to go as Kim.

The dress I decided to wear was another thrift store find. What tickled the hell outta me was that I paid about $10 for it at the thrift store and had just seen the same dress on sale at either Marshalls or Ross for over $30 the day before. As I got dressed I realized that this dress was just about as short as the one that I had almost put up on Ebay for being too short. To hell with that though, because I liked the darn thing! When it came time to choose and prepare my hair, I pretty much had a mental break down. I brought three wigs with me – my short flippy hair, my long all time favorite that is just about worn out, and the new one I had just bought to replace it. The short one looked OK, but I felt kind of old looking. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get either of the two long ones to look good. My all time favorite is so old and worn, that it doesn’t really fit well anymore, and at the slightest breeze the tabs on the side would be clearly obvious. The new long one just looked like hell no matter what I did with it. I couldn’t get it to style anywhere close to the way I wanted it, and it is full of tight little curls that scream “I’m a wig” to all that see it. I cycled through each of the wigs over and over, repeatedly standing in front if the mirror and desperately trying to make them presentable, until I hit the point where I had to make the choice and leave or miss my plane. I thought I looked like an old lady, but I decided to stick with the short one. It might make me look old, but at least it looked real.

As you enter the Washington-Dulles airport, there is a long ramp that you walk down that takes you from where the rental car shuttle drops you off to where the escalators are that take you up to ticket counters. I was about mid way down that ramp, hauling my rolling tool box and my large suitcase behind me, when a woman came up from behind me and leaned in towards me as she walked by.
“That’s a great dress!” she told me in kind of a conspiratorial way as if we were sharing a secret. I laughed and thanked her, but she never slowed down - she just kept walking.

I think that I might have been the first TG that the TSA inspector checking tickets had ever seen, because he looked at me and my ID pretty long and hard before scrawling his approval across my ticket. One thing for sure, there was no fear this time of my being frisked for wearing a skirt or dress that was too long! After the guy that checks your ticket waves you through, you still have to get into another line that goes through the metal detector or full body scanner. It was kind of a luck of the draw thing whether you were going to have to go through the full body scanner or just the metal detector, and I was a bit relieved when I was waved through the metal detector line. I was relieved because every time I’ve gone through the full body scanner I’ve been stopped and had my chest patted down because of my breast forms. I would really rather not have he hassle. When I got up to the metal detector, there was a large African American TSA inspector running it and she waved me through with a smile. I walked through and then joined yet another line of people waiting at the X-ray machines output for their bags to come through. There was some idiot standing there and he left his bins on the X-ray belt while he was slowly taking each of the items out and putting them away. With all of his bins blocking the belt, no one else behind him could get their things. Six or seven of us stood there in line watching him very slowly reach in and pick up his watch and put it on. Then at the pace of a glacier he picked up his belt and slowly put it on, picked up his wallet and put it away, picked up one shoe and slowly leaned down to put it on. The guy running the machine had finally decided that he had enough and started the belt running again, forcing the slow poke to pick up his bin and move to the countless benches that they provide for people to put it all away. I was just about to reach up and grab my things to carry them off and put them on when I realized that the female TSA guard was trying to get my attention.
“Ma’am? Ma’am?” she called two or three times before I realized that it was me she was calling to. Kind of wondering what I might have done wrong, I looked up at her.
“Yes ma’am?” I asked.
“How high are those heels? About five inches?”
“No, they aren’t that high!” I replied, relieved that she didn’t want anything official to do with me. “I think they are three and half inches.”
“They are so cute! I noticed you while you were standing in line and all I could think of was how much I liked them!”
“Well thank you! They are kind of cute aren’t they?” I told her. “I got ‘em at JC Penny’s a while back on clearance.”
“Yeah, but don’t they hurt your feet?”
“Well . . .  maybe just a little bit!” I told her with a laugh while holding up my thumb and forefinger up and about half an inch apart.
No one paid me the slightest bit of attention on the flight, but when it landed in Austin and I was making my way up the jet bridge, the Delta customer service rep that had operated the jet bridge stopped me as I was walking by.
“I LOVE your shoes!” she told me. I couldn’t help myself – I just started to laugh.
“Well thank you. You know, I’m getting that quite a lot today?!”
“I’ll bet you do!” she said with a laugh.