Friday, June 29, 2007
Camping and fishing have been two of my favorite pastimes ever since I was a young kid. Well, I'm still a young kid, but you know what I mean. The summer before I moved to Japan, I went on a two week camping trip with my father-in-law. He and I get along very well, and he's a pleasure to be around. I made the trek from 29 Palms, California, to a small campsite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I arrived in the late afternoon, and claimed a site for us. He arrived late in the evening, and we got the camp set up.
We were camped a few feet from a beautiful stream that was teeming with trout. I could literally get out of my sleeping bag, grab my fishing pole, and be standing on the bank of the stream in four steps. We had no trouble catching our limit each day, and our diet was made up of mostly, you guessed it: fish. We had fish for just about every meal, and I never tired of it. When the fish goes from the stream into a frying pan in less than an hour, it gives a whole new meaning to the word "fresh."
Being a few miles from Tioga Pass, the scenery was spectacular. We would go on a short hike here and there to check out various fishing spots. The farther we trekked into the wilderness, the more interesting the fishing became. We'd gradually see fewer rainbow trout, and more brown and golden trout. I was fishing with a little ultra-light rig with two pound line. It made catching the tiny browns feel like fighting a marlin. When we hiked away from the "stocked" areas, we would typically switch to barb-less hooks, in order to more easily release the small fish that we would invariably catch.
The top picture above is of Saddlebag Lake. I believe that it's the highest lake in the nation that you can drive to. I cannot recall the exact elevation, but it's certainly up there. The fishing there was great, and there are some monster trout in that lake. We spent the better part of a day there, and failed to catch any keepers. It seemed as if everyone else that was there was having great luck. It was still a good day.
Being in the wilderness, my father-in-law and I decided that we would go without shaving for the duration of the trip. My only concern was returning to 29 Palms upon completion. I'd have to go through the main gate of the base, and being unshaven is frowned upon, to say the least. As our trip neared its end, we decided to stop at a public campground near the main highway and use their "pay showers" to get cleaned up. After two weeks of living in the dirt, the hot shower felt great, and I shaved in the shower. There was no mirror in the shower (nor outside of it), so I had to shave by feel. My face and neck felt strange after growing accustomed to the two week's worth of beard growth.
We said our goodbyes at that point, and went our separate ways. I had about a four hour drive back to 29 Palms, and I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed that night. As I pulled off the highway to make a "pit stop," I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed a patch of hair the size of a quarter on my neck. The rest of my face and neck was clean-shaven, and here was this patch of beard that was about 1/2 of an inch in length. It stood out like a nun at a rock concert. My shaving bag was buried under a ton of junk in the trunk of the car, so I decided to leave it be.
As I made my way to the main gate of the Marine Base in 29 Palms, I glanced again in the mirror. I was wondering if the guards at the gate (military police) would notice my odd little patch of beard. As I showed my I.D. card, I could tell by the strange look on the young Marine's face that he had indeed noticed the spot of growth. I was waiting for him to tell me to pull over so that he could write me a ticket. Fortunately, he let me pass, and I made my way home. After greeting my wife and kids, I went into the bathroom and examined the spot more closely in our large mirror. I felt like a moron. The spot of beard looked like a giant mole, or tumor. I'm amazed that the guards made no comment. My wife got quite a kick out of it, and laughed heartily at my mistake. My appearance would have stood out less if I had not shaved at all. Oh well; lesson learned: pack a mirror.
Monday, June 25, 2007
A "migrant worker" with a four foot piece of rebar can be a formidable foe, especially when you are riding a dirtbike through a row of orange trees at about 40 mph, and the worker jumps out in front of you and swings for the fences. This occurred to me one day as a teenager. I had been riding through the local orange groves, as I often did, and one of the workers tried to take me out with a piece of rebar. It caught me off guard, and he, thank God, missed his mark. I used to have many an adventure while living out in the hills of California, but that one was a wee bit more of an adventure than I would have cared for. Ironically, I ended up meeting that man again under much different circumstances.
I was lucky enough to live in a very rural area beginning at the age of eight. I didn't leave there until I left home for good to join the Corps (with a short break to attend schools "in the city"). It was a dream come true for a young boy. We lived out in the hills, and there was all manner of fun things for a kid to do. I would often head into the "back 40" with my bb gun and our dog. I'd shoot it out with a horde of desperados (pop cans), and tame wild beasts (lizards and horned toads). I'd live out whatever adventure I had seen on the last weekend movie, often a western, or perhaps John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima. As I grew older, my adventures progressed.
I eventually moved on from bb guns to dirtbikes. The beauty pictured above is a close match to my 600cc desert thumper that I would spend many an hour on. Living where we did, I could simply hop on and go tearing off through the hills. I had a great time. There were also weekend trips to the desert with my dad. That was the best. Endless miles of open desert, combined with that big, bad, beautiful beast of a bike, made for a fun combination. Having a great time with my dad wasn't bad either.
I would occasionally ride through one of the many nearby orange groves. This was especially fun after a rain. The mud would be thick and sloppy, but not as slick as some of the clay mud that you might encounter elsewhere. It made a big mess, but it was easy to maintain control. I had never encountered people in the orange groves, until the day of the rebar incident. Luckily, the worker missed me, and I was able to haul ass out of there. I made a point of pouring on the gas as I went by the guy, showering him with sloppy mud. I was a bit bothered by the experience, for obvious reasons. I knew that the guy was "defending" the property, but he could have done a number on me with that piece of metal. In addition, their own work trucks tore the place up a heck of a lot more than my bike did. I later learned that the Mexicans that worked in the groves also lived there in a cluster of tool sheds. Not knowing much at the time, I felt pretty sorry for them.
About a year later, a friend and I went rabbit hunting. I was using a Winchester lever action .22, and he had a Ruger semi-auto .22. I was a pretty fair shot with the Winchester, and would easily bag the rabbits on the run. We took about six of them, and were very pleased with ourselves. Unfortunately, when we went to gut the first one, we discovered that it was full of worms. He said that it was no good, and we were going to have to get rid of the rabbits. I was disappointed. I knew that my parents would be impressed if I brought home a few pounds of food, and it ended up being time, and critters, wasted. Then I had an idea. I told my buddy, "Why not give 'em to the guys in the orange groves? They'd probably be happy to have them." He agreed.
We hopped in my truck and made our way to the groves. We wound through there a bit and found where the workers were living. They already had fires burning, and a few cans of chili and such ready to cook. We pulled up and started pulling the rabbits out of the back of the truck, and their eyes lit up. I could see immediately that they were excited about the prospect of fresh meat. A young boy among them spoke fluent English, and he was passing on the profuse thanks of the elders among the bunch. I told him that the rabbits had worms, and he assured us that his grandmother knew how to prepare them properly. I then noticed a man looking closely at my dirtbike, which happened to be strapped into the back of my truck. He then began rapidly chattering away to the young boy. The boy told me that the man recognized the "motorbike" and was very sorry. I didn't understand what the heck he was talking about. He said that the man was very sorry for trying to "hit you with the fence stick." Then I knew. It was the same guy that tried to take my head off about a year earlier. I didn't know what to say. Here this guy was, about ready to piss all over himself. I know he was scared, but I could tell that he was genuinely humiliated and sorry as well.
I guess I was the bigger person that day, because I told the boy to pass on that all was well. "Just tell him not to try and take my head off again; they put people away for life for that here." When the boy passed that on, the guy started crying and thanking me. He was groveling so much that I almost felt like I had done something wrong. He told me that I could ride my "motorbike" there any time that I cared to. We left the groves with the whole clan of workers smiling and waving to us like we were some sort of saints. I told my buddy that if they were that impressed with a few rabbits, they should learn to set traps.
I was blasting through the groves on my dirtbike two days later. Good times.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
There was a time in my life when I found bitter pleasure in the misery of young men. While I was serving as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, or DI, at
One particular platoon included a young man by the name of Recruit Kendall. Recruit
One late evening, I was supervising "weapons maintenance," during which the recruits sat on their footlockers while cleaning their rifles. I was giving various commands in order to tell them what part of the rifle to scrub with their "AP," or All Purpose brush. The AP brush is very similar to a toothbrush in shape and size, but only comes in one lovely color: Olive drab.
Pacing along the line of recruits, shouting various commands, I quickly noticed that Recruit Wilson was not using his AP brush, but a rag instead. Recruit
I then commanded the entire platoon, "Now, when you receive the command, you will get on line with your AP brush in your right hand! Ready...MOVE!" I then began counting down, out loud, from ten.
I continued counting down, and upon reaching one, the platoon sounded off with a thundering "DONE SIR DONE!" There they stood with their AP brushes, and
While looking directly at Recruit Kendall, I said, "Now when you receive the command, you will quickly make your way to that pile, and grab a brush. I don't care which one, just freakin' grab one! You will then immediately return to scrubbing those rifles!"
By the time I had counted down from five to one, Kendall had his prize, and was back on his footlocker, gleefully scrubbing the dirtiest part of his rifle with
To the uninitiated, the way in which Marine Corps Recruits are treated may seem overly harsh. I would remind them that, as a DI, I was not preparing those young men to flip burgers at a fast food establishment. I was striving to mold them into the type of men that would survive the rigors of combat. As George Orwell once said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I love golf. I read a pithy joke somewhere about men beating the ground with sticks, cursing their God, and how that has evolved into the sport of golf. I enjoy golf because it's fun. Even if I play poorly, it's still fun. I thought I'd share a brief story from a few years back. This took place when I was stationed in 29 Palms, California. One of the young men that I worked with was a very skilled golfer, and was personal friends with the "pro" at the local course. We would occasionally go play a round with him, and generally had a good time.
One fine day, my buddy "Bobby" asked if we could knock off of work early and go play with the local pro out at the community course. I said, "Sure, but I don't want to play for money; you know that I stink at golf." "No problem, it will only be a buck a hole if we do." Off we went. I ran home, changed clothes, and we met up with "Rick," the golf pro. Since he pretty much ran the place, we didn't even have to pay for the round. As I feared, the bet was a buck per hole.
Since I had absolutely no skills at that time, I didn't want to play for money. Not only would I surely lose, but I was more interested in having fun. I wanted the option of hitting a second shot, moving my ball out of the rocks, etc. When playing for money, strict adherence to the rules is a must. Understandable, but that takes a bit of the fun out of it for a hack like me.
I played at my usual level of the time, typically finishing each hole at double or triple bogey (two or three strokes over par). Bobby and Rick were in a heated battle, as both were "scratch" golfers. On the 11th hole, my drive, as well as Rick's went into the deep rough to the right of the fairway. We both had to go hunt around for our balls (yeah, yeah; get your minds out of the gutter). While beating the brush in a feeble attempt to find my ball, I glanced over in Rick's direction. I saw him pull a ball out of his pocket and drop it into the light rough next to the fairway. He was cheating! That would be grounds for disqualification, but this was supposed to be a "friendly" game.
When we all finally reached the green, I putted out and stood by while Bobby and Rick did the same. I then asked Rick, "So Rick, how many strokes did you add for your drop?" Typically, if you cannot find your ball, you can drop a ball where your ball entered the obstacle (rough, water, out of bounds, etc) with a penalty. He looked at me like I had two heads. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "When you made that drop after your drive, did you take two strokes?" I asked. "I didn't make a drop; I found my ball." I just shook my head and let it go. I later told Bobby what I had seen, and he was not surprised. This is where fate comes in to play.
It is said that "what comes around goes around." I guess that may be true. As I was shaking my head in disgust at Rick's blatant cheating, a golf ball came out of nowhere and struck him directly in the crotch. He crumbled to the ground and began writhing in pain. About five seconds later, we heard a pitiful "FORE!" come from the next hole over. The timing could not have been better. I was a bit bothered by the fact that the errant golfer waited to yell "fore" until after his ball had struck another player, but I was secretly tickled by the fact that Rick had received his just desserts. Bobby leaned over and whispered to me, "He can keep the two strokes."
This brief story was inspired by the fact that I had wanted to play a round of golf today for Father's Day, but I cannot. Alas, it is raining to beat the band. No golf for me today; only memories of past rounds.
Happy Father's Day to all of you other dads out there.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Well, I'm back in The Land of the Rising Sun. It has certainly been a whirlwind trip. All of that traveling for a two day conference...what a pain in the ass. The above pictures are from The National Museum of the Marine Corps. The flag pictured is the actual flag that was raised on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during WWII. I didn't take any pictures of the other "exhibits" inside the museum, as it was very dark in there, and flash photography was a big no-no. Many of the exhibits are not things that would translate well into photographs anyway; you simply have to be there to really take them in.
I found a photograph there of a good friend of mine that I fought alongside in Iraq. I believe it's a picture of him on his second tour there. You can certainly see the emotion and burden that he bears in it. Very moving for me.
The conference was productive, albeit short, and the trip back was uneventful. I was fortunate enough to sit next to considerate people on every flight. The trip back was a little over 24 hours, start to finish. I got in very late last night, and I slept like a baby. I guess that I wasn't gone long enough to adjust to the time zone in D.C., evidenced by the fact that I didn't sleep worth a damn the whole time that I was there. I felt like a zombie the whole time...odd. I've been in situations before where I've had to deal with sleep deprivation, but I've never felt as "off kilter" as I did on this trip.
On Monday, I get to do my travel claim, type up my after action report, and all of that fun administrative stuff that invariably follows a Marine Corps business trip. It should be business as usual after that. Here's to hoping that I don't have to burn up a ton of taxpayer money for a two day conference again in the near future. I think that 16 hours of teleconference expense would have been a wiser choice.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
After a very long, tiring, stinky, and otherwise "interesting" journey, I have arrived safely here in Dumfries, Virginia. Quantico is right down the road "a piece" and I'll be hitting the Marine Corps Museum there tomorrow. I'll also be finding the nearest Walmart, for fear of my wife castrating me upon my return. She even sent me with one of the wrappers from her favorite type of yarn so that I could more easily locate it there. I'm telling you, Walmart could make a KILLING in Okinawa from my wife alone.
Anyway, my prediction was true; I sat next to the most annoying person on the entire plane during my longest leg from Tokyo to D.C. He also had some serious personal hygiene issues. I think I can still smell his b.o. in my clothes...or maybe that's me (24 hours of traveling can do that to you). I had just fallen asleep on the plane when he began to snore. When I say that he began to snore, it's more like he began to rumble. It was the type of low frequency, rumbling snoring that would rattle the roof of a small home. To add a little more fun to the equation, he farted so loudly that I thought the pilots in the front of the plane must have heard it. What a dream date he was...I accidentally spilled my orange juice on him, and felt absolutely horrible about it. If you believe that, I've got a bridge that I'll sell you.
Aside from the bundle of joy seated next to me, and the nightmare of navigating Narita Airport at rush hour, it was a great trip. I got in to D.C. on time, got my rental car easily, and missed some of the D.C. rush hour traffic.
I'll hit the road tomorrow on my Walmart/site-seeing adventures, and update after that. Alas, pictures will have to wait until I return to Okinawa, as I don't have the right card reader with me to load the pics to my laptop.
Until then, don't eat high fiber foods when you fly.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Yours truly will be embarking on my International Traveling Blog Extravaganza in a few hours. As previously mentioned, I'm traveling to the States on business, and I'll have my go-go-gadget laptop with me.
I'll fly from Okinawa to Tokyo, spend most of the day there, and then on to Atlanta. From Atlanta, I'll fly to Washington, D.C., and then travel by car to Quantico, Virginia. I'll be in VA for a couple of days, and then make the return trip. I'll actually be hitting two airports in Tokyo, with a one hour bus ride in between. Rumor has it that the bus travels past Tokyo Disney, so I'll try to get a picture or two of that as I roll by.
I'm very much looking forward to seeing the new Marine Corps Museum that's located in Quantico. I'll get some pictures to share while I'm there.
Being an impatient man, and given the inefficient nature of international travel, I'm sure that I'll have many nifty episodes that will anger me to no end. I'll share some of those, as well as the good stuff. Given my luck with air travel, I have no doubt that I'll be seated adjacent to the most annoying passenger on every plane that I board. Perhaps my tribulations will provide some comic relief to some of you.
The weather outlook for my destination looks good, so I may spend some time at the pool at my hotel. Most of my "free" time, however, will probably be spent calling family, seeing some sights, and enjoying some American cuisine. Okinawan cuisine is good, but I miss the eateries back home.
Rumor has it that "Famous Dave's" is the best place in VA for barbecue. I'll let you know.
Take care all, and I'll post as time permits.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
In addition, since it's only a two day conference, I'll be spending just as much time traveling as I will spend at the event itself. It takes right around 24 hours to get from Okinawa to the east coast of the U.S. I also have to find my way to the correct bus in Tokyo to travel from one airport to another. Since I booked my flight so close to game day, there were no direct flights available to Narita Airport.
I'll have my trusty laptop with me, so I should be able to write about my mundane adventures while I'm en route.
I'm also not looking forward to dealing with the D.C. traffic upon arrival (and departure). The "beltway" is always a mess, and there seems to be something in the water there that causes people to drive like idiots. What should be a 45 minute drive from the airport will probably take a couple of hours. Oh well, no real tragedy, just a bit of annoyance.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Apparently, we're now in the "rainy season" here in Okinawa. I had thought that all year long is the rainy season (it rains a LOT here). Last year, during the month of June, it seemed to rain for about three weeks straight. I think we got about 30 inches during a three week period.
It's also typhoon season! Yay! Typhoons are nifty. They're the same thing as hurricanes; they simply form in a different region of the world. Typhoons here in Okinawa are treated completely differently than the hurricanes in the states. Okinawa is very well suited for surviving typhoons. Drainage is excellent, almost every building (including homes) is steel reinforced concrete, and the populace is well versed in the simple things (stock up on food and water year 'round). ) Shame that the folks in "Nawlins" can't seem to take a few lessons from Okinawa (living on the Gulf coast, below sea level...you do the math).
Typhoons usually result in everyone having a big party. We stock up on beer, propane, and ice. Here in "the towers," it's unique. We can go from floor to floor, and visit all of our friends and neighbors. It's big, big fun.
I'm not looking forward to the cable outages, but the radio is always an option. Since I have ADSL, and the phone lines never go out here, I'll have internet. The power lines are almost all underground, so that will remain in place. Should be a good time, since the "authorities" are predicting a particularly "active" typhoon season this year.
Being on the ninth floor will give me an excellent view of the carnage. Cars don't fair well during powerful typhoons. I'll get to watch my van get pushed into a corner of the parking lot. Joy! No worries; cars can be fixed, and watching the action is fun.
My squadron of paper airplanes is being prepared...
Monday, June 4, 2007
Living on Okinawa is interesting, to say the least. We were fortunate enough to experience the local community by living "out in town" for a few months. That didn't work out very well, since our house was infested with termites, and our landlord had a bad habit of going through our home and belongings whenever we were away. We soon decided to move into on-base housing.
We were excited to be offered an apartment on the top floor of the "towers." The towers are high-rise apartment buildings, and the homes are actually the largest on-base quarters on the island. There's no yard to maintain, and the view of the ocean is great. Yes; bringing groceries and such up in an elevator is a bit of an inconvenience, but not extremely so. One thing that we didn't count on was the other people that live in our building.
The Marine Corps separates housing areas by rank. That serves two purposes: It cuts down on fraternization, and it tends to group like-aged children (and parents) in the same neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the housing here is run by the Air Force. They don't do things quite the same way. The only separations they make for housing are between officer and enlisted. In my building, we have persons ranked from Private (E-1) to Master Sergeant (E-8). In addition, we live in very close proximity to each other. Fortunately, we have rules. The rules for the "towers" are quite clear. Unfortunately, many of the occupants pay no attention to the rules.
Children are not allowed to play in the hallways and stairwells. For some reason, many parents allow their kids to do just that. I came home one night to find two boys on roller blades playing hockey in the hallway outside my home. I had a hard time getting the elevator to come down to the first floor so that I could come up. I found out that the boys had blocked the elevator doors open so that they could use the elevator as a "goal" for their hockey game. I had some stern words for the two boys, and my words were responded to with a flippant "You're not my dad. I don't have to listen to you." What kind of numbskull raises their kids this way?
Another lovely feature of our building is the "trash room." There is a room on the first floor with large trash bins for the depositing of our garbage. All we have to do is take our bags of garbage downstairs and deposit them in the bins. The same type of parents that seem to be raising know-it-all hockey players send their kids downstairs with their garbage, and it ends up being tossed through the door of the "trash room." Not placed in the bins, just tossed through the door. Those of us that choose to put our garbage in the bins have to wade through an obstacle course of junk and garbage to get to said bins. It's like a wet, stinky mine field.
Speaking of elevators, did I mention that a portion of the garbage ends up in them? I don't know if the kids (or parents) drag leaking bags of rotting garbage into the elevators, or if they really are slobbish enough to just dump random crap on the floor of the elevators. Either way, it's nasty, and I'd love to catch them in the act. Our elevators are also great sources of interesting reading. I can easily keep up with who's in love with who, who sucks, who's a "fag," and various other goings on, simply by reading the things that are written on, and carved into the walls of the elevators.
Don't get me wrong; most of my neighbors are good people, with well behaved kids. There are, however, enough idiots in this building to make it downright annoying for the rest of us. These people should not be allowed to breed. It's quite obvious that they let their kids do whatever they please, and don't really care what their children are up to. Pathetic.
I think I'd rather put up with the termites.
Friday, June 1, 2007
The Bat Cave
Several years ago, I worked with a young man that was a bit eccentric. He was very fond of tattoos and body piercings. Of course, body piercings are not allowed for male Marines, and he toed the line. He would, however, routinely mention his desire to get his penis pierced. He thought that was a grand idea, and was very much looking forward to the day when he could. In the meantime, he decided to get a tattoo on his penis instead. For some reason, he felt that getting his member tattooed to look like a bat was a nifty idea. He got little eyes on the head of the organ, with wings and such along the rest of it. He would frequently show it off to anyone who was willing to view it. Being that Marines are pretty down to earth, and not shy, most of us took a look at the thing. It was impressive work, but everyone that I knew was struck by the sheer oddity of it. Marines are not very sensitive folk (usually), and are typically NOT politically correct. Hence, the young man's roommate, being a bit on the effeminate side, was soon given the nickname "Bat Cave." He wasn't fond of the moniker, but he was a good sport about it. The young man with the bat on his tool was infinitely amused by that.
The Reuben Sandwich
Another young man that I knew (we'll call him "Johnson") was, apparently, very good with his hands. By that, I mean that he was addicted to masturbation. He would do it just about anywhere, and he would do it many times per day. One day, while our platoon was in the field on a training operation, we made a "tactical road march" in our humvee's. We were making our way across the desert in a single column, and Johnson's vehicle was directly ahead of mine. The only two Marines in the vehicle were the gunner and the driver. Johnson was the driver. The gunner stands up through a hatch in the roof of the vehicle and mans the machine gun. In all reality, the gunner is not down in the vehicle much at all. While driving down the road, I saw what looked like a tissue being tossed out of the driver's side window of Johnson's vehicle. About 15 minutes later, he did the same thing. I knew then that he was taking advantage of being "mostly alone" in the truck. That's how often he would do it...whenever he could. About a week later, Johnson came to work in a very excited state. He was bubbling with glee. He quickly explained that he had discovered the joys of the Reuben Sandwich. When asked to explain, he cheerfully replied that he had discovered that a warm Reuben Sandwich "feels just like the real thing."
These are just a sampling, but you get an idea of the type of colorful characters that I've met over the years.