Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chapter 4 “Car 153, do you have a copy?”

Hi, folks... just wanted to let you know that there won't be any more posts until at least Monday next. I'm going fishing... gettin' the hell out of Dodge! Please make me proud in my absense... and that means no fighting! If I hear that any of you taunts, teases, berates, or in any way causes trouble for his brothers and sisters, there will be Hell to pay when I get back.


Everyone makes mistakes. No matter how well prepared we may be, life can, and often does, jump right up and bite us on our collective fannies. It happens to the best of us. In school, I usually scored among the highest in the standardized tests and my teachers continually carped at me for ‘not applying myself’ and for ‘failing to challenge my intellect’. The implication, of course, was that I was a lazy little bastard and would never amount to a hill of beans if I didn’t mend my ways. I, on the other hand, regarded a C+ average to be quite sufficient. I was capable of learning 83% of the assigned material without cracking a book, thereby staying eligible for sports while allowing sufficient time for back-seat tonsil hockey and mastering the art of one-handed bra removal.

What can I say? I’m a dedicated under-achiever. Therefore, my career choices fell a bit short of those my mother might have wished for me. No sooner had she gotten over the fact that I was never going to be the world’s finest accordion player, than I once again dashed her hopes for my success by being accepted into the Colorado State Police Academy. I can only imagine the sobbing and caterwauling taking place in my parents’ bedroom in the immediate aftermath of my decision… and I’m just talking about my father. I do seem to recall that Dad refused to talk to me for several months. I think he regarded my decision in the same light as if I’d notified him I’d decided to join the Gestapo or the KGB. I’d shown the disloyalty to ‘side with the enemy’.

But, all in all, my three-year soiree into the world of rural law enforcement was not without its share of entertainment. A good many folks crossed my path and a few found their way into my heart. Julie Weathers, the bride of Tom Weathers, the town marshal in the berg I was assigned to live in, Granby, Colorado, was one such person. She was a nice-enough lady, but she was a scofflaw. Since her husband was the marshal, she felt she needed to be accorded the same privileges that all law enforcement officers offer each other from time to time. Of course, this didn’t sit too well with some of the other ladies in town and they tended to regard her with a good bit of indignation. Let’s just say she may not have won first place in a popularity contest without stuffing the ballot box (which she most certainly would have done, if the occasion should arise). From the outset of our relationship, I knew that we would eventually butt heads.

Colorado Highway 40 contains a long, straight stretch approximately six miles in duration, immediately before coming into Granby. Given its 55 MPH speed limit, it was a good place to sit and track vehicles with my radar. Now, before you go calling it a speed trap, you should know I was never allowed to hide my cruiser and in the three years I lived up there, I wrote exactly three tickets on that stretch of highway, only one of which was for speeding. The other two were for a burned-out headlight (after the third warning) and failure to keep valid registration in the car, a heinous offense that required the perpetrator to appear at the Grand County Clerk’s office and produce said paperwork in lieu of fine or penalty.

Julie’s family lived in Denver, and she spent a fair amount of time traveling the ninety miles back and forth between the Mile High City and Granby, weather and road conditions permitting. Many times I had occasion to witness her distinctive, powder blue Mustang convertible motoring past me, the car always lurching forward as she attempted to slow down, having seen my cruiser. Julie’s accelerator foot was molded from pure lead. The other officers in the county spoke of her sometimes when we got together, alluding to her predisposition towards speed, and her lousy attitude if one of them stopped her. All of us were concerned, because the roads in our area were very curvy and in foul weather, treacherous. In deference to Tom, who was very well liked and respected, none of us had ever written her a ticket.

On a crisp October Saturday afternoon, I had occasion to deliver a summons to a rancher whose property was contiguous to Highway 40. I didn’t particularly like that aspect of my job, but it was part of the job description, so I made the best of it. Upon leaving, I was approaching the junction of the highway, so I turned on my radar unit in preparation. As I reached the entrance, a powder blue streak zoomed past and I glanced down at the red LCD numbers on my radar unit… 75!

Gotcha! A slight smirk came over my face as my fingers hit the button that flicked on my red lights. Before I had an opportunity to even hit full power, I saw her brake lights flash. She had picked me up in her rear view mirror, but it was too late. I had all the evidence I needed. By the time I drove up behind her, she had already pulled over and was getting out of her car. I put my hands out and motioned for her to stay in her car. Of course, she ignored me, continuing to run towards me.

I’ll never forget the look on her face as she began to speak. “Oh, Bob, I’m so glad it’s you. The reason I was speeding is because I’m trying to get to the Husky station…” her eyes dropped down and she wrung her hands a little… “you see… I have diarrhea.”

Well… I’m a duly authorized officer of the court, but I’m certainly not some unfeeling monster who would deny a lady during her hour of need, so I told her to get back into her car and proceed to the Husky station… safely!

By the time she walked out of the ladies’ room, I’d already started writing her ticket for violation of Colorado Revised Statute Number 1216, Subsection 1A, Speed Exceeding Posted Limit, expressly 65 MPH in a posted 55 MPH zone. When she saw my car parked behind hers, she was able to put two and two together and walked over to the driver’s side window of my cruiser.

“Officer, I thought you understood why I was speeding.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I certainly do.”

“Bob, it’s me… Julie Weathers… you know…. Tom Weathers’ wife…” There was something about her tone that just didn’t appeal to me at that point.

“Uh, yes, Ma’am… I know who you are, but I need the number off your driver’s license and I also need to see your registration. If you’d like to have a seat in your car, I think that might be a good idea. I’d hate to have anything happen to you while I write your ticket.”

“Look here, you little piss ant, if you think I’m going to sign a ticket from you, you’re sadly mis—"

A shadow appeared from behind her and she was suddenly looking up into the blue eyes of one Tom Weathers, Granby Town Marshal.

“Afternoon, Bob… is there a problem here?”

Tom was removing his sunglasses now and I saw a glint in his eye.

“Oh, no, Marshal, nothing serious. I just wrote Mrs. Weathers a little speeding ticket for 65 in a 55 out on Highway 40, and I think she took a little exception. I think she felt she was going a little faster than that, and she thought it should be more like 75 in a 55… Ain’t that right, Mrs. Weathers, you just didn’t want me to give you a break because you’re the marshal’s wife?”

Julie Weathers was looking a mite peaked at that very moment. I’m sure it must have something to do with her gastric distress. Nevertheless, she reached for the ticket book and said, “Where do I sign?”

As I handed the woman her copy of the summons, Tom gave me the ‘I owe you one’ grin. He nodded at me and I nodded back. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes when she made eye contact with her husband. As I picked up my microphone to report to the dispatcher I’d be back in service, I heard tires squealing and smelled rubber burning as a powder blue package of righteous indignation roared past me towards points unknown. Somehow, as Tom walked away, I foresaw his immediate future— sleeping in their guest room.

God, I loved that job. Yes, the weather was either wonderful or miserable with very little deviation towards ‘okay’, but I met a few people who defied the laws of natural selection by their very existence. Once such man stood above all others for his quirkiness.

I never saw the skinny little man when he wasn't wearing his black leather motorcycle jacket. I honestly don't know if he wore a shirt underneath. If he opened the top buttons of his jacket, a brillo pad of gray chest hair pushed its way to freedom, grateful for the chance to soak up some much-needed oxygen. It matched the hair on his head, at least the part we could see. A red bandana covered his dome, but I'd bet a week's pay he wasn't bald. Guys like him don't lose their hair. I always figured it was God's compensation for taking away most everything else.

Years broadcast across “Basket” Billy Neville’s face in a network of deep furrows, gouging a path in his skin from his forehead to the point of his chin, giving refuge to an accumulation of dirt that I took to be the permafrost of his being. All seven of his teeth showed whenever he grinned and a tattooed pair of red lipstick imprints emblazoned the area just below his left ear, his tribute to womanhood. Chronological age was never an issue, in Billy’s estimation, but certainly he was past sixty. I watched, listened and silently wondered if there were ever a time when he wasn't old or didn't have all the answers.

When one of the curious cadre of on-lookers asked him a question, like as not he'd pause and stare at the inquisitor. His ever-present black wrap-around shades hid his eyes, but an invisible laser still pierced through, burrowing directly into the victim's psyche until such time as Billy felt the suffering sufficient to warrant a response. I was never able to gauge if he was being contemptuous or if he was just the best damn actor I ever saw, but at some point, he'd give a gesture of recognition and begin to speak. Half sage and half bullshit artist, his words were pure magic. I liked him, and from all indications, the feelings were mutual, although he wouldn’t have uttered the words under penalty of death.

According to Billy, his life started on his sixteenth birthday, when he could legally ride his beloved Harley Panhead on the streets. He hadn't yet been crowned King of the Screw-Ups at such a tender age. This self-proclaimed honor would come later, commencing concurrently with the third revocation of the motorcycle endorsement on his driver’s license. The man was branded by society as that most onerous of ne'er-do-wells, Scooter Trash. His ordination as BasketBilly was the result of numerous hospital visits. The man simply could not keep a motorcycle shiny side up for more than a month without feeling the need to inflict damage on both his bike and himself. Oh, he could ride well enough under ordinary conditions, but in times of crisis, in that split second when common sense needs to kick ‘I’m goin’ for it’ in the pants, Billy could never seem to get the job done, and someone would find him laying in the barrow pit a few yards off the big curve on Route 40 or in the willow bushes going into Byers Canyon.

One hot summer night, I happened upon him in a saloon called The Scorecard. I lived in Granby, a small mountain town in the Middle Park area of Colorado. Granby was typical of many burgs in the area, a veritable boneyard in the winter and rife with camera-toting adventure-seekers when the snow wasn't flying. There was usually enough going on to pique the curiosity of most locals and this night was no exception. I found Billy relaxing in a secluded alcove near the back of the room, but I almost didn't see him. Immediately, I knew something was amiss. Under normal circumstances, by this time of evening he'd have been dancing or giving us his rendition of Joe Cocker’s song "You Know You Got Me Goin' Out Of My Head" along with the jukebox.

Normally, Billy was a world-class air guitar player, but not tonight. Tonight he looked more like Joe Cocker Spaniel.

Against my better judgement, I decided to ease my way back there and see if I could do something to lift his spirits a bit. I swear I could feel his gaze as I proceeded back to his table. I didn't sit down uninvited, Billy might have misconstrued my intentions. Instead, I waved my pitcher of Budweiser at him, offering him a refill. After his signature stare-down, he gestured for me to sit and pushed his glass across the table.

“Up to a little company, Billy?”

"Free country... sed'down."

"You okay?"

"Well, I guess that all depends on what you mean by 'okay', junior."
I wasn't about to bite on that one. He loved to make me the butt of his pranks. Once, he gave me a $20 bill and sent me to a bike shop in Denver owned by one of his cronies, for a chrome reflex assembly. Imagine my mood when the now-hysterical clerk with the words “Harley Davidson Forever” emblazoned on his forehead informed me that quite possibly Billy was yanking my proverbial crank. The ninety-mile drive back to Granby was uneventful except for the trail of expletives streaming from my mouth.

Tonight, my radar was seeing bogeys plastered all across the screen. I noticed he was using his left hand exclusively, preferring to leave his right on the seat, under the tabletop, making me wonder if it were injured.

"You're not left-handed are you, Basket?"


Immediately, I was sorry I'd brought it up, but darned if I wasn't curious.

"Oh, no big deal, I just noticed that you haven't moved your right arm at all."

Again the stare. He picked the unfiltered Camel out of the ashtray and clumsily managed to get it to his lips and take a long drag off it, his sunglasses staring off into the distance.

"Aw, hell, you'll hear it soon enough.... I broke my hand and wrist."

Well, this certainly was no epiphany, he’d spent half his life in one medical facility or another.

"Fall off your bike again?"

I could see the end of his pink tongue as he reached to his mouth to extract a small piece of tobacco, and his head was shaking animatedly in the negative.

"No, I got involved in a little... 'skirmish'."

I saw the slightest flash of a grin and dropped my defenses a little. Bolstered, I felt brave enough to continue.

"Let me sign your cast."


"Why not?"

"Ain't got one."

This didn’t surprise me at all. I knew Billy didn't have a lot of cash. He worked at the cemetery, mowing lawns and pulling weeds, and what little money he had was usually dedicated to the essentials, beer and motorcycle parts. I also knew it would do absolutely no good to try to reason with him, so I tried to change the subject.

"Yea... well, how’s your bike running?"

"I smacked a priest."

For the next thirty seconds I couldn't breathe. There was no air in the room. I took my glasses off and put my hands to my face in an unsuccessful attempt to get my heart started by massaging it through my eyeballs. No matter how hard I rubbed, when I looked back, he was still there. I had to say something!

"Bill, I don't know if..."

"Weren’t my fault… he hit me first!”

The sound of his braying laugh brought a hush to the room. He was now up on his feet, dancing around, clapping his hands and whistling like the madman that he was, and half the people in the bar were pointing and laughing at me. Coughing and spitting beer out my nose and mouth, I grabbed the tabletop for support. Tears in my eyes, I spent the next few minutes trying to regain my composure as Trudy did her best to clean up the mess. Once again, I'd been had by the master. Suddenly, he was transformed into a dancing fisherman, as he went through the motions of reeling me in with his invisible fishing rod. Merciful sportsman that he was, he released me to sit and decide which way I'd bail out if the fool decided to hop over the table and kiss me on the lips... again.

Billy is gone now. His exploits are legends told wherever any of his brothers gather to share the camaraderie of the road. I was a young state trooper, expected to avoid “his type”. He knew what I did for a living and treated me no differently from the rest of his friends-- like a steaming pile of dog poop.

And they say there’s no God…


There is an accepted principle of thermodynamics that precludes the possibility of operating an internal combustion engine on any liquid void of hydrocarbon constituents. Therefore, water and urine are not acceptable substitutes for gasoline when one is confronted with an empty fuel tank. Running out of gas is embarrassing enough for any citizen, much less a trained officer whose motor vehicle is designed to function as a tool of protection for the motoring public.
Sadly, I was forced by circumstances, on one occasion, to try the ill-advised urine technique. The action itself was highly demeaning, even though the sun had set. To this day, I swear that little Mopar-Hemi engine gave it a noble effort on my behalf, and even ran for a few feet, in defiance of physics, before coming to rest in much the same position as it started.

For reasons I’ve never fully understood, I tended to be remiss regarding my reliance upon the tiny needle situated on the gas gauge. I always seemed to think that my cruiser’s fuel consumption was less than it was, so I overestimated the amount of time between fuel stops.
The Colorado State Patrol hired me to assume my post as promptly as possible after the designated time of my shift. Never was I late, and never was I out of uniform. Why should I be ostracized for a couple of little failures such as running out of gas while twenty-seven miles from the closest gas station? Admittedly, three times in one month might have pushed the envelope of believability a bit, but no one is perfect, and I always paid the delivery charges myself, even being sure to tip that loud-mouthed snot, Terry Swerdlow, a tidy sum in return for his silence. Of course, my monetary sacrifice had little effect except to possibly allow me to beat the little bastard back to Granby to tell my side of the story before the whole town heard about it. People are so judgmental!

Soon, I was branded as a screw-up. As a habitual slacker, I was forced to confront my inadequacies with extraordinary measures. Early on, I failed miserably in my attempts at memory enhancement. Strings wrapped around my finger had little effect except to cut off the flow of blood to the tips and post-a-notes located on my clipboard stating the obvious, "HEY, STUPID! STOP FOR GAS!”, were noticed only after the vehicle was sputtering and coughing along some lonely roadside in the most remote section of Muddy Pass.

In desperation I shared my misery with my brother officer, Dick Whelan, a legend in the western section of our district for the better part of twenty-five years. Dick was widely accepted in the state as the least productive officer ever hired by the Patrol, a status which he proudly acknowledged. He was totally dedicated to sloth, and once he took me under his wing, I, too, became almost totally unacceptable to my superiors. In some circles, I became known as Little Dick, a moniker that didn’t exactly thrill me, but I was powerless to stop it.

Dick suggested an entirely different approach. His method stated that if I could learn to associate the chore of petrol pumping with an activity that I enjoyed, I could learn to incorporate both activities into my daily routine, or do them simultaneously. After a short period of contemplation, ultimately culminating in my inability to think of anything suitable, Dick asked me to meet him in Kremmling the next day and warned me to come prepared to learn; that is, if I could manage to keep enough gas in the tank to drive the thirty-four miles. Then, after shaking his head sadly at me and muttering something about ‘rookies’ under his breath, he walked away.

Of course, the next day I totally forgot to check the fuel, but as luck would have it, I was able to make it to Dave’s Husky where Dick kept his patrol car. Dick, in keeping with his reputation, was fashionably late. As he stepped out of his car, he motioned for me to follow him. Instead of going into the garage bay where car #157 was housed, we continued to walk back to Dave’s mobile home located near the back of the property. After failing to either knock or even wipe our feet (there was no mat), we entered and Dick motioned for me to sit at the kitchen table as he routinely proceeded into the kitchen area and opened a cupboard door, producing a bottle of Jim Beam and two shot glasses.

He filled both glasses with the caramel-colored liquid. Staring intently at me, he picked up one of the glasses, threw his head back and swallowed the contents with one easy gulp. Then, he picked up the other and positioned it in front of my face.

“Little Dick, are you ever going to forget to put gas in your friggin’ car again?”

The gaze of his blue eyes stared through me with dogged insistence. I meekly reached for the glass, replying in my best John Wayne voice, “Hell, no!”

“Good! See that you don’t, I can’t afford to have people thinking you’re an idiot. If you’re going to be a member of this little fraternity, we can’t have you thumbing rides to town because you’re too stupid to fill your car up with gas. I’ve spent too many years building my reputation in these parts, and I’ll be damned if some little weasel from Denver is going to screw it up!” Then, he put the second glass to his lips and quickly sucked down that one as well, grabbing his hat as he walked out the front door.

I sat in the dim light for a couple of minutes and watched as he got into his patrol car and drove off. I never ran out of gas again, and I never once required a shot of Jim Beam, although I would never have admitted it. After all…now I had a reputation to maintain.


Under normal circumstances, discussion of a person’s physical abnormalities is, and rightly should be, considered tacky. But, when a certain characteristic is the hallmark of a particular persona, it can be difficult to avoid a blatant stare… or comment.

During the mid-1970’s, Kremmling, Colorado was about as close to being an old-west cow town as the citizenry would allow anywhere in the American West. Climax Molybdenum Company had several mines in the area, and there were numerous cattle ranches dotting the countryside. Miners and cowboys are the human equivalent of oil and water, a fact that was borne out every Friday and Saturday night.

Entrusted with public health and safety, the Kremmling town marshal, of necessity, resorted to some unique techniques in his efforts to keep the peace. But, that was in character for Dick Lemmon, for he was a unique man. Invariably he was up to the task, even if the ramifications of his actions sometimes fell outside the expectations that tavern-owners considered collateral damage. Once, when Dick received a phone call from the owner of The Hoof and Horn (the tavern the locals all called The Hide and Guts), stating that a massive brawl had broken out, Dick didn’t panic. He merely walked out to his garage, picked up several small vials of skunk scent (don’t ask how he got it), and walked across the town square to the establishment. Stepping inside the front door, Dick proceeded to hurl the glass vials at the concrete back wall. Within seconds, the place was empty and order was restored as Dick rounded up several coughing, gasping revelers and placed them under arrest. Of course, Shank Huxley, the proprietor, was forced to fumigate and stay closed for nearly a week, so he requested that Dick try more conventional means in the future. Dick merely smiled and looked God-Knows-Where.

Dick was tall and lanky, and the first time I met him, I immediately thought of two famous Hollywood deputies. Dick’s overall stature made me think of Dennis Weaver, the actor who played Festus on Gunsmoke, while his facial features resembled Jack Elam, the unshaven sidekick with the eyes that looked two directions at once. I had countless conversations with Dick, and I could never figure out which eye he was looking at me with! Of course, his blue jeans, long-sleeved cowboy shirt and haggard Stetson completed the repertoire, right down to the west-Texas twang he’d so carefully nurtured. Truthfully, I doubt the man ever stepped foot outside Grand County.

Dick’s choice of sidearm was a .44 caliber Ruger Blackhawk with an eight-inch barrel. Given the weapon’s ability to penetrate ¼” steel plating (not to mention its huge dimensions), it might not have been the choice of most law enforcement officials in this or any other jurisdiction. But, Dick loved that damn pistol more than any other single possession he had. He even made a special holster for it that incorporated a swivel, so that he could tie it to his leg and quick-draw without having to draw the weapon from the holster. I’m sure he had a perfectly well thought out reason for this modification, too. Truthfully, I was afraid to ask him, fearing that he’d actually tell me. Some things, a man is just better off not knowing.

We had a mild winter in ‘72, and one December evening, I was working west car (U.S. Highway 40 from Muddy Pass eastward to Granby) and I received a call on TACH-2 asking for me to 10-7 (go out of service) in Kremmling and meet him at the County gravel pit. I immediately knew why he wanted to meet with me. I had a stopwatch in my car, and he wanted to practice his quick-draw.

When I drove up, we shook hands and he immediately engaged me in conversation, as I unsuccessfully tried to figure out which eye to concentrate on.

“Bob, I got me a new holster, and I’m getting’ DAMN good!”

“Uh-huh…. Well, I don’t—“

“Oh, come on, just for a few minutes… I just need to hear some numbers… I think I’m quicker than Lucas Whitby, and if so, I’m going to the Quick-Draw Nationals next year!” Suddenly, he was grinning and shaking his head… the man was totally disarming.

Rather than spend the next twenty minutes trying to get out of it, I opened my glove compartment and pulled out the watch. “Okay, Dick, you’ve got six shots in that hog-leg… make ‘em count! You know the drill, same as always. I’ll say go and start the watch, and when I hear you fire, I’ll stop it. Ready?”

I purposely didn’t watch him to keep from laughing. I’d witnessed this performance before, and the way he stood with his hands to his sides, he resembled a b-movie extra Central Casting hired to stand-in for the star.

He’d be mad as hell if he caught me giggling.

“Go!” BOOM!


“Let me try again, my hand slipped a little…”

“Okay…here we go…. Ready? GO!” BOOM!

“Well, a little better, Dick, .9 seconds that time.”

Dick let out a stream of expletives about how I wasn’t shutting the clock off soon enough, and how I had the reflexes of his 90-year-old grandfather. We tried it several more times, with the times being pretty similar, until he had one bullet left in his pistol.

“Okay, Bob, last try… I’ll betcha’ dinner that I’m under a half-second this time. Are you in?”

Let it be said at this point, that I was taught never to allow a fool to keep his money. The idiot was betting against my reflexes as well as his own. “Go for it.”, I replied, a slight hint of a smile sneaking out.

“Ready… BOOM! Go!”

I looked down at the watch, realizing, of course, that I hadn’t been offered the opportunity to actually click it on before he fired. Now, I fought to keep from rolling on the ground in laughter, my sides hurt from trying to keep it in!

“Jeezuz H. Kee-rist on a silver crutch, Dick, that is, by far, your best effort! I actually owe you two-tenths of a second.”

Dick didn’t move, so I walked over to him. As I approached, he looked somewhere in the vicinity of my face and said, “Get me to Doc Marino’s clinic… I just shot myself in the foot.”

I spent the next two hours helping Doc get Dick’s boot and sock off, then helped hold him down while he stitched up the tissue between his big toe and the next. The bullet missed the bones, but Dick was going to be pretty sore for the next couple weeks or so.

When we were finished, Doc walked me out to the front door and asked me what happened. I asked him whether he wanted the truth. He shot me a look I’ve never seen before and walked off. After about three steps, he turned, looked back over his shoulder and said, “For your sake and mine, I never saw you today.”

The last I heard, Dick was still keeping the streets of Kremmling free from scofflaws of all sorts, and I don’t think he minded the limp he’d acquired. I’m sure that if he’d owned a uniform, it would be emblazoned with a Purple Heart.

Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis on the facts. As any judge will tell you, everything is open to interpretation. Sure, truth is freedom, but the quest for truth can take some off-course junkets into a world that not everyone can visit. To those who can, I doff my cap in recognition of your special skills… I’m sure you’re having a whole lot more fun than some of us.

Why did I quit the Colorado State Patrol? A difficult question to answer, I assure you. I loved being an officer. I enjoyed the solitude of winter patrols complete with the majesty of the Rockies and the feelings of insignificance when dropped into the duality man shares with nature, buffered against an opportunity to serve in a meaningful way. Not a day went by that I didn’t assist a trucker out of a barrow pit, help an unprepared motorist put on a set of tire chains, or stop a motorist to remind him or her of the potential consequences of unsafe driving. I also liked getting calls from the Grand County Sheriff’s department asking for assistance; they reminded me of my brotherhood in blue. For a ‘thrill junkie’ such as myself, the excitement or potential for excitement made a difficult job easier when the adrenalin freely flowed.

Then, in August of 1972, two events occurred that conspired with a third to change the course of my life. Allow me to preface the account with a short explanation. Life as a police officer requires strong family bonds. It is shift work, pure and simple, and the shifts changed on a monthly basis, with very few weekends or holidays off. I worked two weeks of days, two weeks of ‘mids’ and two weeks of ‘third shift’. Plus, if I had a case in court, I was required to be there, regardless of whether it was scheduled during my shift or a day off. If you don’t have the unqualified support of a spouse, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible. My family life, at that time, started to fall apart.

Then, around sunset on August 12 (my wife’s birthday), a young man in a green Porsche decided that he’d rather kill me than accept a ticket for speeding on Berthoud Pass. He put three bullet holes in the windshield of my patrol car and sped off. I was unable to give chase because the safety glass of my windshield looked like a kaleidoscope and vision became obscured. They eventually caught him after he tried to run a roadblock set up on I-70, about fifteen miles from Georgetown. He rolled the car, got out and ran into the woods. He wasn’t seen again for two days until he tried to buy a bus ticket in Idaho Springs and the FBI picked him up.

A few days later, I lost a case in Hideaway Park that involved a drunk who killed a little girl on a bicycle. Eyewitnesses at the scene identified the car (complete with the number on his license plates), so I knew exactly who I was looking for. The driver owned several businesses in the area and held an appointed position with the Grand County Commissioners. He also drank lunch and dinner most days. So, I drove right to his house and found him closing his garage door. I arrested him, advised him of his Miranda rights and immediately took him to the Hideaway Clinic where I forced him to submit to a blood test for alcohol determination. He was quite combative and agitated, but I didn’t care because I had both physical evidence (blood and paint on the front bumper of his vehicle) and eyewitness testimony that he drove the car. I charged him with causing death while under the influence, reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter. Dick Doucette, the Grand County District Attorney, told me it would be a very easy case to prove.

When the case finally came to trial, all charges were dismissed when the judge (who happened to be a golf partner of the defendant’s) ruled that since he was too inebriated to understand the charges being brought against him, I violated his Constitutional rights by forcibly taking his blood, against his wishes, for alcohol analysis.

I didn’t take the ruling well. As soon as the judge completed the ruling, I unpinned the badge from my uniform shirt, walked up to the bench, and threw my badge at the judge. He was not pleased… he charged me with contempt of court and ordered the bailiff, Huck Henderson, to take me into custody. Huck was a friend of mine, but he did his duty.

Ten minutes later, Sgt. Crews, my boss, was allowed into my cell. He asked me to apologize to the judge and I refused. Without another word, he turned and walked out. Within thirty minutes, he brought the paperwork to me, and I resigned my commission as a Colorado State Patrolman. I figured that if that’s the way all cases are adjudicated, I wanted no part of it. Why should I get shot at, work every holiday, and watch my family life disintegrate around me for $660 a month? Bus drivers in Denver made more than that.

Within 30 days, my wife filed for divorce and my life, as I had known it, ceased to exist. By January, I lived in Phoenix, Arizona and enrolled at Arizona State University, using the G.I. Bill to help finance my education. It promised to be a long and arduous road.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday's Zen

Cloris Johnson, having established herself as a true genre-specific
artist, someday hopes to have a booth in the Capitol Rotunda.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chapter 3 “Pla-toon…Ten-Hut!”

Chapter 3 “Pla-toon…Ten-Hut!”

I was drafted in the only draft that the U. S. Marine Corps conducted after World War II. Since my girlfriend and I were planning on marriage anyway, we went ahead and tied the knot in September of 1966. She was a quiet girl whose family background featured a divorced mother who’d remarried a younger man. He and I got along great, even though I always felt uncomfortable around her mother. Their house featured French provincial furniture, wall hangings, carpet, rugs, blinds, pictures, lights and anything else that could be deemed to be French provincial. I didn’t really care what it was, but it did piss me off that I had to take my shoes off every time I walked through the back door (we weren’t allowed to use the front… it was for company). Also, if we sat down on the furniture, we had to first check our clothes to make sure no dirt clung to our pants. Once I farted while sitting next to my wife on her mother’s Louis XIV loveseat, and judging from my wife’s reaction, you’d have thought I just dropped my pants and took a dump. She jumped up, pulled me to my feet, and searched the upholstery for signs of leakage. Despite finding none, she admonished me to never do that again and proceeded to go get a wipe cloth and some fabric cleaner, which she rubbed into the cloth with all the vigor expected of her. I glanced at her step-father, Lee, and he shrugged his shoulders in his best Welcome to the family, you poor bastard expression. I think that was the first time I realized I’d made a terrible mistake.

But, I did love the girl, at least in the context that I thought of love. We were very different people, though, perhaps too different, ultimately. Our biggest sin was getting married without ever really getting to know one another first. In those days, sex before marriage was considered blasphemous, especially given the fact that her grandfather was a Methodist minister, and he’d be performing the matrimonial ceremony. So, instead of pressing the issue and demanding carnal knowledge of her, I honored her principles and wishes to be a virgin at her wedding. My father tried to give me some advice, for perhaps the first time since my baseball disappointment.

“Son,” he told me while setting his hand on my shoulder, “ask yourself one question. Would you ever think of buying a pair of shoes without trying them on first?” However, I didn’t listen. The wedding was already planned, dresses were being ordered and the church was on reserve… if I backed out now, I risked being vanquished from two families. At the time, I honestly didn’t think either mother could have withstood the embarrassment of becoming jilted mothers-in-law. Somehow I forgot that from time to time we’d be doing something other than having sex; that an occasion might possibly arise requiring us to actually have a conversation, which, of course, we were incapable. Plus, since I was probably going to be killed in Vietnam, I needed to have a bun in the oven before I left. We’d come too far… there needed to be a wedding. Blake was born in September of 1967, exactly one week after our first anniversary. Kimberly followed in June of 1969. Two years after that, not having yet found the wherewithal or desire to purchase any French provincial furnishings, I was given my walking papers. We were a No Fault test case in Colorado in 1971, the divorce procedure that requires only one ground—irreconcilable differences. Truth be told, she wanted the divorce, I didn’t. That fact had no bearing on the proceedings. Wait just a minute here, I can be sued for divorce, lose my children and everything I have without having committed adultery, without beating her or abandoning her to the whims of an uncaring world? Apparently so, because I received papers in the mail declaring that my estranged spouse had obtained a judgment against me requiring me to pay child support and other expenses for the welfare of my children. Well, let’s see if I have this right: I lose everything I love and she loses only what she doesn’t want (me). She keeps the house, the car, all the furnishings and I get a picture of each of the kids and a pillow. Sounds fair to me… I sought the advice of counsel and he told me that I would waste my money by hiring him. The courts were obliged to pretty much give the wife whatever she wanted. Son, you are screwed, blued and tattooed.

Sorry, I jumped ahead a little. My Marine Corps years are pretty much a blur. Honestly, I think that’s a defense mechanism my brain uses to keep from recalling events that hurt too much to think about. I will tell you, this; I went in, did what I had to do to stay alive, and honorably served my country in the best way I knew how before getting out. Along the way, I learned how to fly helicopters and airplanes, how to keep my mouth shut until spoken to, and I learned a whole lot about myself. I’m proud to say I’m a former Marine.

I’d heard a lot about the reputation of the Marine Corps, about their devotion to duty, their ability to kick anyone’s ass at any time, anywhere. Some of it was true and some wasn’t. Boot camp was all everyone said it would be. San Diego in February of 1966 was balmy even though it was nearly ten o’clock in the evening. As I stepped off the airliner and walked down the ramp along with eighty other men, an oriental man dressed entirely in khaki and wearing a wide-brimmed ‘Smokey Bear’ hat barked orders and slapped the cigarettes out of the mouths of several bewildered recruits. We were told to shut up and were herded onto a pull-behind ‘bus’ we came to affectionately call ‘cattle cars’. Stacked like cordwood and forbidden from sitting down, the driver drove us to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) while in the front of the car, the same oriental man told us that ‘the first maggot who opens his mouth will have it filled with my fist’. No one tested him.

After a short ride, I recall passing a small guard shack where a Marine in dress blue uniform stood guard with his M-14 rifle, offering a salute as we passed. When the doors to the cattle car opened, two more Smokey Bear hats joined the oriental and the real harassment started. Eighty men were told to stand at attention, look directly to the front and not to move a muscle. A Hispanic man about twenty-five years old or so stood in front of me and the conversation went something like this:

“What are you lookin’ at, maggot?”


“You’re saying I’m nothing, maggot?”

“No, I—“

“Shut the fuck up, you civilian piece of shit! If I every catch you looking me in the eye again, you’ll wish to Hell you were dead! Do you understand me, faggot?”

“Yes, I—“

“That’s ‘Yes, SIR, shit-for-brains… do you underSTAND me?”

“Yes, sir!”

“What? I can’t hear you!”


Immediately he turned away from me and started to berate another man a little farther down the line. I’d met my first drill instructor, Staff Sergeant Zavala. I don’t think he had a first name, and even if he did, no one would have dared use it. At that time, I remember thinking that the Jews must have felt a little like this when they were taken to the gas chambers. I honestly didn’t think I’d live to see the sun rise. But the best was yet to come.

We were made to stand on yellow footprints painted on the tarmac. Once there, we were again threatened innumerable times with punishments worse than death, while we were read the entire Uniform Code of Military Justice. I’m not really sure how long it took, but I’d make a conservative estimate of three hours. What in the hell have I gotten myself into? This was the first time I remember hearing jets landing at San Diego International, somewhere off into the night. Palm trees stood as sentinels at the edge of this huge tarmac that I would soon come to know as the parade grounds or ‘grinder’. In the background I could see neat two-story adobe-colored buildings with red Spanish tile roofs and lavish porticos. If this were anywhere else other than Hell, maybe I’d be standing in front of my accommodations at a villa in Puerto Vallarta. However, of course, I was in Hell and things had not yet begun to get interesting.

Next, we were herded into a building where we stood in line to watch everyone have every bit of hair sheared from his head. As we came out of the barber’s chair, we were expected to sprint across the grinder, other drill instructors posted every fifty yards or so, into another building where we removed our clothes and a man with a hose sprayed cold water on us. Four or five men shared one bar of soap and the entire process, thankfully, was completed in about five minutes. There, we stood, naked as the day we were born, shivering and listening to our Platoon Commander, Gunnery Sergeant Freed, explain to us how insignificant we were and how he wished he’d been killed in Vietnam rather than come back to a slimy, disgusting, filthy sack of human garbage like us. Puerto Vallarta? No, I doubt it.

Next came Marine Green, our first uniform. Of course, we weren’t fit to wear it, but we should be thankful the government thought enough of us to overlook our slimy civilian background and provide us with clothing that would become, if we were lucky, the uniform of real men—Marines! One by one, we held our arms out while a man with stripes on his uniform threw underwear, socks, tee-shirts, trousers, a web belt, a duffel bag and one pair of boots into our arms. Moments later, I was directed to a table where I laid my new belongings. Without waiting to be told, I began to get dressed. Suddenly, I felt a hand grab me by the back of the neck and turn me around to face him. I looked directly into the oriental eyes of Sergeant Ho.

“Who tell you to put you fat, civilian body into this beautiful clothes?”

I said nothing.

“You fucking deaf, ass-ho?”

“NO, SIR!”
“Wait until told!”


Then he screamed so that everyone could hear, “From this point on, any time you address a drill instructor, the first and last words out of your mouth will be ‘Sir’! Do you understand me?”

Eighty men called out, more or less in unison, “Sir, yes, sir!”

“I can’t hear you!”


He stared at me some more then spat and muttered, “Pussy…” before hurrying off to berate another recruit. After everyone was finally allowed to dress, we were put in lines of four and joined arms with the person to the side. In this manner, we shuffled out of that building back onto the tarmac. I say ‘shuffled’ because we had no laces for our boots and it was difficult to keep the boots on if you raised your foot off the ground more than a quarter-inch or so.

“I want to hear from you cattle! Come on, ladies, let’s hear you moo…”

Now, there were twenty ranks of four men, arms locked together, shuffling across the grinder, lowing like the cattle we’d just become.

“That’s right, you reeking piles of crap, sing it out!” The crescendo of moos suddenly increased until Gunnery Sergeant Freed waved his swagger stick (a short decorative ceremonial baton carried by a few higher-grade non-commissioned officers and officers). In unison, the other drill instructors yelled in unison, “Platoon, HALT!”

By now, I was sweating and the ‘shower’ had lost any effectiveness it might have had, but I wasn’t alone. The guy to my right was a full head taller than me and his black, sweat-soaked skin shone in the moonlight. Now, Sergeant Zavala stood where he could be seen by eighty terrified young men and said, “Give that pussy you’re holdin’ hands with a great big kiss! On the cheeks, please, ladies, you haven’t been properly introduced and I wouldn’t want any of you rutting in ranks!” Then, they passed through the ranks until each of us had gone through the motions of kissing the man to his right and/or left.

Hours passed before they took us to our ‘hooches’, small, tin hovels with rounded roofs, just big enough to house four men in two sets of two bunks stacked on top of each other. There, we found our racks (beds) with a pile of blankets, sheets and mattress covers stacked on the end. Each of us was given an olive drab footlocker with a lock and some toiletries and miscellaneous supplies contained inside a small leather pouch. We were home.

Over the next sixteen weeks, we were alternately berated and encouraged, put down and brought back up, the Marine Corp way. We learned military bearing and Corps history, infantry tactics, weaponry of all types and the art of functioning as one man… one Corps of Marines, but never were we allowed to refer to ourselves as such. That would be the reward for perseverance. And persevere we did, too… at least, most of us. I dislocated my shoulder during bayonet training during my sixth week, and the platoon voted whether to let me stay or make me go to a platoon where I would convalesce until the doctors deemed me fit for active duty. Luckily, my platoon voted to keep me. If I had been forced to start over, I don’t know if I could have stood it. All of us teetered on the brink from time to time under the best of situations. The outer perimeter of MCRD was a chain-link fence about twelve feet tall. I remember watching planes land in the evening and wishing I had the balls to jump that fence. But, I was convinced that snipers with automatic weapons kept them trained on that fence twenty-four hours a day, and would not hesitate to shoot some maggot turd who lacked the stones to gut it out.

We progressed through the rifle-training segment, two weeks at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton, probably the best two weeks of Boot Camp. There, the harassment was drastically toned down because it was so important that each of us become intimately familiar with our weapon, the M-14. Even now, nearly forty years later, I still remember the nomenclature of the weapon and could repeat it in my sleep. If you were to put one in front of me today, I could disassemble and re-assemble it completely in under five minutes. I learned how to use the sling as a weapon, how to configure it as a tourniquet, and how to fashion it to facilitate every firing position from prone to kneeling to offhand. I also learned to hit whatever target I aimed at within a range of 500 yards. On Qualification Day, I earned the distinction of becoming one of seven men in Platoon 153 who scored high enough to receive an Expert badge for marksmanship. I didn’t know it yet, but it also got me promoted to Private First Class.

Graduation Day was one of the proudest days of my life, even though no one came to see me. I really didn’t mind, because after the thirty-day Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, I would earn thirty days of leave, during which time I would get to leave San Diego and be reunited with my family. Then, it would be off to Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington, Tennessee, where I would attend Fire Control Avionics School. However, I had no reason to suspect what else would transpire. Soon thereafter, having been promoted twice more to the rank of corporal, I took a test that would change my life. The Marine Corps offered me the opportunity to take a college equivalency test as a prelude to attending Officer’s Leadership School. I really had little interest in becoming an officer, but they told me that if I successfully passed the equivalency test and completed the Leadership School at Quantico, Virginia, I would be allowed to become a Naval aviator. This was beyond my wildest dreams. Nevertheless, I took and passed both the qualifying test in NAS Memphis and, after completion of Platoon Leaders School at Quantico, I was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to duty at Whiting Field, Pensacola, Florida where I would attend both ground school and flight training. Thirteen months later, in November of 1967, I completed my flight training and was promoted to first lieutenant. I’d now been in the Marine Corps for nineteen months, promoted five times, and accepted orders for Fleet Marine Force Pacific. Soon, I would be assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Vietnam.

If you’ve come here in quest of tales of daring-do and battlefield heroics, you’ve wasted your time in reading any of this. First, they’d be fiction, and I owe it to a lot of very good people to tell the truth. Second, even if such stories did exist, I couldn’t do them justice because I’m not a good enough storyteller to astro-project any of you into ‘the bush’. I simply won’t insult the memory of good men who died for people who sent them into hell with neither the intelligence necessary to properly execute their missions nor the blessings of the people for whom they served. And, that, my friends, is a tragedy. So, I did my job to the best of my ability and crossed the days off my calendar, in hopes that I’d one day leave southeast Asia upright.

Nineteen months later, I disappeared in the summer of 1969, having completed two tours of duty overseas. It was a sunny day in August, and Los Angeles International Airport became the perfect venue. The Continental Airlines flight from Danang offered hours to reflect on my experiences since I’d last touched down on U.S. shores almost nineteen months previous. I suppose I did reflect some, but mostly I drank. Some Marines opted for flights to Sydney or Honolulu, choosing to spend a little time in paradise, a buffer zone between the horrors of combat and the rigors of trying to explain the unexplainable to family and friends. I’d heard the stories of vets who’d gone to Australia on R&R and never returned. I think I chose to go home because I knew that if I didn’t go home now, I might find an excuse not to ever return. I wanted to see my family, but Lord knows I didn’t look forward to the questions I knew would come. People don’t seem to understand that each inquiry about the war is a wire brush digging scabs off wounds that are only now beginning to heal.

I’ll never forget the anticipation I felt as I waited for the Captain to attain the proper altitude and assigned flight coordinates for the trip. I sat in the crew cabin of my first Boeing 707. I say ‘mine’ because I honestly felt I was a part of this glorious bird, not that I’d have had any idea how to start it up, much less fly it. I’m convinced that 123 other passengers also felt the same way. I was allowed to sit in the crew cabin because I was a transport pilot, holding the rank of captain. What’s the old saying? Rank hath its privileges? Truthfully, the invitation came as a result of a camaraderie extended one pilot by another, not because of any particular rank or career status I held. I was twenty-seven days short of my twenty-second birthday and because of the kindness offered me by these guys, the war suddenly became a little less of a reality. Anything short of being shot down because the crew got drunk and flew us into Russian air space, in a few short hours I would make it home.

Home… the very word carried a heavy burden. The concept, until the last few hours when I picked up my orders, seemed unattainable. If they’d have given me a set of orders to Mars I wouldn’t have been any more dumbfounded. After awhile, it become cliché to even suggest it, as if by uttering the word, you would jinx your chances. Short-timers refused to speak of it, lest disaster would befall them. How many times had I heard the word in the last nineteen months? Certainly it had to be thousands. Every crewman, every squad leader, every artilleryman, every corpsman, every grunt carried the word as a holy grail. Home… that magical place that existed as nowhere else. For fifty-eight thousand Americans, it took on entirely different meaning as it existed only in the religious sense of being ‘carried home’ to meet with ones departed loved ones. Even so, I doubt there was a single man killed there who didn’t have home on his mind when he took his last breath.

But, there I was, strapped into a leather-detailed crew seat, a set of headphones over my ears, listening to the ICS as three veteran jet jockeys monitored instruments, scanned gauges and set course headings for a voyage I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get to take. Something would go wrong, inevitably. Nervously I ticked off the seconds in my mind, counting ‘wheels-up’ time, the amount of ‘roll’ an aircraft requires to lift off the runway. Twenty-one seconds… I had no idea if that was the correct amount of time or not and it mattered little, but I filed it away for extraction at some future take-off when I was so nervous that if I didn’t count seconds, I’d pass out from the sheer terror of anticipation. As many take-offs and landings as I’d completed, I never got used to it. Giving control to another pilot seemed foreign… and dangerous. Even as I felt the thrust of the four huge Boeing turbines force me back into my seat, I suspected that we’d lose two engines on takeoff and fall into the ocean in a spectacular orange fireball or blow a tire upon landing, causing us to skid off the end of the runway at San Francisco International and drown in the shallow waters off the coast, scant yards from home— fulfilling life’s ultimate irony.

Once we attained our 30,000 feet of elevation over the South China Sea, the bar would be open, the smoking lamp would be lit and so would every passenger on that aircraft. It had been a long time since most of us had experienced American liquor… too long, in our estimation. Even a guy who received the occasional warm San Miguel beer while ‘in country’ could build up a thirst for decent booze. I didn’t drink too much in Vietnam, not because I felt any sort of moral restriction against it, but because I simply couldn’t afford to take the chance. Many of my missions were unscheduled, and I needed to be as alert as possible. It was easy enough to die under the best of combat conditions without adding insobriety to the equation. Too many Marines counted on us for rations, medical assistance and close air support. A drunk pilot was a stupid pilot and if I was going to die in that God-forsaken cesspool, it was damn sure not going to be because I didn’t have command of my faculties. In fact, if I suspected one of my crew was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, I’d have grounded him in a heartbeat. They all knew how I felt and, as far as I know, always respected my wishes. Esprit de corps has long been talked about in reference to Marines. I like to think that it went deeper than a few recruiting poster slogans. I always considered it to be the simple respect and care offered a family member. To me, it was esprit de crew. Yes, we’re Marines, and that’s interesting… but we’re also a team, and that’s important.

Listen, I don’t mean to make my job sound like drudgery… far from it. Every mission I ever made promised a high unlike anything ever experienced on any drug. Moving the collective and feeling the pure power jerk us off the ground, listening to the radio crackle into my headphones, feeling the inverters turn electricity into power enough to launch a strange green capsule (complete with door gunner) skyward, and realizing I held the future of at least four other Marines in my hand, was a thrill unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. And that was just the start. Depending on whether we were flying into an unsecured landing zone or not, my adrenalin levels went off the charts, especially if the accompanying zing of enemy rounds trying to pierce my aircraft’s shell added to the commotion in the cockpit. But mostly, it was the satisfaction derived from returning safely, knowing that someone might have gotten to go home because we were able to get him to a field hospital, or that a few grunts would live to fight another day because we got them the extra ordinance they needed to do their jobs. No, it wasn’t the danger that made me love it, it was the expectation that I could do it that made me love it.

By the time the stewardess (the girls were still light years away from flight attendant status) poured me off the airplane, I imagine I probably drank a case of Budweiser… cold Budweiser. The brew took on epic proportions as it slid down. Seldom stopping to swallow, I just opened up my throat and poured. No Viking ever drank better mead after battle. After two or three bottles, I felt warmth in the pit of my stomach and a feeling I can only describe as glorious. In hindsight, perhaps I was merely licking my wounds.

We arrived in San Francisco in mid-afternoon. I proceeded to a telephone and called my family to let them know I’d arrived safely and I’d be home as soon as I could make a connecting flight. In those days, military people were offered half-price fares if they didn’t mind flying ‘stand-by’. This meant that if there were cancellations or if a flight wasn’t fully booked, I could get on the airplane. The next available flight was early the next morning, so I called my friend, Mike McCrory, who lived in Los Gatos, a town south of San Francisco, closer to San Jose. We chatted for a few minutes and he told me to hang tight and he’d pick me up. I went to the bar and had a couple more bourbon and cokes. Maybe I lost track of time, but everything taking place around me fascinated me so much, I couldn’t get enough of it. People came and went as they pleased, apparently no one to answer to, no agendas to fulfill. At that moment, I realized that I wanted to be a civilian again. I loved the idea of being a Marine, but the actuality of it paled by comparison. While everyone around me wore nice clothes and sported long hair, I had on my yellow Marine Corps sweatshirt and Levis… and almost no hair at all. I stood out like a nun standing in a crowd of Buddhist monks.

“Thay, Thally… buy a drink for a lonely thailor?” The voice was sugary sweet and effeminate. I turned and looked up at a grinning Mike McCrory. His hair was much longer than I remembered, but there was no mistaking that grin. Mike and I had been close friends in high school. He was about 6’4” and weighed in excess of 240 lbs. He’d told me that he intended to move to San Francisco after high school. His folks had some money and his sister was some kind of attorney.

“Shoo, faggot… I got no time for fairies. Go bugger one of those Army creeps, they’d probably love the attention.”

Mike grabbed me with both arms and squeezed me hard enough to make my ribs hurt. Then, he kissed me hard on the side of my cheek and said, “Welcome home, Bob.”

We talked for a while, paying exorbitant airport prices for the booze. Mike drank Johnny Walker Black scotch while I stuck to Jim Beam, chased by the occasional Coors beer. I tried to pay for a round or two, but Mike would hear none of it. “Save your money, pal, I have plenty for both of us.”

Mike explained to me that his sister, Carol, had made millions in the lucrative San Francisco market. She sold a few houses, but her prime source of income involved downtown property that she controlled for wealthy investors. Evidently, she had just closed a big deal and was celebrating it with a black tie party tonight at the Trans-America building. Three hours later, Mike and I stepped out of a cab into a funny-looking building located in downtown San Francisco. Standing at its base, I looked up and saw lights in windows that seemed to point to the stars. In the lobby, so outlandish was our attire we were confronted by security guards. Mike took point, explaining to the gentlemen that we were invited guests. A phone call confirmed our status and we were whisked in a private elevator to the 27th floor, where we found men in tuxedos and ladies in chic dresses. The two of us couldn’t possibly have looked more out of place were we nude and singing the National Anthem at the top of our lungs in the key of F.

“Relax…” Mike whispered to me. “Just mingle and have a good time. I’ll go find Carol.”

Sure… just go mingle. I had so much in common with everyone here. One guy asked me if I could bring him a plate of hors de oeuvres. Not inclined to get into a fight my first night back, I merely walked away. At some point, I noticed the glass door leading to the balcony. Mike was nowhere to be found, so I sauntered out onto the balcony, beholding the lights of the city currently offering illumination to the dark and identifying silhouettes of some other buildings. In the clear night sky I observed the stars, wondering if they would look the same to the guys looking up at them, still hunkered down in bunkers on Hill 881 or the Rock Pile.

From behind me, a voice asked, “Looking for inspiration out there?”

I turned and looked at a very thin man about 40 or so, his fingers tugging at his bow tie, a lit cigarette perched between two fingers, perilously close to his neck. I couldn’t tell whether the question mocked me or not, but I sensed that the guy was pretty drunk.

“And if I am?”

Quickly, the man finished removing the tie and flicked the ashes from his cigarette. Raising his hand to chest level, he waved it back and forth. “Don’t take offense. I was merely making small talk; I am so rarely confronted with our nation’s fighting elite.”

“No offense taken…” I lied, turning my head back to view. “If there was, I’d have already ripped your throat out and stuffed that cigarette up your ass.” The words surprised me as much as they did him, in all likelihood. I hadn’t intended to be confrontational when I walked out here, but something about this guy’s smugness pissed me off.

The light from the room backlit his silhouette and he resembled Peter O’Toole at first glance. “Well… I guess that would provide an opportunity to quit smoking.” When he started to laugh, I laughed right along with him. Motioning me to sit down with him, he opened the sliding glass door and barked out an order for someone to bring us some more drinks.

Small talk filled the air, mostly concerning my contributions to the war effort. I’d been told that many people, especially Californians, were either pacifists or non-supportive of Nixon and his dirty little soirée into Southeast Asia. Eventually, I guess he became bored with my company, because he stood up, shook my hand, and offered me a few words upon leaving. “I hope you live to be an ex-Marine.” Then, he walked back into the party.

I said nothing in return, but now my thoughts were back in Vietnam.

By the way, there are no “ex-Marines”. If someone tells you he’s an “ex-Marine”, don’t believe a single word he says from that point on, because he’s lying to you. Once you’re a Marine, you’re a Marine forever. Forever… it doesn’t end at death. Every Marine learns that thousands of good men gave their lives for the privilege of wearing that uniform. In every case, the uniform is earned, never given. Three words guide every Marine’s journey through his duty: Courage, Honor, and Commitment. No matter where your journeys take you, if you have all three, I promise you that you’ll be successful in whatever you do.

Shortly after my Marine Corps career ended, I took my wife, Pat, and our two children, Blake and Kimberly (that could be Mom or Pop to some of you) back to Denver to start a new life, not knowing that even now (as she informed me during the proceedings) she was considering divorce. I’d been accepted to the Colorado State Police Academy at Camp George West in Golden. It was now 1970, and I held the world by the tail. Sixteen weeks later, I emerged from the Blue Cocoon (as it was called by staff) as a fledgling rookie officer. My first duty station was Granby, Colorado, located in the north central Rocky Mountains. I enjoyed most of my duties as a police officer and, if circumstances had permitted, would probably have spent the remainder of my career as a cop.

On June 28, 1971, Mom died, and a big part of me died with her. Mom was my emotional fortress. I knew I could always count on her because she never gave up on me. It was like I suddenly had a gaping hole in my heart that no one could fill. She was only forty-seven years old. It was all very sudden and very final. She went into Presbyterian Hospital for a lung biopsy, a simple procedure that can be done in a doctor’s office, and never came out. Life is cruel, I guess. As she lay in a coma for seventeen days, I tried to make deals with God to let her live. I guess He figured she’d suffered enough.

Not a day passes that I don’t think about her or miss her. I know that all of you would have loved her as much as I do. She was fun to be around, especially if you were a kid. Mom had high standards for all of us, but she made it fun to behave, because if we did, we knew we’d be rewarded in some fashion. My biggest failing in this life was not getting high enough grades in school. I know she was disappointed in me; she felt I should have been class valedictorian. I blame my teachers for that, because they incessantly told her that I wasn’t working up to my potential. In an adult retrospective, I now realize that they may have been right, but I was a kid. Later on, when I went to college, I got nearly straight A’s, due in part to my desire to make Mom proud of me, even if she could only look down and smile a little. After her funeral, Dave Fisher took me to his place and fed me whiskey while I cried for hours and hours. The next day, I went back to work. It’s just what you do… that’s what Mom would have done.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chapter 2 Enter The Jock

Chapter 2 Enter The Jock

Sports, as I started to tell you back a ways, became an entirely different experience for me. I couldn’t get enough of whatever sport was in season. I don’t know whether I was too stupid and simple to grasp the nuance of chess club, astronomy, crafts, etc., or if I just liked getting the opportunity to legally beat the hell out of someone. In the long run, I guess it doesn’t matter what the reasons were. The fact is, I was addicted to athletics. I loved baseball, softball, basketball, football, kickball, tennis, golf, bowling, pool— if it had anything remotely to do with a ball, I wanted to do it, and I wasn’t satisfied until I had the skills to do it better than the other kids. I practiced from dawn to dark, then I went inside and oiled my baseball glove or went out to the garage and punched the bag I made out of an old canvas laundry bag, stuffed with sand and rags and suspended in mid-air with a rope I tied to a roof joist. It was so heavy that I needed a friend to help me hoist it into place. For hours, I hit it, tackled it, pretended it was an opposing lineman and barked out signals before launching myself from a 3-point stance to block it. Whenever I needed to work out a few frustrations, I mentally affixed the face of my rivals on that bag, and beat the damned thing senseless. In the 7th grade, Ron Poulan gave me a set of boxing gloves and my world changed. Over a period of a year or so, a rush of self-confidence came over me as my body started to morph. I gained a little weight, I started to build some muscle mass and I no longer feared anyone. On the athletic fields, kids who’d been unbeatable rivals in previous years now seemed manageable. The more events I won, the more I wanted to win. Feats of skill became tastes of honey; tidbits of liquor so delicious I craved it to feed my unquenchable need… my ego. It was no longer enough to merely win; I needed to crush my opponent. Little by little, the joy of victory became a vehicle of appeasement. Such considerations as how the game was played no longer mattered. Just win, baby. And the die was cast. For the remainder of my boyhood and for much of my adulthood, I was officially a jock.

Originally, the designation seemed to be a desirable one. Society tended to treat us differently. After all, the honor of the school was in our hands. On a weekly basis, we ventured onto the noble field of battle, entrusted to bring home that trophy or be carried off on our shields. We became the symbolic warriors of the cause and the good of all mankind hinged on our performances. Forget the fact that most of us were incapable of spelling ‘performance’ or any other multi-syllabic words not directly pertaining to our quest for ego-gratification. But, little by little, I began to hear the snickers behind my back and I started to sense that I was different, but of course, I’d been indoctrinated to believe that all their wisecracks were mere jealousy, that our way was the only way, and if others didn’t keep quiet, they’d be next. The pack would have their way, the alpha-males spreading their genetic seed regardless of whatever societal attitudes prevailed. We were entitled, after all.

Although my talents (and size) predisposed me to play baseball, my real love was football. For most of my youth, I was pretty little. Most of the kids outweighed me by at least ten pounds and were three or four inches taller. It didn’t matter, because I had The Bag. My house (or more correctly, my garage) was one of the more popular places to spend time after school, because all my friends loved to come over and work out with me. We didn’t know it, of course, but even then we were becoming soldiers. The regimens involved in committing to weightlifting and scheduled workouts became the precursors for discipline and military bearing. Leadership skills found their origins in that garage, both for me and for all the kids who entered.

Baseball was king in my part of town, especially during the middle school years, grades 7-9. We called it “junior high school” in those days; we didn’t realize we were being ‘developmentally subjugated’. This was before the days when every district had a psychologist on staff. The vice-principal gave us all the psychology we needed: Mind your manners and don’t be an asshole, or I’ll beat the hell out of you and tell your parents to come get you. Then, when you get home, you’ll get it again. We weren’t smart enough to know that we were being abused, I guess. We just knew that if we screwed up, there’s a price to pay, so we learned the art of deceit. Vice-Principal Sharkey’s paddle had at least three holes in it and the man was born to wield it. Nothing gave him greater pleasure. So, once having tasted its fury across the fleshier regions of the gluteus maximus (that’s your ass for those of you who're biologically challenged), it didn’t take Albert Einstein to know that you didn’t need it again.

But, I was talking about baseball. Sorry, I tend to drift in and out of coherency like that. I’ll start off telling you about the time I threw a no-hitter against our biggest rival and before you know it, I’ve described, in detail so vivid that it makes you want to rip your eyeballs out for having been foolish enough to sit still and read it, the machinery used to put the white chalk lines on the baseball field. I don’t know why, either, it’s just how my mind works. Maybe if we’d had a school psychologist, someone could have diagnosed the reasons and put a stop to it. In those days, only crazy people were forced to go to psychologists or psychiatrists. If you were a nut case, everyone knew it and chances are very good that if you were, you were already in the loony bin. I can only remember one kid who ever slipped through the cracks. I won’t give you his real name because I don’t want to get sued, but ‘Johnny’ was the oldest of three brothers living with their parents on the next block down from us. All three boys were pretty good athletes and loved the competition—both with each other and with the world. They fought every day, with each other if they couldn’t find anyone else to beat up. They were of Eastern European ancestry and their last name ended with “-ski”. Although I think they were actually Lithuanian, they became the neighborhood ‘pollocks’. Their parents were highly religious and discipline in their family surpassed anyone else’s. Those kids got the tar beat out of them at least a couple of times a week—with the belt. So, you might say they had ‘an attitude’ with the rest of us. But, ‘Johnny’ and I were the same age (he was the oldest of the three brothers), and we became pretty good friends. Early on, maybe around the age of 12 or so, I knew that ‘Johnny’ was different. All he talked about was girls, but during the summer, when all the kids played outside under the streetlight (in ‘Johnny’s’ front yard, by the way), ‘Johnny’ seemed to vacillate towards the girls, but not in a sexual way. It was if he had more in common with them, than with us. It wasn’t anything in particular, just an observation. I didn’t have the chance to interact with ‘Johnny’ during school because he and his brothers went to St. Pius, the local Catholic school, while the rest of us heathens went to public school. Yes, most of us them were Catholic, too, but, their parents didn’t have the cash to “kiss the Pope’s ass”, as my dad put it, but that’s another story. But around the ninth grade, ‘Johnny’ went away. Another Catholic family lived two doors down from them and had a daughter I shall call ‘Susie’, who was the love of my life from the first second I knew what a girl was. One night, they came home to find ‘Johnny’ in their basement, wearing ‘Susie’s’ bra, panties and Girl Scout uniform. It might have worked for him except for the fact that ‘Susie’ was very petite and he was nearly six feet tall and weight 170 pounds. Plus, if you can trust the story as told to me by my father, he had the panties draped over his face—all three pairs. Needless to say, we gave ‘Johnny’s’ family a little wider berth after that. In my father’s words, “You need to stay away from them crazy-ass pollocks… they’re nothin’ but white niggers.”

Shocked? Well, I understand that. Remember, though, we’re talking about the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This was before Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream…” speech and most of us woke up—at least a little. Aurora, Colorado of the Fifties and early Sixties was a reasonably well-designed little community on the east side of Denver. During this time, the growth of the city and the phenomenon of suburban sprawl were in full bloom. World War II veterans were becoming established in their neighborhoods, most were working, and, in general, times were pretty good. Of course, with the rapid growth came the inevitable launch of the social experiment called America.

In those days, Aurora was still lily-white. Thinking back upon it, I really think it was better that way. The introduction of minorities into our neighborhoods would have had the effect of watering down our dysfunction. Their unfortunate tendencies towards tight-knit families and loyal associations among friends would have ruined everything. It would have irreparably brightened our outlook on the world. If we had someone around who tried to make sense, we could never have achieved the high levels of disillusionment so proudly exhibited by all my friends. I was a senior in high school before I ever met a black person. Oh, we played against blacks in sports, but until I met Cliff Arrington, the only thing I knew about black people was that ‘a nigger is a nigger is a nigger’. My father was raised in Kentucky, during the Great Depression and they took their identity from the deep South. Whites and blacks did not even talk to each other unless the black person was serving the white in some fashion. Remember, this was only about seventy years after Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. The great social pendulum had not yet swung back towards the middle and although black people were no longer forced to work for white people, they still had very little entrance into white society and were economically forced to take positions as ‘second-class’ citizens. Who wouldn’t be pissed about that? I can think of no one.

So, with attitudes being what they were, under a constant state of distrust and separation, my father felt no compunction whatsoever about putting labels on people. He had been raised on the streets, too; no one lived well during the 1920’s and 1930’s. His path crossed that of blacks as they competed for bread and practically everything else. Times were so bad that often he had to steal to buy food. In those dark days before World War II, the boy who became my father would walk miles and miles on the railroad track hoping to find coal that had fallen off the trains that headed from Appalachia to points north. If he had a good day, they had heat for the house that night. If not… well, they did the best they could. But being the oldest boy in a family of nine children with no father, he bore the burden of being a man when he was eight years old. He left school in the second grade. So, I understand why he harbored a deep-seated animosity for an entire race of people, but I think it went much further. I honestly think his hatred was a symptom of his own self-loathing, his belief that he’d been cheated out of the opportunity to ever attain one tenet of the American dream, the pursuit of happiness. Plus, he didn’t have the benefit of even an elementary education. Blacks and other minorities were merely the most convenient focal point for his misplaced sense of retribution. Even if I can’t admire it, at least I understand it.

Deep down, my father was a kind, caring man, but I think he felt that he had to show the world a guy who wouldn’t allow anyone to take advantage of him. He loved hard and he hated hard, and sometimes it was difficult for a kid to discern which emotion was present at any particular time. Until I was about ten years old, I thought my first name was Damn-It Bob, because whenever he spoke to me, the first words out of his mouth were “Damn it, Bob, why didn’t you mow the lawn?” or “Damn it, Bob, why did you get such a lousy grade in Math? Is Herbert hiding his paper again?” He fussed and fumed at me so much that I came to expect it all the time. Then, when we were around his friends, I’d hear him telling them of my feats of bravado in baseball or football and I had to listen more intently, because I thought he was talking about someone else. Does my father have an illegitimate son somewhere? From day one, my father and I had a love/hate relationship. He just couldn’t offer me praise directly, and it hurt me. It wasn’t until I had my own kids that I understood—he honestly felt that if he showed me too much love, he’d make me soft and effeminate. No son of his would turn out to be a queer. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, he got his wish. I’m 100% straight, which I consider to be a blessing. I’m not nearly tough enough to accept the abuse gay people endure in this society on an ongoing basis. I’d be doing time for murder the first time some asshole called me a faggot.

*Sigh* See? One thing you need to understand about old people (I refuse to allow myself the moniker ‘senior citizen’, it entails just the sort of smarmy political correctness that I detest) is that we understand mortality, at least in the sense of its immediacy. Therefore, since we know that we are ‘on the clock’ so to speak, if we desire to do something, we need to get cracking, because that clock is ticking. I admit that I understand little about the technical aspects of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and I don’t recall reading a part of it postulating that time passes faster when a person eclipses the age of fifty, but I swear it’s the case. I won’t bore you further with it; just realize that may be why this story is such a jumbled mess. I have to get it out while I’m thinking of it, because I may not have the opportunity to go back and do the editing and re-writes necessary to meet the standards of the publishing industry. Remember, this is my gift to you and like any gift you receive, you’re required to accept it in the spirit which it’s given. Then, after much fawning over it when in my presence, complete with the mandatory expressions of delight in having received it and your audible recognition of its overwhelming power and value in acting as your ultimate moral compass, I authorize you to lovingly place it amongst the great classics of literature you keep on your bookshelf. Either that or put the pages through a paper shredder and use it as a gerbil nest—your call.

Screw it, I’m not going to talk about baseball. As a spectator sport, it’s a passé snooze of a game, short bursts of athletic excellence wrapped in three hours of inertia. The brand of baseball being played in the Major Leagues these days relies on the ability of gargantuan batters being able to drive the ball over the back fence, thereby proving their manhood and exhibiting their peacock prowess as they do their ‘home-run trot’ around the bases. It’s become the symbol of all that’s wrong with professional sports. Spoiled, vain, arrogant, filled with contempt for the very fans that ultimately pay their salaries… what’s to admire about them? Yet, we flock to watch them in greater numbers than ever before. Has entertainment become so hard to come by that we’re forced to support a game played by millionaires to make more money for billionaires? I think I know why we do it, though. We’re trying to re-capture our youth. Admittedly, there’s something special about a ballpark. Hot dogs taste better there, the sun is a little warmer… even the loudmouth sitting behind you becomes your newest, best friend when your team scores or puts down a rally from the opponent. Baseball is life in microcosm. Sometimes it’s slow and boring, sometimes it happens so fast, it’s over before you realize anything’s taking place. The full gamut of human emotions is run every time we watch or play the game. In simpler times, baseball was our national pastime. Its nine-inning passion play once held the nation hostage to its result. Now, a few geeks check the box scores to see if their fantasy teams won them any money, and none but the most hard-core of purists understand anything about the game at all. All things must pass. I’m glad I chose not to talk about the game that took up probably sixty percent of all my hours on earth between the ages of six and eighteen. It’s a pleasure not to tell you that I played on three straight high school state championship baseball teams, that I received a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Colorado and that the Philadelphia Phillies drafted me. It’s all pretty boring… I’m glad I didn’t mention it.


Football is another story entirely. I was known as a ‘tweener’. I wasn’t fast enough to play running back, accurate enough to play quarterback, or big enough to play the line. But I loved to hit and was a ferocious tackler, so they kept a roster spot open for me. I knew that I’d never be big enough to get a scholarship, but the prospect of suiting up on Friday nights in front of those big crowds was like an opiate. The rush I got from listening to the cheers was nearly inexpressible. Lining up across from an enemy lineman gave me a thrill on every play, especially when it was cold and you could see his breath. I loved to talk to my opposition, too, a habit that resulted in being ejected for fighting on several occasions. It seems some guys get a little irritated when you insinuate that you’ve been screwing their sister... or mother. I used to read the newspaper obituaries in hopes that I’d get lucky and a member of the opposing team might have just lost a loved one. That’s always good for fireworks if you happen to mention to the unfortunate guy that you have a thing for corpses and would he mind if you snuck a quick peek at good ol’ mom.

Even in the Sixties, football was serious business. The stands were filled with fathers whose scions were out there on the gridirons of America, getting the crap kicked out of them, so daddy could vicariously score the touchdown that he never quite accomplished in high school. This, of course, is because good-ol’ dad was in chess club. The closest he ever got to a football field was when he recalled his glorious heroics to that cute blonde at the Boom-Boom Club.

I have loved football since I was old enough to know what it is. After my first football practice (third grade as I recall), I remember thinking, ‘Hey… this is great! I get to beat the hell out of that butt-hook, Gary Bishop, and not get kicked out of school!’ In junior high school there were two kids I tried to convince to come out for football for precisely that reason!

As it turned out, neither guy would accommodate me and I ended up getting kicked out of school, anyway. But, that wasn’t until basketball season, and I sucked at basketball, so it didn’t matter. Why would anyone waste his time playing a sport that involved activities that didn’t involve physically assaulting the other team?

I always liked to fight. I don’t know why, I just did. All you psychologists out there, eat your hearts out, I made it all the way to manhood (arguably) without ever once polishing the leather on your couch. I owe it all to football. Coach Roman Gabler was the only shrink any of us ever needed. The man took motivation training from the Marquis de Sade, his pre-game speeches inspired by Mein Kampf and Knute Rockne.

Of course, in the Sixties, everyone’s favorite football team was the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Never mind the fact that most of the guys on the team were either of Italian or Polish descent, in God’s eyes, all football players are Irish.

I’d heard all the stories regarding the exploits and heroics of Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung and all the rest. And before Coach Gabler stepped onto a bench and began his inspiration, exhorting us to become mad dogs of hatred as we stormed out of the locker room shouting and cursing, we received the inspiration of one Father Armand Dresser.

Father Dresser, our team spiritual advisor, was the pastor at Our Lady of Victory Parish. His nose was as red as a ripe maraschino cherry. Almost every kid on the team had served as an altar boy at one time or another, so we thought of him as something other than inspirational. In fact, there wasn’t a single one of us who hadn’t taken his turn unloading the liquor truck as it pulled up to the back of the rectory. In hindsight, I’m sure the Bishop would have liked to know about that, too, but it’s all holy water under the bridge at this point. Honestly, a couple of liters of altar wine per day is probably necessary to keep a man sedated enough to listen to the confessions of a faithful flock. How many adulterous affairs is a man capable of keeping quiet about before he runs screaming into the streets?

Also, while I’m on the subject, I want to know something. If he couldn’t see us when we were in the confessionals, why did he always know our name as he handed down our penance? Every Saturday, as I awaited my turn to go in, I’d sit and think up ‘sins’ that would be right on the edge of the mortal/venial threshold, just to see if I could push the envelope and receive something other than five Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s. Once I managed an “Examine your conscience, my son”, too. As I recall, that one involved looking in neighbor’s windows, the cute little Frontier Airlines stewardess. I felt like I was finally starting to make some progress down that road to Hell.

As was his custom on Game Day, Father Dresser always wore his black floor-length tunic that made him look and walk like a penguin. Of course, his uniform wouldn’t have been complete without that little black hat. Coach Gabler called him “Dress”… “Come on up here, Dress, and give us our Lord’s blessing…we’d hate to have any of those assholes crippled for life!”

Then, we’d mill about while a couple of assistant coaches helped “Dress” onto a bench. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, let us pray…” Then, he’d commence his litany of the saints, progression of Beatitudes and adoration of Mary, all in Latin, of course, stopping only to catch his breath or burp. We’d all look at each other out of the corners of our eyes, shake our heads and grin, patiently waiting for Jim Worthington (our huge All-Conference right tackle) to fart and crack up the whole team! Some of the guys took bets on whether Father would fall off the bench from a combination of inebriation and vertigo from keeping his eyes closed that long.

I remember getting a letter from my mother years later, while I was in the Marines, telling me that Father Dresser had left the parish. Evidently, the Bishop had sent him on special assignment to a monastery somewhere, the purpose of his mission to ‘examine his conscience’. It seems that Father Dresser might have more appropriately been called Father Cross-Dresser, but that’s a story for another time.


I managed to graduate from high school on time, thanks, in no small part, to Herbert and his magic paper. Teachers, counselors (and my mother) remained eternally vexed and confused by my lack of performance. The standardized tests I took showed my IQ to be remarkably high, yet my grades were only slightly above average. From day one I was told that if I studied very hard, I could become an above-average craftsman or teacher. You see, very few kids were encouraged to attend medical or law schools unless their parents were doctors or lawyers. One mustn’t rock the boat. The counselors’ attempts at ‘profiling’ led to diminished expectations even for the kids who did study hard and finish at the tops of their class. In those days, only the top ten to fifteen percent of the kids attended college, unless they received athletic scholarships. Probably an equal number enrolled in trade schools, and the rest either joined the military or went to work. I graduated in 1965, and even then, the specter of Vietnam loomed over our heads. Even as a junior, I remember guys joining up, trying to avoid the draft. The word around town had it that if you enlisted before being drafted, you had a better chance of going to a military trade school, thereby prolonging a trip to Vietnam. One guy who did this stands out in my mind because he was the class clown. Light on intellectual creativity and prospects for higher education, Tony Smucker realized that as soon as he graduated, he would be drafted, so he enlisted during spring semester. This was a boy who would do anything for a laugh. During his senior year, he cut the tip off one of his fingers while in Wood Shop. He missed one afternoon of school and showed up the next day with that fingertip in a small jar of formaldehyde. The entire morning, he took bets with all comers as to the prospect of his consumption of said fingertip. If he’d had one of those little green eyeshades, you’d have sworn that he was a Las Vegas bookmaker. Kids would give Bob Shaughnessy the money while Tony wrote down his or her name on a legal pad. By the time lunch hour rolled around, Tony sat at the head of a table with only that little jar sitting in front of him, amputated phalanx floating independently within, and a huge throng of kids forming a crush around the table, each wishing to get a glimpse of the act. Cheers, jeers and catcalls of many forms accompanied the scene as Tony sat grinning at the crowd, hoping to entice some late money into the bet. Then, when he felt the time was right, he turned the lid off the bottle and picked up a fork. Screams immediately found air in the room, causing Lee Rosa, the wrestling coach and 1957 Mr. Colorado, to push his way through the crowd and confiscate the severed appendage just before it entered Tony’s mouth. It’s rumored that in turn for not being suspended (thereby not graduating) and all the kids’ names on the betting list not being sent to Mr. Sharkey’s office for the corporal punishment he so loved to dish out, Tony would give the money (all $470) to the March of Dimes campaign against birth defects. We lost Tony in the spring of 1965, the victim of a Viet Cong ambush in a fire fight in the Ashau Valley of Vietnam. It was announced over the loudspeaker in homeroom. That morning, reality drove into my psyche and parked in my garage, never again to relinquish the space. That day, my childhood ended.

The middle 1960’s were, arguably, the greatest time of social upheaval in American history, fueled mainly by the Vietnam Conflict. Most of us then between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one were the progeny of World War II veterans, the generation that is now called the Baby-Boomers. Right after high school, young men were forced to register for the Draft, the government’s process of rounding up every male who had reached his eighteenth birthday. They were placed in a cattle pen called The Selective Service Bureau and left to graze until the government felt it was time to slaughter them. Then, they were herded into military vehicles and sent to training centers with names like Camp LeJeune, Camp Pendleton, Fort Bliss or MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego, dressed in green for a few weeks and sent to Southeast Asia, never once being allowed to question the process. Of course, a process this drastic never escapes the scrutiny of the public, and a counter-culture in direct defiance of the war was born. They were called Hippies or the Peace Generation. These people spent their time reading the political works of Lenin, Marx, Malcolm X, Ché Guevara, and formed cells of resistance called The Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, The Black Panthers, the Yippies, and many more; their entire reason for existence being the cessation of military action in Southeast Asia and/or the overthrow of the U.S. government.

In those days, the government and society alike vilified these people. But, their influence on literature, music and mores of society could not be denied. They were starting to have enough impact that other ‘minority’ groups saw the opportunity to make a splash onto the American political scene. A woman named Betty Friedan became the foremost spokesperson for women’s rights in the world with the publication of her book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Ms. Friedan was instrumental in the foundation of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and is recognized as the preeminent catalyst for the women’s movement. Suddenly, life as we knew it in the United States took a new tack. Women, empowered by their new-found political clout, began the revolutionary activity that would change the world. No longer were women content to be stay-at-home mothers. They lobbied to have the ‘glass ceiling’ lifted from salaries paid to women. Soon, faculties at universities were being filled with women professors and seats in medical and law schools were occupied, in greater numbers than ever before, by female students as the Equal Rights Amendment legislation was enacted. Much of the societal circumstance we see today found its infancy during the Vietnam Era.

So what does all that have to do with me? Everything and nothing… The Marine Corps drafted me in February of 1966, while sitting in the dugout of the Philadelphia Phillies training facility in Clearwater, Florida, nine days after I’d arrived for spring training. I mention this because on that day, my dream of becoming a professional baseball player died. All the hours and days of preparation, all the missed family gatherings spent at this practice or that out-of-town ball game… just to have the dream die right before my very eyes as I was about to find out whether or not I had what it took. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it, but that’s the problem. I’ll go to my grave without knowing. Honestly, I’ve had a good life in spite of it, but in the back of my mind, there’ll always be that nagging question that has no answer. Okay, write this down: Don’t let your dreams die. It’s actually just that simple. If you love something enough to consider it your ‘dream’, then it’s important enough to devote your life to it. Never give someone the power to steal your dream. If I had it all to do over again, I’d have ignored that notice-of-induction telegram entirely and finished spring training. At that point, I would, at the very least, have been told whether they would pick up their option on my contract and offer me assignment somewhere in their farm system. Then, I probably would have honored my commitment as an American citizen; complete with the knowledge of what could have been, had it not been for the war. The dream, to me, was more important than the actual eventuality of it happening. Then I wouldn’t have felt cheated. Don’t let anyone cheat you out of your dreams. That way, when you write your memoirs fifty years from now, you won’t be pissing and moaning about what a raw deal you got from life, like your grampy is now.