Friday, April 28, 2006

Basic Training

This morning, the 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment -- a basic training unit on Fort Knox -- hosted a media day to demonstrate the changes that have been made to the basic training regimen and philosophy. Yours truly got tagged to cover it for our paper, and to shoot photos for our parent publication in Elizabethtown.

Our first stop was Victory Field, where some Day Zero recruits were sitting in bleachers, preparing to meet the drill sergeants who would be "guiding" them through the next nine weeks. It was a sober affair -- none of the screaming and yelling that may have gone on in years past. The company first sergeant stood behind a podium in front of the four platoons and read the new guys some of the history of the 46th... battles won, campaigns fought, reactivation as a training unit.

He introduced his company drill sergeants, who snapped to attention under their brown campaign hats and provided their names, ranks, and hometowns.

Other cadre members demonstrated squad combat movement tactics. Moving in formation across the field, they dropped to their bellies when a machine gun loaded with blanks began firing at them. One drill sergeant simulated a hit to the arm, and another crawled over to him to administer first aid (tasks, "Evaluate a Casualty" and "Administer First Aid").

Two grenades took out the play-acting "insurgents," and the drills approached the building the enemy had been firing from. They quickly cleared it and double timed back behind the bleachers full of nervous recruits.

The privates looked for the most part like privates always do: disoriented, confused, and goofy -- wearing their newly-issued BCGs ("Birth Control Glasses," a reference to how ugly the spectacles are) and closely-shaved scalps.

But there are differences between now and when I showed up at Fort Benning's replacement battalion almost four years ago. The recruits here wore the Army's new ACU ("Army Combat Uniform"), which features zippers and Velcro. I spotted one (above) sporting a neck tattoo that read "Cali," which would have been strictly verboten not long ago, but is now permissable under the Army's recently-relaxed guidelines on tattoos.

We walked through the barracks of a company currently in its third week. While carrying weapons into living areas was out of the question when I was in training, now it's mandated: privates are issued a weapon only a few days into the training cycle, and they're required to have it with them at all times, even while they're sleeping. The recruits in this particular bay had broken down into groups to prepare for phase validation testing, where they would demonstrate that they'd learned everything required in Phase I.

Phase I was known as "Red Phase" while I was in Basic, and it is still designated by a red guidon for platoons going through it. But cadre members now call it the "Patriot" phase, which is followed by the "Gunfighter" phase and the "Warrior" phase.

Some of the trainees were stripping their M-16s down in one corner, while others were reviewing procedures for treating heat exhaustion. I noticed that while they still had a healthy dose of apprehension when drill sergeants (or other people in uniform, such as me) were around, they weren't cringing in abject fear the way I remember doing early on in Basic.

Later, the battalion commander took us to the Engagement Skills Trainer. This was old hat for me, since these days soldiers generally use the EST to prepare for annual rifle qualification. Troops are led into dark rooms that have a line of floor-to-ceiling projection screens at one end. Fighting positions are placed near the other, and rifles fitted with air hoses are placed near each one. Targets appear on the screens, which show photographs of actual Fort Knox ranges. Technicians can watch the results of each engagement -- down to the position of the selector lever and bolt of each weapon -- and tell each firer how to adjust his aim to improve his shooting. It's a little like Duck Hunt.

What I hadn't seen before was the new "scenario" mode, where instead of a static photo of a range, video of a hypothetical encounter is played. The techs had the group of reporters and photographers line up behind fighting positions and take up a weapon, which excited the members of the press a great deal. They seemed pretty happy to get a chance to fire an M-16.

Even though I haven't exactly spent a great deal of time training with the weapon since I've been in, there are things about it that I know and take for granted. It was funny to watch a local news reporter heft her rifle and fiddle with it when the technician told her to "lock and clear." I showed her where the slide was, and how to press the slide lock to clear the weapon's chamber. A petite photographer had trouble figuring out how to drop the magazine out of her rifle, and the company XO, a lieutenant who looked like he was about 14, showed her where the button was.

When an actor on the screen portraying a non-English speaking Eastern European waddled out of his house holding a gasoline can, two shots went off. One fatal hit, one miss, the screen said.

Later, in a different scenario, an Iraqi gate guard let a Defense contractor through the wire after an IED went off, kicking up huge clouds of dust. A man in a white robe and red turban came stumbling out of the dust cloud with his hands up, and the reporters went berserk. They didn't quit firing until their virtual magazines went dry.

59 shots fired, 48 misses, 11 fatal hits, the computer said. I laughed my ass off.

Our final stop for the day was a covered pit, where two companies were facing off in a pugil stick tournament. The drill sergeants for each unit had, through earlier pugil sessions, indentified their best fighters and were pitting them against other platoons and companies in a bracketed tournament.

"This is great to watch," said the major who was acting as tour guide. "Some guys are just really good at it... and other guys aren't."

I remembered watching my hapless "Battle Buddy" get lifted off his feet by an uppercut to the chin four years ago in Georgia. The strike hefted him about a foot and a half off the ground, and when he landed, he was unconscious. When he came to, he was asking where his mother was.

Whipped up into a happy frenzy, the platoons screamed and chanted together, baiting the other groups. When fighting commenced it was quick and serious, with the battlers running at each other, thwacking opponents, and parrying.

People say that basic training has "gone soft," and maybe it has. I've groused about it myself, thinking that if I went through it, then these new guys damn well better go through it, too.

But watching today's events left me pretty impressed -- it seems that a level-headed, non-frightening approach can actually be effective, and the senior drill sergeants seemed positive about the new developments as well.

Fear is important in basic, because it forces recruits to cope with new feelings and to develop the ability to cope and function while experiencing fear. But maybe fear doesn't need to come from the drill sergeants as much anymore.

"You joined an Army at war," the first sergeant had told the Day Zero guys at the beginning of the morning.

None of the trainees we saw today had any doubt in their minds that after Fort Knox, their next stop would be Iraq.


UPDATE: Open post at Mudville. Have a good weekend, folks... I'm off to get screwy.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Return of the Moron

Keith Hernandez might just be enough to get me to watch Major League Baseball on television.

Normally I'm disinclined to do so, because watching nine straight innings of little or nothing actually happening doesn't exactly excite me the way a 160-pound tumor does, so I usually end up with the TV set tuned to Discovery Health and then just look up the scores and highlights at

Not any more. I missed Saturday's Mets vs. Padres game in San Diego, when Hernandez, the Mets' color commentator, blurted out:

"Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair? What's going on here? Only player personnel in the dugout."

Not content to leave fans wondering, he added,

"I won't say women belong in the kitchen, but they sure don't belong in the dugout."

The woman in the Padres' dugout was the team's massage therapist.

The beleaguered MLB could probably benefit by having more trolls like Hernandez and John Rocker around. I mean, keeping a couple idiots on the payroll who occasionally say profoundly stupid things on the air could potentially shift attention away from more embarrassing issues, such as the size of Barry Bonds' head.

Anyway, since Hernandez presumably still has a job, count me in as a baseball fan. I'll even watch Mets games, just in case.

Harry Caray says,



Fire up the Humvee, honey! We have to fight Big Oil!

Yeah, this is a cheap shot, but I like the way this story in the Washington Post reads:

Going a Short Way to Make a Point

In it, the WP's Dana Milbank quotes several top Washington lawmakers who are busily "fighting the war on Big Oil," and then notes the type of vehicle they drive and its fuel efficiency.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) hopped in a GMC Yukon (14 mpg). Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) climbed aboard a Nissan Pathfinder (15). Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) stepped into an eight-cylinder Ford Explorer (14). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) disappeared into a Lincoln Town Car (17). Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) met up with an idling Chrysler minivan (18).

Next came Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), greeted by a Ford Explorer XLT. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Menendez had complained that Bush "remains opposed to higher fuel-efficiency standards."


Found on Drudge.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Derby season has arrived

That's right... it's Derby season, and Kentucky is busily preparing for what is the state's Biggest Event. People come from every corner of the western world to watch the biggest horse race on the planet, and the tenant chaos that grips Louisville begins two weeks in advance with "Thunder Over Louisville," which is billed as the largest airshow/fireworks display east of the Mississippi.

I went to Thunder last year with a coworker and friend of mine (who goes by "Coolcutter"). A friend of his had an invite to an exclusive rooftop soiree and he said he could get us in, which he eventually did by claiming to the hosts that we were noted journalists. We went up to Louisville pretty early, and by 2 p.m. the weather had turned bitter cold. This led to a protracted episode of wandering the streets and ducking into the various bars and pubs that litter downtown.

On the rooftop, we were fed Maker's Mark throughout the evening, and by the time we headed home, we were in the mood for White Castles.

I skipped out on Thunder this year, since I had no such access to a good vantage point, much less one populated with girls handing out free bourbon. But while I missed the actual Derby last year thanks to a nasty bug I came down with (no doubt during our escapades at Thunder), I'll be in the fabled Churchill Downs infield this time around.

The Derby infield is basically where the mad rabble goes -- the ones not rich enough to make it into the grandstands (or Millionaires' Row, much less), but still want to swallow alarming numbers of mint juleps and smell horse sweat. I've only heard stories, of course -- but it certainly sounds like the kind of scene you need to see at least once in your lifetime. Based on the tales I've been told, the infield sounds something like Woodstock and Las Vegas mixed together and rolled lightly in a breading of egg yolks and pure speed. Set temperature to 89 degrees Fahrenheit, add a healthy dose of Kentucky bourbon, and let simmer.

Of course, this is all just hearsay. I haven't had the pleasure of attending quite yet.

However, a fantastic account of the Kentucky Derby was written by Louisville's own Hunter S. Thompson, who documented the event for the now-defunct Scanlan's Monthly in a piece called "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." The article is regarded as the first usage of what would eventually be called "Gonzo journalism," and was also the first collaboration between Thompson and British illustrator Ralph Steadman.

Be warned -- the article contains references to drug and alcohol consumption and also uses some "naughty words."

An exerpt:

Steadman was already in the press box when I got there, a bearded young Englishman wearing a tweed coat and RAF sunglasses. There was nothing particularly odd about him. No facial veins or clumps of bristly warts. I told him about the motel woman's description and he seemed puzzled. "Don't let it bother you," I said. "Just keep in mind for the next few days that we're in Louisville, Kentucky. Not London. Not even New York. This is a weird place. You're lucky that mental defective at the motel didn't jerk a pistol out of the cash register and blow a big hole in you." I laughed, but he looked worried.

UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Breezing through current events, but... nothing

When you're writing something shorter than the Encyclopedia Brittanica, it's crucial to limit the scope of your subject to something that can be dealt with justly in whatever the length of your piece.

That helps because it keeps things from getting too out of hand, and it keeps you focused on the details. The problem is that I have no subject in mind right now, and therefore have no details or arguments to organize. It doesn't make for compelling reading.

What to deal with? The immigration debacle? The Duke rape allegations? Donald Rumsfeld under fire from retired generals? The state of things in Iraq? Osama Bin Laden releasing a new hit single?

Truth be told, I haven't looked into any of these subjects beyond the occasional perusal through Internet headlines and stopping by MSNBC (since it's on the channel next to The Learning Channel, and TLC has shows like "The 160-pound tumor").

And watching TV news, I've learned that the lion's share of time is devoted to stories that, while shocking, have little or no impact on anyone outside the community where it's taking place. A perfect case in point here is the rape allegations levelled at the Duke University men's lacrosse team. As the story develops, we're treated to up-to-the minute details from the vigilant corps of reporters camped out near the Blue Devils' home. All the network news outlets are tripping over each other to get "exclusive interviews" with individuals connected to the scandal in whatever way... usually family members or former employers.

Not to downplay the seriousness of rape, but does this story really merit the kind of coverage it's getting? I submit that it does not. Allegations of rape are made daily -- what makes this case so special as to mobilize the national media?

Well, throw the Duke lacrosse team into the mix, and suddenly we've got something that transcends news -- we've got drama. That means that every detail, every new development, every unforseen move by the defense or prosecution is a new episode in a new TV mini-series. And lord knows we need something to follow until the new season of "Rescue Me" comes on.

Is a civil war going on in Iraq? Michael Yon says yes, and that it's been going on since before we ever darkened the doorway. I don't think it's a secret that Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds don't make good roommates for each other, and haven't for quite some time. Anyone still clinging to the hope that bringing democracy to Iraq would turn it into Superhappyfunland should probably do a little reassessment.

Should Rumsfeld step down in light of the criticism levelled at him from retired generals? Well, would it matter if he did?

It's tough in times like these to come up with anything worth really digging up. So for me, for now, it's back the 160-pound tumor.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Food for thought

I have two things, now that I've been out long enough to ingest an unrecommendable amount of beer:


"You know what the greatest thing is about living on the sea shore? You only have assholes on three sides of you."
-- George Carlin


Listen to the John McDermott song, "The Green Fields of France." For a modernized version, check out the Dropkick Murphys' cover.

That is all.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Quit it with the e-mail forwards

E-mail is now a standard professional tool. People use it in almost every kind of business as a means of instant communication. Seems like by now, we could have gotten used to it.

But I'm still getting forwards sent to my work inbox. Usually, they're innocuous and at worst, mildly annoying. However, there are e-mail forwards I can't stand: rumors, chain-letters, and fabrications.

Does anyone seriously think that Bill Gates (or whoever) is tracking a certain chain e-mail and sending out checks to people who pass it along? Is someone out there still under the impression that Jesus will love them more or answer their prayers with more regularity depending on how many addresses they cram into the "To:" line?

My rule for chain letters is to delete them immediately without even reading them. If the subject line says something like "FW: DO NOT DELETE! THIS REALLY WORKS," then I delete it even faster.

No one in Uganda wants to send you a million dollars to save for them in a U.S. bank account. Oliver North did not mention Osama Bin Laden before congress in 1991. The eleventh chapter of the ninth book of the Qu'ran does not make any reference to a butt-kicking eagle coming out of the west to rain hell upon Islam, nor does it even remotely touch upon the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Starbucks does indeed support the troops.

Here's an easy rule of thumb: if you read something in an e-mail forward, consider it to be completely false until you can get verification somewhere (like at Any of the people who have continued to send whatever forward it is are automatically disqualified as credible sources.

And while you're at Snopes, check out this heart-warming story:

Cranky old man with a stick killed by the goat he was beating.

Old man: 0, Goat: 1.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Saved by the &$#^?!

I just sent this e-mail to Cartoon Network:

Dear Adult Swim administrators:

What kind of sick operation are you running here? There was a time where I could crawl into bed, switch the TV over to Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, and rely on some strange assault of incongruously mature content and cartoon presentation to send me to sleep. Now, at midnight, I'm subjected to the same gang of morons who inspired me to head outdoors as a child -- yes, that's the crew from "Saved By the Bell" -- instead of the IQ-melting animation I had begun to rely on.

I just wanted to write to say thanks for betraying my trust, you bastards. "Saved By The Bell" is one of the worst television shows ever made, and we'd all be better off forgetting it had ever existed. Whoever made the decision to re-air this clear demonstration of humanity's refusal to conform with evolution should be dragged out into a south Vietnamese street and shot. I promise, I'll tear "Screech's" ears off with my own hands; just let me know where it's going to happen.



P.S.: Please take "Saved By The Bell" off the air. I hate that show.

(Note: I edited the e-mail a little to make it slightly funnier and to include a point I'd forgotten to include in the original. Hint: It involves tearing someone's ears off.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

I need a new scene

Yeah, I'm plenty ready to be done with this gig. Not Fort Knox, specifically -- although I've definitely had my fill of "Kentuckiana" -- but more generally, this stint in the Army.

Over the past week or so, six former high-ranking generals have called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, saying he disregarded counsel from his top military advisers and constructed an unworkable plan for the war in Iraq.

This, of course, has occasioned more than a few conservative pundits to declare that retired generals know practically nothing about war, and if they did, they should have brought it up before they hot-footed it out of the Pentagon with their pensions secure.

I'm just a lowly E-4, but I've sat in on enough courts-martial to know that Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits activity such as second-guessing superiors, and that constitutionally, civilians -- i.e., Rumsfeld -- have ultimate control of the military. So these generals can hardly be blamed for keeping their four-starred mouths shut until now.

Yeah, I suppose that if they felt that what they were involved with was seriously wrong, they could have resigned their rather valuable commissions. But I'd be hesitant to do that after having been promoted by an act of Congress following a scrupulously remarkable 20-year-plus career in the military.

But regardless. I'm content to watch that one ravel itself out. The leadership of the Defense Department neccessarily is characteristic of the administration that appoints it, so whether it's a Rumsfeld or a MacNamara, I don't see that the identity of whoever fills that very important suit matters as much as the suit itself.

Did I have a point? Oh, yeah. I'm just a bit weary of this. I'm fully aware that I signed a contract, and I have no intention of shorting out on that. But I hope you'll forgive me for expressing a little frustration -- at my own decision, as much as anything else -- with where I'm at right now. I've got a bachelor's degree in journalism under my belt, and I enlisted solely to be able to get this specific job. I figured it would be a good way to get some sort of unique journalism experience, and yeah, it has been.

But journalism -- real journalism -- is an essential function of democracy, and it is because of its independence from the rest of the government. Journalism ceases to fulfill its responsibility as soon as it becomes a shill for anyone -- either for private organizations or for the government.

So it's tough to watch these generals finally come forward only after the ends of their respective prestigious careers to voice their independent concerns and not get the distinct impression that I'm nowhere near actual journalism.

And, yes, that's frustrating. It's hard to get excited to head into work when I realize that the very nature of my job is to promote the interests of the Army. That idea might be repugnant to readers who have military service of their own or in their family, but understand that I consider myself a journalist and a writer by trade. I have a very hard time identifying with the idea of being a soldier.

I guess when I joined up I just wasn't in enough need of something to believe in or become. This is a means to another end, and I'll repeat my intention of honorably fulfilling my obligation to the military. But I've got a very interesting conversation with a re-enlistment NCO in my future.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sam Elliot would let people smoke in the airport

I'm watching the TNT original movie "Avenger." Sam Elliot has the leading role, and he's now one of my favorite actors. He sort of combines the hardass elements of John Wayne with the unpredictability of a Nick Nolte.

In "Avenger," he's an ex-Special Forces guy who takes a job to go to Bosnia and find a rich guy's humanitarian son. Turns out, the son has been killed by a Bosnian war criminal, and Sam decides to exact vengeance. Awesome.

Woah -- James Cromwell, as the chairman of some security council, just said, "There is one end that justifies any means: the security of the United States of America." Of course, next door on the History Channel they're playing the latest adaptation of "Spartacus," and it opens with Spartacus saying "To become like your enemy is to lose to him."

Anyway, the point I wanted to make here was that a guy like Sam Elliot wouldn't stand for the kind of shit they deal you at the airports these days. Every time I go home (or wherever), I'm re-subjected to the "anti-terrorism" measures being placed in U.S. airports. What does that consist of? A security scan that looks at everything you're carrying, and only takes away lighters from smokers. Once you're inside, newsstands may or may not supply matches, and the airport probably doesn't have a designated smoking area any more.

A few years ago, at least smokers could keep their lighters, and at least they could all congregate inside the smoking fishbowl -- usually a glass-walled room with negative air pressure that smelled like the inside of the Marlboro Man's single remaining lung. It wasn't pleasant, but at least it was a place where addicts could feed their nicotine jones and keep the homicidal urges at bay.

No such luck anymore. They take your lighter (and the guys at the other end won't give you any of the ones they've taken), and they won't let you smoke, even in a sealed-off room.

To me, this just means that they're really not all that serious about preventing terrorism. I mean, I'm a pretty peaceful guy, and all I ask in return for not causing any problems is a stinky room to help stink up. But no. Instead, I've got to sit in "non-smoking airport bars," suck down bloody marys, and hope to God that nobody talks to me while my brain shrieks at me for lack of tobacco.

Quick flights aren't as big a problem as trans-continental trips would be, and I've yet to make one of those while feeling like a character out of "Trainspotting." But I can imagine landing in Seattle ready to go on a killing spree when all I can get at my destination is an over-roasted venti Starbucks coffee.

And that's not enough, apparently, for you clean-lungers. Places in Alabama are considering ordinances to ban smoking in public, outdoor areas, and I'm sure it's safe to assume city councils in other states are looking at the same sort of law.

Keep raising taxes on cigarettes, keep balancing states' budgets on addiction, keep herding us into smaller and smaller areas, keep us suffering on every mode of public transportation. Someday, the wrong smoker is going to go see "V for Vendetta" and go medival on society at large. I'm not saying it's going to be me, but the odds aren't good. Consider yourselves warned.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Back, and working

Well, I'm back. Sorry about the lack of posting -- I'm sure you'll understand that I haven't felt much like it lately.

I did make it to my granddad's funeral in Michigan. Evidently, my family sent that previous post around, and printed off a copy for my widowed grandmother. She liked it enough to ask that I read it at the funeral. I read it at the grave site, even though I hadn't written it with that in mind. All the Scots in my family (and there are many) laughed pretty hard at the Gaelic phrase, despite the solemnity of the occasion.

I had been worried that Granddad's immediate family wouldn't like something of that nature at a funeral, but by all accounts it went over well, which was a relief.

And it was great to see everyone again. It's been six years, at least, since I've been up to Taylor, and all my cousins and second cousins and cousin's kids and aunts and uncles and piles of other relatives all needed to be caught up with.

The thing that really sucks is coming back. It's tough every time I leave my family behind and come back to this godforsaken place. My constantly shrinking company -- which has been whittled down to a core of administrative clerks and chaplains' assistants, and me -- now has at least as many mid-grade NCOs as it does soldiers, which means that those of us left are having the mortal shit managed out of us. I'd decided a while back that given my choice of careers, I wasn't much interested in making sergeant, but recently I thought better of it. In light of recent events -- notably a three-hour class on filling out NCO-ERs that started a full hour late thanks to a tardy staff sergeant -- I've reverted to my original opinion.

Last night I went to a Seder meal being held for Jewish IET soldiers. They were extremely excited to get the opportunity to celebrate Passover, but the sight of guys in ACUs, BCGs, and Yarmulkes was somewhat strange.

I snapped photos for a while. When the meal finally started, one of the soldiers seated near the head of the table volunteered to sing the traditional prayers. After the opening prayers in English, he began that mesmerizing chant of Hebrew.

I thought back to the funeral mass we'd had for my grandfather. Near the end, the priest reminded us of how incense is still used in ceremonies to remind us of how prayers are lifted up to God, and proceeded to make the sign of the cross over the coffin with the censer.

Rituals are really remarkable, and they got me wondering -- what's the important aspect of a ritual? Is it the form and substance of the ritual itself, or merely its effect on the state of mind of those in attendance? I suppose all rituals combine both.

At any rate, it's now Good Friday, so I'll sign off here. I'll be back this weekend sometime.


Friday, April 07, 2006


My grandfather died this afternoon, April 6, 2006.

His name was Allan, and he was the very definition of the Salt of the Earth.

My earliest memory of Granddad Allan is of my brother and I playing in his front yard, in front of a red brick tract house in a suburb of Detroit. He had worked for years for Ford Motors, and he and much of his extended family had settled down in the suburb of Taylor. Zach and I, as toddlers, would play in the fallen oak and maple leaves in the yard while Granddad raked them up, and he would eventually pile us up into the black plastic bags along with the leaves. There are countless yellowed Polaroids of us, grinning while sitting in the trash bags as Granddad smiled next to us.

Inside, my grandparents' little house smelled like the ginger snaps and bread my Grammie has been making for decades, and the basement smelled like the gas-powered clothes dryer.

While I was a child living in Washington state, Grammie would send my brothers and I the sugar cereals my parents said were bad for us.

When we visited, we would go out back into the yard surrounded by chain-link fence and watch as Granddad would tend to the beets and other vegetables he meticulously kept in the garden next to the garage. We would throw Nerf footballs, then venture inside the garage and look at the old iron tools on the table inside. My favorite one was the vise; flakes of red lead paint still clung to it after years of use by a man who'd spent decades building cars.

Once, while I was sitting, bored, in his living room, Allan answered the phone that hung on the wall of the small kitchen that sat in back of their home. He murmured assent to everything the caller said, and finally, after a lengthy exchange, Granddad said "Póg mo thóin," and hung up the phone.

My uncle, sitting on the front room sofa, burst out laughing.

"What did he just say?" I asked.

"He just said 'Kiss my ass' in Gaelic," my uncle said.

Later in life, my grandfather developed vicious Alzheimer's Disease. He spent several of his last years living with my parents in central New York state, others he spent near his original home of Nova Scotia, Canada.

I remember bringing my girlfriend to our house for my high school graduation party while Granddad was home. He gave the two of us no end of hell -- at least as far as two awkward 18-year-olds were concerned. Granddad was a saint, but he never hesitated to say exactly what was on his mind.

My brother Jake loved Allan -- in fact, Jake's middle name is Allan, after our grandfather -- and he spent every extra minute he had with him, even after he left for university.

Alzheimer's hit Granddad Allan hard, and often he'd become confused -- not knowing where he was, what he was doing, or who he was talking to. He'd say inappropriate things sometimes: for a while, his answer to any personal dispute was "Kick 'em in the ass." Through it all, up to the time he died, Grammie never left his side.

But he never seemed to forget us, especially Jake.

Granddad was a blue-collar man, a hard worker. I saw him cry once in my life. He and Grammie were visiting us in New York state, and when they were about to go, we gave him a corny Fathers Day gift -- a coffee mug that said, "Grampa's the name, Spoilin's the game." We were outside on the back verandah when he opened it, and when he did, he stared at if for a long time.

He stared at it for a long while, and he sniffed a few times. He tried to get a few words out, but settled for, "I love you all, I wish I could stay."

Eventually he did get to stay, and he died very near where he said that. He was always a quiet man, and while Grammie sat nearby, he fell asleep. And that was the end.

I spoke with Jake tonight, after both of us had gotten the call and had some time to try to understand he was gone.

"I can't make it real to me," I said.

"That's exactly how I feel," said Jake. "I really can't believe he's gone. I don't know what to do."

Neither of us did.

"This is the first time," I said, "that death has touched us so close. I don't know how to deal with it."

We swapped memories for more than an hour, and had to end the conversation in the interest of getting to work or school the next day. But we both agreed that we'd spent too much time away from our family, taking the love we had for those who shared that blood bond with us for granted.

We both said we'd make it to the funeral, universities or militaries be damned.

"I'll see you soon, then," I said as we were signing off.

"Yeah, next week," Jake said. He paused, then: "I love you, brother."

"I love you too," I said, and felt my eyes well up.

I've missed too much, but not any more.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Here is why it's difficult to meet women in Kentucky:



Together, America Can Get Stupider

Iowahawk has a typically brilliant satire of the Democratic party's efforts to shuffle off the coils of both Republicans and the rules of the English language up over at his place:

Operation Steel Gazelle: A Smart, Multi-Slide Plan For Toughening American Security with Smartness

The DNC was tossing around the idea of using the slogan "Together, America can do better" for the party's "overarching theme" for the upcoming elections.

Too bad it uses incorrect syntax, and Iowahawk has jumped all over that, spiking Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi -- the architects of the Democratic Party's '06 strategy -- in hilarious fashion.

The Washington Post reports that Democratic leaders are frustrated in their efforts to unite the party even enough to kick Republicans while they're down. Seems that even the combined forces of Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Hurricane Katrina, and Operation Enduring Freedom haven't left the GOP punch-drunk enough to take a beating from these guys.

"They want to coordinate. They want to collaborate. That's all good," said one Democratic governor who declined to be identified in order to talk candidly about a closed-door meeting. "The question is: Coordinate or collaborate on what? People need to know not just what we're against but what we're for. That's the kind of message the governors are interested in developing at the national level."

The good news is that this basically confirms my theory that politicians are morons who have no actual skills, only vocabularies filled with the most recent focus group results and wallets full of taxpayer dollars.

Need more proof? Three words: Representative Cynthia McKinney.

However, the AP reports that she's apologized for the incident in which she attempted to circumvent a metal detector to enter a Capitol building, refused to stop when a police officer who didn't recognize her asked, and then hit him when he tried to stop her. Her initial reaction was that she was being "racially profiled," and Harry Belafonte agreed.

I always used to think that anarchists were idiots, but I'm starting to see now that they have a couple pretty good points.


Monkey heart Cell Phone

This is the greatest story of the week, if not exactly well-written:

Zoo's phone monkeys forced to tone it down, from the U.K. Daily Mail.

The ring tones and bright lights [of visitors' mobile phones] proved just too attractive to the squirrel monkeys in their new no-barrier enclosure.

Visitors who held out their phones to video or take photographs attracted attention from the monkeys who attempted to take the object.

Hilariousness ensues, right? Well, the zoo's administrators apparently decided that monkeys and cell phones do not go together, so things got insidious:
A short training programme was developed which put an end to their interest and the monkeys are once again roaming their environment in a more natural state of play.

"Put an end to their interest," eh? What could that possibly mean? Sounds fishy to me. As it turns out, the program consisted of slathering a sticky substance onto old cell phones. The squirrel monkeys didn't care for this, and "learned" not to touch phones any more. Now they're back to "foraging," playing, and -- one can presume -- flinging poop, as monkeys are wont to do.


At long last....

I have finally succeeded in moving, more or less totally, into a house off-post. That involved packing all of my earthly possessions (of which there are precious few) into vehicles and transporting them around country roads and into this strangely-positioned ranch-style house in a village called Vine Grove, Kentucky.

After finishing the layout for this week's Turret last night, I spent the rest of the evening in the manly pursuit of cabinetry.

By "cabinetry," of course, I mean the process of assembling particle-board furniture from Wal-Mart using nothing more than a rusty wrench that may have repaired J. Edgar Hoover's toilet and a Leatherman that featured both Phillips and flat head screwdrivers.

That done, I needed to set up my computer and configure things to work with my roommate's (Numb-nuts, you may remember him) wireless Internet network. This is much harder than the commercials will lead you to believe. Suffice it to say that it is unwise to plan on using the 'net on the same day you purchase a wireless network adapter -- although now, mine is happily blinking its green light from underneath the black desk drawer I assembled myself.

About a mile and a half down the road from our house is an establishment called "Otter Creek." Depending on the hour, it's a diner, tavern, pool hall, or hillbilly congregation point. After finally figuring out how to get this Internet business working, I made my way up the road to have a victory beer.

Inside, one of the bartenders was flicking his finger at an empty Marlboro Red box, trying to launch it through a pair of uprights formed by a patron's index fingers and thumbs. I ordered a Miller Lite (the classiest beer on tap) and went over to watch.

Jason, the bartender, explained after a shanked field goal that he and the patron, a middle-aged drunk named Mark, were playing a version of football he'd devised. Both players took turns, each getting four tries to flick the empty cigarette box from one side of the bar to the other, the object being to have the box poke over the edge of the counter without falling off.

Mark won, and they asked me if I wanted to give it a shot. I said yes.

I won the toss. I moved behind the bar and kicked off by flicking my finger at the back of the Marlboro box. It skittered across the counter, stopping a little past the half way point. Mark pulled on his beer and lit a new smoke.

A couple more tries had me near the edge, but a misjudged flick sent the box into Mark's lap. He hacked a laugh and started his own drive.

"Who's your team?" I asked.

"Well," he croaked, "I lived in Tampa for about twenty years, so I pull for them mostly." A deep drag on his Red and another pull of Budweiser. His fourth flick left the edge of the box just poking over the side of the counter. He launched an extra point kick between my thumbs to take the lead, 7-0.

Jason had moved down the bar toward a clutch of other patrons -- he slid bottles of Budweiser and Coors to a hefty girl sitting on her own near the cash register and an older couple talking in raspy tones near the opposite end. I'd made my own extra point kick when he hollered out, "What's the score?"

Mark and I were tied 7-7. We wound up trading goals for the next ten minutes, and on my third touchdown, he stubbed out his third smoke in the black plastic ashtray off to the side.

"You seem to have this down to a science," he said.

I flicked my third extra point kick in to tie the game at 21.

A vastly over-tanned and middle aged bartender named Trish made her way cheerfully up the aisle behind us with a broom.

"'Nother beer, Norm?" she asked.

"Nah, not right now," Mark said. "I'd rather have a glass of milk."

He turned to me and told me that the Otter Creek staff routinely called him "Norm," after the character in Cheers.

Meanwhile, Trish called out to Jason, who was chatting up the hefty girl at the cash register.

"One glass of milk," she said.

"Do we serve that here?" he barked back, grabbing Mark another bottle of Bud.

Mark won the game of football in double overtime after I snapped a perfectly good forward lay over the edge. Jason demanded a rematch.

I finished what was left in my mug and shoved my cigarettes in my pocket. I was in an inexplicably good mood.

Mark was croaking out something about wanting to move back to Florida, and Jason tapped Mark's bottle with the bottom of his own, making Mark's brew foam over. He tried to chug it, but the foam came up quickly and ran out around his mouth, over his chin, and onto the floor Trish had just swept up. Jason hooted at him and downed his own.

I started to leave as Mark was hustling Trish for a ride home -- a familiar joke at Otter Creek, it seemed, since he lived across the street.

"I've got to go," I said to Mark, shaking his hand. "Good to meet you."

"Yeah, take care," he said, pounding his fist against his chest to fight the pressure the beer froth was exerting on his stomach. "We'll have to have a rematch sometime."

I nodded and said goodbye to Jason. "Thanks," I said. "See you around."

"Yeah, come on back around sometime."


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More awards precede a crazy weekend

I'm taking a quick break to allow my feast of two microwave burritos to cool down. I feel like a bit of an asshat posting this, but this is my blog, damn it, so I'm going to.

Friday, I went with the staff to the Landmark Community Newspapers, Incorporated annual conference and awards luncheon... and came home with a second place finish in news writing and an honorable mention for sports commentary.

But before I came home, we celebrated by spending the afternoon, evening, night, and wee hours of the morning on the town. The effects of this lasted through the rest of the weekend, but I did manage to pick up some furniture for my new digs off post. Up till now, it's been a pretty tribal affair -- and it gets cold at night, but the guy who owns the house (Numb-Nuts, which is strange) wouldn't let me light a fire in the deep-pile shag carpet.

But things are better now, and I'm still rolling along as the acting associate editor for the paper, awaiting the return of our injured civilian who will take on those responsibilities once she's fully recuperated.

For now, peace out. The burritos are ready.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Those damn Boudreaux

Great. Another slight to my last name, this one from the Associated Press in Missouri:

LIBERTY, Mo. - A youth minister was charged with knocking a 16-year-old boy down and kicking him in the groin, after taking a head shot from the teen in a dodgeball game.

David M. Boudreaux, 27, of Excelsior Springs, faces one count of third-degree assault. He was charged Wednesday in Clay County Circuit Court.

Why another, you ask? Well, so far the only other notable Boudreaux I know of is the guy who came up with this:

Let the record show that my family and I do not spell our last name with an "x."