Jason's BLOG pages

 
 

 


Jason Grose's BLOG

May 2004

 

 

 


What's a blog, you ask? It stands for "weblog" and it's basically an online journal of daily thought. We'll see how long I can keep this up (as though I don't have enough to do!)

If you must have a title, I'll go with: The daily thoughts/rants of a Marine Officer, father, scholar, husband, marathon runner, Flash cartoonist, computer nerd.


Monday, May 31, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Bet the other passengers you can fit a quarter in your nose.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I am a warrior on the electronic battlefront. Today, the war raged as I finally faced the evil spyware enemy.

For weeks, I knew something afoul was on my system. I have a program that stops anything from changing my homepage but lately, I’ve been getting annoying popups despite have a pop up blocker. I also get my bookmark file filled with all manner of disgusting filth that I have to remove, only to have it return a few days later.

This confused me because I keep current and run AdAware, Spybot Search & Destroy, Spy Sweeper, and WinPatrol along with the latest version of Symantec Antivirus. I have a wireless router as a firewall so I can only assume I (or someone in my family) erroneously accepted something in an email or website that loaded on some insidious program that now is like the plaque on my computer. The blame for this was uniformly doled out, even to include the dog.

Tonight, I had enough. I kept getting my page hijacked by Spotresults and something called Zesty. The Spotresults put an annoying search bar on my screen and then when I came to a dead page (normally resulting in a white page that said the URL could not be found), it would be replaced by a different page from Spotresults with ads and such.

I did some searching on this and found I was not alone with this problem. There was plenty out on Google that talked about this problem but I couldn’t seem to find a cure for it. There were a lot of suggestions that involved a lot of the software I already had running and the time-consuming problem was that I had to start the computer over every time I did anything. The fact that it was taking up my evening made it even worse and I kept getting more and more angry that someone built this damn Spotresults crap and then somehow expected you to participate in what they were hawking, despite the software infecting your computer, taking up resources, and refusing to be removed.

I feel sorry for others because I like to think that I know what I’m doing and it was taking everything I knew to fix it but to the average user, good luck. I just don’t know how these companies can think that consumers will use their services after hijacking their computer.

Through the many troubleshooting iterations, I gleaned that they used dynamic linked libraries (DLLs) that had something I had never seen. Basically, DLLs are files that come with programs that make the program work but in this case, they can act independently to interface with your computer and run in the background. So there is no “program” to remove to stop the pain.

Additionally, spyware removal programs have a list of these programs and DLLs and search your system for the dastardly files. When they find them, they remove them but the trick is to have the latest list of files it’s looking for, thus you should always search for updated “definitions” before scouring your system using one of these programs.

If I’m right, the Spotresults somehow created a polymorphic DLL which means it randomly changed the name of the DLL so the exact name wouldn’t show up on the lists of culprits used by removal software. Bastards!

Nothing would get the stuff off my computer and I was about to throw in the towel for the night. It was getting late and I had to go back to work in the morning.

I got some advice to use a program called “HiJackThis” that showed you all the mini-programs running on your system. This is not just the CTRL-ALT-DELETE task manager list but a list of everything that was loaded at start up. It was a handy little tool but I didn’t find the bastard in there. Many of the sites I found on help boards had pasted dumps from HiJackThis. If you use this, be careful because it will also show friendly stuff (like the Google Toolbar stuff). Be careful what you kill.

I started to give up once again when I found one last possibility. Note that I had been trying intricate procedures for hours, starting and restarting the machine multiple times. I had updated software, run scans, and scoured through confusing settings all to no avail.

So I didn’t have much optimism when I came across a program that someone said helped. It was an executable called VX2Finder.exe so I gave it a shot. It was a simple –looking program and to my surprise, it came back with a list of 3 DLLs that had the random-looking structure I had postulated earlier. I let it kill them (I was pretty free with my deletions at this point).

It looked good. But there was no real way to tell if it actually worked or not because sometimes the symptoms would go into hibernation and then come back. But for the rest of the night, I couldn’t get the browser to show the dreaded Spotresults.

The most amazing facts about this problem was not only did it take the longest time to kill, resisted every known fix I knew, but I have no idea how I got it or how to prevent it from happening again.

Because I can never leave well enough alone, I tried one last piece of advice at http://housecall.trendmicro.com/. It’s an online virus checker but what sold me is that the person who sent it to me claimed it found viruses on his machine that were overlooked by Symantec. I ran it and sure enough, it found two viruses.

Here is the last email I got from a friend who was helping me along my warpath:

Jason,

Good job, I figured you'd get the sucker soon. What really amazes me, is these computer owners who load all this crap intentionally on their computers, and then pass it on to all their friends like it's some really neat free gizmo. A friend of my wife brings her pc here on an average of about every 4 months complaining about how slow the internet or the pc is. Every time I turn it on it's loaded with all kinds of adware/spyware, and this last time it had 13 virus/trojans on it. She had one little adware program running in the tray called weatherbug, which I promptly uninstalled. When I told her about it she said, "I put that on there, my boss sent it to me." Most users have no clue this adware stuff even exists, but they wonder why they get all those pop-ups all the time. Another person I worked with whose computer was trashed, was bragging about her "Bonzai Buddy" :-) I also stumbled on the blackviper site some time ago, can't say I've been there lately. I have a favorites folder full of windows/pc help sites. A lot of them are really good. I've built 4 pc's over the last couple of years, the latest was my youngest sons about 6 months ago, and I found a wealth of knowledge on web sites. We have four pc's and a playstation all on one poor DSL line with a router.

I know you are a certified computer guy, so please don't be offended if you are already aware of any or all of these.

I have Startup Monitor and SpywareGuard running in the background. I particularly like startup monitor. http://www.mlin.net/StartupMonitor.shtml

I also use the Immunize tool in SpybotS&D. I like SpyBotS&D so much, I've sent him a contribution a few times, the same with the guy who puts out the spywareinfo.com newsletter.

Do you use EasyCleaner? I've used it for quite some time, and it's really a neat free utility. The new version added even more capability including a startup inspector. The kid that wrote it is from Finland, and if my memory is good (which it isn't), I think he was around 16 when he wrote the program. home page - http://www.toniarts.com/ - he wants you to register to download go here to download it - http://www.majorgeeks.com/download414.html

OK, I'll stop now, you know how computer guys can get. ;-)

I will be putting all these links on my freebie page.

Free Advice for Today:
Be advised that when negotiating, if you don't get it in writing, you probably won't get it."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Meow occassionally.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I wasn’t planning on getting up at 0530 this morning. Sir Phil had invited me over to go for a walk as we sometimes do; letting the dogs run wild through the woods as we discuss important events affecting the balance of world power.

Last night he told me to show up at 0600 if I wanted to go. The minute I hung up the phone, I knew that sleeping in would feel a whole lot better and thought that Sir Phil would be solving the world’s problems alone.

Buster must have known somehow. At 0530, he jumped up on the bed and proceeded to use my groin as a perch. 60+ lbs concentrated on one paw, planted squarely on the most tender portion of my body. Buster is anything but subtle.

After drawing all the air from the room in one inhalation, I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. This shows you how accustomed I’ve become to this kind of treatment, especially considering I have the small amount of patience evidenced by countless rants in this blog.

But it was no use. I looked at the clock and it read 0530. Then the arguments started.

“You’re awake so you might as well go.”
“I will fall back asleep if I lay here.”
“Buster would love it, the poor baby.”
“That poor baby just crushed one of my testicles.”
“Phil hasn’t heard any of your latest PI stories.”

This latest argument cinched it for me. Plus, I knew I could justifiably snag a nap later if I got up this early. It’s all about the justification, baby.

Buster, of course, was thrilled. I swear I could wake up at 0200 in the morning and ask him if he wanted to go for a ride or a walk and he’d be jumping around like an idiot. Droopy eyed but idiot-like nonetheless.

We walked for two hours as the dogs (Buster and Daisy) frolicked through the Virginia wilderness. Daisy dutifully hit every puddle (she has idiotic tendencies than rival Buster’s) as Buster daintily avoided all manner of liquid. My dog, the princess.

After we got back, I turned to reading the paper. I read the weekend paper just because I get it and avoid a daily subscription for the simple reason that I feel obligated to read it if it shows up. The result is usually a large pile of backed up newspapers that I have to take hours to read through and by then the news is quite old. My record was in Monterey when I had over 6 months worth and reading the earliest issues was more of a history lesson. The funny part was that I could follow a story from cradle to grave. I started seeing the Lacy Peterson story when it was a blurb on page 5, tucked in the corner. You know the rest of the story.

One thing that caught my eye today was an invitation to a funeral. But they don’t call it a funeral anymore. It’s now called a “homegoing.”

Why this annoys me, I don’t know. But little euphemisms like this always do.

“She’s 85 years young.” No, she’s 85 years OLD. Face it, she’s not getting any younger, so your annoying spin on her increasing gap between birth and death makes no sense.

“He’s a handful.” No, he’s a brat who needs a large dose of Ridlin.

“Can an associate please come to the front…” No, the term is “employee.” Since when did this become derogatory?

“Your flight attendant today is…” She’s a stewardess. She’s always been a stewardess and always will be a stewardess, even if it’s a dude: stewardess. Not “steward,” that’s probably his name but not his position. They are ALL stewardesses.

“He’s difficult.” He’s an asshole.

OK, that’s a smattering of examples but back to “Homegoing.” With proper respect for the dead, I’m raising the BS flag on this. It’s ok to think of a dead person “going to a better place” and if you are religiously inclined, “Going home” is acceptable. But being invited to a “homegoing?” Uh…no. It’s a funeral or a wake.

When (if) I die, I want it to be said “He’s dead, come see the body.” None of this touchy-feely homegoing trash.

Tonight, we had Sir Phil and his family over for a BBQ. (Not a “Bovine Product Consumption Festivity”) What kind of Memorial Day weekend would it be without a BBQ? I drank my Coors Light, Sir Phil had the Jim Beam I bought, took a taste of, and then saved for any visits from Sir Phil, and the ladies had margaritas. OK, maybe I had one but they are so tasty!!!

Free Advice for Today:
Wrap a couple of thick rubber bands around your wallet when you're fishing or hiking. This will prevent it from slipping out of your pocket."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Give religious tracts to each passenger.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

From the first time I saw the previews for “The Day After Tomorrow,” I knew I would be taking my boy. He is obsessed with the weather, to the point that he will watch the Weather Channel in the morning before turning to cartoons. Spooky, I know.

I can ask him any time during the day and he can tell me the day’s forecast as well as several days out. It’s like having my own little weatherman.

So when I saw the previews for a movie that showed huge storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, and the such, I knew that my boy would go bonkers.

Today, I took the family to see the movie. It was not better than a Sunday flick on some three digit cable channel except that the special effects were incredible. Over the years I’ve seen the Empire State Building suffer a variety of demises from apes crawling on it to full on explosions. So it was no surprise to once again see the poor building suffer yet another calamity. It’s a sci-fi staple.

But I did catch a mistake and I was not even looking for it. The scene showed one of many tornados ripping the crap out of downtown LA. On one close up, you see a building (I think it was Capital Records) getting shredded. The very next shot is a panorama of the city and the same building is in the lower right corner, unmolested. Now I’m not a stickler on such things (like complaining about the lighting inconsistencies in The Lion King, as you can read on sites such as www.moviemistakes.com) but the fact that they had a close up of the destruction and then immediately cut to a view that showed the building untouched was just too obvious to overlook. Come on editing guys, I’m no expert at this and you are getting paid what is likely an obscene amount of money to make sure some dope in the theater doesn’t punk you out on the obvious.

The boy was beside himself. All he could talk about was the big wave hitting the Statue of Liberty and the tornados. He’s still young enough to have that unrestrained excitement about seeing a movie. What the hell am I talking about, I still get that!!!

Free Advice for Today:
Every so often let your spirit of adventure triumph over your good sense."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“When at least 8 people have boarded, moan from the back: 'Oh, not now, damn motion sickness!'

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

We had one last class in the morning so we had to get up early to go through the pack up routine. This didn’t mean I went to bed any earlier of course. In fact, I put off packing until about 9:00 PM so I was up late packing the 10 pounds of crap in my 5 pound bag.

I underestimated how long it would take to get the last minute packing done this morning. I had to get everything in the suitcases and planned out a morning in uniform and then a quick changeover into traveling clothes. I had it all planned out to the minute. It immediately fell apart.

Just like last time, I had a lot of food left over that I planned on unloading on the Sergeant that was helping us. I felt self-conscious about it looking like I was treating him as a charity case but just couldn’t just throw it away. The most notable item was a full jar of pickles I didn’t even open. I amaze myself sometimes. It was a result of my breaking the golden commissary rule: never go shopping hungry.

I got the car packed and for the 10th day in a row, we made our daily stop at the coffee shop. $15 total over the entire trip.

After giving the final class to all of two Drill Instructors, we beat feet to get checked out of the hotel where I asked to use the bathroom for my Superman routine. We were running a little behind so I just threw my uniform in the car and we headed to the airport.

It was all Travis’s fault. He got me to talking and before I knew it, I was boring the living daylights out of him with tales of the Marine Corps and what it means to me. We missed the turn to the airport and had to take the longer way and then showed up at the car rental return without filling up. He should have never got me to talking.

I was finally going home but resisted getting excited for the simple reason that I was flying Delta. If you’ve followed my blog, you know how I feel about Delta. About the same as I feel about pedophile rapists.

I’ve discovered that I’m terrified of flying. Maybe it was the 911 thing but now when there is turbulence, I’m convinced that we are going straight down in a fiery ball. Of this I have no doubt.

I also discovered why I like window seats so much. The unmitigated terror is slightly less when I can see out a window. I found this out when I was stuck in the back of the plane, in an aisle seat with no window in my row. We hit a little turbulence and I was a ball of sweat trying not to act too cowardly on the outside as every sweat glad shot forth nervous perspiration.

Alcohol, you might suggest? Well, I thought of that but if I drink, I lose my ability to concentrate. If I lose the ability to concentrate, I can’t read. Then I’m bored silly. So sober and terrified or drunk and bored. And who says flying ain’t just a little slice of heaven?

Delta just never ceases to impress. For some reason, they didn’t book my seat from Atlanta to Washington but instead gave me a pass that I had to check in at the gate to reserve my specific seat. I didn’t notice this until I got into Atlanta and I swore that if they said I couldn’t get a seat, I was going to take the whole airport out.

I showed up at the C concourse and my connecting flight was at the A concourse. Luckily I had plenty of time to get there and I went right to the gate to get my seat. The portly attendant was yacking on the phone and it was clear it was not business. Fine, I expect this.

When she hung up, she never looked up at me and instead just stared at her computer screen for a couple minutes. Again, I ignored this rudeness because I’ve come to expect it and I had plenty of time. Finally, she mutters at me, without even looking up at me, asking me how she could help me. I explained to her I needed a seat and slid my “ticket” to her. Again, without looking up, she just stated to come back in 20 minutes.

Now I’m pissed. I sit down where I can see her and every once in awhile, I look up at her and she’s on the phone the whole time, laughing and gossiping. Whatever the conversation was, it was not about anything Delta business related and after about a half hour, I went up to her and she handed me a pre-made seat ticket out of a stack: a stack that had been there 20 minutes ago.

No one had gone up to the counter in the 20 minutes. She had not left. Nothing had happened at all in the 20 minutes yet I was made to wait for the standard 1 hour before the flight.

I stood there with my mouth open, ready to unleash a barrage of venom. I stood there and at the last minute decided it wasn’t worth it and walked off. I had my ticket, I was going home, and Delta remained the loathed airlines on the top of my shit list.

Next gripe: Baggage claim sucks. I know, stereotypical but the fact remains.

We all made it down there and seemed to be the only ones with a sense of urgency. For 20 minutes we all stood there wondering why the conveyer belt did not move. It was a longer delay than normal and I realized they pretty much got you by the shorthairs in this situation. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of Dodge and they seemed to have better things to do than to accommodate this.

The belt finally started and then one piece of luggage came out. Another 10 minutes went by before a couple of more appeared. Everyone was thinking the same thing, praying the next item belonged to them. Screw everyone else, where’s my luggage?

After what seemed like forever, the luggage flowed and I was glad to see my two bags appear. It’s kind of like a little reunion. I was so glad to see them but wouldn’t have been all that shocked if they never showed up. I’m not being pessimistic, just stating the truth as a result of Delta’s track record.

I got into Washington at 4:10. Just so your catching this, it’s a Friday afternoon, the beginning of rush hour in the Washington DC area on the lip of a 3-day holiday weekend. I was hard pressed to think of a worse traffic-related scenario.

I got home at 6:50.

But it was home. It was Friday. I had 3 days off.

Bliss.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't do business with anyone who has a history of suing people."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Stare, grinning, at another passenger for a while, and then announce: 'I've got new socks on!'

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

On the way to the lab this morning, we drove past an area where the recruits were engaged in pugel stick fighting. This was too good to pass up so after getting our coffee (of course), we circled back and I had Eric and Travis stay in the car while I walked over near the recruits.

Luckily, it was the 1stSgt that came out to greet me and after talking to him for a bit, I got the OK to bring the other two close enough to watch the fighting.

It was bad enough to have a Captain saunter out but when I waved Eric and Travis out, I didn’t expect to see what I saw. They got out of the car, both with their coffees in hand, but this was not the glaring spectacle. It was the brightness of their civilian attire in an otherwise dreary environment. They both had blue dress shirts and khaki pants which seemed to glow. I had to laugh just seeing them walking toward me.

The 1stSgt stayed around and explained what was going on and we were treated to yet another rare sight of seeing the recruits practicing their hand-to-hand combat skills. Each had a long pole with pads on either end so that it looked like they were carrying enormous Q-Tips. They had helmets on that were invariably too big and what appeared to be a large padded thong to protect their naughty bits.

One particular recruit, obviously riled up by the DI, came charging out his corner with a scream, holding his stick high in the air in an attempt to display his desire to battle. As he did this, he took about 5 steps and his padded thong promptly fell straight down which pretty much killed the moment. It was hard to be scared of him after that.

Generally, the recruits just threw wild roundhouses until one lost his balance and fell over. There was a lot of pushing and not a lot of good old fashion clock-cleaning until about the third match we saw. The two recruits came together and one of them took the obligatory wild swing. His opponent took one step back, letting the attempt throw off the sender’s balance, and promptly thrust his stick forward and up, catching the recruit under the chin. Hard. If you had happened to be watching the three of us at that moment, you would have seen a synchronized pursing of the lips and wince from all of us.

After about 20 minutes, we had seen our quota of violence and wandered back to the classroom to teach class. What a great way to start the day.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't expect bankers to come to your aid in a crunch."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Do Tai Chi exercises.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Tonight was another night at the RAC to watch the poor recruits learn that life as they knew it was not really all that bad.

One moment stands out more than the rest.

When the recruits were herded off the bus and corralled into the processing area, the Drill Instructors, in their haste (there’s ALWAYS haste of the red hot variety) accidentally crammed all the recruits into the phone bank area without regard to gender. So you had too many recruits into a small area and smashed together nose to back of head. This was a no-go for obvious reasons and immediately identified.

From the side, one of the Drill Instructors barked for the females to move to their left. A general reshuffling occurred, of course too slow for the DIs, but after a few harried moments, the recruits were split up along gender lines waiting to use the phones.

I wandered back to my area where I couldn’t see the recruits but because this entire area is nothing more than an office setting, the sounds reverberated throughout and I once again heard the practiced scream of the DIs as they explained what the recruits were supposed to do and say in order for their loved ones to know they arrived safely.

I don’t know what she did. But whatever it was, it was something heinous. Suddenly, there were the sounds of 3 very irate DIs screaming at some wayward female who had somehow singled herself out in the most negative manner.

To install the requirement to follow everything said with “YES SIR!”, the DIs will bark a command and without even a moment’s hesitation, follow with the statement “SAY ‘YES SIR!’” This is where the young lass had gone astray. Exactly what the root of the problem was, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

But the DIs were making sure she understood this concept by making her repeat “YES SIR!” at an increasing volume, over and over. They would yell “LOUDER!” and she would counter with “YES SIR!” as this drama played out.

What caught my attention was that each time, as the volume would increase, so did the pitch of her voice. It didn’t take a genius to project this out to the ultimate end. The yelling on each side got louder and more urgent as her pitch got higher and higher.

Looking back, I can specifically remember the last three iterations. When she screamed the 3rd to last time, she hit a high note and because the speed at which they were making her repeat was gaining momentum, I thought she maybe had one more left. Maybe.

When the DI belted out his command yet one more time, she let out a fevered, high pitch shrill that made my blood run cold. It was a combination of crying, defiance, and pure urgency. She was not even done when the DI, to my utter amazement, screamed “LOUDER!!!!!” I thought to myself, never in a million years, she was at her breaking point and I was rather shocked he wanted yet more out of her. What the hell did he expect?

Then it happened. I didn’t think it possible.

What I heard, and everyone in the building heard, can only be described as primordial. The closest I can come to describing it was that little girl scream you heard when Drew Barrymore saw E.T. for the first time but this one had an animalistic tinge to it. She went loud, higher pitched than I thought a human could go, and with a shrill force borne out of pure fear and anger. It was beyond belief.

Everyone in the entire building went silent.

I think the DIs were as shocked as everyone else and you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone knew she had gone to a place she shouldn’t have.

About ½ later, this particular recruit was coming through my line. I was talking to a Gunny DI who was helping us with the behind-the-scenes explanations of the process (yes, there is a reason for everything and it’s quite organized but not from a recruit’s perspective who only sees pure chaos). I slyly pointed her out and told him that was “The Recruit.” His response was, “Oh, you mean that’s Shrek?”

When she got to the beginning of the line, here is what was said:

Gunny: “HEY, ARE YOU DONE SCREAMING LIKE THAT?”
Recruit: “SIR, YES, SIR!”
Gunny: “WE DON’T SCREAM LIKE THAT AROUND HERE, YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Recruit: “SIR, YES, SIR!”

It occurred to me as I was stifling a giggle (sometimes it’s so difficult but human decency prevents one from laughing outright in the recruits’ faces despite the funny wisecracks delivered by the DIs) that in a place where yelling is encouraged and even demanded, to separate yourself from the crowd is an achievement only dwarfed by one of the DIs telling you not to yell with such ferver. My hat’s off to you, Recruit Schrek.

Free Advice for Today:
Remember the old proverb, 'Out of debt, out of danger.'"
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today


Monday, May 24, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“On the highest floor, hold the door open and demand that it stay open until you hear the penny you dropped down the shaft go "plink" at the bottom.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Tonight was a very long, incredibly involved night that I will never be able to capture adequate detail from. There was simply too much.

It started on the wrong foot when I went to get a haircut. I thought that hey, this is Parris Island. These guys cut the hair of the very symbols of the Marine Corps; Drill Instructors. So they should know how to cut hair to the same professional degree, right? What the hell was I thinking with that kind of logic?

I should have known that since there were many people waiting in front of me, the open barbers were being avoided for a reason. But I needed a haircut and decided to take a chance. I rolled the dice. I did not roll well.

It felt like he was doing a good job. After getting haircuts for so long, I can normally tell the level of expertise by just the way the barber moves and cuts. This guy had all the right moves and seemed to be taking his time.

I should know better to ask for “more off the top.” It’s so hot here and the top was getting a little wily so I asked him to cut it a bit shorter. Enter the sound of doom.

I part my hair on the side so the right side is a little shorter than the left. A said “a little!” But to this barber, I guess this means cut it almost to the scalp.

When he turned me around, I thought it looked kind of funny but I thought with a little mouse and combing, it would look normal. He just hadn’t combed it right. I paid my money and went to the nearest bathroom a little nervous about it and when I looked into the mirror up close, I saw the full brunt of the poster child for bad haircuts.

I could not believe it. It was so bad that I couldn’t even see how it could have been fixed without shaving my head. I thought that maybe if I go back to my room and work with it, I might be able to salvage it. It got a little better when I worked it a bit but not much. I just had to live with it until it grew out unless I was willing to get a boot cut. How people can do things like this and still consider themselves a barber, I don’t know but I understand why this joker was available when I came in the barber shop.

Unannounced to me, we were invited to dinner tonight. So I had to take my jacked up hair to a social situation and try not to be too self-conscious. I tried. I really did.

The dinner was wonderful, especially as a break from soup and frozen dinners. Of course I gorged like the swine that I am but the fried chicken was so good that I will be dreaming about it for weeks. I was so hungry that I even ate the macaroni and cheese which is the first time in years I’ve even touched the stuff. It was good. We ate like kings. We fought food comas but our night had just begun.

We had a new civilian with us who had never even come close to seeing a military environment in person. He was about to get the most intense introduction up close but with the unique benefit of NOT being on the receiving end of the wrath he was about to witness. I tried to prep him by giving some background and to explain what he was about to see at the receiving area. I told him not to talk to the recruits and just observe what was going on. We were going to help the staff get the recruits into our computer system but this required us to be present during the insanity of their arrival.

For me, it was again a revisiting of a pivotal moment in my life. For him, it was an introduction to the most insane environment he might ever see.

When we got there, some of the recruits had arrived and were being processed. This is a bit like processing using a food processor but mostly, the ones already there were just set aside to wait for the bulk of recruits to show up. “Locals” are the recruits that are shipped from different points other than from the airport. They trickle in at all hours and these poor souls might have hours of extra attention before the rest of the recruits arrive. More hours of individualized attention from the DIs. What a treat.

Once again, I was struck by the difference between the “human” DIs that spoke to me and the “monsters” that the recruits see. My respect for these incredible people is unchallenged and I am honored just to have a conversation with them.

The buses arrived and I corralled Travis out to watch the show. We were only feet away from the yellow footprints and there was a Gunny DI there to give us a play by play of what was going on. Again, a unique opportunity I was honored to witness.

The DI boarded the bus and started into his speal. After a minute he indicated in no uncertain terms that they should disembark his bus. This is when the world as the recruit knew is changed forever.

How they got off that bus without crashing at the bottom is still a constant source of wonder for me. As this was happening, I called my brother on the cell phone and told him to listen in. He had been in the Army and his only comment when I asked him if he could hear it was “Hell yeah, I remember that shit.” What I think we can both agree on is that he did not remember exactly that because these were Marine DIs. It doesn’t get any better than this, for what it is.

Later, I called my wife and let her listen into what was happening. The last time we had both been on the phone in a bootcamp environment, things were different and it was 17 years ago. It was a bit strange to be talking again across a phone line while unbridled screaming filled the air.

They heard the sounds of thundering DIs and screaming recruits. What they couldn’t see is the unhidden fear in the faces of the recruits. Fear smells. Fear is greasy faces. Fear is sweat mixed with adrenaline. Extended fear removes all facial expression. Fear "highs" wear off into fear fatigue.

We once again got to witness the phone calls home where the recruits scream a script into the phone to let their loved ones know they made it safe to Parris Island, a concept I find quite humorous since the danger involved with the trip to the Island pales next to the fury they experience once they arrive.

They get one phone call (sound familiar?) and two things happened of note. First the phones started ringing off the hook after the recruits were done. Of course no recruit was allowed to answer these lines and what ended up being the cause was the parents either dialing *69 or getting the number off of caller ID after their blubbering spawn made the call. The script and the delivery of it was so short, stressed, scary, and urgent that the terrified parents try to call back to get more info.

If the DIs have time, they answer the phone and explain to the parents what’s going on and that they cannot talk to their son or daughter. But more often than not, they just lift the receiver and hang up the phone. This may seem harsh but if they didn’t, they’d be explaining all night. Just another example of how modern technology has invaded the process of recruit training.

The second memorable event with the phones occurred when the DIs got a phone from the base MPs. It seems that when one of the recruits was given an opportunity to call home in order to inform his family he had arrived, the recruit thought it appropriate to call 911.

I guess if there was ever a definition of an emergency, the shock of the first ½ hour of Marine Corps Boot Camp in-processing would technically qualify but it’s beyond me what this recruit thought he would accomplish. Every DI I spoke to about this said it was a first. Sometimes it’s hard to stop from laughing in front of the recruits.

Yelling was constant and continuous. The DIs were obviously schooled in the art and the recruits were required to respond to all commands by yelling their acknowledgement followed by “Sir.” Inevitably they could not attain the minimum volume and intensity so the DIs helpfully expressed to them the desired effect they were looking for. By example, of course.

I witnessed a very terrifying scene, among many this night, but one stands out. The recruits never know where to go and are always being yelled at to go here or there. In this instance, a recruit was standing at the position of attention when one of the DIs came from behind and barked at him to “get his nasty recruit body in the classroom.” The DI took a lateral step at this point and the recruit, obviously startled and confused, bolted in an unexpected vector which led him right into path of the moving DI. As if in slow motion I saw the whole thing happen in front of my widening eyes. The recruit collided into the DI and as though his body had become liquid, the kid repelled away in an incredible display of lighting quick reaction. But it was too late. He had bumped into the Drill Instructor and I stopped breathing for a millisecond as all the air was sucked out of the room.

What happened next was operatic on a grand scale.

The DI lost his mind. I thought they had the throttle pretty much pegged up to this point but this collision had unleashed levels forgotten by me after 17 years away from bootcamp. The DI was shorter than the private so he got “up under” the private, looking upward at the terrified recruit. The acid spit forth was unintelligible and unimportant. It was the wrath exploding out of the DI that warped the kid’s reality.

The DI moved the kid by the sheer force of his voice as the kid stumbled toward a box. The DI hopped up on the box to take a new angle on the kid and the intensity never wavered. The kid was getting the gold star treatment and I quivered. I had to walk away, not wanting to witness the brutality any longer. Never was there physical contact but that boy will never forget the time he bumped a Drill Instructor. Nor will he likely ever do it again.

During the inprocessing, there are long periods of waiting combined with short bursts of terror. With almost 350 recruits coming in, recruits are shuttled to the different stations at different times. What results are queues of recruits everywhere. And when I say queues, I mean bunched together with noses touching backs of heads, head and eyes locked forward, not moving or talking unless yelled at to do so. One particular scene that stuck in my head was a recruit about 6’5” standing in front of one that was maybe 5’4”. Maybe. The result was the shorter recruit looking right between the shoulder blades of Lurch in front of him. You can’t even make up stuff this rich.

We were standing around watching such comedy when one of the admin Marines urgently called for one of the DIs who rushed into the next room. I maneuvered to where I could see what was happening and I saw a recruit on the floor, legs splayed, and leaning back against another recruit as his head lolled back and forth incoherently.

The DI’s first reaction was to rid the situation of the helping recruit. The recruit practically dropped the other recruit and the DIs just started to bark at the prone recruit to get up. I thought this to be weird but they knew what they were doing. A recruit faking would likely react to the power exuded by the DI. If not, he may really be in trouble.

The recruit shakily got to his feet like Bambi but could not seem to obey the commnds of the DI to move to the bench. They guided him, sat him down, and determined the kid had locked his knees and had not drank enough water. They set him down, gave him a water bottle, and went about their business.

This scene taught me that the DIs knew exactly what they were doing, as though I had any doubt. They ascertained the situation, determined what the problem was, and fixed it in a matter of 30 seconds without putting the kid in any danger and never breaking their roles as DIs. Simply amazing.

As we were processing the recruits (there’s that phrase again) into our computer system, we were required to interact with them. I didn’t expect this at all but events dictated that we had to get their ID card, punch them into our system, verify it was them, and send them on their way.

I had a bit of a problem about this because up to this point, I had been purposely hands off the recruits in all manner of speech and action. I was not a DI and I considered interacting with them as a privilege earned by 3 months of DI School, arguably the most difficult and demanding training in the Marine Corps. Who was I to skip over that and step into the role of disciplinarian? Yes, I’m prior enlisted and yes, I’m a Captain but I still didn’t feel like that gave me the right to fulfill a role I could only dream of fulfilling and that I was intensely adverse to assuming. I felt it would be an insult to those Marines who had sacrificed so much to earn the right to wear that Campaign Cover. To put it simply, I did not rate.

Also, looking at it from a former-recruit view, I didn’t think these poor recruits deserved to have yet another source of stress added to their overflowing dose, especially one untrained in the true art. I abhorred this practice as a recruit when some support Marines thought they had the juice to play Drill Instructor. The support personnel are given classes on handling recruits, what they can and cannot do and say, but I hadn’t even had this class. I may be a stickler on this and despite one of the DIs who knew my background gave me the go ahead to feel free if appropriate, I still resisted.

So I had to find a medium ground. I knew you can’t be nice to them because if you open a crack of approachability to the recruits, they will fall to pieces once they know there is a shoulder to cry on. Ask a doc, the dentists, or the chaplain about this.

So as the recruits walked up to me and handed me their card, I took it without making eye contact, called out their name to Travis or Eric, maybe asked them their first name to narrow the search, and then handed them back the card while saying “You’re done, GO!” I tried to strike a forceful but not demeaning manner to my simple command to convey I was not their buddy but was not going to rip them open. It seemed to work well in all but a few cases.

The first one I didn’t expect was a kid who rushed past me saying in a smart ass tone “Well, where do I go?” in more of a rhetorical manner than anything else.

My first instinct was to lunge at him and yell which surprised me because I had such of strong belief in non-interference. The behavior of this night was getting to me and I was starting to adopt some mannerisms. I stopped myself, knowing that he would be dutifully punished for a myriad of other indiscretions that night and many more days to come. That thought was immediately replaced by not wanting him allowed to get away with it. This all happened within milliseconds and since it caught me by surprise, by the time I thought about what I should have done, the moment had passed. But I vowed that the next blatant outburst would not catch me flat-footed again. I would react to such obvious poor behavior.

Humor crept into this passion play at more than a few points. One of the male recruits approached me, handed his card, and as I read it out loud, I stifled a laugh. The kid’s name, and I’m not making this up, was Hercules. How I’m supposed to keep a straight face when subjected to a “Recruit Hercules” is beyond my comprehension but somehow I kept it together. Private Hercules, my friend, you are about to have a bad hair day lasting for three months.

Next came the females. This was a whole new world to me as I felt as awkward as they probably did. But I was a Marine Captain doing an official mission for the Marine Corps. These were recruits and just because they happened to be female shouldn’t make any difference in my treatment of them.

But they were girls. Young girls only 8 years older than my little girl. They would be Marines soon but at this moment, they were teenage girls and I had to fight my fatherly instinct. I could not treat them any better or worse than the male recruits and maybe it was my perception but they just seemed more scared than the males. So I kept my head down, avoided all eye contact, and did what I had to do.

The reactions varied. A few stayed ramrod straight, yelled out their responses without breaking the position of attention, and did everything right. They were the minority. Most of them somehow forgot they should sound off and punctuate every response with “Sir!” Sergeant King normally took care of them while I continued my job but one time, he was gone and I was once again lulled into a sense of complacency after hours of acceptable responses.

“What’s your last name?!”

She answers likes she is supposed to. Loud, at the position of attention, and eyes straight ahead.

“First name?!”

Suddenly she bends forward and in the sweetest, most conversationalist voice says “Excuse me?”

I looked at her like she lost her freakin’ mind. I saw her face go from the earnest look to a realization she had made a big mistake.

Once again, I had an internal battle raged:

“Yell at her!”
“Let it go, she realizes what she did!”
“Are you going to let her talk to an Officer like that?”
“I’m not here to add to her Night-O-Terror.”
“You have a duty to help instill discipline. She will think she can get away with things like that if you don’t make her pay.”
“You didn’t earn The Hat.”

In the end, I left it with the look. I hadn’t yelled at the male and still didn’t want to set the precedent. If I started calling them on their failings, I would have to be consistent and I really didn’t want to go there. I just hope the blatant indiscretions would not surface. I didn’t need any more arguments in my head.

It didn’t take long before my hopes were dashed. I was sitting there when another female recruit came to the desk. I asked her her last name and after she yelled it, I noticed there were a couple of recruits in the system with the first name but only two with female first names. I picked one and asked,

“Is your first name Ashley?” (it seemed half of them were named Ashley)

Her response was a loud and hearty “YES, MA’AM!!!!”

If this would have happened earlier in the night, it might have been funny. It was not earlier in the night.

I looked up at her with as much venom as one of the Drill Instructors. She instantly tried to correct herself but it was too late. The Sergeant behind me spoke up before I did and in hindsight, I’m glad he did.

“OH, MA’AM, HUH? WAS IT THE VOICE OR THE HAIRCUT THAT GAVE IT AWAY FIRST?”

The girl was petrified and scampered away as soon as I dismissed her. Ma’am indeed!

I knew that she had been dealt with by mostly female Drill Instructors up to this point and that she was in the most stressful moments of her short life so I chalk up my genuine anger at the situation as a personal shortcoming of my own. I was tired and irritable on top of struggling with my role as an outsider in this situation. That’s why I’m glad the Sergeant handled it. I don’t know what I would have said but it probably wouldn’t have been nice nor appropriate.

Toward the end of the night, I found the female Staff Sergeant sorting through the contraband. When the recruits get there, they are stripped of everything and some of the stuff must be thrown away. They are told not to bring anything but their paperwork and the clothes on their back but that doesn’t stop them from bringing a variety of items they will never see again.

If they are valuable, they are told to keep them until they get their uniforms because at that point, they strip off their civilian clothes, box them up, and hand them over to be stored until after bootcamp. They can put the valuables in the box but everything else they are told to throw away. In the rush, they sometimes get carried away and the throw away items are the ones this Staff Sergeant was sifting through, just in case.

The Staff Sergeant had about 8 grocery bags full of stuff she was sorting through and told me some of the crazy things that recruits will bring to bootcamp and then throw away.

Phone cards, money, Social Security cards, pictures (which they are allowed to keep), toiletries (a lot of hair products), feminine stuff, stuffed animals, candy, food, books, wallets, jewelry, toys (yes, children’s toys, believe it or not), cell phones, PDAs, to name a few.

I was mesmerized at the variety of what they bring and asked if the females are worse than the males. She said by far and they have a lot of hair products such as gel, bobby pins, etc. This prompted me to ask what the rules were with the hair. They aren’t required to cut it at all but are taught how to keep it pulled up. If they can’t seem to keep it in place, after three times they are taken to the recruit beauty shop for a cut. Don’t ask me who does the cutting, I didn’t ask. I have to believe it isn’t your local boutique, though.

I then asked about color because I saw a girl show up with purple hair. The SSGT told me that if it’s deemed eccentric, they will take her to the shop and get it dyed a “normal” color.

We stayed until 0500 and were slow to complain considering we were in the company of recruits that were being yelled at the entire night. We had a 0800 class to give so we rambled back to the hotel to get two hours of sleep before starting it again. Parris Island wouldn’t be Parris Island without sleep deprivation for all.

Free Advice for Today:
Resist giving advice concerning matrimony, finances, or hair styles."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Sunday, May 23, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“One word: Flatulence!

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I thought I would sleep until noon today but at 0800, I snapped awake. I got to sleep at around 0200 so with only 6 hours, it seemed that I would mimic if not repeat my 12 hour sleepathon from last night. Finally I gave up trying to go back to sleep and just accepted I would probably need a nap later. Yes, that’s how I think sometimes but it works to get me out of bed.

Sort of.

I turned on the TV and caught up on my every-few-years viewing schedule of Weird Science. When I turned it on, the two boys had bras on their heads and were pushing the computer key to create Kelly LeBrock. And since I do have a Y-chromosome, I knew what was coming next and could not stop myself from watching Kelly LeBrock coming through the smoke-filled door wearing underwear and a half-shirt. I mean some things are just hard-coded into those of us who grew up in the 80s. I would have a better chance of NOT watching Phoebe Cates climb out of the pool and we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

After taking a shower (oh, shut up, the two are in no way related. I just needed to start my day with a shower. Why do I feel the need to explain this in detail?) I made my way over to the coffee shop. I thought I could get some writing done, sip some coffee, and fulfill the lame claim that I wasn’t holing myself up in the hotel room on a Sunday.

As I was sitting there, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of recruits around and figured they were out for their Sunday free time the week before graduation. I had to laugh because I was sitting in the coffee shop that’s next to the 7-Day store so I could see them coming and going on their way to get all matter of caffeine, sugar, and forbidden pogy bait. One recruit had a Mountain Dew in his hand (good choice my friend) and sat down in a chair by my window, took a drink, put the cap back on, stood up, and walked away. I laughed because you aren’t supposed to walk around eating or drinking (one of the many rules routinely broken) while in uniform. To watch someone so indoctrinated to the rules and nervous about breaking any of them reminds me of someone I know. (Choose me or my son, your choice.)

I had my headphones on and had set up a little office in the coffee shop. About 8 recruits all came in and then after a minute, they all left without buying anything. I thought this strange because coffee is one of the forbidden items and I didn’t think they would all pass on this treat. I took off my headphones and asked the worker why they had left and she explained to me that all they had was the recruit credit card which the coffee shop did not accept.

A few minutes later, two more recruits walked in. I knew this not only by the youthful, scared faces, wrinkled cammies that seemed to be pressed and trashed at the same time, and nervous demeanor but also by the fact that they loudly greeted me a good afternoon. I watched as they ordered and after the first one was done, the salesperson informed them that they don’t accept the card. They started to apologize profusely and headed toward the door.

I asked loudly what they had ordered and when the salesperson told me it was a coffee and a bagel, I suddenly went into this uppedty, rich asshole mode where I just nodded, flipped a hand like I was bidding on a Picasso. I really didn’t mean to come off that way but she responded instantly, as though she knew what I was going to do.

The recruit looked at me nervously, a little confused on what to say. He thanked me in the mechanical bark of all recruits. I then realized the other recruit may not have ordered so I asked him if he had placed his order. He said “This recruit will wait until graduation, Sir.” To this I told him to order a coffee, whatever he wanted, and that he hadn’t had coffee in three months so he should get one now. I joked to them they'd be running back to the squadbay.

I think he really wanted the coffee but the concept of a stranger, or anybody, actually being civil to him may have rocked his world a bit. He thanked me and when they got their drinks and started heading for the door, they thanked me again. I got up and gave them both my personal card that has my email address and website printed on it. I told them to send me an email on how things went and that I had been in their boots a long time ago.

Why did I do this? I don’t know but I kind of had the feeling I would be doing something like this before the day was out. Last time it was letting one of them use my phone. I just can’t help but feel what they are going through. The memories and emotions come flooding back when I look into their faces and I remember that time in my life when any act of kindness would have meant more to me than any amount of money. Damn the rules, they are almost done anyway. If I can promote one act of kindness, then maybe some day down the line they will carry on the tradition. I know I would have remembered something like that if someone, anyone, would have made an effort. Not bad for a $6 investment.

The coffee shop closed down at 1330 so I was kicked out of there. I went to the base library to check my email and instead got a lecture by a classic librarian about not changing the homepage of the computers. I assured her I would leave it alone and my assurance alone did not stop her from coming around every five minutes to bird dog all the users. Oh how I wanted to change it but she had my name and I needed access during after hours throughout the week. I was thinking about www.kissmyass.com but that’s just my problem with misplaced assumptions relating to “guilty until proven innocent and then maybe not even then” mentalities.

My next order of business for the day was talking to Chuck Taliano over at the gift shop. Like always, Chuck was glad to see me and we spent a few hours talking about a variety of things but mostly on the possibility of me helping him out with making a website for the gift shop. He’s still trying to work out with his main supplier exactly what he is looking for whether it just be an information site or an entire e-commerce web storefront. After discussing it at length, I told him to let me know because no matter what direction he takes, he will need a webmaster and I’m offering my services, free of charge. The gift shop is not exactly a cash cow and just gets by so any help they can get is valuable.

I had a half hour before the exchange closed so I took a mad dash through the store. I found a CD I was craving and it might shock most people. I had heard a few songs from The Black Eyed Peas and liked their stuff. For a straight-laced, white, 35-year-old father of two Marine Republican, this band might be a strange choice but I just liked the beats. They are a fusion of many styles but their CD was in the rap/funk section. I swear the lady at the counter must have thought it was a gift to someone.

As I was walking out, I remembered that I had a hard time finding a DVD I had first seen at Costco. I knew from the moment I saw that In Living Color’s first season was out on DVD that I had to have it. I also knew I’d have to buy a copy for my brother-in-law since we both quote directly from the skits every time we get together. We can actually act out full skits. It’s scary.

So I grabbed two copies and went back to the lady at the counter who was now helping two elderly ladies. It wouldn’t have been much of a big deal but I was in need of finding a bathroom and these two ladies were playing the old-lady tourist bit to the hilt. They wanted a map a directions. Then advice. I wanted to scream but that would cause me to leak so I just simmered behind them until they decided they were done.

When I finally got up to the counter and told her I found these DVDs on the way out, she smiled and asked for my ID when I gave her the my credit card. The same credit card I had just given her two minutes ago.

“Your kidding, right?”

She said no.

“You want to see my ID? The same one I showed you two minutes ago? Is that the one?”

“I have to compare the signatures.”

“Oh, just like two minutes ago. I see.”

She compared the signatures. She actually took the time to hold up both cards and make the comparison. And I really don’t think it was to be a pain in the ass. I think she was REALLY comparing them. I was stunned by her nonsensical behavior, especially since she had not compared them the first time. I got the feeling that if I hadn’t signed the credit card and then done so in front of her, she would have still compared the signatures despite me signing it right there in front of her. In fact, I know she would have.

I abhor denseness.

I had missed the afternoon movie but somehow missing “The Prince and Me” was not on my list of regrets in life. Lady Killers was on at 1900 so I rushed back to the room and made myself some noodles and vegetable beef soup (Jason’s Survival Stew). After wolfing it sown to a little Mad TV, I got in the car and headed for the movie only to find out that they decided to unilaterally canx the movie. What’s sad is that I was mostly disappointed because I was jonesing for a small popcorn and a soda.

OK, that was a wasted trip.

So I came back to the room and did laundry and watched the promotional video that Chuck wanted me to evaluate for him. It was of an inventory and accounting system he was thinking about investing in for the gift shop. I watched most of it and it’s everything he would need to run the business. I was impressed with the integrated system (hardware and software) along with all of the functionality it would take to run a business. I’m not a business specialist but this thing seemed to integrate everything and seemed easy to use. If I ran a small retail company, this is definitely the system I’d go with. Of course I didn’t get to see the price for it but Chuck seemed to think it was affordable.

So I’m finishing out the weekend and looking forward for the work week to start. I have another five days away from my family but hopefully it will go fast. I’ll get to see DIs in action and recruits scared out of their little minds. And there’ll be a Captain trying to suppress the memories that the yelling will conjure up.

And if I get too bored, maybe I’ll give the Weird Science project a shot. Who knows.

Free Advice for Today:
When someone hugs you, let them be the first one to let go."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Greet everyone getting on the elevator with a warm handshake and ask them to call you Admiral.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I don’t know what happened. The plan was to get a short nap from 7:30 to about 9:00 last night and then I would get up, read, watch some TV, get ready for tomorrow, and eat dinner. Well, it didn’t quite work out like that.

I woke up at 0730 this morning and the first thing that popped into my mind is that I had just slept a full 12 hours. I can’t remember the last time I slept that long and wondered what brought it on. The days thus far have not been that tough and although I woke up at 0545 to run for a half hour the last two days, there’s no excuse for such slothliness. If that isn’t a word, I just created it.

I knew this was not a day to throw in the can so I decided to keep to plan and go to Charleston. All I really knew about the town is that it’s where the recruits come in to when they arrive to go to boot camp. I found out there’s a little bit more to the city than that.

The first thing I learned is that the signs that point you to Charleston are lying bastards. I was told it was about an hour away but every time I saw a sign, it told me a different story which had nothing to do with logic. First it was about 73 miles and then it jumped down to fifty something. Then thirty something before jumping back up to forty something. Then it dropped to the teens, back up to twenties, down to one and then 16. I finally gave up and figured I’d get there when I got there.

When I finally rolled into what I thought was Charleston, it was a long street of lights and strip malls. I was beginning to think it was going to be a boring day and then I started feeling something else. Let’s just say that I pulled over to a Costco for the…. Good prices.

I wandered around Costco for awhile, staying within my comfort zone. You see, I was stepping out of the zone by going onto a strange town all alone, not knowing what I was going to find. I didn’t like that but I didn’t like sitting in my hotel room all weekend and I thought I might be able to have some kind of adventure. This was a big step for me so you should be duly impressed. I’ll wait until you finish gasping. Done? Good.

I rolled through the suburbia and headed to something called Old Town Charleston. This looked like the ticket I was looking for but I chickened out after going over a big bridge, thinking I was going to bypass the tourist crap I wanted to see. I took an exit and before I knew it, I was in some residential area I had no idea how to navigate. So now it’s just plain old wandering.

I went here, turned there, pulled a “yewi” a couple of times, and finally found the tourist heaven. There were shops galore with people everywhere. There were horse drawn carriages pulling tons of people around the historic site. In other words, I had found La Trapita de La Tourista. Good enough.

OK, this is what I was looking for but I had one problem. It was hot. I mean like surface of the sun hot but with more humidity. Being smarter than the average bear, I decided to cruise around to get the lay of the land while enjoying the A/C in my rented Pontiac Sunfire. Being dumber than the average idiot, it didn’t help much because I tend to get lost in a phone booth.

When I finally got tired of looking around through a windshield, I decided to get a parking space. OK, so we all understand, getting a free spot on the street in Charleston is akin to finding the Holy Grail in Dallas. It just ain't gonna happen and I accepted this after roaming around for 45 minutes. I had to suck up my cheap ass nature and find a pay lot. It wasn’t as bad as I thought because it was only $6 for the day and reasonably near where I thought I wanted to go. Of course this was a Wild Ass Guess (WAG) of the grandest kind.

I park, fold the bills, cram them into a little box, and head off confidently in a direction I hoped would be the right one. I got lucky.

I had a short sleeve shirt, shorts, running shoes, a hat, sunglasses, my digital camera, and a bottle of water. I was prepared and laughing at the other people who looked like they had just sat in a sauna with a parka on. I was fresh, I was comfortable, I was strong. I was dragging ass in about an hour.

The first place I hit was an open market by a castle. Yes, you read right, a castle. I came upon this big open park and there were all these booths set up so I went to take a look. Right behind it was a monstrous castle building and I took a picture of it thinking it was something of historical interest.

The shops were not all that interesting for me; mostly tourist fodder that I wasn’t too thrilled about. All the vendors looked like the Salvador Dali painting where everything is limp. Now if I would have needed wind chimes, honey, carvings, or the like, I would’ve been in the right place. As it was, I just zoomed through twice (just in case) but knew there was better shopping elsewhere. Because everyone knows a guy on his own in a strange town just screams “shopping.”

After the quick run through, I decide to find out what the big castle was so I started making a perimeter recon. I took the wrong way because it wasn’t until the last side of the structure did I discover what it really was. The mammoth structure I was so impressed with ended up being an Embassy Suites hotel. I felt like a mammoth idiot.

It was time to find the real interesting area and was lucky enough to stumble upon King Street. I thought about getting a horse-drawn tour but then I reconsidered because I figured it would just tell me about a lot of historical crap I wasn’t really thrilled about. I’m not all that impressed with really old stuff unless it’s famous and I define “famous” by my own terms. I didn’t think this applied which would likely get me lynched in this place.

So a-walkin’ I did go, up and down King Street where there was approximately 145 billion little shops. The sum total that caught my interest was about 2.4. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feign interest just to escape the blinding heat. “Ohhh, the Discovery Channel store. Hmmm, $150 for a globe. Interesting…

So I leap-frogged from place to place to get out of the heat. I was accosted numerous times by Italian ice vendors who just happened to be cute college girls. I discovered that I am immune to this form of salesmanship for the simple fact that I find the practice insultingly obvious. Like I’m going to shell out $3 for shaved ice with some sugar-flavored syrup on it just because a hottie is hawking it.

I bought about $700 worth.

Just kidding, I don’t even like Italian ice and I had the A/C of the shops to keep me alive. If someone was going to be obvious, it was going to be me.

For lunch, I found a neat little place where the menu was based on old movies. The real draw was that they had free internet so I ordered up a Casablanca with fries (turkey, ham, bacon sub sandwich) and about a gallon of sweet tea.

I was out of the heat. I had a huge sub sandwich with fries and ice cold sweet tea. I had internet connectivity. I almost cried.

I grabbed one of those free tourist booklets and it had a map in it. For the first time, I realized I was on a peninsula. I also realized I had a better chance at making my way around the town using a globe than I did this map but I kept it with me just in case of emergency. What emergency this would help me in, I don’t know but I felt better with it in my pocket.

After filling up on everything, I had to accept that I had to brave the heat once again. Summoning up all I could muster, I got back out on the street and continued my day of doing nothing but walking in the heat.

After getting bum directions from one of the cute Italian ice hotties, I ended up surrounded by huge Catholic churches. Not being Catholic but listening and watching Angela’s Ashes recently, I somehow felt some kind of random guilt. The churches were enormous, old, and more than slightly intimidating. This was not King Street and I should feel ashamed of myself for soiling these grounds without reason, even if unintentionally. I said a few Hail Somethings and quickened my pace.

Walking by a little alcove, I spotted an elderly black lady weaving some straw and she had a bunch of finished wicker baskets on display. This looked interesting and something that my daughter might be interested in. I struck up a conversation and asked how much the little basket was. I was not prepared for the answer.

“$30.”

What? Was this Rumplestiltskin’s grandmother and spun threads of gold in these things?

To be polite, I asked about the price of the other, bigger baskets and the price hike was consistently astronomic across the board. But the longer I stood there, the cheaper the price got, as she assured me she was giving me a special deal. But I didn’t have the decades to stand there which would have been required to get it near what my cheap ass was willing to pay.

But now I was stuck in an awkward social situation of trying to escape without getting involved in a haggling duel. So I took the brave path and proceeded to lie out my teeth, telling here I had to go to the bank, and making a joke about if she accepted cash. I felt kind of bad but not bad enough to pay painful, exorbitant prices for wicker baskets that would gather dust on my daughter’s nightstand. But again, the churches spoke to me and I got out of the Guilt Quarter as fast as my legs would carry me.

The next place of interest was called Market Street where, if the name gives it away, was an outdoor market. It reminded me a lot of Pikes Place Market in Seattle but with less ambiance and more flea market vibe. I found a Oriental painted mask that I thought my daughter would love. For $8, I fell in love with it too. But I could find nothing for the boy, unless he might want a small block of crystal with a 3-D figure in the middle. I don’t know, it just didn’t scream “boy” and I don’t want him making soufflés on me as a result of my gift-buying tendencies.

The crowd swelled and I found myself elbow to elbow with a lot of sweaty tourists. Time to kill someone or bug out and since I’m not writing this from the Charleston City Jail, you can guess the outcome.

It was time for a beer and early enough that I could drink it, sweat it out of my system, and be able to drive. Normally I don’t like to drive at all the day I drink but I thought that I could manage if I gave myself enough lead time followed by a lot of water. With the heat, drinking plenty of water was no problem.

I found an Irish pub but going into it, it had no Coors Light. How they call themselves a bar and don’t serve Coors Light is beyond me. I thought it was on the liquor licenses. So I torched the place and left.

I found some place called Hurricanes that did have Coors Light but when I ordered a glass of water right after, the smartass bartender said “You have a Coors Light, don’t you?”

He actually turned out to be an OK conversationalist and gave me the lowdown of the town. It has a bunch of colleges in it and the female to male ratio hovers at about 7 to 1. Why I had never found a place like this when I was a teenager, I don’t know but now that I’m old and gray, I find myself in the candy store without a sweet tooth.

I not sure what exactly brought down the next couple of hours. Maybe the insulted local girl who found someone who was immune to her modem operendi of getting guys to buy her drinks. I told her I don’t buy girls drinks in bars unless she's my wife. I explained to her how dumb guys can be in this respect and if they really want to be associated with a girl who will form an opinion of a guy based on if he buys her drinks. She started in about the roles taught to them by southern catilian classes and I countered with informing her I was well-versed in gentlemanly protocol but if she was waiting for me to pay for her drinks, she was going to get mighty thirsty. This may partially explain my ostracism at bars in general. You be the judge.

Maybe it was the 23 year old who thought it was impressive to show everyone how she could tie knots in cherry stems that set the tone for the night. Within an hour she was down for the count in the bathroom defining what it means to making a donation from the bottom of her stomach.

Maybe it was talkative, chubby bar fly/naughty librarian with a political science and Spanish major shooting for that elusive law degree.

Or maybe it was the 4 years in high school JROTC and 2 years of college ROTC before discovering he had a problem with authority but is still considering going back although he’s getting near the age limit but doesn’t want to be a 30-year-old bartender.

Was it the English sailor who was not-so-slowly getting hammered and trying to answer the bar phone?

Possibly it was the guitarist who could play decently but whose words sounded like there was a towel wrapped around the mic.

But most likely it was the 35-year-old Marine father of 2 out of his element and wondering why he was in a smoke-filled bar full of these people when he could be back in his room doing something productive.

I officially accepted at that point that I am not of that crowd. I guess I’ve known it for awhile but just hadn’t accepted the obvious. I won’t miss it and realize I’d rather be home with my family or if that’s not possible, furthering myself through writing, reading, exercising, or some other positive endeavor. Maybe it would have been different if I had someone I knew to talk to but if my list above shows you what I had to choose from, my form of “getting lucky” intellectually was just about as possible as the more prevalent definition’s chances.

I drove home happier than ever for the gifts in my life. My wife, my kids, my career, and myself.

Free Advice for Today:
Never pay for work before it's completed."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Friday, May 21, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Lean over to another passenger and whisper: 'Noogie patrol coming!'.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

We had some more classes today and even here, I couldn’t help but have the “Friday Feel.” You know what I’m talking about, the feeling that it’s Friday and almost the weekend. It almost doesn’t feel like a day of work and no matter how bad it gets, it’s Friday and you are looking at two days off. I just love this feeling and I know I’m not alone. Compare his to the “Monday Mush” and you’ll see what I mean.

I don’t think the recruits have the same feeling. In fact, I know they don’t because I can remember it being a source of depression. I would remember what Friday’s used to mean to me and how everyone I knew were having the “Friday Feel” except me and my fellow recruits.

Today I went over and visited Chuck Taliano and had yet another good conversation with him. We talked about all sorts of stuff he told me that someone had come into the shop lately and said they had read about him on my webpage. What a strange connection that was: someone found my webpage, read the story about Chuck, and then mentioned it to him when visiting Parris Island. But it gets weirder.

A few days later, I got this email:

Dear Mr. Grose,

I didn't find your rank on your site so I'll have to address you as 'Mr.'.

I'm writing to thank you for your outstanding web site. My son completed the Crucible on Parris Island on Thursday, May 6. It's frustrating as a parent to know that your son has just been through the most difficult challenge of his life and you can't get any status as to how it went. I decided to do more detailed research on exactly what recruits do during the Crucible. So that day I did a search on 'Marine +Crucible' and your site was one of the Google hits. I was delighted by your boot camp stories. Seeing your pictures from Parris Island was even more of a treat. Then I saw that you had just been there in March. I scanned all of the pictures again knowing that my son may have been in one of them. But of course, they all look pretty much alike from a distance.

I liked your site content so much that I forwarded the link to my wife and suggested that she take a look. She loved it. She was so taken by your writing that she sent the link to her brother, a Navy vet. He loved it as well.

When we attended my son's Family Day on Thursday, May 14, we spent the afternoon with him touring the base. We spent a lot of time at the museum. There we met Sergeant T. I mentioned your web site and my experience with it and he smiled and we talked of it. He is well acquainted with it. He extended his hand to my son and wished him a sincere "Welcome aboard Marine!" I think that my son really appreciated that.

When my son got home to Michigan we told him of the site and the stories and encouraged him to take a look. He absolutely delighted in your boot camp stories. He couldn't get over the fact that even though you went to San Diego all those years ago, he could relate to everything that you wrote - especially 'The Chow'.

Then I told him to take a look at your PI pictures because you were there in March. Lo and behold - some of your pictures of drill on the Parade Deck were of my son's Platoon 2044. My son was able to point himself out in one of the columns. He is the tall thin fellow, 2nd recruit ahead of the recruit being chewed out by the DI at http://www.grose.us/pics/pi2004%20(45).jpg titled 'The DI is correcting the recruit as he marches. You never want to be "The One."' My son explained that the DI is Sergeant Crosby and the recruit being 'addressed' (or "The One") was one of Sergeant Crosby's 'favorites'.

The picture of 'A great pose of the lone DI. Classic stance.' (http://www.grose.us/pics/pi2004%20(46).jpg) was of his SDI SSGT Garcia. 2nd Battalion, E Company, Platoon 2044 was SSGT Garcia's last as SDI. My son told me that he volunteered for a second tour in Iraq. He also told me of one day shortly before the Crucible when they were doing PT and an officer drive up to SSGT Garcia (I can't remember the officers position at PI but my son told me), got out of the car, handed him a coin and shook his hand. My son explained the significance of the coin and that the recipient is expected to carry it with him always.

He said that, although he didn't see you there, he can remember exactly which day that was.

I think that my son has also sent you a letter but I decided that I also want to send you one of my own.

As I write this he is sitting at the airport in Charlotte, NC, waiting for his connecting flight to Jacksonville where he is going to Camp Gieger for MCT. I just want to thank you and let you know that your work has been some 'icing on the cake' for my family, and for my son in particular.

Sincerely,

(name witheld by Jason Grose)

After a conversation about his business, I offered to help Chuck out with any webpage help I could contribute. He was in the works of expanding his shop and had a few ideas involving a stand alone page or using a company that offer some of the services. I told him that I would help out in any capacity he needed once he decide which direction he would go.

I also got in contact with another Marine Captain who will be coming from California to participate in the Presidential Classroom program as a fellow instructor next month. Since we are the only two Marines participating, we worked out the uniforms we would bring and I was hoping to pick her brain about what to expect but she had never done it before either. But it was nice to make a point of contact. We promised to keep each other informed of anything we hear about the program.

Free Advice for Today:
Avoid any church that has cushions on the pews and is considering building a gymnasium."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“When arriving at your floor, grunt and strain to yank the doors open, then act embarrassed when they open by themselves.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

We got up this morning to run and it was clear, muggy, and warm. So unlike a morning at Parris Island.

The morning environment at Parris Island is very memorable. You have the humidity off the scale of course but the sounds are always the same. Birds chirping and recruits yelling in the distance. That’s it. No planes, car noise, or hustle and bustle. Only mugginess, birds, and recruits.

The running felt good and we got back after ½ hour of running, soaking wet. Nothing like a little dehydration to start off your day. The goal of the day was trying to load my body with water so I wouldn’t get a headache, or at least so that I wouldn’t look like a prune in the desert. Either or.

After getting showered, I met Eric and we fell into our normal routine we established the last time we were here, starting with going to the coffee shop.

The coffee shop is the Parris Island DI Mecca. Every time we go there, which is every morning, there is a recruit’s nightmare waiting at the coffee shop: A dozen caffeine-deprived Drill Instructors. There’s just something funny about hearing the coffee lady yell out some fruity coffee concoction and having the growl of a Drill Instructor respond.

Before we entered the coffee shop, Eric wanted to grab a few things from the convenience store next to it. But as fate would have it, they were renovating the store and it was closed. We knew this because there was a bevy of women waiting outside the door taking a break. I say “bevy of women” and I know you pictured a collection of potentially attractive females but let me assure you, the Stigion Witches we saw standing there was far from what is generally defined as attractive. Call it the 5 o’clock shadow on one or the immense, oh let’s go as far as to say galactic, girth of another but suffice it to say, we hoped that this was not the best that South Carolina had to offer.

Eric tried to smoothly pull some information out of them concerning the re-opening and without taking the cigarette out of their mouths, they flatly resisted his boyish charm. But we did find out that it was probably going to reopen tomorrow. And that ugliness does truly go to the bone.

This time our hosts set up a classroom for us to use that had a dozen computers and, most importantly, an air conditioner that worked like a champ. But there are two interesting notes about this place. First, it’s the Drill Instructor School computer lab so we are smack dab in the middle of stress central. I mean as if being on Parris Island isn’t stress-soaked to begin with, we have to be somewhere where they teach the stress to be applied.

Second, it is the old kindergarten so the bathrooms have sinks by my knees.

DI School Candidates and kindergarten. This place is a case study in dichotomy.

We taught one class and one class only. Everyone seemed to have some confusion over our schedule and the end result was that the “drop in” training did not work out so well. I should have known that unless people were ordered to show up, we’d be left dry. We had a few issues we solved to get ready for next week when we deploy our computer system on the incoming recruit company. They won’t know the difference. They will be busy wondering where they went wrong in life to be in the situation where a very irate and hairless demon is unloading the fury of hell onto him.

At lunch we hit the commissary. I tried to take it easy so that I could take advantage of my forced separation with Carrie’s cooking and lose some pounds. The will power was tested with the Little Debbie oatmeal cookies and the chips. That bitch just wouldn’t stop calling me. I did get some pretzel sticks because I’m only human, leave me alone! Oh, and I might have somehow gotten some frozen taquitos but that’s it. The rest was fruit, veggies, and soup. Now to just stay away from the snack attacks where I just lose it and drive to the store for an unfettered gobble fest.

When we called it a day, we decided to go sight seeing. I use that term very loosely because all we did was drive out the gate and kept going. The result was a very long ride through marshland. We had a good conversation, mostly talking about mostly 80’s and some 90’s songs and bands we remembered which was fed by the all-80’s station we found on the radio. It didn’t matter that we spent an hour driving through the most depressing environments I had ever seen only to come to a gated community where we had to turn around an head back.

We talked about the Talking Heads, Howard Johnson, the Eurythmics, Lisa Loeb, Natalie Merchant, Patty Smyth (could remember the band but she sang “The Warrior” and is married to Don Henley), Power Station, the B52s, Hootie, Pet Shop Boys, Thompson Twins (none of them named Thompson and none of them twins), Pat Benetar, The Motels, the Human League, and a host of others.

Eric had some work to get done in his room so I decided to go see the free movie on base. It happens they were playing “Taking Lives” and I had no idea what it was about or who starred in it. But the price was right so I went.

The good thing was the prices for the popcorn and soda. I got a small popcorn for $1 and the same for a medium root beer. The movie was free so I was in it for a whole two bucks.

The bad thing was that the air conditioning wasn’t working. I am not exaggerating that the temperature inside the theater was in the high 90’s if not topping 100 degrees. But I was there and had nothing else to do. What the hell, I’ll watch the movie.

The theater is a huge auditorium big enough to hold hundreds and hundreds of recruits. The screen is normal size but from the back row looks like a postage stamp. They hold graduations in there when there is inclement weather (and you know it has to be Biblical to be considered inclement here!).

Sitting there waiting for the movie and trying not to faint from heat and dehydration, I thought that they had not put the money in upkeep for this theater. I know money is tight everywhere but it will always be that way. Plus, this is the first exposure to the Corps families will see and it would be nice to put a better shoe on the foot put forward since they are giving the Corps their most precious possession.

The movie starred Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, and Keifer Sutherland. I know it’s cliché but I have to say it. Angelina Jolie has some enormous lips and to see them on the big screen is somewhat disturbing. OK, a lot disturbing.

I must be some kind of male freak mutant. I just don’t get affected at all over Angelina Jolie. She’s supposedly this red hot male dream girl and was voted most sexy by VH1 but she does nothing for me. Maybe it’s the vile of blood, maybe it’s making out with her brother, maybe the PDA at every red carpet, but most likely, it has to do with the thought of her an Billy Bob. MMM Hmmm, that’s probably it, I reckon’.

The movie was not bad but not great. Added to the heat, the projectionist was having a hard go of getting the picture on the screen. It was a bit out of focus and too wide for the screen. It seemed to be smashed a little vertically and too wide horizontally. I thought about demanding my money back but then I remembered.

Coming back to my room, I cleaned up a bit and read some of my book before going to sleep. We were meeting in the morning to go run so I called it a night with the thought that I’d get about 6 hours of sleep before I had to get up and face the mugginess. I made the mental statement “Another day in Parris Island under my belt” and then realized that sentiment had been made millions upon millions of times by kids who had far worse days behind and in front of them.

Free Advice for Today:
Teach your children the value of money and the importance of saving."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Stand silent and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Another travel day. I’ve covered this territory before so I won’t go into much detail. What I did notice though is that I’m getting better at passing the time while sitting around for hours. I don’t know if this is a good skill to have or not but with my CD player, magazines, books on tape, and regular books, I kept the “staring at the wall” to a minimum.

On the first leg of the trip, I had my normal window seat and when I got there, no one was in either middle nor aisle seat. I always pick the window seat; probably a throwback from being a kid and always wanting to look out the window.

I got to my seat and did my normal thrashing around trying to get all my distracters set up before anyone else showed up. As a result of the practice I’ve had in the last few months, I quickly got everything out and then stowed for easy access. I am becoming Joe Traveler.

A few minutes later my seatmates arrived. It was a young girl (the kind that could have been 15 to 25, I had no idea) and a person I assumed was her father. The girl sat down first but in her attempt to stow her belongings, she must have caught her pinky nail on the fabric and bent it all the way back. Her hand snapped back but she made no noise. She turned to her father and after some whispers, he was patting her back and I thought I heard some sniffling. Poor girl/woman/whatever.

The only other thing that I noticed was that the rest of her fingernails were chewed down halfway down her finger. I mean all of them were like that and I cringed when I saw them. People are weird. I just sat there with my "leave me alone I'm listening to music" noise canceling headphones on, free to exist within my sound cocoon.

We got into the airport and I met Eric. He was happily typing away on his laptop, enjoying the free, high-speed internet courtesy of the Savannah airport. Eric says it’s his favorite airport because of this internet connectivity and because it’s clean, modern, open, and not too busy. I guess when you do a lot of traveling, these things are important. For me, it's just a sidebar in the book of traveling.

I rented a car and was surprised to see that I was being treated to a brand new Pontiac Sunfire. I don’t know much about cars so it could have been a great little sporty thing or something that was trying to look like a great little sporty thing. I didn’t care because it was transportation and I thought it looked good. Plus, being so small I assumed it was good on the gas mileage.

We decided to hit Savannah for dinner since we were there and went driving down the same road we had walked down the last time we were here during St. Patrick’s Day. Then it was elbow to elbow and strewn with discarded turkey legs in various states of consumption but now, it was just a cobblestone road along the waterfront.

I tried to be good but it ended in a toss up between Tony Romas and Outback Steakhouse. Not exactly the finalists in a healthy dinner contest but justification once again trumped common sense and I succumbed to a rib dinner at Tony Romas. I'll start being good tomorrow. Yeah, that's it.

After gorging ourselves, we took a small tour around the city. Eric tells me they filmed “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” here. I never saw the movie but here’s the plot summary:

This panoramic tale of Savannah's eccentricities focuses on a murder and the subsequent trial of Jim Williams: self made man, art collector, antiques dealer, bon vivant and semi-closeted homosexual. John Kelso a magazine reporter finds himself in Savannah amid the beautiful architecture and odd doings to write a feature on one of William's famous Christmas parties. He is intrigued by Williams from the start, but his curiosity is piqued when he meets Jim's violent, young and sexy lover, Billy. Later that night, Billy is dead, and Kelso stays on to cover the murder trial. Along the way he encounters the irrepressible Lady Chablis, a drag queen commedienne, Sonny Seiler, lawyer to Williams, whose famous dog UGA is the official mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs, an odd man who keeps flies attached to mini leashes on his lapels and threatens daily to poison the water supply, the Married Ladies Card Club, and Minerva, a spiritualist. Between being Jim's buddy, cuddling up to a torch singer, meeting every eccentric in Savannah, participating in midnight graveyard rituals and helping solve the mysteries surrounding Billy's murder, Kelso has his hands full.

Yeah, really great story to tell the kids at night but Eric tells me all the characters are based on real people who still live in the city. I guess they were all upset about the movie but they’re nuts so who gives a rat’s ass, so the general feeling goes.

They also filmed all the Forrest Gump bench scenes here but we couldn’t find the spot. The city is built around a bunch of small round about parks that go through the city and we must have saw every one except the Forrest Gump one. And that’s all I have to say about that.

We made our way back to the base and there it was: Parris Island. We checked into our hotel room and got ready for the next day. I had to unpack and since I was going to be here for a full 10 days, I went ahead and took everything out of my suitcase and used the closet and dresser provided. Since it was going to be “home” for awhile, I thought I’d get comfortable.

Free Advice for Today:
Have impeccable manners."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Offer name tags to everyone getting on the elevator. Wear yours upside-down.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

For my son’s birthday, we got him a guinea pig which started out pretty small back in February. Since then, we found out why he is part of the pork family (I don’t know if he’s really but he is a “pig”). We named the little weirdo “Scrat” after the saber-toothed squirrel in the cartoon before Ice Age and here is what I mentioned to someone over an email:

The guinea pig is a weird little shit. It's grown in length and girth to amazing proportions since we got it. Plus, it chirps at my wife when it sees her. It also jumps up and down, shaking it's head and bucking like a bronco.

To my surprise, this is what the guy wrote back:

Ah yes, that would be "popcorning": The sign of a very happy guinea pig. And I'm sure he's chirping at your wife because he's smart enough to know that she's a food source.

So now, around the Grose household, the term “popcorning” has become a popular phrase that we attribute to even the dog, replacing the former term for his random insanity fits: being cracker-dog.

Tomorrow I leave for another 10 day trip to the refreshing swampland of Parris Island, SC where I’ll spend 10 fun-filled days and 9 exciting nights sweating my ass off, being eaten by bugs, and thwarting the romantic advances of some local named “Seabass” with an affinity for visiting Marine Captains. Now I know what your thinking; great, no updates for 10 days.

Well, your kind of right. I will be keeping up with the blog entries but won’t be able to post them until I get back. So this blog will run dry for 10 days and then catch up in one big update.

I will have access to email so I’ll try to keep up with that but I make no promises. I think if I got and stayed caught up with email, it would rip the very fabric of the space-time continuum and the reality that you and I know would cease to exist in its present form.

I’m also doubting if there will be much picture-taking since I took over 100 photos last time I was there and let’s face it, it’s a small island. How many far-off pictures do I need of a DI yelling at a recruit?

This evening was taken up by my methodical, Access-database report wielding packing routine. I get everything on the bed and check off what I got. Then my wife, the expert loadmaster of the family, packed it into my luggage for me (Yes, Brent, I’m still a “kept man”).

I think I have everything but have most of the morning to stress over the things I will forget. And there WILL be things. I’m not just being pessimistic, just recognizing the Patron Saint of Forgotten Trip Fodder.

Free Advice for Today:
Turn on your headlights when it begins to rain."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Monday, May 17, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Crack open your briefcase or purse, and while peering inside ask: 'Got enough air in there?'

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Holy crap I read a story that just blew me away today in the Marine Corps Times. Rather than slaughtering it and embellishing the story, I’ll just paste it here in the blog. Read it crefully and consider what it took for these men to do what they did.


Eight heroes, four stories
Marines awarded some of military’s highest honors for Iraq bravery

By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer

Several hours into a fierce firefight with Iraqi Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard forces north of Baghdad last spring, a corporal in Sgt. Marco A. Martinez’s platoon took a spine-severing bullet in the back as his squad assaulted a compound.

The corporal desperately needed evacuation as he lay exposed to the hail of enemy fire coming from a small makeshift bunker inside the compound.

“We didn’t know how many guys were in the bunker, but they were all opening up at the same time,” Martinez said.

Martinez fired a captured rocket-propelled grenade into the bunker, silencing the enemy fire for just a moment.

But soon after, the gunfire started up again.

That’s when he decided to do something so bold, it would earn him a small place in Marine Corps history.

“I figured: one for three, that’s a better trade then three for zero,” Martinez said of risking his life to save his platoon mates.

As rounds from AK47 assault rifles whizzed past, so close that they heated his ears, Martinez rushed the bunker and threw a grenade inside, killing three men.

He then entered the bunker and found one man alive with a grenade.

“I shot him first,” said Martinez, 22, as he recalled the April 12, 2003, firefight.

On a much quieter May 3 afternoon, leathernecks with 5th Marines watched as Navy Secretary Gordon England presented Martinez with the Navy Cross in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

While Martinez was the first person to receive the award — the Navy Department’s second-highest — since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he was not the only one from his regiment to receive such high honors that week.

At two ceremonies — one attended by England on May 3 and another attended by Marine Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee three days later — three leathernecks with 5th Marines received the Navy Cross. Five others received the Silver Star.

The Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor and has been given fewer than 10 times since the end of the Vietnam War. The Silver Star is the service’s third-highest award.

“These brave Marines did good things without notice … and without the acclaim of crowds,” a press release quoted England as saying. “But they got the acclaim of their fellow Marines.”

Staff Sgt. Adam R. Sikes, Cpl. Timothy C. Tardif and Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey E. Bohr Jr., each received the Silver Star May 3. Bohr’s wife, Lori, accepted the award on behalf of her husband, who was killed April 10, 2003, in Iraq.

Three days later, Hagee presented the Navy Cross to two leathernecks with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines — Pfc. Joseph B. Perez and Capt. Brian R. Chontosh — during a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Two other Marines with 3/5, Cpls. Armand E. McCormick and Robert P. Kerman, received the Silver Star.

These are their battle stories, based on their citations.

Coming out like ants

Martinez, Sikes and Tardif were recognized for their actions during the four-hour firefight the morning of April 12, which began after two Marine squads crossed a bridge into the small town of Tarmiya about 20 miles north of Baghdad. “Guys started coming out of the bushes like ants coming out of ant holes,” said Martinez, describing the ambush of his unit, 1st Platoon, Golf Company, 2/5.

Two of the platoon’s squads, led by Sikes, were ambushed by a company-sized group of Iraqi Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard fighters.

Sikes, 27, who canceled plans to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., so he wouldn’t miss the war in Iraq, found himself pinned down by heavy small-arms and RPG fire in the opening moments of the ambush.

Under fire, Sikes, a former Marine Security Guard, rallied two squads for a counterattack, then charged alone across 70 meters of fire-swept ground to close in and destroy an enemy strong point. He then climbed to the roof of a three-story building and directed 60mm mortar rounds onto nearby Iraqi positions.

Meanwhile, a third squad with Martinez and Tardif crossed the bridge and began a second assault.

Tardif, 22, charged across a road under intense small-arms and RPG fire, and was wounded by shrapnel from a grenade during the close-quarters battle that followed. Despite being wounded, he refused to be evacuated and led his squad in an assault on an enemy-held compound. Tardif would later collapse from his wounds.

“I just wanted to take care of my squad. I didn’t want to quit on them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Martinez, then a corporal, took over and led an assault through a tree line where the ambush began.

Soon after, Martinez and the squad arrived at the compound from which large amounts of fire were coming. That’s when the corporal in Martinez’s platoon was shot in the back, and Martinez rushed the bunker.

The wounded corporal probably would have died if Martinez had not fired the RPG and rushed the bunker, Tardif said.

“He basically single-handedly ended the firefight,” Tardif said.

But Martinez said he never dreamed his actions would be rewarded.

“I didn’t expect to get a medal … I didn’t want my friends to get hit,” he said.

“I just thought they’d say, ‘Oh, OK. Good, Sgt. Martinez. You were doing your job,’ and that would be it.”

A volunteer’s bravery

In the same ceremony, Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey E. Bohr Jr. was honored posthumously with a Silver Star for his actions in an April 10, 2003, firefight while serving as the company gunnery sergeant for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

Bohr had volunteered to go with the company’s armored convoy in a “soft-skinned” Humvee during the seizing of a presidential palace in Baghdad to ensure the convoy was resupplied quickly.

While moving through the narrow Baghdad streets, the convoy came under intense fire and Bohr continually fired his rifle while supplying critical information to his company commander.

The lead vehicle reached a dead end and was caught under fire, but Bohr continued to “boldly engage the enemy while calmly maneuvering his Marines to safety,” his award citation reads.

After learning that a Marine in another vehicle was wounded, Bohr coordinated medical treatment. He guided an evacuation vehicle to the Marine, laying down heavy fire along the way, and was killed while trying to get the vehicle to the injured leatherneck.

‘Ferocious attack’

About two weeks before Bohr’s firefight, Capt. Brian R. Chontosh, Cpl. Armand E. McCormick and Cpl. Robert P. Kerman, were vehicle mates with Combined Anti-Armor Platoon, Weapons Company, 3/5, were battling Saddam Hussein’s soldiers south of Baghdad.

Chontosh received the Navy Cross for what is described as a “ferocious” attack on the enemy. McCormick and Kerman received the Silver Star for the same battle.

On March 25, 2003, the platoon found itself in the midst of a coordinated ambush of mortar, RPG and automatic-weapons fire as it moved north on Highway 1 toward Diwaniyah.

With coalition tanks blocking the road ahead, Chontosh, then a first lieutenant, realized his platoon was caught in a kill zone. Coming under machine-gun fire, Chontosh directed his driver, McCormick, to drive into the enemy trench from which the fire was coming. He then got out of the vehicle and began firing into the trench with his M16 rifle and M9 pistol.

Once his ammunition ran out, “1st Lt. Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack,” his citation states. He then used a captured Iraqi RPG to destroy another group of soldiers, it said.

“When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others,” it reads.

Meanwhile, McCormick and Kerman, both lance corporals at the time, drove their vehicle directly at an enemy machine-gun position and crashed it into an occupied trench. They both sprang from the vehicle and began assaulting along a berm. As the group ran low on ammunition, McCormick and Kerman collected enemy rifles and RPGs and continued to press the attack forward several hundred meters. They received Silver Stars for their actions.

The right point man

During the Marine advance to Baghdad on April 4, 2003, Lance Cpl. Joseph B. Perez’s platoon came under intense enemy fire.

Perez, 23, a rifleman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, was the point man for the lead squad and the most exposed member of the team. He would receive the Navy Cross for his actions.

Perez’s citation states he continuously shot at the Iraqis while directing accurate fire for his squad. He then led a charge into a trench occupied by enemy combatants, destroying them, and under “tremendous” enemy fire, threw a grenade into another trench. This allowed his squad to maneuver safely to the enemy position and seize it.

Perez fired an AT-4 rocket into a machine-gun bunker, destroying the position and killing four Iraqis.

While trying to link up with his platoon’s left flank, Perez continued shooting Iraqi combatants with his M16 rifle, but suffered gunshot wounds to his torso and shoulder. Despite his serious injuries, Perez directed his squad to take cover and gave the squad accurate fire direction to the enemy, “that enabled the squad to reorganize and destroy the enemy,” his citation says.

What’s next?

With some of the military’s highest decorations on their chests, the recipients are planning their next moves.

McCormick was scheduled to deploy again to Iraq on May 7, according to a Marine Corps press release.

Martinez and Tardif both are on terminal leave as they await the end of their tours. Martinez is going to the University of South Florida and hopes to work in the banking industry, and Tardif is doing course work in California in law enforcement and hopes to work in homeland security.

Sikes plans to get back to school, too. He will apply again to Georgetown and Harvard universities once he completes his remaining year and a half with the Corps.


As proud as I was to read about these heroics, it occurred to me that you hear all about the prison scandals but you never hear about the deeds described above on the news. When did anyone hear about these incredible events on the evening news? The only way I found out about it is to read it in a magazine aimed primarily for Marines.

Here is a Captain jumping out of a hummer, blasting away with a rifle and his pistol, picking up enemy weapons as fast as he can use them, and his two Marine driving the hummer down the trench line, ramming a machine gun, and jumping out of the wreckage to shoot their rifles and more enemy weapons. And the news focuses on naked prisoner pyramids.

What must have that scene been like when all the shooting stopped and the three Marines stood there, chests heaving, looking around at the aftermath? Not a trio you want to jump out at and spook just for fun.

I’ve been in the Marine Corps for almost 17 years and even I stand in awe and can’t answer the question on the lips of so many people that hear about these actions: “Where do they find these kind of men?”

My answer is I don’t really know but they are prevalent throughout the Marine Corps. Trying to explain this today to a civilian that works in my office, I had to just leave him with a simple statement: “I’d hate to fight us.”

Free Advice for Today:
Never allow anyone to intimidate you."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Shave.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

The letter I wrote to the restaurant I took my kids to this morning pretty much says it all:

I am writing this letter to express my severe dissatisfaction with my visit to one of your restaurants this morning at 11:00 on My 16th, 2004.

My two small children and I were seated in a booth next to another booth with two young men and a baby. As we sat down, we could hear their complaints about the service they were getting and their conversation included many vulgar references. There was some type of personal drama between the men and their waitress who was completely ignoring their requests. From the continuing, one-sided communication between them, I was soon aware that this was a personal issue between the waitress and one of the men at the table.

As an active duty Marine, I am well-armed to intercede and tersely discontinue such common indecency but I’m also aware that making a public scene was not a proper course. So as the obscenities continued, I got up to talk to the manager. I informed the assistant manager on duty of the situation and he apologized, promising to take care of the situation.

He came over to their table, told them I had complained about the obscenities, and asked if he could talk to them away from the other customers. They refused saying they could talk to him right there and at that, the assistant manager walked away. This left me in a very awkward situation because I had to endure the comments now coming from them, obviously pointed my way until they left on their own volition.

I understand that a restaurant can have unruly customers from time to time and that is not my complaint. But when I purposely refrain from intensifying a potential very public scene by deferring to the management, and they do nothing, I feel that as a customer, I’ve then been subjected to a negative and awkward atmosphere. I was embarrassed and my children were so nervous that they even refused the ice cream that came with their meal and just wanted to leave.

We never heard back from the assistant manager, and was not even offered even a partial compensation for the ruined meal. Everyone acted like nothing had happened even to the point of the cashier (who was privy to the drama) asking how our meal was. Needless to say, the $18.93 I spent will be the last amount that the Friendly’s restaurant chain will be getting from me.

I don’t normally take the time to contact the offending party when I’ve received inferior service but the meal I subjected my children to this morning represents a particularly heinous example to the point I felt compelled to write.

And if you are wondering, yes, I do keep a s#$# list for just such occasions. And they made the list.

On the positive side, Carrie made it back from Chicago safely and everyone, to include the dog, was ecstatic over her return. Especially the dog.

She told me of her adventures with her two friends, the most notable being the U2 cover band they went to see. Now the entire concept of a cover bad is sadness defined already but it took up a whole new level of lame when I found out that the lead singer of this cover band went by the name of “Dano.” Was the guitar player named “The Sledge?”

Oh, the utter sadness.

Free Advice for Today:
When you know that someone has gone to a lot of trouble to get dressed up, tell them they look terrific."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“On a long ride, sway side to side at the natural frequency of the elevator.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Today I was invited to a wet down. This is an old tradition when officers were promoted and the warrant was given on a leather document. The “wetting down” process was to seal the leather and now the tradition is turned into a party for the promotee. By tradition, they are supposed to spend the amount equal to the first month’s raise in pay.

Since Carrie is gone, it was just me and the kids and luckily they rented a bounce house. But it was hot and muggy so the backyard festivities could only be taken in doses. The theme was a fiesta so there was Mexican food and plenty of margaritas, tequila, sangria, Dos Equis, and of course, Corona. But since I was driving, I could not partake in the alcohol festivities. It was a form of torture. I cried.

When we got home, I decided to tackle some of the movies I rented and started with Angela’s Ashes. I had recently finished the book on tape and it was a story that was so long that it just became a part of me. It was read by the author so the accent was mesmerizing. When you commit so much of yourself to a piece of literature, you feel a certain kinship to it. When I found out there was a movie, I just had to rent it.

The book was long and as these things go, they can only hit the highlights in the movie. I love watching a movie when I’ve read the book because I know so much of the background about the characters that’s not covered in the movie.

The book is the story of a poor Catholic boy growing up in abject poverty in Scotland. I found it interesting that there’s no real big crescendo other than he survived. I mean, there are thousands if not millions of these stories and this just happened to chronicle one of them. If anything, it makes you appreciate what you have, and what you don’t have.

After the movie, I did something that I’ve never done before: I watched it again but this time with the commentary. Because I was so familiar with the work, I found it interesting to listen to the author make commentary as the movie played. He had read the audio version of the book so it was like listening to the trivia bits again. I think that I am now an expert on this story.

From there, I blew it by watching another movie I rented. Now don’t ask my why but I rented “The Crying Game” because I had never seen it. After I saw it, I knew why I had never seen it and deeply wished I had never gotten it into my head to see it. I knew the secret the whole time and in most of the scenes, I sat there with the look on my face like I had just eaten a raw intestine.

Even though I didn’t fall for the big hook, I still felt like taking a Lysol bath afterwards. Pardon me while I perform a full-body dry heave.

Free Advice for Today:
Send your mother-in-law flowers on your wife's birthday."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Sell Girl Scout cookies.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Tonight I took my son to see “Van Helsing.” I thought it might scare the bejesus out of him but at 12 years old, I think he can handle it.

The movie was much better than I thought it was going to be. I was never a “movie monster” type of guy but this movie had some stunning special effects. And the show was comic-bookish enough to offset the scariness so I think my boy will be OK. I, on the other hand, haven’t seen a werewolf transformation that good since “American Werewolf in London” with the Dr. Pepper guy and might be up late tonight to....watch the boy to make sure he's not spooked.

Before the movie, we went to KFC’s and partook in some more price gouging. My son loves the chicken so I’m forced to go there but as far as a value chicken meal, KFC is not really on top of my list.

When we were ordered, I noticed they had a new size for drinks: the mega mug. It was, and I’m not exaggerating here, a half-gallon of soda for $1.59. That’s downright disgusting.

I get to the counter and ask the girl if I could see the size of the mug. It was instantly obvious that there were an infinite number of things this person would rather be doing than helping me but after rolling her eyes back as her body followed, she disappeared into the back. After a few moments, I heard her screaming if they had anymore mega mugs. Everyone else heard her too but this did not seem to satisfy her so she ratcheted up the screaming to shrilling.

Exasperated, she came back and her manager told her that they wre out and to offer the customers 4 larges for the price of the mega mug.

She turns around, takes two steps to the counter as though I didn’t hear what had just transpired, smacks her cud/gum, and with half-lidded eyes, flatly tells me they’re out. No offer or explanation, just “We’re out.”

I ordered my meal and a large soda and she gave me the total. I then asked what the deal was since they were out of mugs. This obviously dumbfounded her and she just stood there. Just then, her manager turns around and said they’d give me 4 larges and charge me for the price of the mug.

I said, great, but I didn’t need 4, I just needed two so if they would be so kind as to give me two large drinks and charge me for the mug, we could call it good.

You would think I’d just explained the concept of dark matter in Chinese to them.

Miss Attitude just stared at me with the intelligence I normally attribute to Buster, my dog. The manager, obviously put there as a result of her superior mental skills, thought about it for a second and said “OK, yeah, we can do that” with a look like she’s doing me a solid.

So instead of being charged $1.49 for a large, we got two larges for $1.59 and left two large drinks and two very confused workers in our wake.

Once again I had to confront a different soft drink dilemma. I always sneak in soda to the movies. It’s not like I’m sneaking in beer or anything, just soda. I just can’t bring myself to pay the exorbitant prices they charge for soft drinks, knowing how little it costs them to buy the syrup and carbonated water. I mean KFC is giving the crap away from $3.18 per gallon!! Laying out $15 just to take one of my kids to a movie is painful enough and there’s really no getting around the whole popcorn thing so into the coat pocket the cans will go.

If they charged what it costs them to provide the product, plus a reasonable profit, I would gladly pay for it. But the prices they charge are obviously inflated to the point of outright gouging and I really feel a deep disdain for markets that hike the price on the sole reality that they have an advantage over the consumer.

What I don’t like is having to sneak the stuff in and me bending (OK, breaking) a rule in front of my kids. My son is terrified that we will get caught. So the moral dilemma continues…

Late entry: I was called on neglecting the outcome of two important facets of this entry and here was my email response:

Yeah, when I fall behind, I tend to minimize the joking and it turns into a boring litany of my schedule, sans much commentary.

Stephanie did good considering she was not feeling good. Kids' softball at age 9 and 10 is not all that thrilling, especially when they still have kids who complete their swings before the ball even gets near them. Stephanie gets on base just about every time but she’s followed by two girls that suck and usually strand her on base.

Alex loved the movie and kept talking about how cool the effects were (or what he calls “graphics” which I find funny that his video game playing lingo sneaks into his vocabulary).

I guess these two paragraphs would have been more interesting to put into the blog. That’s the way it goes; sometimes you nail the good stuff but sometimes you blow it. It’s the spontaneity of the writing. I could write each day’s entries 3 different times and come up with different things each time.

Free Advice for Today:
Never put a car in 'drive' until all passengers have buckled up."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Thursday, May 13, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Whistle the first seven notes of 'It's a Small World' incessantly.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I guess I must face what my wife had known for years: I’m not a really social person most of the time. I guess I CAN be at times and that tricks me into thinking I’m social but experiences like I had today proves otherwise.

My daughter had a softball game and wasn’t feeling too well. I picked her up from school a little early after a phone call from the school nurse but she said she wanted to make the game she had. I tended to agree since they almost had to forfeit last time due to not enough girls showing up and especially after Alex’s soccer fiasco.

The event didn’t start too well after I got lost trying to find the field. I had been there once before but anyone who knows me knows that doesn’t mean a fiddler’s fart (a term I picked up for “Angela’s Ashes.”). I called Carrie who’s in Chicago and didn’t hide the fact that I was severely frustrated with the whole lost situation. After about 5 phone calls, I finally found the hidden field. It was in Hidden Valley. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So after an hour of driving around, I showed up at the field not wanting to talk to anyone. Here’s where my social revelation came to me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone for any reason. Just leave me alone, let me sit here listening to my book on tape, and watch my girl play softball.

When I’m like this, everything bothers me and I couldn’t figure out if it was just my mood or if the assholes and their kids around me were really being social morons. I staked out my territory where I had a good view of the field but for some reason, the area 3 feet around me (what I consider my personal space) kept being invaded my out-of-control kids. Running screaming kids for 3 hours. I was about to unload on them but kept myself in check, secure in the knowledge that I would have never allowed my own kids to be so annoying in public. I seem to be in the minority in this respect.

So I looked around at the people that obviously lack in any social respect and I realized that the reason I don’t feel comfortable in this entire area is because I’m surrounded my natives. Looking around, I found no one who even remotely looked like I had anything in common with. I was an interloper in their way of life here in Virginia and I didn’t like it. I don't wantto say I felt superior to them, just that my value system was radically different from theirs.

After almost 17 years in the military, I wondered, where do I belong? I like to say it’s the Northwest but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve grown apart from that, too. Since I’ve moved around for so many years, about the only “home” I’ve known has been on base.

I realized that, sitting at the field, watching the game, and loathing the fellow parents and kids all around me, that I was once again in a temporary environment and waiting to finish my duty when I could go back and try to start some roots. I was not of this area and didn't want to be. So all that is left is to make the best of my situation and wait it out. Not the best way to live but that's the cards I'm holdin'.

Free Advice for Today:
Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Grimace painfully while smacking your forehead and muttering: 'Shut up, dammit, all of you just shut UP!'.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Today I got a late start because I had to help get the kids off to school. Carrie is taking a trip to Chicago to meet two of her friends from high school. They try to meet up every year someplace for a “girls weekend.” I guess since I go gallivanting off to run marathons, she’s entitled to escape once in awhile, too. Although I wouldn’t call mine “Boy’s Weekend” because that would be …. well, gay.

I call this the “Wife Appreciation Weekend” for obvious reasons.

At lunch, I continued my commitment to pain for the third day in a row. And for the third day in a row, I had a different instructor. This woman had a completely different routine than the woman on Monday so there was still a bit of a learning curve. My body hurt from yesterday but I wasn’t suffering too much from “saddle sores” as I had expected.

It was evident to me pretty quickly that my endurance was not where I wanted it to be due to the new exercise regimen I’ve been following. When she announced that we had only gone 20 minutes, I wondered what Ring of Hell I had actually entered. I was done and considered calling the ½ hour mark as “good” but stuck it out until the end. I say “stuck it out” but what I really mean was that I just pedaled lazily as the rest of the group actually did what they were supposed to. What sucked is that the lady in front of me quit early which left an unobstructed view between the instructor and me. I felt the pressure but could do nothing about it.

I made a brutal mistake today that I will not make again. I left my watch off because if I wear it, it gets wet and being leather (and old), the stench of “old watchband” fills my personal space. On Monday, I had noticed that there was something that looked like black ink on my desk after lunch. I took me awhile but I finally discovered it was coming from my watch band. Ewwwwww!!!

I need a new watch band.

The mistake of not wearing a watch is that I had no idea where I was in the workout. The nearest clock was so far away that I couldn’t really tell so I had to guess. And of course I always underestimate. I have an aversion to not knowing what time it is and when I’m torturing my body for a set amount of time, it becomes more important than ever to know.

I took off early (did you catch the “show up late, leave early” routine?) so I could be home for the kids. With Carrie gone, they have to depend on old Dad and I always overcompensate. They know this and milk it for all it’s worth.

So after feeding the boy a frozen dinner he wanted (chicken) and Steph have a frozen pizza (my application for “Father Of The Year), we played catch in the back yard. They wanted me to throw pop flies (baseball for him, softball for her) so I did, despite the fact that the motion was akin to poking hot spears in my shoulder and side.

After the pan, I mean fun, I took them on a walk with Buster. They took turns holding his leash as he pissed on every available pole, mailbox, and roadside structure. I did too but that’s another story.

When we got home, it was time to play more games. The game of choice this time happened to be Trivial Pursuit for Kids and I must say, I beat them like rugs. I mean I got all my pie slices save one on the first turn and nailed it on the second turn. They’ll think again before they challenge me to a gave of trivia. It’s as though my 35 years and two degrees gave me some kind of advantage in a watered-down version of useless trivia. It was a very short lived game.

I kind of had a conscious about it so I told them to do some homework and if we had time, I’d give them a shot at some Skipbo. Steph needed to practice her piano and Alex has an algebra test he had to study for. I helped him with his studying and we talked math until it was time for him to make his lunch and get ready for bed.

The Skipbo didn’t happen because of the time but I’ll give them a shot tomorrow. It’s more of a game of chance so they don’t have to contend with my superior intellect and total lack of decency when it comes to playing games against small children.

This whole full-time Dad thing is for the birds. But it’s nice every once in awhile to reaffirm the need we all have for each other.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't procrastinate. Do what needs to be done when it needs to be done."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Blow your nose and offer to show the contents of your kleenex to other passengers.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

Reebok Rep Workout: Insidious pain in disguise

Yesterday was the spin class and I was surprised to discover I was not in as much pain as I thought I’d be. In other words, I wasn’t in the fetal position screaming for the sweet release of death when I awoke.

This was good because I had the first day of the Reebok Rep Workout to contend with. I knew that the first day would be a fumbling mess trying to get used to what I was supposed to be doing but I was also smart enough to keep the weight extra light and get to know the routine. Coupled with my excitement of starting a new exercise routine, I was set.

I got lucky because two people were there that I knew and had done the workout before. They work with Sir Phil and one of them is a Tanker I briefly knew while with 1st Tanks way back in 1998. The other was a woman that worked in Sir Phil’s office and has participated in a lot of the runs their office gang enters.

When I got there, they showed me what to grab (steps, barbell, weights, dumbbells) and what to expect. The room was a big aerobics room and I was on the front row facing a massive mirror where I could watch my pitiful display in full living color.

The workout basically covers all of the major muscle groups and is set to music. You perform the exercises as a group using small weight and lots of reps. Kind of a cross between an aerobics class and lifting weights.

I was wise to take it easy with the weight and even so, I floundered on a couple of the later sets, most notably shoulders. But it was a good workout and I avoided pulling an ovary. I was sufficiently spent after the workout and concluded my lunch by sitting in the sauna for 15 minutes.

Yesterday, I felt extremely tired but was not sore today. Today, I didn't feel all that strained but I hold no hope for a pain-free tomorrow. When weights are involved, pain cannot be far behind.

I happen to see the exercise coordinator coming out of the gym and get into her car. I didn't know it was her until she rolled down her window and jokingly said something to me concerning the effort I had put into the workout. I chided her back that it looked like it took too much effort for her to step up onto the little step up at the edge of the parking lot. We both chuckled.

As I walked away, I realized I didn't quite hear what she said or what she meant and it might have been positive. Then I turn around and zing her. Classic. I’m just scoring big at the gym these days. A real people person.

Tomorrow is the big test. I might have felt fine today but tomorrow I have to mount the spin saddle and the truth will be told; likely in the form of an electric jolt of pain. Yes, I’m paranoid.

On the way home today, the sky grew dark and between the time I got to Truckasaurus at the train station to the time I got home. It started pouring rain, complete with lightning and really loud thunder. Now I’m not saying that a clap of thunder almost made my bowels explode, I’m just saying it was loud and right over Truckasaurus. That's all.

When I got home, I opened the garage door and there on top of the grate was a turtle. I called the kids out and gave it to them which sent them into fits of joy. Alex had wanted a turtle for months and this seemed like Providence. Kinda sucks for the poor turtle because now he resides in a big cooler until we decide if we will invest in a glass aquarium for him. Hmmmm, come to think of it, I think maybe Tony the Turtle might just somehow make his escape soon. It might be a tough sell but just maybe…

Free Advice for Today:
Remember that ignorance is expensive."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Monday, May 10, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Make race car noises when anyone gets on or off.

- 50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator

I spin, therefore I hurt.

Today was my first day in the spin class and as you can imagine, it was the stand-out experience of the day.

When I got into the small room with all the bikes, I had no idea how this whole spin thing worked so I was happy to see a familiar face. He was a guy I had known since 1992 when we were both going through the commissioning program in San Diego. I also saw him at OCS a year later and at TBS in 1997-1998. He’s like that guy you see in the high school hall that you nod to just because you’ve seen each other for so long but never really became friends. Except for us, this little dance has lasted a decade and a half.

The ever-helpful Joshua was happy to show me the basics of the bike set up and let me in on how the class works. I was glad to have the little education before the class started.

I was seated in the second row and directly in front of me was a young girl. Next to her to my right was Joshua and I noticed he kept making comments to her. Joshua! You dirty old man! How shameless.

This kept up for the entire time and while I attempted to avert my gaze during the workout, something not very easy as she was right in my line of site, a couple of feet in front of me, Joshua kept up his apparent flirting to the young lass.

The woman in charge of this torture session was who you would expect. Mid-30’s, perky, and strong-looking legs bulging out of spandex. Wireless mic and Nike visor that matched her outfit. I knew I was in trouble from the get-go.

At first, it wasn’t too bad. I was sweating profusely and liked the fact that we were cycling to the beat of the songs. I hadn’t heard “It’s Tricky” by Run DMC in years. The first sign of trouble hit when she announced that we had finished the warm up and I was already soaking wet with legs of solid flame.

Looking around, I was surprised to find a mix of people, mostly ladies. But the weird thing was, some of the ones that didn’t look like they had any business in there were kickin’ it and others who looked like they could cycle to the moon were struggling like me. Definitely can’t do the book by the cover thing in this class.

I kept up through about half way and then, well, I turned the resistance knob pretty much to nothing and just peddled. I drank an entire container of water and by the end, it looked like I had jumped in a swimming pool. I was pooped but I knew that fatigue would not be the worst of my problems tomorrow.

The seats were little more than plastic stretched over metal. Oh, the dues I will pay in the morning. The most politically correct name I’ve heard for this is “Saddle Sores.” Tomorrow, I’ll be walking down the OK Corral at High Noon.

After the mean lady stopped, I gracelessly fell-more-than-climbed off my bike and stumbled toward the cleaning supplies. On my way, I ran into Joshua who was still blatantly paying too much attention and standing too close to the girl whose face I now saw. She was even younger than I first guessed and couldn’t hide a cocked eye toward Joshua. It was that moment that he introduced me to his 16-year-old daughter.

I walked off feeling like the ass that I am.

Free Advice for Today:
After experiencing inferior service, food, or products, bring it to the attention to the person in charge. Good managers will appreciate knowing."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“EVERY MORNING IS THE DAWN OF A NEW ERROR.

- Unknown

Mother’s Day.

I awoke first thing this morning after the second night of weird dreams that caused me to toss and turn all night. I hate to bore you with dream plots so if you don’t care, skip to the next paragraph.

Ha, tricked you. Here it goes: I was in possession of two lottery tickets each worth $1 Million. But my wife said whoever gets to them first gets to keep them and pointed under the Christmas tree (hey, it’s a dream so it’s not supposed to make much sense). My brother-in-law, Scott and I bolted for them but somehow he had the angle on me and got to them first, shooting me an annoying open-mouthed smile when it was evident he was going to get there first.

I pulled a veto and took the tickets from him which made me muy unpop-u-lar with the wife’s family. I told them I would split it with them but this wasn’t good enough. It was like I was the bad guy and they all started riding my case about it. It was coming down to losing my wife or giving in. It was a baaaaad dream. I mean, a million bucks or your marriage. It was like a Stephen King thing.

Also in the mix was some kind of little note the size of a fortune cookie fortune that, upon redemption, was worth many thousands of dollars. But I hid it somewhere to keep it safe and couldn’t remember where so I was looking all around. I seemed to think it was in a book at the local book store. I then ran into Nicole Kidman signing some DVDs in a back room.

Ok, that was it. Analyze all you want but I already know I have cobwebs in the attic.

When I got up, I figured I’d better get something going for this Mother’s Day thing. I woke the kids and got them to help me figure out breakfast. Carrie’s favorite is not waffles but she knew that was the best we could do so that’s what she picked. I decided to throw in the bacon but soon found out that we lacked a very important ingredient: bacon. So I took Alex and Buster to the store to retrieve some raw pig flesh.

I called back to the house (after hanging up on my brother’s voice mail after speed dialing the wrong number) and got my daughter on the phone. I wanted her to put the milk back in the fridge and get out a coffee cup ready for her mother. When I relayed the first instruction, she quickly said “OK, just a minute” and dropped the phone over my protests to wait for….damn. A minute went by and I decided not to lecture her on the common sense to wait for all the instructions before dropping the phone. I calmly explained the coffee cup I had in mind and before I could say anything else, she repeated the phone drop and I was once again left to wait with no more instructions to give. Again I resisted the urge to bark at her for leaving me on the line, thanked her, and told her I loved her. After yesterday’s behavior, you see I’m getting better.

If ever I saw myself as a typical guy, my trip to the supermarket was proof positive. There were dozens of men getting flowers, cards, and assorted items that they neither knew what brand to get nor were accustomed to buying. I was among them with bacon, ten roses, and a pack of Trident gum.

When I returned, Alex and I got to work on the breakfast while Stephanie was assigned to make a card from Buster to his “momma,” due to her advanced card-making skills. She was very proud of this.

The bacon I got sucked ass. I had a choice between an off brand and a humongous slab worth $11. I went generic and hoped for the best. I got the worst.

After my beloved waffle maker died a few years ago, Carrie had trouble finding another one like it and went for a Belgian waffle maker. I hated it from the get go and my waffle-gobbling days have been few and far between as a result. We got a new “waffle sticks” maker that she’s been using but it still wasn’t the same. Today, against my better judgment, I pulled out the Belgian. The first waffle turned out decent enough but I couldn’t remember what the lights meant. Once was yellow and one was green, labeled "preheat." Did this light when it was preheating or when it was done preheating? And did it have a secondary purpose once the batter was inserted?

Now I consider myself an intelligent guy and have two degrees to my name. But for the life of me, the common sensical approach failed me and I was in total ignorance on how the combination of these two lights related to the status of the waffle inside. I just winged it and opened it when I thought t might be time. I was not penalized on the first one but the second one was a different story.

For all of you waffle makers out there, you know what’s coming. I poured the second one and waited. I lost track of time and had no idea what state the waffle within was in. And the damn lights were no help, as stated above. As I opened up the lid to check, I witnessed what every waffle maker hates to see: a doughy ripping apart of white, semi-hardened batter stuck to the top and bottom of the iron. If this has ever happened to you, you know there is no recovery from this: it will never cook right after that.

I cursed the damned iron and hoped for its violent death. But I smiled at my wife for it was Mother’s Day and I mustn’t tip the boat of happiness.

A few minutes later I checked it again with the same result. It was like the thing just broke on its own and even the lights weren’t working. I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or pissed. So I was both. Ecstatically pissed.

I vowed out loud that I would condemn the iron to the pits of the trash can, never to ruin another breakfast attempt ever again. Damn you, Belgian waffle iron, damn you to Hell!!!!

So I grabbed the waffle stix maker and made a few pitiful sticks with the batter that was left which is just as well because they matched the lame bacon that I made. At least Buster got some bacon grease on his food which he promptly gulped down as though we’ve never fed him a day in his horrid life.

As we cleaned up breakfast, Carrie read the paper in peace. She had some shows on tape she wanted to watch so I made sure the kids left her alone and I went out to mow the lawn. Yep, I got it down to $233.33 per mow now.

After the mow, it was time for Buster to get his monthly bath (a week overdue). He’s not much of a bath-taker and acts like we’re in it just for the torture. Never a more pitiful look will you see than from this dog all shampood up.

As part of the deal of having a dog and in deference to Mother’s Day, I scrubbed the entire bathtub and tile. I realized that not only do I sleep on acreage, but I also shower in it too. We have a jumbo shower area with a whirlpool tub so the amount of tiles in the damn thing is like the holes in Blackburn Lacanshire (any Beatle fans out there? OK, so I had to Google it, so what!). After bending over to scrub the resisting dog and now the scrubbing, my back was shredded. I took a shower and cleaned up for the first time since Friday. (Why do I feel I had to share this, I don’t know. Just as I don’t know why I must share the following).

I’m also sore from the bike ride yesterday. Legs? No, it was only 8 miles. So what could it be? Did I wreck? No, never got going very fast anyway. So what was it? Well, it has a few unofficial names I will not vulgarize this entry with but suffice it to say the double-gel bike seat I have still isn’t doing its job. And it’s not like I can use ice or anything.

I spent the rest of the day trying to catch up on Blogs and the 2004 Wild Wild West picture pages. Carrie relaxed and watched TV while the kids played with the hose and trampoline outside.

I was dismayed when I did a little research and saw they had posted the results for the marathon. All these years I’ve teased Sir Phil about them messing up his finishing time and this year, they left me off the results list completely. So I had to insert myself according to the time I got and figure out my finishing. It’s not like I came close to qualifying for the Boston or anything. Hell, I’d have to be about 150 years old to qualify with 6 hours and 58 minutes.

For dinner, I treated my wife to just about the only meal I can make: Chef Boy-Ar-Dee pizzas. That’s right, baby. Been making them since I was the Boy’s age and no one can even touch the skills (my brother would take exception to that claim).

Spongy waffles, lame bacon, boxed pizza mix. A veritable smorgasbord for Carrie this auspicious day.

I did call my mom who was spending the weekend in our hometown with her sister and mother. When I called my Aunt Barbara’s house, my mom told me she tried to answer the TV remote control. Such is my family and what I have to look forward to.

Now I’m furiously trying to finish this blog, post it, get ready for tomorrow, and get some sleep. I forfeited my Sunday nap today. This doing stuff for your wife thing really puts a cramp in the uber-leisure-fest that normally marks my Sundays.

Free Advice for Today:
Take along a small gift for the host or hostess when you're a dinner guest. A book is a good choice."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“If you don't learn to laugh at trouble, you won't have anything to laugh at when you are old.

- Unknown

Last night my daughter threw a fit because no one would watch a movie with her. She really shouldn’t have done that because my reaction to childish fits (that aren’t my own, of course) is pretty Draconian. She was not allowed to watch the movie last night at all.

So this morning, I told her I’d watch it with her but I had to get some things done on the computer first. True to form, this took about ½ hour longer than I told her it would because I was trying to get some Flash buttons on my marathon pages. I figured out why it wouldn’t work after quite a bit of cussing. Because of the way I organize my folders and the fact that I use templates, the templates want to jump out one level to find the buttons and when they are applied to the pages, it needs to jump out 3 levels. I’m sure there is a way around this but probably not with the way I’m using Dreamweaver software so I trashed the idea and went with simple hyperlinks. I don’t like to lose and it set the tone for the day.

We watched Haunted Mansion and it was ... watchable. I like to see that Eddie Murphy is doing kids stuff now but it’s strange that the man who the kids see only as Donkey from Shrek is the same guy who I remember doing Delirious, Raw, Buckweat, Trading Places, 48 Hours, Coming to America, The Golden Child, The Nutty Professor, Mulan, Doctor Doolittle, and Beverly Hills Cop.

As a treat to the kids, I suggested we go on a bike ride and we then decided to combine the outing with bowling on the base.

The path I had in mind for the bike ride was where I had done my long training runs, starting at Mount Vernon. We even looked into taking the historic tour but after finding out that it was $11 per adult (and “adult” was defined as 6 and up, come on, people! Then can they have beer?) we decided George’s home just wasn’t worth the dead presidents, as it were. So we loaded up the bikes in the back of Truckasaurus and took the hour drive to get there to partake in the bike trail. Mind you, it shouldn’t have taken an hour but when you live in Northern Virginia, you are forced to deal with too many people in too little a space.

Rant alert….

Why in God’s name would someone voluntarily live in this area? It’s the classic situation where there are just too many people to the point that going anywhere is ruined by the traffic you must endure to get there. The presence of too many people , because they like the area, negates the benefits of living here. But more people keep pouring in making it worse and worse. Believe me, the moment I’m not required to live here, I will be out of here so fast (but ironically, slowly because of the congestion).

Now I know what you’re thinking; the Seattle area will be just as bad. I know this and I really don’t have an answer for it other than at least I will be home, a home tainted by congestion though. If I find a place in the outskirts, I have to deal with a long commute which, if you know me, is not my cup of tea. So it remains to be seen how I will deal with this problem. I like the convenience and flavor of a big city but I loath the congestion. Maybe I should just buy an ambulance and use it as my mode of travel.

Rant complete.

Saturday afternoon and it’s just like rush hour on northbound I-95. I’m blocked at every point by cell-phoned idiots and grocery-getters who think that 15 miles-per-hour under the speed limit is acceptable. We finally get to the park and I’m just a hair below a full-on rage.

The bike ride calmed me down and a mile into it, we came to a park where we played Frisbee and looked over the Potomac. It was a relaxing time and we were in no rush We all four biked down the trail, experiencing some steep hills and harrowing moments at places, but all and all, it was a great time.

We turned back at the 4 mile mark and on the return trip, we stopped at the same park a mile from the parking lot. We let the kids play by the river and Carrie and I talked while watching the river. It was a nice time and somehow the kids gave us about ½ hour without interruption.

What did interrupt us was a lady jogger wearing the most horrible running ensemble imaginable. Only Wonder Woman could have gotten away with this but this 50 something year old was out of her league if not her mind. The spandex halter top smashed her doughy chest and accentuated her protruding gut. The spandex half shorts’ waistline pinched off her waist to complete the ring of pale-skin-covered fat bulging out. It was painful to even get a glimpse of and my wife’s only comment was “That’s not a Blog entry!!!!”

I beg to differ, thought I with a little smile.

Now I know I’m no Adonis but I don’t subject the general public to my imperfections. I wear conservative exercise clothes until I can get my 30 inch waist back (and I WILL, in response to that snickering I hear out there). When that happens, you’ll be lucky to catch me with a shirt on.

Getting back to Truckasaurus, we loaded up and headed toward the base. We decided to hit the Pizza Hut (I know, it’s not getting me any closer to the 30 inch waist) where we hurriedly ate some pizza before going to the bowling alley. The kids were real excited about showing me the Saturday night setup the on-base bowling alley did up where they blacklight the place and play loud music. There were swirling lights and everything glowed, including the bowling balls.

But the tone was set at the beginning when the kid at the counter told me I had to remove my hat. I know this is the case but I had not showered today and my hair was less than presentable. And to be punked out by some little kid was only outdone by the fact that he was right and there was nothing I could do about it. In my head I wanted to pull the old “I’ve been in the Corps for almost 17 years and who are you to embarrass me in front of my family, you little shit…” routine but for the kids’ sake, I didn’t want to ruin it for them. Ends up I accomplished this in another way.

I’ve determined that unless I drink beer, I suck at bowling. I wasn’t in the mood for beer (nor bowling, it seemed) so I refrained from the spirits but whether it was the black light, the swirling lights, or just my ineptitude, I couldn’t bowl worth a crap. The worse I did, the madder I got which in turn, the worse I did. What broke the camel’s back was after getting my first strike in the second game, I bowled a pitiful 5 and then missed the other 5 on the second throw. This sent me over the edge and I was done.

The only thing that kept me in that bowling alley was the kids but I couldn’t hide my ebbing anger. I was just pissed and there was nothing I could do about it. The kids sensed it right away. Instead of making a scene, I just got real quiet and didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was all I could do not to voice my rage so I just stood by myself and my family knew me well enough to just let me be. This kind of ruined it for the kids but the alternative was to make a scene and that would have been worse. There was no pulling out of this one and I just had to ride it out.

Here comes the ironic part. I gave up on caring about the rest of the game and instead of aiming, stepping forward, keeping form, and concentrating on ball release, I just walked up, hardly bent over, and just lugged the ball from a standing position. It flew about 3 feet and with a thud, hit the lane and proceeded down the alley. Through my anger, I was surprised to see it head right between the lead pin and the first side pin; right where I always try to aim. I ended up getting 9 pins. On the second throw, I performed the same nonchalant throwing style and nailed the last pin for a spare.

The same thing happened on the next frame and on the one after that, I got a strike (only second one all night). This “not caring” thing was working out but I was still so frustrated that I refused to care. I didn’t want to concentrate and wanted just to lop the ball down the lane and get the game over with. If I started caring again and then goofed it again (a distinct possibility) then my anger would have super-nova'ed. The problem was that I kept nailing the pins so it was hard to keep up the attitude. I knew if I went back to caring, I would do worse. What a dilemma.

I ended up with a 143, up from 135 on the last suck-ass game. But I was still miffed and glad to get it over with. I drove home without a word and my family knew me well enough that I just had to work myself out of it. I just needed time.

I realize that I get into a bad mood like this a lot as a result of my personality. I just get upset and usually just need a little time to let it run its course. I don’t welcome these sessions but have come to realize they are just a part of my personality and to say that I should try to eliminate them is like trying to stop the tides. The funny thing is that they are a total surprise to me when they happen even though they occur on a regular basis. My wife almost expects them to happen but they hit me without warning and I never foresee the possibly when my wife clearly sees them on the horizon.

I think they are in part a result of maturity because they are less frequent than they were when I was younger and more hot-headed. And I guess it could be worse because I hardly ever make a scene in public. My reaction to them is just quiet anger underneath the surface (also known as “pouting”) rather than destructive rage or violence. I’ve been know to break something in frustration at home but that’s always in private and it’s at these times my wife cannot understand me. But it passes. And I try to do better.

I like to think it has to do with my quest for perfection. I get very frustrated when things aren’t in line to my reality which I consider, internally, to be very clear. When things don’t line up, or as my wife has heard me say more times than she can or cares to count “It’s not supposed to be this way, …” I tend to get frustrated and angry.

But that’s just what makes me, me. With the good comes the bad and as soon as I eliminate all my failings, I will either be dead or very boring. Not all the spices in life are soothing. I like to see it as more opportunities to improve. And boy do I have some opportunities!!!!!

Free Advice for Today:
Conduct yourself in such a way that your high school would want you to address the graduating seniors."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, May 7, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it's called golf.

- Unknown

OK, I blew it yesterday with starting my exercise program but today was different. I was pumped up to start the first spinning class at lunch and get back to sweating for an hour during the day by doing something physical.

This all went well until my boss came in and told me if there was nothing to do, cut out early.

Stay to the plan or call Carrie to pick me up?

Ring…. Ring….

OK, so I blew it again but I thought that starting on a Monday had a certain logic. I could start on Monday instead of starting on a Friday and then have a couple of days off. I always commit to something better if it starts on a Monday and loaded with this logic, I had Carrie pick me up around lunch time. I stand before you weak and ashamed. Actually, I stand in my own house and happy to start the weekend early.

I took advantage of the time to get caught up on my webpage and get some things done around the house. I had, in essence, missed the entire weekend last weekend due to the race so the things I like to get done during the weekend were a bit behind (reading the paper, answering email, webpage work, napping… oops, how did that get in there?)

I’m starting to see a trend here with Friday nights. I tend to get real tired real early and go to sleep even earlier than the weekdays. It didn’t help tonight that I suffered some freak allergy attack. Suddenly, my eyes started itching like crazy and because I have little to no self control, I rubbed them like a damn monkey until they were on fire. My nose became totally congested in a matter of minutes and I started having sneezing fits. I suffered through this for about an hour until I gave up and decided to go to bed. I took some allergy medicine, sniffed an inhaler that made the back of my throat feel like I just snorted battery acid, and gave Buster the dirtiest look I could. Because you see, someone had to be blamed.

I tried to get some reading done but it was difficult to accomplish. That really sucked because I’m reading a real interesting book called “The Ninth Commandment” by a friend of mine. But I just couldn’t hack it anymore and crashed about 10:30.

I know this is random but I had to get this in. Right before the Marines went back into Falluga, they dropped a bunch of leaflets that perfectly captures the way Marines do business. Here is what they said:

"Surrender, you are surrounded. If you are a terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday. In order to spare your life end your actions and surrender to coalition forces now. We are coming to arrest you."

Free Advice for Today:
Accept the fact that regardless of how many times you are right, you will sometimes be wrong."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today


Thursday, May 6, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.”

- Unknown

Today I decided that I would forgo my attempt to wing my exercise plan. I needed some organization or I wouldn’t stick with it. Enter the Quantico gym.

What I found out was they offer different classes each day and I needed a good exercise plan that included weights and cardio work. So I decided to attend the spinning class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I always see people coming out of it at lunch and they are sweating profusely so it looks like a good workout. And since it’s an hour long, I think I could really make some cardio gains after getting past the crushing pain on the first few sessions.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I decided on the Reebok Rep workout. I wasn’t sure what it was but found it involves a station-based program where you quickly go from one exercise to another. It has weights and stretching involved and claims to be non-aerobic. This would be perfect for the days between the cardio spin classes.

My next decision was what times. At first, I thought that I could do the early morning sessions for the spin classes and reward myself on Tuesdays and Thursdays by “sleeping in.” With this plan, I would have to get up at 0400 to get ready and take the first train at 5:18 AM. The classes start at 6:00.

This plan seemed good only until I realized what would happen. First, I would be bushed and would talk myself into sleeping in more than a few times. Second, I would have noting to do at lunch time, being too tired to exercise again and have nothing to do but eat which would make me even more tired.

I decided the best plan was to just do all the lunch classes. I tend to stay up past midnight no matter what so the super-early morning thing is tough. I tried to do it when I first got here and after a month, I just couldn’t keep up the pace. I know that without a good sleep plan, the exercise plan will falter so I will start with lunch workouts and adjust from there.

So I was excited today to go to my first Reebok Rep workout. I was all ready and then I got an email from someone that wanted money for a going away gift. I jokingly wrote back asking if he took food stamps and he responded by saying I could just buy him lunch at Carlos O’Kelly’s. I then wrote back that I had plans but would consider taking him tomorrow. This confused him because we were having a going away lunch for someone and I was supposed to be going.

At this point, it dawned on me that I either erased the email invitation or didn’t get it. He assured me he sent it but the argument was moot (or as Joey on Friends would say “Moo”). Now I had to decide if I going to back out of the luncheon, do the workout, and return to work -or- trash the workout and go eat Mexican food, getting the rest of the day off.

So I’m sitting there stuffing tortilla chips into my face at Carlos O’Kelly’s...

The good (or bad) thing about starting a new workout program is that you can put it off, stating “I’ll just start it tomorrow.” Yes, I fell into this trap. I’m so easy.

I returned to the office, sat in my chair, and the thought hit me that I should take the next train home. With two beers and a lunch special # “Dos” in me, no more work was going to get done. Anyway, my boss didn’t even make the return trip so I was cleared hot.

I looked at the train schedule. The next one left at 1:56 PM. I looked at my watch and it said… you guessed it, 1:56 PM.

Next train: 3:19. Crap.

If you’re keeping track, open up your “Why Jason Hates Amtrak” file because I’m gonna add yet one more. I got to the station at about 2:50 and waited, and waited, and waited…

3:19 came and went. At about 3:30 I saw a train coming and it was an Amtrak. Finally! I got up and got ready to board as the train came flying by. Here it comes.

There it goes.

Never stopped.

I was beginning to think it wasn’t coming and was dismayed to see that the next train was at 4:39. OK, dismayed is the wrong term. I’ll go with "deeply pissed."

At about 3:55 the train arrived sans any excuse. It’s no use to even ask because they don’t care about commuters. VRE would have given me a free ride ticket but all I got from Amtrak is the disdain I’ve come to expect from them. Ironically, they soon want to charge more for commuters to ride their trains and the truth is I’d pay extra to have them replaced with more VRE rides.

I was miffed because I was in essence off since about 1:30 and I was going to get home only about 45 minutes early. But it’s hard to complain when I was, you know, off, so that’s why I do it here. Free therapy. Some whining allowed.

Tonight was the Friends finale. I’ve been a fan practically from the start and the show has become something of a family time each week. My boy got into it the last few years and it’s one of the few shows I regularly watch. A few years back we even went to a taping (The one where they were planning the Bing wedding and Joey and Ross kept taking naps together).

I’m really going to miss the show and I feel lucky to have been old enough to be aware of finales like MASH, Seinfeld, and now Friends. It’s like you’ll always remember where you were at. For MASH, I was in Seattle with my Dad and we talked about it in Language class (with Mr. McLaughlin who was once of the first adults I both despised and feared.) For Seinfeld, I was in Pendleton on my way to 29 Palms alone. I watched it in a bar in a mall with a friend from Adjutant School. And now for Friends, I was surrounded by my family in Virginia, watching it on my 52 inch big screen TV.

The first hour was a recap of the series and I absolutely loved it. One of the funniest parts was when Joey and Chandler were confused over which baby was Ross’s. They were responsible for taking care of the baby and somehow got in a situation where there were two babies and two cribs and they couldn’t tell which was which. So they decided to flip a coin and when they did, Chandler pointed out they had to assign heads to one of the babies. One of the babies had clowns on its PJs and one had and ducks.

Joey: Uh... uh, we'll flip for it. Ducks or clowns?
Chandler: Oh, we're gonna flip for the baby?
Joey: You got a better idea?
Chandler: All right, call it in the air.
Joey: Heads.
Chandler: Heads it is.
Joey: Yes! Whew!
Chandler: We have to assign heads to something.
(with that classic irate Chandler trying to keep his anger in check)
Joey: Right. Okay, okay, uh... ducks is heads, because ducks have heads.
Chandler: What kind of scary-ass clowns came to your birthday?

The second hour was the finale and I think they did a good job. Monica and Chandler got twins, Ross and Rachel got and stayed together, and everyone got to say goodbye. The symbolic “leaving the keys” scene was a good way to end the series.

I feel sad that there won’t be any more episodes but I know that they will live forever in syndication. Whenever there’s a Friends episode on, it’s always a safe bet for a fun half hour. And it’s a Godsend when you’re searching for something to watch when it’s time to eat. That may be the ultimate test for a good series.

Although I was a bit melancholy about the end, I wasn’t affected all that deep. It’s hard to feel sorry for people making a million dollars per episode and stand to make $115 million each for syndication kick backs. I hope they will be able to scrape by.

Something that really pissed me off during the “End of Friends” hoopla was the press. They have to dredge up or even make up some drama about it or just say something aimed only to cause an uproar. I read on MSN the title “Why Friends was not a good sitcom.” Now why would they say that except to whip up the ire of people? Get a life. It’s hard to argue it wasn’t a good show. Now you could have arguments about if it was the best or better than this one or that one but to just say it wasn’t good is just pitiful. Although subjective, on just about any metric, Friends was a good show. I’d say great.

Free Advice for Today:
Every now and then, bite off more than you can chew."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today


Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.

- Unknown

Cinco De Mayo!!! I would say my half-Mexican blood was in a boil today due to this most auspicious Latin celebration but the truth is, I didn’t even realize it was a holiday until about lunch time (siesta time?). And to tell the truth, the first thing I thought of was where I was last year on this day: Beal Street in Memphis Tennessee. We had just got in on thesis travel and headed for the famous street. As you can imagine, there’s not a lot of Mexican Independence Day celebration on Beal Street but it was fun nonetheless if only for the adventure.

I also thought about a most auspicious occasion that, although I share just about every thought in my head in this BLOG, I cannot share with you this one. Sorry folks. But my beautiful wife will know what I’m talking about.

The third thing, and it’s sad that it’s come to this, is the desire to kick back a few Coronas. Despite my Mexican blood and the likely importance and history of this celebration, I only connect this holiday with Corona. I’m sure Corona is thrilled at this because I’m not alone but it’s a little shallow, don’t you think.

And I didn’t even do Corona this year, just a couple of Coors Lights (imagine that). I thought of my buddy in Iraq who loves Corona and would mangle the lime when trying to cut it. Damn, here comes the guilt. Go get ‘em, Lou!!!

At work, a friend of mine told me that Hootie and the Blowfish were playing locally next month. Hootie and the Blowfish? Are they still playing together? I thought they had broken up. I was so excited because, well, my name is Jason (“Hi, Jason”) and I, … I… I like Hootie. And I’m not afraid to admit it!!! Wanna make something of it? Why yes, now that you mention it, I’d go to a Beach Boys or Peter Paul & Mary concert too!! Um, except my wife put the kibosh on those others. Said we were busy enough. But I gave her a defiant look when I mumbled “Ok.”

Some fan I am. It seems they are still together and you’d think that a guy who has two of their CDs rotating in a continuous playlist loop that includes Sarah McLachlin, Enya, Alanis Morrissette, Evanescence, Sheryl Crowe, and Nora Jones would know this.

I went to the Wolf Trap Theater website and bought tickets. So yes, I’m going to Hootie and the Blowfish concert for the second time in my life. Here is the first experience.

They have a long list of concerts I’d like to see. The Bill Cosby concert was sold out though. I could have got great front row tickets for the Beach Boys but my wife pointed out “Why do you think that is?”

Case closed.

Free Advice for Today:
Overestimate travel time by fifteen percent."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

- Unknown

Second day off and a second day of doing a whole lotta nothing. I seem to get less done on days off than when I work. Don’t ask me to explain it. It just is.

Again, I took the kids to school, loading them plus Buster into Truckasaurus. It’s a big treat for them (including the dumb dog) because they get a few extra minutes at home and they don’t have to deal with the horror of riding the school bus. Some things never change. I had a bus driver in junior high named Ray but we called his “Gay Ray.” I don’t think we were far off. The memory makes me shutter.

I figured it was time to get off my butt and go to the gym to work off some of the marathon stiffness and my tendency to gain weight after a marathon. Normally I feel like I’ve “earned” the right to gorge myself coupled with a distinct adversity against any more physical exertion ends up putting on the weight.

We belong to the local YMCA and during the day, housewives usually invade the place and I have to deal with a room full of middle-aged woman who see the club as a social gathering vice an exercise venue. If there were ever a case for headphones, I’m telling you this is the place. If I hear one more catty conversation about who is doing what to whom, I think I would have been escorted out by a man in blue after going on a rampage.

I thought I’d get way ahead on my webpage. On my writing about the marathon. On my pics I took. Did I?

Nope.

But here is a great story I received from a policeman I correspond with:

Jason

I had the mother of all experiences 2 days ago while I was in Las Vegas. I was at the Mirage hotel/casino and what a big casino it is. I got pick pocketed and someone took off with my wallet. My whole life was in that wallet. I did not even have enough money for gas to get home and I had my work ID card in it. The loss of that could only be compared to your wife leaving you for Buster (my pathetic attempt at your kind of humor)

While I went into a panic searching the mega casino floor. I told the security people I got pick pocketed, so they said they would page me or call my room if it got turned in. While I was in the midst of calling my bank to cancel my credit cards and contemplating calling work, my phone rang. Security said that my wallet had been turned.

I went back to the casino and they gave me my wallet. All of it was still there, every picture and my bank roll of cash. I asked if they knew who turned it in and they pointed down the way to two 20 something guys at a slot machine.

As I got closer I noticed they showed all signs of being a Marine. The hair cut, USMC tattoos, dog tags etc. I told them I wanted to thank them for turning in my wallet and asked them if they knew where they found it (so I can figure out how many times I passed up the area).

Well, they did not exactly "find" the wallet. They did see the person jack my wallet and followed him until he got outside and out of the view of cameras and "persuaded" him to give it up.

I was so happy to get my wallet back I wanted to give them a reward or maybe call their boss or something, but all they said was they were Ssgts down from 29 Palms and preferred not to give their name because they sort of had to jack the guy who took my wallet to get it back. They also declined the any reward. Talk about honest, I had $400.00 and change in the wallet and every red cent was still there.

Now I can go back to work tomorrow and not suffer the wrath of trying to get my work ID replaced.

Free Advice for Today:
Never whittle toward yourself."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Letterman's Top Ten List for today


Monday, May 3, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“I don't know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

- Unknown

Ah, a day off. Carrie took her parents to the airport early so after taking the kids to school, I settled down for some catch up sleep which lasted until Carrie got home.

I got a tour of the house to show me what Lyle had a accomplished. I was amazed because he finished up so many things that were half-done when I had left. The guy just isn’t human.

Here’s what he did with pics hyperlinked:

He also removed the cooling and hating fan because it was the wrong voltage. When the neighbor saw this, he offered to get the right one and install it because he had originally put it in. I know Lyle hated to leave that one undone but he ran out of time. Yeah, and you call yourself a handy-man!!! (just kidding, hee hee. Don’t cut me off!!!!).

The day cleared up and I decided to mow the lawn. I didn’t have the best outing this time because, I don’t know, I just didn’t. Sometimes I can get the lanes just right and finish the job in the least amount of rounds but this time, I kept leaving little spaces and didn’t not maximize my terrain covered. I also got stuck on the hill in my front yard more than a few times and I was getting pretty pissed. Just not a good mow. I’ll just chalk it up to good ones and bad ones. That was definitely one of the “bad” one.

But I did figure out the “cost per mow” using an Excel spreadsheet. I just took the total cost and divided it by each mow so even a simpleton like me sees that the more mows, the cheaper per mow and also, as the number of mowings increase, the drop in price per mow gets smaller and smaller. If you are feeling really bored, here is the spreadsheet. You can see that after 365 mowings (number picked because if I mowed my lawn every day for a year…) my cost per mow would drop to $3.84. I know, this doesn’t take into account gas but I wanted to keep it simple, if not inaccurate.

Free Advice for Today:
Never leave the kitchen when something's boiling on the stove."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Jay Leno Monologue For Today


Sunday, May 2, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

- Unknown

I had all the excitement I could stand for one trip so today was pretty much a day of miserable traveling. I was trying to look on the bright side and take a positive outlook but it was no use. The thrill of the marathon was over and all that was left was the soreness and long trip across country.

It’s at times like this that you realize the enormity (lunacy) of something. Did I really travel across the country to run 26.2 miles? What was I thinking? Now I have to be cooped up in planes all day and survive a marathon in itself after we land, driving back home.

Going through security posed an interesting scene. I had forgotten about the cue ball of Labridoreite for my wife in my baggage and I could just imagine what it looked like through the x-ray machine. Rightfully so, they pulled me aside and did a hand search of the bag. I explained what it was and had to refrain myself from making a joke about it looking like some kind of plastic explosive. That would not be good.

On the first leg of the trip, I was seated next to a very elderly lady. I mean like fossil-old. I think she might have been the Crypt-Keeper. Next to her was her daughter who promptly took off her shoe and started rubbing some kind of ointment on her bare foot. Isn’t this something better done in private? Why do some people insist on doing such things in a tightly packed public place? And then she had to open the entire paperwork that came with the ointment and as I flipped on my noise-canceling earphones to remove them from my reality, I saw her point out to her mother than one of the warnings of potential side-effects mentioned vaginal bleeding. Lovely. You are just a peach of a daughter.

The movie they showed was “The Rundown” starring The Rock. It was surprisingly a good movie and I found myself really getting into it. I abhor professional wrestling so it was a pleasant surprise to actually like the movie. I think this guy makes a great action hero and the scene where he is beating the hell out of a football team in a bar was hell-beating at its best.

The movie also had that guy from the American Pie movie who drank the infamous beer. He played a jerk in this one too but played it well. Annoying and funny at the same time.

But my favorite part belonged to the incredible Christopher Walken. In almost every movie he plays, he does the same role: Scary, understated psycho. There were more than a few “Christopher Walken” speeches that seemed tailor-made for his style. The role is yet another memorable performance by the man who brought you lines such as “I need more cow bell.”

We didn’t have any close calls with other airplanes this time so that was good. The plane left on time on the second leg and I was looking forward to the shorter ride going eastbound. The ride was supposed to be 2 hours, 25 minutes but as we neared the coast, I noticed we started circling. After awhile of this the captain came on the intercom and told us that all incoming traffic to D.C. was halted because of thunderstorms. So we’d have to circle over Columbus for a half hour while the storm blew over. Of course we did.

This time I was sitting next to a gargantuan woman whose girth overflowed the arm rest divider between us. I scrunched myself against the window and tried to ignore her with my “Get Out Of My World” headphones. At least she didn’t grease up her feet.

The clouds created an interesting and beautiful floor of cotton which swirled in all kinds of interesting patterns as the setting sun cast a golden hue over the surface. Then it was a spooky blue as the sun dipped under the clouds as I sat mesmerized by the incredible sight. It almost made it worth being trapped in a plane. Almost.

After circling for 45 minutes, the captain tells us that we still didn’t have clearance so we had to land in Pittsburg to refuel.

Coming down to land, I could see nothing. Once we entered the cloud bank, it was pea soup for what seemed forever. I expected the turbulence but when we started dipping quickly and teetering side to side, I started getting sweaty palms. It seemed as though we were going down forever and I prayed we’d get low enough that I could at least see the ground. If we would have had to land with fog all the way to the ground, I might have lost it. Finally we broke through and I was confident once again that I'd see another sunrise.

They didn’t let us off the plane and the 20 minutes they promised turned into over an hour. I had finished my book on tape, both magazines I brought, my book, and the Sky Mall magazine which, by the way, has some pretty cool stuff if you want to splurge by paying about double what anything is worth. The classic non-item was a huge wedge cushion that you could use to lean on in an airplane, providing a way to sleep comfortably while leaning forward. The concept, while solid, doesn’t tale into consideration that you have to lug the damn thing on and off the airplane. Who among us has as excess of allowable carry-on space when traveling?

We got to D.C. late. It was after midnight and pouring rain as we got to the car after circling the rent-a-space courtesy driver. He had about 6 of us and would randomly search out whatever key he happened to grab rather than taking a few moments looking at them all and making a “shortest path” plan. So around and around we go, where we stopped, well, not us until about 15 minutes later.

On the drive home, the weather let up and by about 2:00 AM, I arrived home to see my lighted flagpole. It was a beautiful site and entering the house, I took the time to look around at all of the projects Lyle had completed. They were leaving in the morning and I found out earlier that my Parris Island trip had been cancelled. I decided to take a couple of days to recover and catch up so I was ready for as much sleep as I could stand.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't open any one else's mail."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.

- Unknown

There’s an old Marine cadence that starts with “Up in the morning with the rising sun…” I wish I could have slept that late this morning.

Breaking the normal routine, I slept deep last night before the marathon. Although I’m three hours ahead body-clock-wise, the 0400 wake up call seemed early as I rolled out of a deep slumber. But it was time to face the music. Did I feel ready? No. Did I feel I trained enough? No. Was I ready for this event? I wasn’t sure. Was I nervous for not being sure? You betcha.

I set out all my clothes like usual, knowing the early morning was not the time to make any important decisions and even had most of my bags packed. Since we had a room with no shower, one of the decisions I didn’t have to make was whether to trade shower for sleep. No brainer this year.

Despite my meticulous preparation, I discovered a small oversight when I tried to put on my shirt. I think this has happened before but it made it that much more frustrating. I had pinned the number on my running shirt too deep and unwittingly pinned the front of the shirt all the way through to the back on one of the corners. At least this year I didn’t try to put it on this way as in other years. Nonetheless, the early hour and this event added to my perpetually sour pre-race mood.

We loaded the Mustang and headed to the café where I ordered the same thing I do each year, despite my promise that I’d cut back this year. Everything was going as planned until I noticed a few more runners in the café than previous years. Sir Phil and I are birds of a feather when it comes to early morning banter before a race. Strictly forbidden. Just leave us alone and don’t even think in our direction.

A man obviously running the race came in and sat at the table next to us. I hoped dearly he wouldn’t strike up a conversation and I was in luck until for some insane reason, Sir Phil made mention of his hat. Oh no. He unleashed The Chatter.

The hat was an enormous adventure racing affair that looked a bit like my Tilly but lighter and goofier. It became readily obvious that he was brisling to tell his story and it wasn’t long before he threw in the comment that if the hat was good enough for the 50 miler he ran, it was good enough for this. Quickly on the heels of that comment was the mention of another big race coming up. I know he was not all that obnoxious but I was hypersensitive to any communication and everything bugged me. Classic pre-race Jason.

Runners like to brag about what they’ve run and are about to run so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal but this guy was too loud, too friendly, and just too much for such an early hour. Plus, he didn’t look like an ultra-athlete. In fact, he looked like he was carrying more excess weight than I am for a runner which I’ll admit, gave me some hope that I’m not as chunky as my mind’s eye has me at.

Just as I was rolling this over in my head, in came a quarry of women. That’s the best way to describe it because there was about a dozen of them and in a few minutes, the place was bustling with a group of women in their 30’s and 40’s who obviously were all friends. They were all hyper, loud, giggly, and all-around obnoxious. Too much perkiness for me at that hour and it humored me that Mr. Big Hat just had to throw out a funny-to-only-him comment about them being awake or something. The comment fell flat and it made him look like the sad goof trying to interject himself into someone else’s party.

But he would not be deterred. When they all started taking pictures of each other, he rushed over and insisted they all get together and he’d take their picture. Dude, calm down.

I could tell the women were a bit wary of Mr. Big Hat and they made an excuse of them all not being there yet. I thought this was a gentle push off but I would soon find out that I was wrong.

It ends up that the guy was waiting for his wife which made me smile a bit because I didn’t think she’d approve of his flirting. Right after she showed up a little while later, one of the women came over and took him up on his offer to get a group photo. My thought was that he’s a dead man walking. A bunch of attractive female runners busting him in front of his wife when it became obvious that he had cavorted with them before her arrival. Yikes.

So you would think he would be smooth about it. Oh, but you don’t know Mr. Big Hat. In front of my very own stunned eyes, he made a comment that was outright flirting as his wife looked on. For the love of God, I wish I could remember the exact comment but I can’t. But I do remember that when he said it, my jaw dropped. It had some kind of sexual innuendo towards the entire group.

The funniest part was when he returned to his seat and I was concentrating with all my might to use my peripheral vision. He returned to his seat, big smile on his face, and sat with a heavy sigh followed by an awkward silence. I didn’t even want to look over there because I was for sure she was giving him a look that would freeze fire. I had to bring my coffee cup to my lips to hide my own smile. I’m not privy to anything about these people but I know in the same situation, I would have caught 27 flavors of hell, justifiably.

It was time to head out and we picked up two passengers who wanted a ride out to the start line. Starting last year, they changed the course so that we no longer finish where we start. This requires us to leave the car at the start line and get a ride back from the finish line after the race. These guys played it smart by getting us to get them out there. I tip my hat to their audacity.

The last minute primping for a marathon has now become a routine. We get to the starting area while it’s pitch black. This year I wore my running jacket which I knew I was going to shed before the race because the weather was supposed to be in the 90s and I knew I would be trading 10 minutes of warmth at the beginning for 26.2 miles of dragging along extra weight. No thanks, I had enough to drag along.

But this required me to cross the line of no return when I pull off the coat and head toward the start line with everything I was going to have with me. But not before slathering up our nether-regions with Vaseline (go ahead, make your snide little comments) and performing a last minute watering of the bushes.

In past years I’ve written very detailed descriptions of my pre-race failings in the bowel department so I won’t put you through it. Suffice it to say that on the way to the start line, the Bowel Gods called and I knew that one does not question the time or place chosen. One just obeys and for the first time, I was “ready” for the start of the race.

While warming up at the start, I struck up a conversation with another runner who we had seen around Lone Pine and at the spaghetti dinner. I noticed she was alone every time we saw her so I asked her if she was running with anyone. Not only was she alone but she had no idea of the course. I was flabbergasted. It ends up this was only her second marathon (the first being the LA Marathon this year) and I was eager to explain the course to her since I vividly remember my 2000 run when it was my very first marathon and I was scared blind..

Her name was Liz (which I found ironic since it was a desert scene and there were lizards everywhere. OK, maybe it's just me) and she was very grateful that I explained the 2 mile upgrade in the sand at the beginning. I outlined the course for her and she seemed very thankful to know what to expect. I wished her good luck and thought I wouldn’t see her again since she said she’d take about 7 or 8 hours to complete. See ya, Liz.

When the go was given, we all took off and I could tell almost from the first few steps that this would not be my day. I had to start walking sooner than any other year and I lost Sir Phil almost immediately. I thought I was ahead of him and assumed he was having a tougher time than me because after the first two miles, I was mashed potatoes. I guess I almost expected this because I don’t think I was ready mentally or even physically. I was not only heavier than any other marathon but heavier than I’ve ever been. Although I had trained up to a 20 miler, I was not confident that my body was ready for the race and in a marathon. And with a hint of doubt, sometimes that’s all it takes.

I decided after the first two miles that I had to make a decision. I decided that I would not make myself miserable and for the first time ever, I would enjoy the race. I learned from the Marine Corps Marathon last year that pushing yourself too hard when you know you’re not ready is a bad plan. It was a beautiful day and I threw away any and all concerns about time. This was going to be a nice trip no matter the time and a stroll down memory lane.

It’s amazing how liberating this decision was. With time no longer being a factor, I was able to soak in the environment and be more social in the process. I found out that I was having the best time I had ever had in a marathon.

At the top of the hill at about mile 2, I decided to wait for Sir Phil, thinking that if he was in a similar state, we could just mosey the marathon together. I waited and waited but no Sir Phil. Could he have been ahead of me? As you will see, what an understatement that ended up being.

Sir Phil never showed up but Liz finally made it and I had to accept that Sir Phil had been ahead of me. So I started running with Liz and talking with her about the run. She was doing Galloway 5/1 splits and I stuck with her for awhile but lost her when she took a series of detours due to her obviously successful hydration plan. (Sorry, Liz, but that’s the most polite way I can put it).

At one point, she caught up to me at an aid station and we started out again together. I was blabbering to her about the Four Horsemen when all of the sudden a woman caught up to us and asked me “Excuse me, are you one of the Four Horsemen?”

It’s hard to explain how utterly weird this was. I looked at her in disbelief that someone would identify me off of these stories. I was flattered and a bit embarrassed as I always am the few times this has happened because I feel that I’m very different in person than I am in person and I felt I had to atone for everything I’ve written, even the stuff written as free-flowing thoughts normally reserved for the inside walls of one’s skull.

It must have been even weirder for Liz even though I think I had mentioned my web page by this point. To her, I was being identified as some kind of well-known person which added to my embarrassment.

I told the lady that yes, I was one of The Horsemen and she said she had overhead me talking about my other friends that couldn’t make it and decided to take a chance and ask me. She then went on to say “I emailed Jason and I…”

At this point I interrupted her and sheepishly said, “Well, I am Jason.”

You would think I was a celebrity and this added to the weirdness. She reacted just like I did when I met the Rose Garden DI. First speechless, then a big smile, and then a flurry of explanation. I really felt awkward.

The mystery lady was someone who I had been in contact with last year when her and her friend emailed me and wanted to know about the Wild Wild West Marathon. I told them all about it and they looked forward to seeing me there but things didn’t work out and we never ran into each other. So this served as our first meeting and I can’t say who it was more novel for, her or me.

Now it was the three of us and we ran together as the miles ticked off. We walked when we wanted to and jogged when we felt the need. Although we all talked, I most likely took up the majority of the conversation because once they got me talking, I seemed to have a lot to say. Feast or famine, as my wife will attest.

This lasted for awhile and then Liz made some more pit stops and Moira and I pulled ahead. For some odd reason, Moira was interested in hearing all of the stories I had lied about to Sir Phil over the years. We ended up running the rest of the race together and she kept my mind off of the normal marathon pains by asking me questions which led to other questions. The whole military thing was foreign to her so she seemed most interested in that. And get me talking about my experiences and you can’t get me to shut up so she got an earful. She should've feigned death but I probably wouldn't have got the hint even then.

I must admit that it was kind of weird when she asked how Buster was. It creates a strange situation when people know a lot about you when they’ve never met you but that’s the trade off for having a public page where I’m totally honest about my life. She was nice so it wasn’t a threatening situation but now I know a little bit how a famous person must feel when people know everything about them.

I didn't see it posted anywhere, but this year’s theme must have been “Dead Animal Parts” because at about mile 5, I saw what looked like a large rock sitting right in the middle of the path. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was a rabbit’s head, perfectly detached and sitting flat as though his body was buried beneath him. But there was no body to be found and I wasn’t sure if this was a cruel joke or just nature taking its course. A quick picture with the disposable and I was off. Strange.

The next offering was near a fence at about the half way mark. I looked over and damn if I didn’t see MOST of a cow. It looked like he (or she, must be PC about this) got caught on the fence, tripped, and decided life just wasn’t worth it anymore. The back legs were still “on the wire” in the classic trip position most of the hind quarter had hide still attached. But somewhere around the chest, the hide was gone and replaced with a bleached rib cage. The organs were all gone as was the head. The legs had folded under and I think they were mostly gone too. It looks like Bessie’s last day was not her best.

I took a pic and was gone (a common theme). We asked the elderly people at the next aid station if they saw that cow back there. They looked confused and said no but then a spark of recognition hit them and they nonchalantly said “Oh, the dead one on the fence? That’s been there for years.” It made me wonder exactly what WOULD shock these people. BTW, with the hide there, I doubted if it had been there for years. But then again, the organs were gone and the ribs were bleached. Who knows.

Continuing my endless parade of stories, we made our way to the Alabama Hills where the temperature soared. It must have been in the mid 90s and with the heat radiating up from the desert floor, it felt much hotter. Even though I had applied sunscreen at the beginning, I got a peek at my arms and they looked a lot like lobsters. Wet lobsters. Wet angry lobsters.

I asked the next aid station if they had any sunscreen and they said no but the one after that did. My lobster arms had a white film over it because my skin was saturated with the stuff. I know, day late and dollar short, yadda yadda yadda.

By the end of the race, I had the unusual experience of feeling relatively good while being places that in past years, I had felt like hammered dog feces. We ended the run with minimal pain and the only time consideration I had was the last mile when I decided that I should probably try to crack the 7 hour mark. What was my time? 6:58 and some change. But as the Beatles put it, I felt fine.

When I got to the finish line, I found Sir Phil trying to motivate me to the end. I didn’t have the heart to tell hi I was not suffering, waiting for him to ridicule me mercilessly over my time so I tried to distract him by assuring him I was OK and asking him what his time was. He told me some ridiculous number and I wondered why he was both messing with me and acting as though I needed help. If he thought I was crashing, why was he playing coy with his time?

After all, 4:45 was an impossibility. No way could he have accomplished such a time.

The shocker is that it was true. Yes, he annihilated the 5 hour mark.

He said he felt good from the start and as the race went along, he felt like he had it in him to reach for the brass ring. And reach he did which earned him 2nd place in his age category. The bastard even got a mug at the ceremony. I, on the other hand, did not receive any mug. I got my medallion and that’s it.

And that’s enough. Good on ya, Sir Phil.

After the race, I felt really good. I was stiff but not destroyed as in past years and the feeling was novel. For the first time, I took advantage of the free massage (well, the first 5 minutes were free but a buck a minute afterward. I didn’t even know if the guy was licensed or just a transient.) Just kidding, it was a woman and she was good at what she did. My legs were sore but not exposed bundles of raw nerves as in past years. Fifteen minutes and $10 later, I felt like a somewhat normal person again.

You might be wondering what Sir Phil did for 2 ½ hours and this is where Wonder Women enters the story once again. As I described, she was not hard to look at and with running shorts and a spandex halter top on, well, Sir Phil suffered through the long wait somehow.

Did he speak with her? Oh no, that just wouldn’t do. Sometimes in life, you can’t ruin a mental image with a pesky dose of reality. He was content in letting her represent Wonder Woman without challenge for all eternity.

But I would be a letch if I included her in this story for just the reasons outlined thus far. The real reason she is memorable is because when she was called out to get her first place trophy in her age group, the announcer mentioned something that is a badge of honor and something she earned to be mentioned every time she wins a running award. For you see, the announcer identified her as not only the winner of this race, but a recent winner of the Badwater.

For those of you that know what that means, you are already reeling in awe of this fact. For those of you that don’t, where do I begin the explain?

If you don’t know what the Badwater is, it’s just plain insanity. You start in Death Valley (the lowest point in America) and run 146 miles to the top of Mount Whitney (the highest point in America). Oh, and by the way, it’s in August so the beginning (9:00 PM) temperature is about 115 degrees.

The fact that Wonder Woman entered, competed, finished, and won defies all odds. I realize that I’ve been guilty of a certain amount of stereotyping because although I have the utmost respect for those immortal few who accomplish this, I expect them to look road-weary and a bit haggard due to the long hours in the sun and endless miles of brutal training. What I don’t expect is to see the likes of Wonder Woman in that role and it was hard to reconcile with what I know about the race. She just didn’t fit the mold so obviously my mold is skewed. Lesson learned.

After the picnic (where I received nothing more than a big turkey sandwich, a massage, and my finishing medallion, says bitter Jason after Sir Phil flaunts his 2nd place cup, why didn’t you get first, huh? Answer that Mr. 4:45!!!) we headed to the local high school to use the showers. Also an annual tradition, this fifth visit was just as much part of the routine as the run. But this year, I could walk like a human.

Our original intent was to head down the road toward our destination 3 hours away but make two stops. The first was a return to the Taco Hell 40 miles from Lone Pine but Sir Phil bolowed the left turn, despite having 40 minutes of open desert to get it right. Way to go, Mr. 4:45.

The second stop was to be a hotel about halfway there but once again, the hotel in mind proved elusive and somehow we ended up going all the way to the airport area and paying handsomely for a room ($120 per night). Ouch.

I would have been content to drive to our victory dinner but Sir Phil likes to walk so against my better judgment, we hit the road on foot. I really didn’t have a dog in the fight as a result of my 6:58 finishing so I didn’t pitch a bitch. Mr. High And Mighty 4:45 had his way once again.

We walked down to Sizzler where I shamelessly attacked a 12 ounce steak, fries, and the salad bar. After feeding little Buddha, we sauntered (what a visual) back to the hotel and did little else except watch the second Matrix movie on HBO. We got about half way through and it was all I could do to push the power button. That was my last memory as I more fainted than fell asleep for a well-deserved rest.

The 2004 Wild Wild West Marathon was in the books and marked many firsts for us both. Next year, Sir Phil, next year.

Free Advice for Today:
Be open to new ideas."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 

Email -- jason@grose.us
Web -- http://www.grose.us/