Quote of the Day: “I am at two with nature.”
- Woody Allen
You are not going to believe this story because I hardly believe it myself.
Let’s start off by explaining my involvement with this thing called American Idol.
Despite the danger of looking like a 13-year-old girl, I have to admit that I got into the who AI thing this year. In past years, I’ve watched only the first few episodes where wannabes make complete idiots of themselves on national TV but I was always able to extract myself before my manhood was stolen from me.
Not this year, though.
I was sucked into the vortex all the way to the emasculating end which I shamelessly blogged about.
OK, with all of that said, I was recently offered tickets to the road show in connection to the Wounded Marines in my Company. With a little finagling (read: not everyone was as excited as I to attend probably due to their general maleness), I was able to secure an extra ticket for my lovely wife to attend with me and the group.
All I was told was that we might get to see the Idols before the show so I was naturally so excited my braces started to hum and acne broke out all over my prepubescent face.
Leading up to the show, I got no end of crap from people I work with, mainly centered around my, er, interest in a certain Idol whose name escapes me… OK, it was McPhee, of course. Have you seen this woman? She popped up on the cover of a free magazine we get at the base and I was delivered not one but two copies from people who thought I would be googly-eyes at the very site of her. What a bunch of ….. sorry, I was staring at a magazine cover.
I met my wife at the hospital where we climbed in a van with a dozen wounded Marines and Sailors. I think a few of them wanted to go and a few of them were told they wanted to go but nevertheless, the general excitement was palpable.
No matter what you think of them, the show was a powerhouse and these people were rising stars or at least widely recognizable. Carrie and I had watched every show so as a result of the interviews and background stories, we knew quite a bit about them or at least what the Hollywood Machine wanted us to think we knew about them.
We got to the stadium way early so we didn’t even have to pay for parking. Not many people were around so we found and checked into will call which was manned by a woman who was about as warm and friendly as a judge to a pedophiliac murderer. She was severely underwhelmed at who we were and why we were there. We’ll just call her Jade as in “-ed.”
The first thing we were told was to wait in line with the others who, I ascertained, were the winners of local radio station contests and the like. We were supposedly on “a list” which we could neither confirm or deny even existed. So we stood around and waited with the others, hoping we weren’t there hours early for no reason.
Finally an assistant of some sort (these places seem to have hundreds of them walking around like “ins” and you are most definitely part of the “outs” which in action and attitude the ins make sure you know it) shows up and luckily, we ARE on the list so we get special stickers.
The possession of said stickers makes us part of the ins. We are in. Lucky us.
There was some sad flotsam that didn’t make the list and instantly started to beg and plead first the List Master and when that failed, started to beg us for ours. It was like being on the only life boat and people were begging to come aboard. To prove myself as part of the ins, I kicked them away from the boat. Scatter you unwashed masses, I’m “in!”
Sad really. I’m a fan but not insane, at least not enough to lose my dignity.
Now that we possessed the all-important sticker, we had two hours to kill but with nothing to do. I took a quick poll and discovered everyone was hungry. The problem was that we had people on crutches, missing limbs, neck braces, etc. We weren’t exactly the most mobile of groups so walking was out of the question.
By this time, they had started the traffic plan so were charging for parking. If we left in the van to get something to eat, not only would we get caught up in the horrendous traffic jam outside the stadium, but we would have to pay to get back in to park.
I knew I had to take charge but the next problem was that although I’m the Company Commander, I had virtually no power out here. I had the Wounded Marines with me but it’s not like I had a badge for that to flash at the people who only understand the “in” and “out” concept. Although I had a sticker, that only meant I could get into the pre-show. I wasn’t THAT in that I could call any shots.
The next thing I discovered was that when you want something, EVERYONE has the power to say no but NO ONE has the authority to say yes.
All I wanted was to let the Wounded Marines in to the concession stand to buy an overpriced hotdog. That seemed like a bridge too far so my next request was to find someone who could give me a parking pass so I could go and get something to eat and get back in without having to pay.
I might as well have been asking for enriched plutonium.
After talking to a dozen people who sent me to the next clueless drone, we finally had to depend on the ace in the hole. We pulled up to the gate guard earning minimum wage at the gate and tried to explain to him who we were and what we wanted. I was lucky this man, who probably hears dozens of lame stories per night, understood and respected our situation. He told us to return to his gate and he would get me in.
All this happened in front of the Marines and there was a high potential that the guy would tell me to pound sand. When he didn’t, I feel like my authority, or at least esteem in the eyes of the Marines, was maintained.
Some of the Marines had never had In-N-Out so naturally, that’s where we decided to go. The fact that some of them had never been, although stunning, was a golden opportunity. In-N-Out virgins!!!!
When we got there, some of the Marines stayed in the van, having given their orders to friends. There was on Marine in particular that refused to give an order on the pretense that he wasn’t hungry. He had never eaten there before and I knew he was hungry. What I suspected was that he didn’t have any money. He was a PFC so that wouldn’t be surprising, and he was still in bootcamp mode which meant that he was hyper-respectful towards me. Even though this young man had been to war, wounded in war, he still maintained a high level of respect and protocol even in social situations. I was impressed.
When I went in and it was my turn to order, I ordered an extra fry and burger which kind of confused Carrie. She was adamant about not picking up the bill for the entire van which she knew I would if left to my own devices. She just thought I was extra hungry.
When the order came, I asked the worker to put the burger and order of fries in a separate bag. When we got out to the van, I handled it in a way that the PFC would understand.
I threw the bag at him and said “Eat this, PFC.”
He never hesitated and said “Yes Sir” like I had told him to charge a bunker. That was all that was said and we both understood on a personal and professional level. No big presentation but no lack of understanding either. No one saw it but Carrie, me, and the PFC, just as I wanted.
When we got back, just as promised, the gate guard let us through with a huge smile and a smart salute. My heart swelled with pride just as it does every time the public recognizes my Marines for what they do and what they’ve sacrificed.
This is where the rock star treatment starts because we were gathered and led to a room where we were to meet the Idols. I didn’t know what to expect but the excitement was building as we were led to the depths of the stadium past many levels of security until we made it to The Room.
As we entered, it was a little reception area with food, couches, a bar, etc. It was obviously used for these types of receptions and my mind raced at how many famous people had ever visited this place. My reverie was short-lived.
Along the back wall was a row of long tables and sitting there were nine of the ten American Idols, sitting in a line of chairs at the table. It was the weirdest sensation because after watching these people twice a week for months on TV, there they were. My wife accuses me of being a hopeless fan prone to be startstruck and I guess I can’t argue that much.
They. Were. Right. There.
Each person in our line was given a glossy group photo of the Idols and the deal was that you gave it to each one and they signed it as you talked to them. Since our daughter is a big fan, we asked if they could make it out to her.
We were put at the end of the line with the explanation that we would have the most time with the Idols while the others would be rushed along. We gaped at the Idols as we waited in line and in return, I noticed that they were giving curious looks at the short-haired motley crew coming through the line. I realized they hadn’t been informed of who we were so the sight of a bunch of people on crutches, neck-braces, etc. were a curious site to them.
I was snapping pics like crazy, trying to get the Marines in the frame with the Idols but most of them came out blurred due to the distance I was at. I would do better when I was two feet in front of them and just getting full frontal American Idol.
As the first Wounded Marines were getting to the front of the line, one of the assistants was whispering something in each Idol ear. By the reactions on each face, I could tell what he was saying. He was telling them that these were Wounded Warriors. The look on each face was one of the best parts of the entire night. In that instant, the tables turned and each Idol acted as though it was their honor to meet us.
The first Idol I came to was Ace. (Yes, I’m going to just go with first names for brevity sake. Shut up.)
He was very gracious and very interested in each of the Marines that he met. Despite his “pretty-boy” status, I had to begrudgingly admit that he was a pleasure to meet and very sociable.
Next to him was Elliott who was also very gracious. I told him that we had just moved from Virginia and remember the big hoopla surrounding his return home to Richmond. He said it was one of the most rewarding days of his life.
Then it was on to Bucky who also seemed very genuine and asked more questions about us than we did of him.
Then it was on to the ladies. The first one was Kellie and she was just as sweet as she seemed on TV. She was thrilled to see us there and it was especially rewarding to talk to her because I had been charmed by her the first time I saw her on the show. I had commented to my wife that she was going to be a finalist after her first audition. Or at least that I wanted her to be a finalist.
I also told her that Killjoy was her biggest fan and they should start corresponding.
I’ll be honest here. It was a blur so I don’t know if I instigated it or her but somehow, it was decided that I should get a hug from Kellie. There was a lot of love in the room so it didn’t seem out of place and given the chance to hug the ladies from American Idol, well, I wasn’t about to pass that up.
So I hugged her across the table and realized she was about as tiny as my 12-year-old daughter.
This started a trend and so it was just natural that I should give Mandisa a hug and she was more than happy to comply. She thanked us for our service and seemed genuinely happy we were there.
It was at this point that I joked that I appreciated her hug and that Elliott had steadfastly refused me. That got a laugh from the whole panel. OK, maybe you had to be there but suffice it to say I was transforming into my joker personality and unlike everyone else who seemed to be in muted shock, I was trying to put a little levity into the scene.
Next was Paris and she too was tiny. She stood without asking and gave me a hug which I thought was nice. I was getting hugs from all of them and while it was neat for me, I couldn’t help thinking how many other people would lop off a leg (ew, sorry, Doc) to be where I was, doing what I was doing.
Sorry, lapsed into startstruck mode there for a second.
After Paris came Lisa and I got my hug check mark there.
No one will believe me when I say this but the hugs down the line was in appreciation for the way they treated my Marines. They were all very attentive to these Warriors and with the celebrity aside, I was feeling a warmth for these people that had everything to do with how they received the Marines.
Then came the awkward moment. The next in line was Katherine. Right in front of me was one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen and it was no secret, even to my wife standing next to me, that this woman was beauty incarnate to me. I would be untruthful if I ignored this fact.
There I stood, staring, wondering what to do. The precedent all the way down the line had been set and the momentum was obvious. I was hugging all the female Idols and all of them seemed genuinely eager to hug back. So as I stood there, I decided to continue the flow and ignore the superficial attraction I had for this woman.
I said to myself, “Just treat her like you did the others” and then smiled at her with my arms open.
She looked at me with a curious smile and said “What?…”
At this moment, I don’t know who was more confused. Had she not seen me coming down the entire line hugging each woman? I was the first to do this so I think pretty much everyone in the room noticed and those that went before me were cursing themselves for not instigating it themselves. The people behind me were following suit and hugging like there was no tomorrow.
So how could the beautiful McPhee not know what I was going for here? I mean, I was trying to play it off smoothly. I had hugged them, now I hug you. I dismiss anything sexual about the whole thing and give you a hug in appreciation for you spending a moment with the Wounded Warriors and entertaining me for a few months and we call it good.
Then she somehow missed all that and is sitting there like I had asked to father her first born.
I don’t know if she finally realized or just relented to my request but it made an awkward moment JUST that much more awkward, thank you. That was great.
So we gave each other what I refer to as a “man hug” which is all stiff, awkward, and very brief. In the confusion, I didn’t even mentally snapshot the moment when I hugged Katherine McPhee so my initial goal was reached: there was nothing to that hug whatsoever. I’ve had more sensual contact with my dog.
After that bright little moment, the last Idol was my favorite. Taylor Hicks was my pick from the start, although I never thought he’d make it. A graying, older-looking, slightly pudgy singer from Alabama doesn’t exactly scream American Idol but I was glad he won.
I thanked him for putting us gray-haired guys back on the map but in case you were wondering, no, I didn’t hug him.
After we were done, we were led from the room but there was a back up of some sort and we stopped just outside the door. Since we were the last to meet and greet, the Idols were done too and headed to their dressing rooms which happened to be along the same route we were stopped at. So right after we had talked to them, we found ourselves in a narrow hallway with them in an unexpected “everyday” situation with them where we were all standing there making small talk while waiting for the path to clear.
It was surreal.
I was hugging all over Katherine… not really, I was actually talking to Ace. The Staff Sergeant and I were teaching him the finer points of saying “Ooh-rah.”
Ace: “You guys say ‘hoo wa” right?”
Me: “No, it’s ‘ooh rah.’”
Staff Sergeant: “The Army says ‘hoo wa’ and we think it’s gay.”
Me: “You should say it on stage to give us a shout out.”
Staff Sergeant: “Yeah, go ahead, let’s see if you got it.”
Ace: “hoo rah.”
Me: “No, it’s ‘OOH rah.’”
Ace: “OOH ya”
Staff Sergeant: “No, Ace, look, say ‘OOH’…”
Staff Sergeant: “RAH!”
Staff Sergeant: “Now say it together, ‘OOH RAH!”
Ace: “OOH RAH!”
Staff Sergeant: “You got it, now say it on stage and we’ll hear ya.”
Ace: “OOH RAH!”
At this point, I had a few words with Bucky and thanked him for all of this. Then the obstruction broke and we started moving. We peeled off a bit but got stopped again. The Idols were going straight and as I turned, Ace was last and was walking by so I held out my hand for a low five.
It was one of those moments that was unrehearsed but he was stepping forward right in stride to slap my hand and when he did, it made the sound of a clap of thunder. It left my hand stinging and the thought hit me, “Did Ace from American Idol just smack my hand to an almost painful degree?” If I didn’t have a newfound respect for him, I would have questioned my masculinity at that point.
We had no idea what to expect. We had not actually received our tickets yet and thought since we were backstage kind of people (the “ins” if you will), the tickets would be choice.
The choice ended up being, nosebleed or way off to the side. Oh wait, we could have both.
I’m not complaining because they were free and we had a chance to see the Idols up close and personal but it was kind of humorous to realize that the wounded Warriors, many with crutches, wheelchairs, and lacking limbs, had to climb endless sets of stairs to get up to our seats where we could touch the stadium ceiling.
The concert was thrilling, except for the crazy lady who kept bugging us. When she realized who we were, she started hugging each one (who would do that kind of idiocy?). As she came down the line, I thought she knew some of them because she was talking up a storm. But by the time she got to me and Carrie, we knew she was drunk and intrusive. She informed us of her recent divorce to a man who left her for another woman, her book she’s writing about it, and among the endless more details she decided we wanted to know about her and her life, the fact that she had more alcohol in her than straight gin came up.
It didn’t matter that we were completely ignoring her after a spell but my ire mainly centered on her two daughters who saw what was happening and made no move to save us. I guess they figured it was better us than them.
The show went a little something like this. An Idol would come out and the crowd would go nuts. Then he or she would sing about 3 songs and at the end of the last song, the next Idol would stroll on stage and join them. And the crowd would go nuts. At the end, they all came out and sang a couple of group songs.
Then the first Idol would make an exit and after the transition song was done, the Idol would address the crowd.
About half of the Idols recognized the Marines on stage but the crowd was so loud when they would mention the Wounded Marines that no matter how much noise we made to get noticed, the fact that were in the stratosphere ensured the Idols didn’t pinpoint us. But it made my heart pound hard when they would thank us and the crowd roared.
Ace blew it. He mentioned us but didn’t give us an “OOH RAH!” We’d have to have a talk with him about it after the show.
When it all ended, we hobbled down the stairs and were escorted to the after-show. Before that, we were seated in the lower level where groups waited to be called like contestants on the Price Is Right. For some reason, they were taking groups at different times so we had to wait our turn. In the meantime, we were able to watch the roadies tear down the stage and clean up the stadium floor.
I have to mention this. I think it’s bullshit that concert-goers think they can just discard their trash on the ground. It was disgusting. The workers had to remove all the folding chairs and then take enormous mops to push around all the shit people threw down.
I could never have a job like that. I’m not making a judgment on the people who do it, I’m just saying that I would be constantly pissed off knowing I was picking up crap that people couldn’t walk over to the trashcan. I would be irate every time I did it.
When we were finally called, we got a little speal about not doing stupid stuff with the Idols like asking them to sing or shoving a cell phone in their faces. I thought this was stupid but then again, they wouldn’t say it unless it had been a problem in the past. My guys knew if they did something like that, they’d have to answer to me. I love these guys but I wouldn’t let them sully the Marine reputation by acting the fool.
This post-reception was a little different than the beginning. This time it was just a big open room and the Idols were just wondering around all sweaty. Groups of people were all around them, talking to them, trying to get close enough for a picture or an autograph. It was all very unrestrained and I thought a bit strange. After all, as protected as these people are, they seemed strangely approachable by anyone in the room.
I soon discovered why we got the talking to before we got to meet all of them. It became increasingly obvious that no one was adhering to the rules. While waiting to talk to Taylor, some lady shoved her way to the front and crammed a cell phone in his ear and asked him to say hello to her fifth cousin removed. It was very rude of her to do and put him in a bind. He talked a little while signing an autograph but as you can imagine, the whole thing was a bit awkward for him.
Later on, when we were waiting to talk to Ace, some lady got to the front of the line and stood about 6 inches from his face. Then she began to scream. In his face. Hysterically.
He looked at her with a bit of fear, a bit of humor, and then put his finger up to his lips and whispered “Shhhhh… I’m right here.”
That didn’t seem to help all that much.
The other thing I was impressed with was that when a little girl came up to Ace, he bent down to her level, talked with her, and let the mother take a picture with him crouching at her level. He took plenty of time with her and each person he talked to which made me respect him even more.
The neat part about meeting them all was that they remembered the Wounded Warriors so when we made our way to the front of the crowd, we were met with recognition from all of the Idols.
When we got up to Ace, the Staff Sergeant I called him on the whole “OOH RAH” situation.
“I know, I’m sorry but I didn’t want to screw it up and have the Staff Sergeant yell at me after the show!”
We spent a lot of time talking with each one of the Idols. Katherine was not there (they said she had an early photo shoot the next morning) but Chris was there which was great since he had missed the pre-show gig.
We made sure we got plenty of group pics with as many of them as we could and made each one pose with the Marines.
As I do each time we get treated to such special events, I sat down and wrote a thank you to each of the Idols. Here is some of the writing I included in each letter:
Last night we were your guests at the American Idol tour show in San Diego. I brought some of the wounded Marines to see your show and we were all treated not only with a pre-show opportunity to meet you, but also tickets to the show and a post-show meet and greet.
I can’t tell you how much it meant to the Marines but wanted to give it a shot. Originally, I was excited for them and for myself as well to see “The Idols” because we were all big fans. During the pre-show, you did not disappoint. We were put at the end of the line to give us a bit of extra time to talk with you and you were very giving of your time and attention.
During the show, you made mention of us and this changed everything. You must understand that we don’t do what we do for accolades nor certainly for the money. We do it for the simple concept of service to our country and fellow Americans but unfortunately we don’t often get equitable feedback for what we do. I am not complaining, we have become used to this and like I mentioned, it’s not for the “fame.”
So you must understand that when we DO get some recognition, especially from the very people we make these sacrifices for, it’s both overwhelming and humbling. You, along with your fellow Idols, represent that American concept we protect so when you take the love, adulation, and appreciation that you get from a stadium full of people and turn that focus back on those of us that serve in the military, you have no idea how that feels. I know that is a presumptuous statement seeing how you have thousands of fans screaming at you every night but consider THAT feeling turned on those of us that very rarely experience it. This old Marine is at a loss for words to adequately convey that feeling.
With me last night I had a 20-year-old Marine who was shot in the leg from an Iraqi sniper last month. It shattered his lower leg and the dirty bullet infected his wound with bacteria indigenous to the area. He’s had multiple surgeries and held up a drip IV on the way to the concert. After the show, standing on crutches, he told me that the sniper might have taken him down that day but this day he was standing next to the American Idols. He considered himself victorious because he was in your presence and his enemy had not won this one. YOU were his indicator he had bettered his enemy because he was still standing..
We also had a Navy Doc with us that was blown up by an IED. The event cost him his leg from the hip down and he was wearing a prosthetic leg last night. He negotiated a very long set of steps, hopping one step at a time, to come down to see you and you greeted him as a hero.
The Docs are the ones that come running when the bullets start flying, armed only with a medical kit. During and after the fight, they take care of us and then turn their attention on the enemy who may be wounded, treating them as best they can. When they get hurt doing this, you can imagine the deep emotional feelings we experience when our angels get blown apart.
As I stood there last night watching you talk with these men, it occurred to me that these Marines and Sailors represent the thousands of deployed military and wounded Warriors while you and your fellow Idols represent the American dream they fight for. It was a perfect symbolic union and I will never forget that you personally engaged these men with warmth and respect.
You gave us something we will always remember and I want to make a reciprocal offer. If you would ever consider visiting either the Balboa hospital or the Marine Corps Recruit Depot here in San Diego, I would be honored to be your personal guide. At the hospital, you would be able to meet the entire group of wounded Marines and Sailors. At the Depot, you would be able to see how these Marines are made by the Marine Corps Drill Instructors you might have heard about. They tend to make a lasting impression.
Please contact me if you ever find time to give us an opportunity to repay you for what you did for us last night. I promise you that, like last night was to all of us, it will be an experience you never forget.
I don’t think any of them will take me up on it but I hope they at least got to read what I wrote to them.
Last but certainly not least, happy birthday, Mom.
Free Advice for Today: “Let your children know that regardless of what happens, you’ll be there for them.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.