Tuesday, December 30, 2014

PTSD for Christmas—The Boredom, Dispatch 6

This dispatch is way overdue but thanks for bearing with me.
Catch up with Dispatch 4 and Dispatch 5.

An Afghan policeman stands with a British mercenary
The 24th day of The Boredom was a lovely, sunny Sunday in Southern California.  I woke up with plenty of time for leisure and knocked through a chapter of Erik Prince’s book Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.  It’s a dynamite read so far, and as a libertarian I like reading about the ups and downs of the military’s private sector.

Later in the morning I took my mom with me to the Christmas service at the First Baptist Church of San Dimas.  The First Baptist Church is the oldest church and building in my town—118 years old.  It’s always been a small congregation—thirty or fewer people usually come to Sunday morning service, and there may be ten or fewer at evening service.  However, it’s the small congregations where I feel most at home.

It’s written that “…if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:19-20).

The mostly-white church interior was lined at the front with pine garlands and bright red poinsettias, all running along the piano, pulpit, and communion altar.  It was simple but tastefully elegant.  The highlight (other than the Salvation message, which is open to ALL people, regardless) was the Christmas music.

In the first twenty minutes the congregation sang Christmas songs from the old hymnal.  Then, several members either sang or performed on instruments in front of the whole congregation.  Kudos to the Santana siblings and their killer saxophones!  The pastor rounded the service out with a sermon on Luke chapter 2 (the Nativity story).

Later that night, I met the older woman from Riverside for a date at the bookstore.  I honestly don’t know why I like to go on bookstore dates; that’s the one venue where I’m guaranteed to pay more attention to inanimate objects than to the woman.  Nonetheless, this one went fine and we ended up shooting the breeze til nearly three in the morning in the parking lot.

Monday, Day 25, I spent most of my free time hustling and bustling around town, trying to finish up my Christmas shopping.  I had another date with the same lady at night.  This time I went to her home where she surprised me with hot chocolate and marshmallows while we watched old movies by the fire.  Great times!  I ended up making it home around 4 AM, but I still rose and shone at 9.

Tuesday, Day 26, was an interesting mix that reflected a lot about the people I care about and the times in which we live.

We were calling it May Day—Havok’s birthday celebration.  (What is it with all my Navy friends and naming days after themselves???)  Anytime Havok hosts a birthday celebration—or any kind of celebration other than friends just getting together to drink—people know it’s going to be crazy, and it’s going to be fun.

Interior of the Yardhouse
I linked up with Havok—the Navy vet and buddy who trashed Karaoke at Lake Arrowhead—and a few other friends at the Yardhouse Bar and Grill in Chino Hills.  I’ve had nothing but good times there!  After wolfing through a giant plate of California roll—it’s one huge role, kind of annoying, but freaking delicious—and gulping down a Dr. Pepper, we officially started a bar hop.

It was about as fun as it could get for someone who doesn’t drink, but ultimately I was there for Havok’s company (and to see if he had anything to say for himself after ruining a previous Tuesday night).  It was at the second bar we were at that Havok began to get visibly trashed—he always gets cross-eyed and starts conversations about wildly inappropriate topics.

The guys and girls were all huddled around a game of pool, leaving Havok and I alone at a nearby table.  With the others gone, he started reaching deep down again.  I don’t like it when he does this.  If he were honestly getting things off his chest, that would be one thing.  But when Havok reaches down into that deep, dark place, he’s either jumping on the Woe-is-me Wagon, or he’ll look for whatever horrible things he can say to shock his listeners.

He opened up about his depression, his emptiness, his feelings of helplessness.  He talked about feeling like he was absolutely dead inside, and just wanted to get back to his brothers on the special ops teams.   Despite how upset I was with him for getting so drunk, so fast—I knew it was only a matter of time before he’d torpedo the night for everyone—I really couldn’t blame him for hating civilian life.

Here he was, telling me that he lived for the adrenaline rush, lived for being out in the field, out with his fellow operators.  And there I was, packing my days and nights with fun or time-consuming activities and projects, just to distract myself from the fact that I slowly was—and am—going crazy not being back in the desert with my teams and my brothers.  Except I knew I’d be back on base doing what I love soon, whereas Havok may or may not be hired by the private firm he applied for.

However, Havok and I have very different ways of dealing with our boredom and… that nagging feeling of emptiness.  And his is worse, that I’ll admit.  But his coping mechanism has been to drink copious amounts of liquor.  It used to be that getting drunk and partying helped him get his temporary fix.  Nowadays, he gets as drunk as possible, as fast as possible, because passing out and not being conscious for hours at a time is preferable for him over facing his demons.

And then there’s the PTSD.  Picture yourself in this situation: it’s your best friend’s birthday and you’re explaining why it would be wrong for him to kill himself.  “You have every reason and every right to be depressed,” I told him.  “I know you have nightmares, and I know you see that shit in the daytime too.  But the fact stands that you survived.  You’re alive, still here, and our other brothers aren’t.  We owe it to them to live a long and happy life, because they no longer can.  You can’t quit, because they wouldn’t want you to.”

And I’m terribly, terribly afraid that he might quit.  I’m an ex-wino; I know how quickly alcohol can break a good man down into a sub-human lifeform.  The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa shattered my best friend, and he doesn’t know how to put the pieces back together, and alcohol turned this once-proud, accomplished operator into a pathetic drunk.  The worst thing for me is I don’t know how to help him.

He somehow held on until we got to the third bar—where he promptly needed to be marched to the car for trying to pick a fight with the one dude who was going out of his way to be nice to our group.  I got into the driver’s seat, Havok climbed into the backseat, and a pretty friend of his climbed into the front passenger seat.  As we talked, I lit up a cigarette.

Havok asked for a drag, took a puff, and started to puke in his mouth—the girl barely reached back and opened his door in time.  After hurling, he passed out in the back seat, face naturally angled to the side.  He was done for the night.  Satisfied that his airway was still open, I gathered the rest of our group, tabs were closed out, and we all went our separate ways for the night (Havok was taken home by our buddy Joker).  It was 11:37 P.M.

Wednesday, Day 27—or should I say DAY ZERO IN MIDDLE EARTH TIME!!!—my dumb ass got carried away writing copious research notes so I missed The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on IMAX 3D.  I looked at the listings and saw a regular “Real-D” 3D show in the next town a half hour later, so I jumped at that one.  What a fun movie!

I spent most of Day 28, Thursday, with another close friend, Aqua Bat.  He picked me up from home in his brilliant, deep orange Volkswagon Beetle and we went Christmas shopping for our families.  I happened to find the Extended Edition of the second Hobbit installment, The Desolation of Smaug, and I jumped at the chance to buy it.

Aqua Bat loved the Lord of the Rings Trilogy but had never seen the Hobbit movies.  Wrong thing to say to a geek like me!  We promptly finished our shopping trip, swung by my place to grab An Unexpected Journey, and thus began our Hobbit Trilogy marathon.  We powered through both of the films on DVD and then caught a 10 PM show of the third one; I was totally game to see it again!

Around 1:30 in the morning was when Aqua Bat dropped me off at home and my numb, tingly ass went to bed lying on my stomach.

Day 29—Friday morning—I put a gun to my own head and forced myself to write Dispatch 5, despite my overwhelming desire to set up the old PlayStation 2 and play Star Wars Battlefront.  I spent most of the day researching for the Vietnam War project.  In the evening, Aqua Bat threw a kickback with a sweet bonfire in the back yard.

I made good company with a pretty local girl and we hit it off for a good minute.  There was only one problem: she’s a terrible kisser!  I feel guilty as if this makes me shallow or something, but… it was really bad!  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good kisser—good as any man who’s been at it for a few years, I suppose—but I really didn’t feel like getting her up to speed.  I guess wedding bells aren’t chiming in this town any time soon.

Saturday, Day 30, I went to the gym and hung out with family.  I stayed home on Saturday night—I was just too damn tired to go out.

* * *

Afghan police and mercenary photo by the U.S. Marine Corps and in the public domain; obtained from Wikimedia Commons.  Yardhouse photo courtesy of Roadtrippers dot com.  Hobbit poster is the property of New Line Cinema, was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and used in accordance with Fair Use.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Going to war against the Police

Saturday afternoon, a man traveled from Baltimore to Brooklyn, where he shot dead two police officers.  My condolences go to the families of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Some of the mixed responses I’ve seen to this double homicide sicken me almost as much as the news itself.  Many of you reading this were sickened by the news of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, as was the shooter in Brooklyn, Ismaaiyl Brinsley.

Given police speculation that Brinsley had committed another homicide back in Baltimore, planned for killing police, and that he killed himself after the incident, we can conclude that the shooter was crazy and disturbed similar to the Columbine shooters.

This murderous violence, motivated partly by politics and partly by insanity, will undoubtedly prolong the stalemated gun control debate.  It will also continue the discussion on civil liberties and the militarization of police in America.

Many in the liberty movement not only oppose the State institution of the police, or the State’s monopoly on security, but actually hate the police as a group and as individuals.  I’ve actually dealt with a handful of people who are actually glad these officers were ambushed and murdered.

If you're one of these people who celebrated their deaths, I'm ashamed of you.

This is horrible.  Furthermore, the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are outraged by these killings, and their outrage is justifiable.  After all, the families didn’t lose their sons violently so that their memory could be used to justify further violence.  That’s one hell of a slippery slope.  So ask yourself: are you one of those people who will politicize their sons’ deaths?  Will you reduce their deaths to a rallying cry for political violence?

By no means should libertarians, who value the right to life and individual self-determination more than any other ideological group, celebrate the murder of any human beings.  That’s exactly what this ambush was.  It wasn’t a rebel military operation, nor was it any kind of revolutionary action, despite being partly motivated by politics.  The guy was mentally unbalanced.

I remind you all that libertarians view people first and foremost as individuals.  This means one mentally unbalanced individual was angry that specific uniformed individuals killed another individual in Staten Island, New York, and that yet another individual killed another individual in Ferguson, Missouri—therefore, he as an individual chose to murder yet other individuals in the Bronx who wore uniforms, but had nothing to do with the other slayings.  It was as if these killings were supposed to “even the score” between civilians and police.

In the end, all it did was raise the overall body count, leaving police and civilians equally appalled.

Katie Rucke of Mint Press News claims that over 5,000 U.S. civilians have been killed by police since 9/11.  We have no way of knowing at this time which “civilians” were unarmed and oppressed, and which were actually violent creeps caught in the act, who happened to be legally innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Nonetheless, the statistic is staggering.

However, violence in America is NOT one-sided.

2014 saw 66 police officers die from assault, vehicular assault, gunshot wounds, and other hostile actions (Officer Down Memorial Page counts the death toll for this year at 113 including non-hostile deaths).  At least 972 American police officers have been killed by hostile actions since the day after 9/11—the toll rises 1,106 if we count the terrorist attacks and slow death from 9/11-related illness.  Worse yet, over 16,300 homicides took place in America in 2014 alone.

I don’t deny that America has a problem with militarized police.  I also acknowledge the issues raised by the gun control debate—I think we need psycho control, not gun control, but I haven’t ignored the opposition’s arguments.

I also take heat on a regular basis from within the liberty movement because I don’t jump on the Let’s-Hate-Cops bandwagon.  I was raised by two police officers (both of whom respect civil rights and voted for Ron Paul). I still see cops—civilians as well—as individuals before I see them as members of a group.  I also see that 93% of homicides committed in America were not committed by police.

This points out a sickening new angle to the problem of violence in America: Poorly trained/indoctrinated cops kill civilians, other civilians kill cops, and while Americans are ranting and debating this issue, civilian criminals kill 15,000 other civilians without America batting an eye.

Folks, going to war against the police will not help save civilians, nor will it secure our civil liberties.  This will only raise the body count and justify the paranoia of trigger-happy police officers while the State cracks down on freedom.

Rather than adopt the insane  crusade of encouraging Christopher Dorner-style campaigns against the police, we in the liberty movement need to be shining examples of humility, respect for the sanctity of life, and respectful towards the fallen and their mourning families.

We have a lot of work to do in reforming policing in America.  Better yet, we have the doubly difficult task of not only suggesting reforms, but also innovative ways to minimize the State’s monopoly on security and transfer part of that burden to citizen volunteers and private industry.  However, to change people’s thinking and get them to think the way we do, we have to display strong character.

The opposition will only take time to listen to us if they respect us, and most people’s respect is earned, not given.  This means that we command respect not only through being fluent in our talking points and arguments, but we earn respect by showing nothing but respect for those who disagree with us.

Framingham, MA memorial to fallen police
Being kind and respectful begins with the way we approach the dead.  I’m very sorry that the two NYPD officers were murdered, as I’m sorry another officer in Florida was murdered yesterday.

As a human being with compassion, my heart is heavy to know that children are going to grow up without fathers.  The same goes for the children of people killed by police.  The same also goes for the children of the 15,000+ people who were killed by fellow civilians in 2014.

In the meantime, let’s not advocate violence against the police, or against the state, or against anyone.  We need to formulate liberty-based solutions for public safety.  Violence as self-defense is acceptable, but ex-post facto retaliation borders on violating the non-aggression principle.  Furthermore, a war against the government is something to be avoided.  I’d rather bring libertarian change through fifty years of activism and reform rather than 50 days of civil war.

Everyone will lose that war.

The now-iconic image

* * *

Sirens and lights photo by Junior Libby and is in the public domain.  Sheriff SWAT photo by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Framingham Police Memorial photo by "Daderot" and released into the public domain. Ferguson Hug photo courtesy of CBS News and used in accordance with Fair Use laws.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Life and Death—The Boredom, Dispatch 5

Thank you for reading about my continuing exploits on my quest.  I’m trying to fill my holiday season with actions that are productive and/or meaningful to me before I go back to working at the job I love.
Catch up with Dispatch 1 , Dispatch 2 , Dispatch 3 , and Dispatch 4.

Sunday, Day 17 of The Boredom, was spent mostly with family. Still, I dedicated more than a few hours to peaceful solitude in front of the glow of my computer screen.

Not gonna lie, playing The Lord of the Rings Online has become one of my favorite pastimes.  It’s an epic role-playing video game and the designers created worlds that allow me to explore and learn more about the regions and peoples written about in one of the greatest literary masterpieces of Western civilization.

Day 18, Monday, was mostly spent working on manuscripts and doing research, both for building my business and for a future writing project.  The academic research has been for the purpose of writing a multi-volume history of the Vietnam War, entirely from a libertarian perspective.  So far I have seventy pages of notes typed out on the computer, single-spaced and 12-inch font.

In the evening I attended my Civil Air Patrol (U.S. Air Force Auxiliary) squadron meeting.  Our guest that evening was an Air Force colonel who happened to be the staff director for the Fourth Air Force at March Air Reserve Base.  He spoke with us in the headquarters board room—really a section of the squadron’s double-wide, walled off by chalk boards on one side and bookshelves on the other—and I managed to get an interview before the end of the meeting.

I take pride in having volunteered in the Air Force Auxiliary.  I originally joined to have a joint activity with my nephew, whose old man was long gone and badly needed a structured program at the time, but I stayed because I truly enjoy the program.  Three years later, I’m a First Lieutenant and one of the most active public affairs officers in California Wing.  I take pride in my own accomplishments and in serving with this incredible, humanitarian manifestation of the “organized militia.”  Plus, it’s pretty badass that CAP sank two German submarines prowling our coast during World War II, with dozens more air-struck and damaged into retreat.

Day 19, Tuesday, I had my nose in books, smoked too many cigarettes, and then forced myself to go to the gym.  It seems like I’m only ever motivated to work out when I’m on base...  Oh well, at least I went.  The highlight of my day was finally getting in the mail my new green vinyl record of the Misfits' Project 1950 Expanded album—the entire thing is punk rock covers of oldies songs.  Listening to that was too cool!

Wednesday was spent doing more research, further work restoring manuscripts, and I managed to step into the sunlight to get some lunch.  In the evening I went to my older sister’s house to honor our tradition of, whenever I’m back from the desert, watching Modern Family as a family—myself, my sister, and my niece and nephews.

I don’t even remember Thursday.  I honestly don’t remember caring.  It was probably a pleasant day.

Friday, Day 22, I punished myself at the gym.  I did a full forty minutes of cardio, then migrated upstairs to do the bar dip for four sets of twenty-five suspended reverse sit-ups.  I followed that up with three sets on the horizontal chest-press machine—one set for my left arm, and one reduced-weight set for my stump.  I do my best to work out the right side of my torso despite my limb deficiency.  I’ve been lucky enough to reverse some of the muscular atrophy on that side.

Following the chest-press I grabbed a forty-pound weight bar and did four sets of squats, fifteen reps each.  While it’s been good for my thighs and tush, it’s been remarkably good for my right shoulder muscle (which is noticeably smaller than my left).  I finished everything off with another ten minutes of cardio—this time on an exercise bike—and in my time at the gym I downed another chapter of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

Saturday, Day 23 of The Boredom, was as incredible day of days.  I got up at 0530 (not my finest of hours), showered, and put on my CAP uniform.  After picking up a Powerade, Red Bull, and a stick of beef jerky—the popular food of the modern warrior—I made my way to squadron headquarters by 0645.  The squadron departed for Riverside National Cemetery.

Our mission was to participate in Wreaths Across America, an event to place holiday wreaths at the graves of departed armed forces veterans, thus keeping their memory alive.  The event was very touching and moving.  The only part that weighed on me was talking with some of the Gold Star wives and mothers.  Whenever military family members see me, they see the crew cut and the missing arm and mistakenly do the math to think I’m a combat veteran.  I tell them I’ve never been in combat, but they don’t care—they already respect the uniform and they have things they need to get off their chest.  I have an obligation to these women who lost so much for their country, to listen to what they need to tell me.

And so seventy-year-old women wept in front of me for the husbands they lost in Vietnam, and forty-year-old women wept for the sons they lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What particularly disturbed me was the Vietnam War widows—forty or fifty years later and the grief still hits them hard.  It always stays with you and doesn’t go away, just like Abe’s death in Al Anbar province hasn’t gone away from me after ten years.

I got off duty just in time to drive across Riverside, where I made it just in time for my friend’s wedding.  One of the senior NCOs in my unit—we’ll call him “Job,” after the Biblical figure—was getting re-married.  Since he’s been through emotional hell and back in his life—long story, you don’t want to know—and he’s become a mentor to me over time, I wasn’t going to miss his wedding for the world.

Three amazing things happened that afternoon.  First, I saw my friend truly happy for the first time in years.  Second, an important bond was strengthened.  I noticed several tables had reserved seating; one was reserved for the bride’s family—a thriving, bustling table—and another reserved for the groom’s family.  The latter was empty; the entire groom’s family has since passed away.  I asked “Job” if I could eat my meal at his family’s reserved table and he said, “Yes, I consider you family.”  And I made sure he saw me eat at that table.  The third wonderful thing that happened was that I met an intriguing older woman—one who’s kind, classy, sexy and smart.  We shot the breeze for hours and had a ball.  Phone numbers were exchanged.

After I got home from Riverside I had a nice hour-long visit with my older sister.  She and I are very close and I consider it a blessing that one of my siblings is also my close and true friend.  Following the visit that primarily consisted of laughing and talking smack about psychotic relatives, I picked up my good friend Midshipman.  He and I had gone up to Big Bear and Holcomb Valley together two weeks ago.

Midshipman (right) and I (left)
We sped over to the American Legion hall in Azusa, California, to join my friend “Shark” for his birthday celebration—SharkFest 2014.  Let me just tell you, SharkFest was AWESOME!  It was seriously the best party I’ve been to in months, if not longer.  A cemetery and a wedding in one day are a bit much, especially after talking with the war widows.

Shark is a Navy veteran who saw combat in Afghanistan.  Nowadays he’s a student at Mt. San Antonio College.  I met him through the San Bernardino County Libertarian Party, he was always supportive of my writing, and we’ve been friends ever since.  We were celebrating his 31st birthday that night.

It was such a relief to shoot the breeze and swap stories with veterans and fellow current reservists my age.  The special bond between veterans that you read all the clichés about, then mentally discard, is real.  I hadn’t realized the extent before, but I did that night.  I realized that I’m not a 19-year-old FNG—f***ing new guy (a liability)—in a shiny new uniform, amazed by everything going on around him.  I’ve been a weekend warrior for seven years, added to three years of extra duty with the Auxiliary, and another two years as a contractor embedded with the regular Army.  I’ve done my share, endured both the outdoor elements and the bureaucracy, and it was great to be around other guys and girls who actually knew what the hell I was talking about!

Gotta love Vietnam vets!

Better yet, the party wasn’t great just because I met solid people and partied hard with my buddies.  Other than making a host of new friends, I danced with some of the prettiest girls in the San Gabriel Valley, civilian and veterans!  One girl, currently a student, was the prettiest woman Marine I’ve ever seen—seriously, I’m a sucker for dark brown hair and green eyes.  Better yet, she’d been “downrange” (military slang for the wars), which made her a badass.

The entire night was therapeutic, and the entire day was an incredible ending to my week.

* * *

CAP historical painting courtesy of CAPhistory dot org.  All other images are by the author.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Underground Punk Rock and Spontaneous Order—The Boredom, Dispatch 4

I woke up as the sun’s rays began to brighten the inside of a beat up Ford F250.  I was folded up in the back seat while Midshipman occupied the front.  He looked like a bear coming out of hibernation.  We both climbed out of the truck and quickly ran out of the shade and into the warmth of the sun.

We got to the edge of the lower meadow when we realized the sunrise over the mountain valley was breathtaking.  Midshipman and I split my last two cigarettes and stood smoking in silence as we took in the sun.  It was a deeply reassuring feeling becoming one with nature.

This was Sunday morning—Day 10 of The Boredom.

After an indeterminate amount of time we piled into the truck and took a rocky dirt road over to the upper meadow, a mile or two away.  There was a turnout on the road, trimmed by a ranch-style minimal wood fence that fed into a path.  At the end of the path which took me a short way into the meadow stood a lone cabin.

The cabin was built there in 1859.  William F. Holcomb and Ben Choteau, prospectors from Bear Valley, found gold in 1860 while tracking a bear in the next valley north.  The discovery triggered a gold rush in San Bernardino County and by 1861 “Belleville” (the town named after the first child born in the valley).  However, the boom quickly busted and Belleville was virtually a ghost town by 1864, and literally a ghost town by 1870.  I suspect the folks there got caught up in the drama of the Civil War, which even affected California.

Breakfast consisted of leftover pizza from the night before—Midshipman heated up over the engine.  We ate our pizza and let the warm sun and cold wind confuse and torture our bodies.  Despite the elements being harsh up there, it was invigorating just being exposed to them.  By 10:30 we began the bumpy trek down the mountain.

What a hell of a weekend it had been!

Monday, Day 11, was largely uneventful.  I wrote and I worked on manuscripts, and I made excuses not to go to the gym.  I put a metaphorical gun to my own head and wrote the third dispatch for The Boredom, which was published to the Rants blog later that evening.

I did attend my weekly Civil Air Patrol squadron meeting—the first Monday of the month is always Commander’s Call and awards ceremony.  I took a ton of photos of CAP members just going about their business.

Chartered by Congress, Civil Air Patrol is the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, a civilian volunteer organization authorized to wear paramilitary uniforms and carry out search-and-rescue and disaster relief missions on behalf of the Air Force.  I’ve been an auxiliary airman for three and a half years, on top of my two years as a military contractor and seven years in the state guard.

I spent the morning of Day 12, Tuesday, editing and preparing the photos from Commander’s Call for uploading to the squadron Facebook fan page.  I spent a few solid hours working on manuscripts and an hour or two slaying orcs on The Lord of the Rings Online.  Good times!  Later that evening I prepared the thirtieth installment of Five Libertarian Ideas for next-day publication on the Rants blog.

Wednesday/Day 13 I went to the gym and worked out like a fiend.  My body and mind equally needed it.  While doing cardio on the machines I started a new book—War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges—as if I needed any more books to read.  I still have a pile I either haven’t started or haven’t finished.  Each and every one is outstanding, and I can’t put either of them down, at least until I find the next one.

That night I linked up with one of my close friends, Aqua Bat.  He’s been a friend since childhood, from Scouting, and we really started hanging out a lot after high school ended.  Aqua Bat is an interesting character.  He’s a new-school stoner with a love for punk and ska music.  His preference for Converse shoes, shorts, and brightly knitted Baja jackets and beanies give him the look of an orphan rescued and raised by a Peruvian flute band.

We drove down into a seedy-looking industrial area of lower Pomona—we were south of Holt Avenue and east of the 71.  Our objective was the VLHS warehouse, an amazing little place tucked away in between shipping warehouses and welding garages, far out of ear shot in its location at this time of night.  It’s the ideal place to hold a concert, throw a party, get wild, you name it!

VLHS—named after the show producer’s high school—is DIY (do-it-yourself) punk at its finest.  As a matter of fact, this is full-on underground punk rock.  There are no permits, no insurance, no mass-posted flyers letting anyone know the shows at this location are approved and open to the public.  There is only a private lease paid in cash between the show producers and the property owner.  The shows are promoted by word of mouth and Facebook, to a very limited extent.

The shows at VLHS are technically illegal.  We don’t care.  For us it’s about freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and voluntary association.  Spontaneous order happens every night there’s a show at VLHS.  It’s BYOB, and everyone’s either holding a beer can, a bottle of liquor, cigarettes (for your non-drinkers), and the harder stuff people are encouraged to do inside their car or on the other side of the building.

The “donation” is paid at the door, and all participants are aware that this is private property.  Moreover, the DIY punk rockers and supporters here police themselves.  Serious drama involves the cops, and the police typically frown on untaxed, unpermitted, unregulated concerts.  So everyone solves problems between themselves and no drama ensues.

Aqua Bat and I hadn’t been to a VLHS show in nearly a year. It felt good to be back among familiar sounds and familiar faces.  I love punk rock, not just the juxtaposed simplicities and complexities hidden in the chords and lyrics, but for its spirit of rebellion and a determination of individuals not to be ruled.  Not bad for a Wednesday night!

Thursday was a blur—I went to bed late on Wednesday night and paid for it with a late morning.  I shambled off to the gym, got in a decent work out, and reflected on Chris Hedges’ philosophical essays on war.

Day 15, Friday, I spent most of the day fine-tooth combing through some texts on the Vietnam War for a writing project that’s been slowly developing over the last few months. I’m nowhere near ready to announce this, but this project will be one of my proudest scholarly achievements. 

Friday night saw Aqua Bat and I return for another show at VLHS.  Punk rock women are some of the most attractive on the planet.  There’s just something about the way they pull off leather and black without going full Goth  Then their off-beat hair (usually dark with a neon highlight or two), and the whole mysterious persona they wear along with their torn jeans…  Life is good.

Day 16, Saturday was an obnoxiously early start.  It wasn't yet 6 AM as I tore myself away from sleep and started shuffling into my Army Combat Uniform.  I picked up a large jerky stick, a Powerade, and a Red Bull and made the 45-minute commute to the National Guard armory I drill at once a month.

It was December drill, cut short by the usual annual family-friendly barbeque banquet.  The banquet was at noon, so morning-time had a lot of ridiculous standing around.  Whatever.  I was at all the places I needed to be and I got my tasks done.  Better yet, I had time to coach some junior enlisted soldiers about a few career matters involving the uniform.  I find it ironic as hell that the majority of soldiers in the state guard are in their 40s and 50s—it’s Title 32 militia, after all.  Then here I am, 25 years old, outranking dozens of people.  I guess I really have been in 7 years!

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