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.

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