IT WAS HALLOWEEN…

The horizon glowed as the slowing-setting sun created vivid mixtures of carrot orange and banana yellow, fitting colors to welcome the approaching night of witches and goblins and ghosts.

I drove to base to use the ATM to buy some more candy for the little trick or treat gremlins I expected that evening.  After parking and approaching the ATM, I noticed a fresh-faced young man of about 20 standing at the machine frantically punching buttons as if he were typing a letter for a newspaper deadline.  By his hair cut, I knew he was a soldier. 

The nervous shifting of his weight from one leg to the other revealed his agitation with the ATM’s inability to operate faster.  As the machine hummed to calculate his entry, he looked back at me and offered, “So how’s your Halloween been so far?” My first inclination was to look around and behind me to see who he was talking to, but I realized that I was the only one in line.  Amused, I smiled and politely returned his greeting with, “Oh, quiet, so far.” He smiled too, then turned around to continue his increasing frustrating fight with the machine. I grew tickled watching him while he punched more buttons and hovered like a vulture over the ATM as it spat out a receipt from the tiny slot. He grabbed his receipt, quickly scanned it and whooped, “Yesss, I got paid!”

After tapping more buttons, he turned around again towards me, “I got this train to catch in about twenty minutes.” Pointing towards the parking lot, he revealed, “My taxi’s waiting for me over there. Gotta get to my girl’s place so that we can go party.”I grinned and nodded, pleasantly baffled at his uninhibited comfort to share his plight with me. Pointing to his waist, he playfully chastised himself, “And look at this, no belt! I left it back at the barracks. I don’t usually dress like this, but I was in such a hurry. Don’t think I’ll have time to go back to get it, though.” I smiled at him again, at a loss for what else to do.

He turned his attention back to the ATM as it hummed to count his money out and prepared to release it through the slot. Once his cash appeared, he snatched it away as if the gray steel box would take it back. After counting his money, he stuffed it in his wallet, which he hastily jammed in his back pocket. Pausing to look at me before leaving, he said, “I just got back from Iraq and everything here is so haywire.

As he left, I shook my head and wondered to myself, “How was that possible?” But thank God he made it back alive.

As he left, he beamed, “Have a nice night, ma’am.” 

“You too, young man, you too.”

THE NEIGHBORHOOD CAT

 

An unwelcomed visitor…

When I moved into my home in this beautiful, quaint little town, I thought I had actually moved into heaven.  My house stood at the end of a cul-de-sac, which was inviting, very clean, and very quiet.  Vewy, vewy quiet and I liked that one aspect of living here.  No barking dogs; no whining babies; no kids at play screaming in the street; no drive-by shootings; and no cats that I could see.  Mind you, I am not a cat person.  Never have been. Never will be. I don’t hate cats. I just don’t like them. They flaunt too much attitude to exist in my environment.  I love dogs. Always have and always will.

My new nest suited me just fine.  I felt more relaxed and contented as I slowly settled in.  One day, I went out to my front porch and stood there, just marveling at the awesome scenery as lush green fir trees covered the mountains in the distance.  I took in deep breaths of fresh, rejuvenating alpine air.  At that very moment, all was right with the world with me, that is until the melodic Sound of Music lullaby playing in my head came to a screeching halt…EEERRRRRTT!!!   What caused this, you ask?  I spotted a lifelong nemesis of mine:  a cat.  A fat furry cat.  Mouth agape, I  froze in disbelief.  He spotted me eyeing him from across the street as I stood on my porch. I waited and watched him, wishing that it would go away.  But my repulsive vibe didn’t seem to ruffle this feline’s fur one bit.

We stared at each other for a challenging minute like two rival gunslingers getting ready to shoot it out at the OK Corral.  But for some reason, he got cold paws about his next move. He turned around and disappeared into some shrubbery next to a house across the street.  Wimp!  Naively, I thought the short standoff with this feline foe would be the end of my experience with it.  I dismissed ever having another encounter with it, even thinking that maybe it belonged to someone in the neighborhood who would hopefully keep it locked up for the entire time I would be living here.

A few days later, the bold cat popped in on my street again, wisely remaining at a safe distance from me. Since I saw no collar with ID tags or around its neck, I pegged it as a stray, which is even worse.  To me, that meant that it probably has had no shots, has no permanent home, and that it was free to roam the neighborhood at will to squat when and where ever it wanted to. A squatter cat! HA!  Mentally, I quickly made note of some plans for my strategy to keep it away from me and my area. Let me reiterate that I don’t hate cats, I just don’t like ’em no matter how cute and cuddly they may look.  This one was fat and looked healthy, so some bleeding heart residents must have fed it very well.

A few weeks later, the creepy cat appeared in my neighborhood again.  I saw it as it poked its head out from behind a parked car across the street to take a peek at me.  Seemingly sizing me up before it moved, it crept stealthily to my side of the street like a jungle predator stalking its prey.  Moving toward my driveway, it had nerve enough to scamper up my steps as if it lived here or I had invited it to approach me.  No chance of that happening! I stood still as it reached my porch. It stopped a foot away from me to stare at me for a split second, probably sniffing out what kind of vibe radiated from my death stare. Then it moved closer towards me,  gently brushed up against my legs and roamed around my feet. I glared at it, producing a ‘get the hell away from me’ expression, but it showed absolutely no fear at my contorted face.  I stood still as it continued its dance between my legs and around my feet. WTF?  I didn’t say anything to shoo it away.  I just watched it to see how much braver it would dare to be and what else was on its fucking furry agenda. Grimacing and clenching my fists, I screamed silently to the heavens, “NOOOOoooo,” rolling my eyes as I did so.  But I remained standing still as it made its way around my legs again.

Without being heartless, I would have given it a snack or something, but I don’t stock any cat food in my house.  I had some Chicklets in my pocket, but I didn’t think that the cat would appreciate the refreshing taste of peppermint gum.  Besides, I didn’t want to encourage it to come back for any future free meals from me.  I sensed that it felt that much about me.  In spite of my obvious disdain of felines, for some reason, this cat seemed purrfectly comfortable around me.  I waited until it finished its assessment of me and watched as it finally released itself from my legs and scampered down my steps and disappeared off into the neighborhood.  I yelled, “STAY AWAY FROM ME, YOU BRAZEN LITTLE FUR BALL.”  It didn’t even look back.

A Whiff of Pure Embarrassment

a-whiff-001

One Saturday afternoon, I took the 20-minute drive to Frankfurt with intentions of doing only some window shopping. Plus, I would get some much-needed exercise walking up and down the Zeil (Pronounced ZILE), which is a popular pedestrian thoroughfare and hangout area in the heart of downtown Frankfurt. The Zeil boasts a wide pedestrian walkway loaded with shoppers, curiosity seekers, street musicians, bustling coffee shops, sleek bistros, and vendors hawking their wares!  I had no plans of buying anything because I was kinda low on Euros.  After parking, I took the stairs from the underground parking lot up to the Zeil where there’s no shortage of high-end and reasonably priced clothing stores.  Rounding out the eclectic mix of shops was an array of upscale shoe and purse boutiques and ice cream parlors on both sides of the Zeil.  Some vendors selling hand-made items, such as long colorful scarves, woven hats, and beaded necklaces, had conveniently set up their tables in cramped alleyways between buildings housing popular department stores.  Naturally, the vendors provided easy access to their wares for curious shoppers eager to look over and possibly buy their items for sale.

As usual, the Zeil brimmed with a diverse mix of people from all around the world.  There was no shortage of street musicians and others who had unique talents to entertain the passersby.  Some performers were dressed in their native costumes. Musicians armed themselves with the likes of clarinets, hand-made wooden flutes, tambourines, antique accordions, cow bells, French horns, and other instruments common to their cultures.  Playing for mere pennies, the musicians welcomed the often paltry Euro change passersby threw in their collection baskets as they continued to enthusiastically play songs from their native countries.  Lines of hungry shoppers formed at each food stand, bakery, sandwich shop, and gyro bistro, all of which generated enticing aromas filling the air with bouquets of spicy meats, loaves of baked bread, and sugary treats few could resist.

After thoroughly enjoying the sunny weather and atmosphere with its colorful flair and excitement, I stepped into one of the big department stores, which werewas packed with shoppers.  To avoid some of the crowded areas, I wandered over to one of my favorite places to browse: the bath and beauty area. Hopefully, I would find some new products to sample.  Slowly scanning the shelves, I was in awe of just about everything.  Shiny, colorful containers tend to mesmerize me. But a pleasant, flowery scent grabbed me by the nose and led me over to a display shelf filled with beautiful tins of talcum powders, bottles of lotions, and containers of a new brand of bath soap.  Unfamiliar with this particular new brand, which came in a lovely bottle, I couldn’t resist testing it on my skin. Naturally, I wanted to smell the fragrance before shelling out any of my few Euros to buy it. The brazen shopper that I am and since there were no open tester samples, I took the liberty of opening one of the bottles on the shelf, held it under my nose and took a sniff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t smell anything, so I  gently squeezed the bottle to release a bit of its fragrance into the area just under my nose.  When that didn’t work, I thought that maybe if I pinched it a bit harder, the bottle would finally release its essence. No need to say that this was not a bright idea.  So, I squeezed the bottle under my nose like it was a rubber ball for arthritic sufferers like me.  Not only did I get to experience its fragrance, but a sizable portion of the creamy, smooth bubble bath went up into my nose, to my brain and oozed out my ears.  It was so thick that it felt like snot leaking from my nostrils. But it smelled damn good, though! Beyond embarrassed, I stood still to check my peripheral vision to see if anyone else was in the same aisle with me. Seeing no one, I quickly wiped the white stuff my nose with the back of my coat sleeve, just as I would do when I was a child. Curse or blessing, the kid in me never goes away.  I was glad that no one saw me make an ass of myself in the store. But I’m pretty damn sure the guys viewing the security cameras had a good laugh at my expense!

Tour of Duty: Army Equal Opportunity Advisor

Looking back on the world-wide internal personnel turmoil in 1997, I remember that the United States Army was slowly recovering from one of its toughest times in history.  Recent allegations and charges of sexual harassment, abuses of authority, and other unacceptable behaviors created shock waves throughout the ranks, cutting deeply into the moral fabric of the regimented military structure.  In immediate response to the perceived wide-spread misconduct, the Department of the Army (DA) took swift action to appropriately address and eliminate these types of behaviors.  For added measure, DA conducted a comprehensive review of the human relations climate and its Equal Opportunity Program.  As a result of that review, DA implemented a series of procedures to identify shortfalls in human relations and the Equal Opportunity Program and determine courses of action to improve their effectiveness.  DA also focused primarily on EO training, the complaint process, avenues of redress for complaints, and protection of complainants as well as the accused from retaliation and reprisals.

Army Regulation 600-20, Chapter 6, outlines the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program.  In accordance with this regulation, commanders at all levels are responsible for and held accountable for their Equal Opportunity programs.  Vital elements in each commander’s Equal Opportunity programs are Equal Opportunity Advisors (EOAs) and Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs).   Both require specialized training, and both have specific duties to assist commanders with their unit EO programs.  DA selects NCOs (SSG (P)(promotable) and above) to attend a 16-week course at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI), Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.  DA may also select officers to attend either the 16-week EOA Course or a six-week EO Program Manager’s Course (EOPM).  After attendees successfully complete their DEOMI training, DA assigns them as EOAs or EOPMs at commands brigade level or higher.  Usually with advice from EOAs, commanders select noncommissioned officers (NCOs Staff Sergeant and above) and officers to attend a two-week Equal Opportunity Leader’s (EOL) course at 7th Army Training Command, Combined Arms Training Center, Vilseck, Germany.  After successfully completing this course, the NCOs and officers are assigned as EOLs at battalion level and below.  However, because of their extensive training, EOAs usually shoulder the bulk of the responsibilities for assisting commanders with implementing and maintaining unit EO programs.  Contrary to some perceptions, the jobs of Equal Opportunity Advisors and Leaders are extremely tough and often very frustrating, which to me was the equivalent of tumbling over Niagara Falls in a rickety rubber raft.  But as an Army Equal Opportunity Advisor, nothing was as tough for me as making that first impression and pitching my role as an EO Advisor to my new chain of command in Germany.

Knock,  Knock, Knock . . .
“Come in!” roared the thunderous voice.  Cautiously and slowly opening the door, I stepped into this enormous office.  Rising from the center of the plush carpet was a huge, highly polished desk the size of an old Army jeep.  Behind that desk loomed my nemesis, The Entity, beaming with military confidence in its high-back, leather swivel chair.  With muscular arms the size of tree trunks folded across its massive chest, The Entity stared at me through those charming, thick, black-rimmed Army-issued glasses.  Prominent canine incisors reinforced the corners of its rigid mouth.  Yet, it looked no less imposing with a high-and-tight haircut, which gave its large head the appearance of a crock-pot with Prince Charles ears.  I faked a weak cough to suppress a laugh, which started rising in my throat.  With its steely eyes still on me, The Entity remained motionless as I slowly inched towards its desk, stopping four feet from the edge as a safety precaution.   Nosy by nature, I took a quick glance to soak in the impressive surroundings, which attested to The Entity’s years of combat experience.   Hundreds of awards ranging from Viet Nam spoils of war to Desert Storm certificates blanketed three of The Entity’s walls.  On the wall behind The Entity was a menacing-looking silver saber, bearing several rust spots.  I figured that these ‘accoutrements’ had to be the dried blood of countless enemies who’d probably paid a hefty price for ticking The Entity off.  No small comfort to me was that this saber was well within The Entity’s reach.  Like invincible sentries, two empty .50-caliber shells stood at the front of each end of The Entity’s desk, which was somewhat of a welcome barrier between me and the figure looming behind it.  Unfortunately, I had yet to find out if this individual was friend or foe.

Sprouting from a camouflage-painted tin bucket in one corner of the desk was a healthy-looking Venus Flytrap plant.  I presumed, by its girth, that this little ‘pet’ had been trained in combat to munch on tidbits of human flesh left in the wake of The Entity’s past skirmishes.  In another corner was a four-inch-high troll doll with shocking pink hair and one big white tooth peeking through a permanently frozen sinister grin.  This little imp seemed to be laughing at me as if it doubted my ability to survive this initial EO briefing to The Entity.

After wrapping up that distressing assessment, I prepared to announce the purpose of my ‘intrusion.’  But before attempting to speak, I centered myself on The Entity, as is normal military procedure.   In return, The Entity leaned forward and plopped its beefy arms on the desk.  Increasing the tension was the swivel chair, which released an excruciating squeak as he leaned forward, giving me disturbing flashbacks of my first NCO E-5 board appearance.  Now thoroughly scared beyond description, I thought about doing a quick about-face and getting the hell outta there, but by regulation, I had to get this intro briefing over with.  Tapping his fingers on the desk, which signaled his impatience, The Entity waited for my next move.  With my mouth thoroughly dry, I squeezed out, “Good morning, I’m Sergeant First Class Metz.  I’m your new Equal Opportunity Advisor.”

Furrowing its thick, caterpillar-like eyebrows, The Entity snapped, “My what!”  Cringing, I made a mental note to get my hearing checked, for I had never experienced a human voice at that decibel in such a close confinement.  Clearly uncomfortable with my introduction, The Entity snarled, “I didn’t order any Equal Opportunity Advisor. Has the G1 gone mad?  Who sent you here, Sergeant?”
“My branch and the Department of the Army,” I murmured.  “I’ll be here for three years as the brigade’s EO Advisor.”

I felt pitiful as my inner sense of reasoning began to rationalize this situation.  I questioned my intelligence and thought process about what the hell prompted me to step into this EO job.  But now was not the time to start arguing with myself.  Weighing the odds of having to possibly deliver my EO pitch standing up, I silently prayed for The Entity to offer me a seat because my quivering legs needed a rest.  Sensing that I was ill at ease, The Entity snorted, “Take a seat, Sergeant Metz, you look kind of pale.”  Now, that asinine remark struck me funny.  I thought looking pale was impossible for a Black NCO like me, but now was not the time to discuss racial characteristics with this person.  As I sat down in a huge chair next to its desk, I began to sink into the cushion until my knees stopped just six inches short of my chin.  It was like sitting in a giant beanbag chair.  After a few minor adjustments, I steadied myself enough to look military enough to continue my briefing without disappearing in between the cushion or falling to the floor in a heap.

Instead of this EO trip easing up, my rickety rubber raft headed into more treacherous waters with the onset of a migraine headache.  This ‘unwelcome guest’ caused my eyes to water and my head to throb like someone beating on a tom-tom drum.  Though feeling like my head was about to explode, I knew that this was not the time to ask this brute for aspirin.  Seeking some relief, I opened my purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at my eyes and the sweat, which started to trickle down my face.

Just as I started my EO pitch, The Entity boasted, “This is an infantry brigade, Sergeant Metz.  We don’t have any EO problems.  We treat everybody the same—like soldiers.  We’re a mean, green fighting machine.  We all get along just fine.”

I thought that this EO stint would be a cushy job, but this caustic drama was turning into an Game-of-Thrones nightmare.  Maybe this is the real ‘hostile environment’ the DEOMI staff warned us new DEOMI graduates about.  Grabbing my second wind, I pressed on with, “That may be true, but there are many other aspects of the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program of which you may not be aware.”

“Like!” roared The Entity, registering about 7.2 on the Richter scale.  Recovering from the aftershocks, I steadied myself and continued, “Like climate surveys, assessments and sensing sessions–these are some tools to help commanders in gauging their unit climate to uncover and address any problems.  These EO mechanisms check the pulse of the unit to determine how soldiers perceive the unit leadership and chain of command.  But for any EO program to be successful, commanders must first be committed to the program and must assure their soldiers of that commitment.  Moreover, commanders should clearly state and post EO and sexual harassment policy letters as well as ways of the complaint process.  Also, it is extremely important for commanders, as well as supervisors, to address complaints promptly, thoroughly and fairly.  Additionally, commanders should guard against retaliation and reprisals directed towards complainants and make sure that complainants receive feedback on all issues. In order for any training to have a lasting impact, it must be effective.  Equal Opportunity training should be conducted in that same vein–with fervor and commitment–because equal opportunity is a leadership function of command.  EO-related training can consist of Army values, gender-related subjects, racism, and cultural diversity as well as other human relations topics, which are equally effective in increasing awareness and maintaining a healthy command climate.  Also, ethnic observances educate soldiers about cultural differences, contributions, and sacrifices of all Americans, giving soldiers a greater appreciation for the Army’s diverse make-up.

The Department of the Army’s EO Program encourages soldiers to attempt resolving complaints within the chain of command and/or at the lowest level.  However, other agencies are available should soldiers, for any reason, feel the necessity to seek assistance outside their chain of command.  Available are unit chaplains, EOAs, CID, the IG, JAG, personnel from medical and housing facilities, and Military Police. The goal is to create and maintain a climate in which all personnel are treated with dignity and respect.”

“Where did you get you training?” The Entity queried skeptically.
“At DEOMI.”
“What’s a DEOMI?” it probed.
“It’s the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute; DEOMI is the acronym.  The DEOMI staff comprises highly trained personnel from four military branches and experienced civilian personnel.  They teach the EO courses at Patrick Air Force Base.”
The Entity raised its eyebrows and remarked cynically, “Oh, Cocoa Beach, Florida, eh?”
Kicking aside the sarcasm, I boldly charged on with, “Yes, and it’s a very intense 16-week course covering the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program and several areas in human relations.”

The more I talked, the more interested The Entity became.  The more questions it fired at me, the more confident I grew.  I saw The Entity’s slight interest rise from a mere flicker to a roaring flame hungry for more information.  Feeling like a superwoman, I was finally on a roll, even managing to DX (discard) that pesky migraine headache.

Wrapping up my session with The Entity, I felt like this had been one of the longest, hardest 30-minute briefings in my entire military career.  From outward appearances, The Entity seemed thoroughly satisfied with my information.  And I was pleased at the change in The Entity’s demeanor.  The gruff exterior had given way to a normal, likable member of my new chain of command.  I knew then that I had met and exceeded my goal.  Flexing my newly acquired EO muscles, I felt ready for the long haul and challenges of this 3-year assignment.

“So, SFC Metz, you’re scheduled to see the brigade commander next.”   “Thank you, sergeant major.”  As I left, the The Entity’s troll winked at me, and I gave myself a mental HOOAHH!”

 

The Mother Lode of Lemons

It was Saturday, my day for another trip to the flea market in nearby Metz, France. Normally, I take such short jaunts with a few select friends. Not everyone I know can come with me because a few act so crazy and I’d be easily tempted to leave their asses in France. Ria, a friend and coworker, was spunky just like me. She jumped at the chance to tag along.

I met her in the parking lot of the Bad Kreuznach Post Exchange. Usually, I drive but didn’t have enough gas in my car to make the trip. So Ria offered to let me drive her car. She had just purchased this older model Mercedes-Benz from a shifty coworker who was leaving for the states (thank Goodness and good riddance)

I got out of my car and walked over to her Benz. In my gut, I had a bad feeling about this heap on wheels. But I didn’t say anything to Ria. Happy as a kid at a circus, she got in on the passenger side. I opened the driver’s side door, which creaked like a haunted mansion’s steel gate. “Just how old is this fucking car?” I wondered to myself. A strong, prominent musty smell savagely invaded my nose. “Whew! Where and how long has this lemon been sitting?” I mused. I thought I would need an oxygen mask to survive the two-hour trip to France, but to get fresh air, I could always do like dogs do and let my head hang out the window as I drove. Since that would look stupid on my part, I decided to keep my window cracked open. Before leaving, I went through a checklist of necessities for such a trip: passports, ID cards, Euros, miniature Snickers and a small plastic zip-lock bag full of fresh fruit.

Careful not to reveal my distasteful observations to Ria about her car, I forced a smile as I cautiously slid onto the thickly padded seat behind the steering wheel, which was much bigger than the one in my car. I felt like a scrawny, six-year-old kid behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. Annoyed that I could see only over the top of the steering wheel down to the end of the long, wide hood, I ran back to my car to grab two pillows for a boost so that I could see the road. Returning, I readjusted the seat to fit me.

Before I could start the engine, Ria stopped me to rattle off some of the quirky “features” of her old ‘Betsy Benz.’

“The key’s permanently stuck in the ignition. Don’t take it out ‘cause it’ll mess up something in the electrical system. The parking brake is on the left side of the floor. You gotta pull the black handle really hard on the left side under the dashboard to engage it and release it.”

My grasp of these unusual features amounted to “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?” Suddenly taking my car made better sense, but filling up with gas now would cut into our shopping time. Later, I would regret this decision.

Appearance wise, the old Benz seemed to be in good shape, nice body, sturdy looking tires and not a scratch, but despite its inner warts that Ria described, this trip would validate its roadworthiness.

Finally, we took off. The ‘old girl’ sailed smoothly over bumps and potholes in the road. Just outside the city limits of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, I crested a hill, which allowed a panoramic view of a lush valley sprinkled with quaint villages. The morning’s light drizzle produced a beautiful misty rainbow, which hovered over a field. Excitable as a kid in a candy store, I shouted, “Quick, Ria, get the camera, take a picture!” I added, “The rainbow’s a good sign; for what, I don’t know, but it’s a good sign.

The camera, one of those small disposables, had taken cover somewhere underneath her seat. In my haste to park so that Ria could get a picture of the rainbow, I swung the big Benz sharply through an upcoming traffic circle and sped out. This Indy 500-maneuver caused the elusive camera to roll farther out of her reach. Ria scrambled to locate it, but before she could get it ready to take its first shot of the beautiful rainbow, my cell phone rang. I grabbed my earphone and tried to plug it in one ear, but the cord dropped into that black hole between the front seats. I kept one hand on the huge steering wheel and darted my eyes back and forth from the road to my cell phone while trying to punch those tiny buttons to connect with my caller. Yes, I know, safety was already out the window on this trip. But who would fault me for throwing caution to the wind when I was already sitting behind the wheel of this potential time bomb?

The call was from another friend, Tamikio, who regretted that she couldn’t make the trip. I told her we had just spotted a rainbow and she expressed excitement as well. I guess my friends and I are kindred spirits who still marvel at Mother Nature’s little wonders that others might ignore.

Realizing that talking on cell phones while driving is dangerous, not to mention illegal, I was looking for a rest stop to pull over and continue yakking with Tamikio and so that Ria could prepare the camera to get a good shot of the rainbow. Having difficulty advancing the film, Ria handed me the camera. Not a bright idea since I was still driving.

Anyway, I took the camera to advance the film and gave it back to Ria. In doing so, Ria accidentally pressed the “ready” button, which caused a sun-blinding flash to fill the car. Surprisingly, I kept the car steady as we roared laughing at her clumsiness, but at least, we knew that the camera worked. No picture of the rainbow yet, but I think we got a good shot of the dashboard and floor.

While wrapping it up with Tamikio, I parked to let Ria take her intended shot, but seconds later, she returned to the car frustrated, “It’s gone! The rainbow is gone. Poof, just like that.” I took this moment for some deep sage wisdom, “Oh well, that means that we’re going to have a great time.” I lied through my teeth to mask my growing apprehension.

Snacking on Snickers, we took off on the autobahn, which surprisingly had little traffic at that time of the morning. An annoying drizzle danced across the windshield, putting somewhat of a damper on the morning, but to me, the rainbow, which we never got a picture of, signaled otherwise. We decided not to succumb to the wiles of gloomy weather.

I usually like to drive with good music. Salsa is my preference. Since the car didn’t have the luxury of a CD player, I resigned myself to listen to any station that the ancient-looking radio could pull in. Ria grabbed a black knob and turned it a bit too much clockwise, releasing an ear-piercing static, which almost made me pee in my seat. Quickly she turned it off while I resorted yo humming a tune to myself to match the beat of the raindrops hitting the car. Boring at best!

Ria switched on the wiper because God knows I couldn’t have found it. This large, yard-long blade rose from its hiding place and creaked across the windshield, mopping up the raindrops with one swipe. It was hard to concentrate on my driving while I sat amazed at the amount of windshield area the blade could cover at one time. With this blade, the raindrops didn’t have a chance to settle as the blade broke up their party as they dropped.

Although the Benz handled easily on the autobahn, the ride itself was a bit rougher than my car, making me think that the good-looking tires were deceptive. Confidently, I slipped the car into fourth gear and gradually upped the speed to 180 kilometers and moved into the left lane. Suddenly I found myself behind a late-model BMW. As I approached it, the driver moved to the right lane to let me pass. After passing the BMW, the driver got behind me and flashed his high beams at me, which ticked me off. I hadn’t done anything offensive and didn’t understand this discourtesy. “What a moron!” I thought.

Feeling a bit hungry, we stopped up ahead for a breakfast at a McD’s. As we were returning to the car, I heard Ria gasp, “Oh my God, look!” I looked at Ria, “What?….what?” “Look at the car,” she continued, “One of my headlights is missing!”

I looked at the car and stifled a laugh. Sure enough, one headlight was missing and it looked like ‘old Betsy’ had a black eye. I turned to Ria and asked the most stupid question on this planet, “Did I hit something?” She looked at me as if I had just lost my mind. Rightfully so, she ignored my question. If I had hit anything, both of us would have known it. We ran over to the car to examine the gaping hole where the headlight had been. All that was left were a few tiny wires dangling in the slight breeze. “Hmmm….maybe that’s why the “moron” flashed his lights at me…to let me know that I had lost the damn headlight somewhere back on the autobahn.”

Let me go over this hoopty’s features again….key stuck in the ignition, parking brake on the floor, headlight missing….hmmmm…suddenly this Benz made me recall the infamous Russian Mir space station which made it back to earth on a broken wing and several hundred prayers.

Ria shrugged off the missing headlight and jumped back in. As for me, I thought, “we’re too far away from our destination to catch a bus or call a taxi, so I cautiously slid behind the wheel again, suspiciously eyeing the dashboard, thinking that if I touched anything else, something would disintegrate or explode. Ria strapped on her seatbelt; slowly I strapped on mine, all the while feeling like a reluctant crash test dummy.

Before starting out again, I grabbed more Snickers and went through a ‘pre-flight’ check: windshield wiper still attached: check; radio out of commission: check; headlights: one missing in action, but we wouldn’t need it anyway since it was still daylight. So we took off again, roaring with nervous laughter.

Actually, I felt bad inside for my friend Ria and angry at the jerk who sold her this first-classed lemon. But I wouldn’t let my anger dampen her enthusiasm for doing the Metz Flea Market drill for the first time.

Finally, we pulled into the packed parking lot. It was still raining, but we remained upbeat and anxious to roam through the cavernous halls that house an enormous eclectic mix of trash and treasures.

But before I got out of the car, something peculiar at the end of the hood caught my eye. The Benz hood ornament was bent at an odd angle. “Maybe I killed it by pushing the car to 180 Kilometers,” I surmised. I got out and tried to straighten the ornament back up, but it came off in my hand. I forced it back into its slot. It wobbled a bit but, fortunately, stayed steady and upright. Not wanting to risk losing anything else on the way back, I vowed to drive back to Germany at the same speed Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy. After browsing and making our deals, we headed back to the car, arms full of unique treasures. Actually, I even thought of trying to make a last-minute trade of Ria’s Benz for a sturdy little red wagon. Fortunately, for Ria, this wasn’t my car. Thankfully, we experienced no mishaps on the trip back. As I pulled into the lot and parked next to my car, I sensed that it, too, was as surprised as I was that we made it back safely without losing any more vital car parts. I ran over and hugged my hood, ignored Ria’s strange look, and promised never to forsake my “baby” for a lemon again.

The moral of this true story: Everything that looks good is not always good for you…except chocolate and red wine.

In my Prankish Mood

A RETIREE WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR
Went to the PX today to buy some stuff. After purchasing what I need, I headed to a checkout counter. The cashier was a young lady who looked to be about 19 or 20 years old. She smiled and greeted me kindly as I put my stuff on the conveyor belt. After she rang up my items and bagged them, I hesitated to pay. I looked at her with a straight face and spoke, “Isn’t this Retiree Purchases for Free Tuesday?” Clearly in shock, she turned pale and stared at me, probably feeling embarrassed and super stupid because she didn’t get that memo. Her eyes glazed over and resembled jumbo marbles in their sockets. Feeling sorry for her standing there looking as helpless as a kitten in a cage full of hungry lions, I decided to end my fun and snap her out of it with, “Oh, I was just kidding.” She laughed as her eyes quickly returned to their normal size. She covered her heart with one of her hands as she blurted out, “Whew, I was about to call the manager. I thought I did something wrong.” No, no. You didn’t. It’s just me in one of my moods to make someone laugh today. A big smile came across her face as she handed me my bags and I went on my way. As I was leaving, she probably thought, “Those crazy Retirees. Gotta watch ’em.”

My Kindergarten Incarceration

I remember the day my mom sentenced me to kindergarten. It was a horrendous, frightening childhood experience and one that I will never forget.

I had been living a peaceful, carefree, blissful existence with my mom and dad, two brothers, Eddie and Raymond, and one cantankerous sister named Rosemary. We had a double house, and my Grandma Ida Schexnayder Metz and Grandpa, Papa Charles Benjamin Metz, lived next door. Being the baby of the Metz family, I enjoyed the heavy-handed spoiling from my parents and grandparent. I basked in the glow of being the apple of everyone’s eye, knowing that I could never do anything wrong.

We called my mother Viola, ‘Ma’ and my Grandma Ida, ‘Mama,’ a southern tradition of assigning nicknames to family members. We didn’t feel a need to call my daddy and Papa Metz anything else. We called my brother Raymond ‘Black’ because of the coal-black tone of his skin, which was the same as Papa’s and my daddy’s. My oldest brother Eddie was ‘Chief’ because of his features resembled that of a Native American, high, prominent cheekbones, strong nose and …

Rosemary, my sister, was ‘Wootsie.’ I never found out how she got that moniker and didn’t care to because she became my nemesis as soon as I could walk and talk. My dad gave me my nickname, and as far as me sharing it with you, I would tell you to hold your breath. It’s a cute nickname and one that I am not ashamed of, but it would be embarrassing for me to show it.

Delightfully, Ma and Mama were great cooks and bakers to boot. They prepared every meal from scratch. Meats were always from fresh stock. From the cakes they made to their savory Creole dishes, they filled me with the tastiest and best home-cooked meals anyone could imagine. I was simply blessed to have had access to all this wonderful, tasty Cajun food, deeply shrouded in warmth and love from these two nurturing matriarchs of the Metz family.

Both my brothers served in the Army. Eddie, Jr., the oldest, was stationed in Korea. Raymond served in Korea too, but was later transferred to Fort Hood, Texas. I remember when he came home on leave. He was movie-star handsome in his freshly pressed khaki uniform and spit-shined shoes. At 6’2″, he towered over me like a shiny totem pole. My eyes weren’t big enough to see all that he was. He talked with me a bit about the Army and, as always, teased me about my big feet and long fingers. Nothing ever hurtful,l but he and Eddie always came up with corny jokes about my appendages. They repeatedly ribbed me with, “You’ll make a great piano player with those long fingers of yours or You might be able to beat Jesse Owens running in the Olympics with those big feet.” Then they’d start laughing like two tipsy hyenas. Yes, their jokes were funny and it was hard not to laugh along with them, even at my expense. One day before Raymond left, he came to our kitchen to say goodbye to me. Smartly dressed in his uniform, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me he loved me. Then he went into his back pocket and took out his wallet. He opened it and pulled out two crisp dollar bills and placed them in my hand. I was over the moon at how much candy, cookies and potato chips I could buy with this windfall. He kissed me on my head and I gave him a big hug and started to cry. He told me not to do that, dried my eyes and to be a big girl for him. Then he left, but the sadness of his leaving stayed with me for a long time. Brother Eddie was still in Korea. I knew I would see them both again. I cried when Raymond left in a taxi on his way to the airport, but otherwise I was in a good place with hard-working parents and grandparents who loved me too. I had no worries, except for Rosemary, the bane of my existence.

My brothers were true gentlemen, always respectful to my parents and grandparents. I never, ever heard either one of them raise their voices in anger or even utter a curse word. I loved them both and always looked up to them as my Black knights in shining armor. But my sister Rosemary was a hard pill for me to swallow. I used to give her the side eye because she didn’t have any of the physical or character traits my brothers and I had. Seemingly, she was filled to the brim with piss and vinegar all the damn time. I believed she planned her days around how much trouble she could get into. From smoking to cussing to sassing my mom and dad, I just knew she had to be adopted. She was about 12 but looked 80 to me due to the angry expression permanently carved into her face, which resembled a contorted Carnival mask. By comparison, I had long, thick hair; hers was short and wiry with a nappy kitchen growing down the nape of her neck. Facial moles, considered beauty marks, ran in our family. Ma, Mama, and an aunt all had one. I had a small one near my hairline at the top of my face. Rose had a big raised one the size of a small green pea on her chin, just below her lip. Whenever she got irritated with me and started screaming at me like some juiced-up jungle animal, I swear I saw that mole pulsate to the beat of every word she spat at me. Forget horror movies; she was my fucking nightmare all through my childhood. Curious as to her lineage, I often asked my brother Eddie if she was adopted, or if someone left her in a basket on our front porch. He just laughed and shook his head, but never gave me a straight answer. He was too much of a gentleman and a good brother to confirm this probably well-kept secret about the ‘Black Sheep’ of the family. Despite lacking solid proof, I convinced myself that Rosemary sprang from a pack of savage wolves, who kicked her out of the woods because they couldn’t stand any more of her shit in their herd.

I spent my days playing hopscotch, marbles, reading, and playing with the dolls and toys Ma and Daddy bought for me. Thanks to my dad, I was the only kid on my block with a subscription to Children’s Digest, Reader’s Digest for kids. I was so proud of that. Every month, I waited for the mailman’s delivery of my treasured subscription. After it arrived, I read it voraciously and always completed the crossword puzzles and word games in a snap. I also enjoyed my Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head family and a game called Operation the most. Sometimes I’d play in our big back yard with a few kids from the neighborhood. Usually when they came over and got tired of playing with my toys, we sought other means of having fun. Innocently, we gathered a pile of rocks and took turns hurling them over the wooden shed in our backyard. Picture this set up. On the other side of the shed was a wire fence that surrounded our property. On the other side of that fence was this big empty lot, always overgrown with weeds. The rocks we flung over the shed were quite big. Being naïve little waifs, we thought the rocks were landing in the empty lot. But I’m pretty damn sure somebody got hit. I can imagine an innocent person walking on the banquette (sidewalk) next to the lot, minding their own business, when all of a sudden out of nowhere, KLUNK! Now, I’ve been hit in the head with a rock before. It came with the territory of being a kid in my neighborhood. The knot it produced on my head lasted for about three days, and believe me, it was embarrassing, because nothing I tried could hide that big-assed bump. I stewed for days after getting hit with a rock, especially when I didn’t know who threw it. Where’s the justice in that when my payback’s been taken away? Actually my friends and I didn’t think of intentionally injuring anyone. We spent our days having innocent fun like that, but if anyone got hit in the head walking along the banquette next to the lot and decided to investigate where that mysterious missile came from, I had a perfect hiding place for all of us to make a clean getaway: slip into the shed or race up our back steps through our kitchen door and slam it shut. No worries except for Rosemary, who always threatened to turn us in. To whom, I don’t remember, but I knew that anything Rosemary was behind had to be sinister.

I also enjoyed watching mom cook, clean the house, and iron our clothes. Sometimes on Mondays, which was laundry day, I’d help her load the laundry in our washing machine on our back porch. We had one of those old ones with the round tub and a ringer. We had to slide the clothes in between the rollers and turn the handle to squeeze as much of the moisture out of the clothes as we could. Sometimes we had to do this twice. Always in awe of this mechanical contraption, I often wondered, “How can they ever top this?”

One day, my niece Puny came to visit. Her name was Deborah, but the family nicknamed her Puny because she was so skinny that she easily resembled a Hangman stick figure. No matter how much she ate, she never, ever gained any weight. That day, Puny and I helped Ma put the clothes in the washer. Ma put some Tide soap powder and bleach in the water and then started the machine, which howled like a low-grade buzz saw. During the wash cycle, it always shook our back porch silly. But boy did it ever wash clothes clean! When the wash cycle was over, we let the water drain out through the hose attached to the bottom of the tub. Then Ma filled the tub with clean water to rinse the clothes. After the rinse cycle, we fed the clothes through the ringers before we hung them on the clothes lines in the back yard to dry. Right after Ma drained the rinse water out, Puny and I started feeding the soggy clothes through the wringer. For some reason, which escapes me even to this day, Puny started aggressively pushing the wet clothes through the wringer. Somehow, her pencil-thin fingers got caught in the rollers, which started to suck in her arm. I thought, ‘Oh, Shit!’ I was speechless, which was rare for me. I just stood there silently in shock with my mouth wide open as this mechanical monster tried to eat the rest of my niece’s bony arm. Puny released an ear-splitting shriek, which scattered all the birds from our big fig tree in the back yard. I covered my ears and hopped off the porch to protect my hearing and keep myself from going deaf. Actually, I thought the machine was trying to eat her alive, so I closed my eyes to avoid being permanently scarred by the bloody, bone-crushing carnage I expected. When Ma heard Puny’s screams, she came rushing from the kitchen. She quickly flipped a latch which popped the rollers open so she could get Puny’s little arm out. I was looking for her arm to come out flat as a pancake like the shit that happens in cartoons. Though her arm was a bit red, it looked OK to me. I didn’t think any of her bones were broken or that she was in much pain, but Ma got a white cloth to fashion an arm sling for her. Ma told us both to go sit in the kitchen. She gave Puny half of an aspirin with some water and told us that she’d finish doing the laundry. Good thing she did that, though. No way in hell I wanted to be the machine’s next victim. From then on, laundry day was my day to either play out in the front yard or to take a nap on my own.

I remember the day Ma introduced me to my first horror movie: kindergarten. Granted, I thoroughly enjoyed spending precious time with Ma, watching her cook, clean the house, and helping her load laundry in our washing machine and other household stuff. But one day, I remember Ma dressing me in one of my favorite frocks. White cotton socks and saddle oxfords completed my outfit. She carefully greased, combed and braided my hair, adorning it with ribbons to match my dress. I was elated, thinking that she was getting me ready to go out with her as she usually would do. My first clue that something was up should have been the fact that she didn’t get dressed up too. She even kept her cooking apron on, which I thought was strange. I wondered why she was getting me dressed when she didn’t get herself ready. I didn’t give it a second thought. Like I said, I had no worries, and didn’t question anything except the family ties to Rosemary.

Shortly after Ma completed dressing me, I heard a knock on our front screen door. I stayed in our second room near the bed and let Ma answer the door. After Ma greeted the person through the screen door, she opened it to let this stranger in. I was amazed at the size of this humongous Black lady entering our living room. She looked bigger than the Hindenburg Airship. On the spot where she stood on our linoleum rug, I faintly heard our floor boards underneath the rug moaning and groaning. I wondered how could she let herself get that big. Again, I didn’t give this encounter any more thoughts. At age five, I had a sharp, active mind but was severely naive to a dangerous fault.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t hear the full conversation between Ma and this blimp standing in our front room. Seconds later, Ma came to me and took my hand, walking me towards the ’blimp.’ That’s when I assumed the worst: Ma was giving me away to this big beefy bimbo. I started one of those “oh-hell-no’ fits and fell out on the floor to intensify my drama and disbelief. This act didn’t get me very far but quickly wore my little ass out. I continued to scream and cry and fight and hold on to anything within my grasp as Ma pulled me towards this big stranger. When the burly broad saw the resistance I was putting up, she waddled towards me and grabbed my other hand to help Ma drag me towards the front door. Mannn, I was fighting for my life, screaming and crying like it was the end of the world as I knew it. I thought that this fat bitch was taking me away from my Ma, my daddy, my grandparents and my blissful existence. She wasn’t rough with me and I suffered no bruises, but I resented being pulled from the comfort of my home without any explanation, forewarning or preparation. Tired from my futile attempts to resist, I finally relented after this obese woman overpowered me and took me outside to her car. Ironically, it matched her perfectly: black, dismal, and massive. Adding to this awful picture, the white-wall tires and silver fenders made the car resemble the Munster family’s hearse. Silently, I prayed “Oh, Lord, I’m too young to die,” as I thought this woman was gonna eventually kill me.”

She opened the back door and led me on to the huge tufted seats, which were comfortable but almost swallowed my thin little body in its folds. There were no seat belts though. Back then no one worried about whip-lash or kids in the back seat slamming face first into the back of the front seats on sudden stops. Safety was never first. Through teary eyes, I looked at my mom as she waved goodbye to me. I didn’t wave back because I thought she had given me away to this thick troll who could barely fit behind the steering wheel. I thought I would never, ever see my mom again.

After a short drive, the fat lady drove to the Calliope Projects and stopped in the parking space designated for her hearse. ‘WTF is this? A kindergarten in the Calliope Projects?’ I had never been to the projects. I only heard a few unflattering tidbits about it and knew that it was a place where I didn’t want to ever be. After she parked, she unhinged herself from behind the steering wheel and opened the back door to let me out. Taking me by the hand, she led me up some concrete steps to a concrete porch. I just knew this was a prison for children. She headed towards a large screen door, painted a shiny green. Opening the door, she led me up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Sizing up this joint, I thought the second floor would be a challenge should I have to jump from it in any attempt to escape. She then opened another door which revealed a large room with a dark-tiled floor and not much furniture.

I saw other kids about my age sitting on the floor. Boys and girls, various shades of skin color, different modes of outfits, but they all looked like little idiots to me. I became depressed at the thought of being locked up in this huge cell with these obvious morons. I went over to a corner and sat down on the floor by myself to pout. I thought it was be best to keep to myself and avoid any contact with those dorks. The fat lady disappeared into another room, but came back shortly to give us some simple instructions, which I immediately ignored. Then she and two of her accomplices placed some pallets on the tiled floor for each one of us. To them, it was nap time for us. To me, it was time for me to plan my escape. I was beside myself with hurt and despair. Given the peaceful atmosphere in which I was raised, Ma never forced me to take a nap. I was so active and full of energy, that I just wore myself out and took a nap on my own. Nothing and no one forced me to do anything. I was a little Black princess, spoiled rotten, and I just loved that happy existence. But here I was in this dismal prison cell with a bunch of nitwits, sitting on a funky pallet on a hard floor, and they expected me to take a nap. Bullshit, I thought. I lay there wide awake, planning a ruse for my chance to bolt from this miserable place. After a few hours, the crew came in to wake us up for lunch. Ha! Some meal! From the strange smell in the air, this chow came nowhere near the tempting, spicy, tempting aromas from my Ma’s and Grandma’s kitchens. This mess reeked worse than our garbage can on Monday mornings. Adamant, I vowed not to eat any of it. Granted, I was hungry from all that useless fighting when this fat broad wrestled me from my mom’s loving arms. But I have to admit that I was famished. My little stomach was growling nonstop, as if it would eat me alive. So I was at a point to welcome even stale garbage. The fat lady and her cohorts handed out plastic spoons and small paper plates, which contained rice with brown gravy, a vegetable I can’t recall and some mystery meat. I mixed the gravy and rice and took a tiny spoonful. It grossed me out so much that I started to gag. The rice was mushy, like grits, and the gravy tasted like mashed brown turds boiled in water. When the fat lady and her guards weren’t looking, I spat it all back in the plate since I couldn’t get it down my throat. Then there was this lump of alien-looking meat that I assumed was chicken. I thought that no one could ever mess up chicken. I was wrong. I picked it up from my plate and took a tiny bite out of it. Mannn, that shit tasted like spoiled Spam and like no chicken I ever ate. I left the rest of that crap on the plate. I was angry beyond any consolation and vowed to resist in any way possible. Little did I know at the time, that I was a young Black Panther in the making.

Just when I wondered what was next on the agenda for me and the idiots, the fat lady and her assistants brought out some toys to teach us some silly game. Don’t these morons know that I can play chess? I hated being around all these weird kids, who could hardly talk or wipe the green, slimy snot running from their noses. Yuck! I feigned participation in that silly game, agonizing over the lost time that I would never get back. Finally, the fat lady and her staff collected the toys and then handed out coloring books and a box of Crayolas to each one of us. I knew these kids were a disturbed bunch of blockheads. I validated that when I observed them coloring like the nitwits that they were. When I colored in my books, I always stayed within the lines. That’s why they draw the figures so you can color within the lines! Anyone with half a brain knows that. I was disgusted watching these little morons just scratching zig zag lines across each page. Colors all over the place. Ignoring the lines. How could they expose me, a genius in the rough, to this bizarre gang? What I didn’t realize at the time was that Ma needed a break from me. Looking back, I know I was a handful. I was a daddy’s girl; spoiled rotten to the core. Suffering through my regimented days at kindergarten, I later figured out that time away from me was like a day at the spa for Ma. She needed the rest.

With all the angst and stress of being away from Ma on a daily basis, somehow I survived kindergarten and thankfully avoided any mental or physical scarring. The next September, Ma registered me for first grade at St. Monica Catholic School, which was three blocks away from our house. It was a welcome challenge for me, which I took on without any fuss. I was thankful to finally be among children with functioning brains. I tackled the advanced curriculum with ease, sailing to the top of my class. The nuns went so far as to contact my parents to authorize skipping me from fifth grade to sixth grade because I made straight A’s in everything. However, no one asked me how I felt about being skipped or how I felt about leaving my friends behind and trying to get accustomed to a new group of nerds. But that’s another chapter in my childhood. Nevertheless, everyone in the family was so proud of me. Surprising to me, I was finally growing up.