ARMY 101: Keep off the grass, idiot!

When I first came into the Army, one of the stupidest rules I was subjected to was that troops couldn’t walk on any patch of grass anywhere on post. If any part of our boot even touched any piece of grass, some eagle-eyed, high-ranking sergeant or officer with not enough work to do would spot us. It never failed.  These outdoor military watchdogs would call us out and yell at us before making us knock out an insane number push-ups on the ground until they got tired. Very humiliating to say the least!  Thankfully, I never got caught due to me quickly adapting to the drill sergeants’ conditioning us by figuratively beating the Army regulations into our heads, so I vowed to avoid the sad fate of other unwary recruits being embarrassed.

When I retired after 22 years of service, the very first thing I did was to thumb my nose at that insane rule under which I lived and served for so many years.

Once I got my retirement papers, I couldn’t wait to step on some grass anywhere on any post.  At times going a bit out of my way, I deliberately found the first patch of grass I saw. I walked on it over and over and over and over again like a crazy person.  I guess people looking at me from the windows of their buildings must have thought I had lost my mind, but I didn’t care. I even went so far as to actually laying down on the grass and rolling around on it as a playful puppy would do. I thought that type of action would draw too much negative attention, so I stopped short of doing it.

Today, I was at Ramstein Air Base with the intent of visiting the post exchange.  After parking my car, did I use the fancy brick sidewalk that leads shoppers from the parking lot to the entrance of the post exchange?  Oh, HELL NO!  On my own special mission like a motherfucking ex-noncommissioned officer, I felt emboldened to thumb my nose at that old Army rule. I walked over to that big field of neatly trimmed grass and took in a deep breath before I defiled it.  I felt so damn empowered to brazenly cut across that grassy area to get to the front door of the post exchange. Yesss…!

Of course, it has been years since I retired, but when the opportunity arises, I still feel the need to challenge authority in this way. Defiance is still within me. Fortunately, there are no idiots around to yell obscenities at me to tell me to get my ass off some patch of grass! Yeah, the Army had conditioned me long enough!  Not sure if I will ever get this ‘grass turf thing’ out of my system. Over time, I have thought that I might need some type of therapy for this. Maybe I might even need to have a session with Dr. Phil.

MY VERY FULL AND RICH DAY: Part 1, The Brat


While visiting the Post Exchange on Ramstein Air Base, I headed over to the section stocked with bath and health products.  As I got near the aisle I needed, I heard a child screaming so loudly that it sounded like someone was beating it to death.  Immediately I became concerned.  I peeped around the corner of the aisle and stood shocked at what I saw. 

A pre-teen White female about 12 years old was having a meltdown like a two-year-old. I knew pre-teen sensed that I was looking at her, but my presence only escalated her screams.  So I walked towards her, but she didn’t look at me…yet.  She had dark brown hair cropped short to just below her ears.  From what I could see, I noticed that her face had turned intensely red, which was probably caused by the heat from the anger she was generating. 

She stood about as tall as I was, and she wore a plaid pleated skirt with a white blouse and navy blue sweater, a uniform which appeared to be a Catholic school standard. As I walked further into the aisle, she frowned as she whipped her head around to look up at me when I came into her view. Her sudden move startled me a bit, and the Blair Witch Project sprang to my mind because her eyes were scarily rimmed in red. Squinting my eyes in disbelief, I could have sworn I saw horns sticking out from each side of her head.  But I chalked that up to my eyes playing tricks on me. Tears streamed down her face, and snot had dripped from her nose down to her top lip. An ugly, pitiful sight indeed.

I thought my presence would make her stop the sideshow drama, but she ignored me to return to her childish tirade. She then turned to face the shelf looming before her, which I presumed had a product or products that she wanted, but that her mother couldn’t buy at the time or didn’t think she needed.  Suddenly, this kid took her tantrum up a notch by stomping her feet and yelling, “You’re a liar! You’re a liar! You always lie!  You never let me get anything. I hate you. I just hate you!” I had seen episodes like this before much too often where spoiled brats tried to get their way in a store by embarrassing their anguished parents. This kid’s got some hard lessons yet to learn, I thought.

I noticed further down the aisle that a young mother went about her business of browsing the shelves all the while ignoring this unruly child, who I assumed belonged to her.  The young mother was a lovely young lady with thick long brown hair that fell below her shoulders. She was dressed very stylishly.  Though she tried, I could tell that she was suffering from the embarrassing pressure of her kid acting up like this in public. My heart went out to that young mother. I must say that as a mother and grandmother myself, I had a grab bag of remedies to offer to this young mom, which wouldn’t draw blood or leave scars on her snot-nosed kid. 

But before I could approach her to speak with her, something strange happened.  Something for which I wasn’t prepared.  Something which caught me totally off guard.  As her misbehaving child continued to scream incessantly, the young mother looked up at me, ran towards me, threw her arms around me, and just hugged me tight as if I were her own mother.

To this day, I don’t know what drew her to me, a Black lady much older than she was.  Though our apparent differences couldn’t have been more diverse, it didn’t matter to her nor to me. But I think all she needed at that time was some measure of comfort, and I was glad I was there for her.  I hugged her back warmly as if she were my daughter.  Without hesitation, I whispered reassuringly in her ear, “Hang in there, young mother.”  No further words were necessary. She knew that I understood and that hug from me was all she needed to help strengthen her to deal with her situation.  After we had broken our embrace, she held on to my arms, looked into my eyes and smiled, a signal that told me that she was grateful.  For those brief moments during our hug, I think we both drowned out the screeching noise from the brat. But before leaving, she looked into my eyes again and said, “Thank you” with such sincerity that I almost cried.  Then the young mother went on her way down the aisle and eventually turned the corner.

Not surprisingly, she left her juvenile delinquent in the aisle with me to continue stewing in her self-made temper-tantrum juices. With my maternal instinct now in overdrive, I started to go over to the brat to try and comfort her too or at least try to calm her down. I wanted to express to her how lucky she was to have a great mother like that. But I changed my mind when I realized that I had my fist balled up ready to land a right hook to her face.  Coming to my senses, I turned the other way and left the unholy terror alone in the aisle. I thought that was the best course of action for both me and the brat. 

Strangely enough, when I reached the next aisle, a sudden hush fell over that section of the store. I no longer heard the howling.  Not sure if the hell child, who had calmed down for some reason, had caught up with her mother or not, but I do know one thing:  God works in mysterious ways.

A Touch of Spring Fever

slide1

Beware, everyone.  A nontoxic epidemic lurks.  No need to head to the clinic or rush to the emergency room.  No vaccination or medical treatment exist for this acute illness.  It attacks indiscriminately, enticing the mind to wander, sometimes for days.  It slows productivity to a crawl, lures the body into embarrassing situations, and may cause entire departments to shut down.  Yet, it’s harmless.  So what is this affliction called?  Spring Fever.

No ticker-tape parade announces its arrival either because it’s oh so sneaky.  Recently, it eased itself into my Monday morning shortly after I arrived for work.  Moodiness, a telltale symptom, convinced me that I didn’t want to do any real work that day.  For obvious reasons, I had to look busy.  No problem.  But looking official would be a challenge.  I took it.

Gazing at the pile of papers on my desk, I grabbed a few pages, shuffled and reshuffled them, then placed them neatly back in my “IN” box.

Chronic curiosity, another symptom, caused me to pick up my new Samsung smartphone and test the functions of my cute little gadget.  Satisfied that they all worked, I started to put it down on my desk but felt the smartphone get warm in my hand. Puzzled as it grew hotter, I threw it out the window behind my desk and heard an explosion as it landed on the ground. I ran to the window and poked my head out to make sure no one was injured or that the damn thing didn’t start a fire. All I saw was a circle of  singed grass surrounding what was left of the smartphone. Phew!  That was a close call. Since my exploding phone was not on my agenda, I returned to my escalating, deliberate state of non-productivity.  I found a large rubber band in my desk drawer and used it to fashion a slingshot.  Using paper clips, I started flinging paperclips across the room at no particular target.  After I quickly got tired of that, I moved on to refilling my stapler and tape dispenser.  Still heavily entrenched in boredom, I focused on another   reasonable diversion on my desk.  A huge, colorful cup on my desk brimming with assorted pens caught my eye.   “Hey, this could be a fun project,” I convinced myself to regroup the pens by color and place them neatly in my center desk drawer.  I even took the time to sharpen all my pencils, some even down to two inches.  Time:  8:15.  “Now what?” I mused.

I slowly swiveled my chair around to face the window.  The warm sunshine streaming through beckoned me, “Come on out and play.”  I tried to resist, but it was useless.  I told you that this disease moves fast.  Contemplating another route of inactivity, I started staring out the window, daydreaming and feeling like a kid on a Saturday morning punishment.  I knew I needed treatment.  And to me, only one thing would suffice:  more goofing off.  I wanted to go outside and play.  I wanted to take my shoes off and run barefoot through the cool grass.  I wanted to …. RRRIIIINNNGGGG!   DAMN PHONE!  Annoyed, I picked it up.  Pinching my nose to disguise my voice, I squeaked out, “Sorry, she’s not here at the moment.”  Actually, I felt bad about that.  But seconds later, I waved that guilt trip away.  Still feeling lazy, I got up, stretched, yawned, and walked towards the copier to check the toner and paper supply.  That done, I returned to my desk and continued with my self-imposed project of zoning out.  In between all this “unofficial activity,” I drank three cups of coffee and two cups of tea.  Time:  9:05.  After a few trips to the ladies’ room, I felt the need to sham even more.  I dug out an old clipboard and positioned some papers underneath the metal fastener.  With pencil in hand, I left my office to roam the halls.  Naturally, I found myself outside.  The weather was beautiful.  Sunshine, blue skies, and cool breezes welcomed me.  I circled the building, trying to look like a bonafide building inspector on official business.  “I can’t believe people actually get paid for this.”  Ahhh…and there I was…ankle deep in cool, green grass.  Time:  Now or never.  I threw the clipboard down and slipped off my shoes, planning to run the length of the building and back, which was a decent distance to recapture that carefree childhood euphoria which always seemed to rejuvenate me.  Checking to make sure the coast was clear, I took off at a leisurely pace, letting it all hang out by skipping and swinging my arms a few times.

About halfway through my therapy run, I experienced an awakening.  Some might even call it a highly significant emotional event.  A large rock partially buried in the grass met my foot in a head-on collision.  BAM!  At that dead stop, I crumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing like tyke who had just received his first vaccination. I grabbed my foot as some coworkers poked their heads out their windows.  A few came running from the building to help me.  I offered no explanation, and no one asked me what had happened.  But, I’m positive they all knew I had had a bout of Spring Fever.  Two guys helped me up and carried me to a nearby bench.  Someone volunteered to drive me to the emergency room.  I got x-rays and a soft cast on my foot, which had swollen to the size of a loaf of bread.

After getting my prescription filled and in spite of the pain, I left the clinic with a smile on my face.  Though I had lost my battle with Spring Fever, I had rightfully earned my medals:  three days of bed rest and a week off to recoup.  And if this beautiful weather keeps up, I expect a definite relapse.

The Train Crash That Never Happened

trains-at-night-005

Sometimes, life can be an evil bitch.  Like me, I am sure many of you have experienced life’s best and worst quirks. Often she morphs into an innocent little lamb or disguises herself as a precious tot to draw you in.  And when you get close enough to her booby trap, she sucks you into her webs of deceit, distraction, or balls of confusion.  She is also rife with treacherous twists, tricky turns, and unexpected trap doors, which can send you plummeting into an abyss filled with the fires of hell or alligator friends that you owe money to.  With these things in mind, I must ask, “Have you ever faced a near-death moment in your life?”  I have.  One particular incident left me traumatized for years.   The adage, “God takes care of babies and fools, “rings true, but it was never more apparent to me than several years ago.  On one fine day in 1986, I found out just how big of a fool I was and how much of a sense of humor God had.  I remain forever thankful to Him for letting me live to talk about it.

Fresh from graduating from the Defense Language Institute (DLI) German language course, I had just arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, for another Army tour of duty. After settling into my temporary quarters on post, I quickly succumbed to boredom, mainly because I had no car in which to tool around this beautiful area.  After slipping into a restless state, I stepped out to the balcony to get some fresh air hoping to clear my head of negative thoughts.

BALCONY VIEWS.002

From my vantage point on the balcony, I embraced the beautiful bird’s eye view I had of the jagged, towering mountains in the distance covered with lush, stately trees.  Starting to daydream, I pictured the magnificent, expensive, ornate homes nestled within the thick forest.  As a slightly cool breeze gently brushed over my face, I thought I heard a faint whisper in my ear.  I knew it was Heidelberg’s ancient spirit calling to me.  This quaint, lovely little town next to the Rhein-Neckar River, beckoned me to explore its charm, food, and Baroque-style architecture of the buildings populating its Old Town section in the heart of the city.  Yes, I was definitely itching to drive up the winding roads leading to the top of the mountains to visit Heidelberg’s famous, historical castle ruins and to take in the panoramic views of the town’s sprawling picturesque valley from the Old Bridge.

Though reliable and conveniently located throughout the city, public transportation just wasn’t my cup of tea.  And I wasn’t up for strolling through the city and up the treacherous, steep cobble-stoned streets either. I did enough forced hiking (road marches) in the Army, so I wasn’t keen on walking anywhere anytime soon ever again. I wanted to carve my own path and explore this fascinating area on my own schedule and at my own pace. I knew I needed a car to be able to do that.

By sheer luck, I found out that some good friends of mine, who had also recently graduated from DLI, were stationed in Heidelberg too. After getting in touch with them and chatting about our upcoming assignments, I told them that I didn’t have a car.  Since they had two cars, they graciously offered to loan me one of theirs until I could get my own. I was ecstatic and felt blessed to have friends like them.

They arrived at my quarters on a Friday afternoon. The husband drove one car; his wife drove the other, which would be my loaner. We shared more information and excitement again about our respective upcoming new tours of duty. Before ending their visit, they handed me the keys to their vehicle and assured me that it was roadworthy. Before taking off, they told me that I could keep it as long as I wanted to. What a sweet deal from great friends!

I walked them to the parking lot and bid them adieu with warm hugs and the European kiss on each cheek. After waving goodbye as they drove away, I ran over to the car to check it out more closely.

crazy car.001

It was an old BMW, a faded banana yellow hoopty, which is a nickname for automobiles well beyond their heyday. I inspected the exterior and noticed no dents or rust.  Check!  The tires were so brand spanking new that I could smell the fresh rubber odor from where I was standing. Check! I opened the door and popped my head inside to look at the interior.  Greeting me was a heavy stench of mildew plus some other unidentifiable aromas, which assaulted my nose and caused it to wrinkle at the intrusion. Yuck!  I quickly retreated from the car to get back to some fresh air. But, the smell was the least of my upcoming string of worries.  All I could think of was that I finally had wheels!   I circled the car and looked through the windows to see that the interior was clean, and the dated black, white, and tan plaid tufted seats looked comfortable enough for the duration of my planned trip. Though the car was not in pristine shape, I didn’t mind its appearance, and I would try to mask the smell with generous spritzes of Lysol disinfectant spray and a few air fresheners I planned to buy at the nearest German gas station.  I could hardly wait to test drive it in the brisk traffic on the autobahn

To take advantage of the weekend, I contacted another good friend of mine, who was assigned to a dental clinic in Illesheim, Germany, which was not too far away from Heidelberg.  She was stationed with me at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Both of us giggled and excitedly like two grade-school girls at the thought of reconnecting again.  So at her invitation, I planned to visit her for the weekend. I was glad that Heidelberg wasn’t too far of a drive from her location.  She told me that she had brought her mom and her two kids along with her on her tour. Though I had no idea exactly where the hell Illesheim was located, I looked forward to a visit there to see them all once again.

Before taking off, I checked my map and saw that Illesheim was a mere pinpoint in the middle of German farming country and was a few miles from Storck Barracks, the nearest Army Post. On the map, I highlighted the roads that I would have to take to get to Illesheim.

From that spot on the map, I formed mental pictures of this small country town. I imagined Illesheim as a quaint but rugged village, which probably sprouted up during the dark ages.  I knew this area would be sparsely populated by inhabitants, who no doubt, resided in rustic structures made of timber, concrete, and blocks of stone.  I thought perhaps that the structures were hundreds of years old, and I assumed that the inhabitants would probably be around that same age too.  I didn’t expect to see any new concrete sidewalks, paved streets, or fast-food joints. But perhaps greeting me would be dirt roads, well-traveled footpaths, and distinct trails made by the cow and sheep herds that the farmers moved from one side of their fields to the other.  Naturally, I envisioned driving through a thick, stagnant cloud of ‘farmers air,’ with that noxious poop smell rising from the plowed fields reeking from abundant piles of manure potent enough to put down a herd of bull elephants.  All in all, I prepared myself for the stink to come.

With my route carefully planned and my bag packed, I took off at about six o’clock that afternoon.  Before hitting the autobahn, I stopped at the nearest gas station to buy a few air fresheners to mask the smell inside the car.  The entire day had grown cloudy with misting rain.   About 10 minutes into my trip, a drizzle started and quickly turned into a heavy downpour, which pummeled the hoopty relentlessly.

Slide6

In addition to the dreary weather, the dark, dusky evening did little to keep the autobahn lanes highlighted enough for me to see clearly.

Slide2

Plus the bright lights from the headlights of the cars traveling in the opposite direction in the adjacent lanes affected my vision and temporarily blinded me at times.  I wanted to pull over to a rest stop on the side of the autobahn to give my eyes a much-needed rest. But I decided to keep driving in spite of this annoying distraction and not extend my time on the road if it wasn’t necessary.  Even though I had carefully planned out my route on the map, I became increasingly uncomfortable and anxious about continuing driving in this late evening traffic on the unfamiliar Autobahns, especially in the rainy weather.

After rolling onto Autobahn 5 heading south from Heidelberg, I quickly gained some confidence in the hoopty’s ability to maneuver through the swift traffic and keep up with the fancy foreign cars capable of traveling almost at the speed of Star Trek’s Enterprise.  But, I became increasingly pissed at the super fast sports cars splashing rainwater on my windshield, which zoomed by the hoopty with a WHOOSH and scared the crap outta me. Too bad I didn’t have an Army Scud missile locked and loaded on the front bumper of the hoopty. BOOM! Take that, you speed demon.

Hearing the engine hum like a brand new Beamer, I felt confident that the hoopty would get me to Illesheim without breaking down.  Autobahn 5 was heavy with evening traffic as was Autobahn 6 heading east towards Stuttgart and Heilbronn. So far, I had been driving for about an hour and was proud of myself for riding out the somewhat stormy weather. From Autobahn 6, I took Exit 40, which led me to my other exits.

As darkness fell, the rain-slicked, dimly lit two-lane roads took on a more ominous tone, leading me through tiny, deserted villages that resembled ghost towns from the old Wild, Wild West.  Thought it was 7:30 at night, none of the houses I passed had any interior lights on, which would indicate that the inhabitants were probably fast asleep.  Everything seemed to be locked up tighter than a drum. I refocused on the road, but the farther I drove, the scarier and gloomier the unfamiliar two-lane roads became.

When I arrived at another village just outside of Bad Mergentheim a few minutes later, the rain eased up slightly. Recalling my route on the map, I knew that Illesheim was about 45 minutes away.  This gave me some comfort to know that I was that much closer to my destination.

I slowed down as I approached red and white railroad crossing barriers, behind which lay a bank of railroad tracks. Since the barriers were up for cars to safely cross the tracks, I continued driving, thinking that I would be on my way to the next village.

For some reason, I miscalculated the road clearance because of its slickness and low visibility.  Erroneously, I veered slightly to the left, which forced the vehicle to run over some type of ramp that I did not see.  This action sharply propelled the Beamer upwards and jerked me up from my seat. When the car landed back on the ground, I bumped the top of my head on the roof of the car, but the tight, sturdy seatbelts restrained me and saved me from any serious injury. I landed hard back in my seat, but the Beamer bounced and shimmied like a bowl of fresh jello. Oh, oh! I didn’t have a good feeling about this. I wasn’t sure of exactly where the car had landed.  I thought it was still on the road. It wasn’t.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the hoopty was straddling the railroad tracks just off to the left side of the road, which put the hoopty in a prime position to be broadsided by an oncoming train from either direction.

The driving error immediately killed the engine and drove the hoopty into some type of a profound, cosmic shock. And how did I know this? Because when I tried to restart the engine, it failed to turn over.  Instead, the engine produced a high-pitched whine, which sounded like I had just run over a cat.   I looked to my right out of the passenger window and saw torrential rain drops vigorously bouncing off the slick, black road where the car should have been. DAMMIT! I took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly while resting my head on the steering wheel. Seconds later, I snapped upright in my seat and somewhat came to my senses.  After quickly assessing my situation and realizing the location of the hoopty, I was stunned.  Shaking my head vigorously from side to side, I asked myself, ”What the fuck just happened”?

Oh, man!  Gathering some composure, I tried to restart the engine again, but it just sputtered and coughed like an old man with a bad case of chronic emphysema.  So I thought I’d wait a few more seconds before trying to restart it.  Suddenly, a frightening drama began to unfold before me.  I felt adrenaline starting to pulse through my veins like a stream of oil leading to a roaring fire.

As if I didn’t have enough shit to deal with in trying to figure out when and if I could start the car to get it off the damn tracks, another load of it hit me.  The red and white barrier came down in front of the road to block all traffic attempting to cross the tracks. Then the red warning lights started flashing furiously, indicating that a train was on its way. SHIT! Piling an incredible amount of shame on top of my unbelievable embarrassment, I distinctly heard the caution lights yelling at me each time they flashed:  Blink ‘you bonehead,’ blink ‘you bonehead,’ blink ‘ you bonehead’!  Unfortunately, the hoopty was hemmed in, perilously straddling the tracks to the left of all this activity.  But, I knew that I needed to move the heap quickly before the oncoming train smashed it, with me in it, to smithereens and on to kingdom come.

Amazingly, I kept my cool and hadn’t panic just yet.  I tried the engine again, but its sound clearly told me to just ‘back the fuck off!’   I looked to my left and saw the white light of a train’s engine as it steadily headed right towards me still sitting inside the hoopty, which was still straddling the tracks.  DAMMIT TO HELL!  I tried the engine again, but it was still deader than Chris Christie’s political career.  My mind went blank for a split second, but the impending disaster snapped me into thinking, “How the hell am I going to explain the damage the train would undoubtedly make to my friend’s car? How would I even pay for the damage? Thinking that this could be the end of my life as I knew it, I realized that I wouldn’t need to explain anything to anybody because I wouldn’t survive a crash of this magnitude and live to tell anybody about it.

Eerily, a calming peacefulness washed over me.  For no explicable reason, I turned my head to the left again and focused on the engine’s white light, which grew larger and more threatening as the train approached. I thought I was going to die and that the white light might be my glorious path to heaven. With my mouth open wide enough for the Titanic to sail through, I felt my eyes momentarily spring in and out of their sockets like I was in some fucking freakish Warner Brothers cartoon. Strangely, I didn’t hear any train whistle, which I’m sure the engineer would have engaged if anything was on the tracks blocking his train’s path. I sat in the car with my ass frozen stiff in the seat.  Why? I don’t know. I can’t even tell you why today. Teetering on the edge of unconsciousness, I felt my legs become numb and immovable. But I distinctly remember seeing that the train’s engineer had poked his head out of the engine’s window. Undoubtedly, he wanted to verify what he was seeing:  an idiot sitting in a car on the adjacent tracks.  As the massive steel horse got closer, I became terrified when heard the ear-splitting noise of the train’s approach and felt the ground and hoopty tremble as if we were in the middle of an earthquake. Though the train’s engineer still had his head out the window, I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I’m sure he was probably both shocked and amused at my bizarre but harmless situation, which he could clearly see but I couldn’t.

More nervous than a chihuahua at a fireworks show, I didn’t scream. Surprisingly, I didn’t pass out either from the shock of an impending disaster.   I gawked in awe as the imposing black engine charged towards me.  With billowing steam spewing from its smoke stack and its cars following dutifully behind it, I prayed and braced myself for the inevitable.  And I waited for the crash that never came.  Incredibly, the train easily rolled by on the tracks behind me.  Divine intervention? More than I knew.  Profoundly relieved, I exhaled a sigh of relief, blowing out enough air that would immediately blow up a balloon.  I just sat there, staring at the train rolling by, watching it through my side and rear-view mirrors.  The poor hoopty shook helplessly as the train thundered along on the tracks behind us. And I heard that bitch of a train taunt me with, “SUCKERR! Had ya fooled, didn’t we?”

At that moment, the disaster that almost happened was too close of a call for me to laugh off.   But I knew instantly that God really, really had a wicked sense of humor. Still dazed and confused for a few more seconds, I regained some semblance of consciousness to wipe away the profuse sweat which had accumulated all over my face.   It was at that moment that I made a pact with myself.  Wisely, I decided not to tell a living soul about this big blunder, not even my good friends who owned the hoopty.  Only God and I knew what a bonehead I proved to be, and that’s the way it’s been ever since then.

So after the tracks became clear, the barriers retreated back up, and the red blinking lights faded away. I looked to the right to watch the train disappear down the tracks. As if adding insult to no injury, the fucking little red caboose had the nerve to wave goodbye to me.

I turned the key in the ignition and thanked God that the car started up right away.  More divine intervention?  Damn right it was.  With the engine running, I tried a few back-and-forth movements with the hoopty before I could successfully rock it out of its embarrassing spot and move it off the tracks and onto the road to my right.

After driving a few minutes more, I winced as the putrid, sewer-like air from the farmers’ fields filled the car.  At least this ‘fresh air’ kept me focused and my head clear, and that’s when I knew I was closer to my destination.  I finally arrived in Illesheim about 20 minutes later.  My friend and her mom and kids welcomed me with open arms, hugs, and kisses. When my friend asked me how my trip was, I told her I had no problems whatsoever.   Of course, I lied and decided to internalize my embarrassment.  She knew me well and could see it in my face that I was visibly shaken by ‘something.’  She never asked, and I never told her what really happened.

Though I didn’t drink hard liquor, I gulped down three shots of 40%-proof Asbach-Uralt (German bourbon) my friend offered me to calm down my electrified nerves.  My visit with them was great and a welcome relief from the accompanying boredom of being single on another Army tour. But before leaving, I checked the hoopty make sure it sustained no damage from the ‘side trip’ I took on the railroad tracks. And for my return trip to Heidelberg, I got an early start to make damn sure that I would be driving back to Heidelberg during daylight hours. Since then, life has been good.

 

 

My First Mammogram

I’ve been told that I’m fun to be with and I always make people laugh.  I won’t deny that from the reactions of those who are able to hang with me, but I can safely say that anyone traveling with me will always experience an adventure to remember.  Even I am delightfully surprised at the territories into which I aimlessly wander.  It’s as if God has blessed me with some special kind of knack that draws me into jars of pickles and light-hearted jams. He then allows me to escape unscathed with lasting memories of the situations, which always turn out to be funny….well, most of ’em.  Maybe they’re not at the moment, but always during the hilarious reminiscing, I think of “how the hell did I get into that shit?”   Here is one of a few of my stories.

GOING TO THE WUERZBURG ARMY HOSPITAL WITH MY FRIEND, BILLY and DEEP IN THOUGHTS ON THIS “THING in MY BREAST.”

OK, so, I’ve got another lump in my breast.  Big deal.  I’m not worried about it like I was back in 1987 when I discovered my very first one.  Back then, it was a shocker, because I had never experienced anything like this before.  Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family.  And as for this damned lump, I thought that everything on earth had to stand still for me.  Everyone had to stop and take care of me. I wanted the doctor to just cut the damn thing out or something so I could get back to living my life.  Actually, I was deathly afraid of what it might be.  I wasn’t ready for any bad news the biopsy might bring.  The doctor told me that he would have to perform an aspiration.  An aspiration?  What the hell is that? I asked with morbid curiosity, but I was afraid of the answer.  It sounded grave and serious and painful.  I was right on all those counts.  So the aspiration was the first step for me to get all the dirt on this thing, which had invaded my breast.

The doctor explained that the aspiration would entail him sticking a large needle in my chest and, hopefully, draw out the fluid from the seat of my lump.  He said it would “sting a bit.”  Yeah, right!  I wanted to tell him to try it first on himself, but I knew better.  Fortunately, the doctor had more patience than I had common sense.  I should have taken care of this with monthly breast exams, but no, I had no time.  Truthfully, I took no time to check my own breasts.  I had no time to notice that the pea-sized lump, which I felt three months ago, had ballooned to the size of a walnut.  Sadly, I took no time for me.

The doctor gave me a light sedative and calm my nerves. I felt he should have given me the whole damn bottle to knock me out cold for this procedure.  But that wasn’t my call.  And so it went, the doctor got the needle, which was about a foot long.  I was mortified and thought I would die of sheer fright just from the sight of the size of the needle.  But I sucked it up like an old trooper.  It didn’t hurt at all; the frightening part was seeing the needle poking out of my breast.  After the aspiration was done, the doctor discovered that it was  dark brown fluid, a color, which told the doc that it wasn’t serious.  The doctor counseled me that I still needed to do monthly breast exams.  He said he still needed to send the results to the lab for tests.  That was years ago, and my health habits to do monthly breast exams haven’t improved.  I figure that if you’re gonna go, you gotta go with something, right?

I had gone through many aspirations after that because of other lumps, which the doctor said would plague me throughout my life because of something called fibrocystic disease.  Something I’d have to live with.  I’d still have to have regular check-ups, mammograms, and do my self-breast exams, etc.  I’ll get to the mammograms later.   As many times as I’ve had aspirations, I still hate them almost as much as I hate mammograms.  And after going through this latest aspiration, the doctor discovered that the lump was a stubborn one, which gave up no fluid.  He said it had to come out.  I wasn’t afraid like I was the first time I heard those words back in 1991 at Landstuhl Army Hospital, in Landstuhl, Germany.  Really, for some reason,  I wasn’t afraid.  I knew God had my back because He still had some work for me to do.  I just wanted the doctor to cut the damn thing out and if he had time, to liposuction some of the unwanted, stubborn fat loitering around my waistline for the last three years.  He nixed that with a slight laugh.  Anyway, I was set for surgery on 16 August 2000.

CAMPING, ANYONE?

 Billy, a Retired Veteran and good friend of mine came to pick me up at 7:00 the morning of my surgery.  Retirees take care of one another.  We have a bond for life.  Billy’s truly a blessing in disguise:  always dependable and easy to talk to about anything.  He drove me to the Wuerzburg Army Hospital.  He even stayed throughout the surgery and took me back home to Vilseck a three-hour round trip from Wuerzburg, Germany.

He stayed quiet most of the way there because he knew I was worried and he felt I needed his support more than anything.  He also knew that I would want some the time to myself to think through this lump in my breast.  I anticipated that the weather would turn out to be beautiful even though the sun hadn’t showed its face yet.  It was still slightly cool.  A light fog hung close to the ground and limited Billy’s visibility.  As the sun gradually rose and fought to break through the thick fog, the atmosphere took on the smoky eeriness of an early morning deep in a southern swamp.  Billy drove farther up the road, and the fog gave way to the powerful sun, which rose higher and easily pushed its way through the thick fog, making the temperature a bit warmer but pleasant.  I chatted with Billy for a while but felt myself talking in gibberish, so naturally I started drifting off because of the perfect temperature inside his truck and the beautiful peaceful scenery floating by, which mesmerized me.  I used my knapsack as a makeshift pillow to lay my head down. Mind you, I didn’t drift off to sleep because Billy was boring.  He’s never boring.  But I was so comfortable, not too hot, not too cool, but it took me all the way back to snuggling under my baby blanket in my baby crib.

I don’t know how long I slept, but I remember waking up, still sluggish from my comforting nap.  After admiring the colorful array of yellow, purple and white wildflowers and the stately green trees standing guard on the sides of the road, the first thing I remember saying to Billy was, “Billy, have you ever been camping?”  I don’t know why the hell I asked him that because I knew we weren’t going camping. Both of us had been on countless field exercises in the Army and they were nowhere near the fun of camping. Billy laughed out loud and responded with, “Camping? I’ve been in the Army too, remember?” Then he laughed some more, not at me but at the ridiculousness of my first question to him upon waking up.

My thoughts brought me back to this thing in my breast.  On my doctor’s orders, I had to schedule periodic mammograms at Landstuhl Army Hospital to check on any changes in my breast tissues.  Mammograms are no fucking fun at all.  I dreaded them more than a combined PT test and a trip to the dentist.  I always have to grit my teeth and draw up my face as if I’m smelling rotten chitterlings before I plop one breast on the plate glass as another plate glass comes down and smashes my breast like it was a rubber ball in a vise. I had to stand this excruciating pain for about 5 seconds for this one snapshot of one breast. Then I had to plop my other breast on the plate glass for the same excruciating agony of this  examination.

To be absolutely graphic, realistic, and give you men an idea of how this might feel to you, what’s one of the most sensitive parts of your body?  Your balls, right?  Just imagine your family jewels being placed on a slab of 1 1/2 inch plate glass and the another piece of 1 1/2 plate glass comes down and smashes your balls and flattens them down to the size of a thin slice of baloney. You have to stand there in that position so that the technician can read the X-ray to see if anything abnormal shows up.  Like I said, the smashing lasts about 5 seconds, which is way more than enough time to make any man cry like a baby, piss his pants, slump to the floor of the radiology room, and get into the fetal position with your hands between your legs as if that will help the pain subside.  It won’t.

But women are tougher in this respect. Whenever my mammogram was done, I’d carefully put on my support bra first then the rest of my clothes.  Yes, my girls would still be tender to touch for a while, but believe you me and I’m saying this with the utmost, absolute serious conviction, if anyone (child, woman, old person, whoever) had accidentally bumped into me on my way out of the hospital, I’d be hauled off to jail and charged with murder in the first degree.