Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."


Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Military Madness (12)-Two-Digit Midget

Two-Digit Midget

We needed no reason to have a party; therefore, when McCullum's twenty-first birthday cropped up in the middle of September, only ten days after mine, it was automatic.  Additionally, the fact that I was a two-digit-midget, and under thirty days until ETS, meant that every day was cause for celebration.  We had convened in the hooch for hors-d'oeuvres, which consisted of a marvelous care package which had arrived on the same day.  We were eating potato chips dipped in Guacamole, having received ten beautiful, green, mostly still firm avocados in my package.  There were chocolate chip cookies, with pecans picked off of the trees in the back yard on Fellowship Street.  Mixed in were a dozen assorted candy bars and there was fruitcake.  This package was supposed to have arrived on my birthday, and I can only assure you that it was mailed in plenty of time.  Any objective attempt at description of the Postal Service, would have to begin with dismal, descend meteorically to atrocious, and finally arrive at putrid.

The newspaper clippings were scattered all around the cubicle, spread out on the bed like a welcome mat.  You wouldn't think Dear Abby could interest servicemen, but it's all about home and the feelings evoked when something tickles your memory soles.  Dear Ann Landers, Love Is, Dodgers' baseball news, LA Lakers updates, and a slew of comics from The LA Times and The San Gabriel Tribune were among the contributions.  Someone even tossed in an article about a new law which had gone into effect, governing the regulations on the draft system.  The significant point in the article was that a guy who received his induction papers now, had four choices: he could simply report; he could enlist for two years with no options, except a temporary delay in reporting date; he could enlist for three years and call the shots as far as Basic Training, and ultimate assignment went; or he could join the Reserves for a total of six years.
We focused on this news because we were all worried that when we got out-that's what it meant to ETS-we would have to fill slots in the reserves, instead of just being released outright.  The way we saw it, the more dudes who joined the reserves in lieu of the draft, the less likely the chance that we would end up having to get routed back into any facet of the Green Machine.
As far as the comics were concerned, there were enough for everyone.  Whether you were after the fairly recently created Doonesbury, or the more traditional Family Circus, you could find anything you wanted, except Alice.  There was no way we could ever get tired of hearing Arlo sing about the Group W Bench, litter bugs, and the conspiracy to evade the draft by singing a bar or two of Alice's Restaurant, in four part harmony.  Just imagine three people, man, singing together; they'd think it was a movement, and it is.

The thing about Doonebury was that Gary Trudeau was absolutely paramount in bringing the whole Watergate episode into the hooches, and into our lives.  It was the grandest drama of all, and we relished it.  We savored it as we would have done with a fine joint of thai stick, feeling the chaotic events unfold.  The flames of deceit seemed to swirl deliciously out of control, until the entire Nixonian Machine, had been driven off the pier by two “radical reporters.”  Bernstein and Woodward just kept knocking on locked doors, poking the Watergate growth with their pens, and relentlessly asking for only one thing: the truth.

 I have two different snapshots, taken outside of the hooch in Youngsan, which show two different guys reading an identical copy of The Stars and Stripes at two separate times.  The headline is clearly visible in both pictures: 'McGruder names Mitchell as Watergate Mastermind.'  This was stunning news, and those of us who kept score, and saw the points piling up against Nixon, rejoiced.  When he finally gave up his throne on August 9, 1973, he preceded me out the door by a scant eight weeks.  He left office, and I left Korea.  I was thrilled to have had two of my most fervent prayers answered almost simultaneously.

When someone accidentally included a Beetle Bailey comic, we pasted it on the center of our dart board, and used it for the highest number of points possible.  The fact that the number of assigned points equaled the much smaller bullseye, made it a popular target.  Despite our incessant craving for all things humorous, and our ongoing attempts to survive through it, no one found Beetle Bailey even remotely worth reading.

As we shifted gears from home to our immediate environment, we got things sailing with “Lift-Off”, our in-locker smoking lounge.  After all parties had returned as close to Earth, as could be expected, we moved on to the Korean Lampoon.  The individuals present, led by Dan Briggs, edited and produced this worthy publication. Though it only came out sporadically, we attributed that to the simple fact that all things rich in humor, insight and quality, take time.  Dan was an honorary member of the Fellowship, and a fellow New Yorker with Miller.  Besides his piercing eyes and The Lampoon, the thing I remember most about him was his return to the ROK after being out of the service for a month.  He brought a thousand tabs of “Sunshine” back with him in a Salem cigarette pack, which he kept tucked in his shirt front pocket, alongside his sunshine/smiley faced badge, which read, “I Am a Veteran.”

Those of us uninitiated in acid, cannot adequately explain the attraction, but, for some, it simply was one more home experience that had not been previously available.  Our hooch was decidedly into reefer, and we attracted the heads, not the psychedelics.  This would also be a good time to give the standard disclaimer that we never crossed the boundary between indulging in the ganja, and working in the Barn.  However, that would be untrue, because we habitually went into the office with an illegal smile.  What some of us may have lost in terms of focus, we more than made up for in attitude and initiative.  We even got Kuhn scratching his head the day we made the central filing system proposal.

McCallum, the official emcee of the evening's agenda, by dint of his birthday, had a copy of the latest KL, and he was reading one of my contributions, which I wrote under the pseudonym, J. Skulking Bushwhack.  He read, “Dateline,Yongsan-In a special interview held late Saturday evening, this reporter learned firsthand the life of hard-core drug fiend, Steve Lynx, who told of his life with drugs and shattered the belief that marijuana leads to hard drugs.  In needle-sharp detail, Lynx told of his beginnings as a four-year-old dealer in tranquilizers, specializing in chewy fruit-flavored tablets, for hyper-active kids.  Later he moved on to recreational use of methedrine, cocaine, and Quaaludes, before becoming a full-time heroin addict.  Just a few months ago, Private Lynx found himself initiated into the opiate of the counter-culture, reefer.  Articulating for this reporter, Lynx stated definitively, “Wow, Man, we really got down on the marijuana, Man.  I mean,, Man.....uh...yeah, Man.  You know, I was...uh, like, uh...all burned out, Man.  I mean, can you dig it?  I'm also getting into beer, now Man...It's out....outasight?  Like....................uh...................yeah, you know?”

McCullum was cracking up, when Miller grabbed the one page periodical, and said,  “Listen to this; I saw it over in the mess hall.  'Washington (KLI)-At a press conference today, Presidential Press Secretary R.L. Ziegler told a subdued press gallery that President Nixon, at the height of the demonstrations outside his door, retired to the men's room and urinated.  Ziegler's only comment on the President's reaction was that the President had washed his hands of the entire incident.'”

It is safe to say that by now the party was raging.  The sound of those Sansui speakers, eighty watts of pure bliss pounding out of each, attracted all sorts of interest, most of it welcome and enthusiastic, but made perusing the Lampoon a little impractical.  We retired to the front steps of the hooch, for a look at how things were progressing outside, as Nelson read a last short snippet, “...Korean Lampoon editors responded to a government plan to press suit against the paper on charges of Military slurs, unnecessary smugness, tearing down without building up and 'going too far.'  Editor Adolf O. Nipuls stated, 'We're on the right path, we think.  We are merely pursuing a policy of merriment and mirth, good family fun, and harmless joshing.'”

 Nelson was interrupted by the arrival of our local branch of the Military Police.  I got this sense of deja vu, as I recognized Staff Sergeant Kowahlski, my adversary from last week.  I had been over in Camp Coiner, walking away from the base gate, when he had vaulted into his little MP Jeep, and squealed up beside me, almost jumping the curb in his excitement.

As to what I was doing in Camp Coiner, I was attending Project Transition, so named because its purpose was to help departing servicemen re-enter the job market back in the World, with a marketable skill.  There were two options, either the air conditioning/refrigeration shop, or the auto repair center.  All departing military troops, being processed out of the army, were eligible for this program. Prospective candidates for Project Transition, were well versed in both opportunities.  If you seriously wanted to learn something, you went to the AC shop; if you wanted to make a more gradual adjustment to the rigors of civilian life, you signed up for Mr. Park's auto repair course.
He began each six-week course with a week of intense instruction, as we tore an old 250 cubic inch, six cylinder Chevy engine apart, down to the rings and bearings.  It was interesting, and beat working in the Barn, even if we did have to scrub our fingernails at the end of each day.  Mr. Park was firm the first week, just as we'd heard he would be, until after the Adjutant's Administrative Officer had been through on his “unscheduled” inspection, which took place the first week of the course, and was not repeated.  After that visit, life in the auto center took on a very defined, if unspoken, routine.  We reported to the center no more than an hour late; after all, what army official would ever be snooping around before nine or ten in the morning, anyway?

We would convene in the shade of the back bay, where the cement had absorbed the coolness of the morning air, prior to heating back up in the September sun.  There we would spend a few minutes, putting in a token appearance, before we headed about a block down the road to an ancient, mini Quonset hut, that had once served as a storage unit for the motor pool, but had been left standing when the Camp Coiner and Yongsan motor pools consolidated into one.  The little Quonset hut was perfect for us, because it was set back from the road, in the midst of a thicket of bushy pepper trees.  No one had reason to be there, and no one had reason to care.

We'd take a joint with us, to allow for the feeling of civilian life to authenticate itself, and make sure that we left our spot in time to avoid the lunch rush, at the small post cafe. There we had the pleasure of completing the look at civilian life, by ordering the house cheeseburger, known throughout Yongsan as the best on post.  I thought it was the thick slices of fresh tomato, but Carroll maintained it was the dog that the Koreans mixed in with the beef.  If that sounds mean, I can only say that the notion of eating dog, seems to follow the Korean culture around.

So Project Transition reflected an air of relaxation, and it was complemented by our attire, which was anything but military.  There really weren't any clothing restrictions, as long as you had your shirt and shoes on.  When it came to hair length, and facial hair, it was a different matter, which is why I should have been paying a little closer to the implications of being a two-didget midget.  This included being aware of the fact that if a serviceman got written up by the MP's any time in that last forty-five day period, his redeployment papers would be yanked.  I had been “letting my beard hang in there” for roughly four weeks now, as the course entered its final two weeks.  I was reminded of the scraggly beard that I wore so proudly into Ft. Leonard Wood, only to find myself given exactly five minutes to shave it off, by a power-satiated drill instructor.  That scene flashed in my mind as I realized that I had drawn the notice of the M.P. at the gate.

Stepping out of his vehicle, he sauntered over to me, “Identification, please.”  I was still a little shocked at his abrupt appearance, even though I had seen his head swiveling as I passed through the gate.  I just didn't connect his interest with my whiskers.
“Specialist O'Neill, what's with the beard?”  He smirked at me, living in the moment, when he should have been thinking about his immediate future.
“Beard?  No beard, just forgot to shave this morning.  I'll not forget again.”  I returned his gaze evenly; he didn't like it.  He was used to being groveled to, and the sight of my flaming red, thirty-day growth of beard, had increased his need to see a little worm, squirm.  I was the designated bait, but I was determined to wriggle off that hook.

“I believe you, but you should have taken that step this morning, because you leave me no choice to write you up,” he said, affixing a multi-copied form to his clipboard.  No palaver, no negotiation.  I examined him closely.  His uniform was starched to a crisp crease, and his boots mirrored his brass buckle, polished to a blinding sheen.  As with all army personnel, his unit was clearly visible on his left shoulder, although how many Kowahlskis there could be at any given time, attached to the Military Police in the ROK, was up for limited debate.  He was acting in a short-sided manner, as I was about to inform him.  He never hesitated.  As they say, into the breach...or on to Greenland, whichever applies.

As he block-printed my name and serial number across the top of the form, he asked, “Specialist O'Neill, what unit are you with?”  I thought he'd never ask.  My military ID had been issued at Ft. Leonard Wood, and contained no hint of what unit I belonged to, and my shredded Levis and tailored blue work shirt gave no hint.  I had the advantage over him, because I knew all I needed to know by just looking at his pristine uniform.

“Staff Sergeant Kowahlski.” I made a mental note that “Kowahlski” included the letter “h,” as I enunciated his last name carefully, even thoughtfully.  “Oh, of course. Sorry.  I'm with the 199th.  That would be Personnel Management Division.”  I added, almost whimsically, “And I certainly do agree that life offers up many choices.”  I let the words hang in the air.   Except for Finance, no single job title pricked the ears of a soldier in the ROK, or made him nervous as the case may be, because someone who worked in PMD cut orders for those bound homeward.

Everyone knew it.  And the thing is, if those orders somehow got misplaced, or if there were some additional requests that didn't seem to end up with the rest, then who was to say exactly what had happened?  It was enough to know that you got pulled off of the redeployment roster, and had to delay your departure home on a plane known simply as a Red-Tail, and we're not talking about a red-tailed hawk here.

Staff Sergeant Kowahlski's pen checked to the power.  He knew a bluff when he came across it, and saw no sign of one now.  I took advantage of his work stoppage by inquiring with false bonhomie, “Hey, you sound like a West-Coast cat to me.  Oregon?”  I bared my teeth in what I hoped was a malevolent sneer.

“Bremerton, Washington State.”  He knew better than to ask why I asked.
“Well, hell, Staff Sergeant Kowahlski,” (If I could, I meant to say his name every time I came to a pause in my delivery.) “That's right close to Fort Lewis.  I bet you already know that.  Nice to land right back in the 'hood with all those sweeties from high school just primed to hang out with that stract uniform, or you probably never thought about that.”  “Stract” doesn't appear in any dictionary that I can find, and yet the thing we noted most about MP's in general, was that they were so stract in appearance.  It just indicated focus on appearance to the extreme.

The good sergeant surveyed me with a new awareness that his worm was starting to resemble Smaug, the dragon out of The Hobbit, in that there was fire breathing out of my red beard.

“Well, that thought had occurred to me.” he admitted, unsure of where this conversation was leading. 
“Really?  Not Fort Hood, Texas?  I'm sure I saw your name on a roster for a different 'hood, the other day.  Oh, no.  My mistake.  No “h” in his name.  Besides, ha, ha, you're probably not even ready to be thinking of that particular choice just yet.”

I paused, one more quick, pulse-raising instant, before inquiring in just the perfect tone of innocent curiosity.  “You know something funny?   One of my closest buddies just extended his stay for an extra year, and he'll be here for eighteen more months.  How long do you have left?”  
Now his face had readjusted to his first look of authority and arrogance. “Are you threatening me, Soldier?”

“No way, Sergeant.  I could get into big trouble for threatening you.  Besides, you won't have to worry about being assigned to Fort Hood, at least not right away.  It will take them months to track down, and then request that your records be sent back from Greenland, that is if they don't end up in the space heater.”  I stared blandly back at his mottled face.  If that other goon that I could still see back at the gate, had accompanied Kowahlski, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because then there would have been a second set of eyes and ears, and I would not have dared take on two of them.  As it was, I waited, patiently.  I had a lot to lose, because if I received an Article Fifteen inside of thirty days, I would have had my records pulled faster than a lifer can down the first drink at happy hour.  The Red Tail waited for no man.

Kowahlski's jaws stopped flapping, and he took out the form and tucked it underneath the stack on his clipboard, and paused as if to say something.  I stopped him with a raised palm.  “If you wouldn't mind, may I have that form, just as a souvenir?  I wouldn't want to forget you, Staff Sergeant Kowahlski, with an “haich.”

So when that sorry sack of doodle, Staff Sergeant Kowahlski, came strolling up the front steps of my hooch, my right hand strayed unconsciously to my face.  Smooth as Mr. Han's dome.  He was the old Korean man, who generally made it through the hooch each night giving shaves, haircuts, and a mini neck and back massage, that culminated in his “snapping your neck.”  I watched him do it twenty times, before I ever let him take my head in his two hands, and gently rotate it right, then left, and back and forth, until he could feel the muscles relax.  When he felt you were as loose as possible, he would snap your head one way, and in rapid succession, he would reverse his direction.  The result was a tingling sensation that left your upper back and neck starting to unwind, after being bent over a desk for eight hours.

As I watched the MP's strut their stuff, I felt Kowahlski's eyes burning up at me.  If I'd had a flashlight, I am sure they would have glowed red.  I had no idea why they were here, and there was clearly a party in full swing, so I did what came naturally, and extended the peace pipe to them, metaphorically, that is.
“The top of the evening to you, Staff Sergeant Kowalhski and, let's see here, Sergeant Smith.  How nice of you to have joined us on this festive occasion.”  Nelson was sweeping through the hooch from the nearest door, and Carroll had meandered down the length of the hooch, so as to enter from the far door.  Just a quick warning to all guests, who littered the cots, chairs and every available square spot, to momentarily quash the reefer, and scoot the “Keep on Truckin'” tin under the nearest bunk.  It wold be worth it if they found it, to see them crawling around inspecting under our beds for contraband, but we weren't going to hand it to them either.  Besides, unless it was in a secured locker, there was no way they could pin the tin on any of us.

As Kowahlski got near enough to allow the light streaming out the end of the hooch to illuminate me, he did a double-take, but concealed his recognition of me from his partner.
“We're here because we got a complaint,” said Staff Sergeant Smith.  He was the prototypical MP, a twin to Kawalski, except that he was black, also in excellent physical condition, if the tapered waist and broad shoulders were any indication.  If he didn't play middle linebacker on the All Eighth Army Football Team, I'll eat his his gleaming helmet. The belt of black, cutting across the olive drab helmet, announced his unit as the 24th Military Police Company, attached to Eighth Army, a piece of information I already had tucked in the front of my suddenly alert brain.

Well, I had a complaint too, but I didn't voice it.  Instead, I said, “From whom?”

“Huh?” Smith shrugged his shoulders and cupped an ear.  The Allman Brothers Band was rocking the hooch and vicinity with “Melissa,” but there was no one to complain.  Perched at the top of the sloping road, the only hooch immediately adjacent to ours, was the one reserved for those occasions, when we had to pull that horrible, once-a-year detail, where you have to sleep in a separate barracks for two nights, and pretend that you're going to go out and help MP's quell riots.  I pulled the detail, because I was ordered to, but there was no way, I would ever have helped “quell any riots,” unless it could have occurred because the rioters were so busy laughing at the idea, that I was going to have a hand in stopping them, that they died from extreme comic relief.

“Who filed the complaint?  There isn't another hooch within hearing distance.” I didn't like what was happening here, but I couldn't quite figure out the angle.  Kowahlski had already wisely backed down once, but his partner seemed oblivious; that probably meant that Kowahlski hadn't let Smith in on the other caper.  I didn't blame him, since MP's generally did not lose face gracefully.
No problem.  What worked for one, applied to all.  Smith came to a halt in front of me, focusing his gaze on me, in a manner that suggested that I should genuflect.  I saw that he had a Texas Longhorns emblem on his Jeep, and that the Jeep was parked parallel with the curb, on a reasonably slanted surface.  Smith had been driving, and for all I know, they don't have hills in Texas.  All I know is that we needed a little street savvy for the next step, and a little orchestrating, to get events synchronized.    Having the hooch at the top of the hill has always meant that we had to climb back up after chow, but it has also meant that we had the hill to ourselves.  As the scene unfolded, we had had to compete with the music in order to communicate; now the party surfaced as a more direct distraction, as two GI's came flying out the nearest door, the one fleeing for his life, the other seriously pummeling the first with his balled fists.
Earlier, when the Fellowship had carried word through the party that the MP's were here, the targeted area had been reefer, and those indulging.  Booze was not an issue.  The drinkers would have been oblivious to anything outside the hooch, and possibly that which was inside as well, so there had been no need to go that far.  Why spoil a perfectly good party, for the sake of a couple of military egos?

Instinctively, the two MP's went into their act.  It was like a fire to a station of ready fighters, what the job was all about.  In an MP's line of work, there was a lot of booze, and a lot of brief, volatile confrontations, that were generally settled with one well-placed blow to the face.  But to be at the scene when one of these brawls broke out, was the height of job satisfaction.  It serves no purpose to detail what ensued from the policemen's perspective; while they were occupied, I turned to Carroll and Nelson, who as co-hosts, had been hovering at the back door, watching my back.  Now, they were right there, appearing out of nowhere to do a little conniving, and then gliding back into the shadows.  It took two phrases to convey what I had in mind, parking brake and save the day.

They faded, I turned back around to face the action, and watched as the situation dissolved as easily as powdered sugar, dipped into coffee.  It's funny what a sobering effect two disciplined, uniformed Military Policemen can have on GI's.  Now Smith was back, and I was ready.

He did the intimidating stare thing, while I waited.  Then he announced, “When I arrive at a scene, I ask the questions.”
I asked, “Was that a question, Sir?”
His brow furrowed.  Which to address first?  “Sir?” he bellowed.  “Do I look like an officer?  I work for a living.  Are you trying to be funny?”

“Yes, drill...sorry, Staff Sergeant.”  We're out of basic, Dude.  “It's a party,” I added lamely.
“Well, it may be a party, but if you're smart, you'll learn when to break out the chuckles, and when to stuff them.”  Smith's crisp language indicated an awareness of the nature of the threat.

Kowahlski was squirming like he had to take a sudden latrine stop.  He cleared his throat, loudly enough to let Smith know, that there was a little extra something, something going on.  All partners who work together in an uncertain and unsafe field, have a code that is the same, only different.  He said simply, “I thought you might like to know, Enos, that these guys belong to the 199th.”  All I could think of at the moment was, “Enos?  Enos Smith?”

“Actually, Sarge, I am smart.  In fact, I'd say I'm looking a little stronger in that department right now than you.”  I had drawn the line in the sand.

Smith's mental battle between fear of the 199th and my insubordination, was spontaneously won by his natural tendencies, as he went from tepid to steam in the time that it takes to flick the top off of a beer bottle.  But as he got ready to unleash, I brought my hand to my mouth and emitted a piercing whistle, penetrating the helmets of the visiting constabulary.  Instinctively they swung sideways, so they could keep me in their line of vision, but that they could also figure out why I was whistling.  Seeing the Jeep unexpectedly advancing down the incline produced the desired effect, and then some.

Smith positively squeaked.  Whatever he had to say was stifled by the sight of Nelson streaking out of the shadows and alongside of the Jeep, his lanky frame fluidly matching pace with the drifting vehicle, as he reached in and eased up the brake.  Staff Sergeant Smith looked as though he had just been run down by a runaway jeep.  Suddenly, the 199th was sailing, and my crew had hold of the tiller.

What can I say?  The !99th: 2,  Military Police: 0, with Nelson getting a save.  

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