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Back in the Day…

This past Saturday, while I was busy doing something that seemed important at the time, I happened to glance at the calendar in my kitchen. August 15, 2009. My memory flashed, and I remembered that it had been 20 years to the day since I had gone to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to participate in the hazing ritual the Air Force calls “basic training.”

20 years suddenly doesn’t seem like such a long time. Back in 1989, when people talked about 1969, it seemed like the distant past. After all, I hadn’t even been BORN in 1969, and the 17 years since I had been born had taken FOREVER. In 20 years, I knew that I would be old.

Well, that day has come – a bit too quickly for my taste – and I can think back on 1989 as if it were just last week. So now, although 1969 still seems like ancient history (what with all of the Woodstock anniversary chatter lately), I can at least empathize with the geezers who feel like it wasn’t that long ago.

Back on August 15, 1989 I stepped off the Air Force bus into the Texas heat and stood in a line with a bunch of other poor saps while an angry man shouted at us to pick up and then to put down our luggage. We got the picking up and putting down part ok, but somehow we couldn’t manage to all do it at the same time. I’m not sure why that was important, but the man shouted at us and said that he had never seen a group of people who were so useless. And we were – no matter how hard we tried, someone was always either early or late with his suitcase. For a while I was ashamed about how poorly we had done, but, in retrospect, if I had to have an Achilles heel, it might as well be synchronized luggage hefting.

After our dismal performance, we were led into our dorm and told to sit in the “day room.” Side note – until just now I had no idea what a “day room” was – or why it was different from any other room – so I looked it up. Apparently it is a recreation room found in a barracks. That makes sense, as long as “sitting in an empty room while being shouted at” is your idea of recreation.

So, we were sitting in the day room, sweating from a mixture of blast furnace heat and nervousness and waiting for our TI (Technical Instructor…all of the rough and tumble services have “Drill Instructors” but the Air Force likes to be different). Eventually, he strode into the room and told us that he was going to choose the leaders of our little band. To do this, in a military tradition that goes back to the Revolutionary War, he ordered everyone to remove their shirts. The guys with the best physiques were made the leaders.

I was not one of those guys. I was determined to be in need of extra exercise, and therefore was designated as a “road guard.” This meant that when my flight was told to fall out, I would have to rush to the lone water fountain and jostle for position with the other road guards to fill a canteen with water. Filling the canteen in the dorm ahead of time was strictly forbidden, as was drinking any of the water.

Once the canteen was filled and the flight was in motion, I would march a bit ahead or behind of the main group. Then, when we approached a cross street, I would sprint out to block traffic. I wore a shiny reflective vest and was, in essence, a human traffic cone. Or, more accurately, a speed bump – except, of course, that traffic cones and speed bumps don’t have men in Smokey the Bear hats shouting at them from such a small distance that they become covered in cloudbursts of spittle. That would just be weird.

Overall, lugging that canteen of forbidden water through the Texas heat while flinging myself in front of cars is not my happiest memory. Between that and all of the shouting, I would be perfectly fine if the entire basic training experience faded into the mist of long ago. But, there it is – 20 years old and still cluttering up my memory like it happened last week. In fact, I can hardly remember any of the stuff I actually did last week. I feel your pain, geezers.

Back in the Day Tim 20 Aug 2009 1 Comment

Cold Weather Batman Redux

Note: This is a revision of a column that originally appeared in 2003.

I think that I enjoy Halloween more as an adult than I did when I was young. Now, when I decide to wear a costume (this only happens if I am invited to a party), I can control what I look like, and follow my one rule of costumes: No masks, because I want to drink beer. In past years, I have dressed up as Mr. Incredible (a fat super hero!), a female stripper (with a goatee), a proctologist (My nametag had the slogan “If it won’t come out, we’ll go in and get it!), and I enjoyed being in control of the costumes, if you will. It wasn’t always that way.

One year, when I was about 8, my otherwise sane mother actually decided that it would be just darling for me to dress up as a GIRL to go trick or treating. I was horrified (and probably psychologically damaged as a result), but my mother was convinced that it would be “the cutest thing.” Despite my loud protests, my sister and mother gleefully dressed me in a bright red dress, liberally applied makeup, and gave me a red pocketbook to hold the candy. I was apparently adorable, if miserable.

That night produced the lowest candy yield of my entire trick or treating career. My unsuspecting neighbors opened their doors, expecting cute little goblins, vampires, and super heroes, only to be confronted with a sobbing miniature drag queen. Meanwhile, my friends were DELIGHTED to see me (thankfully they all moved shortly thereafter). I only lasted about a half-dozen houses, dragging my red flats from house to house like a prisoner to the gallows, before my mother took pity on me and took me home.

A few years later, when my self-image had begun to recover, my parents bought me a Batman costume – the old, gray, oddly form-fitting Adam West version, but in plastic! I was thrilled. This was my chance to be a super hero! When Halloween came, I waited patiently for dinner to end, then raced up to my room and transformed myself into the Dark Knight. I pulled on the gray suit and put on the big plastic mask (I’m not sure what species the eye-holes in those masks were made for, but it wasn’t humans). I ran downstairs and was almost out the door when I heard the dreaded words: “Wait, don’t forget your coat.”

Oh no. The “winter coat over the costume” rule was going to be enforced.

I tried to present the argument that the entire mystique of Batman, brooding crime fighter and generally cool looking guy, was ruined when Batman was wearing a parka with fur around the hood. My mother’s counterpoint was something about the fact it was cold out, and that I would catch my death, and that she was my mother and that I was supposed to do what she said, blah, blah, blah, and just like that, I was Cold Weather Batman.

When I joined up with the pack of my friends (This was back in the days when children were allowed more than 5 feet from a parent or supervising adult, so it was just us kids that year), I noticed that Cold Weather Batman stood out from the rest of the Justice League. Apparently, none of my friends’ mothers cared enough to make them wear jackets over their costumes (Amazingly, all of these people managed to survive the night, pneumonia-free).

Standing out from the crowd on that night was not a good thing, because there were some older kids, dressed like bullies, prowling the streets of my neighborhood. When one of these predators decided it was time to steal someone’s candy, which of the Super Friends do you think was targeted?
While my fellow Super Friends ran like scared rabbits (and I ran like, well, an elm tree in winter boots) the bully ran at me and pushed me down. He then tried to tear the bag of candy out of my hands, but Cold Weather Batman was equipped with the old Kung Fu Grip that night, and the steely determination of a fat kid who senses that his candy is in danger.

The bully – probably alienated from society and suffering low self esteem because of something his parents did – then began punching me with one hand while tugging at the candy with the other hand. I rolled around, keeping a firm grip on the candy, as his fists poofed into my thick, fluffy, jacket-like body armor.

The altercation gathered a bit of a crowd, and eventually an adult showed up and yelled something like “Hey!” This spooked my attacker and he took off, melting into the darkness in search of other prey.

Cold Weather Batman returned home triumphantly that night with a couple of bruises, a black eye, and the best tasting candy I have ever eaten.
Happy Halloween.

Back in the Day Tim 30 Oct 2008 No Comments

The Mad Dash

I had just returned to my South Boston apartment from work when the phone rang. It was The Megger, calling from her apartment.

“I need you to come over right now,” she said in an urgent and somewhat frightened voice.

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Just come over.”

When I arrived there, I noticed The Megger standing outside the triple-decker that served as her apartment building.

“Thanks for coming,” she said, “I was just a little nervous. When I got home from work and went up the stairs, the door to my apartment was wide open. I wasn’t sure about even going in, but I did. The television was on, all the lights in the apartment were on, and the gas stove was on full blast. Luckily, there was no pan on the stove.”

“That happened at my fraternity house once,” I said, “one of the guys turned on some ramen noodles and then passed out cold. The smoke alarm woke him up, and the pan was melted onto the burner. You should have seen the look…”

“That’s great,” she interrupted, “but would you come upstairs and help me look around?”

We went up to the apartment and noticed that the door didn’t look to have been forced. Nothing appeared to have been stolen, and no one was hiding in the spare room or under any of the beds or in any of the closets.

We then discussed what might have happened. One of The Megger’s roommates had recently broken up with her boyfriend, and we considered that she could have been snatched when she opened the door for someone. Maybe there was an emergency of some kind? Should we call the police?

We didn’t call the police, since nothing was missing, and thanks to some hearsay television cop show information that people have to be missing for at least 24 hours before they can be reported missing. Instead, we just waited. Later that evening, The Megger’s roommate returned home and went about her business as if nothing had happened; so we had to ask. Her explanation:

“Oh, that. Well, the weather was bad and I didn’t feel like walking to the bus station so I called a cab. I was walking down the hallway when the cab started beeping its horn, so I just ran out of the apartment.”

Without closing the door?

“Yeah, I guess I was in a hurry and forgot to close it.”

What about the stove?

Well, I had planned to make oatmeal, but I forgot about it. When the cab came I just rushed out because I didn’t want to miss it.”

When discussing it later, The Megger and I were surprised at how matter-of-fact the explanation was – there was no apology, no acknowledgment that the whole situation might have been anything but an ordinary Monday. The Megger then said that, in a way, this made sense, as she would often wake up to find candles with wax dripping onto the carpet that the roommate had left burning overnight. She felt lucky that the apartment had not yet burned to the ground.

We both then agreed that it was probably for the best that the roommate had not been in the bathroom when the cab arrived.

Back in the Day Tim 29 Feb 2008 No Comments

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