“Letter From a South Park Jail” Part Four: “Homeward Bound”

Semi-Subliminal Message for Lance-The-‘Writer’

Interior of a KAF South Park ‘Port-A-Shitter’ in case you have never ‘experienced’ one

This is the continuation of a transcribed letter/email I sent to my Girlfriend (Isn’t she pretty?) while stuck in Kandahar, Afghanistan

***

1423hrs: South Park DFAC

It was a long and winding road which led me back to South Park home base. As I was trudging along, sweating my ass off, I kept reminding myself of the New Yorker’s directions given to someone looking to get to Texas from NYC:

“Head west until you smell shit. That’s Oklahoma. Go south until you step in it. That’s Texas.”

I found my way back to South Park in similar fashion: Followed my nose to the ‘Poo Pond’ and took a left—ran right into South Park. Easy as Poo Pie.

Poo Pond Song

#1 With A Bullet

Street Cred for Shared Vid: JimmyMisawa

Original Artist Credit:  Music and video by Jimmy Moreland

***

Kandahar the Song

Also #1 With A Bullet

(It was a ‘Foto-Finish’)

“Kandahar the song is about life at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan.  Everything was filmed, photographed, recorded and edited at Kandahar (KAF) except the stuff that wasn’t.  Yep, Rocket Attacks, the Poo Pond and reflective belts are a way of life at KAF.  Enjoy”

Street Cred for Vid:  HeySargeUSA Spillane

***

As soon as I got back and kicked yet another Gomer off’n my rack (What’s wrong with these people?), I went to Flight Ops to see if I could fly the hell outta here tomorrow. I’ll tell you what they told me:

“We’ll have to get back to you on that.”

1738hrs: Sitting on my Rack

Shoo’d the Gomes off… again. I sent you an email few minutes ago, telling you my show-time is 0100hrs for my flight back to Dwyer. I believe it’s a Helo this time. They are slower, but it’s a short trip. On Saturday, I could have walked here and gotten to the CAC office same day before they closed.

The computers here have been acting stupid today, so I don’t know if you got my recent posts. Only thing left for me to do is update my time sheet at 1900hrs and eat supper.

I stole a sleeping bag from the Billeting laundry box so I wouldn’t freeze my ass off tonight. (The A/C works really good in this tent starting around midnight). Problem is, not getting to sleep much. I must confess something: I like a routine.

I do much better when I have a routine. You probably would never have guessed that about me.  

Mike!! 

Hopefully will not still be there on Dwyer whenever I get home, but I had no email from Shannon, so I suspect he remains. Shannon surely would have told me if he finally did leave. I would hope so anyway.

Ode To An Asshole:

***

1915hrs: Sitting on my rack

Supper was yummy. Roast pork(?) and a chicken breast. South Park’s population seems to have doubled today. Trying to find a spot to sit in the smoking arena is an exercise in futility. Time for me to leave obviously.

I’m gonna miss this place.

SORTA…

I am really exhausted now. Tomorrow will be another Long Day, but at least at the end of it I’ll be back in my own bed and in my own hooch.

My Classy, Comfy, Cozy, Crib

***

I’m sad right now a little bit ‘cause I have not heard from you. Hopefully a bit later before I depart for the flight line and most likely another long wait to get on yet another bird… I hope they fed the hamsters this time: “Helicopter Hamsters.” Sounds like a song: ‘Muskrat Love…’ (Lance, you need sleep Son)

2020hrs: DFAC

Tried to sleep. Failed. Ideas of what to show you and do with you and to you in Dubai race around in my head and look for a place to rest.

31 July Tuesday 0021hrs: DFAC – Strong coffee

Taster’s Choice instant. ‘Twill serve. Just got off the computer a few minutes ago and had several emails from you. Happy Now. Some dude was very vociferous about some folks taking more than their allotted ten minutes (I’m not guilty of that. Not Much). Anyway, I had to go.

Got a couple hours of death-like sleep until a Billeting Gome woke me up (very politely) tapping me on the shoulder, making sure I knew I was scheduled to fly. I assured him that “Yeah Baby! I’m flying outta here.” My alarm was about to go off, but I’m glad he woke me up just in case it didn’t.

They have the Olympics on TV now here in the DFAC. I had forgotten about them and I suppose they are well underway by now. I do hope Texas brings home a lot of gold this time! Gotta go and grab my ‘kit’. See? I can speak Brit. Heading to the rally point.

Rally Ho!

0315hrs: PAX Terminal KAF

Been successfully herded from South Park.

0348hrs: Taxi Runway

Didn’t even have time to finish my coffee.

Gryphon Airlines exhibited uncharacteristic efficiency today. I did manage to wolf down part of an MRE I had rat-fucked on the 28th. Not on a helo—thought I would be. A/C on this bird no better than the last one.

Waiting to take off… Plane is full and we have two stops before Dwyer. Hopefully I’ll be home in time for DFAC breakfast, but not likely. Oh, plane holds about forty-six in case you’re wondering.

0404hrs: Airborne!

Escape Velocity Breached!

“Once more unto the Breach!”

On our way! Yippee Ki Aye! Captain is female, Michelle. I love her already.

Homeward Bound!

0519hrs: FOB Shindand

Sitting here in Beautiful Shindand. Well, just sittin’ on the plane which is sittin’ on the tarmac in Beautiful Shindand. I have never been to Shindand, so I have no emotions one way or another about Shindand, but apparently I like writing the word ‘Shindand.’

FOB Shindand

Breaking dusk, a C-130 takes off from Shindand Air Base.

***

It is just before sunrise here and this time tomorrow I should be back in MY Gym on MY FOB. But for now, next stop FOB Ferah. Shindand Gomes are boarding now…

While they are settling in, I’d like to tell you more about this airplane. As I said, she seats around forty-six. I am semi-comfortably ensconced in a window seat, seated near-the-rear of this DHC-8-300, aka: ‘Dash Eight’ and we just ‘dashed’ from KAF to here at twenty-thousand feet and I must assume at about 250 mph, but I’d have to verify that with Michelle, or her hamsters.

Here is a Dash Eight that ‘Dashed’ to the Scene of the Crash.

For brevity in the local vernacular: a ‘Dash Crash’

This is an Eight-Hamster plane: two hamsters per propeller which is in accordance with FAA, ‘Fuckin Afghan Aviation’ regulations. Our Flight Attendant, Gail, is going through her spiel again (poorly) and has informed us that

“No one would like to hear the smoke alarm going off (ya think?), so please don’t smoke Schmuck.”

I added the “Schmuck” because I am in charge of this letter and it made me happy to do so. Well, the hamsters are warming up their little legs, so I reckon, we’ll be departing presently. And… in fact we ARE!

I love my Life!

Airborne now and I see the sun just peeking over a mountain—very romantic. Why does Shindan get to have mountains and Dwyer does not? Shindand looks like Aspen on a bad day, and Dwyer looks like Lubbock on any day.

0613hrs: FOB Farah

Gotta get off here briefly. The hamsters will be taking on Hamster Fuel, probably corn, or corn nuts, or whatever it is that fuels hamsters.

0629hrs: FOB Farah

I love this FOB! Well, what little I have seen of it anyway. It is tiny and nestled in some really cool-looking mountains. As we were landing I was watching for the asphalt runway to appear. It didn’t. We landed on a dirt strip. How cool is that? Not my first dirt strip landing but it caught me pleasantly off guard.

FOB Farah

When I first got to Afghanistan, I was hoping to be sent to a small remote FOB such as this, alas, I’ve been stuck at Dwyer for a year.

Now that the hamsters have refueled and I’ve had a taste of my ‘Dream FOB’ nothing left to do but head back to Dwyer, which should begin in a minute or two.

0655hrs: Airborne Again

Gail told us we have thirty-five minutes to Dwyer and I believe her. Shouldn’t get over twelve thousand feet altitude, “And once again, this is a non-smoking flight.”

“Thank you Gail. It’s been at least thirty minutes since I heard that.”

0730hrs: Home

This concludes our Special Broadcast and we now return you to your regularly scheduled emails, already in progress.

It’s good  GREAT to be Home

Shannon ‘Duck’ & Lance

My Good Friend Lady Lucy

***

“There’s no place like home”

“There’s no place like home.”

***

***

Previously:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”–W. Shakespeare

Today, 05 SEP 2021 marks the Fifty-Year Anniversary of this tragic shit.

I made a promise fifty years ago.

“Ronnie, I will never allow your memory to die.”

I aim to keep that promise until

I DIE.

Only thing I will add today:

Assholes got his age wrong in the obit.

He was 20, not 30.

****

Harvey Ronald Piland

BIRTH    27 Apr 1951

Fresno, Fresno County, California, USA

DEATH  5 Sep 1971 (aged 20)

Fannin County, Texas, USA

BURIAL

Oakwood Cemetery

Honey Grove, Fannin County, Texas, USA

“The funeral of Harvey Ronald (Ronnie) Piland, 30, son of Mr. and Mrs. P. H. Piland here, one of two young men drowned Sunday Sep. 5, 1971 at Coffee Mill Lake, was arranged for 4 p.m. Tuesday at Cooper-Sorrells Funeral Home. The Rev. Paul Washburn was to officiate, burial being arranged in Oakwood Cemetery.

Piland’s companion who drowned also was Jimmy M. Pirtle, 21.

Son of Mr. and Mrs. P. H. Piland, Ronnie Piland was born in Fresno, Calif., April 27, 1951, but was reared here, graduating from Honey Grove High School, where he played football, and was currently a beauty college student. He belonged to the Baptist Church at Petty. Besides his parents here, survivors include three grandparents, A. A. Piland, Dallas, and Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Henderson, Paris, and these brothers and sisters: Jerry and James Harvey Piland of Honey Grove; Richard Piland of San Diego, Calif.; Mrs. Katie Ivy of San Angelo and Mrs. Brenda Burnett of Bartley Woods community.”

Author’s Note 27 June 2021:

I am not ‘Re-Writing’

Not ‘Re-Working’

Not vanity editing

Not Expanding

Not ‘Jazzing’ up

Not Elaborating

Not Ruining-with-superfluous shit

This Original Post

My Heart was ‘All-In’ when first I wrote it.

I refuse to taint those original emotions now.

I am just fulfilling a promise I made years and years ago:

“Ronnie, I will Never allow your memory to die.”

******

In 1971 when my step-sister Madelyn and I were fourteen and thirteen respectively, my parents would often go out of town on the weekends. My father and stepmother seemed to always have some magic convention or gathering to attend in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, or any number of other venues.

My father knew all the local high school kids from his directing of the senior plays every year. Two of the former graduates, Ronnie and Doug, then about twenty years old, remained very good friends of my father and particularly Ronnie, (who was Peanut’s Uncle). My father decided that Madelyn and I needed a ‘baby-sitter’ while he and Gloria were off on their long weekends, so they paid Doug and Ronnie to look after us.

Now mind you, Madelyn and I were both pretty certain we were over-mature for our age and could easily fend for ourselves, but we loved having two “big brothers” to help us throw the greatest parties in the history of Honey Grove while under their tutelage. We used Marcom Manor as our venue of course and were always in a rush to get the house back into some semblance of order before the folks returned, usually on a Sunday, but occasionally on a Monday or Tuesday.

During Labor Day Weekend of 1971 my parents were off to a big convention in Houston and we had a great party planned for Sunday the Fifth of September. We were to have ‘The Mother of All Parties’ out at Lake Coffeemill, north of Honey Grove. (The party was going to serve double duty for me, as my fourteenth birthday was just five days away.)  Right up until the night before, I had no date lined up for this all-day Blow-Out, and I was in a panic.

Around about eleven, I saw and old ex-classmate of mine from the sixth and seventh grade who had moved away the year prior, slowly driving past (we were all on the town square, sitting on the car hoods, drinking beer and planning the next day’s activities). I figured she was in town to visit some of her family who lived between Honey Grove and Lake Coffeemill. I chased her down (literally), stopped the car and asked breathlessly if she would like to come out to the lake the next day for the party. Happily she said “Yes.” And that made my night. Her name was Chrissie.

Semi-Early the next morning Madelyn, Gina (Ronnie’s girlfriend) Ronnie and I (along with some other hanger’s on) were busy gathering all the items for the picnic/party and loading up ‘The Magic Bus’ which was what we called Ronnie’s 1957 Chevy Station Wagon. Some other folks arrived (mostly ‘twenty-something’ folks) with their cars and trucks. All the vehicles were loaded with beer, wine (Cheap Mogan David, Spanada, Boone’s Farm, etc.) hot dogs, buns, hamburger meat, condiments, and on and on. As I said, this was going to be the last big party of the summer and we were going to do it up right. Madelyn and I were to start High School the following Tuesday.

Ronnie loved The Beatles. He once told me, “The Second side of Abby Road is the best side on the best album, by the best band in the history of the world.” Even today, I cannot listen to any Beatles’ music without thinking of him and all those wonderful times we all spent together. He was a good kid, and always looked out for me. Gina was the same, and I have to admit I had a not-too-secret major crush on her. I had been dating her little sister off and on during the previous year, but she and I never could get our act together. She was my very first blonde girlfriend and to tell the truth, I’ve never had any luck with blondes ever since and have historically shied away from them.

Ronnie taught me how to smoke pot, be cool, and turned me on to all manner of wonderful music. He coached me all that summer in my soon-to-become burgeoning High School football career. Most important, by his example, he taught me to be compassionate and patient and tolerant and kind. In short, he taught me how not to be an asshole, which as an arrogant, wet-behind-the-years, knows everything about everything, little shit of a teenager, I was all too good at. Ronnie saved me from that.

He was an easy-going, good-looking kid with a toothy smile and a joie de vivre that made a room light up whenever he walked in. He had unlimited optimism about everything and everybody. Never once did I hear him say one unkind word about anyone, even though there were some in our circle who deserved an unkind word upon occasion (including yours truly). Ronnie saw nothing but good in all people. Absolutely everyone in Honey Grove loved him, old and young alike.

He didn’t even mind that every time we were all together I would invariably find ways to sit next to Gina and just fawn. He laughed that off like everything else. He knew Gina loved him dearly and nothing on Earth could ever separate those two. Gina had a soft spot for me as well, but more in a ‘Big Sis’ kind of way, but try explaining that to a thirteen-year-old with romantic ideas, puppy-dog eyes, and raging hormones.

Once we had all the vehicles loaded, we began our ‘convoy’ to The Lake with The Magic Bus leading the way. Ronnie driving, Gina riding shotgun in her ‘Lake-Party Uniform:’ cut-off jeans, halter top. Situated between them was a gallon of Mogan David, which, as we pulled out of town, Ronnie grabbed and thrust out the window, pumping it up and down for the rest of the parade to see. It was on!

I had the back seat to myself and was in my ‘uniform’ cut-off jeans and t-shirt, hippie sandals, and behind me a huge beer cooler, all the cookout stuff, and about a thousand eight-track tapes that Ronnie kept in the car always. Music was the defining force in all of our young lives and The Magic Bus had the best ‘rigged’ stereo in Northeast Texas and was as close to a mobile concert hall as I had ever seen.

Ronnie had installed some kind of colorful strobe light contraption on the dash over the glove compartment that pulsated with the beat of the music. The Magic Bus was indeed, Magical. There was no ignition switch, just a couple of wires hanging down underneath the steering column which had to be united to start the car. Anyone with a mind to could have stolen that car at any time, but of course no one was ever of a mind to.

Many times during road trips to Commerce to see Gina’s Hippie friends, or to The Lake, or Bonham to the drive-in one time to watch Woodstock, or once to Dallas to see Led Zeppelin, I would love the getting there more than the arriving there. I loved to ride in that car with the good company, the camaraderie, and all the great music and I felt so wonderfully alive. I always hated it when we did finally arrive to our destination of the day, because for me, the best was in the getting there; the riding in that car, grooving to the music and watching Texas roll by.

Lake Coffeemill lies about twenty miles north of Honey Grove and for once I was anxious to actually arrive at a destination. This would be the Best Party Ever. We stopped about ten miles from the lake to pick up Chrissie and she and I spent the last ten miles chatting and holding hands in the back seat.

Chrissie was always an elusive butterfly and I was so proud she was with me on that day. Of course I tried to show off by talking to Ronnie and Gina about ‘older things;’ things like some of the concerts we had been to, parties we had thrown, et cetera. Mostly I ended up looking and sounding like an idiot, but Chrissie didn’t seem to mind. I do think she genuinely was fond of me. She was a long and tall dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty and actually quite different from any other girl I had known up to that point in my life. We were a good match and seemed to have great potential as a couple, but we would never get to explore that potential.

We turned off the paved two-lane and onto the gravel lake road. There are actually two lakes in this area separated by Bois d’Arc Creek and a long gravel road. The other lake is Lake Crockett and is slightly smaller than Coffeemill. The entire area is very heavily wooded with pine, oak, and cedar; all part of what they call ‘The Caddo National Grasslands’ and one of the few national parks in Texas (Texas is unique in that she kept most of her public lands when she joined The Union in 1845 instead of giving them all away to the Federal Government like all the other western states).

The road to ‘Gate 10’ on Coffeemill was the last part of our journey. Now, I say ‘Road’ and I use the term loosely. More like a trail, barely wide enough to navigate the Magic Bus through the trees and certainly better suited for Four-Wheel Drive vehicles. The trail winds around through the woods for about two miles before actually ending on the lake. Gate 10 was our turf. No one ever went there except our crowd, and possibly the occasional hunter. Everyone knew this; even the tourists knew this. By spending so much time there coupled with the fact that most didn’t even know the place existed made it ours. We must have been quite a sight on that day: no less than twenty cars, trucks, vans, all slowly bumping along single file down to Gate 10.

Soon after we arrived and got all the vehicles parked in the only clearing (about 25 yards from the water) everyone got busy organizing all the myriad items we had brought along. Grills were set up, beer coolers strategically placed, plastic-ware and paper ‘wine’ cups and tablecloths and folding tables appeared and of course the big speakers inside the Magic Bus were brought out and positioned on top of the hood, blaring music. Picture a Mini-Woodstock, Texas Style. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.

Everyone spent the next few hours drinking beer, munching on hot dogs, shooting the shit, swimming in the lake, and lighting up the occasional joint. Doug arrived around two o’clock and he had some unhappy words for Ronnie. Apparently Ronnie had promised him he would stop smoking dope. The two of them were occasional ‘Youth Ministers’ at one of the churches in Honey Grove and Doug was, shall we say, a bit more fervent in his religion than was Ronnie. The two of them were most assuredly best friends and it pained me to see them argue over this. Doug got so pissed off that he just left shortly after he had arrived and I don’t believe he even had one beer while he was there. This dampened my spirits a little, but was soon forgotten. I knew they would work it out later and all would be normal again.

The afternoon was going by and things calmed a little as people gathered in small groups to drink, smoke, and chat. I took Chrissie by the hand and grabbing a blanket off the hood of one of the cars, led her into the woods. She carried a bottle of wine. We spread the blanket under an oak and made love, or what passed for making love then for us. Mostly just heavy petting, kisses, and arms and bare legs wrapped around each other. We could faintly hear strains of Carole King singing ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ back at the party:

Is this a lasting treasure

Or just a moment’s pleasure

Can I believe the magic of your sighs

Will you still love me tomorrow…

We remained secluded there for some time, getting reacquainted, talking softly about nothing in particular. It is so easy to fall in love when you’re thirteen. My heart was in serious mortal danger. Falling hard for her. She was so sweet and so soft and so stunningly beautiful, with sloe gin eyes and all that implies… But I was prepared, eager in fact, to fall, to fall headlong, and all else be damned…But not yet: There was a party to be attended and tended to…

As it was growing late afternoon, we gathered up the blanket and the almost empty bottle of Spanada and headed back to join the others. I needed to pee so I headed to the lake and saw Ronnie, Jimmy Max, John David, Jackie, and several others climbing a dead tree about twenty yards off-shore. I swam out (after relieving myself in the water) to join them.

They all had towels fashioned about their necks and were acting out ‘Superman,’ climbing the tree and diving in: much rowdy laughter as they critiqued each other’s performance. We played at that for quite a while when my stomach reminded me that I had forgotten to eat anything all day.

Ronnie must have had the same stomach, because we exited the water at the same time and immediately headed over to the Magic Bus to see if there were any remnants of the ham that Gina had brought for us. Not much, but I grabbed a hunk of it, slapped it on some bread and starting wolfing it down. Ronnie and I were standing there, eating, while digging through the rest of the stuff looking for more food. We both obviously had the munchies.

“Jimmy Max is drowning!” someone was screaming.

Ronnie shot away from the car toward the bank and I stuffed the last bit of ham and bread into my mouth chewing and trying to swallow and almost choking as I ran after him. There was a large group of people standing there yelling and pointing out towards where I could just barely make out a figure bobbing up and down in the water. I estimated about fifty yards away. Everyone was yelling, “Ronnie! Save Him! He’s been down twice now! Save him! Save Him!”

Ronnie grabbed an inner tube while running to the shore, threw it into the water and jumping into it began paddling furiously, using his arms and hands like oars in a rowboat, turning his head to mark his course toward  Jimmy Max. He actually left a wake. I have never seen anyone move that fast before or since.

I jumped into the lake and tried to keep up with Ronnie. I was a decent swimmer, but he soon left me far behind. I saw Ronnie get to Jimmy Max and watched as he was pulled off the inner tube. Jimmy Max had about twenty pounds on Ronnie and of course he was now strong in a panic.

The inner tube was swept away instantly (it was very windy that day). I continued swimming as fast as I could to get to the two of them. I saw Jimmy Max go under and Ronnie pull him up, his arms flailing about. When I was about ten yards from them Jimmy Max went down again, but this time Ronnie apparently couldn’t pull him up.

Things suddenly got deathly quiet. I could no longer hear the people screaming on the shore. The wind actually seemed to stop. Honestly, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. Things had just happened too quickly. I stopped about ten feet from Ronnie, treading water, not sure what to do next.

Ronnie looked right into my eyes and almost inaudibly said, “Help.” It was the weakest voice I had ever heard. I immediately swam over to him and tried to grab him around the waist. He was limp. Ronnie, who had always been so strong, was now completely weak and helpless. I struggled with trying to hold onto him, but it was no use. I just didn’t have any strength left myself.

Our eyes met again, but he said nothing as he slipped from my arms and sank. I saw bubbles come up from beneath me after his head disappeared. Nausea washed over me like a rolling wave.

Not knowing what to do, I dove down (the water must have been twenty feet deep there), but could not find an arm or a leg or anything to grab onto. After what seemed like five hours, but in reality, probably only five minutes of this, I started making my way back to the shore. When I got to within about twenty feet, I got cramps and collapsed. John David waded out and half-dragged, half-carried me back to the land. I was too tired to utter a word. Everyone surrounded me, yelling and asking, “What happened? What happened?” My mind cleared enough for me to think, “What the hell do you think happened? Ronnie and Jimmy Max drowned while all of you stood here and did nothing. That is what happened,” but I did not say it out loud.

Gina came running up in tears screaming, “Lance, where’s Ronnie? Where is he?” She was obviously in shock and hysterical.

“He’s dead Gina.”

I tried to take her in my arms, but she flung me aside and starting running up and down the shore looking out at the lake. I was too exhausted still to follow her. I collapsed down on a beer cooler and wept.

Everyone was jabbering away. Someone said, “This is just another joke. Any minute now they’ll come walking out of the woods, laughing at us.” I wished it were true, but I knew better.

The authorities came about an hour later with boats and starting dragging the lake. Close to dusk they found Ronnie. It would be another twelve hours before they found Jimmy Max. I got into the Magic Bus with Calvin and he starting driving us back to town. The same eight-track tape had been playing over and over again since the drownings: Moody Blues, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

We just left it in as we drove, not saying a word. After we had cleared the gravel road and were back on the highway, a car came speeding up to stop us, horn blowing. We pulled over and Chrissie came walking up, opened the back door and retrieved her purse. I couldn’t ever speak to her. To this day I do not know why, but I am sorry I didn’t because she probably thought I was evil for just sitting there with not a word for her. I never saw her again. And I never listened to that Moody Blues album again either.

I promised myself that day no one would ever drown in my arms again because of my inadequacies in the water. And some years later, I took action to ensure that I would always be able to keep that promise.

It goes without saying that Ronnie was the hero that day, but I am going to say it again. Why he was the only man out of the dozen or so equally capable just standing on the shore urging him on, to without hesitation risk his own life to save his friend, I still cannot comprehend. And yet when I try to, I just get pissed off all over again. Most of these men were my good friends, and I did remain friends with the most, but I no longer held any respect for a single one.

Even though this tragedy occurred over forty years ago, my memories are still all too much vivid. My great good friend and mentor heroically gave his life to save his friend. There is no greater testament to heroism. He died as he lived, with a passionate love for life and for everyone and for everything in his life. He will always be remembered. That’s another promise I made that day. It’s an easy one to keep. “Peace to You, My much missed Great Friend Ronnie; We remain here still, soldiering on. We hope you still smile at us and our folly.”

A Very Young Ronnie.
Only Photo I Have

***

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

–A.E. Housman

Inspired

Yep!

Someone I know (and admire), compelled me to post this video. (Unknowingly / Unwittingly) 

I hope you enjoy it.

It makes me feel so right about supporting Women’s Rights. (And Their Strength) 

(No more preaching here from me; I do not wish to degrade the effect of the Video)

Yes, I know. This is a Socialist Song. But, without support from the home…well…

I still maintain this is a woman’s song.

Missing The Most Interesting Man In Iraq

Bob (The Most Interesting Man in Iraq) is my life-long frin…

I miss his dumb ass (and ‘dumb-ass’ is a term of endearment where I come from)

If one is lucky, really lucky, one meets maybe one, two, or  three or four people in life that transcend funny.

Bob is one such ‘transcendent’ lucky for me.

He saved my fragile sanity.

**************

My mechanic (Of Parsons Mechanic fame) came by to have some ‘chat’ with me:

Bob

The most Interesting
Mechanic in the World

“Way’ll… I have a natch’ral disaster on my hands.”

“Ok Bob,” I said, “I’m ‘bout to bust with anticipation.”

“Yep. A natch’ral disaster.”

“You mentioned that already.”

“A real-life natch’ral calamity.”

“Do I have time to go to chow while you go through your preamble?”

Ignoring me, he continued, “That Six Kay (‘6K’ as in six thousand pound lifting capacity) forklift is all a-pieces. hamorr’agin’ parts all over th’ place. The Boys (Filipino mechanics times two) tol’ me it was the fuel injector pump. So, I kin’ly smiled and said ‘Okaaay…,’ and let ‘em go at it. They need ta learn how ta fix thangs without me onct in ah’while. Well,  they dun got tha’ forklift tore all ta pieces.  Now, I dun give ‘em all mornin’ to dick ‘round with it, an’ I’m gonna give ‘em all this aftr’noon to dick ‘round with it some more. Then first thing tomorra, I’m gonna ask ‘em, ‘Boys, how come that forklift ain’t a-workin’ this fine morning?’”

“I’m hip Let’s keep it real.”

“Your ‘personnel management style’ is showing Bob,” I said.

“Yeah, whatever… An’ tomorra’s Thursday. An’ day after that’s Friday. An’ I ain’t doin’ nothin’ on Friday. Tomorra, we gonna start our dee-cent inta th’ day off.”

“Kinda start slowin’ ‘er down ‘round mid-noon time, eh?” I said. (I can do ‘Southern’ just as slick as you please when I want to.)

“X-actly. We start double-clutchin’ and dee-celeratin’ an’ bring her in nice and slow like.”

“And what about my forklift?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

“She’s all ‘In’shalah’d’ out Boss.”

“Dead in the water?”

“Tits up.”

“Broke dick?”

“Send her saddle home.”

“I need to call Baghdad?”

“She ain’t lookin’ none too fav’erble.”

“Call HQ an’ tell ‘em we need another forklift?”

“Now, jes hol’ on. Doan git ’em all wadded jes yet.”

“Ok. I got it. Thanks.”

“We’re Parsons’ Mechanics an’ jes watch how we roll,” he said on his way out the door.

I love my job.

I have a “Ten Kay” forklift that still works. So I should be alright for now. Besides, Bob just  loves the drama and we do this little dance everytime there is a crisis in the motor pool. If I were a betting man (And actually I am) I’d wager two of my pay checks that come Friday if that 6K forklift is still down, he’ll be out there bright and early with his boys working on it until it is repaired even if it means giving up his day off. I’ve seen him do that already too many times over the past year and a half he has worked for me. There is no man made of better stuff. An’ he sure do entertain. Yessir, he certainly does. And I’d never have been able to keep the operation afloat without him.

I love all my crew and wouldn’t trade a single one of them for a pile of cash money or a case of Johnny Walker Black with the authorization to drink it.

Feetnote to this story:

After I had been in Mosul for a month, running that camp, they sent me Bob.

Upon seeing him get off the chopper, I ran over and kissed him (not on-the-lips–he is a disgusting individual) But I needed him! To help me run the Goddamn Camp And I had sorely missed him in my life.

This song is dedicated to Bob, wherever he may be:

OK: Ed. Note:

Y’all gotta love how ‘Texan’ this vid is—look at the ‘ensign‘-Texan Flags-behind the sage, er…stage.

(and if you look really close–for you guitar players out there–you will notice the hole in the guitar. Willie tells some stories ’bout the gee-tar. He tells one about a drunken party with Leon Russell in a hotel room, when Leon almost broke it. Willie, in classic form, invited Leon to stop touching that guitar.)

When I am coherent, I may write about that.

And then there is this:

Willie sang, “At the airport in Milwaukee…”

Lenny

Lima

on that: Milwaukeeeee!

 

Footnote:

Recently Paul died (Willie’s drummer)

But Y’all know that.

On The Street Where I Lived

I love this post.

Do NOT read it.

It is only for me.

And my mom.

May she RIP

‘Three-Nine-Six-One-Three Bruning Street Fremont California: 1966-1968.

Funny how I still remember the street address when I cannot remember my mother’s birthday, or what I had for Sunday Supper last week, or my second wife’s maiden name, or who won the World Series last year.

All the houses on Bruning Street were brand new. And they were all alike. But their alikeness did not dampen my spirits, especially since mom and I had left the moldy old garage apartment across town. I had finally escaped that place and the Ghost of that Murdered Turkey.

Seems the entire neighborhood moved in on the same summer weekend: Floodgates opened—lots of activity—trucks coming and going, grown-ups schlepping boxes, kids (potential buddies?) playing and yellin’ and runnin’ wild, dogs untethered, barking, yipping, yapping, chasing. Just general mayhem all around: very excited we all were to be living the American Dream. Norman Rockwell should have been there.

A House on Bruning Street Today

A House on Bruning Street

All the houses had small front yards, slightly larger back yards, but no fences. In fact not really proper yards yet. No lawns, just California clay, hard-packed and untenable.

This would soon be remedied. By today’s standards for suburbia the dwellings were quite modest. No McMansions these. Each house had three small bedrooms, one bathroom, smallish kitchen, tiny dining area, and small living room. That was it, but compared to our garage apartment, Mom and I had moved into the Taj Mahal. Everything smelled gloriously of fresh paint, fresh earth, and promise. I immediately picked a spot in the back yard for my garden. As a kid, I was never happier than when I was digging in the dirt, much to the chagrin of my much harried mother and my blatant hatred of regular bathing.

Mom and I settled in quickly. For a few days, I shyly & longingly watched some of the other kids playing around up the street. My shyness prevented me from going up and introducing myself, but I had a secret weapon: some small incendiary devices. Actually they were just marble-sized balls that when slammed into the pavement would explode like firecrackers. Cannot recall where I had procured them, but they suited my purpose rather elegantly. Nonchalantly I walked over to the sidewalk one day and commenced to fling them down, one at a time. The ensuing explosions captured the attention of the group of kids up the street and they all came stampeding over to investigate.

Attention Getter

Attention Getter

This was how I broke the ice and made my first friends on Bruning Street. Call it an old magician’s trick, if you will.

“Wow! Those are so neat! Where’d ya get ‘em?”

“Just got ‘em,” I said, ever so cool.

“Can I try one?”

“Well… Yeah, but be careful; they’re not for kids, ya know.”

“What’s your name?”

“Lance. What’s yours?”

Thus the beginning of some of my beautiful friendships.

As summer turned to fall and the lawns and juvenile trees and fences and dog shit sprouted up on Bruning Street, I had cemented many friendships. Most of the kids were very close to my age. We never extended our circle beyond the confines of our street. Later I would break that unwritten code by becoming best friends with the kid who lived in the house bordering mine in the back. His name was Ricky Martinez. His people came from Puerto Rico, but he didn’t speak Spanish. He was a few years older and a bit of a gangster and we hit it off from the start. Right then I began my propensity of always living double lives. When I really wanted mischief I sought Ricky. Other times when it was baseball or playing army or watching Saturday morning cartoons I was after, I kept to my Bruning Street buddies.

Once school started (fourth grade for me), I made even more friends who could never mix with my Bruning Street friends or my Gangster friend Ricky. So now I had three lives to juggle.

Of course we all had bicycles and would fearlessly ride them all over town: Sometimes to the public swimming pool about four miles away and sometimes to the mall and the movie theater also about four miles distant. No one worried after our safety because we were never in any danger. We also had skateboards as second ‘cars’ and Ricky convinced me to paint mine silver. His reasoning was that when we eventually were confronted with rival gangs (Ricky and I were the only ones in our ‘gang’, but we did attempt some recruiting) we could turn the silver side of the skateboard toward the rival gang and blind them into submission with the sunlight reflected off our boards. We never encountered any menacing ‘rival gangs’, but we were ever vigilant and ready for them, should they appear.

My ‘Bruning Street Gang’ was so very much like the kids from South Park that it amazes me when I watch that TV show today. We cussed blue streaks amongst ourselves and had very strong and learned opinions about everything going on in the world. There was Randy Francin and his little brother Paul who lived right across the street. There were the DuBords who lived down the block. Craig the elder, Tommy the young ‘un and their older sister Kim, who looked a lot like Julie Andrews.

There was ‘Steve-Our-Hero’, a lanky sixteen year old blond-haired kid who looked like someone right out of a surfer movie. He lived about four doors down from me and was worshipped by us all. He had a grown-up job delivering newspapers and it was high honor to be ordered by him to bike down to the Seven-Eleven and pick him up a sixteen-ounce Pepsi. (I kept the bottle caps from my missions as souvenirs, almost like saintly relics in fact, and I kept them displayed in my bedroom) Our undying ambition was to grow up to be Steve.

A few doors down in the opposite direction lived another sixteen year old: A GIRL. Her name was Linda. She was also blond and I was madly in love with her. She once showed me her Janis Joplin album cover: Cheap Thrills Big Brother and the Holding Company and she was the coolest girl I had ever known.

Cheap Thrills

My Baptism

(actually the only girl I had ever known) I wanted to marry her, but all I was allowed to do was worship, which I did shamelessly. One day, she actually let me listen to the album. We sat on her bed silent through the entire record. My life changed that day. It reads corny, but sometimes corny is the best read. She was my first unrequited love and my first elusive butterfly.

Why she and Steve never hooked up, I have no idea. They were our royalty and it just didn’t seem right to me that they were not a couple. If I could not have her, surely Steve could. The two coolest people I knew and they were each too busy for the other. I don’t think they even knew of each other. Shakespeare could not have written it better.

Linda had her nemesis who lived at the far end of the street. Her name escapes me, but she was the same age as Linda and a brunette. Linda confided in me one day that she had gone over to her house and caught her sitting on the toilet picking at her pussy hairs. Oh my god! I had never heard a woman say ‘pussy’ before. I was certain that she had never said that to anyone but me and I fell even more in love with her. It was my little secret: Linda had talked dirty to me.

OK. You had to know I just could not resist. For all you Musical Fans out there, my apologies to Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, George Bernard Shaw, et al.

This one is for you Linda, wherever you are:

We had our pecking order. Hell, we even had our South Park ‘Kenny’, a young Hispanic kid who lived next door to me and always wanted to hang out with us ‘older kids.’ He never died, by the way, but we did torment him mercilessly, once almost conning him into drinking piss out of a Pepsi bottle. Would have worked too, if we had had the presence of mind to let it cool down before offering it to him. I cannot recall whose piss it was. Might have been a group effort.

Occasionally we would get into fights within our group, invariably causing us to split into two factions. Loyalties were often divided. These little insurrections could go on for weeks at a time, but eventually there would be a truce and a general détente. For fighting we had strict protocol. If one kid desired fisticuffs, he was required to proclaim in a loud and clear voice:

“I choose you out!”

The opponent had two choices: He could say, “I accept,” and get it on, or he could walk away, but no one ever walked away. The shame of not accepting such a challenge would have been career ending and would mean certain banishment forever.

The fights were furious but generally brief with not much harm done to anything but the pride of the loser. I won some of these encounters and I lost some. I guess on this front I was generally batting about five hundred.

One day I was forced too young into manhood. Ricky was a kleptomaniac. I knew he had this failing, but I kept overlooking it, denying it actually. He kept stealing stuff from me. Nothing important but it hurt me deep inside. We were best friends. One day he was ‘pumping me’ (which means I was riding on the back of his bicycle) over to his house. My bike had a flat.

Anyway, I was seated behind him and I saw a toy top of mine bulging out of his pocket. I could not feign denial any longer. When we got to his house, I mustered all the character I had and I broached this subject,

“Rick,” I said, “You know you are my best friend, right?”

“Yeah of course.”

“Well, it hurts me to tell you this, but I know you have been stealing stuff from my house.”

“Whaaat?! Bullshit!” he said.

“Ricky, I saw my top in your pocket on the way over here.”

Top of The Day

Top of The Day

“Oh… Yeah… Well here. Take it back,” he said, digging it out of his pocket.

“Ricky,” I said, “It ain’t about the top. It’s about friendship. And trust. I don’t care about the fuckin’ top. I care about our friendship.”

He gave me his best ‘I’m sorry look.’ And then I insisted he keep the top, but I think that was the beginning of the end of our friendship. That was up until then, the most painful conversation I had ever had to initiate in my young life, but it had to be; I just could not let him slide. Or me either. I would have hated him if I had not confronted him. The hate would have just festered and poisoned me. Somehow I instinctively knew this.

I loved all my friends good and bad and I was loyal to a fault.

These happy times rolled on along for a couple of years; then I was overtaken by events and my life would never be the same.

I had to go, you see, but I did miss the Saturday Cartoons.

To Be Continued. Here

My Friend Jimmy

I miss him

Marv Much.

Since I am in “Peanut Mode” tonight, I thought I would post this excerpt from a very ‘early-in-my-blogging days’ post regarding same, in the vain hope some would read the bits in their entirety: Sharking, Campin’, Bow-Fishin’.

peanut.jpg

Seems to me we sometimes realize far too late the true value of friends had and lost.

There is a scene in “Tombstone” where Wyatt Earp hands a smallish book over to a bed-ridden Doc Holiday, entitled:

“My Friend: Doc Holiday.”

Here is to wishing Peanut could receive same from me.

Alas, he cannot.

**************

Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Piland was a character like none other: Possessing a smallish frame, medium blond hair always askew and asunder, Paul Newman blue eyes, a perpetual boyish ‘possum’ grin, and a wiry build replete with a hard-wired energy. Yet looks can be somewhat deceiving: he was tough as nails and feared nothing, or no one.

There was no Brahma bull he wouldn’t attempt to ride, no man he wouldn’t attempt to fight (if provoked—him usually doing the ‘provokin’—“That sonuvabitch done pissed me off…”), no tractor, truck, nor heavy machinery he wouldn’t attempt to operate, instructed or not. Good that he never had access to an airplane, for he would have, no doubt, tried to fly it.

And actually, he did fly, by and by.

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