Thursday, October 21, 2004

Happiness...is a warm puppy!


Daddy, can I get a kiss?


Hey! What about me???

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Florida voting booth

Even though I've vowed to keep politics off this blog, I have to admit this is kinda cute!

Diebold voting machine

Ps. You can open this with Windows Media Player

Hard hat time

I mentioned a few days ago that I was doing some projects at my house next week. My good friend Edgar (we went to junior high together), who's a project manager for a construction outfit, invited me over to one of their sites so I could pick up a few donations.

They're building a fire station. He put together a makeshift desk out of some boxes and a spare door and placed it in one of the finished areas. An architect by vocation, he pulled out a paper pad and a pencil and stood across the desk from me.

"So, what are the projects?" he asked.

"I'm laying down a slab of concrete in the back yard. I'm putting in a new shed."

He drew the square slab on his paper. Wrote down the measurements, and calculated the area.

"You'll need four 2x4's, to place around it. Number 4 rebars to keep them in place. Two headed nails to hold the boards together, a wire net to pour the concrete on. Do you have a sheet of plywood to mix the concrete on?"

"No," I said.

"You'll need an extra 2x4 to section off as you pour the concrete."

He drew four different angles for the proper construction of the slab. "You'll have to go down 8 inches deep for an 8 inch wide space all the way around," he said. "Otherwise it'll crack under the weight of the shed. Bevel the outside 12 inches all around so the water drops off. That way you don't get a puddle in the middle. You also want to use a finishing troll around the outer edge, so it doesn't chip off. Water it once it's dried off, to cure it. Remove the 2x4's on the following morning."

"Okay," I said weakly.

"William!" he called out to one of his workers. He handed him the list of items he'd just jotted down. "Gather these things up for me and put them in the gentleman's van, please."

We went through the same process for two other projects. Again, he handed William the other lists. By the time we were done, my company van was packed tight with goodies, including metal sheet roofing for my pool pump shack, Tapcon concrete bolts for the shed and some metal strips to nail the 2x4's together.

"This is a tough project. You sure you can handle it?" he asked.

"Oh, sure," I lied. "I've got my Dad visiting next week, he'll help me out."

He eyed me, doubtingly. "I'll tell you what," he said. "You prepare the space, set up the 2x4's and have everything ready. Then call me, and I'll send you over a couple of guys to mix the concrete and lay out the slab for you. My treat."

Damn, it's good to have friends, isn't it?

"Thanks buddy!!!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Murgas

Click here for mood music

My friends signed me up for it a month before it happened. It was an interschollastic talent show, and it would take place in one of the city's largest theatres. More than a thousand people were expected to attend.

It fell on a Sunday. Mother's Day Sunday. I was seventeen, and flat broke. I promised my mother a trophy, weeks before it happened. That would be my present to her. But as luck would have it, I caught a bad cold days before the event. By that weekend my throat was shredded. I could barely speak - everything came out in guttural bursts, fighting through the phlegm.

I was entered in the soloist category. Nobody up on stage except me and my guitar. It was potentially disastrous!

I went to bed early on Saturday, with a bit of an ear ache. Took a few shots of firewater before hitting the sack. I decided to postpone any final decision until the following morning.

When I woke up, the house was filled with the smell of pancakes and bacon. My sister always made our mother breakfast on Mother's Day. I had nothing to give her. That made my mind up. I would go up on stage no matter what. If I made a fool of myself, so be it. At least I would be able to tell my mother I tried.

My head felt a little less congested, but my throat was still pretty raw. I showered, got dressed, grabbed my guitar and headed out there. Participants had to be there two hours before it began.

My friends were there for me that day. Even one of my teachers showed up. You had to pay to get in, so it showed a lot support on their part. One of my buddies smuggled in a flask of brandy, so I could soften up my throat. It worked wonders. It helped me build up my courage as well.

The competition began with vocal groups. There were at least a dozen of those. Then the bands went on. Then duets. Finally, the soloists.

I think there were about ten of us. I was called up somewhere in the middle.

The world is a very different place when you're standing alone on a stage. It's like there are a million spotlights on you; like the whole world is looking just at you. The crowds of young people were messing around, mostly there to party. But all in all it wasn't very unruly, and you could feel most eyes upon you. I was nervous.

I set the microphones up, for my guitar and myself, and did one quick final tuning off to the side. Then I began to strum my guitar. It was the only thing I could hear in that immense auditorium. I was playing one of my own songs. "Why," it was called, and it was a protest song. When my voice broke in, I could've sworn it cracked. But as I went on, I felt more confident and sang stronger. Though I was looking out at the crowd, and alternately glancing at my chords, I couldn't really see the people. It was all just one blurry mass of humans. I had no idea what kind of response I was getting.

When the song ended, the sound of applause filled my ears. I walked off the stage, only to find groups of people standing and cheering in my direction. A choir of female singers ran out to the passageway to scream and cheer at me histerically. People were cutting me off to shake my hand, and pat me on the back. It was a little scary, actually. But all in all, it was the most rewarding and exciting feeling I've ever come across. It was right there and then that I decided I wanted to have a future in music.

After the performance, we waited around for the awards ceremony. I wanted to get home so I could at least spend a little time with my mother. It wouldn't be much longer.

I took the bus home. Carefully cradling my guitar, because I didn't have a case for it. I knew my mother would be waiting for me, concerned that I would be feeling bad if I hadn't won. Concerned that I would be worried that she'd be upset because I didn't have anything for her.

I raced up the steps to our apartment building, and rang the doorbell for the guard to open. My mother must have heard me arriving, because when I approached our door I found it open. She was standing there with an inquiring look on her face. I made a sad look, an apologetic one, as if to say "I'm sorry, ma, I tried," and she nearly broke into tears, as she was stretching her arms out to comfort me. And right then, from behind my back, I pulled out the first place trophy and placed it in her hands. No expression on my mother's face has ever pleased me more. She was overjoyed, and hugging and kissing me, the trophy gently set off to the side, now only an afterthought.

I have fond memories of those days, now so many years later. I know they'll never come again.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Exhibition Game


Off to the Heat game! We got Shaq, baby, we got Shaq!!!

Team woes

Work weekend. Not much time to get any housework done. I had to mow the lawn between games. I'm taking next week off to get some home projects done. My dad's flying in to help me out. I've got a two page list of stuff waiting for him. Poor guy! I have to try to get the supplies this week before he arrives. We'll be too busy laying down concrete and putting in new drywall to spend too much time shopping at Home Depot.

Anyway, I am accepting any and all shows of sympathy for the apparent demise of my beloved Dolphins. Whatever your hometeam woes may be, trust me, they don't compare. I am in mourning!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Aladdin


Christina with Aladdin & Jasmine


Click here for mood music

A couple of weeks ago I bought the newly released DVD version of Disney's Aladdin for my daughter. She's since seen it several times, but I hadn't a chance to view it with her until last night. I'd only seen the original release in theatres years ago when I took my nephew. Quite a good show, as I recalled.

Either way, after T-ball last night, we had some dinner, got in our PJ's, brushed our teeth, read a story, then snuggled up together in bed to watch Aladdin.

There's a scene in the opening fifteen minutes (true to form, I fell asleep half an hour into the film!) in which a prince calls Aladdin insignificant and worthless. Afterwards our hero is visibly upset and somewhat depressed.

As is her manner, my daughter went right ahead and explained these matters to me. She said the following: "He tried to tell him he's nobody, but he thinks he's someone."

I stared at her blankly for a moment. I don't know if it's because I'm out of touch with today's children or if it's because I'm not particularly bright, but it struck me as such an insightful thing to say, for a girl who won't turn five until next year. In fact, I don't think I could have summed up what was happening any better myself.

I'm constantly being pleasantly shocked by my daughter's brilliance. Oh, I know she's no smarter than other kids her age, but dammit, I am amazed by the level of intelligence she challenges me with.

What a privilege it is to be a father!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Driving lessons

Oh, how wonderful it was to be young and stupid! However did we survive?

I've been in so many car wrecks that even the wildest among you would probably gasp if I threw out a number, while vigorously shaking your head in disgust and boring through me with stern, cold eyes.

Truth be told, I stole my sister's car when I was sixteen, and wrecked it. My father told me then never to bother asking him for his car keys. And I didn't. I would steal my mother's car occasionally, but never my Dad's. I hit her car against a whole bunch of stuff too, but I never totaled it.

The next thing I drove was a tank. Yup. The US government grabbed a snot nosed kid who's entire driving experience was limited to racing and wrecking stolen cars and put him behind the wheel of a sixty ton M1 Abrams tank.

The most important thing a person needs to know about driving a car with a manual transmission, is that all traction is lost when you put your foot on the clutch.
I learned my lesson too late on that one.

I was freshly moved to Altadena, straight out of Fort Riley, Kansas, into a rented room in a nasty little house. Living the dream. Working a security job and driving a red 1975 Buick Skyhawk, with bubble tires, no spare, and a hatchback without a latch. When you're twenty-two you feel invincible. I don't think I even knew about speed limits.

One fine evening, with sheets of rain and bolts of lightning thundering down from a dark sky, I was on my way back from the grocery store. I'd just spent my spare pennies on a few cans of food (I had then and have now very limited cooking skills). Though it was only a two mile drive back to the house, I chose to get on the freeway because it had an exit that left me only two blocks away from home.

There wasn't much traffic. I sped onto the on-ramp with characteristic recklessness, and darted out into the flow at full speed. There were a couple of cars blocking progress in the two middle lanes, so I slammed back into third gear to go around them on the fast lane. Twas then that I lost all traction. Since I was steering to the left, the car skidded in that direction, fortunately avoiding other cars but headed toward the median. With my feet slamming on both the clutch and the brakes, and my hands pulling the steering wheel sharply to the left, the car started spinning endlessly, once, twice, three times...until, facing oncoming traffic, the car came to a jolting halt when the rear end came slamming into the median.

I wasn't wearing a seatbelt, of course. Nor did I have insurance (auto or health). But luckily, I was fine. The hatchback had flown open and my precious cans were out on the wet road. After hesitating for a moment, I got out and gathered what I could. I still had to eat after all.

Traffic was still moving slowly, cautiously beside me, when I pulled out in front of them, turned my car around and carefully headed back down the road. I had the shakes, a small cut on my forehead, some bruised ribs on my right side, and general soreness all around. My car only suffered cosmetic damage. I don't know what happened to the median.

You think I learned to drive safely after that? Nope. Not quite. I was to have many worse accidents in the years to follow. But there is one thing I learned, even though it took somebody else to point it out to me. You lose all traction when you step on the clutch.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A serious dilemma

So, take my daughter out to see Shark Tale, buy her popcorn, candy and a soda, or stay in, catch the game and debate on TV, try to ignore her endless pleas for attention, and feed her a tuna casserole with a glass of milk?

I think my mind was made up before I phrased the question, actually...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sally, interrupted

Sally's curly hair was tied back, but loosely. You could see blue and green highlights on the front, where her locks played weightlessly on both sides of her face. She always messed up her hair when she was painting, pushing it back out of her eyes with her messy hands. You'd think she was finger painting, the way her hands looked.

Her study was a colorful splash of work, with a multitude of canvas strewn together across the side walls, flanked by plastic covers and broken down easels piled up in a corner. Palettes of dried oils lay randomly on the floor, meshing with the thin, dirty carpet. And the sketches. Dozens of sketches were scattered about, waiting for completion.

She stared at us blankly for a moment and went back to her painting. Walter took me by the arm and guided me behind her. She was painting a field. An open field, in a prairie somewhere. There were trees and bushes, but it was mostly just open field with its contours.

"Sally, it's Mick," Walter told her. "You used to go out with him, remember?"

She didn't budge. If she remembered, she showed no sign.

We had gone together, her and I, in junior high. For a short while. Walter and I were friends, which had made things complicated. I wanted to sleep with her, but it went against the guy code. After high school she studied art. During her second semester she was violently raped in the campus parking lot. She was eighteen years old then. She never returned to school.

We stepped outside, into the living room.

"After the incident she became withdrawn. Hardly speaks at all, and then just enough to communicate her basic needs," Walter explained. "It's been almost ten years now, and all she does is draw and paint."

"Her memory?" I asked, gently.

"Oh, it's hard to tell for sure, but I think she remembers a lot of stuff. It's just that..." he hesitated. "Well, if she sees things the way she paints them, it's not hard to understand."

"What do you mean?"

"Her sketches are blurry. They don't have any fine lines in 'em. She doesn't commit to any definitive borders. Everything's cloudy. And she only paints with a wide brush, stroking gently and unevenly, allowing for a whole lot of interpretation."

"But, what's wrong with that?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. But if she sees people and things in that same blurry way, it's not hard to see why she doesn't recognize anybody. If she doesn't give people any definition, they can't disappoint her. They can't hurt her."

I looked around at the bare walls.

"You don't hang any of her paintings?" I asked.

"She never finishes them. All her work halts at a midpoint. It gets interrupted, somehow, and is then left incomplete."

"Like her life," I whispered, shaking inside.

Walter smiled sadly. "Yes," he said, "like her life."

We said our good-byes. I promised to come by again, when I was back in town. He nodded. We both knew I wouldn't be back. It's too hard to look at human frailty that closely.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Old friends

Click here for mood music

It happened.

I had silently hoped, when I posted my AKA on my Blogger profile, that if any of my long lost pals from other lands and other times should google me, they would find my blog. And indeed somebody has.

Friends I haven't seen in nearly twenty years, and with whom I shared the kind of experiences that stay with you for life, have found me on the other side of the planet. I cannot convey the joy I've felt in hearing from them, and learning of their lives, and in exchanging pictures of our children.

Our lives go in so many different directions. Those we've known and shared our hearts with keep a special place in our memories. I'll never forget the people I've loved, no matter what I do or where I go. Reconnecting after so long is a happy continuation to an old relationship.

Never stop looking for old friends. You'll never make friends like them again.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Haloscan

Well, I finally caved in and installed Haloscan on my blog. But only after I copied all the comments I had here before, and saved them on my hard drive. I hope this makes things easier...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Your cheatin' heart

They were being ushered out, to the tune of "Happy Trails" and the glare of bright lights. No more last calls, and no more finishing up. "Let's go, everybody. It's time to go home," the bouncer urged.

Tom was still shooting the shit with a couple of buddies, as they put their darts up in their cases.

He saw her then, a beautiful woman. Long blonde hair, and immaculate face. Didn't think twice about her though, he just went about his business.

As the exiting crowd was funneled toward the front door and everybody got closer to each other, he locked eyes with her. He could see her now, clearly. "Janey," he thought. "It's Janey." Then they looked away uncomfortably.

They worked their way out to the wet sidewalk, greeted by the cold, dark night, still divided into the same groups.

"Can I tell you something?" Richard was asking Janey, obviously drunk off his ass and getting his face in hers, "I don't mean nothin' by it, and I'm not trying to pick you up or nothin', hell, I got my ol' lady waitin' for me back home, but you are a very beautiful woman."

She looked right through him, as if he wasn't there, searching for Tom's eyes again.

"Tom?" she asked gently, "is it you?"

"It's been awhile," he responded. "How're you doing?" embarrassed, Richard moved out of the way and joined his buddies.

"I'm good. Fine, actually," she said. "God, I can't believe it's you! What's it been, three, four years?"

"It's been awhile," Tom repeated. "How's your daughter? Sorry, I don't remember her name."

"Desiree's fine. She started school this year."

"Oh, is that right? She must be so big by now."

"Yes, she's growing up fast."

"What about you?" he asked. "What've you been up to?"

"I became a Jehovah's Witness. I gave up drugs and booze, and now I'm a lot closer to God."

"Well, that sounds great. I'm glad to hear you're doing well."

"I always wondered about you," she said, moving in closer. "I always wondered what happened to you."

Her girlfriend came up to us and asked, "You coming?" as she stole a glance at Tom.

Janey looked at Tom. "You need a ride?" he asked. "I can take you home."

She smiled, a million dollar smile. She hugged her friend good bye.

"My truck's over here," Tom said, showing her the way.

His head was flooding with memories of them, when he first got into town. She was gorgeous in her tiny miniskirt. Killer legs. His buddy said she was bad news. She didn't take good care of her kid. He thought she did speed too. Tom didn't care. She was hot.

He was without a job then, stuck in his buddy's house, living off his charity. She had a small efficiency, not far from there. Just her and her kid, living on welfare. They would spend the hours watching TV and talking. She wasn't too bright, the conversations weren't very interesting. But man, she was so beautiful!

They would make love on the couch, while the kid slept in the bedroom. It was a cheap date, and she was a good lay. Every inch of her tasted good.

"You got married, I see," she said, matter of factly, as they drove toward her place.

"Yes, I did. It's been a couple of years now."

"I never stopped thinking about you, wondering what happened, why you never came back."

"It was hard for me then," he said. "I had to watch out for myself, not get involved so quickly."

"And then you ran out and got married?"

"No, it wasn't like that. I got my life together and met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

She changed the subject. "Are you working? What are you doing?"

"Yeah, I'm working. I got a job down at the mill."

"You like it?" she asked.

"It's alright. I'd like to get some money together and open up a little bodyshop. You know, where you fix cars and stuff?"


It had been only a couple of weeks after they met, when one day he came over with a couple of beer cans in his pockets. She was in a mood, bitching about everything, saying she was on her way out, she was going to some friends, and if he wanted he could come by tomorrow. His ego took a hit. He left and never went back.


There was no driveway where she lived, so he pulled the truck up to the curb. A quiet street, but not far off the main road.

"Thanks for the ride," she said, looking into his eyes.

"You're welcome. It was good to see you."

She went to open the door, then turned around in frustration, "Can I get a hug? Would that be alright?"

"Of course you can," he said without hesitation, putting his arms around her. "We can kiss good-bye too."

But the kiss happened on the lips, which parted and made things worse. He was lost in the smell of her, desperately kissing her from one side, then another, groping her breasts and feeling her legs.

She stroked him, through his jeans, arousing him until he thought he would burst. "Oh, I want you , I want you," she was whispering in his ear, then suddenly shaking her head, saying, "this is wrong, God, this is so wrong!"

He couldn't stop. He'd lost all sense of self control. There were no thoughts for anyone but the two of them in that truck, and consequences be damned, he wanted her.

She was panting on his cheek, driving him wild with desire. She would say, "No, we can't. You're a married man. This is wrong. Oh God, please forgive me!" but she never pulled away, never stopped kissing and stroking him.

She undid her bra and he unbuckled his belt.

A tap came on her window. They were both startled. It was a bearded guy, with a friendly demeanor.

His name was Paul. Tom knew him from the bars. He owned the house Janey was staying at.

"Sorry guys, but the cops have been coming around my house a lot," he said. "Why don't you guys bring it inside? We don't want anybody getting into any trouble out here."

Tom and Janey were busy trying to get themselves together. The presence of another person had brought Tom back down to earth hard. His only thought was all he stood to lose. He got out of the car and went around to Paul, to stretch his hand; to tell him he was just dropping her off, nothing more. No need to mention this to anybody, after all, nothing had happened, right? Just a harmless little hug between old friends. He'd be on his way now, and it would be like nothing ever happened. Right?

Janey stared at him, disbelieving. "Tom, you're leaving?"

He gave her a quick hug, "Good to see you. Gotta go. Bye!" and he climbed back in his truck. They were still standing there looking at him as he drove away.

They never saw each other again.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Just when you thought it was safe to go...

So my daughter knocks, then opens the bathroom door while I'm sitting on my throne, nose burried in "The shipping news."

She pokes her head in and says, "Daddy?"

"Mmhhmm?" I grunt.

Showing me our digital camera in her little hands, she innocently asks, "Can I take your picture?"

My reaction wouldn't earn me any 'Father of the Year' awards.

I'm gonna start locking that damn door!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Wallets and money clips

I need a new wallet. And I want a money clip. Never had one before, but lately I've thought I'd like to.

The thing is, those are never the kind of things you buy for yourself. Are they? Somebody usually gives you those items for your Birthday, or Valentine's Day, Christmas, Father's day, etc. You drop the hints that you need such and such a thing, and poof! It appears. Nicely wrapped and with a red bow on it. I know I'm always listening for (usually very unsubtle) hints as to what my wife and daughter need or want. She wants perfume? A new purse? She's got it! The Lion King? A game called Elefun? No problem! But do I get the same consideration in return? Nooooooooo...

I can pull out what's left of my wallet, to her total disgust, and she'll say: "Mick, you need a new wallet!" And I'll just smile sheepishly and say, "Well, there you go. Father's Day is coming up." She'll smirk knowingly and whisper conspiratorially with my daughter, but when it comes down to it, forget it. It's too easy.

I thought about tying up my loose bills in a rubber band, knowing that would make her cringe. Pull out a tight little roll of bills to pay the check, oh, that would really get to her. But I'm too chicken shit, I'd be too embarrassed myself. Besides, even that wouldn't make a difference.

My wife quite unapologetically decides what kind of gifts I should get. Not the drills, ties, electric razors, or hand tools that I crave but hate to splurge on. No, she comes up with, check this out: A horseshoe set. Not just any horseshoe set mind you, an Eddie Bauer horseshoe set. Bright as the sun on a clear summer day. Has she ever seen me play horseshoes? No. Have I ever expressed any desire, however remote, to play horseshoes? No. THEN WHY GET ME HORSESHOES???? Well, it seems that she thinks I should play horseshoes. Go figure.

So, I guess I'm going to stop at the mall and buy myself a new wallet and a money clip.

Sigh...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Grand ol' game!


My little slugger!


Yellow uniforms this time around, folks. Doesn't she look cute?

You should see her out on the field, running after every loose ball. When the ball goes past her or runs through her legs, she can't always hold back the tears. I'll stand there looking perplexed, hands on my hips, doing my best Tom Hanks impersonation, "Are you crying?" disbelieving, shaking my head indignantly, "There's no crying in baseball..." looking around at the other faces for support, "There's no crying in baseball!!!" She'll either break into a smile or run over to me and hug my leg, desperate for a little sympathy.

It's gonna be a long, wonderful season!



Friday, October 01, 2004

Train ride

Click here for mood music


We gazed out into the open, looking at nothing in particular. Though the snow had melted, the cold air was still icy. I was wearing about five layers of clothing and I was still freezing.

Johnny crushed his smoke out and put his gloves back on, over the liners.
"Let's get going," he said.

We'd mounted the tanks on the train earlier. It took careful maneuvering. There were barely two feet of steel on either side of the narrow bed to play with. One false move and you'd have sixty tons of armor falling over the side of the train.

"Alright," I said, bouncing on my toes for feeling. "Be glad to get this shit over with."

We climbed up on the flat bed and started dragging the chain hoists and heavy duty chains off the rear hull of the tank. My fingers felt like brittle, cold and raw from the cold and the friction with steel, heavily clothed though they were.

"Let's latch it up, Mick," Johnny was saying. "Pull out the slack and bring the chain in close, as far as you can. I'll get the hoist."

I dragged the heavy half-inch chain and pulled as hard as I could, holding out a link for Johnny to latch onto. He shook his head, no. Try for one more. I leaned in with my entire body weight, standing like a slalom skier, at a 45 degree angle. After three or four attempts, we got it. The chain fell to the ground with a loud clang. Hard to believe how much slack remained. We ran the ratchet and brought it in tight, but still loose enough to work the other three corners into place.

Once we got the tank tied down, we locked the turret in place and strapped down the barrel. Another quick look inside to make sure everything was secure: the swing arm, the armor piercing rounds, the small arms ammo. We grabbed the night bags out of our duffles and threw them with the rest of our stuff inside; locked the hatch and did one more walkaround. Everything was in place. It was just after midnight.

Johnny and I ran to the sleeping coach, racing the other crews who were finishing up. We found a separate compartment with six bunks and claimed them all. Our buddies would be joining us soon. We always made plans to eat something and play a game of spades, to pass the time. After a couple of hours though, most of us would lay down and try to catch some sleep.

The train ride always lasted between five and six hours. It only covered fifty miles, but our trains had the lowest priority clearance on the West German railroad. The entire trip you could feel the train pulling up and backing out; latching on and off. It made for a very bumpy ride.

We did this every three months, when our troop had border duty on the Czeck front. The tour lasted 30 days, then we did the whole train thing in reverse. Nobody looked forward to it.

"How many cards you got?" Dwayne asked. "Bitch, get off me!" he yelled, at someone bumping into him from behind.
"Pork rinds? Anybody?" Ed offered.

We sat there, warming our sore bones up, and making the most of our company. We played cards, joked around, drank Cherry Coke...the camaraderie was genuine. We all knew these were the men we would die next to if we ever went into battle. Even when you hated each other, you felt akin to your platoon mates during maneuvers. They were your brothers.

When the train reached the border camp it was just before sunrise. The cold air slapped me in the face as I rushed out to unchain our tank. This was probably the last place on earth I'd choose to be at the moment. Motivation ran shallow at the end of those trips.

I'm not sure why the Army made us go through this exercise, when we could drive the tanks in an orderly convoy and reach the camp in an hour and a half. It must have been an agreement with the West German government, or something along those lines. I assume they didn't want our tanks destroying their roads.

Years after I left, the Soviet Union fell, the Iron Curtain was drawn, and the Berlin wall came down. All those old border camps were rendered useless. I received Border Certificates for guarding the East German and Czech borders. You don't see too many of those around anymore. I wonder if today's teenagers are even aware that those borders existed or why they needed to be guarded.

I'll write about the border camp experience sometime.