30 May 2014

Jan Michael Vincent Returns

When I worked on Ellis Island, I had about 12 guys who were union movers reporting to me. They were making four times what I was making as a GS-4 and there was this one guy who was the laziest motherfucker I had ever seen. I've seen worse since then. Oddly enough, in NYC as well but I don't think PR has unionized yet...

We all ate lunch together, wherever on the island we might be, and I told this guy, while eating my can of tuna fish,  he was what we called in the Army a "Buddy Fucker," since he wasn't carrying his weight… which was significant. I'd have added he could lose some weight by only eating a can of tuna fish at lunch but he was furious and all six foot three and 300 odd pounds of him stood up and said, "No fucking Yuppie (this was 1985) calls me a Buddy Fucker."

I stood up and said, "Yuppie?! I make $12,600 a year." His face went from anger to pity in a half second and he said, "Shit man, I thought you were a big deal around here. Hey, if you want, I can get you in the union." And then he said, "You look just like that mother fucker Hawk on Airwolfe." So, I had that going for me. Although, Jan Michael Vincent's Twitter shows him doing far better than I am...

26 May 2014

Don't Lose the Dignity of the Day

Photographer Unknown  US Air Force  ARVN Jump over Tay Ninh Province 

Denim & Supply - Ralph Lauren

SP/4 Salvador Romero 151st Infantry LRRP

Denim & Supply - Ralph Lauren

Photo by Mark Jury:  Fire Support Base Wood

Denim & Supply - Ralph Lauren

US Army Photo: Capt.  Gerald Devlin, 44th ARVN Ranger Bn.

Denim & Supply - Ralph Lauren

Marine Corps Photographer Sgt. David E. Weimer

Cheapen uniforms of those who served and died by the uneducable and characterless who dress up as a soldier one day and a cowboy the next.

25 May 2014

Car Sales in the Army

Rightly or wrong, whenever I hear "…the VA," I cringe.  I entered the Army in 1976 for a four year stint as an airborne infantryman but I was an Army Brat and familiar with war stories of servicemen I knew at the Ft Carson Sport Parachute Club.  Gordie, a jump master, had 1st degree burns from napalm and I still remember him telling me how they rebuilt his ears.  And there were already issues with Agent Orange.

My father told me early in my enlistment that, "…you don't waste lives like they were office supplies."  That makes a lot of sense to me and pretty much anyone who has ever heard it.  But….

The Army is a big place.  In big places, people do things they wouldn't normally do for the sake of the institution.  I have no doubt working at any VA hospital is a stressful and an altogether sad job.  But they're not getting shot at.   Neither was I.  Getting out in 1980, I just missed Panama and was happy I did.  I had no desire to take anyone's life.

I did jump from airplanes, flip over jeeps, fall off a tank twice and came very close to shooting my squad leader who zagged when he should have zigged into my firing lane.  Twenty years ago I had a problem with my lower back.  I was x-rayed and the doc asked if I was a gymnast in high school or college due to repeated impact at L4/L5.  "I'm not gay,"I said.  The Doc laughed and I added, "I jumped out of planes for four years.  Could that have something to do with it?"

That doesn't bother me.  Mostly because I'm lucky and have decent health insurance.  I could afford to avoid the VA.  What has bothered me was the "Used Car Salesmanship" the Army and a doctor displayed during my ETS (termination of service) physical.  During a hearing test, "raise your finger when you hear the ping" the administrator looked at me and frowned, jotting down the numbers you see that were later crossed out by the doctor.  Oddly, a civilian.

The doctor tells me the hearing test results are wrong because, most likely,  the machine is screwed up.  I ask what that means.  The doctor, who looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy in a lab coat, creaks back in his chair and tells me my only option is to extend my service a week until the machine is fixed. I tell him I'm getting out the next day.  He tells me it's up to me.  So, numbers are changed and my only exception to my health, "My hearing" is scratched out.

Looking back, I was a kid hot to leave Army. I was not hanging around Bragg for another hearing test.    How's my hearing?  Ask anyone who knows me.  It's not Agent Orange but this Memorial Day Weekend, I often reflect on the history of using men, and today women,  like they were office supplies.  I've talked more than one kid outta joining.  In the end, I usually sum it up, "No matter what the Army says, they don't give a shit about you. If you're okay with that -- You're good to go."

24 May 2014

"How We Used to Live"

"Whenever you go down the roads in Britain, you travel not in three dimensions but in four.  The fourth dimension is the past.  And as we move to and fro in this fourth dimension,  we see not only landscape, but the economic, political and social forces at work behind the landscape…shaping it…forever changing it, but leaving, here and there, the record and the mark.

The interesting thing about the use of images is that they're often drawn up of something in the past.  Some experience which stimulates a strong emotional response.  There's life everywhere and the tracks we make are shared and crossed by the paths of others…who know this world better than we do." 

From,  "How We Used To Live." A documentary by the band Saint Etienne and film maker Paul Kelly.  It premiered last October in London but haven't seen it available in the UK, much less the US.  It's a beautiful trailer that speaks to those who came before us and how they are still with us... in that fourth dimension.

"I'll Have Peach"

You don't see the peach colored shirt as much anymore and that's a shame --  Loads of color will  go with it and it's an elegant way to ride off the reservation… on an Appaloosa …backwards. That and it's my favorite home made ice cream flavor. Larry Miller tells my favorite story about peach.  I know it doesn't look like much -- But, like peach, I think it'll surprise you.

23 May 2014

Is Smoke Bomb Hill Kosher?

From Left: A couple A team sergeants and Dad on far right

Smoke Bomb Hill and Hammond Hills (click image to enlarge)

I remember him walking home. At eight, I was in my Hammond Hills bedroom researching an MG-TC. The Old Man was racing in the local SCCA club and I desperately wanted him to dump the Berkley with the chain driven motorcycle engine for a British Racing Green TC. For some reason, I look out my window and I see the swagger. More shoulder than hip - he had cocky written across his forehead.

The captain bars on his green beret glint from the sinking September sun. Starched jungle fatigues are cut at the waist with a web pistol belt. My Old Man is walking home from Smoke Bomb Hill with his XO who has less than seven months to live before drowning in the Son Toy River. Later that night, I'll fill an empty Budweiser bottle with water and wander out to the patio and stumble and weave in front of these two men who'll laugh their asses off.

10 years later I drank draft beers at the main post bowling alley with three of Dad's team sergeants from his tour in Vietnam. Two were still in Special Forces. The third had retired and spent most days sitting outside his trailer in Spring Lake, playing gospel music over a surplus PA system. The two sergeants told me how Dad used a Boy Scout wire saw to garrote VC. They laughed while the gospel lover just stared at me.

I was in the middle of zero month for the SF Qualification Course. Phase I at Camp McCall wouldn't start for another two weeks but I was happy fucking off on Smoke Bomb Hill. SF was a fairly loose group and I watched senior NCOs dry hump each other out in front of morning formations. There was so much dry humping in the Army that when I went back to college, still shitting army chow, I dry humped Roland Schumann who was bending over an ice box looking for a pint of chocolate milk. He turned and looked at me with this unmitigated terror in his eyes... and I realized he didn't get it. Neither did the 300 or so other students watching from the dining room.

Back in the Army, I knew I wasn't going to make it through Special Forces training. One of the few times I've accurately predicted anything. Of my class of 88, only three would get a green beret and they were all second term NCOs. The washout was so great, I was told my class was the last to allow anyone under E-5. But knowing I didn't have a prayer took a whole lot of pressure off and I Ghosted, disappearing to avoid details, whenever I could.

Another formation, more dry humping and names of the 85 "No-Go" are read. The 1st Sergeant repeats, "82nd Repo" over and over and over…until XVIII Airborne Corps goes to an PFC infantryman. Everyone looks at this bastard and wonders whose dick he's sucking. I'm wondering what the fuck an infantryman does at a corps headquarters and as I ponder the thought, my name gets closer and closer and the first sergeant, who's fond of saying to the formation, "You, in the green pants and black boots, come here," says my name and XVIII Airborne Corps. And everyone looks at me and wonders…

To this day, I still do. Before my father died a couple years ago I asked him for the umpteenth time, "Was it you? It had to have been you." He sucks on a cupped cigarette, inhales and blows out a pin stream of smoke and tightly wrapped words, "That wouldn't have been kosher."

19 May 2014

Sarah's Soundtrack

Second from Left

This post was from 2-2-2011 and reminds me of my mother's great love of  Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.  In this way, you can get an idea of what she was like at a party...

A few days after my father returned from Vietnam in 1967, I remember watching the first Herb Alpert TV special with the family. My mother was a huge fan of Herb & the TJB and it was at her insistence we tuned in. I'm pretty sure I was missing Get Smart.

When Herb appeared my father let out a snort and called him a 'fruit cake.' I remember asking what 'fruit cake' meant and my question was answered with, "Never mind." My father guffawed through pretty much the whole show and watching these videos I can see why. He had just come back from a tour of Vietnam -- Watching this must have been bizarre.

But I was never in a war and Herb isn't a fruit cake and I really enjoy this video and the memories. It might even be better than Get Smart.

For Sarah & Nilla Wafers: 1935-2014

Hampton, VA 1975

Ft. Buchanan, Puerto Rico 1953 (Dad, 5th from left - Mom, far right)

Huntersville, NC 1972

San Juan, PR 1954

Sarah and Mark Tinseth, 1970

She did not allow her children to say anything to anyone about her lung cancer. A heavy smoker, she quit only five yrs ago.

My sisters and I were surprised to see how alike my parents, divorced for many years, were when it came to their final wishes. Cremation. No ceremony or service. I'm not sure whether they didn't want to put anyone out or just didn't care.

Mom did not like my blog and I don't blame her. It cost me a lot and regretful sacrifices were made. She wouldn't be happy about this post,  but some maternal relatives follow this blog and so these pictures are for you. They remind me of that kitchen table at the farm where you'd lift a piece of table cloth and find corn bread, country ham, red eye gravy and my favorite, Nilla Wafer banana pudding.

16 May 2014

Ft. Bragg, NC 1965

A family Polaroid taken by me.  My mother confident the picture would come out.   My father concerned I'd drop the camera.

"We Know Your House So Very Well"

07 May 2014

The Zombies Be Dancin' Tonight

by M. Shannon Johns (click images to read)

There was a story in the NY Observer years ago about a young photographer who took street pictures in NYC and hand crafted a little book with an orange cover and sold them on the street and in a few retailers.  The story is mostly about how she offered the book to Andy Spade to sell in his Jack Spade shop.

Shortly after I married, I moved to my wife's hometown of Chicago and worked for an insurance company down in the loop and around the corner from the Berghoff.  We'd made plans to have dinner there one Friday night.  It was my first visit to the Berghoff.   She was running late so I stood at the bar, ordered a pitcher of dark beer and waited.  The guy standing next to me asked the bartender for a cigar and I watched as the doors of an old humidor were opened and a massive cigar, eight or nine inches, was handed to the customer who promptly lit up.

This was too good to be true --  As a fan of cigars since the Army, I was well aware that 'bars and cigars' were few and far between… so, I struck while the iron was hot.  I asked the bartender for a cigar but requested something smaller. "This is all we got," he said,  holding up what looked like a black ruler.  I tell him I'll take it and the king size double maduro is handed to me.

The guy next to me smiles with his cigar and passes down a box of matches.  I torch the thing up and it's not bad -- Perfect with the dark draft beer.  I take in the Berghoff and fall in love with the honest history and charm of the place.

My wife had told me The Berghoff opened in 1898 and, until 1969, the bar was for men only.  That night, it was a pretty Yuppie crowd.  A young woman walked by, looked at my cigar and said, "You look pretty stupid with that." As she walked past, I shouted out to her, "Now I know why they kept women outta here for so long!"  She turns back and laughs and walks on.  The guy next to me applauds.

I remember he was in his early to mid - forties and black. He had a soft face and he was quick to smile.   We talked about cigars and beer and women and the Berghoff.  He asked what I did and I asked what he did and he said he was a writer.  Well, not really a writer…more a poet.  He pulled a rubber banded bunch of little books out of a canvas bag and offered me one.

I flipped thru it and was taken by the dancing zombies with the Chicago skyline.  He asked if I wanted it and I said sure.  "They're $5 a piece," he said.  A little thrown off, I reach in my pocket and hand him a five.  He puts his cigar in his mouth and stuffs the bill in his pocket.

He tells me he makes a living doing this and I shake my head.  He says he really does and he's not bullshitting me.  I tell him I believe him…I just wish I had the balls to do what he's doing.  My wife of four months comes in and I introduce her to M. Shannon Johns.

We chat for a bit and Mr. Johns moves on with his cigar and glass of beer to meet some friends.  I've kept this little book for many reasons.  Some as shallow as thinking the illustration would make a great T-shirt but knowing I'd never do that.  Not without asking Mr. Johns.

That photographer who offered her book to Andy Spade was Carla Gahr.  She showed him the little orange book in late Spring. He said he loved it and would see what he could do but she never heard back from him.

In July, Miss Gahr opened the NY Post and was surprised to see a book similar to hers entitled, "Honesty" being sold by Jack Spade.  You can read the story here.  It's buried but scroll down and you'll see it under the headline, "When is a Spade Not a Spade."

Inspiration is a tricky thing.  I still think about Mr. Johns selling his books on the street.  The nobility of that is what's inspiring to me.  I guess, in many ways, I'm doing what Mr. Johns did... except he got  five bucks a book. I'd kill for five bucks a post.  Anyway,  lest you think of being inspired by this little book of Mr. Johns,  I'll leave you with a thought for your conscience from Tobias Wolff,

"The plagiarist has already been punished; the very act of plagiarizing means that you have confessed an inability to do something on your own, which is a pretty harsh verdict to bring on yourself. No one else can condemn you more than you have already condemned yourself."