Can I get a confession?

interrogation room single chairThe room was dark. Except for the one light. A naked bulb. In my eyes. Blinding. I’d say at least 150 watts. But I’d be guessing. I couldn’t make out the little black numbers on the top. That’s bright.

The air was stale. Dank. The interrogator was gruff. Probably stale too. Most likely dank as well. Or maybe it was closer to stank. My opinion? Either/or. Dank, stank. Dink, stink. All the same, when you’re handcuffed to a chair in an interrogation room.

“So … why’d you do it?”

“Do what?

A loud sigh comes out from the blackness. From the same area where the words are coming at me.

“Why’d you stop writing the blog?”

“Oh, the blog?”

“Yeah, the blog.”

“Well, to begin with, let me say this. I don’t want to tell you how to do your job or anything, I’m sure you work very hard at it. But, if I were you and you were me I’d think the proper question might be: ‘Why’d you stop doing it?’ Don’t you?”

“Oh, a funny guy. I got me a funny guy in here.”

“I try.”

“You know what we do with funny guys?”

“As I am new here, enlighten me.”

“We waterboard them.”

“Ha – now you’re being funny. You’re pulling my leg.”

“Where the hell do you think you are? This is America, fool. We don’t pull legs around here. Hey Hans! We got us a funny guy in here! Let’s go waterboarding!”

“Hans? You have a waterboarder named Hans?”

“America, remember? Melting pot … land of milk and honey and indoor plumbing. Hans!”

“So what? So I got a little behind on the blogging … what’s it to you?”

“It’s been more than a month.”

“… I was waiting for the right moment?”

“Hans!”

“… the New Year’s resolution to write every day was a bad idea? A cry out for self-destruction?”

“On the double, Hans!”

“All right, all right! I’ll start writing the damn blog again. Just do me one favor.”

“Yeah?”

“Keep your Hans off me.”

“Oh, very funny. Very, very funny. We got a live one here, Hans! Bring the fire hose this time!”

Sleuthing the truth: Stonehenge

In case you were wondering, there’s a new theory about Stonehenge.

Hey, Stonehenge! Enough mystery, explain yourself already!

You know, that monumental pile of stones from the Stone Age that has everyone baffled and theorizing as to who made it, how they made it, and why they made it. Was it the Druids who used it for ceremonies and human sacrifice? Was it conjured by Merlin, the Arthurian legend’s wizard, as a mythical burial site? Was it thrown together by a bunch of very large, muscled aliens showing off for the pip-squeak locals?

Who knows. Maybe one, maybe all, maybe none of the above. The latest idea, in a new book called “Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery” by Parker Pearson, states that it was the work of a lot of people, literally pulling together (really, no caca) as “an act of unification.” Sort of a rock version of a community barn-raising.

“Hey, fellow Stone Age people, what do you want to do this weekend?”

“Oh, I don’t know. How about let’s grow closer as an early human society by gathering up a bunch of 40-ton slabs, drag them out into that field there and stand them up in a circle?”

“Sounds cool, Hey everybody, c’mon let’s get socialized!”

I guess it’s plausible. Though, I’m not sure why everyone’s been just sitting around, pondering this mystery for all these years.

Especially since for a long time there’s been a way to find out the answer to this mystery, or any question about anything in the past. Well, since I was a kid at least, which is almost as far back as Stonehenge. I saw it on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon show.

Meet Mr. Peabody, his boy Sherman, and the Wayback Machine.

Uh, Mr. Peabody? Sherman? Please set the Wayback Machine to “Time of Stonehenge”. OK, let me get in the machine here. Now, would you be so kind and pull the lever? Thanks.

Poof.

Hello, nearly 3,000 years ago. I’m standing in a field, nice day really, and over there I see Stonehenge. It looks, well, it looks nearly 3,000 years newer. Oh, and there I see a Stone Age man, working in the field, right near the monument.

Let’s go solve one of life’s greatest mysteries, shall we?

“Excuse me, I’ve come here from nearly 3,000 years in the future to find out what is the real story behind Stonehenge over there.”

“Over where.”

“Over there, those big stones, set in a circle. You know, Stonehenge.”

“You mean stone fence.”

“It’s called Stonefence?”

“Uh, yeah – what else would you call it?”

“Aha – well, this is monumental stuff, indeed! Please understand that this structure is a mystery to me and all of the people in my time.

“So, speaking of monumental, I’ve also come to find out the true use of this massive structure. Why is it here, sir? Does it have some kind of religious significance? Maybe used for human sacrifice to your gods, or to study the stars, or chart the seasons? And who built this massive thing … might it have been an alien race visiting from another planet? Hmmm?”

“Nope, me and Herb, my brother-in-law, built it. He’s strange, for sure, but I wouldn’t call him an alien. Dumber than most of those rocks, but strong as an ox, he is.”

“You two built it?”

“That’s what I said – they speak much English from when you come from?”

“Sorry, I’m just amazed by this. The people in my time will be so surprised to find this out. So, if you built it, why is it here? Again, please know there are millions, billions and billions even, who want to know. Solve the mystery for all of us.”

“I put the cows in there to keep them out of my garden.”

“You built Stonehenge to keep cows out of your garden!?!?!?”

“Nooooo … I built a stone fence to keep the cows over there, out of my garden.”

Walk a WHAT with no shoes???

But I don’t want to walk down there.

“But don’t you want to see where you’ve been for the past few days?”

I know where I’ve been, I even know where I am. I’ve been in a hospital that slipped me a Mickey the other day, took my knee out, put in a replacement made of LEGO™ building blocks, and sold my old one to some rich Chinese guy who ground it up and smoked it and now believes that his gout is cured and his penis is three inches longer.

“My, don’t we have an active imagination.”

Mister, considering the pain I’ve been in and the rock-em-knock-em medications you’ve been feeding me, I been living on imagination and saltine crackers.

“Well, considering that, you can’t really believe all of what you just said.”

Yeah, you got me there. My knee wasn’t as young as it used to be. Guy’s probably only going to get two inches.

People in hospitals don’t seem to quite understand what they do. They cut you open, saw or gnaw out a part of you, put in a fake piece, close you up, put a big band-aid on it, put you a room and then come back fifteen minutes later and ask you if you want to go for a walk.

And what’s worse, they so, so damn nice about it.

So, this is my world for the moment, and you’re welcome to it. It ain’t so bad, really. Food’s decent. Drugs are excellent, which probably makes the food decent. All the damn clothes don’t have anything in back, though. These folks definitely are ass people.

l’ll be leaving here in a few hours, which means they’ll be lighting up the “Vacancy” sign soon. If you happen to be limpy or gimpy, c’mon down!

Remember, there’s a couple million more rich Chinese guys where mine came from.

From Russia, with love

Unlike nearly every other person with an email inbox out there, I don’t get a lot of spam or junk mail. I have no idea why – I’m just as depraved as the next web surfer, you’d think I’d have picked up at least a couple sketchy cookies in my history by now.

Oh, but I’m trying not to take it personally, though. Maybe I’m just too virtuous for such questionable communiques. Yeah, that’s it.

So, of course, whenever I do see a (1) next to my “Junk” folder name, I can’t click on it fast enough. If my Internet provider considers whatever’s in there to be of absolutely no value and no good for me … well, out of my way, let me at it.

Maybe it’s one of those wonder pills, herbal and all-natural, that will make me “hung like bull.” Or how about some “real” Viagra – just $10 (Canadian) for 1,000 capsules – to make me “love stronger and longer than many bulls!” Or could it be that my great-uncle in Nigeria finally kicked off and that $137 million he’s been holding for me in the Abuja Savings & Loan is mine, mine, mine!!! I thought he’d never die.

Anyway – imagine my surprise when I glanced over and saw a (1) today. What could it be?

Actually, this time it was who could it be. Someone named “S.B.” And the subject? “Transport of Love.”

Oh, my favorite! Another Russian woman I’ve never heard of has finally found me. Without even opening it, I can see her swimming in slow motion across the Atlantic, just to reach me! (And she would get here so much faster if I would just send her $1,000, for one of those slippery wetsuits and English lessons, don’t you know.)

I was not disappointed.

My dear friend,

Sometimes you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with your soul mate and you want to meet your beloved person as soon as possible.

Svet … is that you, Svet?

This twenty-first century letter speaks for my twentieth century soul.  And it does not matter that we never met in real life, never talked, touched or even hold hands. I feel like I want to know you better and you are the one for me.

That perfect man exists in my imagination and I am dreaming about meeting him all days and nights. We have to be patient in order to get what we want. I’d like you to know that I am waiting for my love, my dear.

See you later,

Svet B  

How nice. How sweet. And she sounds so genuine too. I must write her back. But there is no return email address, just a website. No, no, no – I can’t just click on a website. Where’s the heartfeltness, where’s the one-on-oneness, where’s the romance in that?

No, if this is true love, I shall write a letter to her here. No doubt … like Cupid’s arrows, it will find its way. For as that lovely saying about true love goes: If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, then may it eat shit and die. And if it does, it better have a damn good story for where’s the hell it’s been all this time.

My dearest dear, dear Svet,

How good to hear from you – I hope all is well. You must forgive me if I seem a little confused as I write this. After all, it has been a while since we last talked. Oh, that’s right – we’ve never talked now, have we?

No matter. How my heart swoons to hear that your twenty-first century letter speaks for your twentieth century soul! It just sucks, though, that your 17th-century Internet provider didn’t get this to me sooner. Drat and double-drat – as alas, I am already spoken for.

Actually, Svet dear, I’ve been bespeaked for quite some time now. And get this – she’s of Lithuanian descent! Can you believe it? I’ll bet you’re cursing the day your country ever let that little satellite fly the Soviet Union coop! Isn’t life strange, though.

Yes, yes it is. For as you so splendidly say, “it does not matter that we never met in real life, never talked, touched or even hold hands.” Can’t miss what you’ve never had, no?

So, as they say in my country, don’t be a stranger! Ta-ta and would be yours truly if I truly knew you,

G

Sigh – my first “Dear Svet” letter. Sealed with a kick.

Rise of the Planet of the Cows?

Cows and me … we go way back.

When I was a kid, some of my best friends were cows. I’m sure at some points in my young life, the only friends I had were cows.

For nearly all of my formative years, I lived around them. My family’s home was next door to my grandfather’s house and he had a diary farm which, coincidentally, came outfitted with a bunch of cows as standard equipment. My father grew up with them too, since he, coincidentally, happened to live in the same house with my grandfather.

Funny how life works out sometimes, isn’t it.

Evidently what wasn’t funny back then was the first time they brought me into my grandfather’s big, ol’ dairy barn. I was petrified.

It might have had something to do with the decor. A long straight corridor. A narrow raised concrete path running down the middle of it. And framing both sides, lines of cow butt after cow butt after cow butt, some equipped with swinging tails. Which now and then, would rise up to warn you that about 17 pounds of steaming cow flop would be dropping any second now.

Cow House Beautiful, it wasn’t. But it soon would turn out to be for me, I’m told. For at that moment, my father and grandfather left. It was just me … and the cows.

I can only imagine how things went in there, since I don’t remember it. They say I was pretty upset at first, but then things got real quiet.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

“Hey kid, what the hell are you screaming for, you’re loud enough to curdle milk.”

“Because all of you are going to whip me with your tails, stomp on me with your hooves and then eat me … and bury what’s left under a pile of steaming cow crap!”

“Bessie, can you believe this kid? Listen, and listen good – we may chew our cuds, but we don’t chew kids, kid.”

“You mean, you aren’t going to eat me?”

“You go to that silo over there and if you find it stuffed full of kids, then me and the rest of the girls here will squirt sarsaparilla soda at milking time. Now, go grab a hunk of that hay, and bring me a snack.”

And that was possibly how it went, how my life-long kinship with cows began. Oh, it might seem like a rather odd parenting method. But it worked. I’ve never been afraid of cows, or almost any animal. But of all of them, I think cows are the coolest.

Of course, had this happened today, my father and grandfather would be doing time and I’d be appearing on the “Today Show,” promoting my new book, “Holstein Horror: How I Faced down the Backside of a Cow and Survived” … soon to be a full-length feature film, starring George Clooney.

But while I’ve never met a cow I didn’t like, I’ve noticed a couple small news items lately that have me a tad worried, to be honest. I know cows to be quiet, gentle creatures, or at least they used to be.

In Boxford, Mass., six bovines came out of the darkness and crashed a backyard party. They didn’t bring potato salad, but they did arrive thirsty. According to the police report, the pack proceeded to push aside party-goers in their way and went “right for the beer.” They even knocked over glasses to spill themselves some more. “They enjoyed it, no doubt about it,” said one police official.

Bessie? Slurping the suds? These aren’t the friendly, cuddling cows that I know and love! But wait, there’s more.

Also in Massachusetts, outside the small Berkshire County town of Richmond, emergency personnel received a call to come to the aid of a man who had been knocked out by a cow along on a rural road. Medical staff arrived at Swamp Road to find the unidentified man unconscious, but breathing. The cow had fled the scene.

What’s happening? Cows make milk, not war!

I’m afraid this could be just the beginning. They could be taking over. If they do, listen carefully to me – I know cows. Don’t scream. Speak quietly. If they ask for it, bring them some hay.

But if their tails suddenly go up, as if reaching up to heaven itself … run.

Give me a beer … now … or I’ll punch your lights out.

The three Rs: readin’, ‘riting and restraints

Jackson, Mississippi –  A public school district has agreed to end a disciplinary policy of handcuffing students to fixed objects as punishment, in a deal worked out between the district and the Southern Poverty Law Center, representing five of the district’s students.

The policy came to light last year, when a 19-year-old student at Jackson’s Capital City Alternative School spoke out after being handcuffed to a railing for having his shirt untucked.

“When you get uncuffed it’s 5 or 6 in the afternoon. After school. Sometimes you don’t even get to eat lunch,” the student told a reporter for todaynewsgazette.com

The school’s principal, in her deposition, admitted she personally developed the policy nearly 10 years ago, adding that the practice was done in good faith, and for student safety.

Changing classes in the hall at Any High School, Anywhere, U.S.A. …

“That wouldn’t be a loose shoestring I’d be looking at down there, now would it, Master Waterman? Tell me I’m just seeing things, lad.”

The voice was delivered with the lyrical, lilting accent of the Irish and while easy on the ears, it still sliced through the bustling din of the passing students. The young offender heard it, and his name, and knew for whom the question tolled. Looking down, one of the laces of his Converse high-tops had worked loose from the other, dangling and dancing unfettered on the hallway floor.

“You’re seeing things, Mr. O’Grady.”

“Clever, very clever,” O’Grady said, leaving his leaning place across the hall and approaching the boy. “But what have I told you so many times before about being so clever?”

“Uh, it could land me a guest spot on Conan O’Brien’s show?”

“No, no I don’t recall saying that,” the metalshop teacher said with a pained smile. “I believe it was the more clever you are, the more in trouble you’ll be finding yourself. Yes, I believe that was it.”

“So, what do you suppose I’m to do with a student careening down the halls, flaunting the dress code here at Anywhere High, and flapping a shoestring to and fro?”

“Awwwwww c’mon, Mr. O’Grady, not the handcuffs,” the boy pleaded. “Not again. Last time you cuffed me to a water fountain for having my zipper half down and you went on vacation for a week, with the key!”

“An innocent oversight on my part, I assure you, lad.”

“Yeah, well lucky for me you hooked me to a water fountain in the Home Economics wing. But not so lucky for me I had to promise to take Beulah Buckerstaff out on a date so she’d give me the banana bread she made in Baking Basics 101!”

“That was very industrious of you.”

“You’ve obviously never had any of Beulah’s banana bread, or looked very closely at her.”

“Well, that’s all in the past, lad,” O’Grady said. “And you must admit it was a valuable learning experience for you. I haven’t once seen your fly down since then.”

“I glued all of them shut.”

“OK, enough small talk, my boy,” O’Grady continued. “It’s time you learned another lesson in life, provided free of charge for committing such a ghastly act of recklessness.”

“The cuffs, again? Can I at least choose where I go? I’d like to serve my time linked to one of the lockers outside the girl’s locker room. Closer to the door, the better, I mean, the more heinous.”

“Ah, I’m afraid that an untied shoe is a far more dangerous transgression, son. What if you’d tripped, fallen on another student and crushed the person? No, I’m afraid a simple cuffing won’t do this time.”

“So what will do?”

“I’m afraid it’s The Hole for you, this time.”

“The Hole? The Hole? We have a The Hole?”

“One of the finest. Nothing but the best, and the deepest, for you, lad.”

We remember, I remember

You may not believe this, but I’ve not always been the well-adjusted, well-mannered, well-spoken, well-thought out person I appear to be now.

There was a time when I was, shall we say, not well-done.

Oh, in those days I thought I had it all together, figured out. I was every second of 17, a senior in high school and knew where I was going in life. Hell, I’d already been there, seen it all, lived it all.

Right. There are none so ignorant as those who will not think.

It was early 1975 and in my mind, the Vietnam War was still going strong. Actually, it was dying out, would be over for us by April. Too many years, too many dead, too many missing and too many questions had taken all the stuffing out of the nation’s military bluster.

Who am I kidding. The only bluster coming from most Americans in those days was one generation’s distrust of any other. For many in mine, it was disdain for anyone over the age of 30 and disgust for anything and everything about the war.

But there was one shared feeling – for a myriad of reasons, almost everyone not wearing a uniform seemed to revile anyone who was wearing one.

At the beginning of 1975, me, myself and everyone else I was growing up with weren’t sure if by the end of ’75, we’d be over there. We were certain of one thing – we sure as hell didn’t want to go.

At that age, staring into the face of something like that in life can be a really transforming thing – can bring out the stupid in you.

Well, it did for me, at least. I idolized Abbie Hoffman (though I didn’t actually steal his book, “Steal This Book,” I read it cover to cover, over and over, like it was some sort of Newest New Testament), not Richard Nixon. I saw America, like France before it, as the imperialistic aggressor in the war and Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese minions as the valiant defenders of their homeland. And the South Vietnamese? Well, when you’re thinking in those extremes about Vietnam, there was no place left in there for them.

Oh, I didn’t want to bring down the government, destroy the American system. Nothing as drastic or diabolical as that. My most heinous revolutionary thought was wanting to bring down the American flag flying outside my high school, run up North Vietnam’s banner, and cut the pulley ropes.

Had I been a member of the Revolutionary court, I’d have been its jester-in-training.

The target of my self-righteous anti-war snarl wasn’t at any instituition in Washington, D.C, but just one man in my hometown. The father of one of my classmates.

A retired U.S. Marine who hadn’t ever really retired. Looking every bit as disciplined, feisty and fit as he must have been on the first day out of boot camp, he was the living, fire-breathing persona of the Corps. Hell, his big pickup truck was a rolling endorsement of it.

As red as the background of the Marine flag, it had the biggest decal I’d ever seen on its hood. Nearly filled every square inch of it. The emblem of the U.S. Marines.

Nothing reserved about that. Still, I didn’t hate the man, had never met him, but in my mind despised the things he stood for, what he embodied to me.

And then I met the father of another classmate, a strapping, bear-hugging bear of an Irishman, who took a liking to me and decided one night to teach me how to appreciate the fine art of drinking scotch. I turned out to be a disciple of Irish whiskey, my preferred drink to this day.

And in a fit of loose-tonguemanship, I mentioned the Marine. Went off on a dozen eloquent (my thought) verbal attacks, made my fervent feelings known to the first person on Earth other than myself.

Mike listened to it all, said nothing, sipped his drink. When I was done, he thought quietly for a few seconds, no doubt considering his words, and said,

“I know the man, know him well, as a matter of fact.”

He had every right to take my head off with the nearest empty bottle. He didn’t. He just started telling me the Marine’s story. How he’d been a leader of kids not much older than me, how he’d taught them, fought with them, and carried many of them out of harm’s way, over and over, dead or barely alive.

And how he’d re-upped after his first tour, then after his second and then after his third. He’d confessed to Mike that he didn’t love war, hated every damn minute of it. But what he hated more, what he just could not do, was leave those kids behind. By themselves. Without him to help them. To protect them. To fight beside them, and carry them out, if needed. Until they are home, no man left behind – the Marine motto. And his creed.

No man left behind.

So, as Mike told me, he had to go back. Until the Marines wouldn’t allow him to go anymore.

I listened quietly, as Mike had done for me. When he finished, I’d finished my drink. But had only just begun to feel like a damn idiot.

And then I said I think I’d like another drink. And someday, I think I’d like to shake that man’s hand.

I think he’d appreciate that, Mike said. And he went to get another bottle.

A few weeks later, the Marine was walking into a gas station when a long-haired, earring-wearing silly-looking kid wearing ripped jeans and moccasins walked up to him. Told the man he didn’t know him, but that he knew Mike and would it be all right if he could shake his hand, say thank you for all he did over there.

What probably was an instinctive look of wariness faded away from the Marine’s face, replaced by just the hint of a smile. Why yes, yes you can.

And they shook hands. And went their separate ways.

I hadn’t changed my politics, and I can pretty safely guess that neither did he at that moment. But at least one of us had changed his perspective on some things. My hope, in a small way, was actually two of us had done that.

Semper fidelis.