Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Slight Change of Direction

Up to this point, the thrust of this blog has been talking about my experiences in the military with the hope it will help young people understand what life in the armed forces can be like. I intend to continue in that way to some point.

But, I also intend to use this forum to speak out about things I see in the world as I see them. In that vein, the following is going to be my very first opinion piece. I hope you enjoy and am looking forward to your responses.

Underestimating the Smarts of Melania Trump



There’s been a whole lot of media attention on a couple of instances of the First Lady “swatting away” the hand of the president. That same media has totally ignored the instances where they walked together hand-in-hand, close together.

Let’s stop to think about that for a moment.

Melania is European with that outlook. She is also a very intelligent and successful lady in her own right. And, last but not least, she is a mother. Part of her experience is dealing with visuals and their importance in the scheme of things.

Has anyone stopped to think that perhaps she is the one leading the visual effects of the president’s trip? Maybe she understands there are times when the president is representing the country she loves and needs to stand alone as its Chief Executive. And, maybe there are others when she understands its in his best interest to be a husband and father.

Let’s compare those times.

Walking across the tarmac or meeting foreign leaders. She takes a role in the background and lets the president take the lead. Walking to holy places like the Church of the Seplechre or inside the Vatican, they hold hands as she is at his side in the place she feels she needs to be.

Interesting, isn’t it.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

GOT OUT & WENT HOME


Pico Heights

It was harder to adjust to civilian life than I'd expected. The conformity and structure were gone, leaving a sense of loss and even comfort. I learned that you can't go back to where you once were. All my friends from the foster home were gone, as well as those I'd made in church and school. All were married with their own lives. I didn't fit in.

Returning to Los Angeles, I moved back into the tiny room in which I'd grown up in Grandma Duple's house. I was still angry with her for not telling me the truth of my birthright and that neither she nor the people I'd thought were my parents were related to me. (That's another story.) But, I'd been sending her an allotment with part of my military salary so she really didn't have room to complain. She just hinted, not too hidden, that she expected me to pay rent for living there.



Bought my first car, a 1957 Ford Fairlane hardtop coupe. It was black with gold trim and had a big Police Interceptor V8 engine under the hood. I loved to drive around in it and put all sorts of miles visiting Griffith Park and the various beaches - especially those not visited by the general public. Normally they were beyond Malibu but before reaching Point Magu. I enjoyed going over the hills to the San Fernando Valley as it was truly wilderness and the valley was generally farms and groves.

Finding a job was harder than I expected. My lack of actual shop time made me undesirable for working in heavy equipment shops. Mechanics needed their own set of tools so that left that option closed. My only other choice was to work in a filling station – as gasoline stations were known back then. It was a Chevron up in Hollywood with full service and a garage bay. At first, I did the check under the hood and clean the windshield, helping the owner in the garage now and then. He then put me in the evening slot where I ran the place by my own – with a very slight raise. I often did emergency repairs and the tips were more than welcome.

There was a local bar on Pico a block from Normandie that I’d passed a lot as a kid. Once I was out of the army, I used to stop in regularly for a drink - never beer. I got out in April so I was not yet twenty-one, the legal age for drinking. I’ll never forget being in there the night of my birthday - alone as I hadn’t really found anybody to socialize with. The bartender came up and carded me. He roared with laughter to find he’d been serving me underage and gave me drinks free until closing time.

That was one thing I couldn’t get used to - there was no closing time for bars in France. A whole lot of things were not like they were in France.

*****

I had no choice but to visit the man I'd thought was my father. He had married a great woman named Kit and it was only because of her that I visited. Jack was very sick with emphysema and heart problems, having spent his entire life smoking unfiltered cigarettes and downing quarts of booze at a time. I barely entered the house and he asked again why I wouldn’t change my name to his. I managed to keep my cool enough not to get into a fight with him. Kit asked and seemed to understand my feelings. Jack still occasionally played a Hammond organ he had. Patty, his daughter, was growing. Several times, he let me sleep in a travel trailer he had in the back yard. That allowed me to get away from Duple and her constant demands.



My ersatz cousin Bobby had a Triumph TR3A. I remember how one had to prime the engine before starting it. I loved to drive along Pacific Coast Highway. A 1957 Chevy Corvette pulled up next to me at the traffic light at Sunset Blvd, just past Will Rogers State Park. There was no question we were going to race. Had a girl with me (don’t remember anything about her) and she braced herself. The light changed and he easily beat me to Topanga Canyon Road. I dared him to race me up the canyon and he smirked. Figuring he’d beat me so easily on PCH, he figured he’d do it again. I have no idea how fast we actually went but I know there were no few times when my companion thought we were going over the edge into the abyss. (Ah, the follies of youth) I beat him as the TR3A was designed as a road racing vehicle and the Corvette was too heavy and did not handle sharp curves as easily.

*****


Nevada Highway

The highway stretched for miles, lit only by the full moon. Young, brave and foolish, I drove without headlights once we turned onto the highway to Ely. Late night in the true Nevada wilderness, the miles passed swiftly without a single light from a human abode for hours at a time.

Kit worked for a publisher of livestock magazines. She knew I was bored with the job I had at the time and learned of a ranch outside of Elko that could use hands to mow acres upon acres of hay. She also knew I had the experience from my days at the ranch.

I don’t remember who they were or how I met the other three, only that they were a bit younger than I and eagerly looked forward to working on a ranch. We left Los Angeles early and made it to Las Vegas in a reasonable time - especially as it was only a two-lane highway most of the way. I remember the long haul over El Cajon Pass from San Bernardino to Victorville. The road was familiar as I’d driving it numerous times when I lived at the ranch. Some brothers down San Timoteo Canyon had two big trucks they used to haul baled hay from there for various dairies in the area. Back then, Victorville had few houses as it was an area where they raised alfalfa. By irrigating, they could harvest three to four times a year. One of their methods was to start at one side of the field and, by the time they reached the end, they could return and start all over again.

Barstow was a major junction of highways and railroad lines. I remember the rail yards filled with massive steam locomotives, often five or six hooked together to haul mile-long trains over the mountains.

We stopped at the same hotel in Vegas I’d been to ten years earlier, this time the difference being was that I was legal and played several hands of Blackjack - I seem to remember winning enough to fill the car’s tank and paying for my meals from there to Elko.

Kit had given me a map with detailed direction so I had no trouble finding the highway north to Ely. That was where I drove for miles upon miles without the headlights in the Ford turned on. Only when we saw signs warning of livestock did I turn them on. That proved to be wise as we did pass a lot of grazing cattle. To this day I don’t understand what they found to eat, but guess it was sagebrush and other desert plants.

We saw the lights of Ely from fifty miles. Even though in nineteen-sixty-one there weren’t a whole lot of people living there. The biggest attraction was the lone casino and nearby brothel. We didn’t think of using the second as we’d been told there were a couple in Elko.

The stretch between Ely and Wells was as barren and isolated as earlier parts. The big thing was highway fifty at Wells that provided a major travel route from San Francisco east.

We made Elko by daylight and stopped at the casino for a cheap breakfast. I will never forget the massive stuffed Polar Bear in the lobby. The damned thing had to be at least ten feet tall!



The ranch was located outside of town with a river running alongside of it. The owner welcomed us and showed us to our bunk room. He provided us with Panama hats with thick netting and heavy gloves. We’d already been warned to bring long-sleeved shirts. We also learned to tuck our Levis into our boots.

As I was the one with the most experience driving a tractor, I got to drive the big John Deere to mow the alfalfa. I was already aware of how mosquitoes loved to live in the alfalfa but I never imagined so may truly big ones could exist in such a relatively small area. They rose in clouds that obscured one's vision and sought every and any opening. Even with the gloves, long sleeves and netting, one ended the day covered in bites.

The other three had the odious task of raking the hay that had been already cut into rows for later baling. The ranch owner did the baling. I guess he didn’t trust Green Horns with his most prized piece of equipment.

The pay wasn’t great but for the time and place, it was fine with us. I covered my share of expenses for the trip -- the others chipped in for gasoline and the water we paid for to carry in the canvas bag hung to the front bumper.

Saturday night in Elko, Nevada was not exactly a hopping fiesta. The locals wanted nothing to do with us so there wasn’t a whole lot of choice of where to go or what to do. We visited the two casinos and then went to the seedy side of town to visit the legal brothels. I gotta admit that the girls there were nowhere as entertaining or experienced as the ones I’d known in France.

*****

While my friend in Redding had a great job with a good salary repairing construction equipment, I was unable to find a similar job. As stated earlier, the closest I got was working in a full-service gas station where I did emergency repairs at night. Tried getting admin jobs but all were for females.

Finally took a job at National Cash Register, the deal being that I was to go to school to be a repairman and installer. As it would take some time before the class opened up, they suggested I “temporarily” work in their parts room. The job was okay but I couldn’t see spending my life doing it. The old man that ran the place was very impressed with my skills and how quickly I picked it up. He went to the boss and told him he wanted me to be his replacement when I retired in ten years. I quickly found that my application to attend school got trash canned.

I moved into an apartment with three other guys - one worked for NCR and the other two at IBM. It was still the time of big mainframes with spool feeds and punch cards. I am going to admit the airline stewardesses who lived in the apartment building.

I simply couldn’t stand the thought of spending the rest of my life in a supply room and went to the nearest Army recruiter. I signed up to receive training as a heavy truck driver - my goal was to serve four years and get out to be an over-the-road big rig driver.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Military Life in The South of France








(My apologies in the delay in posting here. As those who follow my work are aware, I've been dedicating my time to reviewing, revising, and posting my fourth novel in the Father Serra's Legacy series. So, here goes another tidbit about my first enlistment and service in the south of France)


I continue my narrative with a bit of trepidation. It appears Lonnie Robinson has a far better memory of what took place so many decades ago than I have. I have totally forgotten our platoon leader's name – Lieutenant Rumbaugh – and CWO Bosze who was the man who supervised our shop. Hopefully, he will occasionally chip in to clear up a thing or two I have forgotten.

After all, it's only been 50+ years!

Now, to explain the bottle of Four Roses in my last post. One night, it was my turn to sneak out of camp to get us some booze for an all-night poker game. Getting out was no problem as there were holes in the fence the Polish guards turned a blind eye to. Just across the field next to camp was a small huddle of buildings that included a bar where some of the well-worn “girls” hung out. In that particular instance, I had enough script to buy a couple of bottles of Four Roses. We had plenty of coca cola in glass bottles in machines in the barracks. We spent that Friday night, all the next day and the night after that playing poker in the barracks drinking coke and whiskey. We took breaks to go to the mess hall to eat and a few short naps. We called it quits some time Sunday afternoon and I remember waking up well before reveille Monday morning in my cot, sick as hell with a hangover that didn't go away for three days. To this days, fifty years later, I can’t stand the smell of Four Roses.

 
Bussac

Every month or so, we would have a unit party in a small village not far from the camp.

All military units have discretionary funds – usually coming from shares of the earnings of the various entertainment facilities on the bases – to purchase items for the Day Room or other unit activities. Lieutenant Rumbaugh and our platoon sergeant – hopefully Lonnie remembers his name – arrangeed for us to convene at a small restaurant. I remember it had latticework all over the place loaded with grape vines. They even produced their own red wine. The food was actually quite good and I must admit that the French Fries were delicious. Who would believe that a tuber from far away Peru would become a trademark of French cuisine?


Reneault

Harold met a “nice” French girl and, after going through all the paperwork (which I, of course, filled out) married her. He then bought a Renault and I took a train to Paris to pick it up. After being cold-shouldered by every Frenchman I encountered – including many Gendarmes – I made it to the factory where they gave me maps and instruction on how to drive back to Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the factory was on the north side of Paris, meaning that I had to drive through the heart of the city to get there. I encountered incredible traffic in Paris, especially traffic circles. It was a case of the one with the biggest balls winning. Close your eyes and dive in. By the time I got out of the city, I was shaking like a leaf and had to find a place to stop and calm my nerves.

As I stated, it was my first encounter with Parisians. Leaving the train station, I stopped at a small sidewalk restaurant and tried to get a bite to eat. The waiter was one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever met and, I was ready to punch him in his arrogant mouth. But, he was not the only one. No matter where I turned, I encountered the same thing. I spoke little French and was treated like I was some third-class creature barely worthy of notice. Even the people in the Renault factory were snotty!

I was never so happy to get back to camp. Harold's wife found a small apartment near the camp and she dropped him off and picked him up every working day.

I've spent a lot of time trying to remember where I met and became friends with another soldier and it just came to me – we worked together at the battalion personnel office. Teodore [Ted] Kleemann was a fellow personnel clerk who came from Holland. I remember what impressed me about him was that he spoke fluent Dutch, German, Flemish, French – and English. He was drafted where he lived in New York City and his main goal was to become an interpreter at the United Nations. I don’t remember why, but Ted invited me to join him on a trip home to The Hague. We caught the train and it was a lot easier to get through Paris changing trains with Ted’s help. We actually took the Metro subway system, the first I’d ever ridden. Wearing European clothes and with a Dutch accent to his French, he was treated far less disdainfully than I, even though he received some dirty looks for being with an American GI.

(Didn’t we free those people from the awful Germans not long before?)


Brussels

We stopped at the World’s Fair in Brussels. If I had a difficult time understanding French and Dutch, Flemish was even harder. However, the vast majority of people at the fair spoke more than reasonable English. There were good crowds and the only reason we were able to afford the prices was a center for American military personnel where we got special tickets and offers.

From there, we went to The Hague where I met Ted’s family -- truly friendly, generous people. We spent a couple of days, then went to Amsterdam. The canals were kinda neat but I must admit the most interesting part was visiting the area where storefronts held something other than scantily-clad mannequins.

There had once been similar locales in all major and some smaller French cities. However, a female member of the French parliament made such a fuss about the world’s oldest profession, that it had been outlawed. That didn’t mean the areas didn’t exist but were much harder to find.

Once again, the world grew gray and dreary when we crossed the border back into France. At least traveling with Ted was most educational and interesting. As soon as we returned to camp, I headed back to the library to read up on the area we'd just visited.

An aside – some time during my tour of duty in France, two events occurred that our platoon became involved in. One was an earthquake in Morocco where the battalion was sent to clear the rubble. Some members of our platoon went along to repair the equipment. Another was a similar earthquake in Lebanon. For the life of me, I have memories of going along. I seem to remember the long, boring hours with the drone of airplane engines deafening us. I also can see a beautiful beach and hear the words calling it the playground of the eastern Med. A stop in Athens and somehow I picture the Parthenon. C'mon, Lonnie! Tell me I'm not imagining things.