Friday, February 19, 2010

More Ad-Libs...Thinking cap on, I think.


Here we go again. It has been a few days since I had been able to put more than 3 lines together and it took a public confession to force me to do so. There are some things that get me off the "deep end". In the next entry, I promise to retake my "advanced training" in Fort Dix. It was productive: met my first wife during these three months; also learned how to drive heavy equipment.

This past week, there have been four different attempts to sit and write something, anything that can be put on to the blog. Every time I sat down to start a train (or a piddle) of thought, an issue came up and usually it has been one that could not be postponed.

So here I am again, and the phone has already rung at least 4 times since my sitting down. This time, however, even if it is in fits and starts, it will be done. More “fits” than starts, anyway.

This morning there was a public apology and “press conference” during which I suppose (since I did not take the time to watch) Mr. Woods (as in: Tiger) tried to explain his behavior to the world. Or, at least, to that part of the world that gave a flying cra…cker about said explanations. I am not a golfer, nor do I have much care for the “sport” of leisurely chasing a little white ball (the manner in which about 95% play it) in between off color jokes and a couple of beers. However, anyone who has already made 1Billion US$ in a few years worth of this type of work, will undoubtedly get much attention in any conference he gives, especially following his “somewhat” insulting and much uneven performance on the home green. Sometimes I wonder how much in these “mea culpa” conferences do the sponsor moneys come to play… or pay. Already some of these sponsors are showing a tendency to come back to the man after he finishes his rehabilitation, assuming he decides to go back to work on the fairways. Most don’t much care what happened as long as their guy produces sales for them.

Personally, I think there are too many issues at large which are sooo much more important; a few that come to mind:

* How many people (men, women and specially, children) are going to sleep on an empty stomach every night?

* How many of these will not wake up tomorrow, because their bodies just give up?

* How many children do not get to see the inside of a schoolroom because there are none where they live?

* How many of these children are placed on a strict work regime (more often than not by their own parents) from the moment they are strong enough to pick up whatever the tool of their particular trade is?

* How many of these children don’t get to see adulthood because they die along the way, victims of drugs, malnutrition, violence and abuse?

* How many people around the “free” world are thrown in hellholes just because they have the temerity of expressing their ideas, especially when these do not agree with the governing body of the moment?

* How many young men and women live in total black despair because they have fallen prey to drugs?

You get the drift… Don’t You?

I guess I’m in a funky mood today. Everything has slowed down to a crawl this week and issues that should have been resolved already are not. It is very difficult to live one’s own life when these impacting issues are in the hands of others; one can only push from the outside in order to get them completed. But complete them we shall.

This coming week I’ll be going to Miami. What was supposed to be a week long trip to be enjoyed has turned out to be a 4 day turnaround quick-stop. Not much time left to do any visiting. Luckily, I will be staying with “brother” Hector, of Camp Matecumbe days. Last I saw him was in l999 (before that, saw him last during the time we shared in Richland during the mid 60’s) and in this visit we met only for a few minutes. I truly look forward to this visit and the time to do some catching up.

Another issue that has caught my eyes and my ears these past few days (nothing to do with the preceding thoughts, as usual) is how intransigent many people are. It seems all are very “democratic” (and I don’t mean the Party) as long as the other person is in agreement with whatever we are espousing. The moment that other person is not in agreement, the conversation turns sour and becomes an argument. Whatever happened to the concept that everyone is fully entitled to his/her own ideas and/or his/her own likes and dislikes? When did we, as a society, lose this? Whatever happened to “agree to disagree” without ripping the other person’s head off? Lately, it seems that in all manners of discussions you are “either with me or against me”. THAT is a load!! Each one of us has a brain (many choose no to use it too much, apparently they have not figured out yet –or haven’t been told- it does not wear out from use but even that IS their right also!!) and each one of us SHOULD look at issues and come up with our own take. It does not take a public figure to tell me what, how or when I should agree or disagree with a certain statement, idea or project.

So, I sign off on this the Lord’s day, February 19th, 2010.

Tomorrow I shall be in a better mood… Be Well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

YOU are in the Army now!


I will try to look at the better parts of my two years of service. In the overall context there were many. Just that the times and the reality of the war in Viet Nam were not conducive to having good memories. Even though I was not actually in the war zone, my day to day work brought me very close to the realities of this hell on earth. Several friends did not make it back and others made it physically back, but having paid an incredibly high emotional price; a cost that would become a life long issue to be handled. Then, we came back into a society that had turned against the soldiers who were there; it was not a good time for those who had made the sacrifice.

“OHMYGOD!!!”…

-“What’s going on at this unmentionable hour?”

-“Why all the racket?”…

Then it all came back to me, quickly making its way into my brain center and bringing me into my new reality. It also brought back the words of an old WWII song in which the chorus repeats: –“You’re in the army now….” And, so, I came to my first 04:00 (to be read: ohfourhundred) wake up call or, to better call it by its new name: reveille. We had ten minutes to throw on our underwear, t-shirt, and boots, and make it out to exercise formation. At 04:15 sharp we started basic calisthenics to be followed by a short march (this being the first day for our already aching muscles) and so, start our basic training to be in “This Man’s Army”.

The exercise routine followed a verbal dress down during the few minutes it took to throw on the before mentioned items. Amongst the several bits of news and information we received, were included:

-“your behind is Mine now BOY!!! ”

–“Your mama ain’t here now BOY”…

-“She ain’t gonna be able to wipe your behind”…

-“I’M YOUR NEW MAMA, BOY!!”

-“MOVE, MOVE, MOVE IT”.

All of the above came screamed at my face from about 2 inches away, in a matter of 45 seconds by what looked to be a bodybuilder on gorilla steroids, foaming at the mouth and dressed, I am sure by some incredible mistake, as a Sergeant, E-5 ranking. I’m sure my mama never looked like this, no matter how much he may have insisted on making me believe so. It was certainly reassuring to belong to a new “club” where apparently someone would be looking out for us, including the wiping of our collective behinds.

After the calisthenics and short (about one mile) run, we headed back to the barracks and a shower, redress in the day’s uniform, fix our bunks and have breakfast. To accomplish all these little things we were given half a day or 45 minutes, whichever came first. Once in the dining room (excuse me, mess hall) we were reintroduced to the buffet style breakfast: One roll, one cup of coffee, two toasts with butter and chipped beef in a white sauce over an overtoasted slice of bread. This serving is better known the world over (well, in the armed forces world) by its acronym: SOS. It could be interpreted justly as a call for desperate help but in reality, during the first two weeks of this breakfast it simply meant “Sh.. on a Shingle” and then, after two weeks of pretty much the same breakfast almost every day, the letters stood for the “Same Old Sh..”. As in: -“What did you have for Breakfast?” and the answer –“Oh, Same Old Sh..”.

Much can be said for KP or, Kitchen Patrol; most of it not good. Whenever it was your turn, you had the privilege of getting up at 03:15, have the shower to yourself and also the hand basin. There was quiet in the barracks and a glorious morning sunrise would soon be starting… Of course, you wouldn’t get to see any of this, since you’d be in the kitchen, at the mercy of the “cook” –usually a low grade sergeant, often close to a resentful retirement and little concerned with the servings for the day and, worse yet, a couple of second tier trainees (those who had “survived” the first half of basic training and had “graduated” to the second half) who thought you were the scum of the earth… and treated you accordingly. KP was not welcome news and we did all we could to get away from this; I found out that by volunteering for some services I would be on “special assignment” and exempt from KP. So I did. Besides, “special assignment” sounded so, well, James Bondish you know. Anyway, cleaning the house of an in-base officer was better than KP anytime. As for 007?... well, he did clean some quarters while in training, I’m sure.

After 3 weeks, the routine was assimilated and then the rumor mill about how those who did not make it in the final exam (no, an exam not about knowledge, but about being able to leap buildings in a single bound) would be made to repeat the initial basic training under much more difficult conditions (really??) and would be sent directly to the front lines. Of course none of this was real; only close. Due to the demands for more bodies from the VN front, indeed there were few who did not pass and these would be given a “refresher” for a week, and then sent on anyway to advanced training. Truth be told, however, I had never been(nor have I been since) in such good physical shape as I was when the basic training was done. We were up to “double timing” –that’s running, for you civilians- under a full load (about 35-40 pounds) some 5 to 7 miles every day, as well as forced marches (a little less fast than double time) of 15 miles. I am not sure I could leap buildings in a single bound, but I felt like I could.

About this time, our orders were in. This meant that our life in the army was already defined, as to what we would be doing for the next 21 months, in the drafted ranks, or 33 months for the regular volunteers. Yes, that’s right. If you were drafted, you were in for 2 years; if you had volunteered, you were in for 3 years. I think stuff like this gave way to that old saying: “when in the Army, never volunteer for anything”. My orders came in and I was going from Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, to Ft. Dix, NJ, where I would be trained as a heavy equipment operator (read: heavy truck driver).

One truly good and heartwarming memory I have from my basic in Ft. Jackson was directly related to the originally mentioned staff sergeant. He was a young guy and turned out to be a truly good guy. Usually with the enlisted men (as opposed to “officers and gentlemen”) there was a better rapport, since they came up through and from the ranks. Anyway, this man invited me to his house for Thanksgiving, since there had been a general leave and I had declined mine. At that moment my relationship with my step mother was not the best and I chose not to go, staying behind in what was fast becoming a ghost town.

One morning this huge mountain of a man who could order me to jump off a running truck, very shyly asked me if I would care to share Thanksgiving with his family. Why so shyly, you ask? Well, this was the deep south, circa 1966, when and where Jim Crow was still king and the sergeant was a black man. The invitation was gladly accepted and I went home with him, to his wife and two children: a baby boy and a beautiful 5 year old little girl who took to me immediately, and I to her… the beauty of children’s innocence; no black-white issues for her. Just an I-like-you attitude that would melt an iceberg, and I’m not even close to being one. It was a great holiday and I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end, turkey included. After I left Ft. Jackson I never saw that man or his family again, but my wish is that at least those children have grown in a world where racial issues are truly becoming a thing of the past. I hope I made an impression in them half as good as the one they made in me.

Well… next stop: Fort Dix, NJ. With maybe a detour or two along the way.

Be Well…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Week After SuperBowl...


I should be grateful (and am!) about the fact that I am having difficulty in finding the time to sit down and write something for the blog. It means my time is being used for something else which might actually make some income. That is good. Yet, the blog has become a personal issue with me and I do want to continue to write, and will, as much as possible. Thank you for your support.

Whatever you want to write about, but just do it! That is the message that is being received by my senses at this time. It has been a while since I had a chance to actually sit down and write for the blog, As a matter of fact, I am not sure this will get finished today. Tried earlier, but several phone calls and some other interruptions stopped me from even starting. It is almost like going in circles and never getting off. Frustrating, yes… fruitful or efficient, definitely not!

Not even sure about the topic. Perhaps it is time to write about those two army years and the social upheaval we lived through during those years from 1967 to 1974 or so. Perhaps, as a historian has put it: “the closest this country has come to a second revolution since the 1770’s”. Those were extremely moving, heartening, frustrating, social changing, structure shaping years and we were in the midst of it all. After I was discharged from the army, I worked in NYC (primarily Manhattan); I remember walking down St. John’s Place and in just one block, by the time one came to the Fillmore East Theater corner, it was easy to be high, just breathing the local air. Definitely not the 50’s anymore. The first “daily televised in-your-living-room-war” changed our world forever. All innocence went out the door and horror seeped into the living rooms across America, as people would sit down after dinner to watch the daily news, being primarily full with views of one bombing or another, often accompanied by shots of children and women running from the fire. What wasn’t put on the screen was the fact that the VC very often used (as do Al-Khaeda terrorists today) these very women and children to kill US soldiers. This was a war that took away our traditional sense of “chivalry” and horror at having to aim and often fire a weapon at someone who could be your sister, daughter or son. At the end of the analyst’s story and recount of the day’s activities “on the front lines”, came the all too well known head counts for the day. Perhaps there was a hardening of our collective conscience or thinking processes; what should have truly been a horror show, turned into a nightly ratings race.

Or, we can talk about the Super Bowl… especially after I called it in the last blog. I had the feeling that the group from NO would prevail; as good as the Colts may be (and they are indeed) the Who Dat crowd simply had more heart and guts. They showed this in the play calling and in the fact that after initially falling behind, their reaction was much better than the reaction of the Colts after they fell behind New Orleans is a great city indeed and I hope this win will bring an aura of positive possibilities which will help put Katrina into the distant past, as a nasty memory and a guidebook as to how not to act under catastrophic circumstances. On the other hand, (as Tevia would say in his arguments with himself…) from these ashes a much better city should come to be, and we will all be the better for it.

There is a remodeling project going on in this house. The owner decided he was going to stay here until he goes out feet first, so he is tackling all those changes he had been meaning to get done over the last 3 years… all at once!

A stone fa├žade was put on several sides of the house, the front door is being pushed out to make a larger foyer and all the carpeting on the main floor is being replaced with marble tiles, cut into defined shapes and such. It will look very pretty once the work is finished but, in the meantime…. OY VEY!! We occupy the rear apartment and in order to go out, we must go through the war zone: marble cutting saws and tables, cables, dirt, pieces of tiles, wood planks… you name it. The cables are really special: different colors, widths, coming from different sources and, especially, all over the place. I still insist that the color of the existing bricks on different parts of the house (a quite-not-red-orangy-color bricks) really does not look good with the stones, which are closer to medium and darker grays that to reddish… anyway, his house, not mine. If he and his wife like it… what can I say? NOTHING!! you shout back to the screen? Well, YOU’RE RIGHT!!!

I told you I would not be able to finish this yesterday… Sure enough, some documents came through and had to be reviewed, edited and sent back, a translation included for one of them. Now I am advised some more are coming in so, rather than risking another unfinished day (a very likely outcome) I will plaster this on the web and do my best to come back tomorrow.

Be Well!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who DAT?? An all This and That...


In the beginning, there was a note every day. This began as a short exercise about a time in my life, the years when I came from Cuba to the US, as a sample of what many of my friends and I had lived through in those years. Then, it began to expand and now it looks like a life story with many (like today's entry) side trips that really are not much more than meanderings... We will see where it all goes in the end. There certainly is a lot to write about after 30 years of traveling in many countries, selling ideas, getting to know many in the lower echelons of international financial deals... looking back, this should be in a book. For now it is only here.

If you are an NOS fan (if you don’t know what NOS is, then skip this paragraph) then that is who you visualize when you read the above “title”. It really has not much to do with the body of this entry, but I thought it was a good lead. After all, it has worked very well for the Saint’s fans. So well in fact, that the NFL appears to have wanted to cash in on this whole bandwagon. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they will win the SB; it should be a classic meeting of refined technique vs. brawn and bravado. Skills don’t come into this equation, since there is a pretty equal amount of this commodity in both camps. Yet, I believe that brawn and bravado will prevail. We shall see.

It is getting very close to the end of 02-01-2010. There is nothing special about this fact, other that it seemed it was only yesterday it was 02-01-2009; I was getting over my first surgery of the year, and looking to either the radiation treatments or the hip replacement as my next course of action. As we know by now, the rad treatment won out because, in the balance of things life, the villain being attacked by it was much more dangerous to me than an atrophied hip. I remember thinking then that it was going to be a very long and slow year; probably full of pain as well. Actually, it wasn’t. Yes it was long and sometimes tedious but as those who have or are going through treatments, convalescence or medical procedures, especially those involving cancer, the fear is not of the treatment itself but of the outcome. Will it or won’t it? Only Our Lord knows for sure; in the meantime, we can only trust Him and those He has put to work for us. Now it is a year later, the treatments went exceedingly well and the results have been also. The hip is great and just this past week end had my chance at trying it out on a dance floor for the first time… it was good to be able to dance again!! We were at a birthday party for a good friend and the ladies around us (my wife and I) were saying “let the Cuban get up and dance…” After a few of these ribbings the Cuban got up and danced, which he does fairly well even after a long “sabbatical”, and they were silenced. Not bad…

This past weekend we had a snow day, as did most of the center of the country. Since we were at the bottom end of the snow system, by the end of the snow fall there were maybe 3 inches of snow on the ground. We went out to do some things that had to get done, only to find out that most of the town was “snowbound”; most everyone had stayed home because they were afraid of driving in the snow. I realize that this city is not in the middle of Vermont or Michigan, where they can expect to drive in the snow 40-60% of the time in the winter but… snowbound in 3 miserable inches of snow? C’mon!! The banks were closed and many of the stores were also closed. I really could not believe this. If it was Miami, OK… but here in North Carolina?

I think the town has maybe 4-5 trucks which are snowplow ready (certainly looked that way). I can actually understand this in a town that gets maybe 3 snowfalls per winter since it is a costly structure to maintain for such little use. As a result, only the main drags were cleared; the side streets were not, and this created a hazard overnight when the temps went down to 14 degrees. On Sunday Morning, before the sun had a chance to melt some of the stuff, most of the side streets (where many are hilly) had an ice cover. Now it really became an issue to drive. I went out for my walk (yes, like the old time mailman… neither rain nor snow shall derail me from my walk) and it was actually treacherous in many spots, where the ice was slick. We are supposed to get another such weekend this one coming up; let’s see whether our fair city becomes a ghost town again at the sight of a little of the white stuff.

What else has happened? I look to the written word and wonder what this is all about. Then I know. I am supposed to be writing, in a coherent time line, about the time I went into the army and about what happened in those two years. I’m not sure that my brain is quite ready to do this. Many who were in the services then, including some very dear friends, had a much rougher time than I. My services in Okinawa were reduced to receive much of the broken down equipment that came from VN. Blood included. I could only imagine what these souls who occupied these vehicles were going through if survivors, or had gone through if not.

Anyway, today is a short note. As matters are developing, it is getting more difficult to sit and write regularly. But I will promise to do so at least 4 times per week, since I am as curious as you might be as to where this will all eventually go.

Be well…

Veterans Day

The working title for a space that should’ve been filled some time ago was “The Power of Words”. Although that “some time” seemed to be cont...