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My First Pair of Combat Boots (another drafty excerpt)

November 11, 2017

Veterans Day. I am a veteran. I am writing a magically real memoir about my six years service in the United States Air Force. Following is one snapshot from my time in technical school at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Thank you for reading and supporting me.

I can’t discern if I am recalling the places or the music first. Both options are possible. “Where was I when I first heard X?” “When I first heard X, I was there. When was that?” Two entrances to the same room where what’s inside doesn’t change based on the door I choose; the remembering and telling does.

1989, autumn: Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

The first time I heard Pretty Hate Machine I was sitting on a flimsy, white plastic patio chair outside my room at the Angelo Inn on Goodfellow Air Force Base (GAFB) in San Angelo, Texas. The Angelo Inn was an on-base hotel mostly used by temporary duty personnel and vacationing service members. During my training period at GAFB, the Air Force personnel resided there as well. This was a constant source of pain for the other enlisted service members stationed at GAFB because they lived in real military barracks. It was another case of “The Air Force always gets the best….”

My buddy K-Matt (an ex-boyfriend of my first roommate at DLI) brought the tape and his portable boombox to my room. He proclaimed that it was the best music I’d ever hear. K-Matt was a serious music-head. I trusted him.

The sun just set. The sky was stale butter yellow. From the third floor balcony we could see the toasted expanse of central Texas beyond the perimeter of the base. The wind kicked up and thunder started, then lightening of the dry, summer type. We were accustomed to these threats and knew no rain would come. The storms in that part of Texas were always more wind than water.

The overhead lights triggered no-loitering-white on. K-Matt climbed on one of the patio chairs and loosened the bulbs to secure the mood. We shared a mug of flat root beer and a Djarum Black. Our spiced smoke hung and perfumed the air enough for us to feel slightly civilized as we listened to the album.

The speakers lost their boom to the night. The music was all treble. The distant thunder played an erratic bass. By the time “Sin” began with its screechy screams-of-synth and four-beat purity, the wind was raging and strong enough to cause our chairs, with us in them, to grind and scrape, and tip and rock.

We rode the wind. We saw dust devils moshing. We were up above it and down in it. And, for those 48 minutes, Nine Inch Nails (1989), Pretty Hate Machine, was the greatest music I ever heard.

Nine Inch Nails (1989), Pretty Hate Machine, “Sin.”

 

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My First Pair of Combat Boots (draft of a magically real interlude from within that book)

September 29, 2017

Thanks to the generosity of my darling friends I am writing daily. And in honor of their patronage, just tonight, I wrote this magically real interlude about being a spy for the US Military. It’s a few words inspired by their collective love and generosity. For now, this is what I have to give. Thank you, you beautiful, kind creatures.

Tiki rode the electric serpent between the signals from box to ears burrowing deep into brains, scraping her way past song memories of childhood and skating rink lock-ins. The currents carried, propelled her away from the earth into the sky unseen, but hearing everything. Sighs, curses of him and her, and the bad guys. Sky writing, submarine bubbles, and soiled mumbles, all open to Tiki’s keen senses.

Tiki learned secrets. Tiki told none. Tracks, traces, all erased with the tap of a key and rewind, re-record. Erase the tape.

Her electric serpent tried time and again to eat its own tail. Tiki’s weight prohibited this. Distracting the serpent with small moves and little side conversations about which pieces of fried chicken to order.

Along the wires, behind the boxes, the hot places where the machine tried to melt Tiki down into her fundamental parts, these places were supposedly safe. Outside, in the silence, Tiki was unleashed and free. Perhaps temperate climates are more suitable.

“It’s cold from the fans and dark … outside the boxes.”

Tiny lights of Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks are not bright enough to un-shadow the badness.

Tiki tamed the electric serpent and made it her pet. Cuddling. Conspiring. Around the world they traveled. Tiki learned to collect stories and covet them beneath the scales of her serpent friend.

Tiki and her electric serpent making fake friends in many lands.

Pressed into the soles of my combat boots are stories with bad guy heroes and miniseries endings. They are dusty secrets no longer worth listening to.

“A listener that steals stories, intimate telephonic kisses, grocery lists and family drug wars is no one’s friend.”

“I have others.”

“Tell them.”

My First Pair of Combat Boots (technical training, draft)

November 29, 2017

Goodfellow Air Force Base, 1989

For military linguists, technical school is at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. San Angelo, Texas is a small town, dusty, in the middle of nowhere Central Texas.

During my technical training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, I became friends with Airman Hall. Airman Hall and I were roommates.  She was tall as me, but she had pinched-off limbs and a southern peach complexion like a perpetually day drunk flamingo. Airman Hall and I were similar in enough ways to be friends, and she was pregnant.

It was at Goodfellow Air Force Base where we learned how to use the basic equipment and technology for spying. We also got introduced to a range of potential “bad guys” we would later be assigned to target.

Our training happened in around-the-clock shifts to assimilate us into what would eventually be our erratic work schedules. Our classroom was underground in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) aka as in, and pronounced, “skiff.”

Our classroom was cold and cavernous, all 70s-blinky lights and such. Everyone was jacked into a console and listening to old recordings of the Cuban Air Force doing routine fly-overs. We trained using neck-breaking Cold War era headphones. The headphones were gray with a 10 foot vinyl-covered, twisty cord like that handheld telephone receiver from the telephonic party line days. Our screens were dark green-black, like the sky over an unused port. Our keyboards were heavy and looked magical because they were covered with rainbow colored keys and nobs. The keys were one knuckle deep and you had to really pound them to get any action.

Pounding, tacking, plasting, blamming on each each one, blam blam blam plast plast, heavy heavy, the size of two Now And Laters candies stacked atop each other, TACK, PLAST BLAMM BLAMM, TACK.

During training, you either heard the bad guys or the fans. The fans, located inside the electronic equipment stacks, kept the fury of us nubile, alert, and gung-ho military linguists cool. That night that started like any other night.  I was cool. Airman Hall was cool. That short, red haired, blued-eyed Howdy Doody-Marine that I’d end up seducing? Cool.

[DM: HALL TO GARCIA]

“My water just broke.”

I rolled my chair back away from my position to the length the headphone cord would allow and looked sideways, down the isle toward her. Airman Hall rolled out too. She was sodden and afraid. I got up and grabbed my USAF-issued trench coat and gave it to her to put on. When Airman Hall got up, everyone saw that her rolling chair was soaked with embryonic fluid, her waters.

The instructors, both female Air Force Sergeants, didn’t make a fuss. Airman Hall was embarrassed. An ambulance was called. It arrived. Airman Hall and I hugged, and I told her she could keep my coat. We had a good laugh. I went back inside and finished my shift.

The next day while I was out of our room someone came and collected all of her belongings. We never saw each other again.

Where to next?

October 10, 2017

That tiny shell, that was something, right? Some kind of sign.

More like a holdover or an astral projection from Strandhill. I’ve not seen another since that first week.

“And the spearmint outside the door, in the garden? The Horvath, J. living in this building?”

“Tiki. Those are not ‘signs’ of anything. There were, are merely notes.”

Budapest, all of Hungary that I’ve met, has been like every other city, and different.

Like every other city because it has beautiful buildings and people moving day-in, day-out between them. Hungarians get coffee, buy eggs, go home, pick up their kids, scoop dog shit, and so on.

Different because I was looking for my Hungarian grandfather’s face. My Hungarian roots, frayed at best in Granger, Indiana, are mine as much as my hand-forged Mexican ones. I thought, possibly maybe, naively, even more because my Hungarian grandfather who raised me spoke Hungarian, made Hungarian food, had Hungarian fandangos. Our Horvath family reunions are some of my best childhood memories.

“The soil in Budapest is dry, yellow, and inhospitable.”

“What of that list written on the train from Prague? Of all the things to do here, the ‘big things’ and something ‘special’?”

Feeling hopeful about my time in Budapest, I wrote myself a love letter, not a “list,” of things To Do, but ideas, experiences, and possibilities I anticipated, desired here. (The train ride from Prague to Budapest is six hours long allowing plenty of time to get romantic…)

Little did I know that “underground hostel” meant a hostel that is below the ground, as in buried beneath the street in a frequently-flooding basement furnished with cheap Ikea-ware. Pretty. Dank. And, to say the least, hostile toward my height. 

“You’re tired,” says Tiki.

“That’s not a question.”

“I’m tired now, yes.”

Budapest is small and I’ve walked it from side to side. I’ve also spent my above ground hours in sidewalk cafes and on benches, and curbs with the mulatto pigeons pecking at the crumbs of my Beigli. Not one face did I see, of the thousands of faces I’ve scanned, not one that resembled John J. Horvath, my grandfather of Hungarian ancestry.  

Tiki is upset that I wrestled the bed of spearmint in the garden that was home, for a minute. Gathering the ashes from the residents’ spliffs and the residue from my 699 FT per liter Hungarian wine, Tiki makes a purplish slurry of sad and before tasting it, yawns, “I’m tired too.” 

Where to next?

A Land Scape 

August 8, 2017

The landscape in Strandhill, County Sligo, Ireland is fantastic. This earth lives to seduce locals and visitors alike. The Marram Grass-covered mounds change overnight, every night, and all night. 

Marram Grass, the common name for Ammophila Arenaria, is the dominant species here. It is especially adapted by having deep roots that extend over a great area that help it live in such a hostile environment.  

The way the grass moves with each breath and the small changes in the mounds overnight; yes, this landscape is seductive. 

Creatures squirrel around beneath every surface. “Idiot. The creatures are the surface,” says Tiki. 

Tiki has spent the last few months lolling in the ancient mosses of Ireland. She is lazy, horny, and filled with ire. 

The pair of them wrestled inside a deep groove on the creature’s back. Their smoke and oils pressing whiskey into its moss. Following their smoke signals, I found a steaming hot gash. Immediately drunk and feeling sadly perverted, I put my hands down to capture some warmth and sandy snail smell under my nails. I went face first into the mound. I felt all its curves, indentations, and minor perturbations. The earth softened beneath me. My body sank deep into the mound creature until I was fully submerged. The creature worked slowly and diligently to cover me with a layer of rich soil, earthworms and slugs. I sensed in it an urge to keep me underground forever. 

The songbirds overhead argued among themselves about what advice to give. The bored rooks looked for surplus bread. The gulls didn’t figure into the conversation. And the crows, not quite enough for a murder, looked down tsk tsk tsk ing the scene. 

“Don’t horde the sex. Some beasts are meant to be desired forever and never touched. Leave it.”  

“But this beast is a friendly one.” 

The mound creature invites us to Benbulbin’s Spring Awakening, an annual fest that brings all of Ireland’s creatures out of hibernation and into the possibility of love. 

LATER 

As always and since 1985, the only decent Smith’s tune closes out the night. Leaving half-way through how soon is now is a signature move. Always leave them wanting more. So, standing along the seaside we share a clove cigarette each remembering the last time. Before taking the penultimate drag, one question.

“Where did I leave my shell?”

I don’t remember taking it off. Did I give it to Gigajoy, that hysterical Portuguese whale? Maybe dropped it somewhere along the Grand Canal in Venice? Flipping Herv. Maybe atop Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh?

“In the grass behind the Hostel?”

There’s a club if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you.

“You know that the snails thrive in Strandhill’s Marram Grass.”

Herv the Venetian Seagull 

December 20, 2016

Herv was born in Venice. He is a Venetian Seagull. The H in Herv is not silent. Herv is a romantic. He believes that one seagull loves only one other seagull. 

We believe: What if the heart soul body mind were dispersed loose and with every new encounter we took the opportunity to recognize all those parts pieces bits and put them back together and even took up other parts, tried on other parts in those moments. 

“Only in those moments?” 

What if those moments, the chance encounters, connections are our most precious and singular moments to realign our entire selves? Falling in and out of love in an hour or a few days over a cup of coffee, a bowl of pasta, is a blessing if you recognize it and humble yourself to it, give yourself permission to what if. We believe that’s possible. Possibly. Otherwise life is you as you were when you left home, when you arrived at the airport, when you took the train last night.

Tiki met Herv the seagull while they both pondered a shadow. “That shadow down the way is a huge peg-legged pirate.” “It’s a construction crane. I flew by it in the fog, but you’re right, with these yellow lights, it looks like a peg-legged pirate.” “Basta!” “You realize there’s more to Venice than the dock where you stand each night, right? Please tell me you realize this.” “Yes, I suppose.”

Venice is slow quiet cool cloudy mysteriously fuzzy, familiarly snuggy, and nice. Venice is nice. “What are you? Why are you here?” Tiki is confused by intimacy. 

“What an ugly ‘craw’.” 

“CRRAAAAWWWW!!!” Herv makes this sound infrequently, but when he does it is his. Herv owns his craw. 

Herv’s craw stabs Tiki somewhere beneath the shell. Her soft stuff becomes agitated and hot and ignights. Flying above Venice, Tiki’s stuff drops onto Rialto, San Marco, Academia, and all the places she was advised to visit. Tiki rains bits of white lava snowflakes upon Venice, the Ghetto, the secret gardens and courtyards, where only from above, and only from her heart of salt, will all the precious places be nourished this winter. Herv the seagull who loves ice, one bell toll, and brunettes, trails not far behind, but at a safe distance from Tiki. “CRRRAAAAWWWW!!!” “Hello, I’m right here. I’ve no superpower, alright, maybe one, I live here.” Tiki looks again for the peg-legged pirate. She has lost him in the ripples of the Canal. Herv gently lands where the pirate was last seen. He does not want to disturb anything. His wings are dusted in fine white crystals. He likes the smell and feel of the salt, doesn’t mind the singed feathers, and hopes it will last for a time. 

I hate Herv. He is intrusive and unseemly, even for a seagull. Also, Herv is small.  

“Herv, what are you? Why are you here?” 

“I like ice, one ….” 

“Herv, you are a glimpse. You are too much and too little all at the same time. Fly away. Please….”

Tiki heard and didn’t pay attention to me because she was swimming in the Grand Canal. Tiki is not afraid of any water pirate or gull.  

“Tiki!” 

“I am sore from this cold. I need another blanket.” 

“Here I am.” 

“CRRAAAAWWWW!!!”

Tiki Meets Gigajoy the Whale 

November 21, 2016

The men cast their lines even though it’s too dark to see fish. Tiki admires the one wearing a floppy red hat. “I especially like that he bit off his bait. He has huge teeth.”  

The clock tower sings 23 chimes, then six chimes, then eight. 

From the patio I see between the buildings onto the beach. There is nothing but the tracks of dogs. “Do dogs like the ocean?” “I have no idea. What dogs? The fishermen are more interesting.” I am gloomy. “Water dogs,” I reply.  

The sun set directly west from the patio and has me remembering another sunset directly west. “I don’t remember another time in my entire life when I’ve seen the sunset directly west meaning I’ve never in my entire life been anywhere I remember being directly south.” I say this aloud and to myself because I know it will annoy Tiki. “You are looking out over the south most place you’ve ever been. And I’m telling you that right below on the beach there is an old man biting his fishing line. And P.S. There are no ‘water dogs’.” My pretending all the time vexes her. En serio. Telling the difference between magic and reality is my one super power. Tiki hates me for it. 

Me: “He’s not going to catch anything. He fishes there out of habit.”

Eleven chimes, then two. The sunshine and sunset, the sound of waves, the absence of noise, and the calm outside… Make me sad.  Not for want, not for having… I remember lifetimes of times, perfect moments with him, her, that, them, those things, that other stuff, and situations, scenarios, and so on, and moments when I surely had everything I ever wanted and it hurt. Because everything I want feels on me like sunburned skin, pretty the first day then peeling like an onion all the rest of the days until nothing remains except the in between tears. 

I’m comfortably lost in my self-not-not-head when much later Tiki accuses me of being lazy and unimaginative. I cannot see her, but I feel her smoldering purple judgement-pyre. I smell burnt hair and…. 

Tiki: “Look stupid, he’s caught a whale!” 

There is a bluesilver slippery handful of a whale. The whale’s name is Gigajoy. It has a good sense of humor. I know this because Gigajoy has a rachous laugh. He wakes up the toothy fisherman and challenges him to a duel. Gigajoy will win any duel using any weapon. The whale swims back and forth in water just deep enough for the fisherman and Gigajoy to feel equally confident. Suddenly, the sea stills as if an all-powerful fist clinched it into a freeze frame. Gigajoy breaches. He finds me on the patio. His eyes are purple with life and love. They glow in recognition of me and of death. I am the last thing they will every see. 

Tiki lets out a euphoric yelp. 

“Why do you always get sad every time you get everything you want?”