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My First Pair of Combat Boots (draft Introduction)

December 31, 2017

The night I heard Depeche Mode’s song “Blasphemous Rumors” for the first time I was sitting alone in my grandparent’s kitchen doing homework and having a snack of Saltine’s with Blue Bonnet Margarine and sugar. A live performance from Depeche Mode’s 1984-5 tour broadcast via Westwood One Radio into our tiny kitchen counter top radio. The song was the first I heard that I fully and completely related to, which is perfectly tragic given the lyrics and that I was about 16 at the time. I knew nothing of the band or other New Wave bands like it. Prior to that fateful night I was making mixtapes from U93.3 FM with tunes by easy listening bands like Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, and Tears for Fears. I also knew Big Band and Jazz Standards from the Lawrence Welk Show and the few records my grandmother occasionally played on the portable record player. Music Video Television, John Hughes movies, and puberty came together to form a perfect pyramid with Depeche Mode,  specifically “Blasphemous Rumors,” as the apex.  Soon after that night I found my way into my grandparent’s breezeway closet and back out again with my first pair of combat boots.

The breezeway closet of my grandparent’s house was cool and dark like a cellar. Even in the heat of a Midwest summer it preserved seasonal fruit at the perfect temperature. In the deepest place, where the closet got smaller under the slanted ceiling decades-old shirt boxes, reused each Christmas, took up the majority of space. Their fragile tissue paper never refolded to fit perfectly, lapped out the sides of the boxes like brittle hangover tongues. That side of the closet smelled faintly of “Evening in Paris,” my grandmother’s favorite perfume. My grandfather’s precious WWII souvenirs were stored in a small metal box on their own shelf to be easily access for an impromptu show and tell. His heavy wool Army trench coat camouflaged itself against the wood paneling of the closet where it remained invisible unless you knew what to look for it. This coat was so heavy that it took until I was well into my teens to be big enough to try it on. Old winter coats, boots, and a box of miscellaneous hats, scarves, and mittens occupied the space directly inside the door.

The boots I found, the ones that only fit if I wore two pairs of socks, belonged to my grandmother. A pair of gently used snow boots made fake black leather; eight-eyelet lace-ups with a black and white knit lining that stuck out the top, like slouchy socks. I began wearing them immediately, along with one of my grandfather’s houndstooth suit coats and a broken pocket watch. I didn’t consider my boots “combat boots” at the time, but simply part of my new New Wave wardrobe. I had no inkling that wearing those boots would instantly mark me as an outsider even within my own family. Neither could I have anticipated that they would be the first pair of dozens that I’ve worn since, including the ones I wear today more than 30 years later, and those issued to me in 1988 by the United States Air Force during Basic Military Training.

 

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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.”

 

Two Months, Two Weeks, Two Days, and Two Hours 

December 17, 2017

“Don’t turn on that light!” Tiki screamed. “There’s a snail resting on the bulb.” 

“No need to yell. I see her.” 

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?

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.”

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.”