Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Mystery of the Phantom Army Commendation Medal

 The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States other than General Officers who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army after December 6, 1941, distinguished themselves by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service.

A couple of weekends ago, I opened up my old army footlocker that had been stowed away in the attic for years and began digging through the contents. Not long before that, my wife had sent me up there to find one of her most precious kitchen appliances that she desperately needed for the upcoming culinary experiments she was about inflict on the family. During my time looking for her motorized utensil, a curious looking instrument that looks disturbingly similar to devices used during the Spanish Inquisition, I saw my footlocker tucked away in a far off corner.

Upon seeing the box I immediately thought of myself as a suburban Indiana Jones exploring a tomb that had been buried and then forgotten for centuries and quickly dodged all sorts of imaginary booby traps and disgruntled natives to safely getaway with the artifact. In truth, I almost killed myself lugging the damn box down the attic ladder but that doesn't sound as good as me playing the intrepid tomb raider. Once free of possible spousal interference I moved the box to the bedroom and opened it up.

I had literally forgotten what I had stowed away inside the thing and spent several minutes emptying it out while sorting the contents on the floor. It was mostly military paperwork stuff from my mediocre career, several books that at one time I had felt the need to keep, and other minor mementos such as a collection of pictures from those years.

One of the first things I saw once I lifted the lid was my active army DD-214 which lists all the details of the four years I played full-time soldier. A vital piece of my past, but my attention was quickly drawn to a few of the photographs from that same period that I should have destroyed long ago.. These photos showed a side of my behavior that would surely confound my wife and children if they ever saw them. A good many people in my family tend to think I have always been a mild-mannered guy who preferred a good book or movie to the life of a twenty-something party animal.

Figuring continued discretion was far better than anyone seeing these odd examples of my younger days, I moved quickly to hide the photos until I was ready to again store the footlocker away. During that time my daughter, Darth Wiggles, found my DD-214 and started reading the information listed on the paper.

My daughter asked me several questions concerning the information on the DD-214 including the part listing the various awards I had earned. Given that this covered my active army years during peacetime, the list was not all that impressive except for one.

“Daddy,” my daughter began while still looking at the form, “what did you do to earn the Army Commendation Medal?”

Now this is where we begin to delve in a real mystery. “Sweetie,” I remembering the first time I noticed that strange item, “that is a long and complex story.”


My active duty enlistment ended in July of 1990 and while I had ultimately earned the rank of sergeant (E-5) a combination of things had made me to decided to leave the army and take another path in my life. The first was that my grandfather had recently passed away and I simply wanted to go home and start college. The second was that the Cold War was over and peace and love were breaking out all over the world.

What that last statement meant was that both the president and congress at the time were already talking about cutting the size of the military to save money and while I was good soldier I had absolutely no desire to get caught up bureaucratic bloodbath that was about to take place. To break it down even further, since warm international fuzzies were floating through the halls of power everywhere there was going to be far too many soldiers in the army without a real reason to wear the uniform. Of course, all that was preempted in August of that year when our good friend Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait causing Daddy Bush to begin the largest mobilization and deployment since the Second World War, but I didn't know that in July of 1990.

One of the last things you have to do to out process from the army at Fort Carson was visit the Personnel Service Center1. It was there that the final paperwork was processed allowing someone to rejoin the civilian ranks, and one of those valuable forms was my DD-214.

It was getting late in the afternoon on a Friday when I finally got a chance to review my DD-214. Since I was never one to even consider being a “PX warrior2” I immediately notified the cute young lady handling my case that there was an award on the DD-214 that I had never earned. Having an unearned Army Commendation Medal on my record was something I wanted corrected but I ran into a rather huge issue.

“Yeah, if you never received the award it needs to be taken off,” the cute brunette said looking at the form while sitting at her desk. “The only problem with having it removed is that the guy who does that left early and we will all be off Monday, so you'd have to come back Tuesday morning.” She told me as I stared into her ice blue eyes.

Long story short, before she and I got down to business we had spent twenty minutes talking and I was getting an overwhelming vibe that she had a personal interest in me. Had we met any other time during my stay at Fort Carson I would have quickly asked her out but that bitch bad timing was once again playing hell with me getting laid. First and foremost, as of that day I was no longer a soldier which meant I had no real reason being on post and secondly, my youngest brother would be arriving at Colorado Springs airport in a couple of hours to ride home with me in my car.

Cute brunette notwithstanding, not only was I sure my brother would immediately want to get on the road heading home, I had no real strong desire to hang around until Tuesday only to spend hours at the PSC to have them fix some paperwork they screwed up in the first place. Then again, I admit the way that brunette was looking at me along with her alluring smile I often think I made a huge mistake. We continued to talk for several minutes all the time knowing I couldn't ask my brother to hang out at a motel for the weekend while the brunette and I hung out at her apartment playing energetic doctors with each other. So I grudgingly left after we both figured I could get the DD-214 corrected at the National Guard unit I would be joining.

Well, that didn't happen either for several reasons. The main one being that once I returned home to South Carolina I had a dozen other things on my must-do list like getting registered for college and cruising Myrtle Beach's, infamous Ocean Boulevard looking for a replacement for the brunette chick back at Fort Carson. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, I really should have asked the unit clerk at my national guard unit to look into that award.

About ten years later I got a call from my national guard unit saying that I had enough promotion points to make staff sergeant. These points came from a whole range of things like PT score, MOS competency tests, weapons qualification, and of course, all my awards. As you might be able to guess, to make the required points my phantom Army Commendation Medal had to be included in the calculation.

When I told the unit clerk about my curious situation the dude's head about exploded. People who have the dubious job of managing army paperwork for a unit have to deal with a stress level on par with someone working as an air traffic controller for a major airport. Not only do they have to contend with both active duty and state level bureaucratic red tape, a whole spectrum of regulations, but they have all sorts of part-timers coming in and whining about stupid shit like mysterious awards on their DD-214.

Despite it all, the unit clerk said he would research the origins of my Army Commendation Medal to make sure it would be included in my promotion packet. To help him narrow things down the clerk began asking me questions as to what I might have done to have someone fill out all the convoluted paperwork required for such an award. There was literally only one instance that might explain how that award ended on my record.


For you civilians I need to do a brief introduction to one aspect of army life. Most everyone with an IQ over 70 should understand that members of the American armed forces fall into three categories. The first are officers like lieutenants, majors, colonels, and assorted generals. The second group, under the officers, are called non-commissioned officers more widely known as various types of sergeants. Lastly are the enlisted which to keep things simple run from private (E-1), the lowest of the low, to a glorified rank called specialist (E-4). No, you don't want me to explain the rank of specialist, nor the history that lead to its creation. Just understand that those soldiers I've classified as enlisted are the guys and gals at the bottom of the hill who receive all the proverbial shit that rolls down that steep slope.

In each army unit there is a senior officer and a senior non-commissioned officer. While at Fort Carson I served in the air defense battalion whose task it was to protect all the dumb ass tankers, cannon cockers, infantry grunts, and assorted support troops in the Fourth Infantry Division from all those nasty aircraft the commies would throw at us if the balloon went up.

This is where I introduce the senior non-commissioned officer of my battalion, Command Sergeant Major Robert Davis of Detroit, Michigan. CSM Davis is/was a mountain of man who after growing up in the Detroit slums went on join the army and serve two combat tours in Vietnam. This man was so bad ass if a movie were to be made about him Samuel L. Jackson might have just enough force of personality to play him. To say freshly minted second lieutenants fresh out of ROTC, West Point, or OCS were terrified of him would be a criminal understatement. This guy was so tough there was a rumor that CSM Davis came down so hard on one second lieutenant that tried to correct him once that the young man eventually ran off crying and tried to resigned his commission the next day.

Yes, CSM Davis was a mean SOB who absolutely came down like a ton of bricks on any soldier that he felt was not living to army standards. On the other hand, with his combat experience and years of service if I had to go to war he was the man to follow. Even with his experience, expertise, and obvious accomplishments CSM Davis did have his flaws. The one that blared out to any unbiased observer was that for his personal entourage he surrounded himself with stereotypical “yes men.” I discovered this the one time I got invited to one of Davis' enlisted soldier meetings that overflowed with snacks and beer. When CSM Davis told a joke the members of his entourage all laughed precisely at the moment he finished talking and almost surgically stopped thirty seconds later.

Call me slow, but I usually have to run the joke through my head for a second or two and believe it or not my delay to laugh was noticed by Davis. “What's wrong Private Johnson,” he asked me as I not only didn't laugh quick enough but stopped before the rest of the group.

Seeing the look on his face, I quickly answered nothing at all and tried to play along. No, once the meeting was over I was never invited back again. It didn't bother me, not saying I'm special but I've never been one to go along with a group just to fit in with others. While not becoming a member of the sergeant major's entourage, I nevertheless continued to play soldier and went about my normal duties. Not to sound paranoid there were times though whenever I was around CSM Davis that I got the feeling he was giving me dirty looks.

The second curious thing about CSM Davis, which has an important part to play in this story, was his total opposition to awarding Army Commendation Medals. The way he explained it was that with it being peacetime, this being the mid-1980's, as far as he was concerned one of the troops in his battalion would only receive one of those award once that soldier proved he could walk on water. Being true to his word, as long as he was in the battalion CSM Davis shot down every attempt to award an Army Commendation Medal to anyone. Which makes the one that showed up on my records all the more strange.

One of the things air defense types like me did for training was to have live fire exercises where we got to shoot the various weapons systems our battalion had in its inventory. There was one particular live fire that was especially fun for me and six other guys because we got to shoot the Stinger missile.

The Stinger missile looks sort of like the old bazooka from World War Two and uses an infrared tracking system in the head to “see” and catch aircraft before it explodes. Even in the 1980's it was a fantastic weapon as numerous Russian pilots found out in the skies over Afghanistan once it blew up their helicopter or jet. Since we didn't have any Russian aircraft to shoot down like Afghan fighters, we had to settle for live fire exercises using what the army called called ballistic aerial targets (called Bats) that in actuality were just glorified bottle rockets.

The Bat would be launched into the sky with the Stinger gunner going through the various procedures to activate, lock-on, and then fire the weapon with the missile being boosted out of the tube several meters before the main rocket motor ignited.

Of course, unless we're talking really big rockets what goes up into the sky has to eventually come down. Especially when the Stingers missile hit the target Bat causing it to rain down in flaming pieces to start numerous fires downrange. Making things even more fun was that during the live fire I got to shoot my missile that summer had been hot and dry giving all the vegetation an excuse to explode into the flames.

By the time the exercise was over there was enough smoke rising up into the sky to clearly give the impression we had serious wildfire developing. My platoon sergeant, SFC Blackledge, seeing something had to be done fast grabbed every soldier he saw and loaded us up into trucks with the purpose of going downrange to fight the fires. Not only was I one of the soldiers grabbed but also the sergeant major's driver, a Specialist Padget, who looked upon his chauffeur job as a blessing since it usually meant he never spent more than a couple of hours out in the field. See, Padget was man ahead of his time in many way, not only was he an expert ass kissing yes man but his delicate nature and excessive concern over hair gels and clean hands made him a poster child for the metrosexual movement decades before the concept was ever invented. No he wasn't secretly gay, if anything the guy had women crawling over him but I had absolutely no idea why someone so worried about getting dirty ever joined the army.

In addition to being a yes man, Padget tended to look down on everyone else who was his rank or lower. With that type of attitude it made him quite popular with everyone having to live with the twit. It was generally known that Padget's attitude came from being raised in a upper middle class suburb somewhere outside Los Angeles. This upbringing had somehow translated into believing people from other regions of the country were somewhat deficient. But the great thing about being the sergeant major's driver meant no one would ever say anything about his behavior.

Once we reach the first of the fires, SFC Blackledge had everyone grab shovels, axes, and these weird things that looked like giant fly swatters and start trying to get things under control.

“Wait a second, Johnson,” Blackledge said to me as I was about to run off carrying a shovel. “I need someone to stay with the truck and listen to radio, Range Control has a helicopter with a water bucket coming in and we need to know when they will drop.”

That one statement bummed the the living shit out of me. I had grown far more excited about fighting the fires that I can easily explain and wanted to do my part in the emerging battle. Thankfully Specialist Padget was still hovering around and in a backhanded way did me a favor.

“I'll stay with the radio,” he said with a clearly wavering and uncertain voice.

SFC Blackledge was not a man to be trifled with and even though everyone was immediately needed to bring the fires under control he wanted to know why Padget was volunteering, something he positively never did anywhere or anytime. “Why do you want to stay with the radio Padget? He asked while staring at the poor excuse of privileged suburban upbringing.

“It's because I'm scared, sergeant,” Padget blurted out in an honesty that caused SFC Blackledge to shake his head in dismay.

“Johnson, go ahead and join up with the others,” Blackledge said to me, “young Padget and myself are going to have a conversation.”

For the next four hours I had one of the best times in my life. Not only did I get to play wilderness fire fighter but was on the receiving end of several water dumps from helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft. Yeah, this will be a total dick thing to write, but I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy seeing Padget in what looked like serious trouble.

After things calmed down, SFC Blackledge gathered everyone in the fire fighting detail together to board the vehicles for the ride back to the unit. About the same time CSM Davis' vehicle appeared with Blackledge immediately walking over to talk with the Davis. SFC Blackledge then called Padget over to the sergeant major who dismissed the guy temporarily filling in as his driver, thus beginning an epic ass chewing. Once or twice during this impromptu disciplinary discussion, Blackledge pointed over in my direction with the sergeant major also studying me like one might a new type of bacteria.

As with anything these days, the whole affair was soon totally forgotten. The entire battalion went back to the usual training with Padget returning to his cushy job as the sergeant major's driver, although it was clear the relationship between those two was clearly strained. All the Stinger gunners for that live fire, including me, received a minor award for our efforts. Proving the old army adage that when you screw up, you move up Padget was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant, far earlier than normal, and got another cushy job up at division headquarters.

All I can figure about that Army Commendation Medal is that maybe CSM Davis was so pissed off at Padget's cowardice that he put me in for the award as a way to punish his ass kissing driver. Believe it or not, this sort of makes sense since CSM Davis was the type of person to screw with a soldier but since I was not part of his entourage he could have easily just forgot about the whole episode as the days and weeks passed.

In the long run it didn't matter, the clerk at my national guard unit could never find any documentation concerning the award so it couldn't be used for my promotion to staff sergeant. But on the other hand, it was never removed from the copy of my DD-214 I received when I retired from the national guard in 2005. So where it came from I haven't a clue, this minor mystery did bother me once with the only alternative I can think of is that it was a simple foul up by some bored paper pusher.   

1Before some authority freaks out I'm not entirely sure that is the right name for the place that in-processed arriving soldiers and out processed those like me. I have simply forgotten the name but Personnel Service Center is close.
2A PX warrior or PX soldier is a sorry ass piss ant that purchases awards and special badges to wear on their uniform while never having earned them. During my time in the army being caught do such a thing could get a person in severe trouble. From what I've heard to pull a stunt like now the consequences are far worse now.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Simply Pathetic

Last Wednesday night on my local PBS station they broadcasted a show telling the history of the Black Panther movement back in the 1960's. Setting aside the reasons the group formed, Panther members eventually felt the need to arm themselves for protection from the cops and overly concerned citizens. The videos the program showed them carrying small carbine rifles, shotguns, and revolvers, all kiddie stuff in this day and age when movies, television shows, and gun manufacturing advertising literally say you're not a man unless you own an assault weapon and the required accessories for that extra bit of murderous bling.

The thing that almost had me laughing though were the videos of those police officials and overly concerned citizens—all white folks that were in a total nuclear hissy fit meltdown over what they considered were armed thugs, the Black Panthers, that were roaming the public streets. The general refrain those people all repeated was that we lived in a “civilized society” and that no one should be allowed to walk the streets carrying weapons like it was the Old West. This idea went as far as legislation in the California State Assembly to prohibit individuals or groups from carrying weapons in public. Even the conservative messiah Ronald Reagan, who at the time was governor of California, makes an appearance in those old videos supporting the legislation to making it illegal for American citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights. The huge Catch-22 in that whole episode was the fact that the people openly carrying firearms in public places seeking to protect themselves were African-Americans.

While I grew up in South Carolina, I clearly remember the time when people viewed the open carry of weapons in public places by civilians like the local main street or inside business as a sign that someone was mentally deranged. In those strangely innocent and relatively calmer times—compared to the nightmarish crap we regularly have to deal with now, firearms just weren't that big a factor in the daily lives of most people. Weapons were just dangerous tools that a kid would get a serious ass whooping if they touched without a responsible adult standing right next them.

Before someone possibly loses their Second Amendment mind, I also grew up around all sorts of weapons from hunting rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. One of my few good memories of my father was him taking me out to the old Georgetown County landfill and shooting the piles of junk and a few unlucky rats that got in the way. Throwing more fuel on the fire, several years later I go and join the military and spend four years in the active army and after that a total of seventeen in the National Guard. Quite the difference when compared to countless armchair warriors who despite supporting the troops somehow never found their way to the local armed forces recruiting office.

Over those intervening years of my military service I shot so many different weapons so many damn times that going to the rifle range became long boring affair that I mostly slept through. In fact on the last occasion I went to the weapons range a few months before I finally retired, a young private thought I was insane because I didn't want my share of the ammo for the old and crappy M-60 machine gun we were shooting. So I'm not some liberal pansy that faints at the sight of a dainty .22 handgun designed for a suburban housewife. No, I'm a retired veteran who is an ardent liberal and feels most of the goddamn country has become engrossed in a psychotic delusion about the ownership of military-grade firearms.

It appears a massive chunk of the populace has come to believe their manhood, or womanhood, is founded on the ability to efficiently fire off dozens of rounds from their AR-15 or semiautomatic pistol, instead of basing their self worth a crazy thing like an education that just might expand their understanding of civilization, their fellow human beings, or the natural world. To justify this talent and the ownership of the weapons that make it possible, they engage in fevered nightmare scenarios from violent home invasions to nationwide mass insurrections, the one common element in them all being the skin color or ethnic heritage of the possible assailants.

Yes, home invasions do happen and the potential victim has every right to defend themselves. But contrary to what is commonly assumed in some circles, having a gun in the home is far more likely to be used in a crime directed at one of the people living there, either through accident, suicide, or assault. Some might be surprised to learn that I AM NOT saying civilians shouldn't be allowed to own firearms for hunting or basic home protection. I am saying that like automobiles such ownership should depend on a person's ability to be trained and then licensed. But here is where a lot of deluded people lose their paranoid minds.

Unlike the 1960's, the people showing off their personal arsenals in public places are paranoid middle class white people. Not only terrified of countless shadowy boogeymen out to take their stuff, they are utterly convinced that nefarious agents of the United States government are on the verge of declaring martial law with the expressed purpose of taking their weapons. That once the God-fearing folks are defenseless, federal stormtroopers will swoop in and force them into internment camps where they will be reeducated to become socialist-atheistic-Muslims working for Satan. The only problem with that absurd last statement is the fact that you wouldn't have to look very hard to find a group who believes something close to it.

This is where our stalwart leaders, and those seeking to become such, should step forward and diligently work to calm the outlandish fears spreading like a virus through the more suggestible segments of the American public. But no, proving that the purest form of democracy is a crazed mob many of our public leaders actually feel it is to their advantage to not only support this insanity but show that they are willing participants.

I've got to admit, that while I made the mistake of voting for George W. Bush in 2000 it was not long after that I developed a huge disdain for the entire family. The one exception to that rule was Jeb Bush, compared to his brother he seemed to be at least a semi-rational adult who appeared to be a capable governor of the state of Florida. While I would have never voted for Jeb for president in a hundred-million years as the republican presidential primaries started he at least seemed RELATIVELY saner as compared to Trump, Cruz, Carson, and the rest of that proto-fascist pack.

As the months went by, all I can say is at least he was consistent in his desire to pander to the worst and lowest aspects of his party's political base. It was all summed up nicely with his tweet of this photo showing his new semi-automatic pistol captioned with the word: “America.”

That one photo immediately struck me as the most craven act of political desperation and cowardice I had ever seen in my lifetime. I know the target audience for the picture was meant for the South Carolina Republican masses which quite frankly continue to prove the over a century old adage that while the Palmetto state is too small to be a republic it was way large to be an asylum, which it certainly meant in terms of population size.

Instead of being a true leader and tweeting a picture showing the best of the United States, like the beauty of our national parks, the space program, or any of thousands of other pictorial representations of American hopes and optimism he chooses something specifically designed to kill people. So it seems that as a nation we have lost almost all of what made being an American truly special when the one supposed sane person in the room full of psychopaths and idiots surrenders to them. I absolutely hate to write this, but it looks like George W. Bush is not only the smarter brother but a better human being than Jeb.

Friday, February 12, 2016

After all, it is a Small World

Truthfully, it's sort of embarrassing in way to think of how many times my family and I have made the trip down to Orlando, Florida to visit Walt Disney World. Yes, we are Disneyphiles and our often silly and maybe even obsessive enjoyment of Uncle Walt's creations is facilitated by the fact that we bought into its points-based timeshare for the Disney resorts that surround the various parks. The thing about making so many trips down to Disney World is that at some point you start noticing other elements and events while down there that don't necessarily have anything to do with the rides or the colorful characters.

Back in the summer of 2010 my wife, daughter, and I made the usual pilgrimage down to our “home” resort of Animal Kingdom Lodge for a five-day vacation. My daughter, Darth Wiggles, was eight at the time and still engrossed in all things to do with Disney Princesses, which would include an expensive visit to a place in Downtown Disney where she would have an elaborate makeover to look like either Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Ariel from The Little Mermaid. My wife, the lovely Dragonwife, was eager for her own visit to one of the spas where she would be pampered with expert massages, crazy facials, and whatever they do to fingernails and toenails in those places.

I on the other hand, while totally ready for my own dose of relaxation at the resort pool sipping drinks and reading, wasn't quite feeling right because my son, Darth Spoilboy, had decided to skip the vacation and stay with his best friend. Spoilboy had long since become too cool for Disney and while the best friend's parents said they would make sure he stayed out of trouble, it just didn't feel right with him not with us.

The next day after our arrival we woke up early and caught the bus to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. That morning was utterly gorgeous with bright sunshine complete with little fluffy clouds floating in the sky. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I'll be damned if several of those clouds didn't look like Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy. While watching those uniquely shaped clouds drift by, I found myself imagining a secret Disney airport with a fleet of special cloud sculpting aircraft equipped with cloaking devices. Given how Disney's “Imagineers” are famous for thinking out-of-the-box I only half-chuckled at the utter absurdity of the notion. What made the day even better was that while it was already warm, the usual heavy Florida summer humidity hadn't yet kicked in making it feel like an early spring morning.

As you can expect, my family and I were not the only one waiting for the park to open that morning. There was a sea of humanity all around us speaking scores of different languages all waiting for the Mouse and his associates to perform the opening ceremonies that while sickly sweet nonetheless sure as hell made every child, and a few adults, unbelievably happy.

As I mentioned, once you've visited the parks as many times as we have you start to notice things like the other people around you. That was when my wife saw a married couple that had the dubious distinction of standing out in that crowd.

The man looked to be in his early to mid-sixties, after my wife's pointed them out I immediately felt some envy because the guy had a head full of hair, as compared to mine which had glorified fuzz back in my mid-thirties. Not only that, given the guy's apparent age, his hair had turned a silvery gray color, which gave him the look of wisdom and dignity. Almost running counter to that look of wisdom, that guy's hair was a little longer than you might expect for someone on the other side of middle age.

It was also obvious he worked out because while his face and hair looked sixty he had the body of a forty-year old. Dressed in casual, but neatly pressed shorts, an upper-end polo shirt, and sandals the net effect was that this person looked like a wise old California surfer dude that during the course of his exciting and adventurous life had founded several high tech firms making him enough money that would allow even his twenty-third century descendants to live in idle comfort.

Accompanying that obviously happy gentleman was the reason my wife, and several other nearby women, were staring at him as if he was a leper. It was the woman he was with, she was in her late twenties to early thirties and could have been a younger clone of the actress, Sharon Stone.

Naturally, this lady was blonde with long legs and everything else you might expect someone to have who could star in the remake of the movie, “Basic Instinct.” Okay, I'll admit the second I first noticed the Sharon-clone I pretty much couldn't keep my eyes off her. Dressed in tight yoga or bicycle pants that came down to her knees and a loose, oversized blouse that hung low off one shoulder the woman was utterly gorgeous. The one distinction I have to make though is that Sharon Stone's character in that movie was a psychotic killer, this lady was open and friendly to everyone around her going as far to pay special attention to the young children near them.

Even with their outgoing behavior, I could tell from the looks several women were giving the oddly aged couple that they didn't approve of their relationship. I even heard my wife quietly utter the words “trophy wife” in disgust with the general assumption in her mind being that California Surfer Dude had probably made his money with a wife near his own age only to dump her at some point to hook up with the Sharon-clone that was young enough to be his daughter.

I didn't say anything to my wife about the thoughts I knew were swirling around in her head like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. She and many of the older, middle-aged women in the area had all judged the man and woman and found them guilty of some gross violation of a nebulous societal norm. In other words, to the accusing ladies California Surfer Dude was a semi-pervert and narcissistic old man preying on younger woman after betraying the older woman who had probably worked just as hard as he in making their assumed fortune. While to them, Sharon-clone was a sorry ass gold digger who should have been with a man far closer to her own age.

On a side note, yes, after having heard my wife and her friends once talk trash about a similar couple years before, I do believe there was a little female envy making up the backbone of their prudish disapproval. And yes, I'm sure there was also a great deal of male envy flying around as well since I, and several other guys had instinctively sucked in our stomachs after noticing Sharon-clone.

In the case of my fellow males, our envy was also directed at the guy since the vast majority of men have neither the looks, vast amounts of money, nor the gumption required to attempt a relationship with a beautiful, younger woman. The simple laws and principles governing male/female attraction would make it a cruel joke for the Average Joe to even attempt. Okay, here is my ubiquitous declaration that even if I did have the looks, money, and confidence to look for a twenty-something trophy wife that I would never do such a thing since I am dedicated to my current lovely spouse. Stop it dammit, even now I hear the belly laughs you all are having after reading those words.

The California Surfer Dude and the Sharon-clone didn't have any children with them but when the opening ceremonies began they were as enthusiastic as any of the children waiting to begin a day inside the Magic Kingdom. Once the park opened and that mass of humanity began the daily flood inside I quickly lost track of California Surfer Dude and his lovely Sharon-clone. But like an under appreciated amusement ride in that very park likes to sing, it is a small world after all.

Later that afternoon, Dragonwife, Darth Wiggles, and I are at the end of the line leading into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. By this time Magic Kingdom was getting rather crowded with the people going into Pirates of the Caribbean having been corralled into those zigzagging, roped off pathways that both keeps everyone under control and allows for the effective use of available space.

Before a fellow Disneyphile starts screaming, yes my family and I make full use of the available fast-pass tickets but the supposed total wait time for Pirates that day was around forty-minutes and our next schedules fast-pass ride was over an hour away. However, long lines at Disney have never really bothered my family despite the general complaining some like to whine about. My wife and I tend to seek out other parents like us and strike up conversations with them. In fact, when my son and daughter were much younger my wife and I always brought a small backpack to the parks fill with essentials like diaper items, a small towel, some dry clothes, and simple snacks. We quickly learned that the simple act of sharing a juice box or cookies with a grumpy and tired kid giving his or her parents hell while in line made the wait for everyone far more tolerable.

As we slowly made our way to the actual entrance to Pirates, I noticed the couple in front of us. It was an older man and woman, obviously childless but nevertheless totally enjoying their time in the Magic Kingdom. The guy looked to be in his late fifties with his most distinguishing feature being his bald head that made him look like Sir Patrick Stewart, one of my favorite actors for reasons that should be glaringly obvious. His lady companion was about the same age, a brunette who had streaks of gray running through her hair that I found wildly alluring. Still going with the idea of basing my description on famous people, that lady looked like the late Ann Bancroft to me. The Bancroft-looking lady's hair even caught the attention of my wife who jumped ahead of me to ask how her hair dresser accomplished such a stylish feat. With my wife and her discussing the cosmetological sciences I quickly lost interest and starting doing the usual guy talk with her male, Patrick Stewart-looking companion.

Funny thing about those roped off pathways, as you do the zigzag to your destination you see the same people time and time again. Eventually the Patrick Stewart-looking guy and I had nothing left to say and we just looked on as our respective female companions continued to talk about the trials and tribulations of finding, then keeping a decent hair stylist. At some point my daughter began demanding my attention forcing me to open up the trusty backpack and find her a snack. As I rummaged through looking for her gummy bears, the line we were in moved several feet. Once it stopped again and settled down that is when Bancroft-looking lady and my wife suddenly stopped talking.

I looked up to see California Surfer Dude, Sharon-clone, and the Bancroft/Stewart couple staring at each other. My wife immediately felt the area temperature drop about twenty degrees and repositioned herself behind me and our daughter.

“Hello Karen,” California Surfer said to the Bancroft-looking lady in a way that suggested sadness.

Bancroft-looking lady, or now Karen given that she had been identified looked back and said, “Well Gregg, you're looking good.” At the same time Karen began openly inspecting Sharon-clone without saying anything, strongly suggesting she hadn't ever met the younger woman before.

“Oh I'm sorry, let me introduce my wife, Lisa,” Gregg said back to Karen that while sounding mostly neutral, I did detect just the slightest hint of screw you in the man's voice.

The verbal pleasantries that passed between the two women were perfunctory and totally without any warmth. In fact, the tension that was in the air was so high I believe the eight-year old Darth Wiggles knew something weird was going on in front of her.

About that time Gregg diverted is attention to the Patrick Stewart-looking guy and said, “Well Chuck, you two make quite the handsome couple.”

Chuck just smiled back in a way that said a long and complex story had transpired between those three people. “Yes,” Chuck said, “Karen and I are quite happy, looks like have you recovered yourself.” He further said while gesturing towards Lisa.”

At that moment Lisa grabbed Gregg and gave him one of those passionate kisses best reserved for the privacy of a bedroom. “Yes, Gregg has completely recovered and in fact he and I are trying to have a baby.” Lisa said after pulling away from her surprised, much older husband.

Yes, I was totally engrossed in the events unfolding in front of me. I know, I should have looked away, but they were in a public place and while I am a crappy writer that little creative flame inside me had already written several possible past scenarios involving those three people. Whatever the case, the line leading into the Pirates of the Caribbean ride remained strangely silent for the rest of our joint time waiting.

Karen and Chuck did ride in our boat going through Pirates, but they didn't attempt to talk with anyone. Once the ride was over and we all exited through the attached gift shop, they quickly disappeared into the afternoon crowd never to be seen again.

Later that night while at dinner my wife and I discussed what must have gone between those three. I somehow came away with the impression that Karen and Chuck had a thing going while she was married to Gregg. After a messy divorce Gregg met Lisa and despite the age difference decided to give the relationship a go.

My wife's back story had Karen and Gregg divorcing with her later hooking up with Chuck, who must have been a friend or acquaintance. Her sympathies obviously leaned towards Karen who she thought probably had to deal with a prenup during divorce proceedings because Gregg in reality was egotistical dick, a fact proven by him marrying the much younger Lisa.

Just for giggles, I'm asking for any who reads this to offer their own theories as to what really happened between the three. 

To any Disney haters, I'm ready to go back now! 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cynical Musings on the 2016 Campaign

There is enough here to make everyone mad.

Generally speaking, I had always understood that the main requirement for being a cynical curmudgeon was extreme old age and a decrepit body. These individuals, overwhelmingly men, had long since lost their sense of humor and viewed the human experience in general as a largely futile experiment being run by stupid young people suffering from grievous mental health issues. While I haven't reached the point where by body is falling apart, I must admit I beginning to hold some dark and grim views of much of what is going on in the world and this country.

Looking back on the “Good Old Days” of the 2008 presidential election campaign I must admit I now view it as a benign and slightly funny sitcom. Yes, I know George W. and Cheney were in the White House with the former bumbling around lost as the economy collapsed with the latter in his lair plotting new wars and snickering about prisoners being tortured. In the warm, golden light of hindsight the choices about the people who would replace them were glaringly simple. The Republican running for the nomination were an amazingly lackluster bunch, who while certifiably crazy and slaves to their rich benefactors didn't seem openly psychotic. Well, there was Frothy Rick Santorum who above all the others actually believed all his extreme religious rhetoric to the point he could have been a character in Margret Atwood's dystopic novel, “The Handmaid's Tale.”

Ultimately, all the 2008 clowns and fools were paired down to Senator John McCain. A genuine war hero who was tortured as a prisoner and who at one time could have been described as a “sane” republican. At times, I am tempted to think it is almost tragic the way he succumbed to the temptation for power while running for president like the creature Gollum who lost his soul and mind over that damn ring.

In a way McCain's fall could almost be excused since we're talking about about basic human nature and winning the White House, but along the way he did a really bizarre and comically destructive thing by nominating the Alaskan trailer trash queen, Sarah Palin as his vice president. Given that McCain unleashed Palin on an already frightened and neurotic population of scared white people fearful of numerous boogeymen, he'd have to save the planet from a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion before he would ever be okay in my eyes. Needless to say, with the election of Barrack Obama in 2008, the phrase that keeps popping in my head is that we dodged a seriously demented bullet.

Then came the 2012 presidential campaign with the Republicans not so metaphorically out for the president's head. That lineup sported a mix of old losers from the previous cycle and a few proto-megalomaniacs like Newt Gingrich who had a habit of abandoning wives like some toss empty soda bottles. Oh yeah, he also said during that campaign that if was elected president he see that the United States establishes a permanent colony on the moon. Now I was actually okay with such a suggestion until he also said that once it reached the required population it could apply for admission to the American Union. I can only imagine what Russia's Vlad Putin thought of that idea since he suffers from a perpetual case of penis envy when it comes to anything to do with the United States.

For reasons that that almost certainly prove the Republican party is an intellectually and morally bankrupt club dominate by semi-senile rich white men they go and nominate Mitt Romney for president. A bizarre throwback to the 1950's mentality, Mitt lacked any discernible human personality that at times made him seem more a bumbling character from a Monty Python sketch than a real person. Now he did possess a disproportionately large ego that allowed him to say with a straight face that his able body sons were serving their country by working for his campaign in the same way that soldiers and marines who were fighting in Iraq.

On election night back in 2012, I could help but to descend into a state of helpless laughter when I realized that despite the millions spent to defeat Obama a rather substantial majority of the American public clearly understood Mitt was a spoiled, flip-flopping little twit suffering from delusions of grandeur. What was curious though was just a few months after Mitt had his ass kicked, one of his sons told the media that his dad had never really wanted to be president. The first idea that came to my mind was that the guy was nursing a seriously bruised ego over the national rejection.

So, for better or worse we now stand at the beginning of the 2016 presidential race. Except this time the menagerie running for the Republican nomination is a political scientist's nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions.

Right off the bat, Donald Trump goes and proves the point that while Gingrich was a flaming asshole and Romney was born with both a sliver spoon in his mouth as well as a platinum rod up his ass, his ego almost defies measurement. It is extremely frightening to see how Trump's professed beliefs about immigrants and Muslims appeals to darkest, fascist side of far too many uneducated white people. Numerous times the media has interviewed the enthralled hordes waiting to hear him speak and they all more or less say that they are mad and that Trump says what they are feeling.

Why are they mad? Is it because they have bought into the stupid idea that multimillionaires and billionaires are “job creators” and that they should be protected and left untouched as they languish in underpaid jobs wondering if they'll get lucky and see a tiny pay raise? One night at work one of the boorish idiots I have contact with bragged about all the billionaires in this country and how that made us special because they kept the economy strong.

Normally when something is so monumentally stupid is said in my presence I just act if I hadn't heard it and continue on my way. Not that night, overwhelmed by a futile urge I told that guy that that what kept the American economy alive and strong was the ability of hundreds of millions of people to go out and buy things like televisions, cars, washing machines, and other big ticket items. Of course, that meant people had to earn enough money at their jobs so they could have something to spend after buying the basics of living like food and shelter. That the rich just park most of their wealth in banks and what they invest is often done overseas because if they can get away with paying next to nothing to their workers that is more money back to them. All through this, I hit on raising the minimum wage and how it might sacrifice a few crappy jobs but the overall increase in general wealth was sure to create more allowing those workers to think beyond their next paycheck.

As I expected, the eyes of that dolt almost immediately glazed over with deep incomprehension, I might as well have been talking to the chair he was sitting because not a second after I finished he made some remark about an upcoming football game. This same dolt has also echoed Trump's remarks about immigrants and Muslims. No I didn't say anything to him, I've willingly jumped into losing battles before just for shits and giggles but the idea of trying to explain basic humanity and compassion as well as the inherent principles we Americans say we believe is an impossible task I don't want to try.

Then we have Ted Cruz who is so religious he makes George W. Bush look like a cynical atheist. I must admit, part of me has this idea that everything Trump says is just a rehearsed shtick to fool to mindless proles and that IF he won the nomination he would move sharply to the political center, and given the views he once held, maybe even a little to the left. As sure as bears leave steamy piles of poop in the dark and lonely woods you don't have that with Ted Cruz. He clearly believes every position he has spouted and doesn't give a rip about the consequences if he gets a chance to implement them. Hate the government spending too much, just block funding legislation until it defaults causing the American economy to collapse.

Far more troubling is Cruz's apparent view that working with Democrats is a fundamental betrayal of principles of the conservative movement. Without digressing to point out that numerous other politicians and common folk both on the right an left seem to have forgotten that compromise and deals are the essence of how democracy works. Yes, it can be ugly and often wasteful but we do not live in a narrowly defined and homogeneous nation with a few oddballs sprinkled throughout. Sometimes the greater good requires accepting a thing we disagree with or even hate with the hope conditions change in the future to allow that items removal.

All of this shouldn't take away from the fact Cruz is a dangerous religious nutcase whose ideas about how our government should be run isn't far removed from the followers of the Taliban, ISIS, or our old friends in al Qaeda.

I suppose I could write separate paragraphs for the also rans like Hukabee, Rand Paul, Frothy Pete, the New Jersey Fat Boy, and sad little Jeb, who at this writing has so underwhelmed that he is actually considering using George W. to bolster his dying campaign. I'm sure I have forgotten a few of these insane a-holes but it's time to prove just how much of a curmudgeon I have become and take on the Democrats. 

I don't mean to be difficult but truthfully, I never really liked Hillary Clinton. Adding even more honesty, while Bill's administration did a great job running the country given the conditions he was forced to work around, his “antics” while in the White House did nothing to endear me to him. However, since George W. was the guy who followed him, I like many other Americans view Clinton's presidency as a kind of a golden age before the onset of the Bush dark age made far worse by the Iraq War.

My problem with Hillary can be summed up by the story she told during the 2008 campaign. Supposedly, she and Chelsea were sent to Bosnia on a goodwill mission during that country's bloody civil war. Hillary told the story that the plane they were on had to make a steep and fast landing to avoid enemy fire and once on the ground, the two were quickly rushed off because snipers had made the airport tarmac a killzone. The trouble was that someone dug up video of her and Chelsea calmly walking off the military plane being greeted by locals in colorful clothing carrying flowers. If I remember the video correctly, there was even a band not far from the plane playing music.

This fabrication by Hillary was bizarre in many ways because there was simply no reason for her to tell a falsehood. She was the First Lady and had in fact gone on that goodwill tour, which by itself meant she had more experience dealing with the outside world than most of the Republican bozos running for the presidency combined at that time.

And finally, Bernie...

In most ways, I like Bernie Sanders. He is the polar opposite of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in that he knows the middle and working class folks have been screwed over by the rich and their sycophants in government since Ronald Reagan became president. I like that he has no religious pretensions and has never claimed he had a direct communication with the Big Entity in the Sky.

Let me make this clear, while I am agnostic, I still feel that someone having religion does not automatically make them psychotic or a sociopath. For me it is far more important how a supposed religious person views the world and interacts with their fellow human beings. Quite frankly, while my spirituality comes from the idea that all life on Earth is connected by billions or years of evolution, I personally can't stand to hear someone like Richard Dawkins speak. He is as dogmatic and unbending as some of the religious people he criticizes. Long story short, I view someone like former president Jimmy Carter as damn near a saint, while I wouldn't piss on multi-millionaire preacher Joel Osteen if I found the man on fire.

Getting back on point, despite all the claims by Republican idiots about how America is the best place on Earth we have huge issues that are literally eating away at the heart of our Republic. Our education system is crap with many rural and urban schools left to rot both physically and figuratively with their white-dominated counterparts getting all the money. There are times I want to beat the hell out of some redneck or ignorant ass who thinks black kids are just lazy criminals waiting for their moment to become drug dealers. Poverty and crime feeds on itself with each new generation becoming more desperate to find a way to survive.

Through a combination of unlimited money being funneled to politicians for their campaigns and outright old fashioned bribery our elected leaders very rarely work for the people. In many ways I consider the 2010 Citizen United decision by the Supreme Court to be the fall of the American Republic. Yes, money is a form of free speech but to paraphrase George Orwell's, Animal Farm the amount of money available to a group or individual makes them significantly freer than the rest of the public. I find it funny and disingenuous as hell that Republicans like to point out how labor unions have “a lot of money” to influence elections suggesting they are a counterpoint to business groups and rich conservative individuals all the while working desperately to undermine their very existence.

I could go on about environmental issues, our crumbling infrastructure, student debt, the rabies-like gun violence sweeping the country, and many other issues that I feel Bernie understands needs to be addressed. But instead, and this will make some extremely angry, I'll just switch over to why I don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell being elected.

Bernie Sanders is a great and good man, the only problem is this is the real world and the senator from Vermont has made some choices in his life that I am sure teams of Republican strategists are working even now to exploit should he become the nominee.

First of all Bernie applied for and received conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Small potatoes you might say given that is essentially the ancient past. Yes, I totally agree and when you weigh in how such Republican stalwarts like Cheney, who received several deferments during those same years, I would say it's a none issue. The trouble is that most of the nebulous mass of the American public don't yet know this fact but you can bet carefully scripted political commercials have already been written portraying Bernie as a traitorous coward and unqualified to be Commander-in-chief.

The nasty truth is that the Republican party is chocked full craven little pissants that somehow never found their way into the military but yet are fully ready to send American troops off to some war. It will be blatantly hypocritical to point out Bernie's Vietnam era decision when they themselves never served, but for Democrats to ignore this point is to court disaster.

Another knee jerk reaction that is sure to cost a possible Sander's nomination dearly was his honeymoon to the old Soviet Union and his other trips to communist nations. A lot of Democrats have become numb to all the tired and false accusations that President Obama is secretly a socialist out to destroy America. But for Bernie they have is own words saying he is a “democratic socialist” and well as speeches he gave while visiting communist nations delighting in their society. For any Bernie supporter to discount this ample and politically damaging amount of ammo is to prove the point that many on the left live in another reality.

Truth of the matter is that despite the grievous economic injustices here in the United States that greater nebulous mass of Americans I mentioned earlier don't give a rip. They are all nice and cozy in their McMansion suburbs living off credit cards while getting fat and watching their two-hundred satellite channel televisions. The vast majority have never served in the military but have a skewed view that they are patriotic citizens and that anyone who rejected the military service is either a coward or unamerican. Their attitude about war is that of course America should bomb the living crap out of all those nasty people who hate our freedom but my son or daughter shouldn't serve since I don't want them to die. Fighting and dying for the United States is something other people's kids do, especially those poor folks who can't afford to send their children to college.

Like I said before, I'm sure this will piss off some people but should Bernie be nominated he would be defeated in such a landslide that it would make the beatings McGovern and Mondale got seem mild.

One thing that my fellow lefties like to parrot is that “choosing the lesser of two evils is still a choice for evil.” Yeah, but one thing these naive and yes, ignorant people fail to realize is that this is THE REAL WORLD! Good doesn't always win in the end and in fact true one-hundred percent good is a myth on par with the universe being six-thousand years old. Human civilization swims in an ocean of gray with the shades between white and black all relative. Countless times I have been called naive for stating a hope that at some point Homo sapiens pull their hairless primate heads out of their asses but if that ever occurs I will be long dead.

I wish like hell that the American public was mature enough to elect Bernie Sanders but in general they are a paranoid and scared bunch whose time at the top of the world mountain has created an idea that our shit doesn't stink. Truth always hurts but I see absolutely no evidence that a majority is ready for anything approaching the truth. Unlike the last two previous election cycles there was room for comedy when considering the Republicans running for the highest office in the United States, but not anymore. Everyone of them have the unbelievable idea of reinstating the policies of George W. Bush but strangely never mention his name.

So here comes the part where I continue to piss off my lefty friends, if I have any remaining, because I refuse to reject the possible in search of some unrealistic idea of perfection I will be voting for Hillary Clinton in both the South Carolina primary and more than likely the general election in November. If in fact Bernie gets the nomination, I will vote for him in the general election, but with no expectation he will win.