Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm a liar

by 11 Foxtrot

To anyone who still stops by, I'm sorry. I guess you could say I'm not much of a blogger. I think that might be the reason I never post anything. I say I'm busy and for awhile it was true. I was roofing people's houses. After we'd get off work we'd head to the lake and swim and fish. Sometimes We'd head out to my friends land and shoot old couches people gave us. One thing I did do Is video document them, I don't know if I should put them on here because of what some of them contain. When we weren't swimming, fishing or shooting we'd listen for our tones to go off so we could go save people. The group of guys I work with and I are all volunteer fire fighters in the town we live in. I slacked off on the whole school thing, now I'm crunching time to apply for the post 9/11 GI bill and register for classes. Things wouldn't be that bad if I hadn't just had back surgery. I can't lift anything over a fucking milk jug. For those of you that know things about me, you know i'm pulling out my hair.
The closer school gets the more apprehensive I get. I have no idea what I want to do, I'm in a place I really don't care for and I really don't know If I want to do it anymore. Homework, research, MATH...fucking math, that means tutors, students 6yrs younger than me talking to me like I'm a fucking idiot. Awesome, I look foward to discusions where these lil punk ass high school remembrants speak about things they have no fucking clue about. I can't wait to sit in class with my OD Green Assault pack, my respect and my lack of respect for those kids that have those wood things in their ears the size of a fucking half dollar...awesome.
Stoploss, I gotta tell ya, those damn rifles we toted around for so long, the ones that you could clean for 4days straight before a board and the SMG could still find carbon on them, you know the ones that we all hated and thought were for the most part useless...I broke down and bought one. It's bad ass.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Serene would be nice

by 13 Stoploss

When I got home from my backpacking trip, there was a message for me on the answering machine. It was from the transcript and records department at my Community College. Said they needed me to call them back. The lady on the message had a thick accent, and spoke with an unintelligible confidence. The message was generic, and imparted in me no hint of urgency.

Naturally, I called back, a few days late, thinking it was about something innocent like picking up my Associates Degree diploma or transfer certificate.

No one answered, so I left a message.

The next day, I received a call from the same woman who had earlier left a message. Her name was something or another, and she seemed to have no clue that an ignorant white guy on the other end had no idea why she was calling.

Turns out that my records are incomplete. They were having trouble getting the course description of my English Composition I class from the online University I attended in the Army. Said she needed this to make sure that it was transferrable to their program. Shocked, and horrified, I told her that this process was completed more than eighteen months ago, before I ever took my first class at the school. Besides, I said, I wouldn’t have been able to take Writing 2 at this school without that authorization, and right there in front of her was the “A” I received for taking Writing 2.

She said she saw the authorization from the same University for the History class I took, but there was nothing for the English class…

Great. I’m sure she sensed my frustration at her institutions having lost my very important paperwork. I kindly, but urgently explained to her that this would definitely have an adverse effect on my transfer to the big University, and that if there was an error, this kind of paperwork should have bee corrected back in May. Not fucking July, and well after the time my official transcripts were due at the big University.

She apologized, and explained that it was her first week on the job.

Dumbing down my anger, I asked her whether she worked on the bottom floor, or the second floor. She said first; then I told her that my files with the counselors on the second floor were complete, and it was those counselors who had previously completed the course descriptions and applying and certifying them to this school’s requirements. Told her I saw them recently, when I applied for the transfer certificate to the big University, which I thought had been completed in May.

She apologized again, and said she’d check with the counselors upstairs, then copied down my phone number and promised to call back. That was Thursday.

She never called back; my counseling session with the big University was on Monday, and I now knew that my transcripts were incomplete, and that it would effect my standing in being able to enroll in classes for the Fall.

It’s like I was reliving something else that was once important to me…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Second Opinion

by The Usual Suspect

I finally began the long hard road of Veterans Affairs interaction. Re-opened a claim I started before I got out.

The lady I saw was very nice, very helpful, sweetly civilian and seemed to be genuinely concerned with helping out a former Joe. I handed her the necessary paperwork and answered her questions while she made phone calls on my behalf and fought with her printer. She brought up my old claim on the computer, and as we talked, she became more agitated with the original, rejected claim.

"Adjustment disorder with depressed mood, general anxiety, and panic attacks... WHY didn't they classify this as PTSD?"

"I dunno," I told her. "I guess it wasn't enough to warrant PTSD."

She seemed to think that was pretty ridiculous. I told her that a PTSD diagnosis makes it hard to deploy a soldier. She set me up with the VA's healthcare and gave me a couple of phone numbers for the headshrinkers. Bless her heart. I get the feeling that she isn't plotting against me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Way Of The Gun

by The Usual Suspect

One thing that still sticks with me is my distrust of people around me, and the diminished sense of safety that comes with it. I see malice in people that are probably very nice once you start talking to them. I see car thieves and muggers. I see psychotic drivers of large gas-hogs that will turn a road-rage altercation into a Mad Max death run. I've stepped into a wasteland that only I can see.

So I did what I've wanted to do since I first got back. I bought a gun.

I haven't fired it yet, and still haven't even applied for a concealed carry permit. I hardly ever put it in the car when I go somewhere, and it's never actually on me. But it's a little peace of mind.

For fourteen months I was always armed. Everywhere I went. It was within arms reach when I slept. It followed me to the shitter. To the laundry point. The PX. The chow hall. The phones. The motor pool. Always on me. Out in sector, it was always ready. No matter what happened, I had that rifle. I had what I needed to give myself a fighting chance.

Once that was gone, I felt like a walking bullseye.

For most people, just the sight of a handgun is enough to make them think twice. I think everyone should be armed. See how many college kids someone can massacre when the students return fire. Guns are for people who don't assume that nothing bad can happen or that there will always be someone to bail you out. Levels the playing field. Peace through superior arms, just like that novelty t-shirt.

People fear guns. The thought is almost something to gasp at. Walk around your house and start counting all the objects in it that you could use to kill someone. Quite a bit huh? But the word "gun" tightens the sphincters of the general populace.

The upside is that most people are generally good, non-violent, and just like you, they just want to do their things. Get to where they're going. I just don't think I'll ever stop looking for the small percentage that isn't so passive. You need to be able to protect yourself.

Then again, my trunk is full of first aid and survival gear, to include surgical bandages and a tourniquet, so maybe I need to lighten up. Bullshit. Better to be prepared and untested than caught with your pants down. We're domesticated over here. We send the young men elsewhere to become a little more animalistic. There is a degree of isolation to being a vet it seems.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Barf Me Out, Gag Me with a Spoon!

by 13 Stoploss

Going back to school can be a bit overwhelming. I’m not the most assertive guy around, and I had a good bit of help from the Missus in dealing with the Bureaucracy. You see, after registering with a school, you have to take all sorts of placement tests. These don’t really measure real world stuff, and they don’t score you any higher or favorably for carrying a loaded M4 around in some other desert country.

When I registered, I wasn’t yet going back to school full time, but instead, played it smart by wanting to enroll in an online class. Just one or two a semester, however many I could table while working full time, until I could go back to school full time.

Well, they made me take these tests with a bunch of stoner high school kids who all talked like they were either baked, or from the valley. These were the kids without ambition, who didn’t apply to any colleges, and didn’t care about grades in High School.

I remember there was this slacker in front of me, and this cute, young girl in front of him. He was bronzed, with wavy, sandy hair, and held a pencil in one hand, and a skateboard in the other. The girl in front was keeping to herself, busied by a cell phone, and trying not to attract the attention of every guy in room, because she was, like, soo hawt.

The skater asks her in that faded drawl, “Hey, what test are you taking?”

“Uhm, like, just the math one.”

“Oh—no way. Me too.”

“I totally shouldn’t have to be here. I got, like, a C in Algebra 2 last semester.”

“Oh—no way. That totally blows. What school did you go to?”

“Uhm, just like, ________________ High School.”

“Oh—no way, me too! So, like, do you know ___________?”

“I think so. Is she, like, friends with ________________?”

“Oh, yeah, I know that dude. Is he still dating _______________?”

“I dunno. I think they like, broke up.”

“Oh—no way. So, like… what are you doing tonight?”

“Uhm, I dunno, prolly, just like, hanging out.”

“Oh… you want to go to a party?”

“Uhm, sure. Okay. Do you drive?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a Wrangler. What’s your number?”

And so it goes.

They sat next to each other, and I struggled to contain my amazement. I tore through both the English and Math placement tests before they both finished the Math. It was just a formality for me as I had already taken the Writing 1 equivalent, and only answered half the Math questions.

Sometime later, I received my results, and enrolled in a Political Science class online. The placement recommended I take some basic Math classes, and that I start with Writing 1.

By the time I was ready to enroll full time, I had switched to the other campus in the school system. It was closer to home, nicer, and according to some peer reviews, was the better institution. When that Canadian asshole CEO guy fired me for reporting to my National Guard duty, he did say one thing in the phone conversation that I won’t forget, and that was that I didn’t need to be in a job like that. He said he was actually doing me a favor.

So it goes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bishop Pass, California (now more Photoshopped!)

by 13 Stoploss

It was my great idea to begin with. I had tired of hearing the wonderfully miserable, but good time everyone had on the last backpacking trip while I was still in the Army. That was several years ago, and back when neither my wife, nor her sister, was pregnant.

We were all sitting around for the after-dinner chat—pick a Sunday—it comes up often enough, when I suggested the guys do our own trip before the pregnant women’s give birth, who, ironically, are due the same day. Steve took to the idea immediately—there were some areas of the Sierra’s he’d been meaning to explore. Kevin was a little more hesitant. He liked the idea, but between his farm in the middle of Orange freaking County, and worrying about the coming baby, it would be a last minute decision for him.

After a few weeks, Steve narrowed the locations down to two places. Since neither of us had done anything active in the last year, we didn’t want to climb 2000 feet in the space of three miles. We kept coming back to the idea of Bishop Pass, just outside Bishop, and south of Mammoth. By map, and terrain, it seemed like a nice loop that passed through a half dozen lakes, and only ascended about 1000 feet the whole loop.

Both of the women’s are due August 2. Steve and I planned to go right after Independence Day, the earliest his work schedule would allow him some time off before getting too close to delivery time. Kevin literally decided the night before.

The drive was smooth, and quick. I read a magazine in the passenger seat, perfecting the right-arm sunburn, while Steve and his dog Sierra splayed across the cramped backseat. Kevin drove, occasionally smirking and commenting on the ridiculous.

We had lunch in Lone Pine, stopping at some Ma and Pa CafĂ© joint on the 395 run by a few women who knew the names of the locals that probably had reserved seats. Looking around, it seemed the place was trying not hard enough to be antiquish. There were old signs on the walls, as well as a telephone with a dial and a mounted speakerphone. The previous area code, no doubt where the phone was last purchased from, was an OC’ish 714. The restroom was scribbled with links to infowars.com, and then with irate commentators on the ridiculosity of those advocating the war on your mind. The “freedom fries” were freshly skinned potatoes, and that’s about all you need to know.

It was ninety-six degrees in Bishop. Before leaving, I scoured the web for some information on Bishop Pass, and had found some hiking chat website that was very recent. So recent, in fact, that the poster had just passed through the pass only two weeks prior. His photos didn’t look so good—snow on the ground, dark skies, scary words. That wasn’t the easy-going backpacking trip I had imagined, but nonetheless, could make for some dramatic photo opportunities…

We drove to around ten-thousand feet, and parked just above the wooden dam at South Lake. The lake was deep and blue the way children color water with Crayola. The glaciers were set deep into the shadowy crevices of the towering, angular, behemoth peaks of the Bishop Pass. They were small, but numerous, and as white as the dress your de-flowered sister wanted for her wedding in the family church. Yeah, there was something beautiful about them at the surface from a distance, but also a forewarning about the mysterious and awesome power that could potentially be unleashed, even in the middle of the summer.

In the parking lot, we popped the tailgate, pulled out our bags, and began the reshuffle. This joker slipped off his flip-flops and busted out the ol’ tan Altama’s with matching green socks. Okay, I confess: while Steve and Kevin had all the nice gear, I wore my old DCU top—it’s light, breathes well in heat, unlike your mom, and it has a screaming chicken combat patch and Air Assault badge. That counts for something, right?

Couple months ago, I bought a new REI Mars 85 backpack. As a forced-ruck fan of the old ALICE pack (fuck the MOLLE), this thing felt like the difference between the backseat of the Camaro you lost your virginity in, and a new Maserati Quattroporte Sport you’d happily get busted by an undercover cop for buying a BJ in. I had my three liters of water tucked neatly inside, some extra DCU pants (I did have some nice REI hiking pants that I wore), a tent, a sleeping bag, mattress pad, long underwear, an extra pair of green socks (as a Californian, it is required to swear off socks for 3/4ths of the year, thus, why Army green socks are what fill my drawer), a bear canister filled with CLIF bars, six ounces of rum in a stainless steel flask, my Bronica and Holga film cameras, tripod, and nine rolls of film. If it were the Army, I’d have thrown in an extra fifteen pounds of worthless shit like an E-Tool, two miles of 550 Cord, and your Squad Leaders porn stash he didn’t have room for in his own ruck.

We set off knowing we wouldn’t get far before the sun would hide behind the mountainous peaks in front of us. The lake was shimmering in the sun. I stared at it, imagining it as a B/W photograph—how the shimmers would like formless and white, set against the sea of near black. Lighting was not yet great—I had to be patient, and wait for the moment when light was best.

The trail was easily marked, and as worn as your favorite sneakers, or ex-girlfriend. The forest rose above the trail with trees scattered as if tossed like seed from a sack. The leaves were green, the water was blue, and the sky was cloudless and pure, itself sparkling above the jagged points of each peak in the distance.

It was roughly a mile before we decided it was best to settle down for the night. Steve and Kevin needed to pump water, and I recounted that the difference between an Infantryman and a Fister is that the grunt will come back to camp in the wee hours of the morning, exhausted, rained on and soaked to prepare his sleep space, while the Fister, at the very first instant, before playing bang-bang in the forest, will set up his hooch and ruck before it gets dark, stupid.

In my bustling spurt of energy, I ran off the trail, and found a nice flat spot that had apparently been camped on many previous times. Tents were set, water was boiled, and freeze-dried Teriyaki Chicken and Rice was devoured.

The mosquitoes were unbearable. It was still warm, and to flee them, I retired to the tent, the only place they weren’t, for the remainder of the night. My eyes were burning, and I was exhausted, but awake. At home, I’d simply have a glass of wine or a few ounces of rum to mellow into sleep. I decided not to open the flask, and instead tossed and turned for five hours, before sleeping the next five only intermittently.

When I realized I could no longer sleep, and it was light out, I sat up and pondered what a shitty night it had been, and how no hangover was ever as bad as I had felt then. My eyes still burned, and watered. My sinuses were clogged, and my nose plugged with black. I drank some water, drained my nose, and booted up. Outside the tent, the mosquitoes had gone all 1987’d Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez on my ass. With my net on, I stepped out and boiled some water, French-pressed my freshly ground (the morning before), organic, fair trade coffee, and everything began to settle back down. I was in God’s backyard, or mine, whatever the difference. It was fucking gorgeous out there, and my Iraqi-stained boots were going to trample it all!

If there’s anything worse than Another Stakeout, and Rosie O’Donnell, it’s Mosquitoes. They were everywhere, glued to us like stink on shit, hot on Bar Rafaeli, and idiocy to the current and recent Republican party. I just wanted to say to them, “I’m not your food!” And I wanted them to say to me, in a perfectly gentlemanly English accent, “Sorry chap, we mistook you for a bloody bear or merry marmot. Our bad. Cherrio!” And that would be that.

The hike was incredible. There were several times when I stopped at a specific place, set up the tripod, made an incident light reading, and composed for photo. Usually, Steve and Kevin kept walking, leaving me to easily catch back up to them, which was never a problem. Up and down we trudged, over rocks and sticks and horseshit. Hills we climbed, meadows we traversed, creeks we crossed, and memories we made. It was good times for all, except that our five-day plan was finished by suppertime Tuesday. D’oh!

Too worn out to hike a different route, and too tempted to go down the hill and call the pregnant women’s, we decided to leave, and camp for the night in a simple campground with services, and leisurely leave in the morning. My feelings weren’t hurt that we did what we aspired and finished early, only that I had another seven rolls of unexposed film.

I didn’t sleep well the second night either, and the Beef Stew I had been eagerly anticipating was utter crap. The mosquitoes didn’t seem to follow us down the hill; we set up camp, and went to bed. This time, with a few sips of Mount Gay’s finest, and an extra pillow left in the truck. Didn’t much help, but at least I was more comfortable than the night before.

Wednesday morning, I woke up much the way I had Tuesday. I felt like shit, and my body was screaming for caffeine. Breakfast was a fudge brownie CLIF bar before packing up, and driving away.

On the way down, we visited Manzanar, one of the original Japanese Relocation Centers during World War II. I took many photos, saw the gardens, monuments, and a video; I left thinking that our government has come dangerously close to repeating the same constitution-shoving-aside mistakes it made then.

The drive home was quiet and sunny. I read some more; my right-arm sunburn sunburned some more. The perfectly blue and cloudless sky of the two previous days had now turned into an early morning pattern of perfectly placed parallel and perpendicular lines criss-crossing the expansive checkerboard sky. The con-trails of jets flying overhead didn’t evaporate—instead, they expanded into a muddy blanket of synthetic cloud cover from Lone Pine to Orange County.

At home, all was well. I showered, checked my email, noticed the Angels lost, and lost Vlad and Torii, then ran off to the photo store to pick up some more developer. Late last night, I developed two rolls to devastating effect—both were severely A) underexposed, or B) under-developed. Two rolls ruined, one not yet developed, one still in the Holga, and one color roll still in the Bronica. The light meter is spot on, so it must be under-developed. Of the two rolls, not a single frame is unharmed. Of the two rolls, only a few photos are almost viewable... development issues abound.

Maybe next time we'll plan for more than four miles. Maybe next time I can avoid LOSING seven (7) pounds in two (2) days. Maybe next time I'll have this Red #25 figured out. Maybe I'll also even have a bathroom that locks so unsuspecting three-year olds don't walk in needing to pee really badly while I'm loading film and yelling for the door to stay closed over the crying of said three-year old's needing to pee really badly.


As soon as I got home, I took a shower, and ran to the photo store to buy more B/W photo developer. Two hours had passed before I was able to mix my solutions, and I had done so over a glass of wine, while being interrupted for conversation. I am now 100% certain that my dilutions were not diluted enough--the first development error I have ever made--on the four rolls I travelled the furthest to take. So, everything ended up being waaay overdeveloped. Good news is that the color rolls, developed by my photo store, turned out beautifully.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Daddy Turbo Wagon

I'm going hiking tomorrow. I'll be back sometime on Friday. In the meantime, I wanted to share a video clip I took tonight. I'm sure many of you don't care, but for me, not much is cooler than having an all-wheel drive station wagon that is as quick as a Corvette, in a straight line, and on a race track (with all the suspension upgrades I have). For those in the know, it has an STi VF39 turbo, STI top mount intercooler, injectors, upgraded fuel pump, full 3" exhaust, perrin up-pipe, cobb short ram intake, and a cobb V1 accessport, tuned by Harman Motive. Peak numbers are 258 whp and 247 wtq.

Specifically, I'm going to Bishop Pass on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I doubt we'll be under 10,000 feet, and the temperatures have recently been in the 50's at day, and 30's at night. Let's hope it stays cool enough for comfort and to keep the 'skeeters away. As always, I'll have a plethora of photos to share when I get back.