Sunday, May 29, 2005

Going to the vets

A few nifty anecdotes for Memorial Day

For Veteran's Day last year, I wrote a tribute to various members of my family who served in the military, both in wartime and in peacetime. This post expands on a few of their stories.

If you've stalked my Blogger profile (and, really, who hasn't?), then you might recognize at least half of the above picture. This was taken on Easter weekend 2005, when my cousins and their parents visited us from Arkansas. The guy towering over me is my first cousin Damon McGibboney, who had recently returned from a tour in Iraq. Since 2001, he had lived and trained in Germany with the 4-3 ADA, where he served as a Sergeant. You can see him on page eight of this newsletter working a security checkpoint in Tikrit.

Being that Damon was the first of many soldier friends and family that I have seen return from Iraq, I wasn't sure what to expect. He defused any trepidation right away by saying, "Hey man, I found your website. Good stuff!" We all had a good time partying for a few days at my place.

Concerning Iraq, two things he said really stuck with me: 1) "It's not bad there. The worst thing is that everybody smells like underarm" and 2) "We're not big Bush fans." He told us he was being honorably discharged in May. I hope it came to pass. May they all come home ASAP.

Another veteran who taught me much of what I know about World War II is my maternal grandfather, Henry Roberthon. I called him "Pop," and he lived next door. He gave up a four-year agriculture scholarship to voluntarily serve in the Navy Seabees in the Pacific theater. He walked the streets and highways of Nagasaki just days after the bombing, and witnessed firsthand the horror of a post-nuclear ghost town. He told me he saw people mutilated while the highways had not been affected at all. He also toured San Francisco, the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii.

His favorite war story was about a guy in his unit who could piss over a Quonset hut.

Henry Frank Roberthon Jr. (1921-1999)

He was discharged on New Year's Eve, 1945. He came home, met my grandmother in a bar, and they were married on March 3, 1946. They never looked back. He was a movie projectionist and later, a TV and radio repairman. His shop was built into his house and it was my playground. For decades, if someone needed a TV fixed in Lafayette, he was the man. I once saw him fix a TV I had broken five years before. At his kitchen table. In about five minutes. With a screwdriver. Eleven years after he had retired. Be all you can be? He was.

One of my most prized possessions is his Navy pullover, which he gave to me when I was 12. I actually wore it a couple of times, but knew that I'd never fit into it quite like he did. He also had a whole bevy of rifles from the period, and had a story for every one. One year, my younger cousin borrowed them for a social-studies-fair project on WWII and got first place. I always wondered how an elementary-school kid managed to bring rifles to a Catholic school and not only not get arrested, but get awarded in the process. Then again, the early 1990s were an innocent time.

Left: On the day of my high school graduation, 1998; Right: cutting a rug in March 1995

In 1998, he was going through his closet when he found a loose reel of undeveloped film. He remembered it to be from his Navy days, back when film came off a roll like toilet paper. He had taken a whole bunch of pictures but never got around to having them developed. On a hunch, he took it to Wal-Mart along with his most recent film. He explained his find and asked them if they could try to develop it. Sure enough, the film yielded numerous pictures--some off-center and all of them grainy, but compelling pictures nonetheless. The technicians were so awed by the results that they let him have them at no cost. I won't post them here, because I feel that they deserve a separate entry.

Pop succumbed to pancreatic cancer on February 7, 1999, having beat back a litany of injuries and maladies over the years. I miss him a lot. One of his buddies had a bumper sticker that said, "Love your freedom? Thank a vet." I never had to be reminded.

His wife of 53 years, my grandmother, had three brothers also serve in WWII. All three served in different capacities (at least one who was a fighter pilot, right) and all came home to live long and productive lives.

Left to right: Lennie "Big Ham" Hamilton (1908-1994); Billy Hamilton (1915-1980); John Harrell "Little Ham" Hamilton (1922-2002). Behind them is my childhood home, where I lived for my first 19 years. You can see the windows of my bedroom. I wasn't there at the time, though.

I'm sure that all of you know at least a few veterans and current soldiers. Wartime politics are always messy--now more than ever. Thus we must never forget about those doing the dirty work, because they are friends, family and (above all) human beings. Happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Blogger's Block

I'm suffering from writer's block.

Writer's block is the scourge of writers everywhere. Imagine going to work one day only to forget how to do your job. Imagine having to give the keynote speech at a political convention only to suffer a stroke once you get to the podium. Imagine sitting on a toilet, straining furiously, desperately needing to take that shit before your taxi arrives and starts honking. "You're on the clock!" So as you can see, writer's block is the bane of our existence. The antithesis of productivity. The opposite of writing.

What causes writer's block? Who knows? Despite its prevalence through the history of the written word, virtually no one has bothered to use their downtime to research the phenomenon. You think they would, for the sake of ending writer's block. But writers, by and large, are stupid. Instead of trying to better mankind (or at least themselves), authors would much rather write the next bestseller or (shudder) pulp novel. I mean, has anyone noticed the Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene are STILL churning out books? Goddamn, man. I think the Hardy Boys are Hardy Codgers at this point. And Nancy Drew's sagging all over her magnifying glass. Yet somehow, these books still continue to be written on a rapid basis!

Of course, there's a reason the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are ongoing series. It's because their mysteries continue to resonate with new generations. It's also because the teenage sleuths become hipper and hipper with every passing book (at least in a focus-group kind of way). Check out an old copy of "The Tower Treasure" (the first Hardy Boys book) and compare what the boys are wearing in the pictures to how they look in the latest paperback. Whereas they always looked like they were going to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the old books, now they look like extras from the set of "Saved By the Bell: The College Years."

Funny story: when I was nine, I became really obsessed with the Hardy Boys. How obsessed? I often read the books during class. I used them for all of my book reports and used all of my library privileges on them. Every Saturday I would go to my local B. Dalton and rip my mom off for a new book. I can still remember the popcorny smell that emanated from the new volumes. Orgasmic. Hell, they're the reason I got into writing in the first place. My first attempts at composition? A slightly derivative series of mystery novels collectively entitled "Ron's Mysteries," which centered around a detective named Ron Dreyfuss. He would go around solving mysteries in such places as graveyards and toy factories. His steed was his police car (which was modeled after a matchbox car I had, and got blown up in one book in favor of another toy cop car). I envisioned all of this being spun off into a TV series starring John Stamos.

Yes indeed, I was such a hardcore Hardy Boys fan that I even did my 4th-grade social-studies-fair project on the duo, called "Growing Up with the Hardy Boys." That's where I learned that the first eight books were written by some guy named Edward Stratemeyer, and that his daughter took over after he died. They then had to rewrite most of the originals, I think for racial reasons. Since then, any litany of nobodies has contributed to this classic canon. Apparently this is standard practice in the literary-franchise industry. While I always appreciate a good novel, it still astounds me how people will sell their creativity to an anonymous monolith just to write "Love's Lost Passion of the Musclebound Heart" for the sake of a few bucks. These writers should celebrate the fact that they are able to let the words flow, as opposed to myself, who currently has nothing to say.

My Mom's always saying to me, "Ian, you need to write the next Harry Potter." Of course, what she's really saying is, "Ian, I want you to write the latest hot literary franchise so I can buy a new car and get a hot tub with jets." Hey, I am as big a fan as anybody of bestselling series. But writing is a fickle thing, not subject to the same deadlines as the quarterly earnings report. Inspiration comes out in bits and spurts, which is probably not the best analogy. Composing text can feel pretty damn awesome, but too much writing at one time can really make you tired. Okay, so maybe that was an appropriate analogy.

But what my Mom (and most other people) miss is that my style of writing is not necessarily conducive to the literature section. I am a political commentator, making my writer's block all the more pathetic. As the late Lewis Grizzard so succinctly put it: "It's easy being a columnist! There's so much news!" For example, if I chose to do so, I could write about the recent Republican attempt to pass the filibuster-buster. You'd think that the GOP's attempt to change age-old Senatorial rules for their own petty partisan purposes would spark an essay on why they are such temperamental, self-serving, arrogant, revisionist, bitter, cranky lockstep blowhards. If only I could find the right words to describe that. Things are bad when I can't even write about George W. Bush, who got into the president's chair unfairly and has since shown what an incompetent, one-track bully he is by squandering the entire world's support into two questionable quagmires at the costs of millions of jobs and thousands of lives. And yet I can't think of a single thing to say about that. How sad.

I'll write about those things when my muse returns once again. Perhaps some other day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

God bless you! Here's a hanky

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to receive a special letter from God himself. How wonderful to be counted among the faithful, along with everyone else in Lafayette! So how do I know that these nice folks are specifically targeting good old Ian? Well, for one, their greeting speaks volumes:

Dear...Someone Connected with This House,

And who else but God would know that I live at my house? I'm sold.

The prayer group acting on God's divine mandate is St. Matthew's Church, which is (like everything else that is sane) based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Keen-eyed customers will notice that the mailer actually comes from the zipcode 52641, which is Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. They must have a church bus or something.

St. Matthew's is a non-prophet church established in 1951, a fact trumpeted over and over in the letter to lend gravitas (which should tell you something). New commandment: Thou shalt not lend credence to a church born the same year as Rush Limbaugh.

The thrust of the letter is that the parishioners of St. Matthew's have been on their collective knees, fellating God in order to bring glad tidings unto McGibboney Manor. The Holy Spirit's answer to their quandary was that I needed a flimsy paper snotrag:

Here, let me read what God's Holy Word says about these Bible handkerchiefs: "And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick H-A-N-D-K-E-R-C-H-I-E-F-S or aprons..." ACTS 19:11,12.

Thanks for the spelling lesson, folks. I value that quality in people who make the elementary-level "whose/who's" error right there on the envelope:

But I digress. The catch is that God can only do so much without that damn "cloth," so I have to lay it out in the closest Bible overnight to simmer, then write my name and related info on it and return it with the enclosed checklist. Seems like an innocuous process until you see just how startlingly an inscribed prayer cloth resembles an automobile title:

It's almost enough to question their real motivations. That is, of course, until you read over their checklist and you realize that there's no direct plea for money. That's right! Nowhere on any of the material does it ever ask you for money. Yes, it does have a glaringly long blank for a donation amount at the bottom of the checklist; but with the potential for blessings such as those excerpted below, who wouldn't fork over at least a small tithe?

Pray for my family and me for...
( ) A Closer Walk with Jesus
( ) To Be Saved.
( ) Our Family Member's Health
( ) Confusion In My Home
( ) A Money Blessing
( ) Pray for God to bless me with this amount of money: $_______

I don't know about you, but I'm going with confusion in my home. Only seems fair.

Just in case you aren't dying to sell your soul to the saved at this point, an additional insert (made of the same material as the "cloth") offers Stirring Testimonials to the power of positive thinking and anointed cloth:

My son was in jail...God made a way for my son to come back home with us.

Ah, the miracle of bail!

My son-in-law got off dope...

Religion is a cheaper opiate. Sometimes.

God touched my daughter's body. She had been off work nearly two years...

After that, she no doubt turned tricks with the best of them.

After reading these and equally gripping corruptions of cause-and-effect, I'm so pumped about this prayer-cloth thing! In fact, I wish I was sick like this guy right now! Then I would know that Jesus loves me:

Some final suggestions for those of you who wish to feel true spiritual satisfaction through the miracle of papyrus:

1) Send the swag back with everything checked, along with a few extra handwritten needs: random stuff like "a new bicycle pump," "a Marilyn Manson CD" and "more letters like this." And ask them why they need the prayer kerchief back when all they had to do was keep it to begin with. And do all this without sending a donation. Hey, it's not like they asked for it! And like the Bible, this checklist should be taken literally, with no room for interpretation.

2) Make up and send back similar blessings of your own creation. Make up your own cult (selective Bible-passage quoting a plus!) and try to sell them on it. Send a tissue for good measure. Tell them it's an anointed cloth that, in mixed company, will magically result in a "God bless you" if used during a sneeze.

Do all of this and you will be a true child of the cloth! Amen.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The first day of the rest of my life

Yesterday was my latest graduation. I now officially possess a master's degree, and can now actually use the rental-car coupons they gave me both times I graduated. Ah, the perks of being 25!

But if I am to believe what every teacher I had from preschool on up said, then I just finished the best years of my life. Holy shit.

Time to get married. Just kidding.

I need help. And brakes. A job with benefits would be really nice too.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Pope my ride!

Today is my birthday. I am 25 years old. A man, technically.

Me on 5/8/85

You might wonder if I feel old. Depends on the situation, really. In college, 25 is an odd age, because you're far older than most undergraduates; among grad students and that dreaded Real World, however, 25 is fresh meat.

There are so many ways to see 25: a young age, a quarter-century, a quarter, two years before the prime rock-star flameout age, etc. It can be seen as both young and old. If properly taken care of, a 25-year-old man can be a very healthy specimen, as I try to be. If properly taken care of, a 25-year-old car is still old. It's all in the perspective, I suppose.

Speaking of old men, cars and what defines "old," I learned that the Pope's car recently sold on eBay for $244,800. The car is Joseph Ratzinger's 1999 Volkswagen Golf, which Reuters inexplicably describes as "old." Maybe I'm being the poor bastard here, but 1999 isn't exactly old to me. The truck I drive is a 1993, which I bought the same month that Ratzinger bought his new car (March 1999). Fading paint and inexplicable squeaks aside, I don't consider my truck old. Yet many people I know think a 2002 car is ancient. Hell, I graduated from college in 2002, and my newspaper clipping of the event isn't even yellow! But I digress.

The manual car has 75,000 kms (47,000 miles) on the clock, air conditioning, anti-theft equipment and alarms.

It was first registered in March 1999 to Joseph Ratzinger, a Cardinal from Germany before becoming Pope Benedict even though it is unclear whether Ratzinger ever had a driver's license.

Do Vatican officials not need driver's licenses? It seems like I have to show mine for every little transaction I make! Man, those zany Vatican Catholics get away with everything, don't they?

I hope Ratzinger/Benedict XVI does have a driver's license. I'm what you could call a driver's license collector; I have several expired ones from myself as well as from family members, both living and dead. I also try to scope out copies of celebrity licenses, though genuine ones are hard to come by. However, I have come across Tupac's and Liberace's, as well as the license of the underrated jazz great Professor Longhair. For obvious reasons, I generally steer clear of valid ones or those that otherwise show current addresses and other identifying information. Unless I can find them, heh heh...

I like to see leaders and famous people drive, because it's one of those activities that normalizes them. Cindy Crawford drives. Al Gore drives. Dubya drives. Even Kurt Cobain drove a Lexus. Sure, their cars might kick ass (and they might consider 2004 "old"), but there's still poetic justice in knowing that the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI once drove a manual Volkswagen Golf. I can connect with that more than I can connect with his hard-right views or his opulent palaces.

Halbe has been quoted in newspapers as saying the dealer told him the car had a "heavenly ride."

Halbe included a copy of the registration in the auction that showed the car belonged to "Josef Kardinal Ratzinger" and had registration plate: "CD 140 XG." The address was listed as "Citta del Vaticano."

I also collect license plates, and envy (sorry, Pope!) whoever ends up with his license plate, CD 140 XG. Now THAT would be an awesome birthday present! (Hint, hint...) Short of that, I'll just settle for a new car. See that? I'm flexible.

Oh, and Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!