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Monday, December 24, 2012

Bob's Christmas Surprise

Christmas Eve greetings,

This slightly more adult tale has been waiting to be told for exactly 36 years and here it is. 

The names have been changed because the participants are still living and I don't wish to be sued. This was 1976 and I would not be married to Anna for another twenty years yet, so don't make that error. Other than that, this is a true tale of a wild Christmas Eve in Anchorage, Alaska when life was fast and crazy. Enjoy!



Bob’s Christmas Surprise
It was Christmas time in 1976 and we were preparing for the big day and the inevitable parties that we were famous for holding. The Fort Richardson, Alaska’s Army base was a pleasant enough place and spirits were running high among our tight-knit group of air traffic controllers; we really were a big unrelated family.

My second in command (on my crew) was a college educated, older than average (older than me) man, who had just recently joined the Army. Bob had spent years touring with jazz great Chick Corea as his bass guitar player, living the wild life associated with music groups on the road. That lifestyle had provided him with periods of modest wealth and times where he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from.

His first wife had been excited early on by the fame and wealth, but quickly grew jealous and distrustful and while Bob was on tour in Germany, filed for divorce. Unable to leave the tour, he was not there to defend himself and got taken to the cleaners losing his house, everything in his joint bank accounts and most of his possessions. The only tangible asset that remained was his Cadillac Seville, because his wife hated the car. He says it was because she couldn’t park it... personally I think it had more to do with the purple paint job.

While in Germany, Bob met an American girl from Chicago named Heidi who had just completed her college degree and was visiting the town her grandparents had immigrated from. Heidi was a cousin of the club owner and to be nice to his American relative, he introduced her to the band. In college she had majored in English but had a minor in music. She and Bob had a long conversation about classical music’s influence on modern jazz after the performance that night. The band moved on to the next city the next day and Heidi finished her vacation and went back to Chicago; life went on for everyone.

Upon returning from the European tour, Bob was informed that the band would be taking a four month (at least) hiatus, which meant he had no job and nothing to do since he was now single and homeless. His ex-wife had put his car in storage in New Jersey, so after he picked it up and found all of his clothes stuffed inside of it, he decided on a whim to drive to Chicago to look up the girl that he couldn’t get out of his mind.

He found her right away, they hit it off really well, and in a few short weeks they got married. Bob tried playing with house bands in Chicago while they waited for teaching jobs to materialize for both of them (Bob had a degree in music) but it was going to take months as there were no openings. Living with her parents was not working out too well as they didn’t consider being a musician a “decent” profession and told them so.

When Heidi became pregnant, they made a choice to get away from her parents and the sure harassment that was coming. Bob joined the army under a program that let him come in at an E-5 pay grade and have medical benefits for his wife and their baby on the way.

Fort Richardson, Alaska was his first assignment out of air traffic control school and they were happy to be far away from their old life. Heidi was enjoying being the queen of her own house and no longer being told how to live her life. Our air traffic controller family had made them welcome and life was good for everyone.

Heidi was an only child who had been brought up by career professional, ultra organized, clean freak parents who had her late in life. She wasn’t allowed to get dirty, or play outside, growing up in a condo in an upper crust area of Chicago. Life was controlled and sterile until she broke free and moved to Alaska.

A couple of months went by and their baby girl Estelle was born and there was joy and cigars all around, but something was still missing.

There was one thing in life that she had always wanted and never thought that she would have. She confessed it to Bob one night as they sat in their living room looking out at the northern lights dancing across the sky. He was determined to give it to her for Christmas and just as dedicated to keeping it a secret from “H.” Therein lay the problem for yours truly, his best friend.

Bob was a secret keeping conspirator straight out of a James Bond movie, he wouldn’t tell any of us what the big surprise was, even me, from whom he had extracted a promise of help to pull off this big coup. There were several hushed telephone calls from the tower (he didn’t dare call from home) on the evening shift to make arrangements, after which he would giggle like a deranged lunatic for several minutes.

I began to wonder if it was something illegal that he was having smuggled in by rogue Russians who would land a zodiac on the shoreline and we would sneak down there all dressed in black at midnight to pick up. No, that couldn’t be it; “H” didn’t like caviar, calling it stinky fish bait when we put some out at a party. Strangely enough, I did get that stuff from Russian friends who I knew, but it definitely wasn’t smuggled. That would have been cheaper! I was at a loss as to what he was doing and what I had gotten into by agreeing to help without knowing the details.

Three days before Christmas, Bob asked to take off from work to go meet someone and pay half of the money to hold the item he was getting for his wife. I was too busy to hold his feet to the fire about what it was and against my better judgment let him go for an hour to take care of business.

We were slammed with traffic working an operation that was a surprise to everyone. The base executive officer, (who was the acting officer-in-charge due to the commanding officer being in Washington state for the holidays), had stuck his neck out for the troops and was bringing everyone home early from field training exercises that the C.O. had sent them on. The original plan had the troops coming back in stages during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The X.O. decided that this plan was not in the best interest of troop morale (we all agreed) and ordered that the entire division be brought home in time to be with their families and friends on Christmas.

In a rare diplomatic moment, the enlisted men were given the choice of how the division was to return to base and they decided that those with families would be flown back by helicopter, and those who lived in the barracks would drive the trucks back.

I was proud to be a part of such a great humanitarian action, but at the time I was talking as fast as my lips would move and wishing that I had more space on the ramps to put aircraft. As it was, we worked well past closing time and into the small hours of the morning recovering aircraft and happy soldiers.

So there we were on Christmas Eve day, hauling in supplies for the party at my house (a three level unit in an 8-plex base housing structure) and trying to get all of the food and drink ready. Bob was helping me unload the cases of beer and alcohol from the base “class six” (liquor) store. As we carried them inside the scoundrel was giggling like a man possessed. I still did not know what he was giving Heidi that I had to help with. I told him that time was running out; he just giggled more.

The day shift crew that normally worked 06:00 to 14:00 was closing the tower down at 18:00 (6 p.m.) so that no one else had to come in to work, as their gift to the rest of us. After they shut down they would be coming to my house along with their families and nearly everyone else. It was going to be really busy soon.

Finally, Bob tells me that he has called the lady who has the “gift” and will be picking it up right after he drops Heidi and the baby off at my house so that he can get this “thing” and take it to their house and thus make it a great big surprise.

“OK,” I thought, this was a pretty good plan and it looked like all I had to do was keep “H” busy while Bob made his run. I could do this and we would all get through it looking like good husbands and everyone would be happy.

It was now 6:30 p.m. and I had a house full of guests and more coming, when Bob pulled up without Heidi and the baby. I went out to the car and Bob told me that the baby was crying and Heidi wasn’t sure that it would be a good idea to bring her to the party and disturb everyone and she was at home crying too.

He was beside himself with stress over his big surprise and how it would never work unless he could get her out of the house and what was going to do now, etc. I went back into the house, told my wife what was going on and asked her and one of my female soldiers who knows kids (she has seven younger siblings) to take my International Scout to Bob’s house and get “H” and the baby and bring them to our house. It began snowing like the white Christmas that everyone wanted.

Bob then popped the next surprise on me, the location had changed and he wasn’t familiar with the area of town that his pick up was in; he needed me to go with him. I finally had the leverage I needed and told him that we were not going anywhere, especially in a snow storm on Christmas Eve, unless he told me what we were picking up.

“A little baby puppy,” were his exact words, and I could have smacked him for keeping that such a big secret from me for so long. He told me the address that he needed to go to and he was right. He would never find it. The streets in that rundown section of Anchorage were not laid out in a logical fashion and many didn’t even have proper street signs. This was a part of town that didn’t have police patrols, it had responses… I had to go with him.

Bob had long since retired the purple caddy and bought a Toyota which was great for a family car and got twice the miles per gallon that the old battleship got, but I had no idea how well it handled on ice and snow. My friend drove, shall we say, haphazardly, often not looking in front of him while he talked to his passengers and looked around. It was so disconcerting that I understood why Heidi drove most of the time. We bombed through the base at such a rate of speed that I was amazed that we weren’t pulled over before we got through the front gate. Out onto the main highway to town and it was getting slick and hard to see. I was wishing that we had sent the girls in Bob’s car and we had taken the Scout, but that option was gone.

Once in town we navigated slowly (finally) through the neighborhoods as I struggled to find the landmarks to make the correct turns and get down what I remembered was a dead end street that was very narrow and slightly downhill. That last tidbit of information is important when you are in a two-wheel drive vehicle with no weight. This had gotten ugly, especially since it was dark and below zero outside.

We located the house in question and it looked like a very bad place to be without armed back up. There was a loud, drunken card game going on in the front room, being played by the largest five men I had ever seen. As I peered through the front plate glass window I could see handguns. Whoa, what kind of Christmas Eve party was this?

A large and unpleasant smelling woman, who looked and sounded like Ma Kettle’s twin (for those of you old enough to know who I mean), opened the front door and asked, “What the Hell do you as&&oles (gentlemen) want?”

Bob was unfazed and stepped forward smiling at her and identified himself and informed her that he has been doing “business” with her daughter. That could have been interpreted in a way that would have brought the gun toting men on the run.

I was ready to jump back in the still running car and drive us out of there after that last comment, but she just stared at him and asked, “Do you have the rest of my money?”

He said, “I do, but I want to see the goods first.”

I had the feeling that I was in the middle of a drug buy and that Bob had reverted to the old days of high living on the road. He HAD told us those stories as we worked long, quiet shifts on dark winter nights.

Ma Kettle said, “Go around back and knock on the door twice, Annie will open it and has what you want.” With that she slammed the door in my friend’s face and went back into the loud and rowdy room behind her.

Usually, you don’t need to take a gun with you to buy a “little baby puppy,” but I was wishing that I had brought one of mine with me. Taking a moment to dig my watch out of the layers of long johns, long sleeved shirt, and winter coat I could see that it was now 7:30 p.m. and we hadn’t even seen the puppy yet.

The space between the house and the fence was over knee deep in snow and had not seen a shovel, ever. Since I had boots on, and my indoor living musician buddy was wearing dress shoes, naturally, I had to go first and break trail for him. It was unlighted and ridiculously hard going. The water was dripping off of the overheated house as we walked, managing to hit me on the back of my neck and right down my back, irritating me to no end at Bob for getting me into this mess.

At the only door that I could see, which was in the side of an added-on section of house, I made Bob do the knocking and stepped off to one side, just in case something wasn’t right. The door opened right away and a plain looking girl wearing a flowered dress over long johns and logging boots, stepped into the glaring light. Her hair was Norwegian blond and in a long, thick braid that she flipped around as we talked.

Inside of the house but off to one side of the room, was a piece of plywood blocking the bottom half of a doorway, which we figured lead to the main part of the house. Coming from just behind that chunk of wood we could hear the whining and scratching of a dog trying to get out. The girl’s face lit up as she asked if we were there for “her” puppy.

Bob was eager to get his hands on the present that he had promised himself would be the best gift that Heidi could ever get -- the dog that she was never allowed to have. He had his remaining payment in his hand as we went forward to the doorway to see the creature that we were there to pick up.

When we got to the plywood the “little baby puppy” stood up and put his paws on the board, looking out, instead of up, at us. This little baby puppy Old English sheepdog was at least three or four months old and huge! Well, compared to the picture in my mind of what we were there to pick up it was.

It was also in need of a bath as the area that it had been confined to was soiled with his waste and the puppy had been lying in it. His breath smelled like poop too. This was a little bit disgusting… OK, a lot!

I was dumbfounded to say the least and Bob just stood there with his mouth open. He had paid half of his hard earned money, in cash, to a woman who would NEVER give any of it back, plus he had no other big gift for his wife.  He was well and truly stuck with this dog. It was a sure bet that any fuss that we would have put up would have brought the large, drunk, armed men crashing in from the front room, which would not be good.

Bob had brought along a little baby blanket to wrap the new “little baby puppy” in, and had it in his hands. It looked woefully inadequate at that moment, comparing the smelly beast to the tiny cloth, but at least we had something.

“Give her the money and grab the mutt,” I said, as it was getting later and colder and we were in a no-win situation. I wanted to leave. Bob still had the dazed look on his face but reacted to what I said and extended his hand with the cash.

The girl snatched it from him like she was afraid that he would pull it back, and quickly peeled one of the bills off and shoved it down the top of her dress. She was keeping a wary eye towards the door to the main part of the house like she expected company any second, and that made me nervous.

“Let’s go Bob!” I said, watching for that door to open myself and moving towards the outside exit.

He used both hands covered with the blanket to pick up the squirming puppy, which promptly let loose with a stream of pee that hit the wall.

“Sorry,” he said to the girl who was not paying any attention to the puppy, but rather concentrating on the bills in her hand. She didn’t react to his words at all.

I had this nasty feeling that we were about to be played. The mother would burst in, count the money and find it short the amount that the daughter had stuffed down her clothes. The daughter would innocently deny that she had received anything more than was in her hands. If we said that the daughter had put it inside her clothes we would be accused of: attempting to cheat them, trying to get her daughter’s clothes off, or otherwise making advances to her, etc. The ensuing noise would bring the hulks crashing forward to defend her honor and we would end up giving up more money just to get out of there with our skin.

Bob was struggling to keep a grip on the wiggling puppy as I grabbed his coat and drug him out the door into the now howling blizzard. The snow storm was welcome at this point because the people inside were less likely to follow us if my suspicions were correct.

As we passed the window where we could see into the lighted front room, I could see that Ma Kettle was making her way around the table and heading for the back of the house. I made Bob give me his keys and shoved him and the dog into the back seat. There was no more time to waste. The goons would have been bursting out the front door soon.

I put the car into gear and eased the gas pedal down feeling for the traction. As I looked back at the house in the mirror I could see the front door bang open and a man with a shotgun filling the doorway completely. He just stood there looking out as the snow blew in his face and in the doorway. We were slowly pulling away and he started to raise the gun, and then stopped, waving his hand in a gesture of futility at the weather and effort required, then he ducked his head under the door frame and went back inside shutting the door behind him.

The Toyota slid back and forth a little but I kept the car in low gear and made use of the snow on the edges of the narrow lane to get better traction.  I knew that we had to have enough speed up to crest the incline at the top of the small hill or we would spin out and get stuck. This was not a road that you wanted to be stuck on.

There was no such thing as cell phones in those days, so we would have had to find a phone to even call for help. At least in my Scout we had a CB radio, not so in Bob’s car.

I had luck with me and had enough speed to pop up over the hill, but hit a clear patch of ice and spun in a circle in the intersection. It wasn’t a big deal. No cars were coming, but it was enough to make the puppy start barking as we spun.

Bob spoke to the puppy to calm it down and got a wet kiss right in the mouth for his efforts. His words afterwards seemed to prove my suspicions as to what the puppy had been eating. He was spitting and sputtering and cussing like crazy as he sought to get the flavor out of his mouth. He was moaning about needing a drink all the way back to the base.

By then it was 8:30 p.m. and we were both certainly in trouble with our wives, neither of which had any idea what we were doing, or where we had been for the last two hours.

I had wanted him to drop me off at my house and take the puppy on home by himself, but it was pretty clear that the dog had never been in a car before and might cause him to have an accident jumping around. So, on we went to his house and what I thought would be a quick stop. Ha, that didn’t happen.

Upon arriving at Bob’s house, two things were apparent: that puppy smelled bad and needed a bath, and he had no dog kennel or secure area to put it in while he was gone. This was no Chihuahua sized puppy that we could wash in the sink; it had to get in the bath tub. I had washed enough dogs to know that when the dog had to get in the tub, you were both taking a bath.

I reminded Bob that it was his dog and his bright idea to do this without Heidi knowing, so he was the one doing the honors. He whined to me that he didn’t know how to wash a dog. I handed him a bottle of Johnson’s baby shampoo and said, “Learn!” and backed out of the bathroom shutting the door. He hollered through the door, “Find some place to secure the puppy when I’m done.”

Looking around the house for a room that had a door that could be shut or a hall that could be blocked, I eliminated the baby’s room right away as not a good choice. The living room was too big, as was the dining room. The kitchen was a “maybe” but had too many things down low that the dog would surely chew on.

I walked into the master bedroom and saw a note written in lipstick on the mirror from Heidi to Bob that nearly made me blush as she described what she had planned for him that night. On the bed were articles of lingerie and other items that I was positive that “H” would NOT want others to be looking at. I quickly exited the bedroom and shut the door. This room would not work.

The bathroom seemed to be the only place that the dog could be shut into and have any reasonable expectation of containment. I had that bad feeling of impending doom again as I opened the door and saw soap suds and dirt stains all over Heidi’s ALWAYS spotless bathroom. This was not going to end well.

Bob changed clothes and came back red faced, asking me if I had checked his bedroom. I lied and said “no, I didn’t think that would be a good option so I didn’t bother.” He was visibly relieved and quickly agreed with me.

He thought the bathroom would be the best place since it was already a mess from the bathing operation. Bob said, “Wait a minute,” and went into the kitchen to pull a roll of tape from a drawer. I jokingly told him that I didn’t think duct taping the puppy to the floor would work. He stopped and thought about that for a moment, then shook his head no. I wasn’t serious!

Bob set about taping the linen closet shut and the cabinet door under the sink shut, then folding the shower curtain up over the rod and taping it in place. Neither of us thought about the toilet paper or brush or that the rug wouldn’t be just fine as a spot for the puppy to nap. We were a bit naive I guess.

It was 9:45 p.m. by then and it would take us at least fifteen minutes (or longer) to get to my house in the snow. Bob finally conceded that we had to get going. He wanted to tie a big red ribbon around the dog’s neck, but I convinced him that it would never stay on and the pup might choke itself somehow.

We had a fight to do so, but we finally got the door closed with the fast and agile “little baby puppy” on the inside of the bathroom. No sooner had we closed the door and started walking to the outside door to leave, than the barking commenced. It was loud and it was frequent, and every so often a keening howl was thrown in for good measure.

Bob lived in a duplex unit in what was a mixed neighborhood of officers and enlisted personnel. Typically the neighbors are much less tolerant in these communities as everyone is trying to impress the others with their power and rule-obeying “qualities.” In other words they were a pain in the posterior.

This would never do. I asked Bob if his next door neighbors were cool, or if they would be a problem. He said that they were away for the holidays and their dog was at a boarding kennel for the two weeks, so everything should be OK. “Famous last words,” I said to myself as we walked out the door.

My friend was excited to reach his wife and begin teasing her with hints of what her Christmas present was and insisted upon driving his own car. I couldn’t force the issue, even though I really didn’t want to experience his version of driving again.

We hadn’t even reached the car when a particularly loud howl was heard from his house and Bob stopped and looked around at the house across the street where the front porch light had just come on.

I asked him, “Do you have an alarm clock… the wind up kind?”

“Yes, I do. I use it for traveling.” He replied.

“Let’s get it, wrap it up in a towel and stick it in the bathroom with the puppy, it will keep him company and maybe he will stop barking.” I said, hoping that it would work.

So back inside we went and I got on the telephone to attempt to explain where we were to MY wife at least. One of the intoxicated guests answered the call, and through the noise of loud music and people singing told me that my wife was busy dancing on the coffee table with Heidi doing a “go-go” routine. He didn’t know who I was but said, “Weren’t you invited? You should come over man, it is a great party,” and hung up on me.

Meanwhile Bob had retrieved the clock and wrapped it in one of Heidi’s special Christmas kitchen dishtowels meant more for decoration than use and then wrapped duct tape around the whole thing to hold it in place. Taking this to the bathroom he opened the door just a little, and the puppy shot through like a greased pig at a barbeque before Bob could even think to stop him. The rodeo was definitely on then.

We chased that puppy through the house and I swear I could hear it laughing at us as we flailed around trying to head it off and diving trying to catch it. If that had been caught on tape we would have been laughed out of town. Eventually I had stopped and asked Bob if he had any hotdogs. He stood up from where he had fallen down and said, “We don’t have time to cook hotdogs now man, we have to catch the dog.” I then went to the refrigerator and found the meat.

Taking one out of the package and tossing the rest back inside the drawer I sat down on the floor where the puppy could see, and smell, what I had. In a matter of sixty seconds that puppy was my new best friend because I fed it chunks of raw hot dog and petted him.

Bob just stood there with his mouth open -- something he seemed to do a lot of. I grabbed the dog and said, “Right! Get the door to the bathroom ready and make sure that the clock is inside and the light is on.” He rushed off down the hall and I stood up with what proved to be twenty-five pounds of wiggle when they took him to the vet after Christmas. We did a coordinated toss the puppy in, and shut the door evolution. We felt proud of ourselves.

Walking back to the kitchen to retrieve our jackets we saw that it was now 10:30 p.m. “We are dead meat!” I said as we hurried out the door.

Hearing no barking this time we quickly got inside and Bob gunned it backwards, with me saying, “Easy!” It proved to be too little, too late.

Bob had launched the Toyota backwards into a slide on the polished ice of the parking area and we went right up onto the concrete curb coming to rest on the gas tank with the rear wheels no longer making contact with the ground. We just sat there for a few moments, not saying a word. What was there to say?

We got out of the car and got down on our hands and knees to check for damage and more specifically, any gasoline leakage. The car had suffered a little mashing of the tailpipe, but everything else seemed to be OK.

A couple of the neighbors had come out when they saw and heard, (I have no idea how loud the bang was) the car climbing the curb. It was no big deal in Alaska -- stuff like this happened all the time in the winter. People just came outside and helped each other put things right again. I had done this many times for my neighbors.

It took a few minutes to rock the car off of the curb and push it into line with the exit so we could just drive forward without having to turn, but we got it done and headed out one more time after thanking everybody for helping.

I looked at my watch and just groaned. It was 11:00 p.m. I thought, “Were we ever going to get back to my house?”

Bob was much more careful as we drove through the base and we nearly made it all the way to my house without further incident, but that would have been too much to ask for.

The snowplows ran 24 hours when we had storms and they worked on a priority system with the major roads getting cleared first, and then secondary streets like base housing next. This was logical and we understood the plan. What was making our drive difficult was their habit of making long runs on the main roads which put up an ice and snow berm across the side streets that only a four wheel drive vehicle could get over. It was too high and rough for the Toyota to navigate. We had to back up and turn around and drive around looking for breaks in the berm. They were there, made by trucks or the plows themselves when they crossed. We just had to find one.

Mission accomplished. We got all the way to my neighborhood and into my street and found that there was no place left to park. You had to be very careful where you parked your vehicle when the plows were running or your car could get buried or blocked in by four-foot high solid ice berms, or even hit by the plow, and then towed away. As we were circling the block looking for any place to park, one of my guests pulled out from right next to my door and we were able to pull right into the best spot in the area.

It was 11:30 p.m. when I took off my jacket and boots at the door and one of my helpful (and inebriated) friends immediately tossed them down the stairs to my basement saying, “Nobody can trip over them that way.” Who was I to argue?

There were people everywhere dancing, people were singing, and some were trying to carry on conversations in spite of the cacophony of sounds drowning them out.

Bob hadn’t even slowed down to remove his shoes, tracking snow and water in all the way to the living room. He found Heidi and my wife sitting on the couch talking, with drinks in their hands and scarves around their upper bodies.

The scarves were supposed to be gifts for all of the ladies who attended this party. They were “Dance of the seven veils” type of material and large enough to be worn as a sarong, albeit a see-through one. I had traded a Levi brand denim jacket for a bundle of equal weight of these beauties in the Middle East, where denim was more sought after than gold. There were at least fifty of them and each one was so light that you could toss it in the air and it would float to the ground like a butterfly.

Our wives were mad at us for being gone and decided to turn the party up a notch to make us sorry for missing it. It worked out even better than they thought!

There was a pile of blouses and bras in one corner of the stairway landing. What had I missed out on going on this wild puppy chase?

A cursory glance around the room showed that indeed, ALL of the females still there had scarves covering their bodies above the waist, and only scarves. Some of them had the scarf around their neck and then crossed over their chest and tied in the back, some had them tied around them like a tube top. A couple of them just had their scarves around their necks and hanging down in front of them, covering the “essentials.”

The girls were all still drinking, but most of the guys were glassy eyed or nodding off in corners… and after only five hours of non-stop drinking. What a bunch of light weights!

One of the girls from my crew came up and told me about my wife and Heidi doing the topless go-go dancing on the table and how all of the other girls copied them. Then one of girls suggested a “scarf dance” like in the movies and all of the women agreed, (after a few shots of peppermint schnapps). They were so pleased with their efforts that they did repeat performances and kept their scarves ready to do it again.

The guys, being guys, tried to show off how macho they were and did flaming shots of 151 Rum. Until one of them singed his mustache off and they decided to stop lighting them before they burned the place down.

Somebody got my miniature schnauzer drunk again (she had no self-control) and she went downstairs to the basement and got into her crate to sleep it off.

The crowd was mostly in their twenties and feeling the power and invincibility of their age that night. They were full of energy and partied hard, happy to be alive.

I reminded myself to apologize to, and thank, my neighbors in the morning. They had to have suffered from the noise, unless of course they came over and participated. That had happened before.

The dumpster outside on the curb was brimming with empty bottles of liquor, wine, and beer, plus a huge stack of pizza boxes and who knows what else.

This had to be the best party that I had ever thrown… and I didn’t even get to attend.
Bob was trying to tease “H” about her Christmas present but she wasn’t listening. She was trying to tell him about making tassels spin in opposite directions (she brought her own) and he wasn’t hearing it either.

I spotted my daughter sitting on the steps leading upstairs to the bedrooms watching this circus and waved at her. She waved back with her little hand. Since my wife was busy in conversation with another controller’s wife and everything seemed stable, I went upstairs to check on my daughter and Bob and Heidi’s baby.

The baby was asleep on my bed with a wall of pillows surrounding her on all sides and my daughter had several of her books and crayons in there. She had been watching the baby sleep, just in case she got fussy and needed something. I asked her if her mommy and Miss Heidi had been checking on the baby and she said yes, every few minutes one of them would come up and ask her if everything was alright. Some of the other ladies had come up to peek at the baby and “talk funny” to her, she said. She thought that they sounded very silly. We didn’t do baby talk in our house.

My daughter was often described as a twenty-one year old in a little kid body. She especially loved to mess with the minds of those who had been drinking. At the time of this story she was three years old. She had a better grip on what was going on than most of the adults.

When I went back downstairs several of the people were getting ready to go, putting on coats and boots that one of the single guys had been running back and forth on the basement stairs retrieving for them. Every last one of the women refused to put their blouses and bras back on, instead putting on their coats over their scarves and all singing the Janis Joplin “Mercedes Benz” song in harmony. I wanted to choke Bob for making me miss this party!

Bob was frustrated to the point that he was red in the face. He could not get Heidi to guess at the hints he was giving her about what he had gotten her for Christmas. She was still drinking wine and when I walked back in from the kitchen, “H” was bouncing on the couch trying to make her scarf flip up.

Bob finally blurted out, “I got you an Old English sheepdog puppy!”

She stopped bouncing and looked at him and said, “What did you say?”

“I got you a dog,” he said, happy that she was now paying attention to him.

Heidi jumped off the couch and straddled his lap on the chair and started kissing him so passionately that everyone else stopped what they were doing to watch them. She started squealing that she wanted her puppy right now, right now, right now! Bob told her that it was at home.

She took off for the door, stopped, turned and ran upstairs to get the baby. A few minutes later she bounced down the stairs (definitely making her scarf fly now) squealing that she wanted her puppy! Bob could hardly get her to slow down long enough to put her coat and boots on. He had a huge grin on his face as he followed her out to the car and she got in with the baby. She was too wasted to drive and didn’t even attempt to get the keys from Bob.

I fired up my Scout and loaded up those too drunk to drive who needed to go home, while the rest prepared the bedrolls and cots for the traditional sleep over. We didn’t allow drunk driving and always either had designated drivers or plans for sleeping at my house. There were three floors; we always had room to roll out sleeping bags for everyone who needed it.

There were simple rules of conduct at the parties at our house too, no touching anyone without their consent, no harassment and no meanness. No means no and stop means stop.

I am proud to say that I only had to enforce the rules one time. That guy got the message the first time and never overstepped the boundaries again. He claims that he misunderstood the “signals,” which was why he got “handsy” with an unattached girl. The truth was he was just a jerk trying to push his luck.

The aftermath

The next day when we went to Bob and Heidi’s house for Christmas day dinner, we got to hear the rest of the story.

The puppy now named “Baron Nottingham” had not been idle during the hour and a half he was alone. After Heidi put the baby in her crib and closed the bedroom door, she opened the bathroom door to see her new puppy. She was immediately jumped on by this bundle of energy that was so happy to see her that he peed all over her. Heidi fell backwards on her butt, bruising her tailbone and started crying. The puppy crawled up on her and started licking the tears away, endearing the dog to his new mistress forever. It was a good thing that he did that.

When Bob got Heidi up off the floor and to the couch in the living room, he went back to the bathroom to get a towel from the linen closet to wrap some ice in for her bruised back side. The destruction he found in that bathroom stopped him in his tracks in pure disbelief.

The shower curtain that he had so carefully taped up had been pulled down and ripped to shreds. The hose to the hand held shower was chewed completely through. The small throw-rug had a giant hole in the middle of it.

The tape that he had put across the cabinet door under the sink had apparently been used to pull the door open. Everything under the sink, including many feminine hygiene products, were scattered and chewed. The linen cabinet door was also pulled open. All of the towels and sheets, etc. were now on the floor and one shelf was pulled completely down.

Remember the toilet brush--chewed up, the toilet paper -- all pulled off the roll and soggy from slobber and the hose end from the shower leaking on it. The toilet seat, gnawed like a giant rodent tried to eat it. The linoleum floor next to the door was pulled up and the corner chewed off of it. The back of the door had been clawed at until a hole formed in the hollow core door. That was probably what he was working on when his new owners got home.

I truly don’t think that a stick of TNT would have done more damage than that puppy had in an hour and a half.

Bob was afraid that Miss hyper-clean and organized Heidi was going to have a mental melt-down over the mess. Instead she told Bob that it was his fault because he didn’t leave any food in there for the puppy and he was hungry. She snuggled with the puppy all night and Bob went to bed by himself -- the notes on the mirror apparently completely forgotten now.

When we arrived, Heidi went off on me for keeping Bob out all night and not giving him time to feed her puppy. She said that he had explained that picking the dog up so late on Christmas Eve had been all my idea and that he tried to get me to do it earlier. My wife, not knowing any better, took this all in as the truth and set very cold eyes on me for messing everything up.

I didn’t correct Heidi and let the blame fall on me until I got back home and explained to my wife the circumstances and events. I didn’t do any more favors for Bob after that as I wasn’t sure that I could take the heat he generated for me. I was also aware that he continued to blame his late nights (he played cards with the guys in the barracks) on me making him work late. There were undoubtedly other things that I didn’t hear about.

Baron got a big crate to sleep in as soon as the base exchanged opened back up after Christmas. He grew up to be a nice dog and was pretty well mannered, although he still ate poop from time to time and I would never let him kiss me. Heidi loved him until the day he died of old age.

P.S.

After I left Alaska in 1978 Bob applied for an officer program and successfully completed it becoming Lieutenant Bob. He never mended his ways and I understand that Heidi divorced him and moved back to Chicago.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Growing up... different

Greetings friends,

I hope all is well in your life and that you are warm and dry wherever you live. Life is good for us and we are doing what we can to stay healthy and live according to our chosen path.

Mr.S. is surprisingly healthy and has even seen improvements in his physical condition due to really good care by our VA medical community and excellent living conditions at his assisted living residence. Proper nutrition and accurate and prompt medication delivery do make a difference in senior health care.

Our local bird population has returned to our feeders in large numbers, with an astounding 16 goldfinches on the socks at one time. They are a fine example of a cooperating species, something that the house sparrows just can't seem to do. Those ornery critters fight over anything and everything, even when there is an abundance of food for all of them.

The story for this posting is one of growth and acceptance that takes place over the span of twelve years, from 1959 to 1971. 

The message I wish to convey to anyone who has ever felt different because of color, size, shape, physical or mental abilities, whatever... is that you aren't different in a bad way, you are unique! Celebrate your difference and be happy that you aren't a clone, or poured from a mold to someone else's specification. Read the tale of discovery and see what you think.




Growing up… different

I would say that I was a normal enough looking boy growing up, perhaps a bit on the small and puny side, partially caused by genetics (my parents weren’t large people) and some of which I attribute to being sick a lot.  Really, I was just the kid who lived in the house on the corner.

One of the things that made me different from others was my insatiable thirst for knowledge. Just knowing something wasn’t good enough, I had to know the why behind it all.

That desire got an unexpected boost from the somewhat self-serving desire (she got a commission) of my first grade teacher to sell my parents a set of World Book encyclopedias. Her efforts worked well to fuel my need for an input fix. How could anyone not want books!
It was the way that she convinced my parents and what happened afterwards, that dropped me squarely into the category of “different.”

Being too smart

I was at school long enough in the beginning of first grade to take several batteries of tests, (many more than my classmates who only took two) and the results of each test seemed to be that I had to take another. I thought that there was something wrong with me and that I was in trouble somehow… what did I know, I was six years old!

Before any of the test results could be explained to me, or I could do anything other than have to read out loud to the class every day, I got sick with bronchial pneumonia and nearly died. My temperature stayed around 105 for so long that they thought that I would burn my brain to a cinder.

Surprise! I didn't die! But I did miss six weeks of school (that time) and my older brother was terrifying me with suggestions that I was going to be held back for missing class. So when my teacher, Mrs. Reynolds, showed up at the house, I just knew that I was doomed. Because in little kid minds, anything unexplainable is ALWAYS doom.

When I was called into the living room to sit quietly and witness what was to take place I could see my brother’s face (who was at school) saying, “You are going to get it now!” It was a rare thing to have my father at home during the day, so I was sure something bad was waiting to fall on my head.

My teacher brought in two items: a manila envelope with my name on it, which she placed beside her on the couch, and a folder full of shiny papers about World Book encyclopedias that she laid out on the coffee table so that my parents could see it all. I really had no idea what selling encyclopedias was about so it was all just “stuff” to me.

In 1959 you did not question anything that an adult did, so I sat quietly and watched, waiting for one of them to say something to me and hoping that it penetrated my drifting thoughts so that I didn't get into trouble for not paying attention when they spoke. My mind never slowed down and I could be anywhere, which proved to be a problem when what was going on around me was boring; and it usually was.

My mother’s voice brought me back to the present as she was looking at me, but speaking to the teacher. I finally processed her question and nearly swallowed my tongue as she asked, “does that mean that Kenneth (she always used my full name) will have to be held back a year?”

Mrs. Reynolds looked at me and laughed, possibly because I had the look of a boy about to wet himself, or maybe because she was dealing with parents who didn’t know what a strange child they had.

“No ma’am,” she said, “If anything, he should probably be advanced a year.”

As that news sank in to my parents brains, (and I sat there still unsure of my fate), she reached for the package of kryptonite on the couch beside her. It was to launch me on my career of always being different.

She could see that my parents were clearly not going to spend the small fortune on the set of books that they had no use for. If it wasn’t a decorating or gardening magazine, my mother wasn’t interested. For my father it had to be a technical manual for work, or the newspaper; nothing else mattered. To spend so much money on a set of reference books which could be found in any school or public library was a ridiculous expense to them. This was a time when one dollar could buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and a gallon of gasoline… with change left over.

I could see that my teacher was truly in her element, (although to me it just looked like her happy face) as she opened the envelope while saying to my parents, “Before you decide, I think that you need to know about these test results…”

It has been impossible to forget my father’s words as Mrs. Reynolds explained each set of papers to them which showed me to be far ahead of my classmates in every area tested. He said, “So now what are we supposed to do with him?” Yes, it was true, I had mental leprosy…

My cunning teacher knew that she had them at that point and eased the shiny papers back in front of my parents saying, “He must have the proper resources to realize his potential…” and other such mind twisting platitudes and clich├ęs which she skillfully employed in her part time occupation of book peddler. The woman had talents obviously underutilized as a first grade teacher; she could have sold sand to a Bedouin.

When she used the “G” word (genius) my father told me to go to my room and shut the door. It was apparently harmful for a child to know that they were smart, or something. I just went to my room… I liked it better in there anyway.

She had them caught in that mixed moment of uncertainty where pride; and fear of not doing enough for their child, met. They wanted a certain degree of parental bragging rights, but without any large commitments of cash if they could help it. It was a dilemma to be sure.

“Yeah, our son is a genius… we keep him in a cardboard box and shoot grapes to him with a slingshot so he doesn’t contaminate our other children. He will outgrow it before he reaches college age… I hope.”

They signed the papers and the set of 1960 World Book encyclopedias plus the 1961 yearbook were on their way. My father was grumpy for a week as he grumbled about the money being spent on books.

I was as happy as a pig in mud, I finally had something new to read and read them I did. For six weeks plus (while I was at home sick) I read until I fell asleep and then began again when I awoke. I read every book of the twenty-one piece set in order and then my favorite sections again and again. I soaked up so much information that my brothers and older sister would pick on me for “thinking that I knew everything.” I was fairly exploding with information and even though I was a sick little kid who had a tough time breathing between coughing spells, my fun meter was pegged!

Having an eidetic memory with a more than 90% retention rate made life interesting as I quoted them page and paragraph when they challenged what I said about things. I had the information, but lacked the wisdom needed to not be seen as arrogant or offensive, at least in my sibling’s eyes. I wasn’t trying to be a know-it-all, I just wouldn’t back down if I was right about something; a problem that I still have today.

The next year I was healthier and doing better in a room with two female classmates who were well above average academically helping take the heat off of me; until the IQ tests were administered.

The book check out rule at our school library was two books at a time, per library visit… for everyone except me. The librarian was the coolest lady at the school, without exception. She was super smart and appreciated my love of reading and books in general. I had no limit on how many books I could check out or how many times I could visit the library. I was there at least twice a day, every day; usually three times unless the teacher wouldn’t let me go at lunch time. I carried a stack of books home every afternoon and never, ever damaged or lost one.

Yes, I was a full blown book-a-holic by then, reading everything that I could get hold of and challenging everyone and everything that was wrong. I was definitely a problem child, being described frequently as “different” in public, and “not-right-in-the-head” behind closed doors that didn’t block sound quite as well as the adults thought.

Uh-oh, IQ Testing

When we were given IQ tests administered by a company which did so as their business (and usually at colleges) the trouble started in earnest. The school had conducted its own testing prior to this year and the older teachers resented anyone else holding court in their classrooms where their rule had always been absolute. It didn’t seem to matter (to my teacher) that the young man in our classroom had PhD after his name. In fact after I asked him what it meant and said “wow!” at his answer, my teacher was fairly scowling at both of us.

My second grade teacher, Miss Wright (not related), was a crotchety older woman well past retirement age, but she had nothing else to do, so she refused to leave. I think the administrators were too afraid of her to force the issue. Our principal had been one of her students when he was in second grade.

This was my educational guide, my teacher, who, upon looking at my score blurted out, “This can’t be right, he must have cheated somehow, it can’t be this high.”

My face turned red as a tomato because I had never been accused of something so heinous in my short life. I wouldn’t have known how to cheat IF it would have ever occurred to me to do so, which it never did. I didn’t need to cheat on anything.

The test proctor saw my face and went off on Miss Wright, in a quiet and dignified way which I admired him for (I hated yelling). Without ever raising his voice, he had the much older woman backed down and quiet in short order. Relatively quiet anyway, she was muttering things under her breath.

He took me to the back of the classroom and administered a second battery of tests, sporting a red glow on his face as he tried to work through his apparent anger, which now as an adult I can truly appreciate.

Upon completion of my test scoring, which had taken us well into recess (I wasn’t allowed to leave lest I be accused of doing something wrong), he got nose to nose with my teacher and said, “Well, well Miss Wright, you were correct about his score…” which upon hearing she got a smug look on her face and glared at me, “his score is actually five points higher!” and he called out the two scores (which I won’t state here). He also called my house and told my mother, just in case my teacher didn’t.

That night at dinner I heard the “G” word whispered from my mother to my father and both looked at me like I had done something wrong. My older brother picked up on it and called me a weirdo. I guess that I really felt like one too. But I had no idea why being smart was a bad thing; I still don’t.

After that testing incident my teacher switched gears, parading me around like a side show freak along with my two female classmates who were the other members of my reading group in her class. She delighted in making us read for every class in the school. Collectively we were reading three grades ahead of everyone else, I tested out at tenth grade (10.7) level, but wasn’t allowed to have a curriculum past grade five for a reason that was unknown to me then. I have since had it explained to me that most likely my teacher was not certified to teach beyond the K-6 level, thus my restriction.

That moment of glory for her as the teacher “responsible”, translated into a non-stop series of battles for me. Because of my reading ability the older kids, boys especially, felt like I was making fun of them or putting them down in some way. They had been made to feel inferior or inadequate and it made them angry. That anger was directed at me and they missed no opportunity to convey that message with their fists and feet. I had more fights than Joe Louis, just while I was in elementary school.

Was I different? Apparently I was the freak that my brother teased me about being. But while I acknowledged being different, I never saw myself as being wrong in the way I thought or acted. I fought back punch for punch and sometimes I got beat up, but not often, because I could out think my opponents. I often got reported to my principal and/or my mother for being a trouble maker. I just didn’t have a reverse gear and wouldn’t back up when I knew that I was right.

While the world around me was living in the very white 1950’s and ‘60’s, red was not only associated with Russians and communism, but the necks of those that I was “supposed” to associate with.

We had our “kind” I was told by the preacher and Sunday school teacher; our white, protestant, straight, carefully non-ethnic kind. Like the Baptist preacher before him, this Methodist minister made it clear that it also had to be people who prayed and believed in exactly the same way as the interpretation of the bible that his church promoted. It seemed that their chosen version of God hated all of the same people that they did… how convenient I thought. I smelled a rat in organized religion even then, and life kept handing me more proof as I got older.

Kids who looked like me but weren’t as smart made up the group surrounding me in elementary school (K-6 for my international readers) this lead me to joining a gang (at ten years old) comprised of older boys who could handle my intelligence easier, but still were rednecks. Being involved with them lead me to such sterling achievements as stealing the light bar off of the top of a cop car while they were taking an unauthorized meal break, breaking into a school and moving a teacher’s desk to the roof, and numerous gang fights at the high school football stadium at night. They were also no stranger to drugs and alcohol use. I did the drinking but wouldn’t touch the drugs as I had already witnessed an overdose death and bizarre behavior. The kids pushing me to try drugs actually saved me… the more someone pushed, the less likely I would ever do what they wanted. Being different saved my butt; again!

After I met some Cuban kids my life took a turn for the better, as their family didn’t care that I was smart, or white. Then I some Italians from New York moved in next door and a Jewish family, also from New York started sending their son to my school instead of private school.

Junior High School

By the time we entered the seventh grade our group looked like the United Nations. My Seminole Indian brothers and sisters, joined the black kids and our old gang (not really a gang, I got out of that) and we got along incredibly well. We represented all religions and no religion, it didn’t matter to us what anyone believed. We looked more like a group found on Ellis Island than kids from Hollywood, Florida.

We had our own language made up of words from multiple languages like Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Miccosukee, Swahili, and some that we just plain made up, all to confuse those who made fun of us or would do us harm in one fashion or another. The local police officers really didn’t like us speaking our cobbled together language and harassed us at every opportunity, calling us “commies” and would not allow us to gather together at any fast food place or convenience store, etc. saying that we were unruly troublemakers that would drive business away. For the record, we never once caused trouble, stole anything, or even littered! We were extremely careful about what we did, as some of us did have “experience” with the law and didn’t want any trouble.

My friends didn’t care that I was probably smarter than they were, nor did they care that I was white; in the same way that their color, ethnicity, or religious beliefs were unimportant to me. We had something very powerful in common… we were all different. We were the outcasts of the local societal norms; we did not fit the mold of what “should” be.

I started getting visits from the Methodist church youth group leaders who were all high school age. They had heard about my association with all of these people of different colors and religions and decided that they had to intervene and save my soul from eternal damnation (their exact words). I made it as clear as I could that I did not need, nor did I want their salvation. They came back again and were going to take me to church by force and pray over me.

As you know by now, I never have taken kindly to being pushed into something, so when the youth group leader grabbed my arm I hit him as hard as I could and broke his nose. Having the element of surprise in my favor, I ran before they could all jump on me. They tried again, this time with all girls, knowing that I wouldn’t hit them. But I saw them and slipped out the backdoor and up onto the roof of our house where no one knew where I was. My mother had to tell them that she didn’t know where I was, which was the truth. She didn’t see me go outside. They waited for over an hour before they left.

My mother never would admit to calling the pastor, (who in turn sent the teenagers to see me), but a girl I knew was good friends with his daughter and she told me that it was true. I told my mother that I was never going back to that church ever again, and I didn’t. The youth group kids never came back.

My adopted families all treated me like their son, even though I was obviously different; they truly didn’t care. They also didn’t hold the fact that I was white kid in a white dominated society which was very hard on all of them against me. They shared their cultures with me, fed me, hugged me and showed me what love and hospitality was all about. Different felt really good to me about then.

It was during this time period that I experienced one of the lowest forms of humanity that I have ever known. I went with my Seminole brothers to secretly observe a KKK rally, which you can read about in “The Truth about the KKK”. I was never so proud of being different in my life. If those fools were normal, I didn’t (and don’t) want any of it (being normal).

High School

My first high school was a logistical nightmare as multiple schools were shut down in our area, and they all dumped students into our school. We had five staggered starting times, plus a whole village of portable modular classrooms set up in rows A through Z and numbered outward from the main school buildings, there were literally thousands of students on campus.

My World History class was held in the auditorium and had 750 students in it with five teachers. One lectured while the other four patrolled trying to keep order. The teacher in our section told us that he wouldn’t report us if we skipped class, as there was no way to keep the room cool enough. Every human body that wasn’t there putting off heat helped the cause.

The local drug dealers were having the most profitable days of their lives with so many customers in the now nearly uncontrollable student body. We had gangs in the halls of both white and black varieties. I knew representatives from all of the local gangs but the kids from the other schools were new to me. That got me into trouble as I was deemed a problem because I wouldn’t side with anyone against the others. This earned me an ice pick in the back while in the crowded halls at class changing time. Fortunately for me it didn’t hit anything vital as my shoulder blade stopped it. No one ever took credit for the attack.

In an unrelated action; I got suspended for punching my biology teacher for putting his hands on me. Yes, he was a very effeminate, short, hairy, gay man that we all knew was gay, but it had nothing to do with sexual behavior. I was late coming from my previous class (Physical Education) due to our coach keeping us out on the field longer than he should have. It was an excused “tardy” situation, even announced over the school P.A. system, which unfortunately the portable classroom I was entering still did not have installed.

I entered the classroom, apologizing for my tardiness (and interrupting) as I tried to go to my assigned seat. Mr. “P.” was a “shoulder grabber” and I had asked him not to put his hands on me previously.

As I walked past him he latched onto my shoulder in his version of the “Vulcan neck pinch”, which caused the very quiet girl in the first seat to utter an “Oh shit”. She was right to anticipate trouble; I spun on my heel, turned and punched the teacher square in the face, knocking him out the still open door and down the three steps to the asphalt sidewalk below. I followed him out and as I stepped over him, said. “I am going to the principal’s office now Mr. P. You really shouldn’t have touched me again.”

I went directly to the administrative building, walked up to the receptionist and told her that I had just punched a teacher and needed to see the principal. Said principal just happened to be my father’s football coach from his high school days at a different school. I fully expected to be shot at sunrise.

The sentence was just three days suspension, largely due to the stack of statements in my behalf from other students who had witnessed not only the altercation, but the previous occasions where I had repeatedly asked the teacher to keep his hands off of me. He never did anything overtly sexual; it was just the physical contact of being grabbed that I didn’t like. There was also a stack of complaints from other students who had problems with him for one reason or another. None of which was enough to get him removed as he had tenure and there was a shortage of qualified teachers willing to subject themselves to the horrendous conditions of overcrowding that we were experiencing.

We (my parents and I) elected to change schools instead to fighting with that mess any longer.

It was at this point that I decided to give up on traditional team sports. I still rodeoed and surfed, but didn’t care about football, baseball, track, or wrestling. The truth is, I never cared about them but had to compete to be accepted. I preferred to wander the swamp with my Seminole friends or just my dog. Animals were more interesting to me than cars, which drove my brothers crazy.
That “different” label emerged again and again; I didn’t care what others thought was important and no longer tried to fit their mold of whom or what I should be.

My second high school brought conflict between social groups like cowboys and hippies, and more racial tensions between whites and blacks, including a riot at school engineered by outsiders who were causing unrest for their own agendas. I was caught in the crossfire as I had friends on both sides and didn’t think that any of what they were yelling about was enough reason to hurt people. I rodeoed with the cowboys and listened to Santana, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead with the hippies; and I didn’t care who smoked weed… I didn’t smoke, but that just wasn’t important to me.

Once again I was different and on the outside, shaking my head at what the “normal” people were doing.

We moved as my senior year was about to begin and I went to a school (my third high school) where I was Albert Einstein reincarnated if you looked at GPAs or test scores. I also didn’t play golf and wasn’t a devotee of NASCAR. They could hardly believe that I was white when I played Motown and James Brown (along with my regular rock and roll music) instead of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, etc.

There were two classes that worked for me (and I could scarcely believe were even offered in such a backwards place), those being psychology and English Literature (as in Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.). They were understandably small classes and only offered because of teacher availability. The basic level classes of English, Mathematics and Biology 1 were bursting at the seams and kids were graduating from high school with an embarrassing lack of ability in any of them.

My participation in the aforementioned classes, as well as teaching general math to half of my class (read about it in my story: “What don’t you understand?”) labeled me as different, to put it nicely.

These people were mostly bigoted, blissfully ignorant, and proud of it. They made up a strange collage of high society cultural behaviors like cotillion’s and horse show jumping, mixed with Masters Golf Tournament devotees, and some of the poorest, least educated throwbacks to plowing behind a mule that it boggled the mind to contemplate.

I had never been so happy to be different in my life.

And so it was that my entire young lifetime of being different had prepared me for the adventures I would undertake as adult, and I believe far better than I could ever have planned.

The simple acceptance of other cultures as equal and valid to that of stereotypical white America has undoubtedly saved my life at least once, and has made breaking bread with people of many ethnicities and lifestyles around the globe an easy and natural thing.

My life has been rich precisely because of being different and I heartily recommend it to everyone.

If anyone dares to call you “normal,” take off your clothes and dance in a fountain, or howl at the full moon on a starry night. Dance to your own drummer and color outside the lines if you want to. Greatness doesn’t come in a plain brown wrapper and the only limitations on your life are the ones placed there by you.

Dare to be different.