Squid Pancakes, Mushu, and Baby Dragons

I wish I’d gotten a pic of the most absolutely bizarre traffic jam of my life but I failed to do so because, you know, I was driving and laughing and examining rice close up. If driving a rattling, noisy, $400 dollar, 20-year-old Kia down a pitted dirt road in the middle of a random rice paddy near the Yellow Sea (Or West Sea if talking to Koreans. It’s a point of some contention) wasn’t odd enough for a pair of brothers from Alabama, we found ourselves starving and stuck behind an ancient Korean woman on a Rascal type mobility device. Running ahead of us at about two miles per hour, she sat hunched forward in her seat as if willing the scooter to greater speed. It’s an experience I can honestly say I have never had before. I like those.

We eventually got where we were going and took care of the first order of business. Lunch. A second encounter with ancient Korean ladies this day saw us tricked us into eating a squid pancake and fermented radishes. It’s actually much better than it sounds. I promise. I do think the two old women were in cahoots though and they thought to punish us for scooter tailgating. Then again, it could have been due to lack of mastery where the Korean vocabulary is concerned.

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We then went to see the shrine of my Korean military hero, Admiral Yi Sun Shin. The man led an epic life that would rival any modern fictional work of political intrigue, martial prowess, and heroic struggle.

Shrine

 

On reaching the top step of the shrine we noted a bowl of burning incense at the center and an attendant just off to the right. I would have loved to see what noise it made when struck, but hesitated upon seeing the attendant. The Brain wanted to take a pic, and taking a different approach to the preferred forgiveness-is-easier-than-permission tactic, decided to ask first. He then complicated matters by asking her if she spoke English. She answered with several bewildered and frightened looking blinks as if she was being addressed by frost giants. With him at nearly 6’7” and her at about 5’ flat, I could kind of see where this might have been a fear display. He then held up his phone and showed her his intent. She smiled from her new place on the ground (a reaction to his quick draw I think) and sighed with relief at not being offered the place of honor as his dinner. She gave us the go ahead and lots of little bows at the waist. On leaving I explained to my brother that I understood Koreans often have great trouble stating an outright “no” and that her blinks were a sign of her trying to mentally work out how she was going to say no without saying no. Then again, they could have been code blinks for help. I don’t claim to know how Korean distress signals work. It’s all just speculation at this point.

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The we found Eddie Murphy!

Eddie Murphy

On the way to Admiral Yi’s ancestral home (about a block away) we pondered deep philosophical considerations such as how far away from a shrine could one place their grave and still hear the prayers offered at said shrine. His actual grave is like nine kilometers away from his shrine for some reason. If anybody wants to build me a shrine, please do so on top of my grave. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. Plus, I don’t know how this works either.

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Complete with authentic 16th century track lighting in the master bedroom.

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Beside the old home there stood a brick chimney for the fire that was used to pump heat under all the floors of the home. The Brain took the time to explain his vast knowledge of ancient Korean masonry practices and techniques. Knowing that masonry isn’t exactly cool, he tried to tell our father that he was admiring the fact that the well was close to the house instead of in the village center like Europeans wells, or in the next county over like African wells. Nice try, Brain. Here is the evidence of your fondness for brick and mortar work. I redacted his face because he’s a little funny about his image circulating on the interwebs.

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As a fan of living history and mechanical apparatuses (apperati?), I was intrigued by the fact that the entire front of the house has these little folding door/windows. The cool part is that each pair are hinged vertically with one of each pair being hinged horizontally so that they could be opened and then swung upward to latch to the house’s eaves. I wanted to see these function as designed, but the Brain employed his highly evolved sense of impending disaster to divine (It’s like magic, really) my intent and reminded me of the temple incident and that this was somehow tantamount to me washing my hands on Buddha’s face. That’s a different blog post in my July archives if you’re interested. After reminding him that forgiveness is definitely easier to ask for than permission when you’re in a foreign land, he threatened to tell my wife and stated that if I thought after 20 years of marriage that my wife couldn’t reach across 4,000 miles and jerk my butt back in line, I was basically Forrest Gump.

Hinges!!! Towards the end of our tour we crossed a bridge and these gigantic Asian dragon hatchlings made a mass under the bridge that one could walk on. The Brain again reminded me of the temple incident and my wife’s great reach so we opted to just feed them instead of hike on them. There are these little vending machines that will sell you like a pound of fish food for less than fifty cents so I got a paper bucket full. To my delight, the fish began stacking on top of one another in a pyramid-like formation to get to the food first. It looked exactly like the zombies in World War Z climbing the walls in Israel. Except that they were baby dragons. And the baby dragons were just koi and carp. So nothing like World War Z. Way to kill the mood, Brain.

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I may have mentioned this in other posts, but there are practically zero trash cans in this country. There are also healthy fines for littering so I walk around with pockets bulging with empty bottles, coffee cups, and various scraps of paper and/or food wrappers. Basically like a really tall self-propelled dumpster that got lost on its way to the landfill and just keeps picking up more trash. The Brain had a better plan. A pair of Korean grandparents approached with their grandchildren and were as amazed as I at the baby dragons. So the Brain took my bucket of dragon kibble and offered it to the kids. He then bade me walk with him. Absolutely brilliant. My trash became pocket adornment for someone else in what was cleverly disguised as a random act of kindness.

I didn’t get a pic of the plaques posted near the exit. Apparently they were special in that only “filial sons and virtuous wives” were ever awarded these things. There were five. The only five I’ve ever seen. In a country with something like five thousand years of history, this comes out to only one filial son or virtuous wife every millennium. Way to set an impossible standard Korea. I still love you.

 

Sadness

I once heard a minister talk about the differences between the ways men and women typically deal with stress. Long story short, men think about the stressor and try to figure it out for themselves. When they reach a point where they can’t, they may ask someone about it. On the other hand, women will talk through a stressor and it makes them feel better. It’s like frickin magic, if you ask me. With this in mind, I’ve begun trying to talk these things out with my psychology professor wife.

“I has a sad, Doc.”

“Why honey?”

That’s the question of the day, isn’t it? If I hit my finger with a hammer, it hurts. It hurts because I smashed it. Boom! Puzzled that one out all by myself. Cause and effect. I just need to identify the preceding event to current sadness.

“I blinked.”

“….what?”

“No worries, Doc. I’m just as confused as you.”

I am almost always a happy person. I have found that I am happy just about anywhere, doing just about any thing. Whether it’s chillin in a 3,600 square foot home in the states, sweating in a cramped and dusty room in a combat zone with vodka scented blood stains on the floor, or doing schoolwork in my tiny barracks room in Korea, I just bop along through life. I think I figured out how I manage this. I spend a lot of time avoiding feelings. My wife shared with me a video of some martial arts match where one girl deftly dodged thrust after thrust from her opponent’s spear. It was quite impressive, honestly. My wife then told me that this was like me ducking feelings. I couldn’t argue against her point though. I think feelings are messy, uncomfortable things to be avoided at all costs. Kind of like hungry sharks or rabid dogs. And maybe zombies. I may need to reevaluate that last statement. Now that I think about it, I’m better equipped to deal with sharks, froth faced canines, or the undead. I have a number of weapons that would suffice. But how does one fight something like a mysterious sudden onset of inexplicable sadness? No fricking clue.

On top of this, being sad is startlingly abrupt when it happens to me. It’s like some earth shattering revelation between blinks (you like how I foreshadowed that in the opening convo?) when I realize that I am not happy. It’s honestly quite confusing. More often than not I have no idea why I am not happy when a sad slaps me in the face.

I don’t like opening my mouth on a topic I don’t understand. The thought of discussing feelings is horrifying. And there is that one snowflake that kicks off the avalanche. Being scared set’s off confusion. I don’t know why the prospect would scare me. Confusion sets off anger. And what do I have when the raw energy of fury dissipates? Sadness. It’s like some emotionally charged sequential vortex from which you can’t see a way out once you’ve crossed the event horizon.

Then I wake up the next day and it’s gone. I feel like laughing manically at my resounding defeat of this unknowable foe. What happens though when I’ve pushed it aside for decades? Will it rage out of control one day like wildfires in the western US because the firefighters have been so effective at stopping fires that forty years of fuel sits waiting for an opportunity to level entire communities?

Could the ladies be right about this one? Is the solution found in words? I think maybe it’s time I start talking about things even if I can’t Spock that mess into making sense. Maybe the girls are right. Maybe a controlled burn will avert a wildfire in the future.

So I write.

My Brain Before Coffee

Here is a sample of the kind of thing that goes through my head when I take my son to work before the sun comes up and I’ve yet to have coffee. Don’t judge me. I know I’m not the only one out there who’s mind is set on a rapid fire channel surf as soon as it realizes your body is waking up. Besides, if you think this odd, you should hear what it’s like after coffee.

I don’t understand why the partitions between urinals and stalls in the men’s room do not extend all the way to the floor. And why is it called a stall? Stall as in where you keep livestock? Maybe that’s why I’ve heard it said that I need to close the barn door before my donkey gets out, referencing a failure on my part to completely close the front of my pants. It’s not a far stretch to from the word “donkey” to the word “dinky”, which is what my parents called “boy parts” when we were kids (We couldn’t even have the cereal “Dinky Donuts” because of this). Then again, it could have been a simple reference to mass or lack thereof. It’s incredibly unfair when you think about it. Toddler’s heads always seem too large for their bodies. More than once I found myself wondering if I was raising a dwarf and really hoped that my daughter would grow into her huge head. I’m seriously not being insensitive here. It was a thought I legitimately had on several occasions. Still, it’s better than microcephaly I suppose. The point is that my toddler head was overly large. Especially compared to my toddler tally whacker.

More often than not nature corrects itself and our bodies become proportionate but we inflict discomforts upon ourselves as a species. Ineffective urinal partitions are one of these self-inflicted discomforts. Wouldn’t it be better to have a partition that started at waist level or lower and ended at the floor? If I am forced to use a public restroom I’m not really expecting the comfort and privacy afforded me by my home latrine. In all honesty, I could not possibly care less if someone happened to see my jiggly bits. A greater injustice than this biologically induced body image problem is that I can’t wear flip flops in public because of these ridiculous partitions. It leads to things like spousal mockery when one douses their feet in hand sanitizer after having been in a public restroom. The truck stop didn’t sell foot sanitizer and according to the lady behind the counter, there is no such thing as foot sanitizer. Odd, I know. Accusations of OCD or hypochondria from your wife aren’t terribly helpful when she is fully aware of your compromised podiatric immune system. I wouldn’t have this problem if you hadn’t convinced me to have my feet mangled in a failed attempt at pleasure and relaxation in an unsanitary environment. Seriously, it’s like you’re a foot masochist.

Gas would be more fun than bleach…

Apparently, the Army is not overly enthused about the prospect of pouring gasoline down drains in the barracks and lighting it. Consequently, my request was denied and the person at Vector Control suggested that there are a number of professionals available to whom I can speak, but not at a glorified exterminator’s office. I told them that I just did speak to someone and they are already trying to pawn me off on another department rather than let me deal with the problem.

My wife said I should explain….

Koreans seem to be quite fond of eating anything that lives in bodies of water. Seriously. They are just like Cajuns except they don’t live in Louisiana and most of them speak better English than Cajuns. And they have more teeth.

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See what I’m talking about? I don’t even know what this thing is, but you can get them at certain restaurants. You’ll see them there, floating in little net bags in the aquariums from which you select your meal. I’m not sure why they are in baggies. I mean look at them. Unless you are suffering from a severe palsy, they probably can’t get away from you. If you did have a severe palsy, you probably shouldn’t handle the danged things anyway. That would just seem obscene somehow. The westerners I know who have been exposed to these call them penis fish, citing that they resemble a schlong. You’ve heard the term “it goes without saying”? I don’t think this is ever true. I like to say whatever pops to mind. So it needs to be said that if your tackle box contains anything resembling a sea schmeckel, you should seek immediate medical attention.

You might not be able to tell, but I am a little disturbed right now. Not because of phallic foods though. My wife finds my tendency to make light of everything to be an irritating character trait. It’s a coping mechanism, but the problem I face is in fact quite dire. So I guess I should get to the point.

As things stand, my quarry is either wandering about my room waiting to do me harm, or it is skulking about the shower drain. The former isn’t as worrisome, though I haven’t gone barefoot since the discovery and I have bleached the floors at least six time and rewashed linens as well as all clothes several times. The latter bothers me greatly as I may have loosed this vile thing on the world, so I dumped bleach down the drain in the hopes that it travels faster than microscopic monsters. It makes me feel a certain kinship to Sisyphus. I toil against bureaucracy and the decree of my mother, who I am sure rules the underworld, only to have my efforts be in vain.

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My wife says I should stop explaining quite so much.

I may have inadvertently exposed the entire northern part of South Korea to small pox. I’m pretty sure it is due to my nature as Nergala’s son. If you are a first time reader of this blog, my Mad Cow Blog (July archives) may offer clarification on that last statement. Anyway, the point to all this is that I lost my small pox scab. It was supposed to go into the little biohazard baggie of small pox Band-Aids kept under my bathroom sink so that when the process was complete I could turn it in for incineration. The bag of doom, not the sink.

So as I was saying at the beginning, I reported the problem and proposed a solution based on a time honored solution to pathogen eradication. One can only hope that copious quantities of sodium hypochlorite will suffice instead.

 

Image Credits:

Tally whacker Trout: http://maioka-fc.info/fishing_dictionary/yumushi

Sisyphus’ Labors: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/530861874801718890/

Hercules: King of the Zombies

“I’m patient zero,” I told my wife when she answered the video call.

“I haven’t even had coffee yet.”

“This is serious. I’ve put all the pieces together now. Get coffee. I’ll wait.”

She went off screen briefly and I sat listening intently to her morning routine. It contained more prayer than normal I think. I kept hearing things like “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and “Lord you made him…” and some mumbled plea about answering calls in the future that began with “Good morning”.

She sat back down. “Patient zero?”

“Zombie apocalypse? Duh.”

“This should be fun. Please. Enlighten me.”

“So if you remember, I was raised with cats. Now throw my mad cow into the mix…” I began.

“You do NOT have mad cow,” my wife informed me. “And Moosa isn’t a real thing either.”

“Then explain my erratic thought processes. HA! You can’t. So much for your psych degree, Doc.”

“You’re just bizarre.”

“No. I’m misunderstood.”

“Einstein was misunderstood,” she incorrectly corrected.

“He couldn’t make correct change for the bus, either.”

“But You can most certainly make change for the bus.”

“Tell that to the Korean bus driver who had to make correct change for me when I put ₩ 10,000 in the thing to pay for my fare yesterday.”

For those unfamiliar, ₩ is the symbol for Korean won which makes more sense than our $ for dollars. Double strike-through W for Won versus a double strike-through S for Dollar. In regards to the origins of double strike-through S for Dollar, I blame the French influences on the early development of the written English language. Kind of like the superfluous K in knight or knife. It’s a working theory. Back to Won (₩). It is Pronounced wan but spelled w-o-n. Lost in translation, I suppose. Anyway, 1,000 ₩ is like 90 cents. Cents: (¢). Boom! Take that Frenchie!

“You didn’t.”

“It was all I had on me. It resulted in me having about six pounds of Korean coins in each pocket. After that I just dumped the contents of one pocket into the thing (what is that called anyway?) every time I got onto a different bus. The driver would then make change and the machine would spit a new set of coins out weighing slightly less than six pounds. It was exactly like paying a percentage to have my money laundered. I felt like I was in the Triad.”

“That’s exactly nothing like having your money laundered, and the Triad are Chinese.”

“Right! But they are also foreign to Korea, so it works.”

She placed her left thumb on her cheek and covered her eyes while shaking her head.

I explained to her for perhaps the hundredth time in twenty years how I came to be afflicted with the first of three bovine sicknesses. The second is from a mandatory series of anthrax vaccinations and the third is from an Army mandated small pox vaccination. I know that you are thinking that small pox and cow pox are two different pox (poxes?), but if you are thinking that, you are mistaken. Apparently, small pox was eradicated except for weaponized versions stockpiled alongside weaponized anthrax in Russia and sold off to any number of belligerent states. So the US engineered something out of cow pox to administer to us so we can’t get either type of poc. Milkmaids seemed to be immune to small pox, so why not? What is it with Russians and cow disease weapons? Weirdos. I digress.

Removing her hand from her face she asked me what Einstein had to do with all of this?

“You brought him up.”

“Oh my god, would you just get to your point?” she pleaded.

“As I was saying, when I got exposed to MRSA, that particular disease was outmatched by preexisting conditions and teamed up with the mad cow, cow pox, and anthrax. Voila! Moosa.”

“And your cats had what to do with this?”

“I’m glad you asked. Being raised with cats is what started it all. You remember that manipulative parasite they carry?”

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“Toxoplasma gondii. Yes, but that affects women and causes birth defects or something.”

“It makes them more promiscuous so they have more babies and perpetuate the cycle, yes. But it also makes men less risk averse to put them in the way of the big cats we once lived alongside so that when we became cat scat we could also spread the bacteria.”

“Is there a point to this?”

“Of course there is. The Toxoplasma gondii explains why I was chasing that cat in Panama and got stuck in the sticker patch which is where I picked up that fungus that controls the minds of ants in South America.”

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I held up my arm to show her the sticker wound I’d gotten when I was nine years old. There is a still visible brown mark much like a tattoo. Maybe it is more like the pencil wound on my left leg I got when I was thirteen following a leg spasm while I held a pencil point down under my desk. “It got in at this point.”

“So you have fungus for brain. That explains things.”

“No. I’m just saying I’m not in full control of my mental faculties.”

“No argument there,” she shrugged.

“You can’t insinuate that I’m stupid after calling me Einstein.”

“I most certainly did not call you Einstein.”

“You said I was bizarre and through the whole misunderstood money laundering Triad thing, we established that bizarre is basically a synonym for Einstein when we talk.”

“I’m pretty sure having mushrooms in your head is no basis for zombification,” she suggested. “That fungus is not the same thing as magic mushrooms.”

“The point is that when the MRSA wins out over the mad cow, it will erupt in my skull at which point the fungus will take control due to Moosa diminished mental facility and I will become a zombie with bacteria that draws people to me. Cycle repeats. Zombie apocalypse.”

“I am going to choke your mother next time I see her.”

“I would too. This is all her doing. First the cats, then the willful spread of mad cow. I told you she was the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld,” I gasped at a sudden realization. “I am a demigod! I’m like Hercules, king of the zombies!”

“And I am hanging up now.”

 

 

 

Photo Credit

Zombie Ants: http://www.ourwindsor.ca/news-story/5444141-a-mind-controlling-fungus-is-turning-ants-into-real-life-zombies-in-the-rainforest/

Forever Jung

I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with Carl Jung, I just liked the way it sounded as a title. I know it may have given you the wrong impression, but that is ultimately irrelevant. Focus on the important part. I just may be the next Sigmund Freud, y’all! How does that make you feel? Not the old grumpy looking one. The young Freud with the killer mustache that I would totally wax into handlebars. You have to give it to him. The man did demonstrate a certain je ne sais quoi I’m almost positive derived from his flair for impeccable personal grooming. This is especially true when compared to the lackluster…. whatever that is he did to his head and stache of Jung.

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Here is how I reached this conclusion:

“I swear this heat and humidity sucked the life out of me today,” I lamented to my Queen.

“Ugh,” She replied. She’s quite monosyllabic before that first cup of coffee at 5 p.m. It’s funny how when I go to Korea, she lays about until late afternoon in our home near Savannah, Georgia.

“I had to grind the narcotic beans of a foreign plant, strain water through them, and drink it at lunch it just to survive the day and beat the heat drooziness. Oh what a wretched life,” I explained.

“Ah. We’re being dramatic. That helps.”

“Why are you always falsely accusing me of drama and hypochondria?”

“You sound like you are gearing up for a Shakespearean play. “Oh what a wretched life!” Really? Yes, you are dramatic and a hypochondriac,” apparently she inhaled a whole cup of coffee while I was being decidedly not dramatic. “You are dramatic and hypochondriac and you are my love.”

“I’m just your love, but the other two are figments of your imagination.”

“Maybe my love is a figment of my imagination too?” Ooooo! Maybe she hadn’t gotten through that coffee after all. She doesn’t play well until her BCC (blood-coffee content) are at certain levels. I’m convinced that this is the manifestation of condition based learning similar to when an alcoholic learns to play pool or something. If they learned it on a bender, they can’t play well sober.

“You aren’t following me here,” I began. “Bear with me for a minute.”

“Oh god,” Her syllable count was shrinking again. I’d need to type fast.

“So you love me greatly and part of you thinks I’m perfect, but there is another part that thinks I can’t be perfect. As a way of coping with this cognitive dissonance, you project dramatic and hypochondriac behaviors onto your perception of my persona. It’s really quite simple. Your id and ego are at odds. Boom! I can psychoanalyze too. We’re like professional associates now. I can so be a shrink. I’m really good at this”

“Lol,” Was her only response.

I think she may have been regressing syllabically at this point and thought of that as one word pronounced “laul” or “loll” maybe, but I suppose she could have been waking up and that was an “el-oh-el”.  Either way, I’m honestly not sure if she thought I was being funny or if she was laughing at me or laughing at my epiphany regarding the innate skills I possess as a psychoanalyst.

*Footnote: When she read this, my Queen informed me that I need to clear some things up.

1) She would like everyone to know that there are time differences between Korea and Georgia and that it was only 5 p.m. in Korea.

2) She claims she said I was a dramatic hypochondriac rather than dramatic and a hypochondriac.

3) She also claims she did not mean “el-oh-el”, but that it was an autocorrected “oh hell”.

 

Photo Credits:

The Freuds: http://discovermagazine.com/2014/april/14-the-second-coming-of-sigmund-freud

Carl Jung: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung

Mad Cow Blog

It occurs to me that perhaps I should clear some things up since only a select few of you potentially reading this know the true nature of my malady. I know it seems like I may spend more time explaining things than I should, but…. OK. So yeah. Maybe I do, but this topic is one that really needs to be expounded upon. If you read my blog’s “Under the Hood” section or the introductory paragraph formerly pinned to the top of the corresponding Face Book page, you may recall mention of mad cow disease and other microscopic tormentors afflicting my person. I realized today that most people have no idea what I’m talking about. So here it is. The truth. The whole truth. The whole horrifying truth. At least the first part of it anyway. So help me Rod of Asclepius or Caduceus of Hermes. Whichever you prefer. Reader’s choice, really. Unless you work for the World Health Organization and swear your snakey stick is the only correct one.

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As a military dependent in my mid-teens, I found myself living in Germany during roughly the same time period in which several calamities befell Europa. Chernobyl went up and we were forced to stay indoors for days on end with our chief form of entertainment being the watching of birds outside in the hopes we’d see them go bald or begin to glow. Italian Wines were giving people lead poisoning, which didn’t really distress me as I had yet to discover the joys of fermented produce. That would come soon though. We had armed and armored Soldiers guarding us in school because the US had yet to take out the Libyan threat.

Then there was an outbreak of mad cow disease. At the time I thought this bore no impact on my life since I typically favored German pork (by God those people cook the best pig in the world). Additionally, the meat we ate almost always came from the commissary on post which was stocked with American meat and produce. I never even got to see a mad cow.

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(It’s a great song. Look it up sometime.)

Some time later we returned to the States and my maternal grandmother was facing surgery. They wanted a blood supply, and as luck would have it we shared a common blood type. I guess it’s also beneficial to get your blood from family for a reason they tried to explain. The nurse doing the explaining was quite distracting to a boy in his teens and I can’t tell you a single thing she said after “Hello”. The unfortunate looking vampire taking our blood was not nearly so distracting and I clearly remember her asking if we’d traveled through or lived in Europe during the mid-80s. Before I could open my mouth, I saw my mother shaking her head in an unmistakable “No” from behind the frightful phlebotomist. I quickly lied with a “no” while cataloging the parentally sanctioned fibbery for future ammunition. I later asked my mother why she had me do this thing she’d always taught me not to do. She explained that due to the mad cow outbreak in Europe, the US medical community couldn’t risk spreading the disease.

“So you would have me do it?” I asked. “Who are you? Nergal?”

“What in God’s name are you talking about?” She seemed genuinely perplexed.

“Exactly! Nergal: The Mesopotamian god of death, pestilence, and plague! Or would it be Nergala to make it feminine? I’m likely to reduce the US population by a third and I don’t even know how Mesopotamian naming conventions work!” I was despondent.

She blinked.

“You’ve turned me into a plague rat like the ones loosed on Medieval Europe by North African nations!”

“That is unfounded conspiracy theory,” She corrected.

“I read it somewhere.”

“I should have never encouraged that in you.”

“What?”

“Reading,” She said without hint of humor.

I know what you are thinking right about now, but you are mistaken. That little convo IS essential to the plotting of how I got this way. You’ll note that she never once denied the fact that I have mad cow disease. Boom! I need the world to know this for two reasons.

1) If you get it, it isn’t because of me. It’s Nergala’s fault (Love you Mom).

2) Mad cow is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. When I start losing it, please have them consider all options.

It gets even more convoluted, but that is a story for another time.

Fun With Engineers

So how did I get to this point? Perhaps a review of my nightly log of events may help. Then again, it may just serve to chart my descent into the mud and mosquito choked misery that eventually landed me in the hospital. That last bit is technically unfounded, but for the life of me I can’t imagine where else I might have picked up Lyme’s disease especially considering that it corresponded with my return home from this debacle.

March 10: It’s a good thing we got here at three in the morning. Had we not, they wouldn’t have been able to get accountability of everyone so we could then sleep on the sidewalk for six hours, propped up on our bags while we waited for the bus. I’m showing up at nine in the morning next time.

March 11: I’ve calmed a bit since my last entry. I just wonder if we set the tone of this exercise by bringing everyone in six hours early. Turns out that every echelon below the Battalion Commander bumped up the time when we were supposed to be there. So basically, he said be there at seven a.m. and everyone under him moved that time to something 15 minutes earlier when they passed the message downstream but felt like jerks for their practical joke and showed up in a display of belated solidarity.

*So here is something to brighten up my day: A positive note to self. When the sun last set on me, I was in the Georgia low country. I was greeted this morning by a light drizzle, grey skies, and steam rising off of a Mississippi bayou. I do love the South.

March 14: It has been raining for the past fifty hours. As soon as my soul becomes slightly less water logged, I will resume recording events. I don’t love all of the South.

March 15: I told a counterpart that the mac-n-cheese at breakfast was nasty. He then informed me that it was actually scrambled eggs. I’m not sure where he got that idea unless it was the overwhelming odor of sulfur. Still, the texture and consistency was undeniably pasta-ish. There was also a nickel size hunk of a questionable meat product they claimed was steak. I’m pretty sure that if it did come from a terrestrial bovine that it was slices of unwashed boiled hoof. The highpoint of the meal was a lovely oatmeal/brown rice medley that only had a mild numbing effect on the tongue and throat.

March 16: Perhaps at this point considering this adventure to be something of a personal winter is a bit misguided as it gets uncomfortably warm at points. I’ve decided not to brave the dining facility for breakfast. Despite the delightful numbing effect of the oatmeal/brown rice thing during consumption, it provided a violent form of sensory overload on the downstream side.
*On an interesting note, I have saluted 4,357 and 1\2 times. The 1\2 salute was due to a hesitation while rendering the greeting of the day. I found myself unable to ascertain the gender of the Captain to whom I was rendering proper courtesies. Fortunately, he\she was note paying attention and I was able to drop the half salute.

March 17. Day three of my personal fall. I choose fall because despite the best efforts of the cooks, I am still alive. The days are starting to meld into an uninterrupted line of bad ideas punctuated only by more food. I’m only aware of the date at this point because of the well intentioned St. Patrick’s day greetings.
I stayed completely away from the dining facility today as a personal favor to my driver’s olfactory sensitivities. This proved a prudent move as the convoy took eight hours to traverse less than fifty miles.
I fear that mutiny is on the horizon stemming from the absence of hot meals. I shall need to make an example of someone in order to maintain discipline. Perhaps a plank walking at Alligator Lake. Look it up. Narrow your search to the Fort Polk area. It’s real.

March 18. Day four in my own personal fall. I’ve learned much despite my discomfort. For instance: I just learned that sleep apnea is not just dangerous to the sufferer, but risks the few meager hours of sleep all around the guy in the cot nearest the door. Had mutinous sedition still stalked our ranks, he would make a fine candidate for a disciplinary example. His counterpart on the other end of our “great hall” grinding out a higher pitched counterpoint might also serve should the need arise.
At some point during the night, the clothing I had become quite literally attached to became self-aware and had to be put down. I cannot abide menu request out of clothes despite our unbroken eight-day relationship. Call it what you will, but symbiotic relations with trousers makes me uncomfortable.
After two days of nothing but the digestible plastic mix with copious amounts of saturated fat that the Army jokingly refers to as “Meal Ready to Eat” or MRE, the cooks have returned to their playful shenanigans. Lasagna? Still not sure. And what were those oval-esque chunks of what I think were meat? My ex pants would have liked it I think.

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MRE Chili with Beans (I think)

March 19. Day five. I asked for the corned beef hash at breakfast to which the server replied “Uh. That’s oatmeal, Chief”. I put my tray back and sought out pop tarts and granola bars. I am obviously at some entry level of gastrointestinal hell. I am not alone. The Company XO has reached an advanced stage of this yet unnamed malady. He doesn’t even exhale anymore. He simply inhales then levitates momentarily. I thought the engineers were running a vibe roller near our HQ at one point. I am sure he will explode soon and take out several Soldiers in the blast. Regrettably, I am convinced that I am not far behind him. On the bright side, if this new disease I have discovered does indeed kill me, I will be immortalized like Madame Curie. The down side is that our manners of demise may look similar once I’ve run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible.
Now that I think about it, maybe I should get a Geiger counter to the DFAC.

March 20. Day …… Six of the exercise? I could have sworn I left home on the10th. I just learned that it is Friday. Not sure how I was still on Tuesday. This very well may be the most elaborate ruse ever pulled by an entire unit on one person. The good news is that I am onto them. I refused all alleged victuals and seem to have entered a period of lucidity. It is plain to see that I have been being drugged at the chow hall. To what end, I cannot yet say. Maybe we stand on the cusp of perfecting MK Ultra and I am the guinea pig. Maybe I’m like Dolph Lungren (without all the muscle) in Universal Soldier. Being a Unisol looks like it sucked though. I don’t like this experiment anymore.
The XO is a lost cause. He persists in consuming mass quantities of all that the “cooks” put before him. He has yet to explode, but his voice is definitely two octaves higher. It’s quite reminiscent of inhaling helium and he seems perplexed by my reaction to him speaking. Coughing fits failed to cover my mirth during his brief so I gave up the pretense. Apparently this is frowned on in the Army. I would never have guessed that the service cherishes pretense.

March 21: Today we finished loading our equipment back onto rail cars and ourselves onto buses. Several cases of hypothermia later and at least one heat casualty all in the same day, the task force has learned a lot about Louisiana weather. Oh! And we also had one hydraulic excavator accidentally discover an underground stream, much to the operator’s chagrin, making this the most memorable training exercise in which I’ve taken part. All is not lost. Personally, I gained several valuable tidbits of good to know info from participating in this exercise.

hye

Field training lessons learned:

  • When your female commander is in your area of operations, lock the door to the porta-john. “Jesus peaches, Chief”! I swear she sounded like Pam from Archer when she said that.
  • Hydraulic excavators are not ideal for subterranean amphibious operations.
  • A three-day exercise takes ten days.
  • Despite CDC protestations, Lyme’s disease IS TOO present in the South and probably transmitted to me when I got stabbed by the blind fish I caught by hand while standing in waist deep mud.

Vodka, IVs, and Iraq

The floor of our barracks room in a commandeered Iraqi building on Camp Taji had a scrap of ancient brown carpet that resembled sand paper more so than it resembled carpet. It now looked like we had just sacrificed a small animal on it.

So let me back this up just a little.

Soldiers will always find ways to occupy their minds and capitalize on any little bit of free time. This is still true even in the austere conditions in which we live while deployed. Some activities are harmless or even beneficial. A pick-up game of basketball, working out frustrations at the gym, constructing a grill out of whatever is available so we can enjoy something we’ve charred as a community, or any number of things often taken for granted back home. Then there are the odd things one could reasonably expect not to see. My buddy and roommate, Trohizzle (name slightly altered) and I once witnessed medics engage in batting practice with expired IV bags. Other times we will find mischief because it just feels good to get away with something. We don’t always get away with things though. Trohizzle and I were forced to dismantle our potato mortar that we’d planned to mount to the rood of our living accommodations. The idea was to lob rotting produce into the area in which our battery’s vehicles were parked when the crews were prepping for mission. We could have even hit the First Sergeant in his smoking area and never be seen. It would have been brilliant! Thanks a lot, Chief. It was a good design. For me, the ultimate in “getting away with things” happened when Trohizzle and I scored a bottle of vodka. I then went to the dining facility and secured as many boxes of cranberry and orange juice as could fit in my uniform pants cargo pockets.

If you aren’t familiar with modern combat zones, there is this little thing called General Order One. It’s just a fancy way of saying that US Soldiers aren’t allowed to consume alcohol and are instead forced to look on while the Italians enjoyed wines, the Macedonians swilled Rakija, the Australian guzzled beer, or the South Africans imbibed on any one of the thousands of drink types they stockpiled. The South Africans really like to drink. A lot. Seriously. They had a bar in their maintenance bay that was better stocked than any I’ve ever seen.

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(Young Frankenstein 1974)

I’m pretty sure I looked like Igor in the image above when returning to my room with pilfered juice laden pockets. Coincidently, I made the same face after seeing the South African bar as well. And the first time I saw my wife. Pretty much every time I see something that catches my eye. I’m positive that this is why my wife can read me so well. I make this face often.

It had to be winter because we were still working days (we worked nights in the summer to avoid the worst of the heat) which was good because it would have seemed over-the-top wrong to get off work at seven in the morning and debauch myself with hot fruity vodka drinks. Everybody knows hot fruity contraband is best consumed under the cover of darkness. So we did. And it was awful and glorious and we felt a little bit like men again.

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(The Shawshank Redemption 1994)

We’d gotten away with it despite a Lieutenant losing his weapon and inducing a mass formation at 2 A.M. in which the whole battery had to account for weapons. This is how I found myself inebriated in the middle of the war in Iraq, wobbling at the back of a formation while holding an M16 and 210 rounds of ammo. I’ve never felt more redneck in my life.

The next morning was as one might expect after splitting nearly two liters of vodka between two guys. We were miserable, but it was worth it. We also had a plan of action to correct our misery. We’d convinced the medics at batting practice to spare two bags of normal saline and we’d both been through the combat life saver’s course in which Soldiers are taught how to start an IV. Voila! Instant hangover cure! Trohizzle applied the tourniquet and deftly inserted the needle. He popped the tourniquet off and stood to admire his handy work. It was then that he realized he’d failed to free the catheter from the needle or even hook up tubing. He stood bent over with his hands cupped and rapidly filling with my blood.

“What are you going to do? Put it back?” I asked while laughing.

With that he opened his hands and stood.

I never did get my bag of saline.

On Spicket Docility and Other Entomological Myths

According to research, the Camel Cricket is harmless and timid. The researchers suggesting such are obviously terrible at their jobs. First of all, these cursed things aren’t even well named. When I discovered the species I dubbed them with a more appropriate moniker: Spickit. Since this species is clearly a mash-up of a cricket and a spider, Spicket just works better. They also kind of remind me of a tick but leggier. Grandticky Longlegs is just too much of a mouthful to be practical though. The second bit the bug specialist types got wrong is in regards to the alleged harmless and timid nature. They aren’t harmless or even mildly timid. They also sport a highly evolved social structure that will become clear as you read. I have personal case studies backing up my claims. What do these entomologists have? That’s right. Opinions.

On Spicket Harmlessness

0200 hours. Training area Tom somewhere on the Korean peninsula. I crawled into my sleeping bag for some much needed down time. In case you aren’t aware of how these things work in cold weather, the fewer articles of clothing you wear the warmer the sleeping bag keeps you. I did keep my boxers on just because there was typically only a foot of space between cots in our tent. Nobody wants to wake at two a.m. with an unwashed naked dude standing over them. I’m considerate like that. After a few minutes my sleeping bag began to warm comfortably and I began to drift off. I scratched absently at my chest and was jolted awake by what I was sure was a wasp or a spider. It felt a lot like a sting and I extracted myself from the sleeping bag at a high rate of speed propelled by nothing but my glutes working in a rapid scissor-like fashion. With my flashlight I found that a Spicket had lay claim to my accommodations and was perched on a fold of cloth with bits of my flesh still hanging from his mouth. I almost crushed it with my M16 but it retreated deeper into the folds of my bed and the army doesn’t like it when you wield a rifle like a fly swatter. Then I had an epiphany. I closed the mouth of the sleeping bag and took it outside the tent and shook it out. The Spicket bite left a raised welt that burned and itched for days. Harmless nature debunked! Take that, entomologists!

*Graphic Representation

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On Spicket Timidity

Several weeks later and back at my barracks I had one assault me in the shower. It was so large I could see its eyes tracking my movement and I swear I saw some intelligence in there. All I did was pull back the curtain and it began leaping at my nude form. After unleashing a string of profanity coupled with many instantly fabricated words, I tried to reason with it.

“Look, you,” I said. “I get it. I don’t like my nude form either, but it is more offensive to the nose right now than to the eyes. Umm. Yeah. So I don’t see a nose, so I can see your point, but this isn’t going to work.”

It seemed to take “this isn’t going to work” as a declaration of hostilities and began lunging at me again. With each leap it splayed its legs wide and threw its belly at whatever the intended target was. It was seriously exactly like a face hugger from the Alien movies. Except it didn’t have a tail. Or a mouth underneath. And it was more crunchy sounding every time it landed in the tub. So maybe exactly isn’t the best choice of words here, but it felt exactly like a face hugger attack. I’d anticipated this and applied a liberal coating of baby oil to my entire body in the hopes that if it did land on me it would not be able to gain a toe-hold. I forgot to mention the toes! The danged thing had discernable toes! I also donned my Army issue body armor but took the plates out. I just felt like steel and Kevlar plates was overkill at this point, but I was interested in the groin protector that dangles from the front of the armor vest.

*Spicket/Facehugger comparison

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The donning of armor came after my second attempt to rid myself of this violent bug with a honey badger’s attitude. It takes two hands to operate an ad hoc flamethrower comprised of an aerosol can and cigarette lighter. It takes one hand to draw the shower curtain behind which my source of torment lurked. I was simply not fast enough to draw the curtain and deploy my weaponry before the Spicket launched a preemptive strike. Wielding the shower curtain like a matador employs a cape, I beat a hasty advance to the rear (I hate retreating), regrouped, and donned body armor. I also determined that my homemade flammenwerfer required my hands be too close to the target and opted for hot shower water and an open drain as my new weapons. I began by proffering my helmet on one side as a decoy kind of like you might see in a movie to trick a sniper into firing and exposing his position. I then turned the water on as high as I could and began trying to wash a now hyper hoppy flesh eating Spicket down the drain.

It took some effort, but my superior skills as a Soldier eventually won out over his unadulterated rage and hopping skills.

Spickets: 1. Me: 2. Timid fallacy perpetuated by entomologists: Debunked!

Closing Comments

It occurs to me (and should to you now as well) that Spicket society is largely unstudied and drastically misunderstood. It is clear to me from my own encounters that they are only semi-isolationist and practice a caste system like some South American ants. There are the drones who go out into the world and bring back food (aka: me-flesh). There are also Spickets similar to the ant soldier caste except these are more like lone assassins or Mafioso hitmen. The one that lay in wait behind my shower curtain was one of these. If I had just killed the bitey one, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to put out that Spicket fatwa on me.