Karaoke Guard-shack

While in the U.S. Marines, I’d been stationed in Iwakuni , Japan for about 9 months primarily working on Sidewinder Missile launchers. I had the opportunity to deploy to Korea on a team exercise with the South Korean Marines. (ROK Marines)
Unfortunately part of being an E-3 Lance Corporal meant $hit details. In this case it was pulling guard duty. I found myself in a guard shack with a few ROK Marines rotating. I spoke no Korean and they spoke no English.
Being early October there was a bit of a chill in the air. As the sun went down, the stadium type lights lit the nearby flight line elongating the shadows of the praying mantis which covered the Tarmac by the thousands.
Keeping an eye on our Vietnam era F-4 fighter jets and their smaller, F-5’s, we settled in for our duty as many of our brothers in arms headed out for a night in the town. Respectively they gave us crap as they rubbed it in, they were on liberty.
We were well equipped each with a 12 gauge shotgun with one difference. I had no shells. This was in thanks to a fellow Marine the night before who saw a ghost and started shooting across the flight line. I guess a good rifle butt stroke would have to do that night.
As the cold night wore on, I exchanged a few friendly head nods with my ally. Each of our respective NCOs, had stopped in for a report.
We got off duty around Midnight when the ROK Marine told me to follow him.

We headed to their unheated guard shack where there was a ROK sergeant and another peon non-rate like me.

The Sergeant, shouted a few orders at one of the peons who then rushed out the door.
The Sergeant offered me a seat and there we sat. He said something to the remaining non-rate who proceeded to belt out a Korean song like no other. When he finished ole Sarge took a crack at another song whole heartedly.
Not knowing allot of Korean customs, I just clapped when they finished and smiled.
The door opened and in stepped the other ROK Marine with his hands full. He had a couple of bottles Soju, (Korean type Sake) and a big dish covered with foil. Ole sarge updated Peon #2 on the festivities at hand who started singing like a canary.
Sarge cracked open the soju and passed the Bottle around.

He then removed the foil on the dish. When the steam cleared, there was a pile of roast pork … After chowing and chugging abit, my new buddies each whipped out a few tunes each. I got the sense that I was up.

Other than choir I wasn’t sure if I knew all the lyrics to a full song. Then it came to me ..finally listening to all those Beatles albums would pay off…

There in a cold guard-shack in South Korea, I was doing my best to honor Paul McCartney with a rendition of “Michelle”.. I’m sure I butchered the French lyrics but I was in good company. Belly and heart warm, I made my way back to tent city with a great memory I still cherish today.


Lessons from Dirty Dick. He is Alllll. Riighttttt!

Newly married, living in Hawaii, and 3 months fresh out of the US Marines. (Semper Fi to all my fellow Marines). Could not find a job! Not much demand for a sidewinder missile technician in “the world”. As fate would have it, coming from Lynden, would pay off. Just finished an interview with a small airline company which basically when, they saw I was a Haole boy it wasn’t happening. Walking back up to HR, but who did I run into but Cheryl Clay. She was a few years my senior in HS. We were both surprised. (To give an idea, Lynden was a town of 5k people in Washington state) . After small chit chat, including my unemployment , Cheryl told me her husband worked at an irrigation company and they were hiring. I thanked her , called Lani, her husband. I was hired by Lani the next day as a laborer for 4.75/hr. Lani told me to report back the next day. I would be working with Dick.
Bright and early over the likelike hwy at the shop the next morning, in walks Dick. Around 40, he stood about 5’5″ 200 lbs. He had these enormously disproportionate forearms not unlike Popeye . He wore thick eyeglasses under an Indiana Jones hat while sporting matching safari shirt and trousers. (No less than 20 times I heard people ask him if he was going on a safari, Dick didn’t blink an eye). “All right , let’s get the truck loaded.”

The truck was a small Nissan with a pipe rack, tool box and PVC parts bins in the back. The cab was tight. Dick drove, and I hung my head out the window to avoid the stank of dicks half full brass spittoon.

We arrived at the small commercial building where we were to install the irrigation system. Small lava rock facade building with compacted coral bed interwoven with bamboo roots.
Feeling a little like i was in a “Cool Hand Luke ” movie, Dick shouted out, I need a trench all along here about 6″ wide and 6″deep.
Balls to the wall I started digging. Dick wouldn’t say much except for the occasional fart or burp. Unfortunately the air would smell like fermented Skoal regardless of which end it came out of. What a character. Not unlike an overseer in a plantation, Dick stood, hands on hips burning holes in the back of my head. Close to lunch, U overheard Dick on the pay-phone. “Yeah he’s a real hard charger, but they all are on the first day.
I wasn’t afraid to work and eventually won Dick over. He began teaching me how to fit pipe, braze copper, repair valves etc…he never ceased to amaze me with his mischievous antics. If he saw a young hottie walking along the street, you guessed it, he would cat call and howl. When the lady would scowl and look over , Dick would point to me. He also loved to burp loud. Not just any burp but a burping yell as he tried to burp the words All Right!.. Periodically would be down in a trench. He would let loose. I would ask him, didn’t you learn you should say excuse me? Stoic and speechless, he wouldn’t flinch.
With all his questionable mannerisms, Dick knew his stuff, he also appreciated that I took interest in learning. Slowly I was becoming an irrigation technician.
One afternoon we were literally chest deep in mud repairing pipe in a deep planter outside a high rise , out walks a young beauty in a white dress with her white poodle in tow. We worked on slopping in the mud, 10 minutes later she walks back, stops. Takes out a tissue, wipes the dogs backside and walks in the building. Dick and I busted out laughing in disbelief. What’s wrong with this picture? Lol.

Time was passing and within 18 mos I had earned 3.00 more on the hour. Dick was abit disturbed by this making the comment, ” you get one more raise and I’m out of hear”.
The owner if the company had a Porsche, a boat and a high maintenance GF. I would periodically hear him defend himself to others who accused him of being a tightwad. Might had been working 60 hours a week and until my 1st wife pointed out that I should be getting 1,5 for anything over 40, I was clueless . Marines didn’t get OT pay . I asked him about it and miraculously my hours were cut to 40. Next came the vacation conversation , I asked him, “well I’ve been here a year and a half, when might I get vacation pay”?
“Ray,6 more mos after you have been here a year you can have a week. “. “I’m a bit confused”, I replied . He said, “remember 6 mos ago? We changed the company name.
I felt sorry for Dick. He was somewhat trapped. In his forties, body giving out. In him I saw myself 20 years from now. Just finding out we were expecting my first son, made think about my future and where I didn’t want to be. Bickering with a self serving employer? Nope. I started taking software engineering classes at night. I would hose off in the shop head to class til 9 and do it all again. These men have me the gift of seeing who I didn’t want to be like. I was proud to be the first in my family to go to college.

God blessed me shortly after my vacation chat with the owner by bringing another irrigation specialist into my life. Jay was a mild mannered gentle owner who simple handed me over my own truck, list of customers, gas card. I was see him every 2 weeks to get my check and give him my invoices.
Jay taught me, trust instills confidence. What a great fair man.
I stand amazed by the fact that regardless of their motive, you can learn something from everyone.
Today I am thankful .

Without Self-discipline, Success is Impossible. Period!

To paraphrase MLK jr. “There is no shame in being a street sweeper, embrace who you are and be the best street sweeper in the world”. funny but thinking back, I remember hearing  my Dad giving my sister  similar advice but being  my Dad, it was more like, I don’t care if you are a hooker, just be the best damn hooker out there. He loved to shock at times to make his points. We knew it was his way of showing he was loved us and supported whatever we chose to be, just work hard at it.

I used to accompany my Dad as a little guy into stores watching him pull cons on mostly clueless cashiers with a short change con. I’d watch him read people, he would size them up and sometimes call off whatever had thought about putting into play. He was a survivor. he had 3 young kids, a monkey on his back, a criminal record, this is how he survived. How WE survived. No doubt my dad had a sense of right and wrong as I got the belt when i got caught in 3rd grade stealing some candy and smoking. The message was clear, this was HIS life, he didnt want it to be mine.

Just before he passed away, it was strange but he was very attimant that I was to get baptized. in hind sight it was almost as if he had a checklist. He arranged for me to meet with the Catholic priest  twice a week to study Catholic Doctrine. much of “the rules” didnt make sense to me but to please my Dad, I went through the motions.

After My dad’s funeral I returned home to Washington State, stumbling around as a 16 year old, in kind of a fog, not talking to anyone about my loss since I didnt know how to. Not surpisingly you see families with multiple generations of Cops, Lawyers, brick layers, etc…naturally young men are impressionable but also encouraged by your elders to due better than the previous generation. at this point in my life I found myself with the lofty goal of staying out of jail.

To quote, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, “Without Self-discipline, success is Impossible. Period!”

Always the pesky little brother, I followed my older brother to try out for the High School wrestling team. He was naturally strong and quick while I was a prepubecent skinny 4′ 11″ 84lbs small fry. Even at the 101lb weight class, i gave up almost 20 pounds. I loved being around Danny and wrestling gave us bro time together riding home after practice.

Our Coach was former LA Rams NFL lineman named Ross Boice. always light hearted and encouraging, Ross put us through our paces and though not winning allot of team matches, Ross was honest, personable and respected. After each match Ross would methodically go through each weight class and provide honest feedback on what was good and what needed work. Win or lose, I would come away with a sense of worth from this man I respected so much.

Ross had an old baby blue dodge pickup with “three on the tree” gear shift and spots of rust throughout. He would pick me up at 530am before school so I could run stairs or work out on the universal weight machine. at the time I had now idea this was former NFL player, and Washington State football hall of famer. We called him Ross.

I found Ross to be the polar opposite of my Stepdad(later TBKA my Dad). Tony was an intimidating man with dark curly hair over 6 ft and a big Serpico mustache. he wasn’t a man of many words and  didnt say many things twice. at that age I couldv’e easliy descibed him as moody or always grumpy but of course this was coming from a self serving teenager who hadn’t taken the time to see a man who had taken in 3 kids that were not of his own, worked shift work and if he called in sick, it was because he physically could not get out of bed.

As kids we all experienced Tony’s criticism or quick to trigger temper. But I also saw a man who could fix things. I cant remember a time when anybody came to repair anything at our house, cars, appliances, carpentry, Tony was the TexMex McGivor.

Although Polar opposites, each of these men taught me discipline in their own way, perhaps in their own language. Ross with his gentle guidance and encouraging words, and Tony by the actions of his work ethnic infallible ability to learn by doing. At the time I spoke Ross’s language as was my nature at the time. Understanding  Tony’s dialect would take a few more years. regardless, they had removed the chains of the limiting idea that sucess was simply to not go to jail….They gave me enough Self Confidence,  the Self Discipline that I  thought I could become a US Marine…

Next up..Boot camp

Go Boy, Breaking Chains

We all have a sad story  but I believe we also have  a story of hope if we can recognize the chains that bind us making us prisoners of our past, “sins”of our fathers, (sins in the sense that what we have learned from our parental figures(blood or not) that keep us from experiencing the grace of God(feeling Loved/Worthy).

Prisoners, Cons, Convicts, Felons, Delinquents…hard to read or say these words without a negative feeling of wanting to get away , ignore or hope that some authority figure somewhere will deal with “THEM” societys undesirables. In this blog(my first) I hope to share life experiences which may help others cope with similar experiences as well as learn from others.

I first heard the term “Go Boy” during the summer of my 16th year.It was the title of a book by Roger Caron. I was visiting my dad for two weeks during the summer of 1979 in Edmonton, Alberta. I didn’t realize at the time this book held many secrets to understanding who my father was.. “Go-Boy is a prison yell used when an inmate (or inmates) break from a work detail or crew in an attempt to escape”……..Like Roger Caron my father spent many years behind bars or in institutes……

August 1979- My father looked tired, but he was “clean”. He hadn’t used drugs or alcohol in over two years and was proud of it. I hadn’t see him in two years and before that, I cant remember.  My Dad had always been my hero. Simply put, he taught me what feeling loved unconditionally felt like.

My first memory as a child was sittting at the kitchen table watching my Dad “mixing up the medicine” He was a Heroin addict. I was facinated to see the bulging veins, the needle, spoon, lighter and the change in my Dads personality.  I was maybe 4 or 5.

My Dad was born in Northern Ontario, in the early forties. His Dad away working, wasn’t around much. I heard he was good in school and a talented baseball player.

When my dad  was 15 my Grandfather was working in the mines of BC(British Columbia). As I understand it, my Dad and the mine owners kid.  took a jeep without asking, for a joyride. It was reported. The mine owners kid walked away but my father wasn’t so lucky. He was left in the prison with the general popul;ation of grown men for well over a year. I can only imagine what they did to him.

As noted in the book “Go Boy” prison abuse in Canada was extreme and tolerated. My dad told me of abuses such as dragging him up the stairs by his hair, making him clean out the gallows among other things. Guards telling him, “ya see that boy, thats where you’ll be one day”. As I understand this is where my Dad found his escape from reality, Heroin.

As I came to understand it, my parents had split when I was 3 or so. I lived with my 2 older siblings and my Dad until I was 9.  We traveled back and forth across Canada moving frequently. My Dad kept us away from my Mum. for what ever reason, only seeing her once when I was six. We stayed on the move, attending 7 different schools by the time I was in 4th grade. At times we slept in the car, snuck back into “our house” which rent hadn’t been paid, just to sleep there at night and scoot out at dawn. Through all this, I knew he loved me.

I was happy as long as we were with Dad. When we weren’t with him (when he was in “the joint” , rehap or a hospital). we became wards of the province. Then we were either in foster care(thats another story), with my Grandma(God Bless her) or my Dad’s friend.

Over time my Dad developed drug related Paranoid Schizophrenia. one incident,  he gathered all of us up as we ran down the street, knocking on a strangers doors so he could call the police as someone was after us.  As the police arrived, it was then the police who were now after us. I was in the back seat of the police car with my sister, and dad as he yelled at my brother in the front seat to  be ready to jump out. Chaos. But through all this, I knew he loved me.

How did I know he loved me? The way he held my hand. He danced with us, He laughed with us. One time I told him I had to go to a Bday party. I wrapped up one of my toy guns as a present and brought it to school. He showed up at my class with a new gift. Most importantly, wherever we were staying, he always came back for us.  Ultimatley and I didn’t realize until later, he brought us back to our Mum.

Through all the turmoil, fogginess of substance abuse, he saw that what his kids needed was stability. It wasn’t easy adjusting to life in the U.S. New school was the norm but the structure, bedtimes, homework, and wondering…when was Dad coming to get us?

Needless to say, we never did go back to live with him. He was again in and out of jail and institutions which at times were close enough by that we could visit. It was heart wrenching leaving the jails when we would visit knowing he would have to stay there.

Although “clean” for the last two years of his life, my Dad took it to the extreme when he stopped taking his prescribed meds and two weeks after my visit in 1979, he took his own life.

During a time that people didn’t talk about their feelings and you just sucked it up, I had no idea what I carried inside had to be dealt with.

To be continued…….