Monday, October 10, 2016

The White Rig

They both knew the white truck was way too heavily overloaded. Raymond knew the load wasn't highway legal, which is the big reason the two men stood next to the truck on this particular early Sunday morning. Raymond desperately needed a cash draw against the next job. He damned well hoped he could get one, because he was damned sure gonna be in big trouble if he couldn't. It was imperative to get this load of gear over to the town of Torwood so he could claim the new job was started. Taking the load over early on a Sunday morning was Sammy's idea. Sammy stood next to Raymond as they looked over the load.
Good thing he could count on a loyal guy like Sammy to help out too. It was Sammy who came up with the bright idea to load the rig this way. Sammy said the could avoid the troopers by making their trip early on a Sunday morning and sticking to the back roads off the interstate. Sometimes Sammy came up with genius notions, and this was one of them. Sammy had come through big time with a way to snatch Raymond's cookies out of the fire. Raymond owed Sammy a lot besides money for sure.
Already Raymond was three weeks behind in paying his men and could not hold them off much longer. Two or three guys were starting to make some pretty ugly noises about pay and voicing dire threats under their breath. Didn't they know he was doing his goddamned best and would pay them just as damned soon as he got his hands on some money anyway? As it was right now he barely had enough in his pocket to buy fuel for the freaking truck for shit's sake!
Good thing Sammy was around to calm things down. That damned guy was absolute gold at times and this was turning out to be one of them. 
"Make sure them binders are good and tight." Raymond told Sammy. "We can't have nothing rolling off this rig before we reach Torwood."
"You got it Boss. Damned right!"
Raymond had not shaved for a couple days so he looked a little on the scruffy side, not that it mattered to him right now. His belly bulged out over his belt in front a little and his clothing was soiled and rumpled. If you saw him on the street you could easily believe he was homeless, especially with his blurry eyes and spastic movements. He was fairly tall, but with his flab and sloped shoulders he seemed shorter than he actually was. He looked like he was a little hung over this morning too. Sammy on the other hand was shorter, wiry looking and much neater. He carried himself well, and with his cobalt blue eyes he might even be considered handsome but for the hard and tired look his face showed this morning. There were heavy wrinkles at the corners of Sammy's eyes, but his eyes were bright and alert. Sammy had worked for Ray over five years now and they were social friends too. 
For two months Raymond had been robbing Peter to pay Paul as the saying went, ever since they got chased off that one job for 'poor performance'. The general contractor called him in and told him his work was sub-standard and unacceptable. That cheap bastard told him to get his goddamned gear off the job that very day. Then, the son of a bitch hadn't paid him a frigging dime except for his first money draw. Raymond and his crew put three week's work into that frigging job too, and he would bet his last dollar the general contractor damned sure had billed his own client for that work too. But, what the hell could you do? Water over the dam now anyway and best not to worry about it.
Ever since being fired from that job though, it was just one damned thing after another. It seemed like everything he touched just went to hell. Getting chased off the job put him behind the eight ball big time on money, and when the next guy went bust on him before he even got good and started, that really put the icing on the cake. He made only one pissy little draw on that one before the contractor went belly up and informed him there was no more money coming. Zippo. Nada. He lost all the pay for three weeks' work in that one if you didn't count the initial money draw he got, which Raymond never did. It damned sure hadn't left him anything to pay his guys with.
Hell, now he barely had enough money to buy weed for Christ's sake, and hadn't had a drink in over a two weeks before last night. Then Melodie up and took off with the kids and went to stay with her mother. That was over a month ago and now she was talking about divorce and child support too. And here Raymond was living in his frigging truck for Christ's sakes! Sometimes you just couldn't catch a break no matter how hard you tried. Yep, he was pretty damned desperate to get his equipment on the new job over in Torwood so he could make a quick money draw on it. You might say it was a critical situation.
"How's she looking, Boss? Sammy spoke up, breaking Raymond's reverie.
"Guess it'll have to do. Let's hit the road while we can, Sam. We damned sure don't want no troopers snooping around this load."
"You got that right, Boss, 'specially with that bag of weed you got stashed behind the seat in the load. Don't want no frigging sniffer dogs getting near that stuff, no sir!" Sammy laughed.
Over the past couple of years,Raymond had supplemented his income selling pot. It was no big deal since he went real low profile by quietly peddling a little weed to his own employees only. Raymond was damned careful about that because he sure didn't need any drug felonies on his record. His own supplier suggested he do it that way and Raymond figured this was a safe and easy way to make a little money on the side and pay for his own personal weed too. Trouble was lately, nobody had been paid for so long, he was down to selling weed to his guys on credit. A problematic thing for Raymond, since he knew if he did not provide weed to them while owing them money, they might easily turn on him and it would make things pretty damned iffy for him if they did. No, he would continue letting them have all they wanted on credit as long as his supplies lasted. Raymond figured he really had no real choice until he got everyone caught up on what he owed them. How the hell did he ever let it get to this point anyway?
Already some of his boys owed him a week's worth of their pay or more on their weed accounts. Raymond did not like to think about what might happen if his weed supply ran out before everyone got paid. His own supplier did not do business on credit for damned sure. But, that was a worry for another day, and Raymond figured he would get things back on track on this next job. Hell, that was really why Raymond was in this business to begin with; the chance to make a quick buck. When you got behind the eight ball on money, you could always hope the next job would bail you out. Sometimes it was a very near thing too, but Raymond had done it too many times to count over his years in business.
The two men, employee and boss, climbed into the truck and Raymond fired up the engine. The truck was the biggest heavy-duty pickup they make. On the back were loaded two gas-powered cement mixers, and more than dozen left over 80 pound bags of mortar mix from the last job. Coupled to the heavy duty towing hitch at the rear, was a double-axle trailer which Raymond took on trade for money owed on a job last year. Loaded on that trailer was yet another heavy-duty white pickup truck, also loaded with many more sacks of mortar mix. The aggregate of the load made a very heavy and unwieldy load indeed, which was the reason Raymond was certain it was not highway legal. The main reason the second white truck was loaded on the trailer instead of being driven on its own, was because Raymond right now simply did not have the money to buy fuel for two rigs. Things would be cut pretty closely just to have enough fuel as it was. It was Sammy's idea to load the extra truck on the trailer this way, and to Raymond it seemed brilliant. 
Turns out Ol' Sammy was one helluva good ace to have in your hole at times - like now.
Problem was, there was no real choice except the interstate for the first twenty miles. That was the riskiest section, so they planned to start just before dawn. There was less chance to encounter troopers on the prowl then was the idea. Raymond knew through experience the state troopers on the interstate were much fewer in number in early morning hours, although there was still a chance of seeing one. The hope was even if they did meet with one, the trooper would not notice their illegal load in the darkness. They had about ninety miles altogether to travel, but Sammy knew about a nice and lonely secondary road along the boundary of a big swamp. Sammy claimed they could depend on almost no traffic for over sixty miles of this two-lane. The main risks were the few miles at either end of it, and they would just have to trust to their luck on those. That was a risk Raymond had no choice but to take now if he expected to get his gear on the new job.
It was on the on ramp onto the interstate that Raymond felt just how heavily they were loaded. 
"Christ's sakes, Sammy!" he exclaimed. "I can't get any damned acceleration out of this rig at all!"
Sammy only grunted, and after the truck entered the more level travel lanes Raymond found he was able to slowly accelerate to a higher speed. But, the heavily overloaded truck combination took over two miles to get their speed up to around sixty. Sixty miles per hour was still not close to the speed of the other traffic flying by them at seventy and more. Raymond kept to the far right slow lane and let all the other traffic go on by. Keeping the accelerator to the floor, Raymond struggled to maintain a miserable sixty miles per hour as the engine roared and both men watched nervously for troopers. 
"Hellfire, Sammy," Raymond complained. "I can't get any more than sixty out of this rig flat out on the level. That's as much as she's got, and not a damned bit more. I don't think we can make it on the hills. Trooper is gonna stop us for damned sure."
"Just keep the hammer down, Ray, and don't look back. We ain't got that far to go, and there ain't much in the way of hills where we're going."
"Yeah, and I'm scared shitless." replied Raymond. "But, you're right. We ain't got no choice and maybe our luck will hold."
Their luck did hold, and the plan worked. Thirty minutes later Raymond coasted down the off ramp, braking very carefully with no troopers at all having been seen. Within five more minutes they finally turned onto their lonely secondary road, each one breathing his own simultaneous sigh of relief.   
"Hot damn! That frigging interstate's behind us!" crowed Raymond. "I'm going to let her romp and give 'er all she's got now."
"Speed limit's fifty-five." observed Sammy dryly.
"Oh Hell, I know that! But, we got to get on down the road. The sooner we get to the other end, the sooner we get off this frigging road. I'm gonna keep the hammer down and let 'er do whatever she can. You said there ain't no patrol on this road anyway."
"Well, I ain't never seen one yet, and it's your rig." Said Sammy.
About a mile ahead of them, old man Wally McFadden was headed in the same direction in his ten-year-old fishing car. Ever since he retired Wally didn't give much of a hoot for anything. Wally went where he wanted and did what he wanted to do, and did it when he wanted to do it. He was 'in it for the minute' as he liked to brag sometimes, and today Wally was headed for his favorite fishing hole on the river about thirty miles ahead. Wally's wife Martha was OK with things too and had never complained about his fishing. Wally figured she was just glad to get him out of her way and out from under her feet.  Martha was a good old girl all right, but 'Familiarity breeds contempt' was one philosophy Wally agreed with.
Wally liked to keep himself busy doing something interesting too. He knew too many people who went sedentary after retirement, and mostly they didn't live very long after that. He wanted to stay busy with something, and at seventy years old Wally thought himself pretty damned lucky to feel as good as he did. He generally watched what he ate, had never messed with cigarettes, and only took a drink of the hard stuff now and again. He allowed himself one six-pack of beer a week, and sure, maybe he could stand to lose a few pounds, but how many old farts can balance on one leg to put on their pants at seventy, anyway? Hell, Wally figured he could probably balance on one leg all damned day long if he felt like it.
This particular morning, Wally got up at five AM, made coffee and a couple sandwiches which he put in a bag. Gathering everything he needed, he left his wife a note.
"Gone fishing. Be back around supper. Don't forget to feed the dog." the note read. He knew she wouldn't forget to feed the dog - it was just his way of giving Martha a good poke. Keeps her honest, he figured.
Wally tooled along in his car minding his own business. He was lazily thinking of the fishing day ahead of him when he saw the white rig in his rear view mirror.  A flash of white from the rising sun first caught his eye and it took a moment or two to realize it was a truck slowly overhauling his car from behind. The road here is very flat, bordering as it does on a swamp, and straight as an arrow in places for some miles.  You can see a long way in each direction. In the entire stretch of over sixty miles you will seldom meet more than half a dozen cars and you might be passed from behind by only one or two the whole way. There is very little traffic on this road, especially at this time of day. 
Wally thought little of the rig behind him. He was in no hurry and driving just under the speed limit as the truck neared. Soon he could see some sort of bright reddish orange equipment over the cab's roof on the truck's back. Wally expected the truck to pass, since there was no oncoming traffic at all, and miles of room for it to pass. But, the truck did not pass, and instead it hugged Wally's rear bumper as if impatient for Wally to either speed up or move over out of his way.
"What in Hell's wrong with that guy?" Wally said softly to himself as he watched the truck in his mirror. "Why doesn't he just go ahead and pass?"
"What's wrong with that son of a bitch?" exploded Raymond in the cab of his truck behind Wally. "Why don't he speed up and get out of my goddamned way?"
"Probably some old farmer." Sammy commented.
"He ain't no damned farmer! There ain't no damned farm around here for at least fifty miles! That's a goddamned swamp out there, in case you ain't noticed!"
"Well, just some old fart then." said Sammy reasonably.
"Yeah, and that old fart's right in my goddamned way! I'm gonna ram him right in the ass!"
"Yeah, better not do that." Sammy commented as he glanced at Raymond.
"Oh, I ain't. But he's just really pissing me off." said Raymond as he laid on his horn.
The horn blowing really ticked Wally off too. No one likes someone on their rear bumper to begin with, and to rudely blow their horn like that was way over the top in Wally's opinion. His usual way of dealing with tailgaters was simply to keep slowing down until they passed, which they almost always did. But, this time was different. This guy was really, really irritating. Maybe it was because of that contrary nature his wife always accused him off - Wally begged to differ, but he decided he wasn't going to slow down for this damned fool. Instead he reached under his car seat to make sure 'Old Mr. Pew Pew', his .38 revolver was still there in its leather holster where he always kept it. Satisfied, Wally maintained his steady speed just under the limit, no more, no less by God. He resolved no damned impatient idiot was gonna bully Wally McFadden, nosiree. If that idiot wanted to get by, why didn't he just go ahead and pass then? He had miles of open road ahead of him as far as he could see, so why didn't he just get on down the damned road?
Radio reception is poor along this stretch, but Wally had found a station without too much static he could listen to, so he just relaxed as best as he could, listening to the music. Driving along at his sedate pace, he glanced in his rear view mirror now and then, just keeping a wary eye on that damned fool idiot behind him in the white rig. Wally was not going to worry about the bastard if he could help it.
Following in the truck behind and seeing his horn had no effect on the driver in front of him, Raymond gave up blowing it but stayed right on the bumper of the car ahead.
"Can't you get on by him then Ray?" Sammy asked.
"Oh Hell no!" replied Raymond. "I got 'er floored, but she won't do any more'n maybe another three or four more miles an hour flat out. I don't think we can get by that son of a bitch!"
"We was going faster than that on the big highway." said Sammy.
"Yeah, I know. But this road has more humps in it. We could maybe lose our load or something." said Raymond. "But, I damned sure wish that bastard would pull over and let us by. We need to make a little better time if we can. I'm worried about the other end, and don't want to get there so late the cops can spot us."
"If I had a damned gun I'd shoot the bastard." 
"Yeah well, it's your rig." replied Sammy, apropos of nothing..
Raymond tried to keep his truck right on Wally's rear bumper for the next twenty miles as Wally did his best to ignore him. That's pretty hard to do when someone is on your bumper like that, but to Wally's mild surprise he found he could, and after a while even began to have a little fun with the situation. He tried slowing down slightly, causing the truck behind him to slow down too. When the car ahead of him slowed, Raymond pulled out to pass, but then Wally speeded back up to fifty-five and Raymond was left hanging in the left lane with not enough juice to pass.
Watching in his rear view mirror, Wally could see the white rig lagging behind him as it struggled to catch up. It dawned on Wally then, the reason the other guy did not pass was simply because he did not have enough power to do it. And, a mere few seconds after realizing that, and thinking about the horn blowing, a nasty little devil came to perch on Wally's shoulder and whispered in his ear. The devil on his shoulder made Wally do the same thing over again. And then again, and then yet again. Each time the white rig behind him would be forced to slow down, and when he pulled out to try to pass, Wally would leave him far behind once again. It was kinda fun and Wally smiled a little each time.
Maybe his wife was right about that contrary thing after all, Wally thought, but he figured it was only payback to the other guy for all that tailgating and horn blowing. The idiot ought to know better than that, and it was pretty damned rude of him to hang on his ass that way.
"That old son of a bitch is screwing with me!" screamed Raymond to Sammy furiously, spittle flying from the corner of his mouth the third time he tried to pass and got left in the lurch. "This time I really am going to run that goddamned bastard over!"
This time Sammy simply nodded his head saying nothing, and Raymond did not ram Wally's car either, although he did get within two or three feet of him for a little while. But a small stab of guilt started working on Wally then, and he began to realize maybe he should quit antagonizing the other driver, and behave himself before things took a bad turn. He went back then to his steady just-under-the-limit speed, but he was still resolved he was not going to let some idiot in an overloaded truck push him around. Nosiree, not Mr. Wally McFadden and not while he had Old Mr. Pew Pew under his car seat!
There is a hard right turn in the road where it crosses Wally's river, and that's where Wally finally slowed down almost to a stop. He deliberately forced the white rig behind him come to a complete stop before he finally pulled all the way off the travel lane to allow it to pass. And, as the white rig snorted and bucked struggling to accelerate away, Wally saw Sammy leaning far out of the passenger window waving his middle digit vigorously at the end of his extended arm and shouting something. Wally couldn't exactly make out the words, but to his perverse delight, it seemed pretty obvious the words were not complimentary. Wally saw Raymond too, on his own side of the truck, doing exactly the same thing sticking his own arm up over the cab of the truck, with his middle digit extended, arm pumping up and down madly. 
None of that surprised Wally at all. He was not particularly offended either as he watched the white rig slowly gaining speed as it roared away leaving a blue stream of exhaust smoke behind. Wally figured he probably would have done the same thing himself, and he grinned wryly to himself as he got out of his fishing car and gathered his gear. If he didn't forget, maybe he would tell Martha about this little adventure tonight when he got home and they could laugh about it together. Then again, maybe he wouldn't mention it either. But all in all, it turned out to be a pretty damned satisfying start to his day.
At that same moment, fifteen miles further ahead State Trooper Stanley Smith is finishing his breakfast and coffee. In a few more minutes he will kiss his wife goodbye before heading out for today's patrol shift on the interstate highway a few miles further on. Newly married, Trooper Smith and his new wife enjoy living out in the country on this lonely country road, even if Sally did have reservations at first. Now she loves living here, and especially her lovely flower garden which Stanley dug up for her and helped her plant. It will soon be time for Stanley to don his straight-brimmed trooper hat, get in his patrol car and head to work. It is merely another day for Trooper Smith and life is good.
And, if you were following ten minutes or so behind Raymond and Sammy in their white rig, when you came up on the last two miles of this sixty-some-odd mile long stretch of lonely highway that morning, you would notice the blue lights flashing ahead. And, as you got closer you would see the state trooper's patrol car itself, something you very seldom see stopping anyone on this road. You would also see a dangerously overloaded heavy-duty white truck rig pulling a trailer with another truck loaded on it, pulled onto the shoulder of the road. And as you pass on by you would see the two angry looking men in handcuffs standing next to the white rig. You would see too, a very neatly attired young state trooper standing in front of the two angry men reading them their rights from a card.
As Mary Chapin Carpenter used to sing, "Sometimes you are the windshield; Sometimes you are the bug."  And, someone else has observed, "Sometimes you are the dog; Sometimes you are the hydrant." 
And if you are lucky, there may be times when you get to see karma kicking somebody's butt, even if you don't realize it when you see it happening. It's almost always very satisfying anyway!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whoring for Jesus

By the time I mustered out of the Marine Corps I had learned some very good life lessons - 'Never volunteer for ANYTHING!' is one good one, especially for any military person. That  is a worn out old cliche I know, but there are usually very good and solid back story reasons for any cliche. Another lesson I came away with was a strong intolerance for baloney of any kind. I don't easily tolerate verbal crap in other words.
Why should I spend my time listening to someone else's take on something when I am totally not interested? Sure, there are some times when I will hear someone out for the sake of being courteous. But, there are some inconsiderate people will who take advantage of your politeness for their own reasons. They will count on your politeness to shove their message, whatever it may be, down your throat. Door-to-door sales people are one good example. Over time they have given themselves such a bad rap that most communities have now officially barred the practice, or limited it severely. Ordinances have been passed outlawing 'solicitation', and very deservedly so in my opinion. I don't remember the last time one has come knocking on my door recently.
One time, way back when I was first married and before our town had laws against solicitation,  a couple guys came to my door saying they were doing a 'survey' and needed to talk to me and my wife together. They looked suspiciously like sales people, so I asked if they were selling something.
"Oh no." one or them proclaimed ever so innocently. "We are just doing a survey in your neighborhood and need to talk to you and your wife for just a few minutes. We won't take up more than five minutes of your time."
Based on that I let them in my house but still kept up my guard. My understandable assumption was they were municipal workers doing a community survey. The two guys, both young,  sat down in the chairs I offered, The very first thing one of them did was to loosen the straps on a satchel type binder affair he was lugging around. He let the contents cascade like an accordion out across my living room floor. It was magazine covers in plastic sleeves for Christ's sakes!
"I thought you said you weren't selling anything!" I demanded angrily.
"Oh no, we're not selling anything." said the guy lied smiling all the while. "This is just part of our survey."
The guy must have believed that since he was already inside my house I probably out of politeness would not throw him out of my house. Unfortunately for him, he was 100% wrong. I said to him then, "You two have ten seconds to get your carcasses the hell out of my house before I throw you both out ass over tea kettle!"
They left of course, the junior man already in the doorway before I had finished my little speech. The other one was right behind him as quick as he could gather up his pitch materials. Over the years my practice has been simply just to shut  down strangers who came to the door uninvited. I lost my politeness impulse and don't feel any need at all to pretend to be polite if you are bothering me on my turf. If you come knocking on my door and it's not for some damned good and legitimate reason, I'm gonna send you packing. And, depending on how I feel at the moment, I might throw in a few earthy comments about your mother too while I'm at it. 
Although door-to-door sales people may nowadays be almost a thing of the past, there remains another breed of door-knocker who are all too pervasive and obnoxious. I refer of course to the 'evangelicals', who have arranged to omit themselves from most local ordinances. These folks still have their loopholes for their continuing apparently legal botherment of citizens. To my knowledge, there are no ordinances against their invasive activities, at least in my town. They must enjoy a certain level of success, or they would not continue their efforts. There must be a certain segment of the population too, who do respond to their evangelizing. But do they really actually expect most people to embrace their doctrines through their door bell ringing? Do they actually believe after irritating me or my wife we would be favorably inclined to join their group or contribute money?
These 'Godly' people come in different flavors. Sometimes it it the 'LDS' young men on their assigned 'missions'. Sometimes it's the Jehovahs witnesses, and other times in the Holiness Churchers, the Salvation Army 'War Cry' bunch, or the Church of God group. They all have the same thing in common, i.e., they seem to believe that by imposing their presence and 'message' beliefs on strangers, they are performing 'God's work'.  Such arrogance and impertinence would be laughable if it were not so bothersome.
To me, and to most other people I am convinced, they are perceived as a pestilential bunch of losers, so low on the intellectual ladder as to actually believe they 'do good' with their annoying activities. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they exist in enough numbers so the odds are anyone living in a residential neighborhood may routinely expect anywhere from one to several evangelical nuisance visits in a year. I used to simply politely turn them away, trying not to step on anyone's feelings. But, after being called to my door from my relaxing chair so many times I've changed my tune. It is such an imposition to find two of these vexing God's helpers standing on my doorstep. They almost always come in pairs, for good and sufficient reasons I am sure. And, over the years I have gradually worked out a more effective defense mechanism.
First, I resorted to simple blunt rudeness when answering the door, and before they had a chance to say anything, I would say something like, '"Go Away! I'm not interested!"
This is effective and always works for the moment, but never for long. Inevitably another pair would show up on my doorstep and ring my door bell. I then changed my tactics with a little psychology I dreamed up. I tried being excessively nice and inviting them in for a drink. I would say, "Hey! You're just in time. I'm getting ready to mix myself up a nice stiff rum toddy, but I also have whiskey or anything you want. What would you like?"
That would always quickly get them off my doorstep. I would hear some embarrassed mutters of apology and soon they would be hustling down the sidewalk at a brisk pace. I did worry that someone might eventually take me up on my offer of a drink but that never happened. Nevertheless, sooner or later yet another pair would come calling on my door step once again. There seemed to be no permanent cure for these pests.
Then, one day a home alarm salesman called when my wife was home alone. He told her he 'was in the neighborhood' and had seen the signs posted by our current alarm company and wondered if we might be 'interested in changing?'  He was obviously in violation of our town's solicitation ordinance and my wife was outraged - she has a quick temper and a low tolerance for aggravagtion that one. But, instead of calling the police, she rudely chased him away. The next day she went out and bought a small sign about 6" by 12" with the words "No Solicitation" on it. This, she posted on our front porch. 
Little did I know how effective this small sign could turn out to be for me! Not very long afterward our door bell rang. When I went to the door there stood two rather matronly middle-aged women with their hair up in buns, and bibles in their hands. I was already feeling a little touchy for some reason, and now this fresh irritation at the sight of these two dowdy women standing on my porch was all I needed. I didn't say a word and just simply pointed to my wife's new sign
"Oh, we're not soliciting!" said one of the women brightly.
I still don't know where my next words came from.  Somehow in my annoyance the words just popped into my head and came straight through out of my mouth, "Well, you're whoring for Jesus aren't you? Now, get the hell off my doorstep!"
Both women flushed in the face and turned, scampering away, almost running down my sidewalk back to their car. If there was ever a 'Well, I never!" moment it was precisely then. That was over four years ago and not a single evangelical has disturbed out peace since then. Perhaps there is some sort of secret way these people have for passing the word?

Of course, I'm sure we are not now welcome in their church anymore - and thank goodness for that!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More Than You Need to Know about Screech Rum

“Screech Rum”? Sounds like a joke or a spoof, right? But there really is such a thing as Screech Rum.  Honest!.  I first ran across Screech rum on a trip to Nova Scotia back around 1975 or so. 
Rum has always been my drink of choice for as long as I can remember,  I've tried many kinds of alcohol over the years. I've given honest tries of weeks at a time to sour mash whiskey, scotch whiskey, blended whiskey, and Canadian whiskey. I even got on a gin kick for a while when living in south Florida in the 'seventies - gin and tonic, supposedly a good hot weather drink you know. I've only had tequila and vodka a few times and did not enjoy those at all. Hell, if I wanted to drink something tasting exactly like medicine, why not just do myself some good and drink real medicine? At the price of some tequilas, the medicine might even be cheaper!
Don't get me wrong though - these days I limit my alcohol intake to about two ounces a week - one good stiff rum drink on Friday nights, so a bottle of rum can last me a good long while. Sometimes I do cheat a little though, by putting a couple tablespoons of dark rum over a dish of ice cream. Try that, you'll love it!
Anyway, no matter what I have tried over the years, sooner or later I always returned to rum. So when I stopped in a liquor store in Nova Scotia I went directly to the rum shelf. There I noticed a bottle with the Screech label. In fact, there were quite a few bottles of Screech rum there. And of course I bought a bottle, just for the notoriety of the name if nothing else. I found Screech to be an OK rum, but on the rough side and not up to the standards I really enjoy, like Mount Gay or Pussers. Those can be a little pricey though, so I usually just go for Bacardi or something similar so long as it is a good, dark rum, the blacker the better for me. These days I'm partial to 'Flora de Cana' from Nicaragua, which is a moderately priced, but a good dark and flavorful rum.
Screech is a quite a bit rougher or 'greener' tasting rum than most (see below!), so once I emptied that first bottle, I began pouring other kinds of rum into the empty bottle just to have fun with guests to my house. I was probably responsible for boosting the sales of Screech rum for a while there, but I no longer have that bottle these days.  Next time I'm in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland I plan to rectify that! I have two nieces living in St. Johns, NS, so that's reason enough for a visit right there.
Here's the explanation of how the Screech name came to be from the folks who sell it, the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation itself:
"Before liquor boards were created, Jamaican rum was a popular part of a Newfoundlander's diet, when salt fish was traded in exchange for rum. When the Government took control of the liquor business, it began selling the rum in unlabelled bottles. The product remained nameless until American servicemen came to the Island during World War II.
The commanding officer of the original detachment was having his first taste. The Newfoundlander downed his drink in one gulp, so the American did the same. The American’s blood-curdling scream attracted a lot of attention. An American sergeant who heard the sound from outside pounded his fist on the door and demanded to know, “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?”
The Newfoundlander replied in true Newfie form, “Da Screech? ’Tis the rum, me son.” As all embarrassing moments do, the incident spread, and the soldiers were determined to try this mysterious “Screech” to see what the fuss was all about. The drink was soon their favorite.
The Newfoundland Liquor Board soon adopted the name and began labeling the dark rum Newfoundland Screech."
Which leads me to a story by a friend of mine who was famous for his stories, an unreconstructed Mainer and lobsterman from Matinicus Island, Maine. He's gone on now to those greater lobster grounds in the sky, but his story lives on in his very own words, as I remember them here:
“Now Screech Rum is some more mighty powahful stuff.  I 'membah one time when I got me a bottle of Screech Rum from Newfoundland - 'smattah of fact, I weah IN Newfoundland at the time.”
“Wal', I downed 'bout three quahtahs of that theah bottle - which was one a them dammed Impeahrial quaahts ya know, and went out a-prowlin' on the town - St. Johns ya know.  An'  I stumbled inta this wataahfront baah.  I threw me money down an' ordahed drinks on da house.  'Tweahn't long afoah this good lookin' babe comes up and gets really friendly wit’ me - and' I do mean FRIENDLY.  An', I'm heah ta tell ya she weaah some whole lotta, big lotta woman that one.  An’ she weaah the prettiest woman I evaah sawr. She weaah prettiaah than any wondahfuliest movie staah I thought."
“Whoo Boy!  Didn't we paahty down though son, an' BIG TIME!   We painted that theah St. Johns bright red wit yellah polka dots.  Whoo-ee!  Got almighty that woman weaah a hootah though!  She matched me drink foah drink and we even hadda go get some moah Screech afoaah long!  An' Hell, I don't know how, but aftah that she seemed to get just prettiaah an' even prettiaah!”
“We paahtied heahty all night long until we hadda fall down inta da bed. Next moanin' I woke up wit’ one big godawful headache an' a-smellin' some unholy an' godawful badly - but,  I looked up, an' theah weaah me beauty a-sittin' on da windah  sill,  a-smilin,'  a-sippin' on Screech an' a-smokin a big ol' dog tuuhd cigaah!  GOT ALMIGHTY DAMN!”
“I seen bettah lookin'’ wimmen at th’ undahrtakah's aftah an eighteen-wheeler wreck!”

Monday, September 19, 2016


*You may believe it or not, but in a past life back during the late 'sixties, I worked  as a mid-level supervisor for the General Motors Corporation at one of their huge assembly plants. My job was as a supervisor of a small operation in a building about three hundred yards outside and across a huge shipping yard away from the main assembly plant. There I was sort of 'out of sight and out of mind' and seldom bothered by superiors.  I simply checked in with my boss a couple times each day by telephone and did my job supervising the five employees who worked under me.

Our shop was called 'Outgoing Quality Check' and we were a fairly tight knit bunch. Most of the people who worked with me were older, long-term, seasoned employees who had worked themselves up from the assembly line jobs they first hired in on, to became 'expert' in their particular specialties. One was an 'engine man', another was an expert on transmissions and drive trains, another was a front-end alignment specialist, and yet another was a 'body fit and trim' expert. The fifth man was relatively new and only washed and cleaned up the cars which some of the upper supervisors drove each day. 

The way this worked, about a dozen random cars, 'jobs' as they were called, were selected right off the assembly line each week. These were delivered down to my shop, two or three units per day to be prepared for the assigned individuals to drive home and to wherever they wished to go with them. The supervisors would keep their units for a week, then the process would be repeated. Before delivery to the assigned drivers, the selected jobs would be prepared by my crew. They were washed, the front-end alignment checked, engine tune-up and specifications checked, and the fit of the hood, trunk, fenders and doors all checked to insure those were within GM specifications. Nothing was changed however, unless there was a safety issue. The gas tanks were filled from our own gas pumps, oil levels checked, etc. and our wash man would deliver to cars to the supervisor's assigned parking spot in front of the plant.

Part of this process also involved disconnecting the factory speedometer installed on the assembly line and installing a special, temporary speedometer mounted under the dash in the driver's line of sight. Unless there was an issue with the car, and there sometimes was, they were driven for the full week and refueled from the company gas pump as needed. When they were turned back in the temporary speedometer was removed, and the factory one re-connected. The supervisors driving the cars were supposed to complete a simple little report each time about deficiencies, or anything they noted during their use of the car. A  summary of these reports went into my daily report to the head of the Inspection Department, who was my direct supervisor.

After the temporary speedometer was removed, the unit was simply re-inserted into the delivery schedule and shipped to the dealer.

I was impressed by General Motors' efforts on 'quality control' then, but always wondered about that bit of not-so-innocent subterfuge the company indulged in. We were sending out new cars right off the assembly line which had been driven in some cases, several hundreds of miles. yet the speedometer would show only half a dozen miles when the car was delivered to the ultimate purchaser. Several years later I heard of The Chrysler Corporation being fined millions of dollars for exactly the same thing, but to my knowledge General Motors has never been censured for this. I thought a few times about being a 'whistle blower' on this issue after I left GM, but was always restrained by my father's remembered advice: "If you can't say something good about something, just don't say anything at all."

I do remember several times during my time in that job of hearing of buyer complaints about cigarette butts in ash trays, mud on the undercarriage, or dirt and mud in the foot wells, etc. The factory used to ship out our new cars with the floor carpets un-installed, and rolled up in the trunk. The dealers would install them when they arrived at the dealers' lot, and I assume they usually cleaned things up before delivery to the customer. I guess the dealers simply missed those tale tell little signs when the cars were cleaned. Dealers routinely explained away and glossed over problems their customers might note. You must remember that the staff at any automobile dealer must possess really good lines of blather.

General Motors in the 'sixties was a brutal, absolutely no nonsense working environment with zero tolerance for anything which might even remotely reflect unfavorably on anyone in the higher levels of supervision. I merely tried to stay out of trouble and keep my immediate boss happy. I quickly learned after hiring on with GM, that there is no such thing as 'understanding' or 'compassion' with such a huge company. At that time in the mid-sixties, General Motors was the largest company in the world, though they have since been demoted I've heard. I suppose it is possible too, that the GM corporate culture has changed during the intervening fifty-something years. The successful onslaught of Japanese and Korean imports has certainly caused a lot of other changes for the American automobile industry.

I am calling this little story is 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', and spilling a few secrets here. However, I am not that man who knew too much.

No, that person is another man entirely. Let us call him 'Gregory' although that is not his real name. Greg ran a shop adjacent to and connected to my shop by a common wall. His responsibility was similar, but more involved with the actual nuts and bolts of how the General Motors line of cars and trucks hold up from an engineering standpoint. Often cars that went through my shop would be referred to Greg's shop for further analysis for example. What pieces and parts wear out too fast, break too quickly, need to be redesigned and all that sort of thing. Even the simplest of things might be a problem. For instance, we encountered problems with the the cast iron drainage plug for rear-end differentials. Some of these had flaws where the casting sand left a tiny hole which allowed a very slight fluid leak.  Those tiny holes could lead to a failure of the entire rear end in time. Things like that were Greg's meat and potatoes.

Greg was a graduate of the General Motors Academy, which during the 'forties, 'fifties and 'sixties was GM's fully accredited four year college which offered a free-of-charge engineering degree to selected applicants who passed their qualifying examinations. I don't recall exactly how the program worked, but I had even briefly considered applying at one time in my young life. The reason I did not was the stipulation about being committed to employment with GM for a specified period of time after graduation, something like six or eight years as I remember. But, the opposite side of that arrangement did not apply. In other words, GM could fire you anytime they felt like it.  Apparently, GM has dropped this program since I can not find anything online about it today.

Since Greg had no employment guarantee he was really sweating an interview all supervisors knew was coming from a "Hatchet Man". This is what everyone called the high-level manager sent from the Detroit home office to look over everything at our plant. The point being to improve efficiency, and trim the payroll if possible. Literally, this fellow was a corporate Hatchet Man sent to make needed and sometimes drastic changes. The man's official capacity when he arrived was 'Assistant Plant Manager'. But, his real job was to be a Hatchet Man. Everyone knew this well in advance of his arrival at our plant since the corporate grapevine is very, very effective you know. We even knew the man's name.

Within one week of the Hatchet Man's coming to our plant, some of the upper-level supervisors were receiving summary dismissals without notice. This guy was responsible for firing about 20% of the management within three weeks, in a plant with over 6000 employees. Everyone with a vested interest in their jobs in the corporation was terrified. A manager would be called upon in his office, quickly and brutally interviewed right there, and instantly dismissed. He would be asked for his keys, told to clean out his desk with plant security looking over his shoulder, and out the door he went. I really think the Hatchet Man had studied the files and had it all decided beforehand. He stayed at our plant a total of only six weeks in all, blowing through like a tornado leaving devastation in his wake. 

The dreaded day came for Greg's interview and for me too. Since we were mere mid-level people we were being interviewed together in one sitting. The Hatchet Man asked Greg half a dozen quick, machine-gun style pertinent questions about his job and department's statistics. Greg was very well prepared since we had cooperated with each other by studying and quizzing each other. Greg knew all his answers and immediately fired right back. I was very impressed by his composure because he was a naturally nervous and high-strung guy. But then, right In the middle of all the rapid-fire questions and out of nowhere the Hatchet Man demanded or him, "So, what's your wife's name?"

Poor Gregory just went blank and sat staring in disbelief at the Hatchet Man, his lips moving but nothing coming out. I felt really sorry for him even if I was choking to laugh. The question was so far from left field it knocked the skids right out from under Greg's composure.  He simply could not think of his own wife’s name! He stammered and choked for ten or fifteen seconds, and turned purple in the face with beads of sweat rolling off him like grapes before he could say, 'Mary' or whatever her name was. I could see the Hatchet Man was only having his own cruel fun messing with poor Greg's mind. He gave Greg a nasty laugh and then turned to me.

My own interview was easy and anti-climatic after Greg's performance. I was already thinking about leaving GM so I just didn't give a damn, although the Hatchet Man was not aware of that. I was relaxed and confident, especially after watching the ordeal the Hatchet Man put Greg through. The Hatchet Man just raised his eyebrows at me after a few questions and walked away. To his ultimate relief, Gregory was not cashiered on the spot and we both kept our jobs.

For as long as I live I will never forget that awful and funny day poor Gregory temporarily forgot his wife's name. It was both heartbreaking and hilariously funny at the same time even though I dared not laugh at the time. I haven't stayed in touch with Greg so I don’t know where he is today.  He is retired I suppose if his job with GM lasted a full career or didn't kill him first. I was told the 'Hatchet Man' tradition was repeated on the average by GM roughly every two years or so and it is always possible another Hatchet Man collected Greg's scalp later too.

I'm pretty sure that one particular Hatchet Man is turning in his grave somewhere today as he was far too much of a type "A" to have lived a very long time. And even though I was in his presence for only a few minutes, I could still tell you his name to this very day if I wished to do so. I voluntarily left General Motors within a few months of that interview because I recognized that their corporate soul, or more to the point, their lack thereof, was definitely not my cup of tea. I have never had one single regret about that since either.

I even sold my stock in GM after leaving, the stock I had purchased under their employee stock purchase matching plan. As I recall GM pitched in a dollar for every dollar the employee paid.

*This is a true tale, told from my memory now well over fifty years after the events took place.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Behold, The Butterfly Cometh . . .

First came the Wasp, who settled irritably on a leaf near the colorful crimson bloom. Jumpy, and with many a 'zzzt' of its wings it flitted first to one leaf and then the other, crawling over some, and under others even if it is hard to understand how insects manage this feat. Finding nothing of interest anywhere there, the Wasp flew away, zig-zagging in the air with the appearance of searching for trouble somewhere, as it might seem to an observer.
Then, along came the Moth which alighted clumsily near the bright crimson blossom, staggering a little as it clung on. Fluttering her wings and uncurling her antennae, she searched for a mate, turning in ovoid 360-degree circles several times. Finding none, the Moth too worked her wings once again and erratically fluttered away.
Next, a tiny and busy Ant climbed up the long stalk, taking many minutes to make the journey, Although it seemed purposeful in its climb, the Ant paused many times to wave its front legs and antennae ahead of its path it as if deciding to move on. The tiny Ant paused once again as it reached the bright flower with its different texture. The Ant stood there for many seconds, waving it's forelegs, with its tiny antennae waving to and fro sensing the surroundings, the Ant then crawled fitfully and cautiously across the outer parts of the bloom, seeking food most likely. Finding none to it's liking, the Ant too, wandered away and back down the stalk, in its purposeful yet erratic way.
The bloom, in all its radiant color, waited patiently as it was visited by first one, then another of a variety of small living things, creatures seeking that which the bloom apparently did not possess for them. The brilliant bloom waved slightly in the breeze like an insistent signal lamp attracting them all towards its glow. A grasshopper came, as did a tiny slug. Then an inchworm, then a tiny lizard, and even a regal Praying Mantis. But, none, apparently, found that which they sought. To be fair, the inchworm did find a bit of sustenance, but on lower leaves away from the bloom itself. Each creature did a diligent search in accordance with its own genetics and needs, and each sooner or later departed for more promising prospecting.
'Alas', mourned the bloom to itself in its awareness - for flowers are perceptive entities of course, 'will I exist for naught? Will not my destiny be fulfilled? Will I wither and blow away on the wind, unsuccored, dried up and browned, undesired and unachieved?'
'Will my beautiful, colorful flower be in vain and must I remain unsatiated, unsatisfied, unable to pass my beauty along to another generation?' The despondent bloom almost furled her gorgeous panoply of color then, and succumbed to her despair, so late in the day as it was. But no, she would hold out at least until the end of this day. But, it was very late in the day and very late in the season.
Then miraculously almost, in the waning of the last of the light of day, a gorgeously beautiful butterfly appeared, elegantly colorful, with iridescent hues reflecting the final rays of sun like tiny diamonds in the failing light. Flitting seemingly aimlessly about, the butterfly touched this leaf and that, itself nearly exhausted from the day's labors, seeking that last, that final bit of color for the day. The bloom did not see the butterfly, for of course flowers do not possess the organs for sight. But the bloom did sense the butterfly's hovering presence just as it had for all its previous visitors, and  although the bloom had no way of discerning if any were the precise sort of visitor the bloom so passionately yearned for.
Pausing at the apogee of its final loop for the day, the butterfly sensed the brilliant crimson flower too, for butterflies do have the organs for sight and in fact, many thousands of them in their many faceted eye organs, "ommatidia" as scientists term them.  The butterfly swooped, for it too sensed fulfillment, and directly to the flower it flew, alighting gracefully near the bloom itself. Daintily, almost like a ballet dancer the butterfly stepped into the bloom and slowly unfurled its elegant proboscis. This the butterfly then began to insert carefully into the flower's interior, the working parts of the bloom, seeking fulfillment for itself.
Snap! The brilliant crimson flower reacted, quickly closing her barred cilia which somewhat resembled the iron bars of a jail cell. The trapped butterfly fluttered its wings as it struggled to escape, but the more it struggled, the tighter the flower's grip became until at last the bloom was completely sealed shut and the butterfly lay still in the flower's bosom. 
Finally satisfied and engorged with the beautiful butterfly, her carpel dusted with the pollen carried by that handsome beauty, the Venus bloom settled down to digest her meal in calmness and peace, fulfilled at last. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Start on Solving The Gun Control Dilemma

A start on solving the gun control dilemma: 
We have a serious problem in our country with too many firearms in too many evil or irresponsible hands. Gun proliferation problems in the United States make our nation a pariah among other advanced societies, and much of the rest of the world now look upon us as a nation of gun crazies. This is really not all that far from the truth.
Our nation's gun issues are egregiously aggravated by firearms manufacturers working through the National Rifle Associate (NRA) and other gun ownership groups to block any meaningful legislation to fix our problems. Their interests seem only to be the boosting of ever more sales of firearms. These companies and groups proved to be a potent political force, all out of proportion to their numbers. They manage to make the mere suggestion of gun control legislation the 'third rail' for any politician who dares to bring the subject up. All efforts to enact gun legislation is consistently met by a ferocious all-out assault to defeat both the proposed legislation, and any politician so rash as to bring it up. There exists no effective organized opposition to the gun lobby's domination of the political process in their favor. It is an egregious example of a failure in our celebrated capitalist political and economic system.
Incredibly, even legislation that would prevent people on the terror watch list from buying guns has been blocked. Perhaps worse than that is an example of the tail wagging the dog, Republicans cut funding to the CDC (Communicable Disease Control) for even collecting statistics on gun injury and death!  It is a crying national shame.
A *national survey done by the University of Chicago and published in March, 2015 shows over 70% of Americans favor requiring a police permit for the purchase of a firearm.
 This figure has been nearly constant, ranging only 12 percentage points since 1972, with a low of 69.2% in 1980, to a high of 81.9% in 1998. The number stood at 71.7% in 2014.
In 2013 there were 33,636 deaths in the US due to firearms and 73,505 non-fatal injuries.
 In the same year, there were 32,719 deaths due to motor vehicles. Gun deaths per capita in the U.S. are 5 times that of Canada,, 3.5 times that of France, 10 times that of Germany, and over 45 times that of the United Kingdom. Something here is definitely out of whack!
Gun ownership statistics show that there are 116 guns per 100 people in the US. And while only a minority of the population actually own guns, the ones who do own an average of 8 guns each, which accounts for the guns per capita. US citizens own more guns per capita than than any other country in the world by far. We stand at number 1 with our 116 , with #2 and #3 behind us being Serbia at 75.6, then Yemen at 54.8. The world average is 10.2, or 1/12th of the US per capita rate.
One huge problem is gathering any meaningful figures, since the gun lobby not only tries to block the gathering of numbers relating to gun problems, but also actively tries to obscure those on record by disputing them, and introducing their own slanted 'studies' to hide the problems.
What if there is a quick, elegant, brilliant and easily administered way to begin solving the gun control dilemma? This method is one even diehard 'keep-the government-out-of-my-life' Republicans could embrace, and it would be at very little cost to the treasury. This method requires no government registration of firearms or any other government 'infringement' of the public's 'right to bear arms'.
The idea is dirt simple really:
Simply pass legislation requiring the gun owner to carry liability insurance on each gun owned.  This creates a privately administered system which serves several purposes:
A.  Each gun carries its own serial number which the insurance companies need to insure a particular gun. This will establish a private system whereby each gun is accounted for individually;
B.  Insurance companies would charge for each gun insured, thereby discouraging gun worshipers from owning multiple weapons due to the cost of insurance. They would retain their precious and sacred  'right to bear' arms', but would pay insurance costs for each weapon;
C.  In time the insurance companies would determine which gun models carry the most risk, and adjust their rates accordingly. This might discourage the ownership of assault weapons for example;
D.  The insurance protection would both protect the gun owner and provide recompense for death or injuries resulting from guns;
E.  Establish severe monetary and/or criminal penalties for anyone in possession of a non-insured gun, and subject uninsured guns to automatic seizure.
F.  Provide a 'grace period' of a reasonable period of time to allow current gun owners to obtain insurance for guns, or to dispose of them as they see fit. States (or the Federal government) would establish a reasonable buy-back system for surplus guns the owners elect not to insure. This will result in getting many guns out of circulation. Australia, a country much like our own, passed strong gun control legislation with a buy back program in 1996 after a mass shooting there. This has been extremely successful in bringing down the death rate from firearms in Australia.
This is a reasonable, sane and effective way to begin saving our country from the gun industry and their irrational supporters.
Statutory mandates requiring liability insurance already exist for hazardous items such as automobiles for example, and mortgage companies will not provide property financing without liability insurance on the property.  Should not the same standards be mandated for such inherently dangerous items such as a gun?
There will be a huge battle with the gun lobby for sure, but the numbers are on the side of sanity, common sense and realities. Of course this alone cannot solve all our gun proliferation problems, but it is a start. Please contact your legislators and let them know you are on board to help them solve the gun problems in our country.  We really can do no less for our children and grand children.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Party Time in Philadelphia

Party time in Philadelphia

I spent some time in Philadelphia helping train reservists for the Fourth Marine Corps District back in the day. It was good duty, with a lot more time for partying than I was used to.

We had a party one night. A few Marines, our girl friends and a few other friends. It was on the second floor of a row house in Philly. The place was somewhere near the University, in an area where lots of university students lived, and some lived on the first floor of that row house. The second floor was Joe and Riley's place. Joe was a full blooded Cherokee Indian from South Carolina, and about the toughest guy I ever saw to this day. He stood about 6'-4", and looked about four feet wide. I swear, his fingers were at least an inch wide across at the tips, the biggest hands I ever saw on any man. I once saw Joe hit a guy, a big guy, so hard he did a complete somersault and land several feet away. Joe told me one time if he ever got a clean hit on someone who didn't go down, he always took a walk around back of the guy to see what had him propped up.

I remember one time we got called out for ceremonial duty to a huge American Legion club somewhere in the western part of the city. We were the rifle and color guard for the funeral of a Marine killed someplace. It was volunteer duty and we did lots of those kinds of duties in Philly because we knew if the guy was Irish or Polish American, you could always count on a big party afterwards, a 'wake' they called it. The Irish and Polish Catholics were famous for that around Philly, and there were a lot of them in that region. This was one of those deals, and after the graveside ceremony we Marines were invited inside the club, taken to a couple of booths and asked what we wanted to drink. Whatever you asked for, they brought out a full fifth each and sat it in front of each man, and brought us delicious roast beef sandwiches on rye and pickles too. Beer flowed freely everywhere as well. There were maybe 200 to 300 people in this club at the time, with eight of us Marines in full dress blue uniforms camped,out in a couple booths against the wall.

It wasn't long after that when the party really got going. There were folks of all ages, including some children. Some younger folks got to dancing and raising hell on the dance floor. Joe was this big handsome guy, with his dark swarthy complexion, sardonic grin, and this big hooked beak nose like a fierce eagle's beak. The girls always swarmed him. So Joe's out there on the dance floor innocently boogying with this attractive girl when some guy sneaked up behind him with a full pitcher of beer and smashed it down on the back of his head. Turned out it was the girl's boyfriend who she was trying to make jealous and it had worked. Joe just looked sort of surprised, then turned around and clobbered the guy, knocking him unconscious.

At that the fight was on, as it usually was when Marines, booze, partying and a fight got all mixed up together. All the Marines piled out of the booths and started knocking hell out of anyone handy. In seconds it was a general melee, with the entire place in a brawl, women screaming, children running and crying and lots of folks running and falling down and some even joining in the fun punching each other. Chairs were thrown and the adrenalin was flowing everywhere so hard it made your ears pop. In the midst of all this, this short, chubby Irish looking guy ran up behind Joe and tried to pin his arms from behind. It looked almost like Joe was peeling off his undershirt when he reached over his head behind him and grabbed the guy by the scruff of his neck. I remember seeing that poor guy flipping through the air, even though I had some guy by the throat while I was pounding his head myself at the time. I bet that poor guy flipped at least three somersaults before landing flat on his back screaming and with the ceiling tiles crashing down all around him.

The club was soon pretty well cleaned out with people scrambling out all the exits running for their lives and screaming. That left just us Marines, one chubby Irish-looking guy sobbing on the floor and a few tentative legionnaires in their cute little caps. Turned out the poor guy Joe flipped was the visiting Congressman from that district and we Marines were all in hot water indeed. To this day I still think that damned Congressman was one complete and utter damned fool for believing he could make himself the hero by stopping that big, bad-assed Marine. On the other hand, aren't most Congressmen kind of narcissistic and stupid that way? Anyway, the rescue squad came and collected the Congressman while we Marines all left as quietly as possible. We all had to face the music the next day, but that's another story entirely.

Joe was later killed in Vietnam - in a whorehouse I heard, which the Charlies blew up with everyone in it. They had mined the place earlier I think, knowing Americans favored the place. The VC had no qualms about blowing up the girls along with the Americans. I guess poor old Joe went out in his own style. We were great friends and I loved that guy. Still do too.

Riley was this fiery red-headed guy from Kentucky and tough as an oak burl. He was much smaller than Joe, but they were great friends too. He would fight a buzz saw at the drop of a hat, and you could count on him to win too. I stole Riley's girl one time and figured I'd have to fight the little bastard over that, but he just laughed and shrugged his shoulders about it. I later paid $600 for that girl to get an abortion and nobody knew who was the papa, as if it mattered. This was in the days before Rowe-Wade too, but abortions were available if you knew the right people. And $600 was a pile of money back in the mid-sixties too, let me tell you. You could buy a brand-new car back then for less than $2000. As I remember, I think Riley may have kicked in a couple hundred too - maybe he had a guilty conscience, and he was an upright guy in any case. I don't know whatever happened to Riley, and maybe he's still surviving somewhere today.

 And boy, that gal was a good-looking thing too, a leggy blonde, and good German Catholic girl who lived to party. You have to remember that confession absolves a lot of sins for Catholics. I have no idea what the penance was for all her sins, but I'll bet it was pretty harsh for her. Maybe she had to sleep with the priest or something, who knows? She was about 22, and loved country music, which was pretty odd in Philly in those days. We used to love to rock out to 'Proud Mary' at the clubs. Go figure. Hell, she used to make a regular road trip with her girl friends from Philly to Memphis about every two months to take in the Grand Ol' Opry!

Actually, that's probably where she got knocked up, on one of those road trips, come to think of it. Ah, well.

But, back to Joe and Riley's party. It was a good party, and everyone got well boozed and loosened up. The HiFi was going, there was loud talking and laughing, you know the drill. People drifted in and out and no one paid much attention until Joe's girl came in and said something to him. She was this lovely nurse from one of the local hospitals. For some reason I was paying attention and I saw his face go dark, if a full-blooded Indian's face can get any darker. But I knew the look as I had seen it before. He jumped out of his chair and headed for the door. A couple other Marines saw it too and we followed him down the stairs. Turned out the students on the first floor were having their own party and many had been drifting up and down the stairs and crashing our party too, but no one seemed to mind or had said anything.

But one of them had said something pretty gross or insulting to Joe's girlfriend, and he really ought not to have done that, especially if he had known whose girlfriend he was messing with. There were about thirty people in the downstairs flat, all partying and laughing too. About two thirds of them were guys, and Joe charged right into the midst of them headed for this one guy who started back peddling to get away. But, he got trapped in the kitchen and Joe hit him so hard he went through the back window and fell to the ground. Those old row houses are built over a raised basement, so the distance from the window to the ground is something like ten feet. And, I don't know what it is, and I have always been puzzled by this phenomenon which has no logic to it at all. But, as soon as one your own guys smacks someone in another group, there is an instant explosion of action. Just ask anyone who has been in a brawl and they will tell you the same thing. It is involuntary and you will instantly knock hell out of the nearest guy in the other group yourself. I think it is the prime instigator and motivator of any so-called brawl.

It also shocks the hell out of anyone who it hasn't happened to before.

And that's exactly what happened that night. Four Marines descended like a tornado on twenty or so bewildered and terrified young students and beat the living hell out of them. The fight didn't last long because they were either huddled on the floor covering their heads in the foetal position or running for their lives out the door and down the street. It was both funny and sad at the same time. After this first burst of violence the four of us looked at each other a little chagrined and embarrassed, and then began helping the remaining poor terrified guys up from the floor, brushing them off and apologizing. After a bit we convinced them we meant no real harm, and before long we were all having drinks together. All except for Joe and the guy he knocked out through the window. Joe had to go hide out at my place for a few days and rescue squad came for his victim lying on the ground outside moaning. Joe had a way of providing more than his fair share of business for the rescue squad. But, like I said, I still loved the guy.

The police came, looked around for a little bit, asked for Joe, and since no one knew where he was they left. They had been through this kind of stuff before.