Saturday, January 31, 2004

(Consider This Making Up For The Four-Sentence-Post Yesterday)

All Over You

People usually seem surprised when they find out that I was in the Army. I always say that it was a long, long, time ago. This prompts them to ask me how old I am and I have to admit that I'm 21, nowhere near old enough to be able to refer to any event in my lifetime as a long, long, time ago.

I was seventeen years old. My birthday was on May 12, I signed up on May 15, and I shipped out for Boot Camp on June 15. (I was rather impulsive in my youth. But that was a long, long, time ago.)

At seventeen years and one month old, I was the youngest person in my battalion, which was about 1,200 recruits. I was even pointed out at the very beginning. Myself and the oldest recruit were marched onto a stage in front of everybody and given little coin/medal things in recognition of our grand accomplishment of being born at a certain time.

It would be difficult to describe how immensely I appreciated that.

Basic Combat Training in the muggy sand-forests of Fort Jackson, South Carolina was an interesting experience. It was the first time I'd ever been truly alone. It was a good thing that I picked one of the most inhospitable emotional and physical environments to try it out in.

I came out of it with a few interesting experiences, though.

For instance, being huddled in a humid, dimly-lit, concrete blast bunker with 39 other wide-eyed, jittery, recruits while we all clutched live hand grenades to our chest is even more fun than it sounds.

Or the thick protective suits we had to wear with as part of our training against nuclear, chemical, or biological attack.
The suits consisted of a jacket and pants. When they were issuing them out, I was one of the people in charge of pulling them all out of storage and carrying them down several flights of stairs. When my task was completed, I was allowed to go stand in line to get my protective suit. Yeah, that meant the very back of the line.

When it was my turn, all that were left were the extra-small suits.

Even when I was seventeen, it had still been a number of years since I had been able to fit into an extra-small.

There was nothing I could do about it. I took my tiny, tiny, suit and left. We didn't have to use them right away, and I had a few other things on my mind. I forgot about my little suit.

Some time later, we ventured out into the sand-forest on our three-day field exercise. While we were digging trenches and fox-holes to lie in, the drill sergeants fired off a tear-gas grenade. These fun little canisters were filled with the same stuff that is used by riot-control police. The stuff hurts a lot.

(To get an idea of what the gas is like, chop up several large onions by hand until you can't see. Then, separate the chopped onions into two piles. Snort one pile up your nose, and inhale the other. If it's a hot day (and it will be; they all are) rub the remaining onion all over your body so that the acids seep into your unsuspecting pores. Yeah, it's kinda like that.)

As soon as we heard the choked warnings of our downwind friends, we all donned our protective suits and gas masks and ran into our half-dug trenches.

I was a bit slower to accomplish this than everyone else.

If you had been in South Carolina that day, you might have seen what looked like a big, green, demented, penguin waddling furiously through the trees away from an ominous cloud of white smoke. Perhaps even more strangely, despite having immense glass eyes above a beak that looked suspiciously like an air filter, the creature did not appear to have the ability to see where it was going.

After several collisions with trees and entanglements with bushes, it finds a shallow trench that you assume to be its nest. The creature clearly wants to lie down in the shelter of the trench, but is confused. Apparently, it has no working elbow and knee joints. With a resigned sigh, the creature stands at the edge of the trench and just topples pathetically over into it. It thrashes for a moment, perhaps trying to turn over, and then gives up. After some time in that position, a noise begins to issue from its air-filter nose. It is muffled and metallic, but it is a familiar sound. You leave the poor creature snoring peacefully and hope that the noise doesn't attract any of the drill sergeants you saw roaming nearby.

Another Day In Basic That Mostly Sucked

The following is what I actually sat down to write about:

Each recruit had to qualify with the M-16 assault rifle to advance to the next block of training. We had spent all day, every day, for two and a half weeks firing the damn things. It had been fun at first...for about 20 minutes.

I was a terrible shot. (I'm assuming I still am a terrible shot.)

The final day was for Rifle Qualification. If you didn't pass, you didn't move on. If you didn't move on, that meant going to a completely different unit and re-doing the last 2 1/2 weeks of training. So there was a little bit of pressure.

Starting in the morning, we would march down to our assigned lanes on the firing range. We would fire at pop-up targets shaped like human torsos. We marched off the firing range into formation and waited. If your lane number wasn't called over the loudspeaker, that meant that you qualified. After you qualified, as a kind of reward you would go back to the barracks, be allowed to purchase soda, actual soda, and watch movies. You had to clean your rifle while you watched, but everyone was good at that.

Some people qualified the first time. Some people qualified the second time.

I was there all day.

Daylight was fading and I was panicking. Well, panicking even more. There were only a handful of us left, and the drill sergeants were displaying very little patience.

I knew that I needed to calm down. The first two steps in firing a rifle, before even aiming, were to have controlled Breathing and to be Relaxed. (Then came Aim, and finally, Squeeze.) Much easier to say than to do. My mind was racing to find something calming.

And my mind, eventually, found something.

I had seen the movie Saving Private Ryan earlier that year. One of the characters is a sniper who would quote Bible scripture as he picked off his enemies. It had something to do with controlling his breathing, and I think something to do with irony.

I didn't know much scripture ver batim, but I knew something else. My friend Ryan Smith had, at my request, mailed me the lyrics to the songs from the Live album, Throwing Copper. (I had just been singing the four or five verses I did know over and over and over, much to the irritation of my roommate.) Since we couldn't listen to music, I would often read the lyrics and listen to the songs in my head.

So if you had been standing on a shooting range in South Carolina and not wearing ear plugs (which is a major safety violation) you might have heard, between gunshots, someone softly singing:

"Our love is (POP!) like water
Beaten down and abused (POP!) for being strange (POP!)
Our love is no other (POP!) (POP!)
Than me (POP!) alone for me all day
Our (POP!) love is like water
Beaten (POP!) down (POP!) and abused (POP!)

All over (POP!) you, all over me the sun, the fields, the sky
(POP!) I've often (POP!) tried to hold the sea, the sun, the fields, the(POP!) tide..."

I didn't qualify in time to drink soda and watch movies, but I qualified.

In the end, being such a terrible shooter may have worked out to my advantage. The Army wasn't very enthused about chasing after a soldier who was good at shooting off his mouth but completely incapable of shooting anything else.

I hadn't stuck around to point out that I was an expert at throwing hand grenades.

Nobody likes a braggart.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Question: What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?

Answer: A stick.

And that's it. I am officially out of funny.

I'm going to bed.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Obituary That I Just Wrote In English 102 And Subsequently Had To Read Aloud To The Class:

First off, Guillermo is dead. While that isn't all that can be said about him, at present it is probably the most relevant. Were that not understood, this obituary would not make much sense.

When he was alive, he managed to live roughly the length of time that everyone else does: a lifetime. His personal documents clearly state that he had not intended to live any longer than that, and had planned accordingly.

Guillermo made a marginal living from writing and had invested most of his earnings in the stock market. His final instructions were to sell all of the stock and use the money to buy everyone he knows a drink.

Survivors include his mother Arcelia, his father Leonel, his older brother Miguel, his younger brother Donaldo, his younger sister Barbara, and his littlest brother, Luis. (Stay tuned as each week another member of the Lopez family gets voted out of the house.)

Those who knew him had this to say about him:

"He was a good son, and a good brother...when he was awake."

"Not a bad guy at all. A little tough to get him to do anything productive, but not a bad guy."

"Guillermo? Was that his name?"

While the details of his demise have not yet been revealed to the public, an inside source described the results of the debacle as "Grisly, yet strangely hilarious."
There's only one way to unwind after only four hours of sleep and a long day of school, work, and evading stalkers:

Laser Challenge.

For those of you who do not know what Laser Challenge is, I shall explain. Each player wears sensor packs on their front and their back. Each player has a weapon that harnesses the awesome power of light amplification by stimulated emission
of radiation (or "laser"). Actually, I think the mechanism in the guns are more along the lines of a remote control.

Thus, armed and clad, you proceed to run around like fools until the rest of the players' chest packs light up to signal that they are hit and/or dead.

And the units we have are completely portable, so we can play anywhere.

And I do mean anywhere.

Pitch Black 3: Riddick In College

Trevor, Chuck, Lauren, and I suited up and played in a plastic playground paradise known as the Boys and Girls Club Multi-Generational Center. It was quite intense.

My giant gun was rather unwieldy and not at all suited for close-quarters combat. The pistoleros, Chuck and Trevor, were tough opponents. Lauren also had a big gun, and fought admirably.

I feel much better now. I'm still exhausted and paranoid, but now I feel like I can take on the long as it's wearing one of the sensor packs.

Friendly Advice

So, this girl in my journalism class wants to do an advice column. I raised an eyebrow when I heard that. What kind of advice would she be giving to the poor, naive, youth of my campus?

Dear Advice Girl,

I totally like a guy and I totally don't know how to like, let him know that I like him, you know? Like, what should I like, do?


Likely Unliked

Dear Likely,

Guys like to feel wanted, so you should call him many, many, times a day. They also hate to sleep, so make sure you call during the hours in which he might have succumbed to the temptation of slumber. He'll thank you for it. If that doesn't work, pretend you're trying to lift something very heavy into the back of a van. When he offers to help, wait till he is inside the back of the van, club him over the head, lock the doors, and drive to your shack in the desert. Chain him there and deprive him of food and water until he admits that he has loved you all along! In my experience, this takes a couple weeks, but that'll still be just in time for Valentine's Day!

-Advice Girl.

Eck, I'm going to give myself nightmares. I had better send in a letter of my own, before it's too late.

Dear Advice Girl,

My problem is that this girl keeps calling me all the time and completely ignores my straight-forward statements expressing my desire to maintain a strictly professional relationship. This girl, in fact, is you. I guess this letter isn't so much asking for advice as telling you to back off or an expert team of discount surgeons and I will drill into your brain and remove the part that allows you to recognize who I am. And while we're in there, we just might make it so that you involuntarily slap yourself in the face every time you hear a phone ring.


Tough But Fair

P.S. I'll never get that hungry or that thirsty. Ever.

Dear Tough,

Will you help me move this couch into the back of this van?

-Advice Girl

Very bad nightmares.

No, I'm just being mean at this point. She hasn't called me at all today, and she didn't even try to talk to me during class. Maybe she just takes a while to get the hint.

I don't know, though. An old saying about the calm before a storm keeps running through my mind.

There is still quite a bit of semester left.

I guess I should try to get some sleep. I'll probably need it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I am afraid. I am very afraid.

On Monday, about mid-morning, I was in my news-writing class. We all sit at computers, and today I happened to be sitting by this girl. Well, I'm typing up the notes from my interview with the assistant Dean of SMCC when she starts talking to me. This is the first time we've talked, although this is our third time attending the class.

I'm a fairly friendly guy, so we talk for a bit. She mentions that she might have to miss a few classes, so she asks for my phone number so that she can call me to see what she's missed.

This isn't uncommon; I've done this before.

I say okay, sure, and give her my cell phone number.

That was Monday, as I said.

She has called me nine times. Nine.

I have only actually spoken to her once since she started called me on Monday. I was napping during the first barrage of calls (all within 20 minutes of each other) so I didn't answer my phone. She left no messages. A couple of hours later when I was working out, the second bombardment of calls came. She did the same every 20 minute thing, except on the third call she left a message. I didn't answer because I still haven't figured out how to bench press and talk on the phone at the same time. Hell, I'm still working on figuring out the bench press.

When I uneasily called her back, I got a message saying that her voice mail wasn't set up. I went about my business, culminating in going to sleep.

At 7:40 am, my phone rings. I bolt up in bed, alarmed. Why would anyone call me at this hour? I look at the caller ID and see a number that has become very, very, familiar. Aw, hellz naw. I turn my phone on mute, roll over, and go back to sleep for another hour.

After I wake up properly and shower, I call her again. She answers this time.

Her: Hello?

Me: Hi, it's Guillermo, from class.

Her: Oh, hi! I'm so sorry I missed your call last night.

Me: It's no big deal.

Her: No, really, I'm so sorry.

Me: Okay.

Her: So what are you doing today?

Me: (not liking where this is going) School and work, as usual.

Her: Do you have some free time? Would you want to come over and hang out?

Me: (fears affirmed, decide to go with honesty) ...No, not really.

Her: Why not?

Me: (sticking to guns) Honestly, I don't really know you.

Her: Well, we can get to know each other if you come over and hang out.

Me: I really don't think so.

Her: What? Did you say you like me too?

Me: (Oh, dear God.) No, no, I didn't. I'm going to go now.

Her: Why?

Me: I have class soon.

Her: Well, call me later.

Me: I'll see you in class.

Her: So when are you going to call me?

Me: Eh, I'll just see you in class.

Class is soon. Too soon.

If I suddenly stop blogging and you don't see a death post, assume that I've been kidnapped or have gone into hiding.

Is there a moral here?

Monday, January 26, 2004

According to some book about the significance of your birthday on your personality, I, being born on May 12, fall under:

"The Mischievious Maverick

Those born on this day have a naughty allure. Their michieviousness may not be extreme enough to get them into trouble with the authorities, but they are known for their teasing and the lighthearted pranks which they play with a twinkle in their eyes. They seem to have a knack for getting into hot water (or at least very warm)

They are never so happy as when they are refuting questionable claims, wielding irony, even derision with devastating effect. On the other hand, they do not claim to have all the answers and indeed it may be difficult to nail down what they actually believe in.

Likeable, but not all easy to get close to, they maintain their aloof status while making us laugh at the absurdity of life's passing comedy. "

I don't see "sleeps like a sloth" anywhere in there...

* * * * *

I am not used to having all these "things" to "do." I have a paper due, a quiz to study for, an article to write, a comic strip to write (with the help of my friend Jake,) a self-evaluation for work, and the last two sessions of Cowboy Bebop to watch.

It's kinda nice.

I'm going to go on record as saying I'm enjoying being busy now, so that when mid-terms roll around I'll be able to look back and wonder what the hell I was on.

The sad thing is, nothing.

Although I have been contemplating taking up smoking again. I forgot how enjoyable it is to smoke while you type. It makes you look like you're actually doing something when you're really just staring blankly at the screen.

For any of you affilliated with any smoking watch-dog groups, it's all Hunter S. Thompson's fault.

Where can you find those little cigarette stem holder things anyway?

* * * * *

Quick Short Story (was that redundant?)

A great samurai warrior was charged with the task of seeking vengeance on the man who had killed his lord. He traveled very far and braved many dangers to find him. Finally he found him. The samurai approached him with his sword drawn. The man, cowering in fear, grew bold enough for one moment to spit in the face of the samurai, then shrank back down to the floor to await his fate.

The samurai sheathed his sword and slowly walked out of the house.

Why did the samurai not kill the man?

The man had made the samurai angry by spitting in his face. That made the matter personal, and it was not a personal task that the samurai had been sent to do.

The moral of the story is?
Sometimes Children Have Great Judgment...

On this cloudy Sunday afternoon, I went to the birthday party of one of my relatives. I'm not sure how we're related. I think he married my cousin. I went with my family to his birthday party. As Luis and I drove there I realized that his name is Janis, and he's born in January. The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of gates and doorways, beginnings and endings. My cousin-in-law(?) is actually Greek (which is practically Roman), so I'm assuming that his parents must have named him Janis because he was born in January.

Very clever. It's almost on par with naming your child April because she was born in April. I'm at this party and all the adults are drinking and gossiping about the family that aren't there. All the kids are running around in the backyard. Luis asks if I want to go play Pirates of the Caribbean and I say Hell yes, I do, but let me eat some of the fruit platter first to prevent scurvy.

Luis and I are running around outside with all the kids, having a great time. Janis's daughter isn't running around with all the rest of us, though. She is sitting at a little table playing with colored clay. I notice that she isn't an amateur at it, either. She is making some pretty cool stuff, like a snail, a bird, and a bear. Not bad for a six-year old.

I sit down and she pushes some clay at me and orders me to "Make something." She goes on to boast that she can make all the animals that it shows on the box the clay came in. I am impressed, and decide to try my hand at making the turtle. I spend at least ten minutes just trying to get the shell right. I settle for what I've got, and I show it to her.

"It's not as good as the one on the book." I say apologetically.

"No, it's not. It's even better!" she says with awe in her voice.

Her name is Sofia, which is Greek for wisdom. She can speak English, Spanish, and Greek. With credentials like that, how can I argue with her when she says my turtle shell is great?

I give my turtle a head, but no tail. I also give him only three legs, so that he'll have an excuse for being so slow.

I have no real reason for not giving him a tail. But to be honest, I never saw much point in a turtle having a tail. I've never seen a turtle wag it's tail to show that it's happy. Of course, I may have just never seen a happy turtle.

...And Sometimes They Don't

In their backyard is a swing set, or as I call it, a human-pendulum-of-certain-disaster set. If ever there was a piece of playground equipment that could turn children into deadly weapons, this was it.

I can imagine the person who designed the first swing set: "I want the children to feel happy and free, like those wrecking balls that are used to demolish buildings."

I guess it is also the best piece of equipment to teach children certain principles of physics.

I was standing between the two swings of the swing set talking to my little cousins who were swinging happily and freely, when my older brother Miguel's daughter toddles up. She's about a year and half old. I'm a bit concerned, but she stops short of the swing's death radius and seems content with just watching.

Her name is Anastasia, but with a weird spelling that I can't recall at the moment. She is often called Anya for short.

Anya decides to step directly into the path of one of the oncoming swings.

Time does one of those stopping moments.

It's like the preview for Spider-Man 2. My sibling-sense goes off, and a flash of options runs through my head.

I'll have to prevent her from being hit. If I step in front of the swing and try to stop it, then I'll definitely get hit myself and also possibly hurt the boy in the swing.

If I grab the ropes of the swing to try to alter/stop the boy's trajectory, the swing will then veer to it's right and possibly hit the girl swinging next to him. Again, the boy may be hurt and Anya, if she keeps moving forward will probably still get hit.

Decisions, decisions.

The swing at my left is almost at it's nadir which milliseconds after passing will bring it crashing into my tiny niece.

(My niece doesn't get hit. I'm only mentioning that now because you looked worried.)

I dive forward, directly at Anya. I essentially tackle her, but I reach my arms out and grab her, cradling her into my chest. Having her thus secured, I twist in mid-air to my left. Because of the extreme angle, my swinging cousin goes almost completely over me.


It doesn't go quite like the Spider-Man 2 preview, and I fail to get completely under the lethal arc of the swing. I receive a glancing blow to the ribs from my swinging cousin . I then land almost perfectly flat on my right side with a resounding THUD!

Anya just looks at me with a puzzled expression on her face. I wait for her to start crying, but she doesn't. "That was not a good idea, Anya." I scold her. "And don't expect me to do that every time."

I let her go, and she toddles off. I got up and started brushing off the mud and the grass that had just become part of my outfit.

My cousins on the swing set are just staring with their eyes bugging out of their heads because of what just happened. The cousin that had struck me was fine. His name is Alex, which I assume is after Alexander the Great. Another Greek thing. Fortunately, Alex had only hit me with his foot. Yeah, real lucky.

Anya's middle name is May. She was born in the month of June. I was born in the month of May. My middle name is not June. My middle name is Bryce, which means "swift." Or "speckled," depending on whom you ask.

But what's in a name?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Freedom of Speech 101

I know everyone has been itchin' to tell me off, so after much trial and tribulation, I've managed to find a new commenting system.

(Thanks for the guidance, Goldstein. Now allow me to advise you: Next time you see Emily Van Camp (chick from Everwood) at a bar, buy that beautiful Canadian a drink!)