This soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance. (Memorial Day 2012)

Did they beat the drums slowly?

Did they play the fife lowly?

Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?

Did the band play the Last Post in chorus?

Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

– “The Green Fields of France” (as performed by the Dropkick Murphys)

The shirt is starched white… crisp, clean… spotless. The tie is black, knotted perfectly. The coat is navy… almost black, in bright sunlight is seems to shimmer… in the cold and grey of morning it is a darker, deeper hue. The pants are a lighter blue… not royal, not bright… a gold stripe runs down the outside of each leg… matching the gold of the rank on the guard’s arms. The uniform harkens back to the day when soldiers were mounted on horses… completely wool in the summer heat.The shoes shimmer and shine… even on cloudy and rainy days the shoes reflect and sparkle… they also click… loudly. Steps are counted… heels clicked, turns made… steps are counted… heels clicked. It is the tradition of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington to be the symbol of perfection… if there is perfection on earth it is the 3rd Infantry Regiment (Old Guard).

The Old Guard is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army… serving since 1784. Following World War II, the Old Guard has served as the Army’s official Honor Guard and escort to the President. The Old Guard has unique elements which include the U.S. Army Drill Team (HQ Co, 4/3 INF), Tomb of the Unkowns (HQ Co, 4/3 INF), Continental Color Guard (Honor Guard Co, 4/3 INF), Caisson Platoon (HQ Co, 1/3 INF), and Presidential Salute Battery (HQ Co, 1/3 INF). Old Guard soldiers are in Arlington National Cemetery daily rendering final honors to our fallen. These men represent the nation in both public ceremonies such as July 4th celebrations and private ceremonies such as the burying of our war dead.

Attending a full military honors funeral is an emotional event that causes a quietness in your heart and sobbing choke in your throat. Seeing the precision of the honor guard, hearing the band, shocked by the 3 volleys of 7 riflemen… finally “Taps” is played. Eyes are moist and cheeks are tear-stained. Memorial Day is a collective action of our nation to render honor to our war dead. Another day off from work it is not… it is not picnics or barbecues… it is a single day within a year that we, as a nation, ponder the horror of war and realize that we have sent men and women forth to die. The Old Guard represent us and they do with a pride that is befitting the deceased.

Watching the Old Guard practice is almost as moving as seeing them actually conduct a funeral. The Old Guard practices on the Fort McNair (Washington, DC) parade field… a few yards from softball fields and bordered by houses that are not only the homes of generals and admirals… but stately homes that are converted into duplexes that house young military members and their families… the older officers… decades into their careers… face and meet the younger service members… just a few years into their careers. Between these two elements… the old and the young… of the military is where the Old Guard trains.

It was a year ago, the soggy humid DC spring was bearing down on me like a wet blanket. A light breeze blew across the Potomac and pushed at my back… a slight relief from the sweat running down my body. A naval aviator… a friend… was beside me as we beat a quick pace on our daily run. Our over 40 bodies not being the quickness we were in our youth… once I had thought that Army colonels and Navy captains were old men… now they were peers, colleagues, friends. We had returned from 5 miles… starting at Fort McNair, out the main gate and up and around the Jefferson Memorial and the tidal basin. Cherry blossoms had come and gone… green sprouted. We had come back on to base… quickly flashing our IDs to the guard at the main gate… common sight for him… daily runners on a military post are a dime a dozen… one can’t spit without hitting some officer or civilian in the vain attempt to stave off age through running. Winded and back on base we moved into the pace of the runner getting close to the finish.

The flag and coffin… sitting in the bed of the F150 truck stopped me. The truck was parked on the parade field grass. Old Guard soldiers, headquartered at Fort McNair, in the daily uniform of camouflage stood around doing the typical grab-ass… talking, drinking water, and resting between training. One Old Guard soldier was in Army issue shorts and t-shirt… relaxed attire… but the ceremonial rifle with bayonet was not relaxed. He was practicing his drill and ceremony… another soldier, possibly a squad leader, stood nearby and issued commands… rifle snapped up… shouldered… and then returned to the ground. As I took it all in, a group of soldiers rose from the grass and assumed a formation. With precision, they began the quick march to the truck and executed the removal of the flag-draped coffin. Marching a few quick half-steps, they stopped… half-stepped in a 180 degree turn and then quick marched the coffin back to the truck bed. Rendering honors to our war dead is such an important task that it isn’t done without a lot of training.

I resumed my run… my friend and I were silent… usually our runs are full of mindless banter… when am I ever quiet?… not even on a run. However, I was silent now as I ran away from the parade field and the Old Guard soldiers training for their solemn duty. The waters of the Potomac river was on my right… an island separating DC from Arlington set in the calm waters shimmered a spring green… now the breeze was in my face… pushing me back. My thoughts weren’t on my pace or my breath… my mind drifted from the Old Guard to the garden of stones that grow at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Day is done, gone the sun

From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky

All is well, safely rest

God is nigh

Fading light dims the sight

And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright

From afar, drawing near

Falls the night

Thanks and praise for our days

Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky

As we go, this we know

God is nigh

– “Taps”

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Screw the little people… a game review of From Dust

You become the breath of god… you flit and fly around in a glowing trail. Dirt, water, lava, rocks, and vegetation are manipulated by the movements of your fingers. Your “people”… small… tiny actually… villagers run to and fro expecting you to protect them… expecting your grace… suffering or being fruitful based on your whims. Rivers are managed and moved… torrents are kept free from the shores of your villagers’ abodes. Trees and plants sprout where you remove water… desert is given a thirsty drink when you add water… palms spring forth and calm the windy dunes. “You control the destiny of a tribe against the backdrop of a world in constant evolution, a universe where mighty Nature reclaims what is hers and your mastery of the elements is your people’s only chance of survival…” is how Ubisoft describes the game From Dust.

From Dust is “a modern god game where nature is the star.” “Bob the Builder is given an ant farm” is a better description. Having god-like powers would stop the damn lava from catching the palms on fire… villagers wouldn’t be screaming their tiny heads off as their homes and tribal grounds burn to a crisp. If the player is actually a god… those damn water spouts would be calmed… instead they continue jettisoning streams into the air and flooding desert… where once was nothing is a lake of grand proportions… villagers are cut off from one another… individuals stand on shores and look skyward for your benevolence.

Ubisoft goes on to state that you “master the natural forces at play on a mysterious archipelago and help a primitive tribe recover the lost powers of their ancestors.” I have mastered nothing, and I don’t feel the need to help the primitives… except when I realize that the only way you can continue to play in the sandbox is to ensure these tiny little primitive motherfuckers don’t die… if they die, game over… reboot… restart.

Contradictory in style, From Dust supposedly needs you to “protect your tribe against Nature’s most devastating attacks. You’ll be faced with tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, torrential rains, and more.” Then you are falsely told that you will “control the forces of nature and sculpt the world in your image.” Tossed back and forth… I wonder if I am to protect my tribe from Nature or do I actually control the forces of nature. Guess that is the difference between a capital N and a little n.

The game starts simple… a bunch of your primitive villagers… 7 to be exact… are standing on a sandy island and a glowing stone head… an entrance and cave to another island… awaits a few hundred meters away… beckoning with a light. Your tiny protectees start running… after a magical ritual in which you… their breath of god… is summoned. You follow along. These tiny runners… in the land of water, fire, and shifting sands running seems to be the only mode… are stopped by a 50 meter space of water. They cannot get from point A to point B. From Dust reveals itself immediately… this is a puzzle game. A quick tutorial cut away shows that you can grab a giant ball of sand in one location and then move to another where you deposit it… in a Bob the Builder way… without hammer or shovel… all with the movements of your fingers… you are an earth mover. You deposit the earth on the water… it piles quickly, suspiciously and in a serious way of foreshadowing… half of it washes away. But you have placed enough to stem the tide… the current stops… rerouted to another place… your tiny track team of villagers run across your sand bridge and enter the glowing cave. Success… you are on your way to minor deity.

What follows are a host of maps with different puzzles. Raging waterfalls… full of silt… cause giant raging rivers on a small island. You make sand mounds to guide the river away from villagers… they are fruitful… they multiply. Quickly weird worm-like creatures emerge among the palms… you may have some god-like powers… you do not determine the birth of these animals… they come along with the scenery. Soon you have a large… and soggy… island full of palms, green swamps, and a couple of villages. You determine how long you wish to control the flooding… you can shape the river, build the earth… but soon the power of water is too much… dikes break… damn villagers scream for assistance. You… a god… tire of their pleading. You tire of seeing the torrent changing course. You build a route to the exit cave… 7 villagers sprint from the lush beauty of what one imagines is the South Pacific. These 7 disappear inside the cave… from earth they are made to return to earth.

One “map,” or world, after another you are forced to build, destroy, reroute, and attempt to control “nature” to ensure these fleet-footed tribe members are able to blow their horns, beat their drums, and build stilted huts. New world is replaced by new world with increasingly difficult puzzles… trees that explode into flame for no reason… water plants that explode when flame draws near… tidal waves crash against the shores… you are forced to follow the game… you must complete the challenges and puzzles if you wish to continue playing.

Sandbox games are also called “open world“… these games allow you to roam freely and interact with the environment and characters. From Dust is not a sandbox game, yet it is full of sand… damn sand that washes quickly away as the water rises and your villagers cry like babes… these villagers are on what seems like an endless quest for the knowledge of their ancestors.

From Dust has taught me something about myself… From Dust has taught me that I don’t care for “my” villagers… they are extras in my game of “how much destruction can I create without the level ending in defeat.” I am sure some players actually care about the villagers… feeling the responsibility of keeping their little yaps shut with smiles. I feel no need to protect them… I protect them just enough to keep the level going. I am mesmerized by my less than god-like ability to manipulate some of nature. I don’t really care about the puzzles… but I do like seeing the digital world of From Dust moved and reformed by the clicks of my fingers. It is visual candy.

One game review provides the following pros: “refreshing and unique strategy experience” (really it is more puzzle than strategy), “stunning elemental and environmental effects” (tru dat… it is visually appealing). Cons include: “villager AI not the brightest at times” (no shit… they are complete idiots… thankfully they can swim cause I attempt to drown the fuckers a lot just to see them squirm). The review comes with following themes: “Be Kind To Your People;” “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility;” “It’s Like Your Own Lost. Not Really;” and “There’s Something Special About Playing God.”

With all these pros, cons, and themes I think that gaming is a long way from the day of Atari and Donkey Kong… it is a long way from 1983 when my dad and I would play football on a Magnavox gaming system… blocks of red and blue stumbling across our television screen… run or pass were your only choices. Pong may have been the first step in making us fat… From Dust has made us ponder what gaming is still missing. The game would be far better if there was less urgency, and more power in the hand of the player. If I am going to be god… allow me to control all the elements… make my villagers more independent. Have the little fuckers destroying the environment through chemicals and the burning of fossil fuels. Let two villages go to war with one another… force me to sit there and make decisions on how to assist or destroy warring tribes. Let me pass judgement… let me wipe the slate clean and begin anew. Allow me, the god, to work nature in the image I truly want… if that happens then there will be no little villagers… with their ignorance (result of poor AI programming?)… with their sheep-like bleating. I would make the world green, brown, red… I would color the world like a rainbow… fresh dew sprinkled across the land with no man-like creature treading heavily.

It is fun… but gaming has a way to go before I feel like a god. From Dust is more like a nursemaid experience.

It’s Our Game

It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball. – Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), Bull Durham

The smack… the resonating SMACK… of the ball in the glove is a glorious sound to the child who plays for fun and the man-child who gets paid from pennies to millions to play. Such a glorious sound… such a glorious game. Baseball defines a lot of us. The game is so important to so many of us that we spend spring, summer, and fall watching games and tracking numbers. Shit, we are so enamored with this game that we all beat a quick steal to Bull Durham and pull quotes to express our love of the game. So easy to go to the well and drink the same waters than attempt to convey our feelings and thoughts in an original manner… Annie Savoy and Crash are our pop culture saints in the Church of Baseball… the old players of yore… the young phenoms… the martyrs. As St. Paul’s letters are quoted weekly to the nodding head and whispered “amen,” Crash’s “what I believe in” monologue raises us up from our pews as if we are begging for a free t-shirt thrown from the baseline between innings. Astro turf and the designated hitter SHOULD be outlawed.

Jersey number, players name, position… by number… 9 innings setting across the line in simplicity. Other columns wait to be filled that show at-bats, runs batted in, hits, pitch count, number of innings pitched… on and on the score sheet waits for the game to move forward. Baseball is not timed… baseball plays by its own clock. It is ticked off by the number of batters, the outs, the pitches, the catches, the runs… you do not say “overtime”… you say “extra innings.” One would think that the game is simple… or slow. Baseball is a game of details… baseball can be watched with the casual eye, it will entertain on that level. Casual observers see a few pitches, a swinging bat, a catch, a throw, an out. Casual observers look at their fellow fans… wondering if the hot blonde is a player’s wife… is the beer man always that ridiculous… will that parents please buy that kid a hot dog to shut him up? Baseball is also full of details… managers position players for certain batters… the Phillies’ “The Big Piece” is a notorious right side of the field hitter… opposing teams shift right to ready for his big swing. Catchers and pitchers conference prior to… and during… games to discuss what pitches will be thrown to what batters… former flamethrower Nolan Ryan probably told the catcher to “fuck off” and then threw some heat. Free swinging batters are given junk pitches in an 0-2 count… repeated again in a 1-2 count… free swingers will reach for almost anything. Intentionally walk a power hitter if first base is open… or trust the pitcher… are you scrambling to make up runs… are they playing “small” ball? Baseball is a game where the simple and detailed can equally enjoy… the Church of Baseball welcomes all. We initiate our young to the game… we teach them the fundamentals.

I played catcher in little league… a real-life group of Bad News Bears from Bad Nauheim/Friedburg, Germany. Army brats that ranged from runt (me) to a tall Puerto Rican (Eddie) that was all arms and legs. We even had girls… one of whom would put her hand up to stop an inside pitch… and then cry because it hurt when it cracked painfully against her palm… and then do it again if another inside pitch came her way. Some of us are blessed with the instinct to dodge and duck… her instinct was to stop the ball with her hand. My little league teammates and I lived the life of danger… we weren’t pretty but we were playing. We sacrificed our bodies for the game… the glorious game of baseball.

I caught Eddie’s pitches until the thumb on my left hand ached… ached in a manner so unfamiliar to a 13 year-old. Sports’ injuries were as new as the idea that girls were something other than gross. The ache in the thumb actually led me to informing my coach that I couldn’t do it any longer. It hurt… tears welling up… it hurt to the core of my hand… my first true sprain. The coach nodded and sat me on the bench. Shame rose in me… weakness seemed so bared to me, my friends, my teammates, my parents. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer a defeat that was similar to a teammate who, while attempting to take home… urged by the parent/coach at third with all pinwheeling arms and screams… slid his head into the opposing team’s catcher and his mitt. I was up next… strolling the early teen stroll to the batter’s box… front row seat to the event. My teammate’s foot never reached the plate… his head snapped back painfully… a groan escaped his lips. He was out… he didn’t score either. The tag was fair and justified… another little leaguer learning that a fun sport can turn painful. My sprained catcher’s thumb seemed insignificant to my teammate’s possible concussion. My coach eventually moved me to third… my teammate had to sit out a few games. The price we pay to be part of that tradition of leather, wood, grass, and dirt. Confirmation uniforms, unlike dresses, are better with a few grass stains… even better if they are baptized in a little blood… we are all washed clean in our own blood… let the blood be from a sliding scrape or a bad bounce… nose picking bleeds are not as glorious.

I’m now balanced somewhere between casual and zealot in my baseball. I attend the Church of Baseball… indoctrinated young… now I feel like a youthful deacon in the seats… readying the donation plate… keeping the score… saying amen… nodding my head. I ignore the hot blonde and the hungry kid… I have a game to watch.

50 Shades of Monkey

I don’t think I live under a rock. A life of seclusion isn’t exactly my existence… shit… I read BBC World News at least twice a day, CNN and FoxNews get equal air time on my television daily in my office. I read two newspapers cover to cover every day… blog reading has become a sport for me… and they aren’t esoteric bullshit like this one. I am an informed person. I feel pretty comfortable discussing any topic that might pop up at a cocktail party… even willing to discuss what the appropriate length of a cocktail dress (right above the knee). Hell, I even knew that it was media-hyped crap attempting to sell issues when Time decided to show some perky boobs and a creepy breast-suckling kid about a week ago. I go to iTunes about once a month and go through the best-selling songs and albums to see what is trending and parading as popular music… some of that shit ain’t half bad. However… some “popular” things have happened without my knowledge.

50 Shades of Grey didn’t pop up on my radar until a few weeks ago when a female friend asked my opinion of it… I guess I sold myself as a well-read person. I am completely confident that my learning of 50SG and now commenting on it is about 3 or 4 months too late. No I haven’t read it, no I am not going to read it, and yes I am going to make some sort of mental judgement about your reading it. I like my porn more visual… it used to be magazines and VHS tapes… today it is Internet, Internet, and a more Internet. At an early age I found the written word to be deficit in producing the right type of mental stimulus that is conducive to my sexual arousal. My mom’s “sex and suffering” books really sucked at turning a 14 year-old boy on. If I sit back and let myself explore my sexual urges through strictly mental imaginations, I end up (after about 20 minutes) with a freaky-ass fantasy that includes superheros, unicorns, and jester cap-wearing midgets… needless to say it stops being a sexual fantasy and becomes a script for another horrible Adam Sandler movie. Let my mind wander is a recipe for disaster.

Ladies quit reading this crap and start acting it out… oh and quit reliving your teenage years by not only devouring Twilight… quit reading the fan fiction based on this idea (50SG). Your significant other (especially if it is a man) will be willing to break a hip, suffer toe cramps, and sweat rivers of blood and sweat to act out any sort of fantasy you can think of and vocalize. You will not disgust him, you will not scare him, you will not squash any sort of desire your sigo has… want to be tied down and be teased… or beaten… give the sigo a chance. Soooo… the best I can tell there is not a single female friend of mine (who has read the book) who finds 50SG interesting or mildly erotic (the common response has been “eh” coupled with a frown)… so why in the Hell do y’all keep buying this crap and discussing it. Two possible things are going on here: 1 – y’all really do like this crap and afraid to admit that y’all dig pop literature; or 2 – I need less refined female friends. Either way, let’s move on and quit falling for the hype.

Now this whole 50SG sex thing reminds me of the whole idea of sex and the rich… supposedly the older dude (his name is Grey I think… fucking original) is rich so he can whisk his “victim” by train, car, copter, and speedboat(?) to some bondage palace and work her wily nily. Okay… rich people, especially famous rich people, probably suck in bed. It would be all about them… you would be sweating your ass off… got to impress the rich and famous… and your lover would be going through some weird mental self-stimulation… they wouldn’t be making love to you, they would be making love to themselves as they picture (and watch in the bedroom mirror) themselves making love. 50SG sounds like some self-indulgent crap that was written by a limited vocabulary author… and it took me months to realize it was out there and being sold.

In the 1980s, everything considered trendy, important, or pop culture was easily attainable through watching a bit of television, skimming a newspaper, and listening to people talk… this is how “Just a Swangin” got popular… if it was good enough for us (and John Anderson) then, you would think it would be good enough for us now. You didn’t have to listen to Michael Jackson, or even like him… but you couldn’t not know Michael Jackson. I have a friend who doesn’t know who Nicki Minaj is… WTF… how does one not know about those hips, ass, and boobs???? Today we are overloaded with information… not just news but music, books, trending articles on how to fix the broken, and break the habits… you can hide yourself within a certain area of tastes and never realize what is going on anywhere else. You can digitally dig until you are completely unaware of anything else.

Today I learned that Lee Greenwood has a book out that ponders the question if God still blesses the USA. Now, Mr. Greenwood you have a pretty big hit with your musical brain worm entitled “God Bless the USA”… that song will never die. I also know that you didn’t dodge the draft during the Vietnam War because you were given a legitimate deferment… the Internet (Snopes.com specifically) told me so. But in the category of overload of information and crap I don’t need in my brain… is your pondering a question that has no factual foundation whatsoever… when has God or any other spirit of deity powers ever blessed anything in such a manner that we would wonder where those blessings have gone today…

Okay… I am getting old… but I do not live under a rock.

Bologna fried rice

Mother… too formal, sounds as if I was carted off to boarding school or the product of a disciplinarian. No boarding school for me and definitely not beat enough as a child… look at the irreverent ass I am today. Mommy… too young, there was obviously a time I used this but seems to have been a period when I was still shitting my pants.1 Mom is the moniker for the woman who not only gave birth to me, but raised me… along with my dad… yes two parent home… and sent me out into the world as the partially developed adult I was at the time… about 22 years ago.

My sister, on Mother’s Day, wrote about my mom’s cooking… and her rare instances of cursing to describe how our mom affected her life. My sister doesn’t have the sentimental touch… but she is totally cognizant of how our mom affected her. I’m definitely more sentimental than her… touch of my dad.

Cooking is a great way to discuss my mom… cornbread, greens, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, fried rice with bologna,2 biscuits and gravy, fried pancakes, bacon, sausage, potato salad, barbecue, sweet tea… the kind that puckers your lips from sweetness… gooey syrup that most Southern literature types attempt to describe in printed word but so hopelessly fails… my mom’s SWEET tea is nothing more than sugar with a hint of tea flavor and golden hued. Fried bologna sandwiches with her special sauce (equal portions of ketchup and mayo… with a touch of mustard)… chocolate cake3…her cooking was rooted in her upbringing… cooking for her family was her touchstone.

My mom’s cooking is one of those instances that brings out the M-O-M in her. I truly believe that no matter how pissed she may be at me, she would bend over backwards to cook one of her artery-clogging meals for me if asked. “Never send a child to bed hungry” is something she said over and over to me growing up. She had been told that from her mom… a woman whose husband had been a coal miner in Alabama… hunger was not to be toyed with. My mom never sent me to bed hungry. My mom indulged my disgusting tastes… ketchup and bologna sandwiches (see a pattern with the whole bologna thing yet?), buttered bread and french dressing, and cherry Kool-Aid doused Frosted Flakes. Refined is not how one would describe my culinary habits. Through it all… she fed me. Indulgent in her own way… loving to the core.

Not only was her willingness to feed me (regardless of my bad tastes) a sign of her love, but my mom passed on a love for reading. Books and reading were a staple of my childhood… I have discussed this before. She reads romance novels… she devours them. As a child, she read to me from a Native American folk-lore book… this book’s presence in our home has never been sufficiently explained to me… but I remember no Dr. Seuss… I remember stories about long houses, tribal hunts, and the spirits of the first Americans… all truly phenomenal things considering we were also a family that attended an old-school Southern protestant church.

Along with food and books, my mom passed on the ability to laugh… at one’s self, others, situations, and life in general. Laughter and a sense of humor is what my mom possesses in spades… it could be sweet, it could be mischievous, it could be cutting… it was all laughter. Childhood memories may be filled with things easily forgotten… or willfully forgotten, but I am incapable of forgetting her cooking, her books, and her laughter.

She knows better, but she smokes… has for decades and decades. The smell of a cigarette is not pleasant unless one looks through the hazy cloud and sees the woman who spent her life cooking, reading, and laughing. She is who she is… few equal her zeal for these three simple things. Smoking may be one of her faults… and as a human she has her fair share… I’m a biased observer thus I ignore what others may identify and discuss… and I see things that others may ignore… easy to blame parents. She has never claimed to be faultless… I expect nothing more nor different from her.

My mom married young, moved around the world as an Army wife in both war and peace. She moved me and my sister while my dad was busy serving his country. My mom through it all saw to it that we had a home in every duplex and apartment the Army placed us in. Through it all, my mom cooked, read, and laughed… with each of these things she carried and supported my sister and me along.

If she had been (or was) perfect I would have been a sore disappointment to her. Instead my mom, with all her faults and abilities, is the woman who has never sent me to bed hungry, who will jump in the kitchen and cook a meal if asked, who never told me that I couldn’t read something, and who always laughed at herself the most. My mom is no more special than any other loving and caring mom… but now as an adult I know she raised me the best way she could and that was by loving me.

Told you I was the sappy one.

1. On a regular basis… don’t get me wrong, I have been known to shart my pants as an adult.

2. While in the Army, my parents had neighbors where the wife was Asian, probably Korean, who taught my mom how to make fried rice with a Southern flair. Bologna instead of pork, chicken, or beef. Arguably, bologna is the lips, ass, and toes of all those animals… thus you get an authentic fried rice dish that even the Alabama natives that were my parents could thoroughly enjoy… oh, my mom can also cook a very not Asian won ton!

3. If my mom gets a taste for chocolate cake… she will make one just to get a single piece… the rest of us are fortunate enough to get the rest.

Thanks… you did the best you could

For some odd reason I think the room was in a lower level of the school… windows bordered the hallway… weak winter sun, typical German low light, fell through the slats. The beige of the walls, floors, and furniture was typical mid-70s elementary school. If my memory is any sort of guide, which is a poor substitute for facts, I would say that the film was shown on a sheet… that cannot be true. Is it possible that a Department of Defense School System primary school would not have screen to show films? I do distinctly remember sitting on the carpeted floor… probably beige too, why break a perfectly boring routine. It had to be cool outside, Germany’s falls, winters, and springs are notoriously cool. Grey weather with a constant chance of drizzle or snowfall caused one to be in boots… either rain or snow ones. I hope I wasn’t wearing corduroys… I detest corduroys, what 2nd grade kid wants to make swishing sounds as they walked down the hallway. Picturing myself in a striped collarless shirt and simple pants seems more pleasing to me… let’s pretend that is what I am wearing. My cowlick… proudly displayed at the beginning of my hairline… springs forth… probably greasy, what 2nd grader wants to bathe regularly.

Up to this point the memories are partial facts, partial fantasy… the memories are a collection of images that are concocted from old school photos and what I think I remember. I do remember that the film was about the climbing of Mount Everest… the largest mountain in the world that straddles the border between China and Nepal… lands of dragons, Sherpas, and mystical snow apparitions… magical places marked on maps but so distant from my elementary life. Mount Everest towers at 25,771 feet.1 This film about the climbing of Everest may have been in black and white, but in my mind it was in vivid color. This film is the first time that I realized there were distant yet beautiful places in the world.2 This film placed a desire in my heart to see the world, this film made me realize that the world was a wonderful place. I don’t remember my 2nd grade teacher who showed us this film… but I want to thank her for showing it. I wish I could tell her that this film meant a lot to me… it put the wanderlust in my heart… and in 2011 I flew over the Tien Shan (Kazakhstan, China, and Kyrgyzstan) and Pamir (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) mountains… the smaller (average height of 22,000 feet) chains that are connected to the Himalayas and Mount Everest… as the Russian-made prop plane barely flew over the peaks of these majestic peaks… I thought of that film and my 2nd grade teacher.

The truth about aging is that looking back is akin to trying to discern oncoming traffic during a foggy drive. You look and see what you think are approaching lights and what may be a telephone pole… or it may be a tree… what you know is that there are things there and your knowledge of what is traditionally there on the road is what assists you in the travel. I can barely remember being in school… college isn’t even easily remembered. Remembering what courses I took in college is an easy feat compared to thinking about your 3rd grade teacher… her name was Mrs. Ball and she was a former nun. These things are only known to me because my Mom either confirmed it or told it to me. I don’t remember anything else about elementary school… I’m convinced that they were pleasant educational experiences… I’m convinced that these educational experiences were foundational in my development as a decent person.

Rattling off teacher’s names is a task that I am not up to. I had a junior high social studies teacher that wore a Zippy the Pin Head t-shirt. I had a high school history teacher that wore cowboy boots, another one wore ties and had us read horribly bad literature… actually it wasn’t horribly bad, but in high school I didn’t want to admit I had a love for reading and writing. The written word is not an easy mistress when you are more worried about fitting in… I failed at that… words and the smooth ease they run together to build paragraphs, pages, and books… they build dreams. I had another high school english teacher that nodded her head and slightly smiled when I got busted for writing an unofficial school newspaper… it ended with the first edition… seems school authorities don’t appreciate poorly written crap disguised as cutting edge journalism. The Convertible Outcry sucked… but the foray into turning ideas into printed word was awesome. No teacher ever felt the need to curtail my desire to explore, question, and expound.

Before I inaccurately give the impression of being something of a stellar student, I must confess that I was average at best. I talked to much in class on stupid shit… just like I do as a 41 year-old man… I fidgeted in my seat… just like I do here in my office. I had streak of questioning authority that resulted in episodes such as the unofficial school newspaper event. I barely got my homework done… wasting energy on uninteresting things makes life horrible… in my secondary education years, homework was uninteresting and a task that left me sweating, bored, and slightly angry. I probably graduated high school with a high C… maybe a low B if I am feeling generous to myself. Good enough to go to college but not good enough to go anywhere prestigious or receive some free money. I passed… there was no fear of failing… but I wasn’t breaking any records. Teachers saw that I completed enough to pass… some probably saw something in me… enough of them provided input to allow the boy who talked too much to scrape through and find himself.

Today I write for a living… and I dream of writing even more. I dream of returning to the magical places on the Earth that I have already visited… I dream of going to new places. I pay taxes… seriously, I am a contributing member of society. Interestingly, I even participate in the educational process of others by being an adjunct professor who teaches a graduate course at a local university… a university that would have never allowed me to attend as an undergraduate in 1988. Teachers provided a lot of this… teachers showed me stuff I don’t remember, but that shit is buried in my brain and bubbles forth when needed. I don’t remember most of them… but I know they taught me stuff.

To the teachers in my life… the ones who put up with my shit… the ones who I can’t remember… the ones who laughed at my free spirit and still got me to get back on tasks… to the ones who assigned books or school work that I detested… to the ones who attempted to teach me math (I still suck at it)… I want to say thank you. You did the best you could and now I am doing the best I can.

1. Two years ago I hiked Mount Huron in the Colorado Rockies. Mount Huron is 14,005 feet high, one of the 54 mountains in Colorado that rises above 14,000. At 13,000 feet I lost a significant portion of my ability to breathe, the last 1000 feet took ages… I can barely imagine what breathing at 25,771 feet is like.

2. This may sound odd considering I was living in Germany at the time… but Germany and Europe didn’t seem distant or odd.

“Beer drinkin, breath stinkin, sniffing glue”

The constant high hat beat… tap… tap… tap… tap and then the single guitar doing the same three chords in a heavy low note… followed by the almost scream of “Ali Baba and the forty thieves… Ali Baba and the forty thieves” is how I was introduced to the Beastie Boys. “Rhymin’ and Stealin” is the first track on Licensed to Ill… a high school friend introduced me to this magical sound in his basement bedroom. Pleasantly immature… slightly disrespectful to authority… two things that I was feeling in spades at the age of 15.

Rolling Stone reviewed Licensed to Ill with the title of “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.” Licensed to Ill would go on to be the best-selling rap album of the 1980s and the first rap album to be No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The Beastie Boys would go on to win 3 Grammys after being nominated for 10 between 1992 and 2010. They also won 3 MTV Video Music Awards, out of 8 nominations. The Beasties would sell 40 million albums worldwide and be the “biggest-selling rap group” since 1991. Pretty damn good for three idiots.

At my first hearing of the Beasties, I didn’t know they were a former (half-way decent) punk band that included Kate Schellenbach… she went on to be a member of Luscious Jackson. I was into heavy metal… so naturally this band and sound appealed to me. “Fight for Your Right to Party” was the song everyone associated with the Beasties… teenagers from the dawn of time have felt their parents were restricting their right to party… providing a link to this song’s video is both an insult to you and me. If you can’t immediately conjure that video in your head… you should probably quit reading this. FYRP is also the second worst song on the album… “Girls” is the worst song on the album… yet it is still a classic simple beat, repeatable chorus, tongue-in-cheek misogyny song… also I am unable to find (on YouTube) an official Beastie Boy music video for it. You can, however, find a number of art school projects on YouTube that use the song… it is almost as if this stupid, but catchy, song disappeared from the official world of film and resurfaced as art. To me, this song and these projects represent what the Beasties were really about… it really is about art… and that is truly in the eye of the beholder. FYRTP and “Girls” are the last two tracks on the album, respectively… once a listener got to them they were already caught… hook, line, and sinker.

“Four and three and two and one, when I’m on the mic suckas run” may not be high-class art… but being a line from “The New Style” is indicative of what the Beasties provided us. The Beasties provided something other than 3rd grade lyrics repeated over and over, with cliche-style heart string pulling… the Beasties were playing something original. Want to know how fucking bad and unoriginal music was in 1986… “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight was the No. 1 song of the year! “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie was No. 2… kill me then, kill me now. Having just seen this list and writing about it now is causing a giant-ass vein to pop up on my forehead and I have the urge to go drive a nail into my eye… seeing the 1986 No. 7 just sent me into cardiac arrest… fucking “Party All the Time” by Eddie Murphy…. aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh! The “Party all the Time” video’s intro has to be one of the worst use of footage ever put on film… in 1986 the technology was pretty shitty… obviously… because this intro shows a bunch of space shuttle-like sound engineering equipment (giant wires color-coded for the minimally trained) and then footage of Eddie Murphy walking down some steps with a curly-mulleted fat white dude (who would have been the butt… no the asscrack… of every single one of Eddie’s jokes)… we music listeners of 1986 were the idiots… not the Beasties. Before you read further go back and watch all three of these videos… horrible lip synching, stupid footage from stupid 80s movies… and Rick James giving Eddie Murphy the only music cred he would ever had… if nothing else Rick James knew how to party and it only took a hot crack pipe. Fuck you 1986 music hits!

Yes “Brass Monkey,” “Paul Revere,” “She’s Crafty,” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn” are somewhat immature lyric-wise… “… tourin’ around the nation, Beastie Boys always on vacation …” is not poetry… but it was obvious the Beasties weren’t taking themselves too serious (something that would change as they got better). But if there was ever an album, or a group, that should be judged by its complete collection (holistically)… it is the Beasties. What the Beasties were showing in 1986 was what the future of music could (and would) be… the Beasties drew on the old source of punk (angry rock-n-roll) and mixed it with the growing musical and cultural identity of urban sound. Eminem needs to kiss the Beasties’ asses every time he sees them. In 1986, the Beasties made the music, lived the life, and represented everything I wanted. Self-deprecating to a fault, the Beasties in 1986 were not only making fun of themselves, but they were making fun of everyone else… and in the process we loved every minute of it. Selling idiot through rap was a lot easier than selling art through rap… we weren’t ready for the Beasties then.

Sabotage” from their 1994 album Ill Communication is when the Beasties turned from a joke to a movement. Prior to the release of Ill Communication, the Beasties had released Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head… both are great albums. “Hey Ladies” is what most remember from Paul’s Boutique, and “What’cha Want” is the identifier of Check Your Head. “Hey Ladies” was received as old school Beasties… but “What’cha Want” was something completely new. WW wasn’t a joke, WW wasn’t stupid costumes and lyrics about beer and girls… WW was art. Paul’s Boutique was the moment Beasties learned how to sample and layer music… Check Your Head allowed the Beasties to turn to other genres like funk and jazz… Check Your Head was also used by the Beasties to return to their punk roots and use driving guitar sounds. Neither album was a real commercial success… only those who heard (and saw through videos) the Beasties’ potential were listening. “Sabotage” and Ill Communication changed all this… it debuted at No. 1 in 1994. The Beasties headlined Lollapalooza that year. The Beasties were back to those that had forgotten about them… most had thought they had outgrown the Beasties… now listeners were back… or their younger brothers and sisters were now listening.

From there the Beasties released Hello Nasty in 1998 which was more techno than anything… “Intergalactic” was THE song on Hello Nasty. In 2004, To the 5 Boroughs was released… “Ch-Check It Out” is what we remember. Being typical artists… in 2007 the Beasties did something new… they released a purely instrumental album The Mix-Up. It won a Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Album”… if you aren’t a hardcore Beastie fan… you probably had no idea this album even existed. “Electric Worm” and “B for My Name” are two of the beats and grooves. Finally, in 2011, the Beasties released Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. “Make Some Noise” was the first single off the album… the Beasties were back in full form… the video shows the Beasties leaving a party were “Fight for Your Right to Party” is playing loudly… as the Beasties exit the party… stumbling down the stairs and out into a NYC street the viewer realizes the video doesn’t show Adrock, MCA, and Mike D… instead it has Seth Rogen as Mike D, Danny McBride as Adrock, and Elijah wood as Mike D… the clever video almost distracts from a pounding and revetting beat and funky groove. Cameos abound… everyone is on the joke… more cowbell. “Make Some Noise” is a mature funkadelic groove and the video shows that no matter how artistic or talented the Beasties may be… they still understand how they moved from 1986 to 2011. They not only tell the joke… they are the joke… but they aren’t joking. They are men who have performed for the past 26 years.

It is easy for me to explain that the Beasties have spoken to me through the past 26 years. Almost too easy, all of us look back and fondly remember things… music, movies, fashions, friends, and family. Smell supposedly is the sense that triggers memories the most… with me it is music. I have always been a Beasties fan… obviously. My desire to listen to them has ebbed and flowed though… there has been significant passages of time before I cue up a Beastie song on my iPod/iPhone. I have no favorite Beastie song… but “Sabotage” would be my answer if I was forced to give one… it’s my phone’s ringtone for callers who haven’t ranked high enough for an individual one. I often say that me and heavy metal grew up together… that’s a lie. Heavy metal suffered a premature death about the time I was bouncing between college and the military… Nirvana and Kurt Cobain killed heavy metal the same way Kurt would kill himself… shotgun blast to the head. The Beasties are one of the few bands that still get played… old and new mixed together… overlapping and flowing from bad to good and back to good… I’m sort of fond of them. I am not fool enough to think that this enamored feeling for 3 Jewish guys from Brooklyn are that identifiable to me… but I am wise enough to realize that art and life move along and must be appreciated because they both fade so quickly. Adam “MCA” Yauch died last Friday after battling cancer… he was 48… this saddens me in a very selfish way… the Beasties have lost a third of their sound… I don’t know if the Beasties will ever record anything again. 48, seven years older than I am now, is way too young to die.

As I was typing this post I had my iPod playing my Beasties’ playlist… it stopped a few minutes ago… my phone rang… didn’t think the caller wanted to hear the Beasties cranked up in the background. When I returned to this blog I saw that I was getting serious and discussing some bullshit about life and art fading… what the fuck do I know? … well, maybe this… we are all individuals that have things that stir our soul. We have all had moments when we have looked out on our lives… the past, the present, and the hopeful future… these moments cause us to stop and ponder. You might think it is odd that the Beasties make me stop and ponder… but they do. The Beasties have made a lot of music, some of it was okay, some was good, some sucked… some was downright shitty… a good bit was amazingly great. Yep sounds like my life…