How It All Began - Part Three
Howdy Peeps! How's everyone doing Me, I'm a bit stressed. Finding ways to manage this stress filled year has been a daily thing for me but today...well, today is just different isn't it? Big day right?
As we stand on the precipice of what looks to be a pretty historic event in our nation's history, I want to tell you the story of the historic event that changed my life and has, for all intents and purposes, led me to where I am today. Plus, it gives me something to focus on instead of the television right now.
The Army Years
Well, there she is, GI Lisa, or probably more like Private Benjamin. The most unlikely of soldiers, you could knock me over with a feather if you told me when I was 18 that I would end up spending a large portion of my life serving in the military. But, before I can tell that tale, I probably need to backtrack a bit and start with my growing up years. You know, the years that can screw you up for the rest of
your life if you let them? Yeah, those years. In my case, they weren't all roses and sunshine but looking back, they could definitely have been worse.
I was a little runt in grade school. I had little gangly arms and legs, mountains of tangled curls, and terribly buck teeth. Weighing in on the same scale as a toddler, I was asked often how old I was or if I was lost and needed my mommy. But, all that changed the day the class bully, Kenda Stallings, beat me to a pulp with my own Sigmund and the Sea Monsters lunchbox in the fourth grade. After that incident, I took a lesson from my father's playbook, and realized pretty quickly that the way to ingratiate yourself to even the biggest of bullies, was to be able to make them laugh.
The F*#king Comedian
He was always quick with the joke; my father. Even as a small child I remember how he sounded when he laughed. It was a big, booming laugh straight from the belly. And his face would soften and his eyes would crinkle. It’s that face that always made me smile and one that I never saw often enough as a child.
He was the Dad that would ask you to pull his finger. The father that would tell my brother that he had Dumbo ears. He was the guy that would tell the knock-knock jokes everyone had heard a million times, but even so, to my father, they were just funnier when he told them. He’s also the guy that told me that I could eat corn on the cob through a picket fence.
Well in to my teens and after years of observation, I came to realize that whenever he was in an uncomfortable situation; he was quick with the joke. It was his protective shield. It was his way of dealing. I sucked my fingers until I was in fourth grade; hence the buck teeth. Even though I knew that I was too old to be sucking my fingers, whenever I would get nervous or anxious, in the mouth they’d go. One of my younger sisters wet the bed until about fourth grade. Again, even though she knew that she would get made fun of, it kept happening. And yet another sibling had the all too well known blankie. My father it seemed, had a blanket of his own. One, that apparently, I would trade up to.
So, getting back to the grade school bully; she kept up her reputation well into junior high school, and I was typically a favorite target. I got really good at avoiding her, even going so far as to take different walking routes home after school so that I wouldn't run into her. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn't, and after the tremendous pounding that I knew was to follow, I would go home and brush up on my self deprecating humor. Not that I knew at the time that that is what it was called, but it seemed that making fun of myself before giving her the chance to do it defused her somewhat and so armed with this knowledge I would go forth and throw my self esteem into the oncoming path of the Mack Truck of bullies on a weekly basis. How could I have known then that I was acting instinctually, as I'd seen my father act before me? How could I know that I was becoming a chip off the old block in the development of my humor? Years later, it would come to pass that it was either going to be my saving grace, or my curse.
Eventually, the bully and I would come to an understanding. She was big and not very bright. I was tiny and pretty damn funny. We made a great team. I won her over by making her laugh and even if it was at me, and not with me, I felt that I was making great strides in the right direction.
As I got older, the easier it became to make people laugh. And soon the self deprecation would make way for tongue in cheek with a little slap stick thrown in when warranted.
I would spend hours sometimes listening to my parents old Bill Cosby records, laughing at his different voices and his sing-song story telling and then try to incorporate my own Cosby-isms into my school day.
I became known as the class clown. Even my teachers would eventually be won over by my humor. My father however was not the least bit amused. So, my sense of humor wasn't something that was just born one day. Somewhere along the way it had become an amalgam of all the best qualities that both my parents could offer in the way of a funny bone.
My mother was very intelligent and well read, and so could be quite witty. My father was not what I would have ever called well read but he had that ole country boy thing going for him as well as a sophomoric sense of humor, so to him, farting was a great ice breaker. I did know that whenever I would find myself in an uncomfortable situation, like meeting someone for the first time that intimidated me, or was simply nervous or anxious, the humor would just spill out of me like blood from a gaping wound. It was like a nervous tic and so from the ashes of my own broken self esteem rose the great phoenix that would become my own sense of humor. I’m sure that you can understand how well this went over once I enlisted into Basic Training.
(Disclaimer: in this section there will be colorful language used. We are talking basic training after all. Just trying to keep it real)
As badly as I wanted to be in the Army that did not change the fact that I was nervous as hell the day I stepped off the bus at FT. Dix New Jersey. Having no idea what to expect the humor rose to my throat, ready to either choke me or spew out like vomit from a newborn. As I stepped off the bus, all 5'8 and 100lbs of me was immediately introduced to a slight woman, standing no taller than 5 foot, but who had the biggest mouth I’d ever seen. And when she started to scream at me to "get the fuck in line" she looked like she had a flip top head and resembled a Pez Dispenser. I mentioned this under my breath as we all shuffled to line ourselves up in front of her and the few who heard me started to giggle.
Unfortunately Pez Dispenser heard us too. The crew was then asked who the “fucking comedian” was. All of a sudden my partners in crime turned on me and as I turned, were all pointing their fingers my way. As I was on the ground three seconds later, trying to do pushups, I knew winning her over was going to be harder than finally making friends with Kenda Stallings all those years ago. From that day on she called me the “Fucking Comedian” and made me tell a joke, and do push ups, whenever she saw me.
Like the day that she tossed my bunk out of the third floor window into the snow because I’d not pulled my blankets tight enough. As I stood down on the street in formation with the rest of my unit, I watched as my bunk and all my linen went sailing out the window, landing in the freshly fallen snow. She poked her flip top head out of the window and yelled down, “Hey fucking comedian! Tell me a joke now about your bed!“ And so it went. And I had wanted to be anonymous throughout this ordeal. After that, all the drill instructors knew who I was and the harassments never stopped. From anonymity to infamy, I'd apparently sealed my fate.
On one of the last days of training we had to go to the grenade range and we were going to throw two live fragmentation grenades. I was very excited! This was gonna be awesome! We were finally going to get to blow some shit up! They lined us up alphabetically and having a last name that starts with a "T" meant I was almost last out of 321 girls. As we stood outside waiting in line to get our turn in the foxhole, it started snowing. It got worse and worse and then the wind started blowing. By the time they called my name I was a frozen Texas string bean.
I’d put on my gloves to try and keep my hands warm reminding myself that once I got in the foxhole, to take them off. The instructors told us to never, ever, throw a grenade with gloves on. So my turn comes and I get in the foxhole and the Drill Sergeant looks at me and asks me if I’m ready. I say "YES DRILL SERGEANT!"
He puts a flak jacket on me so as to protect me from any flying debris and then he slaps the first grenade into my hand. I rock back, pull the pin and then let that bitch fly. I throw it as hard as I can and then he shoves me down into the foxhole and over my head I hear the loudest freaking ka-boom I’ve ever heard in my life. I did that! It was awesome! I immediately jumped up and upon witnessing the destruction I’d done to the jeep that I’d been aiming for said, “Damn that bitch went down quicker than a cheerleader on a quarterback”.
He looked at me for a few seconds, and then started laughing. I started laughing. I’m not sure if it was nervous laughter or he really thought I was funny but we both just started to crack up. And then he slapped the other grenade into my hand and at that moment, noticed that I was still wearing my gloves. All at once he starts screaming at me “What did I tell you about the gloves?!?” “Take them off, take them off, take them off!”
As he screams at me I fumble with the grenade in my hand and the pin gets pulled and goes flying across the foxhole. It was like slow motion after that. He screamed at me again, his eyes all of a sudden as big as saucers. “T h r o w t h e f u c k i n g t h i n g!” And in my great desire to have that damn thing out of my hand I did a little toss with my right arm and lobbed it barely over the wall. He shoved me face down into the dirt, and then laid completely on top of me, covering my small frame with his bulk. The ground shook as it rained snow and dirt and rocks on top of both of us. After about a minute, with my ears still ringing, he jerked me up by the straps of the flak jacket and kicked me in the ass and told me to get the fuck out of his foxhole. He definitely wasn’t laughing now.
I cried all the way back to the barracks. I was feeling ALL the feelings. Fear at what I had almost done. Hysteria that I didn't blow us up. Amazement that I'd thrown two fragmentation grenades and NOBODY that I knew had ever done THAT before. And happiness that this was almost, blissfully, over. I'd done it. Basic Training was over.
I graduated two days later. When I walked across the stage to receive my diploma the foxhole Drill Sergeant was standing there. He handed me my diploma and told me that he honestly didn’t think that I was going to make it through. He asked me if he was going to hear me telling the tale of almost blowing his head off one day on some comedy show, and I showed him a sly smile, winked at him, and said "yeah, maybe one day".
As I walked back across the stage, diploma in hand, I knew that I had done it. I had conquered a beast even bigger than the one I’d left at home all those years before. I WAS somebody. I was a soldier in the United States Army.
Stepping off the stage, I realized that all the nervous energy had given me gas, and suddenly, I accidently farted. Standing there in my dress blues, I farted. It was loud and everyone heard it and so what are you gonna do?
I laughed; harder than I’d done since getting there and soon the whole front three rows were in hysterics. The "Fucking Comedian" had struck again. It seems no matter what I accomplish in this life, or what choices that I make, there will always be a little of my father in me.
After that, I went to my unit of assignment and eventually made my way back to Austin, and home. I spent the next 26 years of my life serving this great nation and there were times that I really didn't think that I'd be able to stay even one more day. (more on that later)
But then, September 11, 2001 came, and everything changed. I did not enlisted in the military out of a sense of honor or duty; honestly, I enlisted to go to college. But as I watched men plummet to the ground out of the burning tower, I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. I also knew that whatever we as a country were going to do now, I wanted to be part of it. I retired in June of 2015, thirteen years after the war started, with a greater sense of who I am, my place in the world, and, with my sense of humor intact, albeit, slightly watered down now. I'm still quick with a joke; I'm just better at reading my audience now. And the farting? I keep that mostly to myself now, but, I am married so........