Burn………Baby……….Burn

WARNING: The following presentation discusses a form of wood finishing which involves the use of an open flame, a torch to be more specific. Please be familiar with your particular device and read all cautions and warnings for said device. The Sting Of The Scorpion Blog nor myself will not be held responsible for any errors in your judgement. The information provided in this post is educational under the assumption that the person attempting this particular technique has a certain degree of common sense. Therefore, if YOU fuck it up YOU yourself is responsible for fucking it up, not me or this blog. One needs to be aware of the dangers involved when using an open flame. In the end, practice first, practice again, and be extremely fucking careful. Again, I will not be held responsible for YOUR errors or victories. The following information is based on my personal experience and knowledge. Got it?

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When I lived in Japan I was very lucky to have stumbled upon an older gentleman who was willing to teach me a wood finishing technique called Yaki-Matsu (burnt pine). Since then I have practiced and somewhat perfected my own personal version of this wood finishing technique. I cannot stress enough, seriously, that this can turn into a disaster in a blink of an eye since wood burns, but with a little practice one can tame the flame to make a very unique look on anything made of wood. Also, let me just state that I have 30 plus years experience in woodworking and cabinetry. Therefore, I hate to call this a DIY style post. My intent is to share a technique of wood finishing that others can try on small to large projects. Before you try any of this at home be sure you are aware of what you are doing and be responsible enough to know your personal limits and skills.

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In reality this post won’t be an all inclusive do it yourself post on how to burn the grain of the wood to get this special look. Basically, I’m just answering all the questions in advance since it might be hard to grasp the concept and design of my project personally. As one can see from the pictures, my project was to create an island space in a rustic nature to blend in with the cedar woodwork in my sister’s 100+ year old farm house. Also, before all of y’all self appointed experts try to get in my ass for not doing it your way just feel free to hold those opinions. Like any “tradition”, I have taken this technique and made it my own. Trust me, I’ve ruined more than one piece of wood over the years. As mentioned, my sister wanted something unique, not the typical look, not something out of the box, and something that had a ” wow factor”. Overall, it was a very tall order to fill, and not to mention that this has been a time consuming project to say the absolute very least. So let’s begin the highlight reel.

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Where y’all see an island used to be a wall with a pass through hole in it. First step, demo the wall and support the second floor. Then to create bar height seating as well as an island that is kitchen counter height. The secondary purpose of the island was for storage. Once the construction portion was complete it was time to talk finishing it all off. I chose to “antique” and distress everything except for the two cedar posts and the actual counter and bar surfaces. Antiquing this much area, to include the ceiling features took a great deal of time. I remind everyone that everything you see was created, from the tongue and groove beaded boards to all the trim, the cabinet doors, and so forth. I left my treatment of the top a secret, a surprise that was either going to make or break this project. By now I can assume that many of y’all have Googled the term “Yaki-Matsu” so I can simply tell y’all it is a technique in which the grain of the wood is kissed with the open flame of a torch. I chose this instead of staining or leaving it natural because of its true uniqueness, as no two boards look the same. When the time came to mount the wood I used square headed barn nails that I liberated from a 147 year old barn we tore down last summer. Yes, I have hundreds and hundreds of feet of barn lumber and no it is not for sale. At the time of these pictures I had not applied the varathane yet. After burning the one all that needs to be done is rubbing the wood down with a dry, clean, soft cloth.

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I will post more pictures when I’m 100% done. Hell, the purpose of this post was to let some concerned individuals know what I’ve been up to because they think I have quit blogging or that I’m dead. So far I have around 200 hours invested into it, I probably have at least 20 to go. Just know this, as a final warning, one will come across occasions when using the torch in the house becomes necessary to touch up edges and so forth, remember that most things in our houses don’t react well with open flames, I’m just saying. I guess as I look back over what has been written I can see this wasn’t much of a tutorial at all, which is fitting because I such giving instructions for the most part. If nothing else maybe y’all learned that there is yet another way to beautifully treat wood without stain or paint. I suppose, in the end, I’ll just share some pictures with y’all and call it good.

Penetration Before Detonation

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Going along the line of my last post about boxes full of my Air Force and AMMO shit that my wife got ahold of, I decided that my last post merely scratched the surface of a few topics that I finally decided to discuss. If you didn’t read We Live So Others May Die then this may seem pretty random and might not make total sense, but then again that can be said for most of the shit I write anyway. I had left out my jacket from the last story, I think I got sidetracked or something. But, the jacket pictured is a big part in ways of expressing and explaining how I’ve changed over the last 15 years since getting out of the Air Force. How so? In many ways one might say I matured, maybe grew up is better, since I was 32 at the time of exiting. The things that were my life and priorities were very different only a week later, no more eating all things dangerous for breakfast and shitting tiffany bullets by dinner, providing the enemy the opportunity to die for his country was no longer printed on my business cards. Overnight my life as I knew it was upside down, it was a disaster and a hard first few weeks, and slowly the stress of that job faded.

But let’s go back first, way back. My dad was a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant before I was born in 68. It wasn’t until my teen years that he began to open up to me about his military career. The thing that used to intrigue me the most about his career was him telling me, in a joking manner, that Uncle Sam used to pay him to blow shit up, and I thought that he had to have had the best job known to man. My mind was made up, I was joining the Air Force and do what he did. However, by the time it was time certain jobs had been retired and new ones created. Let history show that I chose to be a 461. Now, we all have heard that Air Force basic training is relatively easy, right? Right. I won’t lie, it was easy. I think it’s easy because they’re not really training “soldiers” or “badasses” by definition, they’re teaching military service as a way of life, like summer camp but with better weapons, because they know one is in the air force to do things on the more technical side. Blah, blah, blah, it was a breeze. Technical school for the 461 was a crash course in how not to end up dead, full of many technical terms, safety, and how one must absolutely positively respect explosives or they simply put your dog tags in an envelope to mail to your next of kin because typically that’s all one can expect to be remaining. All that being said, it stuck with me always, respect. And sure enough I got out with all ten fingers and toes and everything in the middle. I paid the price tho, I drank the kool-aid, I started believing the propaganda as the everloving truth, I would preach it all like the gospel itself. Later in my career I had my wake up call, and at that point I was no longer able to be detached from the horrors of what I helped create.

I wore this jacket everywhere, I wore it with absolute pride knowing if I did my job properly then without prejudice those weapons would function as designed. I mean think about it, without explosives the Air Force is just the world’s largest airline which was even more lore and propaganda, I had a head full of it, it was pounded in until my sweat glands weeped it all back out, it was like the victory lap after being full circle for hundreds of miles yet never going anywhere. It’s a beautiful plan. And just to think that the general population of the United States of America is opposed to the waterboarding of our enemies but it’s OK to brainwash our sons and daughters in the military because we must make stronger soldiers. Bullshit. They break you down and then build the you they think you should be, fuck the real you, the real you is DOA once you sign the dotted line. My whole career was just a dangerous game, I got to dance with the devil and sleep with his daughters all in the name of democracy and the American way. I know this sounds bitter and sarcastic, I’m not trying to, because I actually really loved being in the Air Force. As my jacket reads, I even advertised our services for free every moment I wasn’t in uniform.

Back to present day, this jacket was neatly folded laying on top of everything else in the box, resting for eternity, or so I thought, until I see it has been resurrected. But the emotion I had was not anger for digging up my skeletons, it was a smile and surprise. As soon as I said I would not be wearing it, simply because I had a growth spurt in my mid 30s, my son volunteers to be its proud new owner. Way wrong fucking answer boy, it will never happen. First of all, it is not appropriate to wear to school, I don’t care if he is in the AFJROTC in high school, I really don’t. Sure, it would be cool for him to show off, but all the perverts would find some way of making it a sexual statement. Just say it to yourself and imagine all the meanings. Of course, very few know it is the calling card and slogan for my favorite weapon of all, the BLU-109. Yes, I had a fantastic favorite, seems weird now, stop making it weird people. Plus, its not his “game” to play with people. I can back my shit up, he cannot. Yes, I can remember wanting to wear my father’s uniforms and so forth so I do get the psychology. But the responsible dad part of me just says no to it altogether.

Damn, of course, this story, this little piece of personal history, has gone in so many directions. Oh well, maybe some of y’all get it, and I cannot help the rest of y’all. This reminds me of so much more, I hope this doesn’t constitute violating the terms I signed when I got out, you know the form, don’t ever talk about your job from this day forward or go to federal prison. I knew I would crack one day, I just never knew when. So, until next time boys and girls, remember to eat it every day!

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I Was Walking In A Circle

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I realized that my feet felt as if they weighed a ton a piece, looking down I see that I’m wading through a foot of thick mud, going towards what appeared to be the direction I was drawn to head. The closer it seemed I would get to my destination I would notice the distance increase. I was carrying a bag which seemed to get heavier by the step, I wonder what I could be carrying that could weigh so much, I wanted to open the bag but in the darkness I don’t know how I would see inside. Hearing the loud crashes of thunder I wanted to move faster, I wanted to find shelter, as I watched the flashes of lightning in the distance I wanted to get away from the tall trees, but the flashes got brighter and the thickness of trees only increased, the more I pushed the more trees I can see. Hours seem to pass before my surroundings begin to seem familiar, I’ve been here before, and before that I was here also, but where is here, why do I keep coming back, I keep finding the same path, leading me to the same damn place, I’ve been here but this place is not familiar, it’s darkness reminds me of having my eyes closed, unable to see, only being able to hear, to feel, and smell the rot in the humid air. What is that familiar smell, why do I know the soothing scent, it is pleasing to me, it makes me feel secure in a place I should know but don’t recognize. As I rest I feel each drop of the rain touch my face, rolling down the skin like warm tears. In my mind I hear Freebird, it’s loud and I hear it echo in the trees, I need to start moving now, I need to get to a safer place, this place smells of death, it smells of rotting corpses, there are thousands of them. As the light of day breaks I can see the bodies I’m walking on, wading through like mud, the blood is over the top of my boots, it’s weight is increasing with every step, I look down and see the faces, faces that didn’t see what had killed them, I know what killed them, I know what the thunder is, I know the lightning flashes, I know what has happened.

As I sit in my recliner with my eyes closed shut, telling my wife for the first time ever what it was like to see the destruction as a result of what I did while in the Air Force. The reality of it is that it isn’t a forest, it is a desert, it is a place I never want to return to, and rarely, if never, talk about it. I’ve been married for 16 years, to a wife that came along after the Air Force, she just doesn’t want to understand, and I’m okay with that. The mere fact that I’m writing about it amazes me, it still hurts, it is still fresh when I close my eyes, and I fear there are not enough pleasant memories ahead to knock it the fuck out. I spent years detached from the reality that the weapons I helped build destroyed life and property, it wasn’t me pulling the trigger, it wasn’t me hitting the target, but a simple walk down a deserted street after a carpet bombing the night before let reality set in, no longer was I detached, no longer was I innocent, and I knew then changes needed to happen or I would lose my mind. Like a good soldier I pressed forward, putting behind me horrors that cannot be unseen or forgotten. What gets seen cannot be unseen, unfortunately it is very true. My wife wants me to talk to a headshrinker, I opted out. And now I see, once again, talking about it isn’t worth a fuck, I just leave more out each time. I hope that in time, preferably before my wife has me cremated, that I just forgot about the shit and everyone else forgets it as well.

When I talk about Desert Storm and later The Liberation of Kuwait it is to educate myself and others about how the real world is, beyond the news, beyond the media, beyond what the politicians think they know. There is zero reasons I should feel guilty for being a part of the machine which is called the military. I took responsibility for my personal contributions while in the Air Force, I do not blame others, there was no gun to my head, I served, fuck it, I’m a proud veteran, I can’t ever take it back. Some of y’all understand my pain, the rest of all will never have a fucking clue, y’all are the lucky ones, the innocent ones, the ones who close their eyes without fear. Anyway, to my wife who is reading this post, I hope this has helped you, at least a little. I never asked to be anyone’s hero, I never asked for people to thank me, I never asked for people to want to take a picture with me if they find out I’m a disabled veteran, I just joined the Air Force because I wanted to serve my country because I thought I could and would make a difference. But, I can’t fix stupid and stupid wanted a robot who didn’t care, that person is not me.

Before I go, let me tell you about the one and only time my ex-wife was able to pry out of me what I didn’t want open. Y’all see, she was studying to become a sociologist and well on her way to being a social worker, she thought we could talk about it, that I would be comfortable knowing that she, of all people, would not pass judgment. When I was done talking she was in tears, she was appalled that I was part of the organization which promotes peace through the use of violence, she told me she was ashamed to be in the same room with me, ashamed to share a last name with me in marriage, and that one day I will pay for my sins of being a baby killer in the deepest, darkest parts of hell, a place reserved for rapists and paedophiles. At first I believed she was right, it matches how I feel, but soon I realized that I am a simple person who was not looking for redemption or forgiveness, I wasn’t even looking for understanding, I just wanted to know if the words I would speak would or could sound like the thoughts in my head or the memories I have or how I feel deep down in that part of me nobody gets to witness, ever. Shit goes there to be buried and forgotten, it takes time to dig it up, nobody quite understands that, scratch that, some do understand, those are the people who don’t have physical scarring but are somewhat fucked in every other way, we know what each other are thinking, not even we understand so we don’t expect others to either. We don’t look for eyes or words if pity, we do appreciate it when others respect us enough as human beings just to let things be.

My wife hugged me, long and tight, not a word spoken, with tears down her face, she told me I’m home, I’m with people whom I love and that love me, support me, and care about me. That was the best hug I have had to this day in my life, a memory I will forever cherish. My message to my wife and to my son who will read this post later is that life happens every minute of every day, take time to see the scenery, smell the rain in the distance, we only have one shot at this life so we better live it to the fullest. My daughters give me their support as well, still I wonder if they really understand or if I just get the nod. This, unless something snaps again, will probably be the last time I discuss any of this on a personal level, this shit sucks to remember, to relive, and to talk about. Some call blogging “therapy”, and it is, but not today, today is more like anger management for me. Remember, no pictures please, ever, for any reason.

The Ghost Of Halloween’s Past

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When I was a kid around 7 or 8 I had a really great friend. As we got into our early teens we were very close, and now looking back I realize just how close. She was the person I talked to about anything and everything, I even talked to her about girls and she talked to me about the boys. We had that real close cousin type of friendship even though there was no blood relationship, but we were more than friends, our connection went deeper than that, much deeper than one can simply imagine. So, in “honor” of my great friend in life I would like to share some memories, I hope she wouldn’t mind.

The first time I met Gabby I was probably 7 or 8 years old, I was spying on the new girl on the block as she helped her parents unpack the moving truck and I was truly fascinated with everything about her. I was up high in the tree in our front yard, as quiet as a hawk searching for movement in the tall grass, as I watched her blonde hair whip around in the breeze. I got distracted for real and was watching two squirrels fighting over something at the end of the very branch I was laying on. Out of the blue I heard a quiet voice, the whispering voice of a girl asking me if I wanted to climb down so I could play with her. After I climbed down we walked back to the bayou where we caught and played with the crawdads that were everywhere. We didn’t talk much about anything, we just got muddy, laughed, and played. Later on we hear her dad calling out in the distance for Gabby to come home. With big eyes she stole a kiss on the cheek, told me thanks for playing with her, and she was gone into the wind. We would play like this, for hours at a time after school and on the weekends.

We went trick-or-treating together that first year she moved in and that became our “little tradition” for many years to come. We would do crazy shit all year long, pranks, jokes, and so on, always doing it together as much as time would allow. In our early teens our friendship took a turn to the best I think, I never heard her complain either, she noticeably was going from little girl to a young lady. As this happened, we played allot of show and tell and allot of spin the bottle and a fair share of truth or dare, always just us two, nobody else was allowed to participate. It’s just the way it was. Before long we knew more about one another than each other knew about themselves, inside and out. But this was all about to end, I was moving away the summer between 8th and 9th grade to live with my dad in another state. It was a surprise and crushing blow for all of us, family included, as everyone guessed us to start dating because we were inseparable at all times. That was a hard summer for me, I crashed an ultralight aircraft attempting to get my amateur aviation license which should have killed me, but it didn’t luckily. Unfortunately, on my final trip back home at the end of summer, to pack and say goodbye, I was given the terrible news that my dad had a fatal accident while participating in a exposition air show. I buried him a week later. All my plans died with him that day, but the only person I felt I could talk with or just sit with was my best friend Gabby.

High school started right on cue, we had unofficially started dating, meaning we did everything together but weren’t actually together, but everyone but us called it dating, we are just good friends. By our sophomore year the boys were really noticing her and time in our friendship was being stretched beyond control, something had to go, and that something just happened to be me. She dated many boys, I didn’t really have a serious relationship until 11th grade which made our friendship even stranger. In the beginning of that relationship Gabby played dirty, in my spare time she was there, flirting harder than ever, always naked around me when we were alone, always tempting me with the very thing I always thought I wanted, but it never happened, but according to her rumors we were together, we were fucking, and I was taken. A nice story that ended badly. We didn’t speak again until the night of our graduation, where she told me she was leaving soon to go to Air Force basic training, a place I was also going to be but got accepted into college so my enlistment was delayed 24 months. That was it, my first crush was leaving and I didn’t have the nuts to even tell her goodbye or I’m sorry or good luck, I just let her walk away.

I did attend college, I did get married to my high school sweetheart a year later, and did join the Air Force another year later. When all the dust settled and I land at my first base, I find out my sponsor just so happens to be little miss Gabby herself. I had four years to do in Japan, luckily she was leaving in a few months. We partied quite a bit before she left, a habit greatly practiced by ammo troops I soon found out. Yes, if hadn’t guessed, we had the same job, both making the choice we decided way back when in yesteryear. Soon enough she left, leaving me once again. I saw her again, sooner than I thought, as we both were deployed for Desert Storm and were stationed at the same base. It made 8 months fly by, having a friend from home with me. But soon enough we rotated out to our home bases and once again we were separated again. I would see her off and on for the next few years until we ended up in New Mexico together. She had gotten married to a true asshole, I say that because he thought it was okay to beat on her regularly. A disturbing fact that was brought out to my attention one early morning when she showed up in my doorstep with a bloody nose and bleeding lip. That night a few of my friends and I payed him a visit, never before had I tried to kill someone before, but I tried that night. He got the message and slipped away quietly one day soon after, leaving a note announcing he wants a divorce.

Life went on, I divorced my wife, got out the Air Force, and so forth. Meanwhile, Gabby was determined to make a career out of the Air Force, and carried on, gaining rank, ribbons, and accommodations. After two back to back tours in Afghanistan she decided she was done, she retired as a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) which I had an invitation to the ceremony but had other obligations, so no, I did not attend. I got a phone call from Gabby a few weeks later, announcing she had moved back to Houston and wanted to get together with my family and I for dinner one night soon. My current wife knew very little of Gabby and our lifelong friendship, since I never had a need to talk about my past much, something I’ve been working on lately, and my wife is now realizing that I treat my relationships, friends or family, and with her, very seriously, and I will guard those relationships until the end. She gets it, I think.

Our dinner out was great, everyone including my wife and kids, had a great time talking and visiting. I think my wife looks at me differently now, she never has had anyone explain how my life in the Air Force was except for me, and I tend to not talk much about the details, just keep it short and sweet, the end, story over. That dinner was two years ago, on Halloween night, a night not unlike many before it, we said our goodbyes, made future plans, and we went our separate ways. After getting settled at home, about an hour and a half after leaving the restaurant, I got a phone call from the Constable’s office to inform me that an officer was heading my way to discuss an important matter with me. Soon enough we got the knock on the door, the officer was there to inform me of a fatal automobile accident a few hours ago. Seems I was listed as Gabby’s only next of kin and also the last person she spoke with according to her phone. He explained that a truck traveling the opposite direction hit a deer which resulted in the truck losing control and colliding head on with Gabby’s truck at what was estimated at at least 80 mph, resulting in both being killed at impact. The following day I was asked to formally identify her body and yes it was her. She had a closed casket funeral due to the facial and upper body damage. A very small funeral at the Veteran’s Cemetery here in Houston, most of the people attending were my family. Her flag was presented to me, probably the hardest thing I accepted in life with exception to being 15 and presented my father’s flag at his funeral.

I have bad news for my wife, who recommended I tell this story here today in my spare time, who thought it might make me feel better if I take the time to write about my great friend and our enduring friendship, who is wrong because I don’t feel better, but I did enjoy the trip down memory lane, sort of, but I think I should come clean to y’all, the story y’all read today is only about 1% of everything that ever happened. For now y’all can assume and presume, for now y’all can filter through it all, because for now I’m very done writing about it. In case you are curious, the picture is of Gabby, I took that picture in an undisclosed location in a desert in New Mexico many years ago, alongside a deserted road, she wanted to flash somebody so bad, but after hours just the scorpions, the buzzards, and I were the only ones enjoying the show. It’s a great picture and memory of her, she truly was a graceful and free spirit.

A Tale Of Twists And Some Glitter

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I was very surprised to get a phone call from a long time friend who was calling to invite me over to his house to see his new truck. Having nothing to do in my own life I decided to go check it out for shits and giggles. I pulled into his driveway and only saw the cars that are normally parked in his driveway. I guess he saw me pull up because he hurriedly came our the front door and I was told to just shut up and follow him to his shop. I was just as disappointed at the shop because I still wasn’t looking at a new truck! He had this look on his face, the look I imagine a person would have on their face if they just killed someone and needed help burying the body, which is odd because he can’t even kill a tiny spider, but he had that deranged look nevertheless. He begins to tell me this story that, when he was done I asked if I could tell to a few of my friends, is pretty strange even by my standards. Before I retell his story let me give you a little background on my friend, we’ll call him Rick, and his son who we’ll call Jr. I have known Rick, his ex-wife, and his son since I met them all in the early 90s when I lived in Japan. His son is the same age of my oldest daughter, 25. Ever since 1999 Rick has lived the life of a single father, working and raising his son were his two top priorities in life. He never dated until his son was 19 and in the Air Force out seeing the world. I had introduced him to a few single moms over the years but he seemed to like the ones that were his son’s age instead, they partied better is what he’d say. After six years his son returned home, where he still lives today so he can help his dad out the best he can. So, anyway, let’s start with his story because it gets fucking weird fast.

About six months ago Rick met a woman in her early 20s who works at a strip club I used to bartend at, life was great, the sex was great, and they were even talking wedding bells. They were the perfect couple he thought. This last weekend his son had a big date, he was going to be proposing to his girlfriend after she got off work, but he decided to go early to surprise her. Rick, bored, decided to head to the strip club and drop in on his future wife, have a few drinks, and catch the end of the game he was missing. When he walked in he noticed his son talking with Amanda (Rick’s future bride). She didn’t notice Rick as she headed up on stage behind the bright lights. Rick sat down next to his son and asked why he wasn’t out on his important date. Rick also explained that the young lady he was talking to was who he’d been dating and that he came down to surprise her. Rick laughed a bit, telling his son they have similar tastes in woman. But Jr wasn’t laughing, Jr looked horrified, and Jr was looking a little pissed off.

The short version of the conversation had was the both figured out they were dating and having sex with the same woman, with both having plans of marriage with her, and now the truth was out, kinda. Needing a drink, father and son settled at the bar where another stripper began talking to them, not about herself or the special of the day, but Amanda. She said they were both wasting there time as they both were led to look to the door, where they saw Amanda’s real husband, a huge man, 6’11, 320# easy, and one solid muscle from head to toe. Both father and son were compelled to question Amanda and when they did everything was confirmed. She invited them to tell her husband that they had been fucking her right under his nose but said it may not end well for either of them. They just left, in separate vehicles, meeting up once again at home. Neither one has said another word about Amanda in a few days, Rick thinks it will always be that way.

Luckily for Rick, I know the muscle bound mass and Amanda, who are married, and that he really didn’t want to pick a fight with someone now on parole who almost killed a man because he got a $100 lap dance from his wife but only was going to pay her a single dollar. So telling him that he and his son have been banging his wife probably wouldn’t go over very well. I wish people would talk to me before dating the strippers that work at the same club I worked at, because there are nice strippers and then there is Amanda. Anyway, Rick can’t get over the fact that he used to kiss the same mouth that would have his son’s dick in it. The least of his worries I assured him, just wonder what your son is thinking. Well, after the talk we went out back, lit a big fire, and the four of us (my wife joined us) got shitfaced in the drizzling rain to pass the night away. When it was time to go, we watched father and son hug it out, I think they’re going to be okay. They may need some therapy, but I think they will be just fine in the end.

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Does This Information Help Y’all?

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Walking The Halls Of A VA Hospital

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I have been wanting to write this entry for a few weeks now, but today I’m sitting down to actually do it. Its going to be allot food for thought, my personal observations, and about something that was said to me that I really did not appreciate one damn bit. It may seem as though I am ranting, which it is a little, but more venting than anything else. Before this year my dealings with the Veterans Administration (VA) has been very limited because other than receiving a check every month and my initial VA home loan I haven’t had a real need. Regulars here over the years know I am a retired disabled Air Force veteran who participated in Desert Storm and The Liberation of Kuwait back in the 90s. I am disabled with a 100% rating yet I have worked full time ever since the day I left the Air Force. Hell, the first time I visited the VA Medical Center here in Houston for my own personal needs was in February of this year (2014). There is but only one way to get into the VA medical system and that is to visit a medical center and take a fucking number.

Since that little adventure I have returned a handful of times and also to the VA clinic in Conroe where my PCP is located. My reasons were simple for beginning this journey so many years after my departure from the Air Force. First because my service related injury to continue care and because of needing diabetes medication. Both became an instant need once I was laid off in February this year. Never underestimate the need of private insurance and the amount of the financial burden it actually covers. I still had the needs I had beforehand, just now without insurance. So, I made a choice, and that choice was to start using my VA privileges for the first time. The inside of a VA hospital is a disheartening sight because inside a VA hospital is where one can see the cost of freedom just by witnessing the people visiting the hospital that day for their needs and services. I wondered the first time, just looking around, why in the fuck I am here. But, now I am a part of the “system”, I wait in line, I take a number, and I try to be patient while waiting for my turn. My point is simple really, the men and women, active or veteran, who are seen within the walls of a VA hospital are there because they have paid in one way, form, or fashion, that many of us have no way of understanding, whether it is mental or physical or a combination of both, because unless we are in that person’s shoes we can never know.

Everyday I grow a little more impatient with people who, in my opinion, are very self centered. Why? Let’s use a very recent example which happened to me back in April. My wife and I had pulled into a very crowded parking lot of a local supermarket on a Sunday around the time the local churches have been letting out. We maneuver around the parking lot in my Hummer H1 looking for a spot. My wife sees a handicap space has opened up and has told me where to go. As I signal that I am turning in to the vehicles around me a woman in a brand new Cadillac Escalade comes down the row against traffic, meaning she was coming down the one way lane the wrong way, and attempts to cut me off and take the spot. So, I approached her Escalade rather aggressively to see if she would back off. To my surprise, a 20ish woman jumps out of the driver’s door yelling and screaming at me to get the fuck out of her parking space. Pause a moment. Upon review of her vehicle I see she still has dealer paper plates a a red handicap tag (in Texas a red tag is very temporary) hanging from her mirror. For ten minutes she yelled at me, cursed at me, and scolded me. Then, then she showed her ass by asking why in the fuck I was even trying to park there since I don’t even have handicap plates or a placard. It is true, everything she said, except the fact that I have DV (disabled veteran handicap logoed) license plates. She had no idea what they are and proceeds to lecture me (the person with visible scarring on both knees, one being from a knee replacement) on the purpose and design of a handicap parking space. Since I was in the space, since I was done talking, I locked up the H1, and proceeded to go inside to go shopping. Meanwhile, she calls the police so they can have my vehicle towed (which never happened). When we came out about 25 minutes later she had moved her vehicle out of the drive so others could pass. Except now she was in the backseat of the police cruiser screaming at the officer. The verdict? She was in possession of an expired tag (new date was written over the old), her drivers license was already suspended, and the temporary dealer tags were also expired by two months. She was arrested and her Escalade was towed. That’s the end of what I know or want to know about her.

Is there a moral to this story? Who really knows. I do know that before she tried to be a fraud, a cheat, and a liar, that should actually know what in the fuck she is yelling about. I have no time for people like her. If she would have just asked me to let her have the spot politely it would have been all hers, no explanation needed because I wasn’t in such a great hurry and my doctor says a little walking on occasion won’t kill me. I’m easy like that. Blow up in my face and I make it hard because I will just walk away from the bullshit. I love people, especially the clueless ones because they make the world go round. I wondered, after the fact, why she had so many things going wrong for her and all I came up with is, to me and in my own opinion, that she had a poor and negative attitude. Personally, I doubt she will ever get her shit together and be a functional adult in society, but that is just my opinion based on one brief encounter with her. How can I really now anyways.

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Onsen (温泉) In The Land Of The Rising Sun

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I have been asked numerous times to write about my experiences living in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. So, I thought I might start a new series here chronicling how things were while living in Misawa Japan. Yes, it was the United States Air Force that brought me to Japan, but I want to talk about living there and not so much working there. The easiest place for me to start this all off is to tell about certain traditions that I chose to be a part of while living in the local economy. We rented a house deep in the heart of farm country, nothing new for me since I grew up in southeast Texas. The great thing about the location of this house was straight out the back door and across the parking lot there was an onsen (温泉) (public hot bath). This was important because the bath tub in the house was the size of a postage stamp. We were informed of what exactly it was and the traditions around the onsen there locally by our realtor.

My (ex)wife decided that going to the onsen was not something she was going to take part in. My wife was never real keen being naked in front of other people, high school gym and sports classes proved that fact to me years before. Which is strange because she was quite the quiet exhibitionist when it was just her and I out in public places. She was a closet tease to say the very least. However, that is yet another story altogether. We had it explained to us that the onsen setting was not unlike group showers in American high schools or in public and private gyms. Fair enough, seems like the Japanese got the whole keeping clean thing under control because most local neighborhoods had an onsen or three. Not to mention the large resorts that were centered around the very ornate onsens inside them. We were lucky, we lived in billeting (on-base hotel) for close to two weeks because of the snowstorms that had blown through. This time allowed our belonging to meet us in Japan and gave us time to purchase the other furniture we needed. All we shipped were our clothes, a television, a vcr, towels and wash cloths, dishes, pots and pans, a hand-me-down couch, and my king-size water bed.

The day arrived where we took possession of our rental house. It was brand new, one of eight houses built-in this courtyard style block. It was a townhouse, like the rest, we all shared a common “drive” which all of the houses faced with a one car car-port to the side. We were the first people to ever live in the house since it was built. It had a layout we were familiar with which was way different from other houses we looked at. On that same day our belongings arrived and were hastily unpacked by 2 very fast men. Also, the other furniture and furnishings we purchased were also delivered and set up. After some unpacking we needed to go back to billeting to gather our belongings and check out. It never crossed my mind, looking back, to grab a quick shower after such a long day. When we got back to the house she was tired so she laid out on the couch for a nap. I looked in our bathroom for the bath tub, I wanted to soak my cold bones for a while. What did I find? Well, the entire bathroom was a shower basically, if that makes any sense, and in the corner there was a tub created out tile set around three feet into the floor. This “tub” measured 30 inches by 30 inches square. No way to lay out in that tub for sure, it wasn’t happening.

I needed to get cleaned up however, so I told my wife I was going next-door to check the onsen out. It was the 2nd week of January, the temp was about 3 degrees farenheit, the wind was blowing at around 40 mph, and there was close to 4 feet of snow on the ground. I grabbed my wallet, flip-flops, shave kit, my shoes, a towel, walked out back across the parking lot. I had no clue what to do and everything was in Japanese. We lived far enough from the base that they didn’t see too many Americans on purpose. Luckily, the women who was clearing the water and snow from the entrance “showed” me where to remove my shoes, place them in the cubicle, and put on my flip-flops. Then she pointed me in the direction of the lobby. In the lobby there were a multitude of vending machines that sold everything, and when I say everything I mean anything from food, drinks, toiletries, clothes, cars, a date, porn, and tokens to the hot bath of course. I was surprised, the token for the hot bath was the U.S. equivalent to about 65 cents. As soon as my token dropped I heard a grizzly grunt at me who was the man behind me holding his hand out pointing that I should put my token in it. So I did and he then led me the men’s side of the bath house.

It had a typical look to a locker room I guess. Benches to get undressed, sinks and mirrors, and toilet stalls as well. As I was getting undressed I wasn’t sure where to put my belongings so I had to look around like a pervert stalker to see what others were doing. Okay, it’s really simple, place all of it into what looks just like a laundry basket, and then place that into one of the cubicles. I found very fast that I had to get over my trust issues because nothing is secured or locked up. I grabbed my stuff out of my shaving kit and placed it in a small plastic container which I then took with me into the next area, following others as I was unsure of the “process”. Watch and learn right. The next room was the washing area. Reminded me of once when I was in 4H of the washing stations for the livestock. There were three double-sided concrete barriers which had numerous “stations” that included a mirror, a shower head, and the faucet. One sat down on a 6″ tall stool to bath. But watch out, I found out by being smacked in the leg, not to put any body part in the trough that ran at the base of the wall, which served as the drainage that led to a large grate down at the end. Who knew. I had picked a cozy spot right in the middle. I found out later that the desired spots are those at the top of the trough. Lesson learned.

Now, the funny part for you. I’m 6’8″ in the land of the little people, which got me more than one funny or cross look. This place was not built for people my size for sure. Now, it was allot like being at home, I shaved, brushed my teeth, washed my hair, bathed, then rinsed off. I need to mention the water had one temperature, freaking scalding hot. About midway through getting clean a very, very, old man, my guess was he was well over 100 years old, sat next to me. Standing to the rear of him was a young girl, I figured about 16 or 17, completely nude as well, began washing the old man. First thing I noticed is he took out his teeth and handed them to her to clean, which she did with what looked like Lava soap and a brush one would scrub floors with. I’ll admit, she had my attention. I think more so because we were on the all male side of the hot bath so she was quite an unexpected surprise. Perhaps she could see the confusion in my face because she squatted down next to me and began to talk, in great English I might add. She explained she was the great, great grand-daughter of this man, and it was tradition for the youngest to assist the eldest in daily tasks. She also explained that girls up to the age of 19 can assist on the male side and boys up to the age of 13 can assist on the female side. Interesting tidbit of information to say the least.

Nobody, and when I say nobody I mean nobody, paid her any attention whatsoever, except for me it would seem. More out of curiosity than anything really. Here I had only been in Japan for just a few weeks and I already have seen my first live nude Japanese female. I know what you are thinking, and yes she was young, but it was hard not to stare. I got up to go to the first sitting pool which was so hot I sat on the edge with only my legs in it at first, which were turning bright red as I sat there. The girl walked over her grand father to pool I was trying to get the courage to get into and helped him straight in up to his neck. Damn. She then scampered off to do her cleaning. When I forced myself down into the water, which took my breath away, I couldn’t help but to notice she was back. She entered the pool right at my eye level and tended to him. She sat with the old man for a while. I had seen others get out and move to the next pool, so I followed suit.

Now, I only thought the first sitting pool was hot, this one had it topped by at least 500 degrees, but I was able to slither right in because I was already cooking. The men sat in this one for a short period and then moved on. Like a lost puppy I followed them to the next pool. There should have been a sign on this pool, something that reads “Caution. Water Will Melt The Skin From Your Bones. Caution.”, but there was no warning for this Gaijin (外人) (look it up, it was the nickname the Japanese called the servicemen) and I found out the hard way. But, damn, did it feel good after the shock went away. One didn’t sit in this one very long at all. Then, they head to the steam room, a quaint, small room that had a 2 minute egg timer because it was so damn hot. So, in and out it was. I couldn’t breathe, my lungs were on fire, and I wanted to just die right there. Yea, clean up in the sauna please. When I exited the sauna I was basically grabbed by the arm to stop me from walking, I was shown to watch the man in front of me who was in a small “tank” which he was squatted in up over his head in the water. He was out and I was in. One fluid motion until the water covered my head, it took my breath away because it was a temperature just above freezing. Out of there just as fast as I went in. A quick wash off and I was on my way out.

After getting dressed I felt drained of all of my energy and will to live. I don’t think I have ever been that relaxed in my entire life. When I left the dressing room I was guided over to some tables where I was sat down. Soon after I was brought a cup of warm herbal tea and a bowl of some of the blandest noodle soup I have ever tasted. Come to find out, it was ginseng root soup and they weren’t noodles after all. It was to recharge a person, to put a little wang back in your step before you left. It was relaxing and it does bring the energy back. Come to find out it is all included in the price of admission. So far, I’m liking the onsen just behind my house. It was one hell of an experience and became my daily bad habit. I probably went there almost every single day for close to the five years I was there. When I went back home after my first time I really wanted to talk to my wife about it, but she didn’t show an interest or really care because she wasn’t ever going to try it out for herself.

About a year after my daughter was born my parents came to Japan to visit as their big summer trip. This part of the story I have been forbidden to ever tell my mother because, in my dad’s opinion (because he is old-fashioned), he saw things that he should feel guilty for seeing. Anyway, going to the onsen became my everyday, twice a day, habit because everyday that tiny postage stamp size bath tub got smaller and smaller. My dad made the comment that he wished to retire for the evening and was going to get washed up before bed. The look of horror on his face will remain forever priceless when he entered the bathroom and just as fast came out asking where the shower or tub were. So, I explained to him what I knew, well, not everything, but I explained how things were here. You see, he is 6’4″ @ about 265lbs, which makes it hard for him to squeeze into anything. After a brief discussion, we collected our things to head to the hot bath. I gave him one instruction, which was to just follow my lead and follow what I do so he doesn’t embarrass me.

We made the walk across the parking lot, it was fairly warm this time of year so the walk was pretty leisurely to say the least. We went through the “tourist” mode where I had to explain everything in the lobby to him. After 1 1/2 years I have really gotten good at reading Japanese and knew a handful of phrases to always get me on my way. After getting our tokens we entered the area to change out of our street clothes to get ready. Shortly after sitting down to begin the washing of ourselves I get a nudge on my arm from my dad. When I looked over to him he was 12 different shades of red with embarrassment and was holding his wash cloth over his privates. He was showing me that there were young females in the room so I had to go through the ordeal of explaining the traditions and protocols here. He played it off but I could see he was pretty bothered about it all. I remember my first time and after that it became common place, even routine enough where one doesn’t notice it as standing out any longer. We continued with what my routine had become, it really gets shortened to about a 30 minute trip as time moves on because one gets in and gets out. We did sit and have the tea and soup when we were done, sitting there in silence except for one simple command, “never speak of any of this to my mother, not even at her grave”. Unfortunately for my dad, this was his first and last trip to any of the hot bathes in Japan, he decided he could and would make do with the facilities we offered at the house.

Over the years I frequented a large sampling of onsen in my extended local area, my absolute personal favorite was a resort on the edge of town that was very cool. I didn’t go there too much, 3 or 4 times, because it was a fair drive and much more expensive. I was wondering how to explain the one at the resort because it was out of this world. Minecraft players or those familiar with Minecraft will understand better. Imagine taking the elevator down, getting of said elevator, and entering through some very large opaque glass doors. The changing area looked like all the other ones I had seen, pretty basic, but going into the hot bath area was incredible. Imagine opening a door and being in a very dense forest, looking up you see the tops of the trees and the stars in the sky. This place looked like being outdoors the way it was done up, it looked so real it made you touch the fake trees and the walls just to remind yourself you were a few stories underground. It’s just hard to explain I guess, but it throws all your senses for a loop with the big waterfalls and whatnot.

My (ex)wife never went to an onsen the entire time we were living in Japan, however, my daughter went with me on occasion once she started toddling. I learned allot while I was in Japan, beyond the language difference, beyond the cultural differences, and beyond the cuisine differences. Tradition is complex and deep-rooted, everything, and I mean everything when I say everything, had a meaning of some sort. The people I interacted with where I lived locally became to know me all to well. I would get invited to a stranger’s house a few doors down for snacks or people would bring local cuisine or gifts to my house as gestures of our “friendship”. Fortunately for me, I chose to immerse myself in the culture and get to know as much as I could. The hot baths were just the tip of what I would take away from Japan when I left. Ask my (ex)wife and she would only be able to tell you the tourist places we went to go visit. Its sad, but very true, but then again, she never got over being roughly 6600 miles from her mother the entire time we were there.

So, this was interesting and fun for me. It was nice to take a trip back in time to a place I really enjoyed living on the northern tip of Japan. I look forward to writing more of these specific subject related posts about living in Japan. Who knows, maybe I will expand and just write about everywhere I have been. Well, I can’t write about “everywhere” I have been, but I can give some insight about place x and place y without giving away the actual place or why I was there. Everywhere I traveled in the world was a “challenge” in its own special way. Until we meet again, thank y’all for taking the time to read a little bit about my life in Japan.

Onsen, as defined by Wikipedia:

  • Onsen (温泉?) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism. Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂 or 野天風呂, roten-buro or noten-buro?) and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (内湯, uchiyu?) often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or bed and breakfast (民宿, minshuku?). Onsen are a central feature of Japanese tourism often found out in the countryside but there are a number of popular establishments still found within major cities. They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax. Japanese often talk of the virtues of “naked communion” (裸の付き合い, hadaka no tsukiai?)[1] for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen. Japanese television channels often feature special programs about local onsens. The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, 湯 (yu, meaning “hot water”). Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used, to be understandable to younger children. Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. The legal definition of an onsen includes that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including radon and metabolic acid and be 25 °C or warmer before being reheated. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area utaseyu (打たせ湯?). Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel. Different onsen also boast about their different waters or mineral compositions, plus what healing properties these may contain. Other services like massages may be offered. People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, friends, couples or their families.

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Oh No! Not The U.S. Air Force!

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