Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hatred is an evil that must be guarded against

My parents were very clear; they specifically taught us kids NOT to hate. They imparted to us that ALL people are potentially good, and that religion and race are NOT characteristics with which we should judge anyone by. Basically, they taught my siblings and me this life lesson with this worn-out adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

In fact, my mom discouraged the very CONCEPT of hatred, no matter how trivial the context. You know how kids, and even adults, say things in a fit of anger? Sometimes we’d make bitter hyperbolic declarations after some minor schoolyard conflict like, “I HATE Johnny! I wish he were dead!” My mom, and even my dad, would sternly interject, “No you don’t. You don’t HATE anyone.” When they pointed this out, it always made me feel foolish and a little remorseful, like I had been caught doing something vile.

Nevertheless, the human condition being what it is, I had to learn in time for adulthood that hatred between people does in fact exist and for all sorts of absurd reasons. On top of that, I was going to have to deal with it. By the time I was drinking age I learned that essentially there are three broad types of human hatreds based on ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

Hatred for religious practitioners, especially for Jews, has always been difficult for me to comprehend; when I’ve come across it, I’ve just never gotten it. Some consider the Jews to be a race, so I suppose you could say that one is based on a combination of race AND religion, the old double whammy of hate.

Speaking of which, a few weeks ago I was having what I thought to be a perfectly reasonable conversation with a middle-aged guy whom I thought was levelheaded, just a run-of-the-mill guy. I forget the exact topic, but out of nowhere he declared that all our problems stemmed from the many Jews in charge in our government and in our economy. I was stunned to the point of amusement so I reacted with humor.

“Hey, Mel! Mel Gibson! I hadn’t realized that you were here in the Phils!”

He laughed me off and continued to strongly and seriously defend his assertion that it was the Jews screwing everything up, not only in the USA, but also in Europe and especially in the Middle East. It was surreal. This average American guy votes democrat, is a union man, and by definition is left leaning—by any standard a moderate-liberal. I wouldn’t have thought him to be a crazy Jew hater from his apparent progressive stance on most other subjects. You just never know what people really think. Perhaps its better NOT to know!

As far as hatred between the races, for the first few years of my life such a thing never occurred to me, at least not until I was about 8 years old. That’s when I was rudely introduced to it when the fire hose of racial vitriol was turned on me full force in a very painful and personal way. Strangely enough, this occurred when an angry black mom physically accosted me thinking that I was hurting her boy. Actually, he had just fallen from the top of a tall slide and I was trying to help him. In a rage she violently yanked me straight from my haunches onto my back. Out of the 5 or 6 other kids gathered around her prostrate and winded boy, she had singled me out, probably because of my blonde hair. She grabbed me by it, nearly snapping my neck, screaming “white trash,” a term I had never heard before. That was my introduction to racial hatred and it was traumatic to say the least.

What I learned from that incident, and many more to follow, was that because of my “whiteness” I had to be very wary around black people. Before that, they were no different to me than Asians, Latins and other Whites. Growing up a military brat, I was around all sorts of races, and truthfully, I never noticed the variations. As long as the differences aren’t pointed out to them, young children don’t see race; they just see people.

In effect, I suppose I paid in part for all the abuses suffered by generations of American blacks at the hands of whites. If you don’t want to call it reverse racism then call it racial backlash. That lesson continued and was reinforced as I got older, when I learned that there were places that I, as a white person, could not safely go because of the odium felt by blacks living there. During our many drives across the States, as we moved from one base to the next, or just traveling home on leave, we would see a Tastee Freeze or a Dairy Queen and plead with our parents to stop. Sometimes my dad reluctantly told us that it was a black neighborhood and they probably wouldn’t welcome us there, so we pushed on.

That’s when I began to understand that America wasn’t so free after all. How free can a country be if there are places people cannot go without fear just because they are black, or white, or Jewish, or a homosexual? (Or in these times, because they don’t belong to the correct gang?) Blacks say there is no such thing as racism by blacks, but I’m here to tell you that that is rubbish. Hatred is an equal opportunity endeavor, practiced by all sorts of people against all sorts of other people.

The first time I heard someone refer to black people, or negroes, as we were instructed to call them back in the 60s, as niggers, was when my dad got stationed in Texas. I was 11 years old. Shockingly, one of my new neighborhood playmates casually referred to one of our schoolmates as a nigger. My head snapped over in the direction of his mom, who was easily within earshot. I became even more shocked that she didn’t jump straight down his throat. My mom would have thrashed me and washed my mouth out with soap. After that, I avoided his house. I didn’t feel comfortable there anymore after having been so conditioned in my own home that saying such things was horrible and forbidden.

As far as hating homosexuals, I never even knew gay people existed until late in my high school years, and even then it was on a purely theoretical basis. I had heard the word “faggot” of course, but to me it just meant someone that was a wimp or girly. To us kids using that word had nothing to do with sex between members of the same sex—such a thing just seemed outlandishly unlikely. Evidently, that was during a time long before people would dare to “come out of the closet.” I suppose this new age of sexual openness is better for today’s gay people, but it sure made it easier for the likes of me back then when it was “out of sight and out of mind.”

So as you can see, the guidelines of my upbringing didn’t cover all the “hatred possibilities” in the world, such as homophobia and anti-Semitism; but considering the times that my parents grew up in I suppose that was understandable.

For instance, my mom and dad never addressed "sexual orientation” with me, or, in other words, homosexuality. Thinking back, I suppose that only makes sense since we never discussed heterosexuality all that much either. From that, it’s safe to say that once I reached young adulthood I was quite naïve to the sexual ways of the world, and when at the tender age of 18 I ended up in the Bay Area, where “gayness” was everywhere and too obvious to ignore, I eventually also made it a point to include homosexuality in with the religion and race “book covers” of not to judge others by.

Concerning my decision not to be a homophobe, I think the very reason I even had to think about such a thing was because so many of my fellow marines were homophobes. Some of them hated gays because they had been “hit on” in town by homosexuals and didn’t like it one bit. Others had been to San Francisco and had become sickened by the overt acts between gay men in public. That very thing had happened to me on several occasions, and though I had felt great revulsion, I had just decided to ignore and avoid them.

At least with homophobia I can dimly understand why some men, perhaps insecure in their own sexuality, would feel threatened by gay men. For some reason just the presence of homosexual males causes a severe combination of anger and aversion in some heterosexual males. As I said, I also felt the aversion thing the first time I saw two men being openly romantic, but I certainly never felt anger and hatred toward them, just queasy disgust. The anger I felt was that I knew they were purposely flaunting it to make me feel uncomfortable. It was just plain rude and inexcusable.

Once, I was with a group of three other marines walking across the huge grassy mall just south of the Washington Monument doing some sightseeing in Washington D.C. I was just 20 years old at the time. Then, the oldest of us, a staff sergeant, spotted two “obviously” gay fellows walking “amorously” together hand-in-hand. The sergeant began making vulgar comments to the two men and the other two marines followed suit.

I couldn’t believe grown men could say and do what my three marine companions said and did that day to those two gay guys. I grimly lagged behind them while they continued to harass the pair. Just like schoolyard bullies, the cruel marines stepped on the frightened men’s heels and continued their foul comments and coarse interrogations. Their terrified “quarry” didn’t respond; they just kept walking as fast as they could in an effort to get away from their tormentors. I felt mortified and upset with myself that I was with these nasty characters and that I was doing nothing to stop them. After that, I told myself “never again.”

Overall, I suppose you could say that as a youngster I led a very sheltered existence when it came to NOT being exposed to the hatred of my fellow human beings, and I’m saying here and now that that was probably a good thing. For soon enough, everyone is exposed to the horrors of hatred.

No one is born hating anyone else—people are taught or learn to do it. The problem is that once hatred is instilled its almost impossible to root out. That is especially true when it is hate based in religion. A testament to that is the current hatred against the West being instilled into countless Muslim hearts in the thousands of hate-factories across the Muslim world called madrassas. Unfortunately, we can’t simply “love the hate” out of the graduates of these hate-mongering institutions. The result is the present day death struggle going on between them and “us.”

My own struggle is internal, with trying not to hate these hate-filled people right back, as well as trying to keep in mind that not all Muslims are a part of this mindless hate fest, at least I hope they aren’t. My problem with the Islamic world is that it doesn’t seem like an overwhelming number of them speak out against the haters amongst them.

Hating is easy. It takes little intelligence to do it and it’s the easiest emotion to manipulate by leaders of hate. Another blogger, Katana, wrote a post wherein she urges Americans to read why the Muslim world hates us. In other words, we are hated because of the policies and actions of our government and business people—our supposedly mindless support of Israel and our casual disregard for Islamic sensibilities. Basically, with all respect to Katana, it’s all a load of crap.

Why crap? Well, the average Muslim man on the street only knows to hate who he is TOLD to hate. Most have never seen an American, except perhaps on TV, and tiny Israel is just a modern bogeyman as well. In reality, it’s all about power. The Imam’s and even the secular tyrants running the show throughout much of the Ummah use “the threat” of the West’s so-called decadence as a rallying cry, and even more importantly, as a diversion.

Historically, its an old story--the desperate generals of Argentina did it when they invaded The Falklands in 1982. The same thing is happening now when those in the Muslim world call us the Great Satan. They do it to focus “the people’s enmity" outside and away from their own internal dysfunction and disarray, not to mention there is a very real movement among traditional Muslims to restore the mostly mythical “Caliphate,” which once ruled under a succession of forms under Sharia (Islamic) Law.

Western history, notably Europe’s, had similar eras where its leaders used religion, and later nationalism, to rally its people. In some ways we still do it, although not so much as public policy. Now, private purveyors of fear and hatred are responsible. For instance, how many hate or “warning” blogs exist to rally Americans to the dangers of Islam? Personally, I believe in many of these dangers, but not to the point that I see a terrorist behind every Arabic and Pakistani face, but many do.

Hatred is an evil that must be guarded against at all times. It destroys the soul of the person contaminated with it. One of the best books ever written about this is “With the Old Breed” by E. B. Sledge. In it, he describes how many young American marines became consumed with hatred for their Japanese enemy. He also speaks to how he felt himself succumbing to this rage and had to fortify himself against it or lose his humanity. It’s one of the most poignant tomes against the dangers of hatred ever, and I say this after having first read it many years ago.

This has turned into a rambling rampage about and against hate. When I started it I thought I would just write about that average Joe I met who unexpectedly exposed to me his senseless hatred of Jews. Sometimes, my written words take on a life of their own and that’s what happened here…

So, all you people out there, stop hating each other! And , guard against it when you feel a spate of it coming on; otherwise, it'll eat your soul from the inside out... on that note.... Hate OUT! Peace IN!
Peace out...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jamaican Roomy

Ed, of Recycled Thoughts fame, posted recently on his memories of past roommates from his pre-marriage days and it got me thinking. One of Ed’s roomies was a bit of a jerk, a Nigerian named Datun who was quite a character. It’s a good read; check it out. The story of Datun brought to mind one of my own nearly long forgotten roommates, a Floridian originally from Jamaica. I just wish I could remember his name, but anyway…

My very first assignment after Marine basic training was my technical training at Meridian Naval Air Station in the deeply southern U.S. State of Mississippi. Our barracks were nice, more like dormitories than a spartan military barracks. Even so, as civilianized as they were, we still called them our barracks. You’d never catch self-respecting Marines refer to their quarters as a dorm—that’s way too sissified; although the Air Force seems to have no qualms with calling their quarters dormitories. I guess airmen just don’t get all that worked up over what’s sissy and what’s not.

Anyway, the relative luxuriousness of our accommodations surprised me; I certainly wasn’t expecting it. It had more the feel of a nice motel. The red brick buildings were less than a year old, three stories high with outside exposed walkways for room access. They had put up several quadrants of them and right in the middle of a pine forest—I think loblollies or long leafs—and they managed to keep many of those big old trees in place. The lofty pines dominated the base; they made it a very beautiful and tranquil place to be on foot.

Our sleeping rooms were arranged in groups of three, with each of the three rooms opening into a common area. The common areas were basically living rooms setup with two couches plus a dining table and chairs. I thought it was a pretty sweet setup after having just lived for more than 3 months with 74 other recruits in a single open squad bay.

Each sleeping room accommodated three Marines. I thought it was great that each room had a separate bathroom, which was a luxury not yet often found in the fleet back then in the mid 70’s; although, over the next 20 years that toilet arrangement eventually became the standard for all the armed forces. Aside from the bathroom, our room had three wall lockers, one bunk bed and a single bed. A lighted study desk was also available that we took turns using. Taken altogether, it was a very collegial arrangement; not bad at all for 1975. I didn’t realize it back then, but it was way ahead of its time for the U.S. military.

Even after 32 years I clearly remember the faces of my two roommates, although unfortunately, I don’t remember either fellow’s name. One was a rather pompous self-assured lad from just outside Atlanta, Georgia; the other was a Jamaican fellow who had moved as an older lad to Pompano Beach, Florida. Both guys were good roomies. I had no problems getting along with either one. Oddly enough, all three of us wore glasses.

I had never met a Jamaican before, and it turned out that there were two of them on station. The other guy from “the islands” was a sailor. Just like the diaspora of Filipinos always manage to do throughout the world, these two Jamaicans quickly found each other and became fast friends.

I was quite amazed and fascinated the first time I heard those two Jamaicans talking together. They were sitting in the common room across from each other and in a language of which I had absolutely no comprehension, they spoke loudly with great excitement, interspersed with continuous laughter and dapping hand slaps.

“What is that you guys are speaking, some kind of Caribbean French or something?” I asked them.

“It’s English!” my roommate declared in his more understandable (for me) brand of Americanized English flavored with his cool-as-hell Jamaican brogue.

“No way!” I insisted. “I couldn’t understand a thing you guys were just saying. Is that how you guys talk down in Jamaica? Say something again, only slower this time.”

The sailor Jamaican gave me a sentence or two of his supposedly slowed down Jamaican English but it still sounded like complete jibber jabber to me. My roommate gave it a try, even providing a translation, but for the life of me I could not hear words that made any sense. I don’t know why, but I was delighted. I gave up trying to understand them and left them to go do some studying. I had the distinct impression that they were having some fun at my expense, but it was cool.

The night before my Jamaican bunkmate (he had the lower rack) was due to ship out after graduating from his supplymens course he decided to have a final blowout at the enlisted club. Not being much of a drinker myself, I opted not to go with him and instead went to a movie at the base theater, after which I had a late night snack and a combination BS and study session in a classmate’s common area.

It was fairly late, just after official “lights out, around 9:30 p.m. or so, when I entered our common area from the outside walkway and then went to my room door and unlocked it. When I entered the darkness I knew immediately something was not right. First was the strange sound, and second was the awful puke smell.

Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘Now what!

Normally, we would never turn on the lights after "lights out." It was considered rude and it was against the rules anyway, but from what I was hearing and smelling I knew immediately that I was about to make an exception. Anyway, there was only the Jamaican and I; the Georgia boy was not yet in. I turned on the lights.

With the desk lamp switched on, the source of the awful sounds and smell was immediately evident. Jamaica had overindulged in some kind of milk based alcoholic drink, probably Kahlua. It seemed that most of what he had consumed was now all over him, on his pillow and splashed all over the floor, and even on the wall. The biley Kahlua vomit covered him from lower chest to the top of his head.

I saw too that the weird sounds were emanating from him; he made a sucking slopping sound as the whitish film of clotting sludge glazing his nose and mouth caused puke bubbles to noisily form. Snoring contentedly, these bubbles grew big, popped audibly and then reformed in an endless cycle. His alcoholic-induced oblivion allowed him to curl up contentedly in the fetal position with both vomity hands clutching his barf-slickened pillow to the side of his spew-coated face. Only a few months passed my 18th birthday, I had never seen anything remotely as sickening.

I yelled at him, “Hey, Jamaica, wake up man! You puked all over yourself dude. Get up and clean yourself off man!”

I tried everything to wake him up. I yelled repeatedly. I even tugged and kicked violently on the one part of his body that had almost no regurgitation spattered—his sock-clad feet; but no matter what I did, I could not rouse him from his stupor. After more than a few minutes of this fruitless activity I got mad and quit trying. I could see he wasn’t going to asphyxiate on his upchuck, and in fact he looked quite comfortable sleeping that way.

Let him stew in his own spew!’ I reflected angrily looking down on his disgusting form.

Stepping carefully, I grabbed my pillow, sheets and blanket and made a nest on one of the couches in the common area. My last thoughts before falling asleep were curse words directed at my puke-slimed Jamaican roomy.

You rotten bastard!

When I woke up the next morning it was as if the Jamaican marine had never existed. His rack was stripped of all sheets and blankets, and even the pillow was gone. There was still a hint of puke in the air, but it wasn’t all that strong. Puke boy was gone for good. He had an early flight out of Meridian and had evidently made it. I was relieved to see him out of there and all vestiges of the previous evening vanished as well; or was it?

A week later we had one of our many “field days” where everyone turns out and turns to accomplishing a thorough cleaning of all living areas and spaces. Every corner—behind, on top of and under everything—was cleaned with detergent, steaming hot water, mops and scrub brushes. I pulled my bunk away from the wall so I could mop under it. As soon as the hot soapy water on my mop hit the floor against the wall I erupted into a string of the foulest Marine curses I had yet learned up to that date.

In his hurry to depart the premises in time to make his flight, my Jamaican roomster had missed cleaning up a considerable swathe of his Kahlua-laced throw-up. It was directly under the radiator vents and the dry heat had quickly preserved it into a dehydrated hardened mass. The load of hot mop water had awakened it back into its original smelly disgusting state and there was a considerable amount of the stuff.

Me and Jamaica had been pretty good pals all the way through our months together, but to this day I have unambiguously bad feelings toward the guy.

Spew me once shame on you, spew me twice and STILL shame on you!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Royalty, to the trash bin NOW

In September of 1982 I was home on leave in Birch Run, Michigan taking some time before heading overseas for four years. My parents were both at work so I answered the doorbell one sunny midmorning. It was a saleswoman. Immediately, she started gushing excitedly about the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana and that the result of that union had just yielded another little royal named William.

I cocked my head and grinned; I actually felt embarrassed for her. She was trying to sell me some kind of commemorative plaque or chinaware or something like that revolving around this cockamamie British royalty BS and I was having none of it. She noticed the wry unconvinced look on my face and stopped talking. She knew she’d run into a definite “no sale” and just asked me if my wife was home.

I told her, “Sure, my wife is here, but she’s from the Philippines and doesn’t know a Prince Charles from a Fred.” So much for that, the young saleslady went on down to the next house to try her luck there.

Even before I ever much contemplated the notion of royalty I was dubious about it. Then, over the years, after considering it every so often when it would come up in the news, I eventually came to the conclusion that the idea of royalty is nonsensical. In fact, the more I know about them—the royals that is, and especially the British royals—the more I came to loathe their continued existence as an institution.

What upsets me more than the survival of modern European royalty is that much of my fellow citizenry continue to fawn over them, as if “these people” are worth even a moment of our attention and even less of our respect.

My fellow Americans, (and fellow commoners!) do you understand how “these people” came to claim these ridiculous titles such as king, queen, prince, princess, duke, earl, duchess, ad nauseum? Well, I’ll tell you. They are nothing more than an invention; a ruse foisted upon our European “peasant” ancestors to convince them that “some people” were anointed by God to be their rulers and betters.

Does it not anger you then that people would continue to hang onto these kinds of obsolete notions? Americans especially should reject this crap, but for the most part, we don’t. It seems like we can't wait to scrape, bow and curtsy all along with the rest of the mindless fools everywhere who kowtow to these pretenders.

It’s pathetic when you think about it. The very idea of royalty is that God, through his divine intervention, caused certain bloodlines to be superior to others. This was rule by divine right—to be “God’s chosen,” so to speak. You would think that a secular Europe would stop lending credibility to this archaic convention, but they don’t. In fact, they seem to embrace it more than ever.

In America we fought a war 200 years ago not just for independence, but also to rid ourselves of idiotic concepts like “the divine right of kings.” My ancestors from Scotland and Ireland left the Old World to escape European heavy-handedness, and much of the excesses from which they escaped were due to their being stuck as “subjects” of a monarch and his royal henchmen, all generally titled as “Sir So-and-So.”

Being a subject meant being “subject to” the capricious whims of some duke or earl, all “sirs” mind you, and all due to the mistaken notion that these people are divinely better than people without the “correct” bloodlines. Almost 300 years ago my Scottish immigrant ancestors finally just said, “kiss my arse” to that idea and left all that garbage behind; and I agree with that sentiment every bit as much today.

A “subject” is someone who owes allegiance to a king or queen, not necessarily to a country, not to freedom, not to a constitution, but to a flesh-and-blood person. That is old-fashioned archaic malarkey and yet the Brits still officially talk about owing allegiance to the Queen. Even our Canadian cousins to the north still consider themselves her highness’ “subjects.” If they can stomach such a thing then fine, but for Americans to continue to worry about how to correctly curtsy or bow to Queen Elizabeth is a nauseating thing for me to watch.

Speaking of the Queen, she came across the pond to “the colonies” not long ago, and much of the talk on the news was of the various foul-ups committed by just about any “crass” American who came within spitting distance of the old girl. I think Nancy Pelosi made a supposed booboo when she reached out and shook QE’s hand without the queen having proffered hers first. Oh my word! And when President Bush made another of his continuous speechifying faux pas and then turned and winked at the queen, from the reaction you’d of thought he’d just asked her out for a date. Unforgivable! I could hardly stand to watch and listen to any of that idiotic drivel and mostly didn’t.

I had the opportunity the other day to speak to an expatriate Englishman on this very topic. Mark is his name, and with his deeply tanned, well-muscled sleek physique combined with his long sun-streaked brown hair, he looks more like a surfer from Southern California than a Limey. He’s a good fellow and I thought I’d ask him how he and his “mates” feel these days about the British aristocracy.

Basically, he had nothing to say about the royals at all, and certainly nothing good to say about them. Mark claims that most of the people he knows back in the UK, including him, think it a complete waste of government money. He reminded me that there’s a heck of a lot more to the royal lineages than just the queen and the princes. He reminded me that the whole country is pocked full of these royal bastards, as he referred to them.

I asked him, “Why do you guys put with it? I mean, think about it Mark, these arrogant jerks have the gall to call someone not of their bloodline to be MERE commoners! Doesn’t that irritate you that they would dare to continue to call people COMMONERS? I mean for chrissakes, that’s the height of arrogance, don’t you think?”

“Oh yah, a lot of us have had it with them. But what can you do? And truthfully, I just don’t think of it all that much. I just ignore them.”

I yielded a little saying, “I have to say that I DO think it’s a good thing that Harry and William are serving in your military, but it almost seems like they do it more out of some kind of guilt complex or because its expected of them. I just wish some of OUR rich boys would find it within themselves to serve, but we haven’t had rich people like that since World War Two. So GOOD for the princes!”

Concerning the royals, for the most part what I got from English Mark was indifference, as if he has better things to worry about. Still, considering how little he cares about the queen, a woman he’s supposed to be pledged to as a citizen of England, his blasé attitude says a lot. It tells me that if most of the “commoners” of the UK feel as he does then perhaps the future of British royalty IS very much in question.

If I were British, I’d demand the immediate dismantlement of all things royal. I would consign its trappings to the trash heap of history. At the very least I'd consign them all to a musty old museum, the perfect place for old irrelevant things.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Part 5 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City

My friend’s journey back to two-legged wholeness continues to plod slowly and agonizingly along. It will be long and painful.

(To see how this mess started, here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4).

Four of us, all retired military, sat around his hospital bed and cursed the heavens and local powers that be, while discussing the newest clarifications of the “accident.” For the first time I got a chance to actually speak to my friend’s witness, and probably his savior, the drinking buddy who luckily came outside and saw what really happened.

Speaking of which, you are NOT going to believe the very latest development. Actually, it’s good news, although it’s the type of good news that is hard to stomach.

Here’s the deal. My hospitalized pal asked his lawyer to find out what the cops’ intentions are; plus, he wanted to know when they were going to return his drivers license and motorbike. He also wanted to know any "terms;" in other words, what the hell did they have on their crooked minds? So here’s the part you wouldn’t believe unless you live here, and living here for more than a year or two, to us, what we found out makes total sense!

My buddy can have his license and much-pilfered bike back, but ONLY after he signs a statement agreement. This fictional pact will state that yes, he did indeed maneuver his bike into the road without looking, and by doing so, cause a motorcyclist coming from his left to strike him, after which, it careened off into some vendors’ stands.

Of course, the fact that said motorcycle and rider never actually existed is the trumpeting circus elephant in the living room. Not to mention the outrageous fact that this made up police report never even acknowledges the ACTUAL culprit, which was the jeepney operating without lights and approaching from the wrong side of the street. In fact, the cops claim that this jeepney and its murderous driver and his two beefy menacing passengers do NOT exist, at least as part of the incident. Obviously, this is a case of “things that make you go, hmmm?”

Also obviously, it appears that the men involved in this homicidal scam—and it seems there were more than a few—they simply want the whole thing to go away, especially after things did not go as they originally planned. Being foreigners here with no one to look after us, we all agreed with our victimized friend that taking “the deal” is better than trying to exact justice and insist on the truth. In essence, that word is nonexistent here.

Our job as outsiders is to survive the occasional attack by sharing these sorts of lethal con games with as many of our fellow expats as possible. Even so, we know that they, the monsters out there in the dark, will manage to take down one or two of us every so often. Now I know what a whitetail feels like back home during hunting season—just got to keep quiet, keep your head down, and hope they shoot Bambi instead of you.

Another horrible realization is what was probably really in store for my nearly slain buddy, and it ain't pretty. It seems the fact that he had several foreigner witnesses at the scene of the impact so quickly is probably the real reason he is still alive.

Why do I say that? Well, speaking to the primary witness I learned that the driver and two of his henchmen on board his jeepney were exceptionally large and brawny fellows. This was a regular off duty checkpoint jeepney driven by a guy who most certainly was NOT a normal jeepney driver. Guys that size around here are employed as security men, or as “muscle” for endeavors leading to “no good.” According to the witness, as soon as the “knock down” happened these big muscular fellows jumped out and ran to the front of their vehicle looking for action.

Their plan is now plain to see. The idea was to either kill or to so injure their victim that he would be easy to scoop up and throw into the back of their jeepney, along with their victims motorbike as well. Then, they would have sped off into the night to a non-public place, where at their leisure, they would have finished off their prey and taken all his stuff. He would have either disappeared forever or his body would have been discovered in the next province over, minus most of his clothing and ID of course.

That scenario happens more often around here than people know about or want to acknowledge. When I used to volunteer in the VFW office, every so often the PNP would come by and pass around a photo of some very dead white guy seeking his identification. There is no CSI here, at least not for us, and none of the killers of those unfortunate dead men has ever been found, much less prosecuted.

The point is simple: Be careful. My buddy says he’s learned the following about barhopping in Angeles City:
1) NEVER stay out too late.
2) Use a fellow foreigner friend to be a “running buddy;” using a local might not always work since they are too easily cowed by corrupt powers-that-be, making them almost useless.
3) Do not wear nice clothing; instead, wear jeans, shorts, t-shirt or tank top.
4) Do not wear an expensive watch or ANY jewelry.
5) Buy a cheap cell phone for barhopping use; nothing showy or extravagant.
6) Drive a car if you plan to stay out till midnight (not a motorbike).
7) NEVER carry a wad of bills on you, and if you do, NEVER pull it out to pay a tab. Keep a small amount in one pocket to use for paying, and if you must pull out more than a thousand pesos at a time, do it in a restroom stall where no one can see it.

Chances are, lesson-learned number 7 is the reason my friend became “marked” for destruction. He thought he was being discrete while paying for his drinks, but you know how that goes. There are lots of eyes in the bar and you never know which watching set is looking to pass on what they see to partner ne’er-do-wells.

So, that is just a few more things to keep in mind while barhopping in “Sin City.” Keep your head up and stay ahead of the wolves looking to cull you out from the rest of the foreigner herd. It’s really no different than in any other disadvantaged country; but it’s easy to become complacent here because no one SEEMS dangerous, and clearly, that is NOT the case.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Part 4 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City

My friend’s leg is coming along slowly; for him, this last 10 days has been the longest year of his life. It’s been just a week since two orthopedic surgeons spent about 5 hours of surgery pushing and pulling the splinters of his shattered lower leg back into line. They used a fixator, which is a cylindrical metal cage from which metal pins are affixed and pushed through the flesh of the leg and screwed into the various key pieces of bone. This cage keeps his lower leg bones still and fixed so as to promote proper healing, hopefully. (To see how this mess started, here are parts 1, 2, 3).

The doctor says it takes about 6 weeks for bones to reunite. After that, we’ll see how many of the shattered individual pieces of bone have survived. X-rays show several small floating shards that will probably have to be removed and replaced with bone grafts from the hip, another very painful procedure.

In the meantime, he’s lying there and thinking about the rats that did this to him. We are quite sure it was a put up job of assault made to look like an accident. The fact that the cops drove past twice and would not stop at the accident says a lot. Not to mention that their “investigation” did not even include speaking to the victim, or as they were want to claim, “the perpetrator,” NOR to the one real witness who saw the entire event start to end. AND, we still don’t know if charges will be filed. Fact is, the driver of the lightless jeepney who veered directly into my friend’s path SHOULD be the one in trouble, but we all know that “its ALWAYS the foreigner’s fault” in these here parts.

Another outrage is what is happening to his motorbike. It was picked up and “stored” in a “secure area.” My bedridden buddy has sent one of his pals to look at it and take pictures of it every few days or so. At first it was chained up with another bike that was supposed to have been the bike he caused to crash, something we know never happened. Well, that one has now disappeared. The outrageous part, or one of many, is that his scooter is slowly being taken apart and disappearing. Lights, running boards—you name it—the pieces are “migrating” away somewhere.

We are still worried about possible retribution from the people who did this. It looks like a bodyguard or some other form of security might be in order. At this point, he says he knows he can do nothing about the people who did this; he just wants to get better and move on, and probably move away. As one of my buddies just told me today, “It’s a foreigner’s word against the locals', and we all understand what that means.”

I know one person who understands the above concept implicitly, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, still falsely accused and unjustly convicted of rape, and now continuing to languish in the US embassy during the slow motion appeals process.

It’s oddly pathetic the reaction I get from many of the local expats that I’ve told my friend’s story to in the interest of warning them. Most want to know “what did he do to attract that kind of attack?” It pisses me off to no end; it’s like blaming an attractive girl for being raped. No one wants to believe that this can happen to them. Funny thing is, I know for certain that if I had warned my broken legged friend two weeks ago that this could happen to him, he would have argued bitterly against ANY such possibility.

I can hear him now, what he would have proclaimed. Very adamantly, he would have protested, “No way. Not me! I take way too many precautions and I’m MUCH too careful. Maybe it could happen to some ignorant tourist just passing through, but NEVER to me!”
Famous last words, and for how many more of us? ...continue to part 5...

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Fall of the Son of Sal

The other day I wrote something on celebrities and how we pay way too much attention to them. In it, I quoted something a buddy of mine once said about major league baseball players. This buddy was Joe Maglie, the adopted son of the famous pitcher Sal Maglie, also known as “the barber,” because of his effectively intimidating strategy of pitching inside and high.

With a heavy heart I learned a terrible thing about Joe. While researching for my previous post I found out that he was busted last October, in 2006, on child pornography charges. It seems that he got caught up in a sting.

The articles I found online state that an under-cover Internet detective got Joe to offer to sell him some child porn. That’s all the evidence the police needed for a search warrant, which was served without delay. I read that there was a prodigious amount of kiddy smut stored on two of Joe’s computers located in his home or office, well up into the terabyte amount; enough to download onto hundreds of CDs. Now THAT’S a lot of filth.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Joe and I were pretty close pals. We were both still in the Air Force serving in the same unit on Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Joe was a staff sergeant working as a comptroller; and I was a master sergeant, doing my thing as an aircraft maintenance inspector specializing in avionics. I helped him move twice and we played golf a time or two. He was a basically a good guy and a good friend, someone who was always there for his buddies.

What I remember most about Joe was his continuous involvement in the community. There was not a charitable organization that he wasn’t involved with, and he used to drag the rest of us his Air Force mates, including me, into volunteering as well. With all his benevolent deeds, it seemed there was no one he didn’t know—whether it was the mayor, or local newscasters, and all sorts of other regional celebrities. The base commander knew him by name, which is pretty impressive for a lowly staff sergeant.

I remember asking him if he was related to “the barber,” and he gladly told me, “Yes, he adopted me. I’m his son.” At the time, his pops was still alive, but I guess he was not really in the world anymore due to Alzheimer’s or some other similar mind ruining disease. It was always great talking to Joe about his dad, because he would gladly explain what it was like being around big league baseball as a kid. He even signed a baseball card of his dad for me.

Overall, I knew Joe to have a good heart and he did lots of good. That’s why I’m so sorry that he allowed himself to fall into this child porno trap thing. When I saw the story I felt bad for him that he had descended in such a way that he had basically destroyed his own life, but I was also very angry with him for the harm he was doing due to pure sinful selfishness.

The detectives are quoted that Joe had in his possession countless digital recordings of child molestations. I hope like hell that he wasn’t involved in producing any of it, but even if all he did was download it from file sharing and distributing it, in effect, he was contributing to the very acts done to those children. It’s like drugs—if no one used them… Well, you get the picture.

I know Joe, and I know that intellectually he understands how wrong it was to do what he was doing. The only person he can blame now is himself. I hope his example will influence others to stop it, if they are involved in similar activity. Aside from the terrible harm its doing to innocent kids, on a personal level, it’s just not worth it. Delete it and stop viewing it. Do it for yourself and for the innocent babies, toddlers and young children in the world. They are being horribly harmed by YOU.

Perhaps if you are on the fence on this subject, you should keep in mind little Madeleine McCann. That poor little innocent angel was probably scooped up and swept away from the loving arms of her family, perhaps forever, all because of the same decadent malevolence that Joe Maglie was evidently involved in.

I haven’t lived in Arkansas since 1998, and I don’t really know anyone very closely there anymore; so I don’t know what ultimately happened to Joe. The most recent information that I could find concerning his child porn charges was that he was out on bail for $5,000 and would go in front of a judge for a hearing in December 2006. For all I know the charges were dropped; or, he was found guilty as hell and is sitting in a cell right now. Either way, I hope he’s looking deep within himself and vowing to do good for the rest of his life to atone for all this.

As I said though, I hope to hell that he had no play in making any of this terrible stuff. If so, he should serve a long sentence. Still, regardless of where he is and what he did, I know he has a virtuous side. There is good and evil in all of us, and because of my years of associating with him I know that there is hope for the guy.

Having said that, I hope he comes out the other end of this thing a better man, even if it’s a better OLD man.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

They are JUST people, same as you and me...

Celebrities, Who Cares?

I’ve had it with “them,” and I’ve especially had it with the pundits who report on their every move while practically gushing all over them. And what about the suckers who swallow all the pap as it’s fed to them whilst clamoring for more? I think of them this way: if there were no “users” there would be no “suppliers” and “pushers.”

For all you “users,” why do you do it? Is your own life not interesting enough that you must suck the marrow from someone else’s? Are you not ashamed? I hate to use this cliché, but get your own life.

Every time I see footage of paparazzi clambering bodily all over each other while snapping their shutters at sports and movie stars, or at “stars of the moment,” I feel disgust; not only for the photographers, but also for the people who pay to see their rubbish; and you know who you are.

For consumers, the “users” of this nonsense, you suffer from a bad habit, like looking at pornography or smoking; so stop it; you should stop buying it; stop looking at it, and you should stop turning the channel to find it.

When I was 14 or 15, my father and I were playing a late afternoon round of golf at a public links course in Central Michigan. Some country music star, whose name I am no longer sure of (maybe it was Earl Scruggs?), was out by himself on the course with us. During our game, this famous performer was on a tee box only a rock’s throw away. My father discretely pointed him out to me with a slight nod of his head and a whisper. My natural kid’s reaction was to stare and remark aloud, but my father quickly shushed me and instructed me adamantly NOT to stare. It wasn’t polite and bordered on being disrespectful he told me. My dad realized that the man probably didn’t want to be disturbed and I learned that day to respect that wish for everyone, even and especially for celebrities. It might be a very old-fashioned and American Midwest attitude, but it made sense to me then as a kid and continues to make sense to me even more today.

I suppose if we hadn’t been on the golf course and my dad saw Mr. Scruggs in passing he might have politely said hello to him. But my midwestern father would never force himself on anyone, and why would he? How many stories have you heard of celebrities being interrupted for an autograph, or a photograph, during a meal in a restaurant, or while trying to enjoy the view on a beach? I don’t buy the argument that a star or a public figure sacrifices their personal life once they “make it.” That is pure rationalization; it’s nothing more than justification for bad behavior.

Late in 1975 my parents came to the Tri-City Airport at Midland Michigan to pick me up after I had just earned my Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor with the Marines. My mom told me that Jim Stafford, a successful pop singer at the time, was waiting for his flight out of town. In spite of myself I thought I’d go see, kind of like a covert recon mission. Sure enough, he sat alone in a large waiting room; it was just him in a sea of rows of seats. I could have gone up to him and announced myself as a fan, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. He seemed relaxed and I just did not want to bother him; it just didn’t seem right. He saw me in my green Marine class-A’s and nodded at me smiling. Feeling foolish, I grinned back, gave him a wave and a thumbs up, spun around and left him alone. That was the only time I’ve ever done anything like it, and it confirmed for me the rightness of leaving so-called famous people alone.

I once served in the Air Force with the son of a famous major league baseball pitcher, Sal Maglie. Joe Maglie, Sal’s adopted son, told me that he had met or been around pretty much every major leaguer of note from before the 70s. I asked him what they were like. I named one huge player after another, seeking to know if he had met them—Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Al Kaline, and on and on. Yep, he’d met them all; either in locker rooms while his dad was coaching and managing or at dozens of reunions. I asked him what they were like. His answer was intriguing.

“Man, let me tell you something. For the most part, those guys are boring. All they know is baseball, so it’s all they talk about. They are not interesting to talk to UNLESS you want to talk about baseball. They aren’t even all that intelligent. What do you expect? For the most part, they’ve limited themselves to baseball their whole life. Phil, I find people like you a hell of a lot more interesting than most any big league baseball player. You’ve lived all over the world and you’ve done things the average major leaguer cannot even conceive of. They are nothing special man. They’re just ball players.”

Joe was right. We give these people way more attention than they deserve, and presumably more than they want. When is society going to get a collective conscience and leave these people and their immediate families alone?

If you must, go watch their movies, or watch them play their games; but for heaven’s sake, find a new hobby or pastime. As Joe said, “these people are nothing special,” no more so than any human being.

Common courtesy and standards of decency demand that we leave them alone. Can you find it within yourself to grasp that notion? They are just people like you and me. Get it?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Part 3 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City

If you've been following this story, well, it’s worse than we thought. It turns out that the entire accident was staged; it was a set-up from before the word go. I just got off the phone with my friend, and he says in a combination of disgust, anger and trepidation that he will probably pull out of the Philippines as soon as he recovers. This is from a man who loves this country more than his own. He might change his mind, but what faith he had had in the people here is now shaken to the core.

His buddy, the man who saw the entire thing unfold, evidently put a kink in their evil plans by being there and messing up their scheme. They wondered why the police SUV continued to pass the scene back and forth at least three times without stopping, and its only now that the reason is starting to gel.

At the hospital emergency room one of the supposed investigating officers came up to them with a sketch of the accident scenario. It was an entirely made up thing, in complete defiance of reality. It showed my friend coming out of a side street on his scooter, a street he did NOT come out of, and it showed a nonexistent motorcycle that is supposed to have struck him before veering off and running into some vendors stands. The sketch also showed debris and broken vendors stands.

Upon looking at the faked sketch, my friend’s witness-buddy spoke out loudly in protest, stating that it was nothing like that at all. He stridently proclaimed with complete assuredness that there had been no motorcycle and no one and nothing else was involved in the collision, other than the murderous jeepney and driver and his nearly killed friend on his scooter.

So, two things happened to counter their nefarious plan that they hadn’t counted on: 1) my friend didn’t die in the head-on collision, and 2) the witness wasn’t supposed to be there to see so exactly what really happened.

The witness-buddy immediately went back to the scene in a trike to check on the scooter and confirmed that indeed there was NO debris, and NO wrecked vendor’s stands. In fact, there was no scooter there anymore, since the police had confiscated it.

He also approached the doorman of the bar where the whole thing started from and spoke to him to feel out what he saw. Turns out he too is part of the scheme. He said smiling, “Oh yeah, your friend pulled out in front of the motorcycle.”

Uh oh! We now realize that this is getting ugly and dangerous, because it’s obvious that a policeman or two is involved in this as well as the doorman, and who knows who else. As soon as I heard this news I told him urgently that his life is now in immediate danger. I told him to take precautions and NOW, because the cops involved will not hesitate to kill to protect themselves by covering their tracks. He got quiet when he realized I was right.

So he has now moved to a new hospital in a different town and is there under an assumed name. I asked him not to tell me the name of the hospital. That’s right people; these are the precautions one must take here—it’s a sickening fact.

We also learned that inexplicably there appears to be no blotter on the accident. It seems that the “inconvenience” of a foreigner witness who could not “be got to” or paid off, may well have frightened off the perpetrators of this foulness. I told him that we could look to contact a good cop or politician in as high a position as possible to seek protection, or we can wait and see if the crooked men running this scheme are going to just let it go. I told him the latter might be better than the former. Sometimes it’s better to leave the snake alone after it’s missed with its first strike and let it move on to another quarry.

I was considering no longer writing about this subject, especially now that it seems that its more than just a drunken local who caused a potentially deadly accident, or even more than just some con-men looking for a quick payoff from a foreigner. Nope, it is much worse than that. This is seriously frightening business because of WHO exactly is involved.

I decided to go ahead and write this as a warning to people who are already in Angeles City and who came here as I did in good faith, as well as to people considering moving here. Please listen: This is a very dangerous place. The pitfalls are many. You can try with all your might to avoid them by keeping a low profile and following all the rules, such as they are, but once the local predators get you in their sights there is no escape. It might well take many years of running with the “foreigner herd,” but eventually you WILL get culled out. Once that happens there is very little you can do about it unless you are good friends with the mayor or the police chief.

My friend has either lived here or has been coming here for over 20 years; he LOVED this place. So much so that I was shocked to hear him say today that he thinks its time to go. It could just be the throbbing pain in his shattered leg causing his despondence, but I don’t think so.

As for me, as soon as I finish my GI Bill benefits, I’m out of Angeles City. I really don’t feel like waiting for my turn in the slaughter pen. Its one thing to shear us or milk us, but its an entirely different animal when you learn that people are willing to wantonly kill us for a few bucks.

I’m sure there are other places in this country that a foreigner can live with his family without constantly having to worry about this stuff. It’s time to seriously start looking for a plan B. (see part 4)

Part 2 of "Broken and in Pieces" in Angeles City

This is the second installment about my best friend and how he deals with the aftermath of an accident (see 1st post on it) that was in no way his fault. His only crime: being a foreigner in the Philippines, specifically here in AC.

It’s happening already, and he knew it would when the cops came by the hospital after the accident to confiscate his driver’s license.

My friend’s ace in the hole, his buddy who stood right there and witnessed the entire event, was told by the police at the hospital as they took the license that "he didn’t see anything." Get that? The cops are TELLING the only real witness that he didn’t see a thing! Do you see how it works here?

What the police did directly after the accident was to do a “drive by” in one of their white SUVs. If they did an investigation it was much later after my victim-friend and his witness-buddy were long gone to the hospital. What is happening now is classic for this area. A story is being concocted to show that the entire thing is the foreigner’s fault. Ba-a-a-a-a-a! Moooooo! They look at us as sheep to be sheared and cows to be milked.

Locals are lining up for a pay off even as I write this. My buddy is about to contact a lawyer. Of course, he’ll have to hope that the lawyer he gets doesn’t go into collusion with his opponents; also a very common practice on the continuation of the theme of bilking and conning expatriates living in this country.

So, here’s how it works when you are a foreigner living in the Philippines, especially in Angeles City: Become involved in an accident, even if you are the one victimized in the accident, and you continue to become victimized in the legal aftermath. Sometimes it’s better just not to leave the house.

I have several friends who refuse to drive a car or motorbike or anything because of this nasty local tendency. I have named the phenomena; as I hint above, I call it “shear the foreigner.”

I stopped riding jeepneys because of being pick-pocketed and almost being mugged on them once (my wife saw what was happening and screamed at the driver to let us off, which we did in a rush). The ubiquitous trikes, the other transportation alternative in Angeles City, even if you are a Filipino, climb into one and the price to anywhere starts at 50 pesos. AC may well have the highest trike prices of anywhere in the country. I’ve visited other provinces and the costs were a fraction of this place. Once again, it’s all part of the “shearing process.”

My broken legged buddy did have one bright bit of news. His orthopedic surgeon, who seems to be very competent, helped him find a hospital that will accept him under the old Tri-Care policy, where they are not asking for money down and will work with him payment wise. We’ll see how that works out.

I was pleased just now to speak to him and heard a lot less pain in his voice. It’s been three days since he splintered his lower leg bone and the reconstructive surgery should take place sometime in the next couple of days.

Keep checking in to track how this whole thing plays out medically and legally. In fact here's part 3 and it's far worse than we imagined...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Leg Bones and Tri-Care, Broken and in Pieces

My best friend, my barhopping buddy, called me last night. He was in great pain and the sound of it was in his voice. Through clenched teeth he told me that as he left his last bar of the night at 2 a.m. another guy on a motorbike had struck him. His lower right leg was swollen up twice normal and the puny pain meds they’d given him weren’t working. The x-ray showed both lower bones broken with half his tibia in shards all the way up into his knee.

He was worried because he thought he was in the wrong hospital for payment purposes. He was in the old PIH now called Good Shepherd or Divine Heart or something like that. He knew that if he was in a medical facility not certified by Tri-Care that he’d be stuck with the bill. I wasn’t sure about the Tri-Care situation so I called another retired military buddy, who happens to be my psychologist and a medical doctor. Turns out he had just arrived home from Mount Caramel Hospital located over in San Fernando after surviving a seizure induced heart stoppage. If not for the quick action of his medically qualified wife, he would not be alive to talk about my other friend with the shattered leg.

Sheesh. Two phone calls--two hospitalized friends! Maybe I should turn off my phone before someone gets killed!

So, my heart-attack buddy gives me the scoop on my broken-leg buddy, telling me no morphine for a patient who will probably be in need of surgery; AND, the surgery must wait until the swelling goes down. In the meantime only low-level pain meds are allowed. Okay, I tell him, how about you call my broken legged buddy and give him all this good info so I don't miss anything? He agreed and called me back a few minutes later.

He calls me back with more info that I'm not so thrilled to learn. It seems that the old PIH has long since been blacklisted by Tri-Care, so U.S. retirees should NOT go there for care unless they got all the bucks needed to pay for it themselves. Alas, a further problem for us is that Tri-Care has stopped paying ALL Philippine medical facility applicants, and because of that bit of stinginess, now, AUF (Angeles University Foundation Hospital) has stopped accepting all Tri-Care patients unless they have the money. It seems that we will have to pay up front and hope that Tri-Care will refund our 75% after the yearly deductible has been reached.

I’m not sure if the Mercedes clinic in downtown Angeles is still on the Tri-Care "good list;” as far as I'm aware it was the last known local Tri-Care facility that was still working with American military retirees under the "old" financially friendly system. Somehow I doubt if they have been spared. I'll try to find out this week...

So, it seems that we are just about on our own out here for medical care. My psychologist suggests that if you are married to a Filipina eligible for PhilHealth to go ahead and sign up for it. His heart attack treatment this week cost him about a grand and PhilHealth paid about a quarter of it. Now he’ll have to submit his claim to Tri-Care and fight it out with them when the inevitable bullshit denials come down from the bastards in Wisconsin.

For any military retirees thinking about moving to the Philippines here's something to think about. If you have medical conditions greater than moderately serious consider long and hard before coming. Aside from the Tri-Care difficulties, healthcare in the Philippines is spotty when it comes to quality. For instance, my heart attack pal was in the ICU and they made his wife stay by his side to monitor him for them for two straight days; and that was in one of the better facilities. Can you imagine such a thing? In most ICUs in places like the USA, Europe, Australia, etc., there is supposed to be one nurse per patient. In this case, they didn't even have a cot for his wife to lay on while she did THEIR work, so she took naps with her head on his mattress.

One has to reorder how things are "supposed to be" when living here. Hospital care is an iffy proposition in the Philippines. Consider this, in most hospitals many of the nurses basically work for free to get the experience required so that they can go work abroad. Scary thought isn't it? All the best nurses and many of the best health care providers such as technicians and therapists LEAVE the first chance they get. So, try to pick your hospital and medical team carefully and hope for the best.

For example, one of my friends died late last year in a large local Angeles City hospital, perhaps unnecessarily. He had a bad liver from an old hepatitis infection and when it flared up suddenly he ended up in the hospital trying to recover enough to get back to the States for more extensive treatment. Well, he didn’t recover. We might never know exactly why he died, but it couldn’t have helped that his IV had come out of his arm sending all the IV fluids into his mattress instead of into his body. His wife was the one who discovered the problem, not any of the oblivious nurses. By the time she found it, it was too late. He was gone and his mattress was a sodden mess. I wouldn't be surprised if they charged the family for the ruined mattress.

A couple hours ago my friend with the splintered leg bones called me with an update. After my psychologist buddy had called him he decided to transfer to another hospital. Sometime in the next few days he’ll need an extensive operation to try to rejoin all the disparate tiny pieces of bone in his lower right leg. The doctor told him the bits are too small to use plates and screws, so some other complicated method will be entailed. In our quest to help veterans with their claims we found a good orthopedic surgeon, and we hope he’ll be able to get this leg back into one usable piece. My fingers are crossed and I will walk around in continuous prayer that it all turns out well.

During this latest call of a few minutes ago the description about the accident itself changed drastically since he first described them to me yesterday, mostly because he had been knocked out during the crash and all the events were a jumbled blur. Recall that at first he had told me it was a drunken local man on a motorbike that had plowed into him. Actually, it was a speeding jeepney with no lights on that had pulled out from the wrong side of the street heading back towards the Checkpoint area that had hit my friend head on. Witnesses say that instead of waiting when he saw my friend pull out, the jeepney driver had endeavored to quickly cut in front of him in a vain attempt to get back over to his own side of the street. All he managed to do was to go faster when he struck my friend.

With this new information I remarked to my buddy, still racked with almost unbearable pain, that he was lucky to have survived a head on with a speeding jeepney. It reminded me of an accident that my wife had observed on the same deadly nighttime street where he had almost bought the farm. A Swiss man, a local expatriate, had sped away from a bar, also on a motorbike and was surprised by another lightless jeepney stopped in the middle of the street to drop off a passenger. He veered around it right into the path of another oncoming jeepney. A terrible coincidence is that the driver of the jeepney that killed him was his best friend. He slid under his best friend's jeepney and was horribly disemboweled by the weight of the wheels as it rolled over his body. My wife was sickened by the memory of it for weeks. He died after a few minutes, his head cradled by his weeping best friend and inadvertent killer. Of course the real killer was his unnecessary speed combined with the very common event of a local vehicle operating without lights.

"So," I told my own best friend, "You are lucky that you LIVED through YOUR jeepney collision."

He acknowledged his "good luck" and told me more of what had happened.

The impact had knocked him out for almost 15 minutes. Luckily a fellow American retiree, a drinking buddy of his, had just said so long and was standing on the curb when the whole thing happened right in front of him. Without this man's presence, my hurt pal would probably would have lain in the street for much longer and might well have lost whatever he had in his pockets to "helpers."

In the interest of expediency they loaded the semiconscious body of my broken legged pal into the back of the VERY jeepney that had just struck him down. At the end of the short 5-minute ride to the hospital, the driver, who in my opinion should be in jail for attempted manslaughter or at the very least for reckless endangerment, proceeded to charge 500 pesos! Let the sheering begin!

If you’re a Filipino driving a jeepney in Angeles City the moral of this story is this: strike down as many Americans as you can. Then, drive them to the hospital and charge an exorbitant price to do so. Then, sue for damages. Excuse my bitterness...

For those of you out there like me that count on their two-wheeled vehicles to get around, here’s another small tip. Go slow! Take nothing for granted. In this case, the idiot guy driving the jeepney took off from the wrong side of the street from an unlit dark spot with no lights on and instead of waiting for a break in traffic opted to try “to make it” across to his side of the street hoping he could make it in time. Chances are he was drunk, but drivers here make compulsively bad decisions all the time. If you are one of the good Filipino drivers then you know exactly what I'm talking about... Right Wat?!

The final word is: BE READY for the idiots to do something idiotic, AND, slow DOWN so you'll have enough time to save yourself from them!

As this bit of ugliness proceeds I’ll continue to provide updates. (Go here for part 2)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mr Stinky

Ever had a day that was completely ruined by something that you knew in your heart should have been relegated to the "insignificant file;" yet you just could not make yourself let it become unimportant to you? I’m sorry to say that it was like that for me today. I hate that.

I let something that should have been nothing rule over my entire Friday. I’m home now hours later and STILL I can’t let it go. Every person I’ve spoken to, I’ve told them about what happened today. I even emailed people about it. To myself, I say, 'Stop! Stop I say!'

Once every three or four months I have to make it to a scheduled VA checkup at the outpatient clinic in Pasay, Manila. To do this I catch the free van that leaves from outside the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Angeles City office at 5:30 am. I pulled up to the scooter parking area just a few minutes before departure time and checked in with the van driver. He stood out behind the van checking out our appointment letters and logging us in. I was the last one to sign in out of the four veterans going. Grudgingly, I offered a grumpy good morning to him and about then a hint of the most god awful stench assailed my olfactory system.

Immediately, I knew it was going to be “one of those days.” As Forrest Gump might say if he too had to occasionally ride the daily van to the VA clinic, “riding it is like a box of chocolates, ‘coz you never know what you’re going to get.” Unfortunately, today, what I got was a big old ugly box of BO—disgusting, nauseating, sickening, armpit and ass odor. Ugh!

I would never write this if I was still a veterans service officer, it just wouldn’t be appropriate; but now that I’m a “private citizen,” volunteering my time and experience to help folks on a personal basis, I feel like I can comment on just about any and everything I see, hear and SMELL!

I don’t know what the guy’s name is; I’m afraid I let my prejudice against smelly people “foul” my ability to engage him in much conversation. I did pick up a few things about him however. From his apparent age, long hair and unkempt beard, I knew him to be a Vietnam vet. For some reason many of the “flower children” of the ‘60s, especially the good fellows who survived “The Nam,” have never gotten over yearning for the passé style of long locks and facial hair. On that note, if you see a man with a graying ponytail, chances are he’s from the “Woodstock Generation.”

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with long hair on a dude UNLESS that dude hasn’t taken a bath in a month of Sundays. So, here’s my standard: Clean = Good! Armpit smell = Bad! Today, in that little van, seemingly the littlest van I’ve ever ridden in, it was very very BAD!

I hoped that once we got to moving that one of two things would happen: 1) Somehow his nasty anti-perfume would quiet down some and/or 2) eventually I’d get as used to his foulness as he apparently was so that I too would be as seemingly unaware of it as he was. Alas, none of the above came to pass. Once we pulled out on to the North Luzon Expressway we were forced to close our windows. The aircon then sucked up his rankness, cooled it down to a pleasant temperature, and then pumped it full force into our recoiling faces.

‘Oh my God! Help me!’ I prayed.

I looked at the other passengers around me, my fellow “victims,” and I noticed that they too struggled to control their impulses to “cry foul,” but I was a little ashamed to see that it seemed that I was the only one being so over-powered. I took out my small sweat towel and held it obviously over my nose, desperately trying to breathe as lightly as possible so as to keep from drawing in the tainted air too deeply.

I thought to myself, ‘Okay, you’re overreacting. Just ignore it.’ But I couldn’t!

And now there was another problem with this guy. He was as vocally obnoxious as he was malodorous. He stretched his long scabby legs out in front of him on his row of seats and proceeded to talk at the top of voice to the fellow behind him who happened be sitting directly in front of me. They spoke of traveling the world, comparing notes on flight and billeting methods, which sounds innocuous enough, but nearly every other word from Mr. Smelly’s mouth was f*ck. All I heard was, “That f*cking motherf*cker, so I told that f*cking motherf*cker to go f*ck himself, the stupid f*ck! (ad nauseum, ad infinitum).

My thoughts were random and frantic: ‘Please Lord. I’m in hell. Somebody shoot me and put me out of my misery! I’ll be good. I’ll join the priesthood, hell, I'll join a convent. Anything, just end this agony!’

At one point when he got tired of saying f*ck or the other guy pretended to be asleep, whatever the case, Smelly Pants drew his legs up to his chest, examined the variously sized scabs on his calves and ankles and then spent several minutes finding loose ones that he could deftly pick off. Oops. That one wasn’t ready. It’s a bleeder.

I screamed in my head, ‘Someone please gouge out my eyes!’

Straight up at 0800 we arrived at the clinic and slowly pried our achy old bones out of the sewery smelling vehicle. I sucked in huge lungfuls of the comparatively “pristine” Manila air and savored the sweet smell of combusted diesel fresh off of the very busy Roxas Boulevard only a few meters away. I never thought I’d say this about Manila city air, but it was wonderful!

For the next several hours I mostly managed to steer clear of him, but I was curious to watch others’ reactions as he “invaded their personal space.” I was surprised to see that most folks politely made gargantuan efforts to ignore his obviously rank presence, and he definitely had at least two presences: his physical one and his miasmic one. His fetid pall seemed to reach out a good 7 or 8 feet, a very respectable stink range at that.

From as far away as I could manage it, I could see that his orangish-brown nylon basketball style shorts and raggedy T-shirt, which he had roughly cut with a pair of scissors into a V-neck, were both full of holes and both not covered with stains so much as permeated with them. I’m convinced that he’d been wearing the same clothes for days, probably weeks. I didn’t want to, but in spite of myself I could see through the ratty holes in the seat of his shorts that he wasn’t wearing underwear. The amazing thing is that he’d been bragging on the van that he was clearing a full 4 grand a month from his military disability payments. I wanted to ask him why he didn’t use some of that money to take a shower, shit-can his clothes, buy some new fresh ones, and invest in some roll-on deodorant; but I didn’t.

I was happy to see that he was a smoker and spent much of his time outside in the smoking area. As he walked back and forth between there and around the inside of the clinic I began to notice something. People who weren’t sick with cough or sneezes were suddenly wearing the free masks offered for that purpose by the clinic.

‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ I thought.

I asked the front desk attendant for a mask and he gave me three without pause. He knew exactly why I wanted one. I tied mine on about an hour before we were due to head back so it wouldn’t seem too obvious. Funny thing is I noticed that the driver was already wearing his, as was one of the other passengers. As clever as I like to think I am sometimes, it seems that I was the last one to think of that brilliant solution.

Now for the final “gag,” pun intended. As I got into the van, “smelly boy” was already onboard and he too WAS WEARING A MASK!

‘Oh man, you have GOT to be kidding me!’ I chuckled into my hand at the irony.

I listened in as he spoke glowingly of what a great idea it was for us all to wear those free masks because of all the nasty diesel jeepney fumes in town. Incredible! This guy was so obtuse that he could not figure out that people were nearly retching all around him due to his nasty odor. There he was right there in the van along with the rest of us happily sporting his own mask.

I was thinking that perhaps he was tired of smelling himself. But no, I’m sure that wasn’t the case. Another fellow on the van with us, an incredibly nice guy, who somehow found it in himself to continue to chat all day with the insufferable “maggot-gagger,” also came to the conclusion that this guy was totally oblivious to his own putridity. In fact, it got so strong, even with the masks, that I continually swabbed the outside of my mask with deodorant but with only minimal effect.

Short of the DAV office the poor stanky fellow asked to be dropped off on Fields Avenue. At his departure the rest of us wrenched off our surgical masks with great relief. We shook our heads in wonder thinking—how can any human be like that? Shouldn’t someone tell him? As for me, I figured he wasn’t my problem after today, and he wasn’t going to be able to shower anytime before we got back, so to heck with it.

I’ve seen lots of vets with eccentric ways and strange mental quirkisms. I wonder if this guy isn’t suffering from some kind of weird antisocial pathological fear of showering and the wearing of clean decent clothing. Who knows? I just know that I NEVER want to be around Mr. Stinky ever again…

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Literally Worried to Death by the VA

Not long after I got here I decided to try to help other veterans while I learned to help myself in dealing with the VA and Social Security Administrations. I was 45 back then and freshly ejected from a long and fairly rewarding military career. Continuing to serve on some level seemed like a good thing, but I think if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have passed on the "big boat" thing. Sure, it can be rewarding, and it mostly is I guess, but days like today come along and wreck me for weeks at a time. It’s heart breaking.

I just received an email from a veteran’s wife telling me that her husband had just died. She didn’t know what to do. All he told her was to contact me. On a side note, some of these guys are woefully prepared for their death, no matter how sick they are. You'd think they'd know better, but they seem to go into a state of denial. Just the same, this particular veteran and I had been working together for the past year trying to get the Veterans Administration to grant him compensation and medical care for the hypertension and cardiovascular disease that had befallen his body. He was a very sick man. Indeed, its what killed him. He died this morning of a heart attack.

Years ago he had already been granted service connection for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition resulting from his experiences in combat. A common physical manifestation of PTSD, which is basically a mental condition characterized by almost continuous anxiety, is hypertension that commonly leads to cardiovascular disease. That’s exactly what happened to this gentleman, and that’s exactly what he was, a very fine gentleman.

I helped him put together a strong case for service connection for his cardiovascular condition as secondary to his PTSD. Keep in mind that to win a favorable decision for VA disability all a veteran is supposed to have to do is prove to the reasonable doubt level. In his case, I had helped him to acquire two strong medical opinions from his physicians stating that his heart disease had been either caused by or exacerbated by the stress of his PTSD. On top of that I had him submit as evidence a VA case precedent wherein a Board of Veterans Appeals judge had granted hypertensive heart disease to another PTSD veteran, a fellow whose condition exactly mirrored my man’s.

So here’s the maddening thing. The VA still denied his claim. The raters who make these kinds of whimsical decisions do so seemingly as if they simply throw a dice with yes’s and no’s on all the facets instead of numbers. Whichever comes up is the one they go with, but lately it seems that there are more no’s than yes’s on their dice. Do I really believe this? In the capricious nature of their decision-making, yes I do, and fervently so. It’s caused me to think of the people who work in that building with great enmity and spite. In fact, I feel the bile rise and my teeth grit even as I write this.

For veterans with mental conditions like PTSD or other serious emotional issues, the predictably adversarial nature of the VA responses causes even more anxiety and angst. I’ve seen some of these gents become extremely sick; some even worry so much over their "fight" with the "evil" VA to the point of having actual anxiety and heart attacks.

That exact thing happened to one of my vets just two months ago. His ever-increasing anxiety put him in the hospital where he went into de-fib. To bring him back required two shocks of the paddles before his heart returned to a normal beating rhythm. If a buddy hadn’t taken him to the hospital while there was still time he would have died in bed. And guess what it was that caused that particular anxiety attack—that’s right, he was in the middle of a "fight" with "our friend" that nefarious entity we all call the VA.

The maddening thing is that sometimes it doesn’t matter how strong the evidence, how right the veteran is or how wrong the raters are, the VA system digs in its bureaucratic heels and fights it out to the bitter end.

Its awful, because these vets with these crippling mental conditions are not equipped to fight against the VA monsters. As I said, the responses these fellows read in these decision letters by the VA are convoluted and to a mentally impaired person they also come across as mean. I’ve had some of these guys call me at home either screaming their frustrations out at me, or so dejected that they were very near crying. Most of their over-reactions are simply due to the anxiety and depression of their conditions, but there are times when it seems as if the VA knowingly writes to provoke these kinds of responses. What else am I to think?

And if a veteran dies midway through the appeals process the VA simply throws out the case, as if it never existed in the first place. That means the possibility exists that the wife and children will get no follow on benefit, even if the decision would have eventually gone in favor of the appellant. It only makes vicious sense, since the malicious VA is the organization that writes these heartless rules. Like I tell my guys, "their money—their rules."

Pretty much all of the above happened to my now deceased veteran buddy; now freshly passed on, I’m absolutely sure due to the stress of his PTSD and PTSD-caused heart condition. Over the months he’s called and emailed me over some new frightening VA letter that he had no idea how to respond to. I had to calm him down and explain "the VA ways" to him—that the idiocy he was reading was normal and nothing to worry about. And sure enough, he could not survive the appeals process--the stress of it likely helped kill him. And now that he's gone, everything we've been through is as if it never happened.

I always fret about that, because these fellows tend to worry themselves sick to the point of fatality over this stuff, no matter how much I try to reassure them. It makes me wonder how many good men the VA has literally worried to death.

When I lose one, like I did today, it fairly well takes the stuffings out of me. I get so sad that I can’t hate. But once I’m through being sad, the hate will come back, even stronger than before. Do you blame me?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Earthquake in Karamursel

Opass, a favorite Blog buddy of mine, posted a funny piece last week that he calls “Earthquake.”

Yesterday, we got together here at my place for one of our regular Sunday afternoon “speak easies,” and once again we swapped stories and opinions for almost half the day. The mark of good conversation is continuity, where one story leads to another, which leads to analysis, and then to even more stories. Opass and I didn’t talk about his Guatemala earthquake experience, although I intended to ask him about it. Just the same, I think I’ll describe now one of my own poignant earthquake memories. As I said, one good story leads to another… Well, you decide if it’s good or not…

So there I was… It was nighttime, maybe 9 or 10 p.m. I was in bed munching an apple and reading a good book. It was one of those adventure novels centering around a young male protagonist, a boy about my own age—at the time I was just 12 years old, going on 13.

My brother, 4 years younger than me, was already sound asleep across the room in his own single bed. In mine, I was on one elbow facing a dim lamp and absorbed in my reading while happily crunching away on my apple. But I stopped reading and eating when I heard something.

At first, it sounded like a horse and cart passing by outside on the cobblestone street. This quaint narrow ribbon of neatly buried cubed stones separated our building from the normally calm waters of the Bay of Izmit (once called the Bay of Nicomedia), an eastern arm of The Sea of Marmara. The street we lived on in the Turkish town of Karamursel was in turn protected from the sea’s waters by a break wall. It sounds charming, and indeed it was a very beautiful place to live, with a stunning view of the sea and of the green hills across the bay.

But the sound I heard, this far off rumbling noise, was not from a rolling horse cart at all. At first it was faint and distant, but in seconds it grew much louder as if a monstrously large scary vehicle was quickly and ominously approaching. I had never heard anything like it and I found it quite puzzling. Then, I began to get the picture when to go along with the rumbling sound, every object in the room began to buzz, shake, clatter and tap, depending on what object was involved in this jittering "dance of things."

I was mostly calm UNTIL assorted items like pictures, vases and flower pots began to fall over or off the wall and crash to the floor. That worsening racket coming from every room in the apartment caused my calmness to begin to collapse into a sea of panic. The rumbling from deep within the earth grew ever deafening while the sound of glass shattering and objects clattering became even more intense and alarming. To make matters worse, we lived atop a three-story apartment building. I’m sure the swaying and trembling was made much more severe by being up there.

Just after the extreme noise of breaking and falling things began, my dad threw open my bedroom door and with a wild-eyed look he yelled at me to get my brother and get downstairs, quick! That sounded like an excellent plan. As he spun around to see to my two younger sisters, Mary Kay and Gail, I set about following his orders. All semblance of physical calmness had vanished when I had seen the look of purposeful urgency on my father’s face. He was not playing around, and now, neither was I.

Immediately, I sprang out of bed and turned to my brother who was now groggily sitting up with the covers still over his legs, his eyes huge and unblinking. I went to him, shook him hard by a shoulder and yelled in his face, “Kevin, get up! Earthquake! Come on, let’s go!”

I turned and bolted for the living room, at which point we lost power and lights. Sure that my brother was right behind me, I hurried to the door leading to the stairwell and began to descend it in the dark as fast as I had ever done so, even with lights. I kept a hand on the guide rail and in no time flat I was at the ground floor landing along with most of the other apartment dwellers.

More than a dozen of us stood there on the landing just inside the wide-open double wooden doors leading to a large fenced courtyard that doubled as a parking lot. Moon and starlight provided a bare modicum of visual capability. In the blackness, we sensed more than saw each other. I heard my dad trying to account for us; I believe he was still holding my youngest sister, Gail, who was just 6 at the time.

Right about then we heard the plaintive voice of a young child. “Mommy. Mommy.”

My mom reacted immediately, “Oh that poor child,” she said concernedly.

“Mommy!” the little kid called out, sounding even more frightened than before.

Both my parents realized simultaneously that the “poor child” was Kevin, which came as quite a shock to me since I thought he was right next to me. Oops.

“Oh my God! That’s Kevin!” My mom cried out.

My dad quickly handed Gail over to my mother before springing back up the steps into the pitch-blackness above us to retrieve the last of his four progeny. I felt terrible at not accomplishing the simple task of making sure my little brother came down the stairs with me. Hell, I still feel awful about it almost 40 years later.

I remember standing there just off the bottom step, being glad that the quake had stopped, but still holding on to the railing for dear life, and waiting anxiously for my father to come back down with my brother. For the first time in my life I knew the sickening feeling of adrenalized fear, how it causes one’s knees to continuously buckle, as if tendons and ligaments down there have turned to soft pliant noodles.

On June 29, 1975, a scant six years later and me barely 18, I would flashback to that dark moment on the lightless ground floor Turkish landing, when my knees buckled exactly the same way during my first wakeup call in the Marines. The first morning wakeup experience at 3 a.m. in Marine bootcamp can be quite harrowing, as countless other marines can bear out.

Actually, I like Opass’ earthquake story much better than mine. His is amusing, and for me, funny is always better than serious. Still, it’s all I have… Except for all those worrisome aftershocks that continued to shake us up over the next few months. In many ways they were even worse than the real quake. The smaller shocks kept us on edge and it gave many of us a light case of the posttraumatic syndrome experience.

It turns out that our “big” earthquake was nothing compared to others that struck that area in the decades to come. In fact, during the big quake of 1999 hundreds of Turks died in buildings much like ours when they collapsed into mounds of debris. I’m glad I didn’t have to witness such a thing. Although, I would have had a heck of a story to tell if I had.