Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Shot

I had hit my tee shot two hundred and eighty five yards with a slight fade of maybe ten yards.  It was just enough to hug the right edge of the fairway.  It barely cleared the large oak tree that was guarding the manicured grass about two hundred and fifty yards away.  The scuffed up Titleist  hit the fairway, and with some slight top spin, rolled about twelve yards right past Kyle's ball.  His practice had been paying off.  He had learned to play his natural fade shot to his advantage.  I had to work at mine since I typically hit a slight to heavy draw.  I looked back at him as he made his way back to the cart.  He congratulated my shot as he placed his tee into the back of his hat.

"You would have gotten a bit more out of that shot if your ball wasn't so scuffed up."  His jab was welcomed and I countered with, "Well, seeing we are on the last hole and I have been using the same ball since the first tee box, a few scuffs are to be expected.  Besides you have a few new balls taking a bath in the water on seven."  I smirked and he shook his head.  A good game of golf is not a good game without a little jawing back and forth. It was our ritual.

Kyle walked over to his ball.  He was lucky to have it laying in the shade.  Shade was a precious commodity on a Houston golf course. Not only does it help the grass maintain some of its fluffy appeal and provide a better lie, it also helps cool the golfer down a bit.  Walking eighteen holes in the Texas humidity and heat in the middle of July took guts.  We didn't have guts nor did we have brains, at least according to our wives who could not find understanding as to why we brave this weather to play this game.

He stood over his ball.  I could see the sweat dripping from his forehead as he began his waggle back and forth.  He had more of a waggle than Kevin Na.  Suddenly he stopped, began his back swing and swung through the ball for a picture perfect follow through.  He knew, as did I, that he hit it pure, right on the sweet spot.  We watched as it bounced about five feet short of the Bermuda green, bounce and roll about fifteen feet short of the pin. He was left with a desirable up hill putt that would move left to right about eight inches.

It was my turn. I had it in my sights.  It could not escape me. It could not run nor hide behind a tree or duck for cover.  I was the hunter and it was the hunted. It's sometimes hard to pull the trigger.  I found myself hesitant although knowing that I had taken this shot hundreds of times before.  I could hit the target in my sleep.  I was money from  a hundred and thirty five yards away.  The wind...I had to account for the wind.  It could take my projectile and nudge it left to right ever so slightly. Even the slightest breeze could blow enough to effect it's trajectory.  I needed God to hold his breath right now, as was I.  I also needed one hundred other things to fall in place as well.  The ball needed to land on the green short of the stick and move to the right. I set up aiming a bit to the right, playing my draw shot.  Then I heard, "Do you breath in or out as you come through your swing?"

The youngster wasn't going to let me have a shot without trying one more mind trick but I had ice in my veins.  Even the blazing Texas sun couldn't melt it.  I smiled, blew the drop of sweat from the tip of my nose and began my back swing.  I knew as soon as contact was made that it was going to be a good shot.  The sound of the soft core ball hitting the head of my eight iron and the feel of the divot being removed from its natural habitat was the final chapter in this game.

We both watched as the ball took its predicted flight path.  We both loved the anticipation of this game.  Watching a well hit ball is like watching ballerina or a graceful bird soaring through the air. With the ball still in  flight and taking the perfect angle, we both thought this one may go in.  It hit ten feet short and left of the flag, leaving a much desired ball mark.  Repairing a ball mark is a badge of honor in this game.  It is a reward for a well hit shot into the green.

This four hundred and twenty yard par four was a tough hole, in fact, it was the number three handicap on the course.  I was always lucky to par this hole in the past. I would score the occasional double boogie if I  hit the bucket shaped bunker on the left side of the green or ended up in the small tributary of West Lake Houston than ran along the right side.  Today was not that day.

We stared as the ball made it's way closer to the pin and eventually fell to the bottom of the cup.  I swear I could hear that familiar noise of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup from a hundred and thirty five yards away.  We both jumped up and high-fived each other.  The birds flew from the trees as our shouting disturbed their efforts to hide from the sun.  It's funny how competition moves to the side when one of the players hits a great shot.  Still to this day, we refer to that shot as, The Shot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Barcelona and the Heart Shaped Seal

She reached down and grabbed the letter sitting on the granite counter top and slowly slid the letter opener under the heart shaped wax seal.  She loved coming home to find these letters.  These cards are rare.  About two a year.  She knew the next week would be amazing.  They always are after receiving one.  It smelled like him when the seal was cracked.  Giorgio Armani filled the air.  She reached in and pulled out a note along with a hotel key.  Not the new swipe card keys but an old one.  A skeleton key perhaps.  Her mind began to race as she read the letter.  It read:
Kristie.  How sweet you are. How lovely you are. How lucky I am.  It is hard to believe we’ve been at this for twelve years. Our past twenty three “rendezvous” have been thrilling and my love for you is constantly growing. I love the smell you leave on my clothes and the lipstick on my collar.  There is a large place in my heart for you.  For me and  for you.
Let’s spend the next few days enjoying our love for one another.  A limo will arrive shortly. In the back is a ticket.  Your flight leaves at 8:30.  Curious?  I bet you are.  I left you a present on the bed. I hope you like it.  I do.  Please wear it. I packed a bag for you too.  Don’t worry.  If I forgot something don’t worry about it.  We’ll just have to go shopping. You just smiled again.  See you tonight. By the way, everyone has been taken care of, including Lexie.
“Let’s spend the night together…” – The Rolling Stones
Kristie was smiling ear to ear, showcasing her recently whitened choppers.  Thomas always ended these letters with a line from a song.  His handwriting was a bit elementary so he ended the letters with a song quote that mimics the coming weekend. 
There was a rose on the bed.  He began using a rose a few years back.  Kristie loves the Bachelorette.  It’s a reality television show where several men compete for the hand of one woman.  They compete with each other by going on dates with this girl.  Then she eliminates them one by one by not offering them a rose.  By the end of the season there is one left and the famous words are said, “Will you accept this rose?”  It’s corny but even Thomas would find himself watching it with her.  He enjoyed her company and drinking a few glasses of her favorite wine, a ten dollar bottle of Apothic Red. It made the show a bit more tolerable for him.  He became a snuggler every Tuesday night.
Barcelona.  She was going to meet Thomas in Barcelona.  This was by far the most exotic trip to date.  It’s a long way from Nashville, Tennessee.  She knew Thomas had a great year at Bullington, Williams, and Brandski but to afford a trip like this was a pleasant surprise to her.  He had moving up the ladder pretty quickly there and even became close friend with John Brandski.  Mr. Brandski was the owner.  He was a well connected individual and demanded the respect of others, however it was hard to get from some.  He had represented some the most notorious criminals and won several cases, putting gangsters and killers back on the street.  Not everyone thought highly of him, in fact, he would occasionally get hate mail from concerned citizens.  Her mind floated back to the task at hand. 
“Barcelona?” she said to herself as she looked in the bathroom mirror.  She giggled with anticipation as she opened the Victoria’s Secret gift box.  She held up her new lingerie, “He’s getting good at this.”
Just at that time, there was a car horn from the front of the house.  She walked to the window and saw a long, black, limousine sitting out front.  The driver was approaching he door.  She slung the door open before he could even knock.
“Hi.  Kristie Fressly?” he quietly asked.
“Yes” she responded.
“I’m here to take you to the airport.  Do you have any bags Ma’am?”
“Just one,” she said and rolled it over to him.  He picked it up, placed it into the trunk then opened the door for her.  She slid in, careful not to let her little black dress reveal part of her new present.  She loved wearing new lingerie from him.  It made her feel sexy and loved.  There was another letter in one of the wine glasses.  On the outside was written:
They pulled out from the driveway and she began to open the bottle of wine.  She paused and noticed a small bottle of Grey Goose.
“What the hell,” she said as she reached for the bottle and a glass.  She poured herself some cranberry juice and vodka. She dropped in a couple ice cubes from the ice bucket and took a sip.  The ride to the airport was a short one and she was glad.  Kristie couldn’t wait to open that envelope.  She ran her shinny, red fingernail under the heart shaped wax seal. 
Hi Kristie.  I can’t wait to see you.  It feels like forever since we have gotten away together.  I need to run my fingers through your beautiful blond hair and gently kiss your neck.  I want to caress your arms and back.  I want to cover your body with lotion and give you a true full body massage.  I miss you.  See you in Spain. 
“The thought of you turns water into wine…” – Tim McGraw
She started to giggle but was quickly startled by a loud knock on the window. She rolled it down to find the limo driver.
“Ma’am.  You are welcome to sit in there for as long as you like but your flight does leave shortly,” the grey haired driver said politely.
“Oh, of course.”  She took the last sip of her third of fourth drink and shimmed out the door, being careful once again.  “Thank you” she said and handed him a twenty.
“Thank you Ma’am.  Have you a safe trip now.”
She smiled and turned to walk away.  “I will,” she said under breath.
Kristie walked up to the ticket counter to check her bag.  She handed the young lady across the counter her ticket. 
“Thank you.  First class to Barcelona? “ asked the airline worker.
“First class? Sure.”  She smiled, a bit embarrassed quit frankly.  She hadn’t flown first class since her days as a model.  So far this romantic interlude was dreamy and everything felt perfect.  She made her way past the counter, checked her overzealous Prada luggage and made he way to the boarding gate.  She was looking forward to this time alone with Thomas.
She pressed her skeleton key into the rustic old English style door and pushed it open.  It was heavy and required some effort.  The foyer was amazing with marble columns on each side of the entryway.  It was a grand entrance.  What was even better was Thomas standing on the balcony holding two glasses.  He waved her in with a smile.  He was in a white robe, hair still wet, and wearing the hotel’s complementary fuzzy slippers.  His skin looked flawless in the Barcelona sun.  He looked rejuvenated and full of vigor.  She walked out onto the balcony.  “Hi stranger.  I found this key and it led me here.  I’m not lost am I?”  She gently bit her bottom lip.  She loved to playfully flirt with him, occasionally slipping into a different character. 
“No.  You’re in the right place.”  He said as he poured two glasses of wine.  “Here, have some wine with me.”
They could each feel the tension build.  The lack of instant body contact, not even a little hug, made the thought of ravaging each other swim in their minds.  They slowly circled each other, starring at one another.  “You make that dress look fabulous.” He whispered as he passed by her ear.
She took a drink and said, “You should see how good I make these panties look.”
“I should.” He sat his wine down and got behind her, grabbing her hips.  He ran his hands up and around her full breasts eventually making his way brushing his fingers over her neck and the zipper.  He began to unzip her dress.  He slid his hand into the open back and around to her stomach.  He caressed her through her lace panties, paying special attention to her needs  Her dress fell to the floor revealing her new lingerie.  He backed away to get a better look. 
“You are so beautiful Kristie.  Welcome to Barcelona.”
She walked up to him and untied the belt on his robe.  She ran her fingers up and around his shoulders causing the woolly robe to fall to the floor.  They were in a daze, the world did not exist.  The tropical plants provided seclusion from any onlookers.  It was just them on a private balcony in Barcelona. 
“Excuse me Ma’am?  Ma’am?  The flight attendant was shaking her.  “Ma’am?”  She opened her eyes.
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry,” Kristie mumbled. 
“No problem.  We are beginning our decent and I need to ask that you place your seat back in the up right position.” she asked kindly.
“Of course.  Thank you.”  The dream had her shook up.  She was now looking even more forward to meeting Thomas. 
The older women next to her asked, “Did you have a nice dream?”
“I did.  Thanks for asking,” she replied.  She was feeling naughty now. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

William and Duke

"Duke?  Duke, where are you?" William said as he peeked under the kitchen table.

Duke and William loved to play hide and seek.  They were like peas in pod, best friends forever.  William didn't know that their time together was limited.  In fact, in two days Duke was catching a plane to North Carolina.  He was going to school.  He had a big future in front of him and didn't even know.  William didn't either.

"William come on in here," said his Dad calmly.  "We have something to tell you."

William and Duke came running around the corner.  Duke slid around the turn, bounced off the wall, and ran right up to his master. He licked him on the face and handed him his huge paw for a firm hand shake.  Duke was a beautiful Doberman Pinscher.  He was the poster dog for the breed.  He was big, strong, and smart.  All the qualities the Marines were looking for. 

His dad reached over and turned off the radio.

"Dad! President Roosevelt was talking!  It's important!" screamed William.  He was passionate about the United States.  He was a great young patriot. 

His dad smiled and patted him on the head.  His mother came in and sat next to them.

"Son, we know you love Duke.  We love Duke.  In fact, President Roosevelt loves Duke too."  He put his arm around William and rubbed Duke's pointy ears with the other.  "The President has asked if Duke could be a Marine and help protect the country from those crazy Japs.  You know, the people that blew up Pearl Harbor?"

William looked up at his Dad.  He understood.  He too was a smart young man.  Smarter than his seven years would lead others to believe.

"Dad, will Duke help protect us?  Will he help protect America?"

His mother quickly got up and left the room.  They could hear her sobbing.

"Son, Duke was made for this.  His mom and dad are awarding winning dogs.  You see how good he is at hide and seek right?"

"Yes, he's really good.  He finds me every time.  And he barks at strangers too."

"Well, son, that is the kind of stuff the Marines need.  He can help them and when he's finished, they will give them back to us." 

Duke sat there at attention, like always, and enjoyed the ear rubs.  Duke was a "leaner".  When he sat down he would back into the closest person then lean on them.  William leaned down and squeezed Duke's neck and gave him a big hug.  Duke leaned in.  His dad joined in.  William's mother walked back into the room.  They all wept openly for hours, enjoying their time with Duke.  Duke enjoyed his time with them as well.  Their time together was precious but in the back of their minds they all wondered if they would even see Duke again. 

Duke landed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina a few days later.  He was joined by sixty other German Shepards, a couple of Boxers, and several other Dobermans.  Many of the dogs had already been receiving training but Duke and his Handler, Bennie, had gotten Duke up to speed.  While the other dogs were concentrating on one area such as mine detection, message delivery, or ambush awareness; Duke had mastered all these activities. In fact, he had already served a couple tours in Guam and advanced quicker than any other Marine Dog to the esteemed title of Gunner Sergeant.  Duke and Bennie were leaving in the morning for Iwo Jima. 

The boat pulled up under heavy fire from the Japanese and dropped the front gate.  Bennie, Duke and several others stormed out on to the beach while the cover fire cleared a safe passage for their arrival.  They were bringing the war to the Japanese.  They made their way to the outpost camp and laid low for the remainder of the day.  That night Duke and Bennie holed up in a bunker, muddy and tired.  The night was suddenly lit up with a flare.  Bennie stood up and at the same time a mortar shell exploded next to them.  He and Duke fell to the ground, collapsed and bleeding badly.  This was their last battle together.  The faithful companions had fought their last fight. 

"Mom!  There's some man at the door!  Do you want me to get it" he yelled across the house.

She walked up next to him and through the window she could see it was two Marines standing at attention.  She new this day would come.  William's father walked up from the basement and wiped the sweat from his brow.  He placed a wrench in his pocket and wiped the grease off his hand.  He opened up the door while extending his hand.  They shook and he saluted just as a former Marine should.  They saluted back and introduced themselves.

"Good afternoon Ma'am.  Sir.  Hello young man.   It is my understanding that three and half years ago, Duke, your trusted Doberman, volunteered for the Marines."

"Yes, that's correct," she said.

"Is Duke coming back?"  William was anxious to hear their response and leaned forward looking at the pistol on the Marines belt.  His mom and dad each placed their hand on their son's shoulder, giving some comfort for what was about the come.  "See, he looks like this!"  William proudly pulled a picture of Duke from his wallet.

The Marines looked at each other and the parents.  They leaned down to get eye level with William. 

"Young man, Duke served his country better than any other dog ever has. His accomplishments will never be forgotten.  He saved many lives out there on the battle field and I can personally say that he earned this more than once over." 

The Marine pulled out a Silver Star medal and handed it to William.  He looked at it proudly.  His parents leaned down and hugged him.

"Son, this medal represents bravery and valor in battle.  Duke represented all the qualities needed to be a hero.  And a hero he is.  He was one of the best dogs the Marines have ever had the pleasure of working with."  The Marine paused for a second then continued.  "William, it is my pleasure to return Duke to you and your family." 

He then whistled loudly and from the back of the covered military truck jumped Duke.  He immediately ran straight to William.  They rolled around in the yard for what seemed hours.  They all wept, again.  And yes, so did the Marines. 

Dedicated to William W. Putney, Captain, USMC

Semper Fidelis


Friday, August 5, 2011

Circuit de la Sarthe

Bruce and Chris were making their way to the car.  They enjoyed the walk to the track.  The smell of exhaust, burnt gas, and sticky rubber filled the air as if an aphrodisiac, making them half smile.  It helped shake off the pressure and nerves.  This was their chance.  They had the best car they ever had and the best crew in the United States.  This was the year to knock the Ferraris off the podium.  The Ferraris finished first, second, and third the last three years and with their overwhelming dislike of Mr. Ford's attempt to purchase Ferrari, they aimed to take out the hot rod Americans. 

Henry Ford II wanted to race Le Mans but more importantly, he wanted to win.  He wanted to win so bad he actually tried to purchase Ferrari but Enzo was not interested.  Mr. Ford returned to the states and redeveloped the Ford GT40, making it lighter and faster.  He hired the best mechanics, developers, and race crew.  He was a determined man and if you didn't share that vision then you were no longer employed by Mr. Ford.  

Bruce climbed in the car and started it.  The roar of the seven liter V-8 made his head ring and feet tingle.  This happened every time he hit that start button.  The race of his lifetime was about to begin.  Life began at 200 miles per hour for Bruce Leslie McLaren.  He reflected back to his parent's little service station back in Auckland, New Zealand.  He and his father would restore and race old Austin Healeys and Coopers.  His love for the track and cars had brought him to this point. 

"Come on baby," he said as he rubbed the lapel pin Mr. Ford has given to him and his crew. 

It read "FORD WINS LE MANS IN '66".  Mr. Ford had these made after Enzo Ferrari kicked him out of their plant when Ford tried to purchase the motor car power house a year before.  Revenge can be a powerful force when coupled with pure determination and desire to be the best.

Mr. Shelby, who's company sponsored the Ford GT40, walked up to the car and leaned over.  "You better play it safe out there, son."

"Yes, Sir." Bruce nodded his head.

"Remember, I said play it safe...I didn't say play it slow."  He patted the young driver on head.  "Tear the asphalt off the track son.  I believe in you."

"Thank you Mr. Shelby."

He nodded his head, "You can call me Carrol if you put this Ford on the highest part of that podium."

"Wooooooooooweeeeee!" screamed Bruce.  His blood was pumping now.  He could feel his hands melting into the steering wheel.  His body molded to the seat and his feet one with the pedals.  He began to hum Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones.  His heart was in sync with the engine.  Each rotation of the pistons caused his blood to pump a bit faster.  
He could hear the high winding single over head cammed V-12 of the Ferrari P3s and the 275 GTBs. The 906 Porsches the Germans brought to the race always performed highly at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Anticipation was killing him and finally the flag dropped and he was off.  A few paint swapping hits later he was the first into the turn and he was feeling it.  He came around the sharp turn at Tertre Rouge and kept his foot in it.  By the time he stole a peek at the speedometer he was already over 200 mph.  Life began. 

While the Americans and Russians we're in a race to reach the moon, Ford and Ferrari were in a race to take the place as the premier automobile manufacturer with the most horsepower, durability, and dependability.  Bruce and his race partner Chris Amos would make history.  They didn't land on the moon, pull the troops from Vietnam, or build the Houston Astrodome.  They were simple.  They went faster and longer than everyone else on June 19, 1966. 

By the time the race ended at four o'clock the next day the Ford GT40s had amassed a 1-2-3 victory for the Ford teams.  American muscle had prevailed.  The foreign race cars tucked their tail and ran for cover not just this year but for the next three years.  The muscle of the Ford GT40 managed four wins in a row and lead the way for other American muscle cars to try their hands at the Le Mans.  The Chevy Corvette entered the race a few years later.  American muscle made it's presence known that day.  The world heard the Ford GT40 roar.  And they liked it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Gehen Nach Links"

Lukas and Janina stood in line together watching the guard at the front. They could only see him either point left or point right.  They could hear women screaming as the men tried to calm them down by telling them it was going to be alright.  It wasn't going to be alright.  That was a lie meant to suppress what reality was really upon this group of people.  The line wrapped around the corner.  People were crying and weeping.  Some even tried to run off but were shot down or beat to death in their attempt to escape. 

They reached the front of the line. The guard looked at them both.  His eyes fixated on Lukas.  Just being in the presence of such evil was overwhelming and cold.  The barrel of the guards Sturmjgewehr 44 pressed against his chest, still warm from shooting a young man moments before.  It was a reminder to Lukas to keep his place.

The guard starred Lukas in the eyes as he pointed to Janina and yelled, "Gehen Nach Links!"  This meant 'to the left' in German.  If you were lucky, the SS would say 'to the right' and you would live while doing hard labor for the Nazis. Your death was postponed by going to the right.

"Janina!" Lukas screamed at the top of his lungs.  "Janina! I love you!"

Lukas was fighting with the guard and smacked the barrel away from his chest. He hugged his little sister and they sobbed together for a moment.  A couple of SS ran over and separated them, each one took a rifle butt to the face.  Janina was knocked out while Lukas fell to the ground face first.  He could see her face through a puff of dirt and dust.  Time stood still.  His thoughts wandered around their childhood.  Playing in the fields of Lublin with his sister.  Laughing as they ran from one field to the next, over the rolling hills and into the tree line to hide from their parents.  He could picture her smiling face as their parents found them hiding in the woods.  They always played hide and seek.  He wished they could play it now.

Lukas was suddenly lifted off the ground by his belt and thrown over to the right where other SS guards pushed him in the right direction.  He looked back only to see Janina being drug by her feet, still unconscious.  He knew that being told 'Geneh nach links' meant that you were going to be executed.  He wept silently that night, as did every one every night.

Up until this day, Lukas and Janina had been living in a Nazi established ghetto run by the Judenrat.  No one was allowed to leave the ghetto.  Once you got there you stayed there.  The Nazis had allowed their father, Norbert, to continue running his craftsman shop.  They had all been promised a better life with constant access to food, shelter, water, and the basic human needs.  What they received was the opposite.

Starting in March of 1942, the Nazis began shipping about 1,500 people a day to death camps.  The population of the ghetto was about 34,000 at this time.  Most were deported to Belzec, another death camp.  Most of them were murdered in the forest before ever reaching the camp.  After slaughtering about 30,000 of the Jews, the remaining four or five thousand were sent to a small ghetto called Majdenek.  This is where Lukas and Janina ended up.  It was a death camp and the final resting place for them all.

Lukas was surprised one day in May of 1943 when he saw their father Norbert walking through the crowd.  He could barely recognize him.  Malnourished and hollow, they stood and hugged each other while the chimneys sent smoke into the morning air.  They stood there half naked and wept.  The occasional gun shot rang out that morning, more so than normal. 

"How many souls do you think have been set free through those stacks?" Norbert nodded his head towards the large brick ovens as he asked the question.

"Just as many as through that building I assume," replied Lukas.  He looked over at the wooden building that had 'Bad und Desinfektion' written on it.  This meant Bath and Disinfection in German.

"I love you son.  This world has become entrenched with evil and hatred. So much that its growing unstoppable yet tolerable by the masses."

"I love you too Dad.  I love you too."

They both wept out loud. 

"I want to see Janina," Lukas said as he feel to his knees.  "I just want to see her face and tell her how much I miss her!  I want to see Mom!" 

Norbert grabbed him up and got him to his feet.  "Son, look around.  Look around at where we are at.  Why?  Why are we here?  We can leave any time.  Any time we want son.  You understand me?"

They looked around.  There were bodies caught in the barbed wire from those that tried to escape or simply just threw themselves onto it to bleed themselves to death.  There were bodies lying in the dirt, covered with flies.  The smell of death was every where.  It stuck in their noses. 

They hugged again and walked to the front of the line.  They stripped off their ragged shorts, standing there naked they walked into the rugged wooden building.

"We're coming home," they both whispered.

They walked in holding hands.

Note from the Author---Lublin served as a German headquarters for the main German effort to exterminate the Jews in occupied Poland. Lublin's Jewish population was forced into the Lublin Ghetto. The majority of the ghetto's inhabitants, about 34,000 people, was deported to the Belzec Death Camp. The remainder were moved to facilities around Majdanek,a large concentration camp established at the outskirts of the city. Most of them were killed by the wars end.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sky Soldiers

Tony Soprano. Thomas Edison. Salt water taffy. Baseball and boardwalks.  All originated from New Jersey and have helped define the state's character.  The first boardwalk in the world was built in Atlantic City in 1870. At the same time, salt water taffy was being produced for the first time. Thomas Edison created the light bulb, the first movie, and the phonograph. The first city to ever have been lit by electricity was in New Jersey and the first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken in 1846. There is a lot of history in New Jersey.  All the above are wonderful attributes that have helped shape the way we see the state. This is a story about an older black man named Gilbert. I first met him while walking down the street.  He asked if I could spare some change.

"Excuse me sir. Could you please spare some change? I'm hungry."

I kept walking like so many times before. But for some reason I turned around and noticed his jacket and a familiar patch on it.  It read, "Sky Soldiers."  The patch was very distinctive with a dagger and a parachute. I had seen this insignia before on my late fathers jacket. I was shocked.

"I'm sorry sir. Can I buy you lunch or something?"

He smiled and said gratefully, "Yes, son. I would love that."

We walked across the street to a small diner. We sat and he took off his jacket. It was at this point I noticed his left arm. It was missing from the elbow down.

Our conversation was a a simple one. We exchanged pleasantries and I shared with him my reason for my visit to New Jersey. At one point in the conversation he jokingly asked if I was here looking for Snookie. We both laughed so hard that most everyone in the diner turned to look at us. Some couldn't stop starring and I assume they were wondering what a well dressed individual was doing with this apparent homeless man. 

Our conversation went on and we eventually began talking about his service to our country and I mustered up the courage to gracefully ask about his injury to his arm. 

His eyes told his story almost as well as his words. You could tell from this man's demeanor and conversation that he was an intelligent person, not a typically person from the streets.  He was worn but his soul and love for this country was apparent.

"On February 22nd 1967, during the Vietnam war, my brigade, the 173rd Airborne, parachuted into the Tay Nihn Province.  We called it War Zone C.  We were the only ones to ever conduct a parachute combat mission during the war.  Operation Junction City.  The locals called us the Sky Soldiers."

I could see some pain and pride in his eyes. His head was held high as we spoke. He continued to tell a few stories as he swallowed up his food.

"Later that summer, we were deployed to Dak To.  We were under heavy sniper fire and that's when I was hit in my arm. We called this Hill 875.  The North Vietnamese were throwing grenades and peppering us with small arms fire. I was standing next to my good friend Karl when I dropped my cig. I reached down to get it and was hit in the arm, right by my elbow.  It was gone instantly and I fell to the ground."

"Holy cow," I said.  I found what he said next to be most surprising.

"I consider myself lucky.  You know those snipers over there never missed.  They were known for their head shots.  There's no doubt that he was aiming for my head."

"It's kind of ironic that a cigarette saved your life huh?"

"Son, you're right.  The funny thing is that I never smoked another one after that day.  I quit cold turkey. You know we lost a lot of good men during those two operations.  875 took its toll on us.  We lost half of the 173rd during that operation.  Many of those young men left in worst shape than me."

We had our own moment of silence for a minute or two.  It was a comfortable silence. The Mets were playing the Yankees that day and from the small television in the corner we could hear the National Anthem being sung. I could see him silently singing it to himself.  He was rubbing the Presidential Unit Citation he received for his heroism in the war.

We sat there for a little longer when he finally asked me what my name was. 

"My name is Nathan.  Nathan Karl Bedford from Atlanta Georgia."

His eyes lit up. "I knew a Karl Bedford," he said with surprise.

I slowly looked up with a tear in my eye and said, "I know.  I know you did."

To this day, I still keep contact with Gilbert.  He has shared with me many stories of my father. We write back and forth.  He still sleeps at the same mission and still volunteers his time to the community.  He has received awards from the state for his dedication to veterans and work in the community.  The man who has nothing has more than most Americans.

God bless America and those that have and continue to fight for our country.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Noodles and Needs

LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE.  It was monogrammed on the wall in the front foyer of the Jones' Tuscan style home. These words were surrounded by several black and white photos displaying the various cities the couple had visited throughout the years. Pictures from the whites sands of St. Lucia and beaches of Morocco to the Swiss Alps and all the way to the mountain fortress Machu Picchu in Peru.  What seemed like hundreds of pictures lined the hallway. The home was absolutely stunning with custom Spanish tiles, a large fountain spewing bubbly crystal clear water, and more extravagant and ornate wood work than a Victorian mansion. The three story entryway was grand and the twelve foot glass and iron doors enabled visitors to peer through the house, through the back wall of windows, and directly in to the plush backyard that housed a magnificent swimming pool.

David went to college with Lester Jones. They were college roommates and good friends. They each studied physics and graduated with honors. David went on to graduate school and Lester ventured out on his own.  He always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Lester eventually started a computer programing company that assisted NASA with launch information, blast data, and many other things not understood by the common folks. He had recently sold the company and was certainly blessed to be able to retire early.  He was only 45. Lester married a beautiful Puerto Rican named Janina when he graduated. He meet her at a physics conference in Philly and they were married a few months later.

David learned all this when he bumped into Lester at the grocery store a few weeks ago. They had no idea they even lived in the same state much less the same town. It was like a reunion that day in the store. They swapped a few stories and had a few laughs.  They talked for ten minutes discussing how they could live just 15 miles from each other and not know.

"Dave, buddy. You need to come by. In fact, my wife is throwing a surprise birthday party for me in a couple weeks.  Come by.  Let's catch up."

"Doesn't sound like much of a surprise huh?"

"My wife isn't very good at it.  So how long have you been married now?"

"About twenty years. You remember Anna from Dr. Krafter's class our senior year?"

"Yeah, I sure do. Oh my God. You two? You married her?  She was a fox."

"No. The girl that sat next to her, Christi," laughed David.  "And who calls a girl a fox anymore?"

"I guess I'm stuck in my teenage mind but what a beautiful place that mind is," joked Lester. "But seriously I want you and Christi to come by a week from this Saturday. Janina just had a new pool put in so she thought no better way to celebrate my birthday than to have a pool party. It's not a big party or a big deal either. Come by around 3:00 or so, please don't bring a gift. It's not really that kind of party besides I feel weird when people show up with presents and things.  Bring a bottle of wine if you want to."

David and Christi pulled up to the guard shack at the front of the Jones' subdivision.

"We are here to see the Jones."

"No problem sir," replied to guard. "You can find their house two streets down on the left. Pull up to the valet and they will park for you."

"Oh OK.  Thanks."

"Swanky friends you have David," she said jokingly.

"Yeah.  This place is pretty nice. A valet for a party?"

They pulled around to the valet and stepped out of their Honda Civic. The valet proceeded to park it amongst a few Mercedes, Lexus, and some type of foreign sports cars and convertible.

He took a deep breath. "OK.  Let's hit it," he said.

They began the walk up to the majestic entrance to the home and was greeted at the door by Janina. The lovely Janina flashed her million dollar smile and she tightened the bikini wrap tied around her waste.  She was stunning.

"Oh my goodness! Hi there!" Janina said in a thick Puerto Rican accent. "Lester has told me all about you!  Come in please."

We stepped in the foyer and immediately heard Lester scream, "Cannonball" and launch himself into the pool.

"Oh that Lester.  Please let me take the wine.  I'll sit it over with the rest of the bottles.  You can set you gift over with the rest."  She gave each a hug.

David did bring a small gift.  General rule of thumb says he has to show up with a gift to a birthday party, regardless of if the host says not to.  He looked over toward the fireplace where the was a stack of large presents, with exquisite wrapping paper, bows, and streamers.  David clinched his gift as he walked over to drop zone. He was obviously a little apprehensive to place his small gift that was shroud in crinkly old paper and an old Christmas bow amongst the perfectly wrapped quests' gifts.  When he returned to his wife's side.

David inconspicuously whispered in Christy's ear. "I think some people bought him a gas grill? Look at the size of some of those presents. He may even have a flat screen TV over there!"

So the evening went on and Lester was introducing David and his wife to all the guests.  Some guests were dressed to the nines and some were wearing their bathing suits and enjoying the swim up pool bar seats under the waterfall. It was a beautiful afternoon to have a pool party. 

David has been teaching physics at the local high school since a he graduated.  Not the best paying job in the world but it's a living he loved sharing his knowledge.  You could tell by the way some of his conversation went with the other guests.  He would get over their head while explaining anything related to his profession.

So the fire pit was lit and Lester was sitting up by the presents.  His wife tapped her glass and called attention in the room.  She thanked everyone for coming and stated Lester was going to open his presents.  Lester being a modest fellow first declined but Janina has a way of talking anyone into anything.

"What kind of party is this? Who opens gifts in front of all their guests?  That's for seven year olds not grown adults," he again whispered to Christi.

So Lester began opening his gifts.  A gas grill, Tiffany crystal, fancy artwork, and cases of fancy wine like Silver Oak and  Antinori Solaia.  He then grabbed David's gift.

"This one is from David and his wonderful wife Christi. I haven't seen David in 20 years and we happened to run into each other a few weeks ago.  What a pleasure it is to have them here this evening."

"Just for the record, I did not have any doing in picking the gift," joked Christi.

Lester pealed the paper off it and just starred at it for a few seconds. He then looked up directly at David and again starred for a few seconds before he spoke.

"Really?  This is what you got me? I can't believe this."

Everyone turned around to look at David. He just stood there feeling out of place, almost out of his league with this group of people.

"Are you kidding me," Lester said. "This is awesome!"

He pulled out a pack of Ramen Noodles and proudly held them up so everyone could see. 

"Oh man, we ate these things every day of our life for four years in college.  You even got the beef flavor kind! Guys, this man and I shared some of the best times of our life together.  Many of the memories we have forgotten but as soon as I saw these Ramen Noodles I recalled many things I haven't thought of in decades. We would have some of our best discussions over various physics theories and other nerdy topics that aren't of interest to much of you here tonight."  He began to tear up a little bit and walked over and hugged David then gently kissed Christi on her check.

"He whispered, "You have a wonderful man here with a wonderful heart."

Long after all the guests left and the hustle and bustle of the party left the house, David and Lester were found in the kitchen making beef Ramen Noodles and drinking the eight dollar bottle of wine he and Christi brought. Something about this day and this party brought things into perspective for everyone.

"Dave, out of all the gifts I got tonight, which by the way, I didn't know Janina told the other guests to bring one, these Ramen Noodles and cheap wine are the ones that I will cherish forever.  He raised his glass.  "Here's to lifelong friendships that are full of many years of void and many years of memories.  I hope to enjoy many more memories with you guys. Salud." 

They all tapped their plastic cups in agreement.