Monday, August 10, 2015

A Standing Indignity

It was the sort of day that felt like the summer sun bared a personal grudge against the city below. Even the winds that occasionally gathered before sweeping through the area, were hot and arid, offering all the relief of an oversized hairdryer aimed at the face. On this particular August afternoon in Union City, I was 15, and on my way to Bronco Billy's pizza parlor for both a peperoni slice, and to play the 'Marvel Super Heroes' arcade. With me was Dolos, and Archon.

We taking the same shortcut a majority of kids living in that area used; the railroad tracks. On hot days the rocks, metal rails, and brick walls wafted with heat. Such shaved off a significant amount of time when walking to places such as the park, Alavrado middle school, and various stores, but only in exchange for noticeably dusty shoes. It was smart to keep a cloth, or old rag in your pocket to use at walk's end.

Upon exiting the railroad tracks we arrived on the street to discover the snarl of commuting traffic that was common for that time of day. Dolos, and Archon were talking about a music album as I noticed a motorcycle cop driving pass. He slowed his vehicle, and watched us, until making a right turn just around the corner. I was instantly host to the sinking feeling that something unpleasant was about to go down.

“Hey,” I called to both of my friends over my shoulder.

“What's up?” Dolos asked.

“I think we're about to have a problem.” I explained after coming to a stop.

“What?” Archon asked as he began looking about. “What's wrong?”

“The cop that just passed by is going to come back.” I informed them.

“What?” Dolos asked skeptically. “What makes you say that?”

Just then the officer quickly came from around the corner, and began driving directly for us. I frowned internally, doubting he was returning to ask for directions, or just to introduce himself, and say 'hello'.

“Does that answer your question?” I replied to Dolos without taking my eyes off the motorcycle cop.

“What the fuck did we do?” Archon asked irritably.

“Besides being Black? I really can't say.” I answered truthfully.

“Great. Because we need this.” Dolos laughed with vexed disbelief.

Pulling to a stop next to the curb just several feet away from us, the cop immediately dismounted his motorcycle, drew his sidearm, and took aim in our general direction. Sadly, I felt no surprise. Instead there was only a bitter resignation that this was nothing new. It could have been that I was just very cynical at that age. Or, then again, maybe I just had a firm understanding to how U.S society operated when you had a bit of extra pigment in your skin. Despite Oakland, and Union City being two wholly separate cities, the situations were identical. Preforming the same play on different stages does not make it a brand new story, as the characters, costumes, and script always remains the same.

“Keep your hands where I can see them, and get down on the ground.” The cop quickly demanded.

“Well, isn't this a sonofabitch.” I muttered to myself as I began following the given commands.

“Wait! What did we do?” Dolos asked in surprise.

“What's with the gun? We haven't done anything, and we don't have any weapons!” Archon angrily chimed in.

“I said get on the FUCKING ground, NOW!” The cop demanded more aggressively.

“Don't give him a reason.” I called to both friends on my knees.

Living in Oakland, I had witnessed enough overzealous, violent, and frequently racist cops to know how quickly the situation could escalate over even a perceived minor insult. The miserable irony is that this is exactly how the gang-bangers in my old neighborhood operated as well. “Disrespect them” and they will hurt, or even possibly kill you. The only difference is one side is punished for such a mentality, while the other is awarded, and praised for identical behavior.

“I said face down!” The cop reminded us. It would seem even on our knees, with both hands behind our head, the deadly art of negro magic meant we were still somehow a viable threat to him. We of course complied.

So, there we were, lying face down on a dusty, hot sidewalk, in the middle of the late afternoon commute, a spectacle for every passing motorist. To this very day, I can only imagine how many adults, saw three Black kids being held at gunpoint by an overzealous cop, and simply figured we were guilty of something that made it perfectly acceptable to point an instrument of death at us. Perhaps, the same way they automatically assumed my friends, and I were guilty because the color of our skin, they too also assumed the cop was justified by nothing more than the office he served.

“While we're down here, is it too much to ask why this is happening?” I called over to the cop.

Quiet.” He replied harshly before pulling his radio free to begin speaking with someone.

“Bullshit. Complete bullshit.” I heard Dolos mumble.

“Good job, officer.” I heard a woman suddenly call out from the street. Looking over, I saw an older White woman waving at her new hero from her car, before rejoining the natural flow of traffic. I cannot begin to describe just how reassuring that was. To know there was an adult, happily congratulating another adult for forcibly detaining us kids for nothing, while pointing a weapon at us, was indescribably uplifting.

“Yo, this sidewalk is really hot.” Archon voiced unhappily.

“Deal with it.” Was the cop's only reply before he returned to whatever it were he was doing.

This situation continued for a while. Us lying there, the cop waiting to hear back about whatever it was that was happening, and traffic slowly rolling by to stare at us. A good time was being had by all. Just as I beginning to wonder if this was all a secret experiment to record what would give out first; our skin on the hot sidewalk, or our sense of dignity in the face of such humiliating treatment, the cop acknowledged an update over the radio then returned to us.

“Alright. You are all free to go.” The cop said as breezily as one would say; 'Hey, thanks for stopping by. Catch you later.'

“Now, can you please tell us what this was all about?” I asked after getting to my feet, and beginning to dust off my now very dirty clothing.

“Five suspects broke into a house. Reports said they were potentially Latino or Pakistani.” The officer replied.

There was a palpable moment of disbelief that silently ignited between Dolos, Archon, and I, as we exchanged looks of bitter skepticism. It was Dolos who began laughing as he turned and began walking back towards the tracks.

“Right.” I said after looking between my friends and then back to the cop.

“What?! There are only three of us, we're Black, and-- fuck it. Never mind.” Archon waved the explanation off and began following after Dolos.

“I am only doing my job, kid.” The cop replied with an unapologetic tone, and put his mirror shades back on. Sometimes cliches exist because they are just real.

“Whatever gets you through the night, officer.” I shook my head, then turned and followed my friends.

After all that, none of us were in the mood for pizza, or video games anymore.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

10 Sinister Reasons Gay Marriage Will Destroy America

1: Many highly respected naturalist have frequently pointed out that Unicorns were once very real, and quite magical animals. Unfortunately, they also were all either Gay or Lesbian, and thus went extinct because they stopped reproducing.

2: Now that the U.S has allowed itself to be swayed into supporting the evils of Gay Marriage, Jesus will decide to abandon this country, instead choosing to offer his loving, and compassionate patronage to a country that demonstrate an understanding, and acceptance of his moral values through a steadfast love of malicious homophobia. Now godless, America will have to desperately petition other, albeit, lesser known deities for support. Such as Nick; God of Waffles & Biscuits. Or Suzy; Goddess of Red Kick Balls.

3: Now that Gays can get married they will, for the first time ever, greedily decide they also want the rights to experience the full package of a loving relationship, thus they will begin wanting to also adopt. Such audacity will reduce employment for foster parents, orphanages, and social workers. Nothing is more Unamerican than knowingly taking away jobs from American citizens.

4: Health experts have released new findings that warn if you touch a Gay person, then eat without washing your hands, there is a solid 30% chance you will contract the Gay.

5: Now irrefutable evidence proves there is a direct correlation between Gay Marriage, the decrease in the oceans Shark populations, the plummeting quality of Adam Sandler films, the increasing wealth gap, California's water drought, and the extinction of the Tasmanian Devil.

6: There is a credible quantum physics theory that predicts there can only exist one type of marriage at any given time. This means because now Gay Marriage-- which is totally a thing-- has come into existence, now Straight Marriage-- which is a totally separate thing-- will automatically begin to lose matter, and energy, slowly fading out of existence. Far worse, it is further theorized that any babies born to these straight unions, who were not at least 3 years of age,when Gay Marriage came into existence, will also cease to exist.

7: Protect your children. Leading child psychologist, from all sorts of prestigious institutes in numerous locations, argue that teaching children “tolerance”-- which in reality is just the sneakier, alcoholic, and closeted cousin of “acceptance”-- will lead to curiosity, and curiosity will inevitably lead to homosexuality, because that is totally how it works.

8: Homosexuality is deviancy. A common trait among Gays, and lesbians is narcissistic selfishness, as is evident by their community's blatant power grab concerning the rainbow. Through legal wrangling, and constant lobbying in Washington, it will soon become illegal for anyone, who is not Gay or Lesbian, to use any of the colors making up the rainbow, as such will incur litigation on grounds of fraud, and copyright infringement.

9: Mars once supported Homosexuality. Look at it now...

10: Archeologist found fragments of ancient writings, somewhere along the southern eastern west side of the earth, proving that Lesbianism is not a natural phenomenon. In the beginning there was only one Lesbian, and much like vampirism, it began to spread after she bit another woman. These ancient people could not halt the contagion of Lesbianism because they lacked the sophisticated understanding of biology, and medical science we now take for granted. Unlike our ancestors, it is common knowledge that a woman who is bitten by a Lesbian, can be cured through immediate medical treatment; I.E gently applying a penis to the affected area, 4 times a day, for 3 days, before the next full moon. Treatment should definitely not exceed the officially recommended daily dosage, as penis burn to the skin may occur.

Monday, July 27, 2015


So, I hung with two different groups of kids growing up. The second group, down the block and around the corner, was Victor, Jermaine, Mohammed & his brother Ali (I could not make that one up), Rory, Charles, Domo, Ty, I and a few others. We all lurked around this 2 story apartment complex. It was the place we conducted all our games, experiments, and other manner of ill-advised ideas.

One game in particular-- which I would like to inform you fair ladies and gents, I was, and still am the extremely proud inventor of-- was this version of “Hide & Seek” that we all called “Jason”, as in the homicidal, undead, cock-blocking, murder-machine from the Friday the 13th movie franchise. You see, “Jason” had all the same basic rules as the original game, but through the miracle of modern science we also successfully incorporated a plastic meat cleaver, and old Jason Voorhees mask, that I had left over from a previous Halloween.

The kid who was “It”, had to wear the mask, and tag out runners before they reached the safety of the the apartment's front steps. But the rules were that Jason had to touch you with the actual meat cleaver to tag you out, which was considered a “kill”. For even more demented fun, anytime someone was tagged out, they had to scream like they had just been murdered. Just imagine how much all the parents, and other adults of the neighborhood probably loved, and appreciated our theatrical death cries.

Did I forget to mention we only played this game during the evenings? We did this because we wanted our games to have the same sophisticated, and nuanced atmosphere of the movies.

So this one time, Jermaine’s older brother, Shawn-- who was obviously bored out of his mind-- came out to watch a couple of rounds of “Jason”. He thought it was all pretty funny. Imagine our awed shock when he, who was 17 years old, offered to join in with us mostly 4th and 5th graders. But he said he would only do so if he could play the killer. We all eagerly agreed. Now, looking back, I do not think it ever remotely occurred to any of us that Shawn was bigger, faster, stronger, coincidentally wearing all black, and could most likely swing a pretty mean pretend meat cleaver.

So, on that particularly clear summer night, the games commenced in all its creepy glory. Perhaps because he was in a particularly magnanimous mood, Shawn decided to extend the normal 10 seconds count to 20. Everyone bolted in every direction,

I had not been hiding long before I heard the first victim's scream. After hearing a second, and then third unfortunate recipient of a meat cleaver to the extremities, and/or sternum, I carefully crept from behind the bushes in hopes of reaching the safety zone. Just before I was going to take my chances, I heard running coming from around the corner behind me. I quickly ducked and rolled under a nearby car. Lying there on my stomach, I watched Jason creep by in search of more victims. Only after I was certain it was as clear as it was going to get, I crawled from under the vehicle, and hurried off in the opposite direction to the apartment's backyard.

There were two ways to enter the backyard. The actual entrance, a wooden gate at the front of the apartments, near the community parking area. And the other was by way of a single, missing plank that left a small gap in the tall, wooden fence at the rear of the property. My only safe option was the latter. I was surprised to find 5 out of the 9 other boys all hiding there.

Another scream from somewhere nearby signaled the end of another victim, and then silence. The killer was lurking somewhere out there and we had no idea where. The last survivors, and I, split our surveillance between watching the hole in the fence, and the front entrance at the start of the long straightaway nestled between the apartment, and neighboring house.

Did anyone see him?” The first boy asked.

No.” The second replied nervously.

We should just make a break for it!” A third chimed in.

But which way?” The first asked.

If we all run it won't matter!” The third reasoned.

No! He's super fast! He could kill everyone!” The second warned.

Indecision kept us all rooted back there. On one hand we all could have made a desperate sprint for the safe zone, but Jason could have been waiting to ambush us. On the other, we could have made the classic-- and might I add tactically sound-- choice often demonstrated in many of horror films, and split up to take our individual chances of sneaking to safety. Then the choice was made for us when Jason suddenly came barreling down the straightaway with his cleaver held at ready.

Oh shit!” One of the boys yelled before we all rushed for the hole in the fence. Unfortunately, one of the “heavier” boys attempted to go through the makeshift exit first, and promptly clogged it with his wedged bulk. In a mixture of excited laughter, and nervous screams, we began trying to save the heavier kid, and ourselves, by attempting to force him the rest of the way through.

He's going to kill us all!” Someone exclaimed.

We’re all going to die, you fat bastard!” Another yelled.

Shit! He's almost here! He's almost here!” A third warned over, and over.

Jermaine, and I, exchanged a look, then as if the plan was agreed upon on some telepathic level, we both jumped at the same time, grabbed a top of the fence, and scurried over it just as Jason arrived to begin slaughtering all the others. In true horror movie fashion we ran for safety without looking back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Means to an End

I initially met Bragi, and Mimir through mutual acquaintances. At some point we began frequently hanging out together. Though the three of us were in our early 20's at the time, I was a couple or so years older than both of them.

Bragi was brash, humorous, and often loud. His approach to the world was about as methodical as a drunk bull in a china shop. He held a great reverence for all things rap, and hip-hop. For him the art was almost like a religion, and Tupac was its prophet.

Mimir was more reserved, leisurely, and viewed the world with a sort laid back cynicism. He was rarely disappointed by bad news, or negativity, because he did not expect much from people. He spent most of his time playing video games, watching television, and working out.

Bragi, and Mimir were the type of young guys who had a great deal of potential, but were weighed down by history, negative aspects of culture, and their own disbelief in their capabilities. Large portions of their days were often spent leisurely smoking blunts, playing video games, and listening to music. I found myself in the strange position of trying to make sure they attended the classes they signed up for at the local community college. Surprisingly, I was able to motivate them far more times than not. Mimir was eying the Navy more, and more. Bragi was uncertain what to do with himself, leaving a hint of sad frustration that occasionally surfaced when we discussed the future.

Admittedly, they were both often involved in some rather questionable activities. Mimir had a part time job, but made the frayed ends meet by selling weed. Bragi did the same, but also sold a few harder drugs. Such left me frequently worried about the both of them. It is lamentably easy for young Black men, and women to find themselves snared within the nearly inescapably tangle that is the U.S Prison System, even for the most minor offenses. I sometimes feared one, or perhaps even both of them, could meet such a fate.

It was an extremely hot afternoon that day we sat in Mimir's apartment. The front room was left mostly dim due to a majority the curtains, and shades being drawn shut. Only a single window, with an old, large fan, somehow wedged into place in front of it, was left open to provide air. Surprisingly, such methods helped in keeping his apartment rather cool. Bragi, and I, sat across from one another at a circular glass table in the kitchen. Just across from us, Mimir was watching television from a large black couch.

“Are you sure you're Black?” Bragi asked with feigned skepticism as he continued unloading the tin of domino pieces.

“Not sure where this is going. But seeing as there is nothing else to do, I'll bite. why do you ask?” I replied.

“How can dislike most soul foods, and not know how to play dominoes, but still call yourself Black?” He continued which caused Mimir to chuckle from where he continued channel surfing.

“My mistake. I had no idea I was genetically predispose to such things. I promise to get right on top of it.” I picked up a few of the domino pieces, and glanced over them with little interests.

“Now you know, nigga.” Bragi smirked.

“So, you want me to call you a dumbass before, or after you go writing your groundbreaking thesis on this topic?” I inquired politely before unscrewing the top of the large, dark brandy bottle, then partially filling both our glasses.

“Haha fuck you.” Bragi laughed and began arranging the pieces. “You'll thank me after you learn how to play. Dominoes is fun as hell.”

“Funny,” I examined one of the pieces. “I was thinking it looks quite the opposite.”

“What? Why would so many people love playing if its boring?” Bragi challenged.

“Lack of imagination, and other games to play?” I responded.

“Just shut up, and listen. You'll see.” Bragi promised confidentially.

“Right.” I began making a small house with five of the dominoes. “This is actually more like something a teacher, or parent would have a kid do in order to disguise they were just learning math.”

“So, what's the problem? You love all that book shit.” Bragi said.

“Yeah, but I absolutely loath math.” I explained.

“Hey, did either of you know there were dolphins that live in fresh water?” Mimir suddenly called out with noticeable excitement.

“What? You a damn lie. All dolphins live in the ocean.” Bragi called back in disbelief.

“Dude on the television just said it. Their even showing footage of them right now.” Mimir pointed indignantly at the television with his remote.

“Its true. They live in rivers in the amazon.” I added while still toying with a few dominoes. “I think their called Pink Dolphins, or Amazon River Dolphins-- or something.”

“Yeah. That is just what the dude filming this said.” Mimir confirmed. “That's weird, right? Who the fuck would have thought there are dolphins in the amazon.”

“How in hell did you know that?” Bragi asked me curiously.

“Because while you bastards were busy watching BET, I was actually reading books.” I replied over my drink, causing them to both laugh.

“What the fuck ever.” Bragi laughed and began setting up the pieces. “I've never watched BET past a couple of videos. All the shit on that channel is so goddamn stupid.”

Bragi continued trying to demonstrate the apparent greatness that was dominoes, and though I gave it a chance, I held little to no interests in the game. I honestly could not find the appeal then, or now. I would have probably had more fun building houses with the pieces. I glanced up from our game when I noticed music had been playing on the television for a while.

“Is that BET?” I asked.

“Yeah.”Mimir nodded. “Why?”

“Weren't we just talking about not watching BET?” Bragi remarked, and craned his neck towards the television.

“I literally only stopped here a couple of minutes ago to hear a few song.” Mimir replied defensively.

“Bullshit you did. It has been at least 20 minutes.” Bragi said.

“Fine. Whatever. I'm changing the channel now.” Mimir held the control up in a way so we could both see him actively looking for something new. “There! Here's some muthafuckas running from the cops. You both happy back there?”

“Isn't that SPIKE TV?” I asked suspiciously.

“Come on, find something else. I hate cops.” Bragi smirked. “The fuckin show, and the occupation.”

“Yeah. Why?” Mimir asked.

So, you basically just left a channel that cater to dumb Black guys, in order to go to a channel that cater to dumb White guys.” I asked.

“That shit is true.” Bragi nodded in agreement. “The only difference BET and Spike, is that Spike is just dumb in a White sort of way.”

“There really isn't any pleasing you assholes.” Mimir began channel surfing again.

There was a tentative knock at the door. I would have mostly ignored it had I not noticed Bragi, and Mimir's reaction. While not dramatically so, they both seemed to grow pensive. With an exchanged look, Bragi stood to answer the door, and Mimir dramatically lowered the volume on the television.

After a brief glance through the peephole, Bragi unlocked, and opened the door. “Sup?” He asked the unseen figure.

“Hey. We talked about getting that thing off of you.” A young man replied.

“Come in.” Bragi opened the door to allow the young man entry. He was a fair-skinned, Asian kid that looked to be just shy of his 20's. A little taller than average, he wore a baggy t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. It was clear he felt nervous.
“Hold up a sec.” Bragi instructed before departing to the back of the apartment.

This left a sort of awkward silence. The kid slipped his hands into his pocket, and shifted a bit on his feet. He intentionally avoided looking over at me. Mimir went back to channel surfing but I doubt he was really focused much on the television at that point. I did not like the situation but I kept such to myself. Instead, I toyed with the dominoes, and nursed my drink, while keeping a subtle watch on what was developing. Somehow I was not terribly shocked when Bragi returned wearing a pair of gloves, and carrying a large handgun.

“You know how to use this?” Bragi asked the kid as he approached.

“Yeah. I mean-- sort of.” The kid eagerly nodded.

“Remember, the laser sight works like this.” Bragi stopped next to the kid, held out the empty firearm towards the far wall, then squeezed something on the handle that painted a small red dot on the plaster.

“That's fucking awesome.” The kid laughed nervously.

“Yeah. Something like that.” Bragi nodded tentatively and stepped back. “This works for you?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.” The kid exchanged a few bills for the gun. He looked the weapon over with a mixture of excitement and caution. For a moment I found myself wondering who this kid was, and what was going on in his life that left him feeling like he needed a gun. Then I reminded myself I did not want to know.

“If shit goes down, remember to keep in mind what we talked about.” Bragi added more seriously.

“I found it.” The kid nodded eagerly. “We done?”

“Looks like.” Bragi nodded. “Take easy out there.”

“Thanks. You don't know how much I needed this.” After an exchanged fist bump with Bragi, the kid shoved the handgun down into the front of his jeans, pulled the door open, and left.

Then the volume of the television returned to normal, and Bragi returned to the table. I looked between both of them, weighing if I wanted to ask any questions, or keep myself well within the honest range of plausible dependability.

“Moving into weapons trafficking, are we?” I finally asked Bragi.

“Come on, brotha. Don't preach.” Bragi replied before taking off his gloves, and picking up his glass.

“Not going to. Just saying those are some pretty heavy charges if you get caught.” I began toying with the dominoes I was still trying to make sense of.

“It's a one time thing.” Bragi shrugged. “I had one, he needed one, so we set up a deal. Shit gets hot out there sometimes. Who am I to judge why he needs a piece? Maybe he has beef. Or maybe someone has beef with him.” He took a swallow from his drink then began arranging the pieces again. “Either way, its none of my business.”

“I guess.” I nodded. “Just be careful not to get caught up in something ugly, you know?”

“Yeah. It's cool.” Bragi waved off my concerns. “Anyway, back to trying to help you be sort of Black.”

“I bet this is how Harriet Tubman got her start. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” I replied causing Mimir to laugh.

The three of us continued hanging out together for at least a couple or so years longer. Then, like many instances, our paths through life eventually led us each in different directions. At the time of this writing, Mimir is married, has two children, and lives nearly halfway across the U.S. The last I heard of Bragi, he had been in and out of jail a couple of times. I have not spoken to either in years. But I still occasionally think of both of them. I always hope they are living good lives.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Incomplete Soldier Pt 2

Basic Training was a carnival of cruelty, pain, and exhaustion. In all my life, perhaps excluding only funerals, I cannot recall another time I have witnessed so many adults openly weeping. Some terrible part of me truly enjoyed the chaos of it all. There was something extremely exhilarating about such physical training, be it the obstacle courses, working out, or training with the SAW. It would be a lie to say there were not times I found myself dusty, muddy, sweaty, and exhausted, while idly wondering to just how I could have gotten myself into such a stupid situation. Yet, those times were brief, because training was mostly filled with a lot of energy and excitement.

Just over a weeks into basic, I was unanimously selected to lead my company, which also meant I carried the training guidon during marches. While the position of “company lead” was less official than that of a department store greeter, I was still immensely honored and humbled to be selected for such. The feeling of having so many people believe in your abilities to lead, solve problems, and aid others, is such an indescribably amazing feeling. With this title came added responsibilities, and coordinating with five other Privates who were selected as platoon leads.

My new duties included keeping morale, resolving conflicts, pushing my fellow Privates to accomplish whatever goals were assigned to us, making sure everyone understood orders, and answering questions concerning said orders, instructions, or what was required. Basically, it was all chores the Drill Sergeants were probably more than pleased not to deal with on a less routine basis.

I managed to form a surprising connection with much of my company. Many of them came to realize they could always talk to me about a problem, or self doubts, when the time allowed it. I tried to constantly encourage everyone to stay the course. Many of them, even the few who were older than myself, began referring to me as “the Old Man”, because there was a commonly shared perspective that I spoke, and conducted myself as someone much older. It was least, in a way.

Originally, after basic, and AIT, my duty station was to be somewhere in North Korea. Such initially sounded rather exciting, however after making so many friends, it felt increasingly crummy knowing a majority of them were going to Iraq without me. I found myself struggling with the idea of so many others going off to face danger, while I would go somewhere relatively safe.

When I first approached a couple of my Drill Sergeants about changing my duty station, in order to follow the rest of the platoon, such was dismissed. Yet, I persisted whenever the chance arose, and finally one of them, DS Andarata, explained I would need to speak with administration. She, and the 1st Sergeant, said they would help arrange an appointment for such.

On one particularly clear, but extremely cold, early morning, the entire company gathered outside before the barracks, preparing for a long march, as the sun was just starting to dilute the once dark sky. We had done such before, but what made this one different, was that we were going to preform such in full gear as to experience what it was like to be on the move while carrying so much weight.

After I was done preparing my on things, and DS Andrata inspected such to make sure it was aligned exactly with the standards of the diagram explaining what belonged where, she only nodded her approval, then instructed me to begin aiding others. Following orders, I began moving from group to group, offering aid where I could, and making sure their own gear prepared correctly. It was only a short time later that I found myself moving over to a group I was more personally familiar with.

There was Pvt. Neith, a slender, dark skinned, African-American girl, fresh out of high school, and a former varsity basketball player. With her bright smile, and almond-shaped, brown eyes, a lot of the guys use to comment on how pretty she was. Next to her was Pvt. Leliel, a blond, blue-eyed, Caucasian kid, from Alaska, who was hoping the Army would help him figure out his life. A lot of the women frequently said he was “striking”. Oddly enough, he and Neith were quite close. It was quietly rumored they were a bit more than squad mates. Of course that sort of thing was strictly forbidden during basic training, so it remained just that, an unsubstantiated rumor. Standing across from them was Specialist Pan, a tall, gangly, Caucasian guy a couple of years older than me, but extremely goofy, loud, and quick with jokes. Pvt. Gorgon, a short Latino kid from New Mexico, was knelled near them still gathering his gear.

“Andarata? Oh, man. She's fine as hell!” Pan was saying to Gorgon just as I arrived.

“And we're off.” Leliel shook his head.

“You might want to stop talking like that. I doubt the Drill Sergeant would appreciate that if he heard you.” Neith warned.

“Hey, its Williams!” Pan exclaimed before grinning as he motioned to where DS Andrata stood near another group. “I know 'the old man' will back me up on this! Isn't Andrata sexy as fuck?”

“I tend not to make it a habit of checking out any of the Drill Sergeants.” I replied while helping Gorgon get his rucksack in order.

“Oh, come on, Williams! You mean to tell me you never noticed?” Pan snorted in belief.

“I tend to try and keep busy, Pan. Much like you should be doing right now.” I advised.

“Well-- that is sort of true. Andrata is pretty hot.” Gorgon spoke up reluctantly.

“For fuck sake, don't encourage him.” Leliel openly groaned.

“Pan isn't completely full of crap this time. Andrata is hot.” Pvt. Taurus chimed in as he suddenly arrived. He was a tall, burly, Latino kid, also fresh out of high school, and a former varsity football player.

“See! See! No man can't not notice an ass like that!” Pan continued with a longing sigh.

“What if he's gay?” I partially joked as I moved to inspect Neith's rucksack. She watched Pan with an obvious look of disgust on her face but I doubt he stopped talking long enough to notice.

“Well, first I feel sorry for that fuckin fairy. And second, I'm not gay, so I get to notice what a fine ass she has.” Pan smirked.

“Wow. I wish she could just punch you right in the face.” Neith shook her head.

“Its cool! I like it rough!” Pan retorted with a grin.

“Come on, dude. Seriously, you need to chill on that.” Leliel explained more seriously.

“If she can make fatigues hot, you know she's got a body.” Taurus followed.

“Don't join in on his pervert party.” Neith frowned at Taurus before turning to me. “Williams, aren't you going to say something?”

“Ignore him, Private Neith. He's not worth the energy. To me, Pan's constant talking is a mild buzz somewhere in the background. We have to be absolutely ready before formation is called. I suggest you focus on that.” I explained to her while helping another Private who came over.

“Dude, come on. She's married, and even has a small kid.” Leliel explained with increased irritation. “And on top of all that, she's one of the Drill Sergeants. Respect her rank”

“Its not like he's raping her or some shit.” Taurus laughed in disbelief. “He's just saying she's fine.”

“What's wrong with me saying I would bang Andrata if I got the chance?” Pan asked with feigned indignation.

Just as I looked up to tell Pan to shut up, and return to preparing his gear, I caught sight of DS Woden approaching the group from behind. When I stood to call “At Ease”, he quickly caught my eyes and simply shook his head. I remained silent and returned to helping others. Drill Sergeants seemed to really enjoy sneaking up on Privates. DS Woden, a veteran of three different campaigns, was a tall, Caucasian man with dark eyes, and a shaved head. He was always extremely harsh but also one of the fairest Drill Sergeant's assigned to our company.

From the direction he was approaching, only I, and possibly Gorgon was able to see him. All the others had their backs to him. I suddenly felt nervous for Pan, while he could be an irritating loud mouth, I still feared what would happen if he was caught speaking such things.

“How is it my fault that I noticed a sexy woman? I'm a guy! We see shit like that!” Pan continued even as D.S Woden came to a stop a mere few feet behind him. “Who wouldn't want to fuck Andrata? Shit! I know I would if she gave me half the chance! I wouldn't give a shit if she was married!”

“So, you want to fuck, D.S Andrata?” D.S Woden finally made his presence known. Pan was a pale guy, but to this day, I can clearly recall the way he grew all the whiter as his eyes widen, and he turned to face one of the worse-case scenarios. The entire group fell silent under the epic weight of a collective, “Oh shit!” moment.

“Drill Sergeant-- no-- I was-- no not-- I wasn't.” Pan stammered fearfully as he took a tentative step backwards.

“No, no, Specialist Pan. There is no reason to be shy. She is a woman, and you are a man after all. How can you resist talking about wanting to fuck her.” Woden feigned understanding as his eyes raked over him.

“Drill Sergeant-- I, I was only--” Pan shook his head and moved another step back.

“At ease!” D.S Woden suddenly snapped at him causing Pan to instantly assume the ordered stance. “Now, what is it you were saying?”

“It was a joke! It was just a joke, Drill Sergeant! I swear to God.” Pan tried to explain.

“Oh. It was just a joke?” D.S Woden seemed to ponder such for a few seconds. “Oh. Now I get it. That is really funny, Specialist Pan. Hey, its so hilarious, that I just want to share it with my old friend, Andrata.” With that her partially turned towards where she was standing some distance away. “D.S Andrata, are you free?”

“Yes. What do you need, D.S Woden?” Andrata responded.

“I just need you to hear this really hilarious joke, by Specialist Pan.” Woden explained before turning back to Pan.

Our group watched tensely as she approached. I could not see Pan's face, but who needed to in order to know he was terrified. I think if any of us were dismissed, most would have hurriedly left the potential blast radius as quickly as possible. Yet, there was perhaps a morbid curiosity to what terrible results were about to occur. Like watching a car speeding towards a brick wall.

“So, what is this great joke?” D.S Andrata inquired upon arriving and folding her arms behind her back.

“Oh, I wouldn't do it justice if I were to try and tell it.” D.S Woden smiled in a rather humorless way at Pan. “Go on, Pan. Tell her.”

“Drill Sergeant-- I wasn't.” Pan's voice was low with fear.

“Tell her, now.” D.S Woden ordered more firmly.

“I-- I was just saying-- I was saying she was attractive.” Pan replied quietly.

“No, no. You are not telling it right, Specialist. Tell her what you were saying, Specialist Pan. If I have to repeat myself again, you are going to hate life for weeks.” D.S Woden's eyes narrowed.

“I--” Pan began again reluctantly. “I said Drill Sergeant Andrata was sexy-- and I wanted to fuck her.”

“I can barely hear this idiot.” D.S Andrata remained stone-face as her eyes searched him over like a pair of threatening daggers. It was more than clear she heard him.

“Speak up.” D.S Woden ordered sharply.

“I said,” Pan began again much louder, but also with a tremble in his voice. “I-- I said Drill Sergeant Andrata was sexy, and I wanted to fuck her-- but I swear-- I swear I was only joking.”

“That is hilarious.” D.S Andrata responded flatly as she continued starring into him.

“Told you it would be.” D.S Woden agreed with a similar humorless sort of tone.

“Why are we keeping this hilarious joke to ourselves? I would feel selfish if the other Drills Sergeants, and even the 1st Sergeant, didn't have a chance to laugh with us.” D.S Andrata explained before she began to look about, then calling the others.

During this entire exchange, I did nothing more than continue waiting for the enviable. It was absolutely no secret that even causing mild annoyance to the Drill Sergeants could result in the entire company getting 'smoked'. Now, seeing that both D.S Woden, and D.S Andrata were clearly, if even quietly pissed, I was truly dreading what sort of punitive consequences were in store for all of us. So, I silently, if even begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a long, long, long day.

Then a miracle happened. Something that felt so magical, that even if I had learned, at that very moment, it was just discovered Christmas and Halloween somehow got together, then had a baby, that resulted in a new holiday filled with masks, lights, treats and presents; it would have still been only the second most magical thing to occur that day.

“I suggest you all move along, Williams. I want everyone ready in exactly 10 minutes. Absolutely no excuses.” D.S Woden finally acknowledge me once more without looking away from Pan.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” I nodded, and despite being stunned, I gathered up all the other Privates, who seemed more than happy to escape what was happening.

Somehow, against the odds, the company was not going to suffer with Pan. Why? Maybe their coming anger was so intense that it needed a single focal point to be released on? Maybe they realized it was only Pan who screwed-up? Or maybe they were just so pissed that they decided to forgo protocol and pour all their wrath on that one guy? Honestly, who gives a hell? There was no way I was going to stick around and question good fortunes.

As we hurried off, all the other Drill Sergeants, and the 1st, were beginning to arrive to hear this new 'hilarious joke' that was suddenly all the rave. I was more than certain not a single one among them was going to laugh at the punchline, regardless of how it was delivered. Specialist Pan was made to regret everyday for over a week.

I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.