Just Another Tequila Sunrise

I used to work graveyard in the switch deparment for the phone company. It was our job to monitor the equipment and do repairs when needed. Three of us were scheduled to be on duty one night and I knew Linda Grey would be reporting in from the switch in the south valley exchanges, she was our rover tonight. George was late and I was getting worried. It was the third time this week and I might have to call the supervisor.  Jim Zimmer was my boss, he covered the second and third shifts.  Jim was known as a straight shooter and good guy.  He never bought into the higher management bull shit and always gave you a straight and honest answer.  You got into trouble, he’d stand up for you in public and kick your ass in private.  Not many supervisors do that these days.  He wanted our best and was willing to cut us some slack when need be.  But George had gone beyond slack.


Just when I was about to pick up the phone and call Jim, George stumbled in, and I do mean stumbled.  He was drunk, unsteady on his feet, red in the eyes and looked ever so much the sloven boozer.  George tried to find his chair but it kept rolling away from him.  Finally it stopped against the wall and George flung himself at the seat.  He almost missed.  Now I was really worried.  This was a fireable offense and George was in his fifties, not likely to find employment, at least in the telecommunications field.  I sat at my desk and knew I should call Jim.  Perhaps ten minutes passed before I decided to rat George out.  Then Jim cam into the room.  He took one look at George, who by now was snoring loud enough to hide the noise of a freight train.  “We got trouble.  A couple of big wigs from the city are headed this way.  Word is they’re scalp hunting.  Take George to number twelve exchange, I’ll cover.  You got any work out there for the next couple of hours?”


I was stunned.  I’d never seen Jim this lenient.  I started to stammer, “Er, ah, yes, there are a few circuit packs the need replacement.  But what about George?”

“There’s a couch in the break room, put him to bed.  The do the work but stay close enough to the phone.  Got it?  I’ll send them out Linda’s way.”


So I, with Jim’s help, loaded George into the company car.  I made sure his seatbelt was fastened, didn’t want to get stopped by the cops.  And I drove out the exchange twelve.  I was going to try and walk him in but his body was just too loose for that.  So I parked as close to the door as I could get and found an armchair on rollers.  It was a struggle to place George on that chair but once there it was a breeze to get him over to the couch and sprawl him out on it.  Then I called reported in.  A strange voice answered, “Zimmer’s on another line, can you hold?”  Tell Mr Zimmer that Bill has found the problem and is working on it.”  Then I hung up.


About three hours later the phone rang.  I was surprised to hear linda’s voice.  “Bill, jim is on his way to see you.  What’s going on over there?”  My reply was simple but brief.  I didn’t know.  “Yeah, thanks a lot, asshole!”  She hung up quite hard.


A little while later Jim appeared.  “Get much work done?”

“Yeah, only one more circuit pack to go.  Whats going on with George”

Jim gave me a stern look.  “Look, this is very confidential, Bill.  I know I can trust you to keep quiet about tonight.”  I followed him to the office and we sat down as if in private conference.  “Bill, I don’t normally mix into my people’s lives, you know.  It’s not my business.  You know how I run things.  You got personal troubles, I’ll listen.  A good boss will do that unless it becomes too often.”

“Well, yeah, you’ve heard me out a couple of times.  Rescued me off that crew of Bob’s.  And I’m grateful.  I owe you.”

“George has marriage problems.  It’s no big secret.  He’s told you a few times abut his troubles, right?”

“Yeah, well, he has said a few things.  I don’t know for sure, but I get the feeling his wife is having an affair.  But it’s not my call.”

“Did he tell you directly?”  I saw the look of concern in Jim’s eyes.

“No, I just figured it that way.  Why, am I right?”

Jim just sighed.  He took his time in answering.  Yes, Bill, you’re right.  Just keep it to yourself, would you?  George needs some time right now and his drinking is not helping his case.  So keep it to yourself.  Why don’t you go and relieve Linda.  Just tell her there was problem finding the right circuit packs and George and I had to go find the right ones.”


The next night when I came to work Jim was there, waiting.  “George is taking a couple of days off.  He’s staying at my place so you will be by yourself most of the night.  Just hold down the fort for a few days and George will be back Monday.  Means you got a couple of days overtime for the weekend.”

“How is George?  You getting him sobered up?”

“Not quite but I did slow him down.  I hope to get him off the booze by Monday.”  Jim took a seat next to mine as a gesture of good will.  “You know, those brown shoes didn’t find anything to carp about.  Ms Jackson was pleased.  Of course she rarely comes down our way to do much of anything.  I swear, these regional managers are like tits on a bull, just as ugly as they are useless.”

We both had a good laugh at that thought.  Not since the old days of the ‘Billy Goat Gruff’, of which I was writer, editor, and publisher of the unofficial company news letter, the one that almost got me fired, had I had such a good laugh.  Jim would never make second level management but he would never have any real problems with his people.  George was the exception but that would not last.  Of course Linda made her inquires but I held my cards close to the vest.  I figured Jim might say something to her eventually.  She took the hint and waited.  At least we were back on good terms.


Monday I found George at his desk.  I think he had put in a few unofficial hours as partial payback to Jim.  Linda was still our rover, an assignment she liked.  And we had no major problems that would send one of us out to the switch offices.  George was a little nervous at first.  “I’m sorry I put you and jim in a difficult position.  Just things at home haven’t been going well, you know?”

“Hey, no problem, man.  You’d do it for me.”  That was true, George would help the people on Jim’s crews.  We passed the time as we usually did, surveillance of the switches, software upgrades, and routine filing.  In between those events I did my usual reading, usually on technical advancements in communications.  I had some idea that I could get into advance technological positions within the company.  George tried to keep his mind on anything but home.


About four AM george finally opened up a little.  He knew I’d listen without judgment.  I always did.  “Bill, Jim tells me you guessed my wife is having an affair.  Well, she is.  She want a divorce so bad that she started bring home younger men and having them stay all night.  You know me, I don’t believe in divorce but I think we are going to have to separate soon.  Looks like I’ll have to move out.  She wants the house.”

“Sounds bad, George.  Any help I can give?”

“Oh thanks, but no, I’ll manage.  Jim is helping me find a furnish studio, should have a place to go by next week.”  More silence.  “I owe you an explanation about my drinking.  the man my wife has been bringing home never leaves before nine AM.  So for the last few weeks I have sat in the bar over on Fifth Street.  did you know they open at six AM?”

“No, I had no idea.”

“Yeah, really.  I’ve been over there every day for the last three weeks.  I don’t want to sit at Denny’s stuffing my face to keep a booth.  So I was going there.  I sort of became fond of their Tequila Sunrises.  You know, sit and have a couple to kill the time while the sun comes up and I can go home again.”



Take Another Shot Of Courage


Chris stepped down onto the platform, the air parched and seared his skin, sweat dried before it had time to roll down his face.  Yuma is not a forgiving town, its geographical location known for its being inhospitable to the average American.  Not that any Mexican or Mexican American fared any better.  Here the climate made no distinctions among individuals.  A suitcase made of little more than laminated cardboard and cloth held what few personal items he owned.  Such was the physical history on our subject.  But as light holds promise, so too, does our young man.  For young men always hold promise until such time as all goodwill is forsaken.  The young man took a breath and started on his way to the bus counter inside.  Chris called to mind the need to call his uncle and let him know when the bus would arrive in Tacna.  After a few minutes walk he reached to ticket counter.  “Let me have a ticket to Tacna, please.”

“Round trip or one way?” came the voice on the man behind the counter.

“One way.”  Chris’s voice sounded non committal, almost passive.   “What time does the next bus leave?”

“Two thirty.  You should get to Tacna about four this afternoon.  You got a job there by any chance?”

Chris ignored the question and paid for the ticket.  Then he went to the bench by the bus gate to wait.  It won’t be long now.  Better call Uncle John as he noticed the  telephone in the nook by the exit.  Glad I don’t have to walk far as he approached the phone, put in the quarters, and dialed the number.  After the fifth ring he heard the receiver being picked up.  A woman’s voice, a bit on the old side, answered.

“Hello.” Was all he heard.  He felt slightly unnerved,”Aunt Martha, is that you?”  A woman responded, “Chris, is this Chris?  Your uncle was expecting your call earlier today.  Where are you?”

“Aunt Martha, I’m here in Yuma at the station.  The train had problems and they had to attach a new engine.  Would you tell Uncle John I’ll be in Tacna at four this afternoon?”


The ride to Tacna was dull, boring, uncomfortable.  The seats were confining and the landscape will filled with either empty cheap housing and RV parks for the snow birds or barren dessert with the occasional irrigation track among the ruins of bus stops decades older than the interstate.  Half lost in thought Chris was thinking as the bus rolled on, this is a lazy land, nothing to see or do and it’d be too hot anyway.  Can’t be any worse than juvie, maybe better.  I don’t know.  Can’t say as I care, really.  He looked at his watch.  Can’t remember if this place is in the same time zone.  I swear, this state is at least fifty years in the past.  The bus started to slow and the driver announced “Tacna”.  Chris sat up in his seat expecting something but didn’t know what.  Why is the bus stopping, there is no traffic.  Now he’s making a left turn.  guess we’re going into ‘town’.  The voice in his head was tired.  Tired of traveling, tired of waiting, just tired.Now the driver made another turn and stopped the vehicle in front of the post office.  Chris read the sign with a sigh of tired resignation.  Great, population 400.  Yeah, and I bet it’s all old people.  He picked up his suitcase and walked down the aisle to the door.  “Have a good day.” was the sound that came from the driver.  Startled, Chris turned around and just nodded.  Then he stepped off the bus and started to look around.  The door closed behind him and he heard the release of the air brakes as the bus started to pull away from the curb.  A horn sounded from the side parking lot and attracted his attention.  In a moment a tall heavy set man got out of the lone pickup and started to walk towards Chris.  Must be Uncle John he thought.


“Howdy Chris, you’re late.  What happened?”  Uncle John’s voice was direct and forceful but not loud.  He had a voice that was use command and respect.

Are you kidding me? Chris thought he was being targeted. Why’s he jumping on me for?  Suddenly the answer jumped up like a scared jackrabbit,”The engine broke down on the way and they had to get another one.  Don’t go blaming me for that.”

“Throw your bag in the bed and get in, I’m behind schedule.” was all Uncle John said as he and the boy started to the truck.  No sooner than Chris had placed himself in the seat and shut the door then the truck started and Uncle John quickly backed it up and sped out of the parking lot slinging a bit of gravel.    The irrigated fields went by counting the minutes of silence as the truck cruised down the county hardtop.  for chris the silence had almost become comfortable.  “Chris, I didn’t ask you for an excuse.  I asked what happened.  Let’s get one thing straight between you and me and Aunt Martha.  We aren’t here to blame you for anything.  Your aunt and I require two things from you.  The first is that level with us, be truthful.  Lies don’t build trust and respect in a man or woman.  The second is that you take responsibility for yourself.  That means when work needs doing, you do it whether we ask you or not.  This is a hard land.  You can’t afford to lay around and let it kill you.  What you make of yourself is how the people around here will treat you.  Do you understand me?”

Chris’s mind was alive with thought he was being disrespected, Wow, what’s this old man trying to shine on me.  He must think I’m an idiot.  Who is he to tell me how to live my life?  Finally he gave a simple “Yeah, ok” in a voice that sounded bored and almost disrespectful.

Uncle John hit the brakes real hard, almost throwing Chris into the windshield.  The big man place his right arm on the back of the seat and turned his body and head to fully face the boy.  Now his voice boomed out.  “Boy, your daddy skedaddled and left your mother when you were six.  She had a hard life doing right by you and it cost her.  Dying of cancer ain’t a whole lot of joy.  Particularly knowing that you were in juvenile hall because you didn’t want to grow up.  Now you hear me real good.  I aim to do right by my sister.  That’s the only reason you’re in this state and out here.  I ain’t shading the truth when I say this land can kill you.  Now maybe you can lit out for Yuma or Tuscon and any part of California you think you can make in a couple of days.  But you’re soft, boy.  You don’t have the skills you need to survive into your twenties.  I can teach you a lot of skills, ones that will see you make something of yourself.  And I don’t mean for me or your mother.  I mean for yourself.  But understand me real good, boy.  I won’t take attitude off you.  And you don’t want me all over you like shit on a stick.”  He paused for a few more minutes then turned back to face the steering wheel.  “We’ve got another half hour to go to the next job.  I gave my word that the job would be done before night fall, so you have plenty of time to think about what I said.”  With that Uncle John put the truck in gear and sped on down the road.


Chris was deep in though as Uncle John let the truck glide into the driveway and turned off the engine.  “You hungry?  Your aunt’s been keeping dinner warm of the stove.  I usually wash up out here before I go in.  Sort of an old habit I just can’t break.”  The two figures stood at the large wash basin soaping up their hands and arms and faces.  Each poured one of the two pitchers of water over the soapy areas and then over their heads.  Chris thought the water feels good, just cool enough to take the sting of sun and dirt out of my skin.  Air is still hot yet, wonder if it ever cools down at night.  Uncle John interrupted his concentration.  “Come on Chris, supper’s waiting.” Then he went through the door and stood by the table.  “I hope we’re not too late Marth.  I know you were inconvenienced.”

“John, it’s no bother at all.”  Her look of admiration was evident to Chris.  “Thank you, Chris, for helping John.  I can tell he’s pleased.”  This friendly acknowledgement caught him by surprise.  My god, he thought to himself, no one’s ever said that to me before.  Then he stammered a reply, “Uncle John did all the work, I just helped a little.”

“You did good, Chris.  I would have been out there another hour without your help.  We’ll go out tomorrow, I’ve got a couple of jobs lined up.”  And with that, Aunt Martha put supper on the table and grace was said.  As Chris lay in bed his mind gave way to the possibilities of living here.  I’ll give it a chance, see what comes.  Still, I rather be in LA.  This place looks desolate, man, not ever a backwater town.  I wonder if there are any girls here?  Probably real hicks with cow licks.  He chuckled at that thought.  Sleep crept in soon enough and eased the tiredness of body and mind.


He was rudely awaken the next morning by Uncle John.  The door opened and his uncle uttered, “Time to get up, we’re burning daylight.”  Burning daylight? Wasn’t than in a John Wayne movie?  Burning day light?  What the hell? as the sleep cleared out of his head.  He pulled back the curtains, the first light of day was upon the sky.  His aunt came in to advise him, “Dear, I washed you clothes last night so you’d have something clean to wear.  Breakfast’s on the table.  Better hurry, John tells me it’s going to be a busy day.”  As she closed the door Chris pulled back the covers and sat up.  Sure enough, clean clothes were on the chair.  So he pulled on his clothes and went into the kitchen.  John was sitting at the table drinking black coffee and spearing a piece of thick slab bacon with his fork.  “How many eggs do you want, Dear?” Aunt martha was poised with one in her hand ready to crack the shell and slip the raw egg into the skillet.  “I usually do them easy over but if you want them different…” her voice trailed off.  “Uh, sure, easy over’s good.  Uh, two thank you.” was his reply as he sat down.  Uncle John reached for the pot, “Want some coffee?  we have mild if you’d rather…”  “Sure, coffee’s fine.  I take it black, please.”  Chris was amazed how polite he was being.  Maybe they had more charm than he thought.

For several weeks this routine continued.  His uncle was teaching him simple repairs and would leave him unsupervised at times.  The effect on Chris was quite visible.  He went from a hostile young teen to a young man more sure of his capabilities.  By the end of the fourth week the transformation was almost complete.It is said that to change one’s habits requires a minimum of three weeks.  The same is true of living in a new place, after three weeks it starts to feel like “home”.  And Chris was starting to feel at home and comfortable with the new changes in his life.  But for ever three steps forward one must be prepared for that one step back, expect it in due course.

September was upon him and the need to complete his basic education.  Rather than send their school age children sixty miles to the nearest public school the local families had established a coop of home schooling.  Several of the the men and women were retired teachers and ready to donate a few hours each week to the education of the young.  At any one time there were no more than sixty to seventy primary and secondary school students.  Thus student to teacher ratios were often single digit.  Chris had not graduated from high school.  In fact, he was way behind due to the precarious family situation and run ins with police.  So Uncle John informed him that school would begin next Monday.  “Don’t worry about going.  I sometimes come and teach welding and machine repair to the boys and a couple of girls who want to learn.  Just remember, there are no secrets in this community.  Everyone knows why you are hear and a little of your background with the police.  But they don’t know all the details and that is as it should be.  So tell them as little as you can.  Just take it slow and after a while they’ll accept you.  You got to build trust with them, right?”

“But Uncle John, what do I need with high school?  You’re teaching me how to make a living, aren’t you?”

“Because it’s a big world out there and you need to know more about it.  Math and science and reading and writing.  These are the tools you always have with you.  No one can borrow them and no one can steal or take them from you.  You’ll see.  For me the work slows down as winter closed in.  That’s when I read and maybe write in my journal.  You need something like that.”


Well, the subject was closed as far as Uncle John was concerned and Chris knew it.  So he went to school dutifully and tried to fit into the school and social scene.  Aunt Martha was often at the school with a few of the other mothers.  It was agreed that she was one of the best cooks in the town and taught the girls and a few of the boys how to survive on bare necessities.  For those who wished more accomplishment in the art of cuisine.  Lunch was a combined effort of parents and students.  One learns well the art of patience when a first grader is given the task of placing peanut butter on one slice of bread and a second grader the task of placing the jelly.  Some of the fathers came by each week to spend a leisurely lunch with their children or teach on the topic of growing crops or how to build irrigations ditches or some other subject like accounting.  Fact was, Chris and the other boys were getting courses in practical education they could never have achieved in a regular public school.


Christmas in small communities can be a very joyous time of year.  The lack of commercialization and absence of heavy vehicle traffic patterns keep the peace and tranquility, if not the spirit, of the holiday.  But the ghost of Christmas Past visited Chris two days before school let out.  As Uncle John had point out several times the adults in the town knew about problems Chris had with the police but were not aware of the particulars.  He also warned that a few of the teenagers knew that same information.  So it came as no surprise that one of those teens, an older boy, managed to search the internet and find a couple of newspaper articles about the particulars of that involvement.  For the first time Chris was confronted with his past and was unprepared.  The teen’s name was Will Graves and regarded as something of a troublemaker.  “Hey Chris, look what I found!  You’re a jail bird, a thief.  You’ve spent time in juvenile prison.”  The words immediately froze Chris in his seat and filled him with fear.  Will continued, “Look everybody, I have copies, pass them around.  We got us a thief and jail bird in our school.  He’s a gang member.  Read it!”

Before he could think words of protest leaped out of his mouth, “No, that’s not me.  It’s a mistake.  You’re wrong…”  His voice trailed off as he started to remember Uncle John’s admonitions.

Will started in again, “Liar, your picture was in the paper.  Liar, liar, we got you dead to rights.  You’re just a filthy thief and a liar.”

Those words landed with heavy blows against his psyche.  All Chris could think to do was run, run out of the room, out of the school.  Just run, run as far as he could.  Down the road, under the interstate, past the auto repair shop, into the dessert.  The chill air cooled his burning cheeks as he traveled several miles toward the Mohawk mountains.  Finally he stopped and sat down, leaned back on a boulder and held his face to the sky.  Over and over he kept asking himself, why.  I was happy here.  Why did it have to end now?  Where will I go, what will I do?  Night fell and the air turned frigid.  Chris had no coat and felt chilled to the bone as the cold imposed a strong numbing sleep upon his brain.


One of the mothers called Aunt Martha, “Is it true?  Did you nephew spend time in jail?  How come you didn’t tell us he was a thief?  Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Hold on Judy.  Calm down.  Now tell me what has happened.”  Aunt Martha’s inner strength was her coolness under pressure.  She had a way of exerting calm in her presence.  Judy related part of the story.  “I’ll be down directly, Judy.  Wait for me.”  Then she put on her coat and hat, opened to door and left for a ten minute walk.  The incident weighted heavily on her mind.  I hope Chris didn’t try to lie his way out of it.  I’ll see what I can do.

When she entered the small school the three teachers and four of the mothers confronted her.  Generally the comments ran on about how could she and her husband do this to them and isn’t the boy dangerous and how they would have to start locking their doors at night.  But Aunt Martha’s unflinching warm smile and calming influence won out even when Will poked a copy of the newspaper story to her face.  “I’ve seen it dear, I know all about it.”  As if to further make her point, she tore up the papers and let them drop to the floor.  “Will, did you enjoy hurting Chris?  Wouldn’t kindness be a better way?  As my John always says, ‘No matter what you think of a man, never needlessly make him your enemy.’  Do you think that would be a wiser course of action?”  Will, gently chastised, retreated from the circle of women and sought his seat.  Aunt Martha continued,”Where is Chris now?”

One of the mothers said he has bolted out the door and was running towards the Interstate.  Aunt Martha looked around and saw the coat on one of the pegs.  “Oh my, he didn’t take his coat.  John won;t be home for another hour or so.  Well, I better go wait for him.”  As if to reassure them before she left she added.  “Now that you know more of my nephew’s past, please judge him by the progress he’s made since.  His life wasn’t easy.”


Uncle John drove up in that easy way of his and quickly washed up.  Martha had filled the basin with hot water only minutes before and the warmth felt good on his hands and face.  Martha’s face told him something was wrong.  “Chris was confronted with his past in school today.  Will Graves found the newspaper articles online.  Now Chris has run off.  No one knows where.”  Uncle John thought for a moment then dais, “I’ll call the garage, maybe they saw him.”  Yes, Don Woods remembered seeing the boy running.  “He was jogging, really.  Had his head down most of the time.  I thought is a little odd, myself.  He in any trouble?”  “No, no trouble, just doesn’t know what to do.” Uncle John left it at that.  The word would get around soon enough.  No, he had to find the boy.  It was dark now, and cold, suppose to hit freezing tonight, maybe lower.  “Martha, get me a couple of blankets and I’ll get a bottle of brandy out of the cupboard.

Uncle John spent the better part of the night looking for Chris.  That is often the way with lost sheep.  The sky was getting light when he stumbled upon the boy, the body tightly curled and looking like one of the boulders.  He picked Chris up and bundled the boy in the blankets.  Then as he held the boy in his arms walked the three miles back to the truck.  He placed Chris gently onto the seat then went round to the driver’s side and started the engine, mildly racing it to build up the heat and let if flood into the cab.  Then he took a shot glass and filled it with brandy, held it to the boy’s lips and got some of it into the boy’s mouth.  His skin had that bluish tone from the long night’s exposure to cold.  Chris started to stir.  “Chris, take a shot, you need the shock of alcohol to get your blood going.  Come on, now.  Drink it.  Good, okay now, one more, just one more.”  The cab was beginning to feel warm, the heater fan was on high, and the boy’s skin was losing its bluishness, turning more pale white.  Uncle John put the cap on the bottle and eased the truck into gear.  I’ll phone the doc when I get Chris to bed.  Have him come over and check him out.


Chris was well enough a few days later to get out of bed and into his clothes.  Aunt Martha was a very good nurse.  As she told Chris, that is how she met John.  “I’ll tell you that story another time, when you’ve got a sweetheart of your own.  John will be home in an hour and I’ll have supper on the table.  We’ve missed having you at the table.”  As if by some mysterious communication John was home to that very hour.  Supper was laid and they all sat and ate the leftover roast beef.  Uncle John didn’t like turkey, said it slowed him down, made him feel sleepy.  About half way through the meal Uncle John spoke directly to Chris.  “Well, son.  You learned a lesson the hard way.  Running away from your problems damn near killed you.  It’s always better to face a problem directly.  Be honest with about it.  Many years ago when I was a young man, a little old than you, I faced that situation.  And like you I faltered.  I tried to lie my way out of it, pretended it didn’t exist.  I came up shot in life and my running away almost killed me.  I had to go back and face the people I had lied to, had let down, had failed in their trust.  To me, I would rather have died that go hat in hand and beg their forgiveness.  Humbleness comes when you overcome the need for false pride.  Chris, that’s where you are now.  You’ve got to the make the decision.  Don’t do it for me or Martha.  You got to do it for yourself.  I’m going to suggest to you that you and I go round to groups of the families here and you make amends.  You apologize for lying and betraying their trust.  You ask for their forgiveness.  You tell them why you ran.  There’s no shame in honesty.  And by the way, Mr Graves dealt with Will.  Perhaps a little too harshly for my sense of justice.  But son, Will’s not your enemy.  Don’t treat him like one.  He, like you, has his faults.  You let me know tomorrow what your decision is.”  Then turning to Martha, “I’m ready for some pie.”


The next evening at supper Chris revealed his decision.  “I’m scared, Uncle John.  I’m really scared of what they think, what they might say.  I’ll try but I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Chris, it takes no courage to tell a lie, never did.  But it’s truth that gives us the courage to say what is true.  You’ve taken a shot of courage to get this far.  Martha and I will be with you.  We’ll stand behind you.  And when you’re ready to speak, just take another shot of courage.”


Everyone has a picture of what they believe their life will be like.  Some are so sure that they have this movie script complete with technicolor.  But that time between teenage adolescent and adulthood is a slipper slope and some find to going difficult.  to say there is often confusion in the minds of these young individuals is to issue a broad understatement.  When I was in the service my speciality was communications and I had my fingers in a lot of pies.  I dealt in a black market, but I took payment only in favors, never money.  Money is too easy to trace and I was no fool.  an article fifteen is not the same as a military court marshal conviction and ten years in Leavenworth.  Besides, favors are a lot harder to trace and easier to cover.  The service is a harsh teacher of life and successful attitudes.  Either one performs or one doesn’t and in Vietnam that difference could prove deadly.  So I traded favors.  I also formed a network of favor traders.  I mean, maybe someone wants a 45 caliber sidearm he normally wouldn’t be issued.  Well, what do you have to trade for it?  Maybe you can’t directly trade but maybe you know one or two others who can assist you in this trading business.  You know, this is how economics works, the whole present value thing reduced to what do you have to trade and what is it worth?  Bartter operates on the idea that everyone has something to trade and wants something in return.


Now this kid came to me because he had heard that I could arrange things.  He seemed to be a good kid, unassuming and somewhat truthful.  Well, you’d be surprised how truthful people can get when they want something and you press them hard enough.  I deal in black market favors, you know, I don’t have time for clowns and idiots nor do I want to spend ten years in Leavenworth.  And true enough, given a little time I could usually find a way to satisfy all parties.  I didn’t deal with officers for the simple reason that they couldn’t be trusted.  They were two faced sons of bitches and I did them no favors.  An officer and a gentleman my ass.  But sergeants were different.  I knew how to get around inspectors when it came to imports and exports.  You just had to have something to trade.  Back to the kid.  He was a driver in transportation, a PFC driving a two and a half ton straight truck between the big bases.  He was in a jam because, as he put it, he wanted to make sure that his girl knew he wanted to marry her when he got back.  You know how that goes, you’re gone and the girl thinks you have access to harems and somehow you are going to forget all about her.  Hey, it’s a legitimate concern and this kid wants to make sure that she is tying the yellow ribbon around his tree and not some other guy’s.  So he wants a phone call or as many as he can get, back to the states.  He didn’t know it, but he had something to sell.   The only guys who had direct line back to the states were the SAC people.  One didn’t believe that the SAC people were on any of our bases, but they were.  sure, the B-52s were out of Japan, Okinawa, and guam, but the older B-47s were SAC and the Australian Air Force.  They called them Canberra bombers but these were the older Boeing made bombers.  The question was, what did the SAC telephone operators want?  Well, maybe a few cases of beer would do the trick, so I sent the kid to enquire since he wanted the telephone calls.  Well, he came back crest fallen.  They wanted a couple of quarts of Jack Daniels.  Not that hard to come by if one knew where to look.  What did a supply sergeant for the officers club need?  He wanted to send a bunch of souvenirs back to his brother in the states.  But all shipments were to be searched for drugs and AK-47, while not exactly drugs were automatic weapons.  Okay, the MATS guys had the C-140s, what would they take to slip a couple of crates aboard their aircraft?  They flew out of Cam Ram Bay and they wanted better quarters.  Would they settle for their own clubhouse?  Yes they would.  Wow, this is getting very complicated.  Let’s see, who would build the clubhouse?  Ah. Seabees, of course.  What would they want in return?  a couple of cases of Jim Beam.  where do we get the supplies for the building.  Ah, Army Corp of Engineers.  What did they want?  They wanted a walk-in cooler and quite a number of cases of beer.  Uh, no can do.  But how about a couple of refrigerators and say twenty cases of beer?  Done deal.  You see, barter is about locating the various wants and needs so that they can be exchanged.


Now one of the advantages of being in communications is that quite a bit of “intelligence” moved through our hands.  I knew where to locate a couple of refrigerators that had been destined for officers clubs.  Those brass hats would never miss them, just send more next time.  Besides, it was easy to duplicate request and get extra in country.  And as I suggested to my boy in transportation, why not use that five fingered discount to supply the SAC operators?  It was easy enough to sent some messages to the right people to have him assigned to pick up goods at certain warehouses.  I mean, I was developing a license to steel here.  Eventually the favors get done because people have the ability to fudge one way or the other.  You see, it is really just a matter of keeping track of the favors owed and delivered.  As for the kid who just had to talk to his girlfriend back home, that went on for several months.  He kept that spark of romance alive while he served his time.  In the meantime he became one of my trusted transport workers.  You know, with a little bit of ingenuity one can transport a B-52 under the nose of any MP, or officer, for that matter.  The MPs are a little smarter in my book.  He was a hard worker and I do believe that we own him more favors than he collected.  But he was a gracious individual and declined more than he needed for his own use.  I mean, that is the meaning of teamwork, seeing that people feel they have a stake in the system and that the systems gives them their due.  Why generals find that so hard to understand is beyond me.  So this kid, name was Eddie, by the way.  Kind of figures it should be Eddie, you know.  He was a good guy, a stand up kind of guy.  Put one of his buddies into the program.  That is enough to renew your faith in human nature.  Yes, many of our deals came to pass and those that didn’t, no hard feelings.  But as I said, the minute you turn it into a cash operation you leave a trail and hard feelings.  So when it came my turn to rotate to the states I left my operations to a couple of gentlemen who promptly went to a cash and carry system.  Last I heard, they were doing ten years in Kansas.  Yeah, they tried to implicate me but there was only their word.  No Office of special Investigations would bother me when there was no evidence to tie me to anything.  A favor is quid pro quo, but greed knows no such bounds.  It’s your word of honor the way cash never can be.  A man’s honor determines his character, cash has no honor or character.

Let Me Take You On A Sea Cruise

There are summers when august is a very strange month. August can be full of the dog days, days so hot or days when the unusual happens. Usually august passed without a rainy day numbered among its allotted thirty one days. I suppose I should have sense to doom to come since the day started out cloudy and cool. When I arrived at the yard, there was still no sign of rain and no real expectation for any. I would be working with two guys I knew well, Mike and Gene.  We three had developed a very good rapport over the last two years and worked very well together.  With cable splicers you either worked alone of together, depending on the job at hand.  Today we would be working in a large load manhole.  The normal size of your everyday manhole was eight feet long by six feet wide and six feet high.  The opening was usually a single nect about two to three feet high.  You’ll find most of these manholes in the street but some are located below sidewalks and even in parking lots.  The manhole we would be working in had two openings (the manhole lids weight 232 pounds) and its dimensions were eight feet in height by twelve feet in width and twenty feet long.  The reason for its size is that racks are mounted to hold the loading capacitors that increase the range of the electrical signal of each pair of copper wires in a telephone cable.  The cable we were going to work on was 2400 pair cable.  The wire gauge was 26 and the insulation was paper.  These cables could have as many as three thousand pairs of wire and be as large as three inches in diameter.


As usual, we head out for the donut shop to pick up coffee and crullers, then head for the work site.  when we arrive we park the vans according to best practices, one in front of the first manhole cover, one in back of the second, and the third van to the side where a sidewalk would normally have been but now was only dirt.  The drizzle is starting as we put out the men working signs and the orange safety cones, then we congregate in one van to drink our coffee and eat our crullers.  This is the way we start our day’s work.  The three of us work so well together that we can do more in less time so that we have that extra break time.  by the time we finish our morning repast the drizzle has turned to light rain.  That means we will use a manhole ring along with our manhole guards and the plastic tents that cover them.  It’s all a bit of extra work but no problem.  We have both holes set up and the air blowers and vent hoses hooked up and airing out the manhole.  We have already tested to possible methane gas that will sometimes collect in these manholes.  That can be a killer.  Last big scare I had was the year before when a manhole I was to work in was next to a gasoline station that still had the metal tanks in the ground.  One of the tanks had sprung a leak and the gasoline migrated into one of the cables.  Gasoline will penetrate the thick plastic coating and then start wetting the paper insulation, thus shorting out the pairs.  Our gas detector elements are destroyed by the gasoline, so if you miss the needle spike you’ll never know there is a problem.  That repair job was nerve racking because you could faintly smell the gasoline.


I know, this sounds all do boring.  It was, just another ordinary day as far as we were concerned.  Go down, open up the new cable the line crew pulled in and set it up for the two distribution cables.  No big deal, done this a hundred times, boring.  The manhole was dry as a bone and we had no inkling of any trouble to come.  Why should we?  The rain was still light, no sign of water anywhere.  so we broke for lunch.  Now we are only suppose to take half an hour for lunch.  Hey, we are good, we can take an extra fifteen minutes, no problem.  We work faster than most others and with better quality, and that’s a fact, Jack.  So we get back to the entrance of the manhole and Mike is the first one to start down.  He throws ope the plastic covers and starts an animated rant about how the hole is full of water.  I mean, Mike is dancing dancing like his feet are on fire.  “No, really guys.  The water is up to the lip.  I ain’t lying.”  Gene and I are thinking this is a hoax and we both are going, “Sure, Mike, yeah, like that could really happen.”  “No, guys, I’m not kidding.  Come take a look for yourselves.”  So I walk over and I take a look.  “Hmm, that does look like water.  Hey gene, want to see something funny?”  Now Gene comes over and says,”I guess you’re right Mike.”  Now Mike is starting to get all panicky, “What are we going to to guys?”  I reply, “Get out the pumps, what else?”  Every van has a two inch submersible pump that works off the batteries.  So we each place our pumps in the hole with the hoses going into the street and start our vans.  Last thing you want is to have your battery die from over use.


Meanwhile several cars are coming by and people are rolling down their windows.  “My phone doesn’t work, did you do something?”  Well, yeah, I think we might have something to do with that.  The only day in rained all summer and five central offices go off the air due to water soaked cables.  That is a rarity, but it happens.  So a line foreman is driving by and we flag him down and tell tell him what we’ve got.  Twenty minutes later a fire truck, a pumper, shows up and they start using their four inch pumps to drain out hole.  It was in their interest since we knocker their service our.  the get relieved an hour later when several line trucks show up with more four inch pumps.  Now long about four that afternoon the water was low enough for us to reenter the manhole and fish around for the exposed cable and the water logged equipment.  We lost some electronic gear down there.  The water is still waste deep and cold.  Meanwhile the cable is shocking the shit out of us because there are Western Union teletype circuits putting out 120 volts DC with a couple amps of current.  God, don’t you know that feels good…not.  We’ve rigged up some supports and start opening the cable back to the point where the paper is dry and we can cut the wet stuff off.  Man, that was a mess.  Finally the construction garage manager shows up and she invites us into her sedan to get warm and tell her what has happened.  She was one of the first women second level managers in outside construction.  In the front seat with her is another construction garage manager, Harvey Klider.  He is going on that we should be suspended because we weren’t eating lunch in the manhole.  Nancy tells him to shut up.  The she tells us the the Gas company was working about a mile up the road, which is about a hundred feet higher in elevation.  They broke a water main and all that water was rushing through the empty cable ducts.  That’s why those four inch pumps weren’t working as fast as they should have, they were pumping the water of three manholes above us.  We three had the distinction of being the first guys in the garage of swimming in a manhole.  Meanwhile that cable was the source of a lot of trouble until it was replaced two years later.

Moma Told Me Not To Come

For those of us who weren’t fortunate sons, as Dan Foggerty sang, we have our various war stories. Now some are the stories about the horrors of war and others confined to the horrors of simply being in the service and at it’s mercy.  It’s all part of having been in, usually against one’s will.  How many of us have suffered at the hands of the friendly sergeants and the all too charming lieutenants.  In the three or four years that you serve you run into your share of characters.  Now for the average fellow, life is bearable.  I mean, you have your moments of degradation but you kiss and make up and life goes on until your enlistment runs out.  Then the lieutenants and sergeants try kissing your hand and foot to make you re-enlist, for the bennies, of course.  It’s always for the bennies.  Why if they had no benifits no one, even the generals would re-enlist.  You’ve got to admire that logic.  But most of us are captive civilians, if you know what I mean.  The introduction never really takes hold, we are never quite convinced that Uncle Sam’s way is the best.


So we fight our battles where we can.  Mostly it’s a guerilla warfare thing, hit and run, hide in the day and strike at night routine.  For those of us who have a little more intelligence that the average friend sergeant and charming lieutenant, sanity is a highly prised state of mind.  Thinking for oneself it the ultimate revenge on all the idiocy the institution of a formalized army or navy or air force can impose.  The irony is that adaptation to changing circumstances is highly prised by the  services and yet is rarely done.  But we, the dedicated trouble makers know how to adapt.  In a sense, we write the rules for those lifers to follow.  I mean, it’s really a matter of not just beating the system but using it against itself without it knowing that is exactly what is happening.  As an example, a friend of mine from a previous assignment had three months left before his enlistment ended.  He had no intentions of re-enlisting, he was going back to university to finish his degree and get a real job.  But in 1970 the Air Force decreed that all E-4s had to take the 5-level test.  that is the qualifying test one takes in one’s speciality if one wants to advance to E-5 or sergeant, non commissioned officer.  Williams didn’t want to take the test.  He had to work graveyard, since he was on an E-4 and rank has it privilege, and that meant staying up during the day to take a needless test.  Funny thing about all these smart officers, college grads to the man, is that they rarely understand what they are doing.  So the test is multiple choice.  But there are added features.  Some officer thought there should be a column “F” so that it would be marked if a question was to be eliminated from the test.  Hey, that’s a license to steal.  Mark the ones you know to be correct and then mark everything else void.  Well, surely the computer scoring these test would know which test questions were suppose to be eliminated and show that a “fraud” had been committed.  Nope, not on your tintype.  He “aced” the test with three questions marked correct.  Well the colonel was impressed and gave him a three day pass.  When he got back, having less than a month to serve, he told them how he got that perfect score.  The shit hit the fan, as it always does, and the worst they could do was not to recommend him for re-enlistment.  Do you detect a bit or irony?


As for myself, I pulled two great feats when I was overseas.  The first started out innocent enough.  The Squadron had crammed four men into two man rooms.  Compared to the other services, that might have been considered a luxury.  Basic training had been the standard open bay barracks and training school had been eight man to a room.  Three men to our room was tolerable and the last one in, or two, in this case had their lockers out in the hallway.  Quite inconvenient not to mention the lack of privacy we thought our due.  So as we lost one roommate I decided to replace the door tag with a new name.  I gave the man a serial number (the first four numbers determine where a man enlisted), gave him a rank, and gave him a duty station.  I really didn’t expect to fool anyone, just a little prank.  As luck would have it, I lost the other two roommates about two months later.  Hey, we hadn’t been burdened with a replacement for the fourth man, why not try it again for two more fake airmen?  So I make up two more door tags and placed them in the slots.  Well, a month went by and no new roommate.  I was enjoying my streak of luck and it was nice to have a room all to myself.  Since my shift was graveyard I had a sign to that effect on the door to forestall any inspection, not that one of the friendly sergeants wouldn’t have come in anyway, but at least if they did they came in quietly.  Now the other thing I did was to get extra sheets and blankets and kept the beds made.  Lhe lockers all had locks on them.  And nothing like a few personal affects like pictures of girlfriends.  I mean, if you want the prank to work you need to take care of the details.  You know, I got away with that charade for a little more than four months.  Then one day the first sergeant caught up with outside my door.  The poor man had been lying in wait.  He came up to the door and asked about one name.  Who is this guy and what do you know about him?  I said I work graveyard and never saw him.  Then he asked about the other two.  Well, I said, I really don’t pal around with them at all.  He then asked me a direct question.  These airmen, they don’t exist, do they?  Ah sarge, you got me.  You’ll have two new roommates this afternoon was all he said and left.  I found out that there had been quite a few queries back to the various departments searching for these people.  the name were in the file and so were the serial numbers, but nothing matched.  At least he earned his pay for a few months.


I worked in communications as what we termed “Titless WAF”, that’s a teletype operator.  It also encompasses telephone operator as well.  Both of these specialities, such as one could expect, were hardly cutting edge technology.  But back in 1967 and 68 digital transmission was just starting it’s infancy.  We had a couple pieces of IBM equipment, things today’s techie has never seen or touched, but were new and exciting.  I learned how to program a 407 accounting machine using the wire straps.  I worked on the graveyard shift and message traffic was a bit slow.  So I read the manual and played with the machine.  The 026 keypunch was another piece of equipment and I learned how I could automate card cutting (punching out the holes in the IBM card),  and we had the 089 sorter.  But the piece of equipment that fascinated me was the 3654 Duplex/Simplex Transmission unit.  That was the machine that one either sent digital transmissions by using IBM cards or received digital transmission by it cutting IBM cards.  After about six months I had my own little duty station all to myself.  The fact was, the sergeant who taught me rotated back to the states and I was the only one who knew how to operate the machines.  Every once in a while I got dragged in during the day or evening to take care of something important, but this was my “command”, as it were.  Here, I was king, I was “sarge” to everyone else.  That went on for some eight months.  Then one day I was called in and told I had stateside orders.  I had to hurry up and get all the red tape paperwork done and don’t bother to come back to the comm center.  I had only three days to get out of Dodge.  You can guess what happened?  There was no one to replace me and I hadn’t trained anyone.  It never occurred the the master sergeant to see that another airman knew how to operate those machines.  Well, what do you want, he had been a tail gunner in a B-28 bomber in Korea.  SNAFU, if I remember correctly.

Where Fools Rush In

Did I ever tell you about “El Conejo”, that is Ron “The Rabbit” Spear, a real dandy of a foremen. Ron came from the line crew about five years ago and the Construction Manager, Karl Menger had promoted him to splicer for a couple of years prior to making him a foreman. Ron was a real comer, a man going places.  Or so it seemed.  El Conejo would ride around to the various job sites and ask that same dumb question, which is how he got his name.  “When are you going to be done?  Think you’ll finish today?”  And he would always get the same answer reply.  “Yeah, Ron.  I’ll let you know when I’m done.”  Menger always counted on Ron to push his men to greater productivity.  Typical old management thinking that never got results.  Pushing on a rope would be more like it.  But Ron the Rabbit never learned.  He tried spying on his people but they always found him out.


Now I should tell you the rules for any crew worth it’s salt.  Every job had work units assigned and depending on the crew’s task those work units may be ten units an hour for routine work and forty units an hour bor buried work.  The foreman’s job was to parcel out the work in an effective manner so that each man could make his units and if the craftsman was a nice guy, ten percent more to make the boss look good.  But piss your men off and you weren’t going to get that bonus.  The bonus was a point of honor among craftsmen.  The work units were for the average pace and the average individual, and since we were union, as long as management got average they had no complaint as far as we were concerned.  Of course most of the men did the average and a little more.  How much more was the measure of esteem they had for their supervisor.  Lenny Ramirez was the most popular foremen in the garage.  He always managed to make fifteen percent more work units per hour with his crew and it was hard to get on his crew.  I mean, you had to be real good.  Come Christmas his crew would chip in and give him an expensive present.  Lenny always stood behind his men.  I mean if anybody bothered his men , even the third level manager, Lenny was on them like a shot.  Having a really good crew gave a foreman the edge needed to face down almost any manager.


Ron never got a Christmas present from his crew.  I think that sums up the crew’s attitude very well.  He also never got more than five percent extra in work units, if that.  Well, for being such a bright boy, and a dandified dresser, what can I say.  there were times he even work a suit and tie in the office.  I mean, we’re outside construction, it’s dirty work.  Karl gave him all the rejects and it was Ron’s job to make them productive.  In fairness, two of those men were worthless and should have been fired years ago, but management incompetence reigns supreme.  Bill was one of those misfits, a young man who’s big sin was that he tried too hard to fit in and thus made the mistakes from trying too hard.  He wasn’t a very popular individual in the yard. Karl had tried to fire him but was checked by the union.  The problem was that Karl just wasn’t smart enough.  He came up through the ranks and because of his size he could settle any argument by taking it out behind the tool shed, and so he got the next leg up.  But Karl had reached his level of incompetence, as it were.  He really wasn’t a bad man, just used to the old ways and those days were long since gone.  A lot of the new guys had spent time in the service and had been to Viet Nam.  The old threats just didn’t work on these guys.  Bill was one of those new guys and had a hard enough time adjusting to civilian life, no instruction manual to tell him how to go about it.  Ain’t that always the way?


But Bill was smart.  I mean that guy knew stuff and could figure out stuff pretty quick, know what I mean?  He had that instinct for gaming the system, something a few of the guys picked up in the service.  Only Bill could do it better.  I remember the look on Ron’s face when he came back in the office after trying to track Bill down.  Yet when Bill came in at the end of the day he just handed Ron a list of work orders he finished.  Ron started asking where bill was all day and Bill cut him short.  Hell, Ron, I just gave you two days work for one day.  What’s your problem?  You start complaining and I’ll do less work.”  Ron and Karl made a game of giving Bill the worst assignments and this guy could figure out how to do it faster and better.  Hell, he even has the gas company doing some of his work for him in the housing track and that crew and their foreman loved him for it.  Man, you don’t mess with someone like that.  Well, a supervisor is superior in every way to a craftsman or he wouldn’t be a supervisor, right.  Sounds like the same argument I used to hear from the friendly sergeants in the service.  The higher your rank the smarter you must be.  Yeah, go tell that to the NVA.  So the showdown was coming.  Everyone on the crew and those on the other crews could see it coming.  It felt like a homecoming game in high school, only we didn’t have a king and queen.  I heard some guys were placing bets.  Don’t know what on, but there was an air of anticipation.


So we came into the office the next morning and sat and drunk our coffee.  A few jokes here and there, a little banter about the coming games this weekend, you know, regular guy chat.  Bill, as usual is sitting in his chair and reading a book.  That man always has a book handy.  I don’t mean trashy novels by Louis L’aMour either.  Something on science or economics or something like that.  And don’t make the mistake of asking him about that book or you’ll get an hour’s lecture on the subject.  Yeah, the man is out of place but he is a marvel of workmanship and production.  He can take a two hour job and complete it in half an hour.  I mean, the man is good.  Why would you want to mess with him?  That makes no sense.  And yet, that is what Ron was going to do.  Now we heard from Lenny that old Karl put the order out to watch Bill and catch him doing something, anything wrong.  so It was no surprise when Ron the Rabbit came out and told Bill that he was going to quality his work that morning.


To those of you wondering what that means, the foreman will come out and observe the craftsman at work and write down any deviation from the normal procedure and write the man up for not following established procedure.  Well, he might just as well slapped Bill in the face.  That was one of the few times I have seen that man angry.  I mean, if looks could kill, Ron would be lying on the floor dead about now.  Bill and I were working in the same new housing tract building the terminals for the service to the houses under construction.  So I followed him out to the job site.  First, of course, we stopped for a Mcdonald’s breakfast and large coffee.  Then we drove to the housing track under construction.  I parked my van about a hundred feet down the dirt street and waited.  Bill parked his and commenced to eat his breakfast, waiting for “El Conejo” to show.  Ron was a few minutes later than we had expected.  He parked his supervisor’s pickup and walked over to Bill’s van.  Bill got out and the first thing he did was to place the two orange work cones in the front and back of his van.  Then he broke out his Men Working warning signs and the three orange cones require as warning for the sign.  Then he stood and watched what little traffic came by.  Ron started to ask him what he was doing when Bill interrupted. “First thing we do is safety first, place the cones front and back of the vehicle and then place the warning signs.  Then we watch the flow of traffic to determine that we have places warning signs and cones in their necessary places.”  You could have knocked Ron over with a feather.  Then Bill went back to the van and pulled out his work order and checked to see that he was at the right place.  That determined, he went back to the van and pulled out a shovel and walked over to the exposed cable loop.  Then he proceeded to dig a little and level the dirt around that loop.  Next he pulled out his seat box and took it to the cable loop.  Ron was about to say something when Bill spoke. “I have determined that this is the correct location according to my print and work order.”  Then back to the van again where he pulled out one tool and went back to the cable loop.  I mean this went on for at least an hour as Bill was using a tool then putting it away and doing another operation.  Did you ever see a man use just one tool and then put it back and get another rather than have all his tools handy?  It like to drove me crazy watching this parade of fools.


Finally I heard Ron yell, “I can’t stand this anymore!”  He left in a hurry, almost hitting another vehicle.  I went over to Bill as he was quickly finishing his job.  “God damn idiot, cost me an hour this morning.  It’s coming out of his bonus!”  I just had to marvel at what he had done.  He didn’t just beat the system, he strangled it.  When we got back to the yard Ron was nowhere to be found.  But the buzz was thick.  Seems he came back in hopping mad and just a yelling at Karl.  There would be no more attempts to quality Bill again.  And a lot of guys were grinning at Karl when he dared to show his face.  The worse thing about it was that Bill always gave extra work units, said it was the price he paid to sit and read or do whatever he needed to do on company time.  You never look a gift horse in the mouth else it’ll bite you.  Know what I’m saying?  As it was, Bill’s status among the yard increased measurably, he become one of our leaders.

Profiles In Courage

One of the books I have finished reading recently was written by John F. Kennedy when he was the junior U.S. Senator from the state of Massachusetts.  Kennedy was a skillful writer and he had a flair for history as a young man.  He and his younger brother Edward had attended Harvard in the late thirties and were classmates with other young men who would become notable in their own rights, one of which I believe is Ted Sorensen, the historian.  John Kennedy had an ability that would allow him to read well over a thousand words a minute and remember in great detail what he had read.  He was a reader’s reader, if you like, a man who could run through several newspapers or at least their main sections, each morning, any number of magazines and perhaps a couple of books each week.  One might question how well he absorbed the material and what, if anything he learned form it but on the whole one might say that he was a smart man.

This bit of history that JFK, as he would become known by America and the world, wrote is more than a piece of fluff one might expect from someone such as Bill Clinton or worse yet, his wife, Hilary.  The quality of writing is superb and the editing well done.  I am not sure why he chose the subject of individual courage as shown by previous members of the senate but I believe it illustrates much of the character that is missing from the political turmoil in the Congress today.  I suppose one could well argue that Ron Paul was the last of the honest and courageous congressmen of the last twenty or thirty years.  But such men as John Quincy Addams, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, John Norris, and the others profiled in this book of historical accounts are well worth reading about and seeing with keen eyes the difference between ideals and ideology.  For the former drives the spirit of man in honesty while the latter feeds that doctrinaire form of mental dishonesty.

As an example, Kennedy wrote about Robert Taft’s remarks about the Nuremberg War Trials which sparked a fury of bitter words from those who espoused the spirit of justice that seemed more clocked by the angry rage of vengeance.  For Taft, the creation of a world court sitting in trial of those who had committed offences prior to the ex post facto ideas, for the international court had yet to be constituted and no international laws proposed by a world ruling authority and accepted by the individual countries as mandate, this appeared to be a rebuke of the American Constitution and its ideals of legal fairness and individuals rights.  If we do not try a man for past deeds that we have now made illegal then why in heavens name should we expect the world to assume that we, as victors of a war, have the right to try its losers, citizens of another country, for their actions, both individual and collective, for crimes we have now declared illegal?  The outcry was one of a most vicious and personal nature against Taft.  Yet, if those same individuals had shared the fate of the German, and later the Japanese generals, admirals, and government officials, they would have screamed in the shrillest manner against the unjustness of such a trial.  When vengeance masquerades as justice then no one is safe.  But that was the point.

The one running theme trough the actions and thoughts of those senators who were profiled is that a man elected, either through the direct vote of the people or though the vote of a state legislature, is still a representative in a republican form of government.  While the people or the state legislature might give instructions on how such a representative should vote, the senator must follow his conscience and vote according to those ideal of government he has taken an oath to support.  That the senator is not a plebiscite of the majority but the representative of the whole means that he not cast his vote lightly.  A particular state or region’s interest should not be put before that of the country.  Or if an executive action is thought to be an usurpation of that of Congress’s power, then Congress must be defended.  Politically, one may need to go along to get along but one must never cross that line between convenience and virtue.

Today we have few senators and congressmen of the stature of Houston or Taft.  We have almost none that are willing to see their political position destroyed because they are unwilling to compromise their ideals and their integrity.  Some political commentators say we have devolved into political parties that act only in regional interests and political ideology.  Many commentator hark back to the glory days of Congress when great debates raged on the legislative floors and compromises could be reached.  But these commentators have not closely read history and spout as much ignorance as the public demand.  And even ignorance is a profound form of dishonesty for it holds knowledge and research into that knowledge in the highest contempt.  This is, of course, to describe the human condition.  It is what Kennedy has described in his writings and what has been ignored by those who profess to be of learned wisdom and knowledge.

And it would seem far easier to elect men and women who will govern us not according to those constitutional ideas but for the convenience of those who are lazy, who are idle, and who would not be given to thought.  I fear we are progressing far too rapidly from individual freedom to collective enslavement by those who while proclaiming the freedom of the individual are but asserting the need for their own wisdom against the individual.  Only a few know what is best for us and they will bend our will to that form of utopian living.  Utopia is a fascist state.