Good day everybody! Well I've traveled from Sandusky, Ohio to Janesville, Wisconsin today without any problem, so that's a good thing. Unfortunately the whole trip can be summed up in one sentence. Flat farmland with an occasional city thrown in for good measure. I really wish there was more to say, but the biggest break from the monotony of today's drive were the 481,275 tollbooth stations I had to go through. I'm pretty sure I had to sign away the right to my second born child to get thru them all. The firstborn you ask? Well I'm saving them for whomever gets me one last non-crashing ride in an Apache... As for big cities, I passed thru Chicago, but in keeping with tradition, I drove on because it was suggested that steak and beer might be waiting for me here in Wisconsin. Yes, I'm easily bribed. Food or aircraft are pretty much a guarantee of my attendance. But I digress.... So in lieu of the usual Rockstar stories, I figured I'd add a little more about me for those who care to know. There may be a little RTD action at the end, i don't know, just depends how wild it gets here!
For those of you who know me solely through my writings, you probably think I'm some sort of goal oriented prodigy constantly on the lookout for the next adventure. If not, I need to emphasize those traits a little better... Actually the reality of who I am now is VERY different from what I started as. Today I'm actually a relatively reserved person, who tries hard not to talk excessively about my "accomplishments" and actually I'd best be described as "shy" by those who barely know me. Actually, I'd probably be described in more colorful language not fit for the familial atmosphere I've tried to foster here. One of the most common statements I've heard from all of my closest friends is the same; "Man when I first met you, I HATED you! I thought you were an arrogant prick who thought they knew everything, and was too good to talk to anyone else." After knowing me they learn that this is far from the truth. This view comes mostly from my dry/sarcastic humor unappreciated by many, and unwelcomed by most. Well that and my compulsive need to correct people when I hear incorrect things. Yeah, I'm working on those... Now I just try to smile and hush up. Those who actually know me well know that I'd do anything to help a friend, and would give someone truly needy the shirt off my back if I knew it would help. Conversely, they also know I am intolerant of ignorance, and expect a lot out of all my friends, but no more than I expect from myself. Nevertheless, I tell you these things to try to paint a little picture of "Daniel, Today". The rest of this post will try to cover "Daniel, Pre-Army." I'm not sure how well this is going to fly, so sit back and watch this train go fully off the tracks and see what all it takes out!
The Early Years...
I am an only child, the product of an accidental pregnancy to a mom who as far as I know was told she couldn't get pregnant. I THINK my mom was a "Thalidomide baby" or of some other 1950's birthing drug. Anyhow, from what I understand, it caused her to have lifelong pain issues, as well as problems with the reproductive system, ultimately resulting in a hysterectomy when I was a young child. The point being, I was lucky to be here, and no one else followed. I was raised around the US and even in Germany for a while, as my father was in the Army trying to make ends meet for my family. During this time, i was raised largely by my grandmother and my mother, and effected a bit of a "momma's boy" kind of personality. Basically, I was never really enrolled into any sports or anything, and was told to never hit anyone, no matter what. needless to say, I became an easy target for most anyone. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was living in a poor neighborhood in San Antonio, and had become the neighborhood whipping boy for anyone between the ages of about three to twelve or so to come kick the crap out of when their day wasn't going so hot... This all changed in San Antonio, too.
My dad was a recruiter at the time, and therefore worked impossibly long hours and therefore spent very little time with me. Well one day he managed to get home early just about the time that I'd also returned from my daily but kicking by some kid who was about two years younger than me, and about half my size. Well I come in sniveling and crying, all dishevelled and unhappy to an unamused dad. He asked me what had happened, what gang of thugs had set upon me and remanded such grave insults to my person. I then informed him that "Danny" down the street has essentially "whooped my butt." "Danny?" He said. "Little Danny from the end of the road Danny?" He then asked what havoc I'd wreaked in return. Surely what was left of Danny was now being cleaned up by a street sweeper, right? I shamefully admitted that my amazing combat moves consisted of rolling up in a ball and hoping it was over soon. Dad was unimpressed. Dad then presented an offer to me in the hopes to motivate me to a new level of self defense. It went a lot like this:
"So Danny, the little twerp down the street just kicked your a**??"
"Danny that is half your size Danny? And WHY didn't you stomp him good?"
"(whine)yeah... because I'm not allowed to hit back (cough)"
"Who the H*LL told you that???"
"(sniffle)Mom and Gramma(wheeze)" NOTE: in recanting this years later, other parties insist they meant don't hit FIRST, so this may have been my misunderstanding, but I suspect not....
"Well I'll tell you what boy, I'll give you a choice (Dad's choices were usually about this tactful and easily solved). You go back down there and kick the snot outta that boy, or you stay here and try to kick the snot outta me, but either way your fight today isn't over yet" or something to that effect.
Now, I'm a very logical person, and the choice required a little consideration. In the Red Corner, weighing in at 220lbs, standing at 6' tall, with a record of O and Infinity, The Mad Daaaaaaaadddddddd! In the opposing corner, weighing in at a hefty 59.4 lbs and standing at 4'7'' tall with a record of.. awww whatever I was out the door faster than that sentence could have been finished. While I do a lot of dumb stuff, even I'm not THAT dumb. I headed down the street, a boy on a mission. I got back down to the yard where so many butt kickings had been administered, ready to do battle. I'd die before I went home to THAT challenger!
Upon my arrival, and excited Danny came over asking if I was back for more. I kindly informed him that in fact I was not, and that I was actually back to return the favors so kindly dealt to me in the past. It sounded more like "c'mere i'm here to kick your butt!!! Ayyyeeeeeeee!" Well after a brief roll and tumble, I emerged covered in blood, and Danny departed screaming like a little girl, nose bleeding like a faucet. While I realize that in today's litigious society this would have resulted in my being charged as an adult for attempted murder, and numerous other "Terror" charges taken from the so-called "Patriot Act", at the time it resulted in my being known as "Da wiiiinnnnnnnnnnaaaaaa!" I ran home to inform dad that I think maybe I'd just killed Danny, but I won. We went down to make sure Danny wasn't dead, and suddenly Danny was my new great buddy. Weird how things changed... Numerous other fights happened on that block between myself and former bullies, but my record stood as a winner from that point on. A small corner had been turned, but many more were to follow...
From TX we moved to Martin, TN in about my eighth grade year. Needless to say I set about immediately not fitting in. Having come from TX, and a poor neighborhood at that, I was in for culture shock. I had never experienced racism before, and at the time, Martin was still pretty divided. I first made acquaintance with some of the 'white' kids there, as we had something or other in common. Then I made acquaintance with a few of the 'not so white' kids there, and that's where the problems started. Apparently in small town 1989 TN, you just simply didn't do that. It wasn't long before I was pretty much friendless, or at least devoid of close friends. I did make friends with a few guys, most of whom were outcasts like myself. It was during high school that I did my absolute best to fail out. I had very little positive support from the educators there, and even less desire to do well. I was the only kid I knew who was taking honors classes in one subject, and failing out of others. I also had a bit of history of getting in trouble, usually fighting... By the time in my life I'd learned not to put up with other people's crap, an attitude that didn't bode well for someone unpopular in a small school I also attempted to play football my freshman year, and sucked horribly... Unlike all the guys who'd played their whole lives, or at least WATCHED it, I knew NOTHING about it other than I liked to play yardball.... After a year of getting knocked around by guys much better than me and getting absolutely no play time, I gave up on organized sports and turned my efforts to other endeavours, mostly failing spectacularly. I think if I'd had it my way, I would have dropped out like so many of my friends did. However, the large man in the Red Corner again logically presented that it was in my best interests to stay in school.
During the summer between my Junior and Senior year, I had a few things happen... I bought my first car, a 1965 mustang fastback. Yup, this baby was my prize and she was all mine. Oh yeah, she also didn't have an engine or transmission, and there was a tree growing out of the engine bay, but whatever, minor details. I went out and bought a cheap tool kit and a couple jack stands and a Chilton's manual, hauled her out of the bed she'd slept in for 14 years, and went to work. I learned a LOT of lessons that summer, but I'll recount just the first one. I had the car out on level ground and was ready to get to work. I jacked it up in the front, and got the jackstands ready. For those not in the know, stands are what you rest the car on after you have it in the air so that you don't have it fall on your arm and cut it off (this lesson comes later...). Well I enthusiastically put one stand under each floorboard in the front of the car, the dropped the jack down. About 1.67 seconds later, two loud "POPS" were heard in rapid succession, and the car settled back to her original height. "Odd" I thought "that doesn't seem right at all. I opened the door to see the top of each stand sticking thru each rusted floorboard. Oops. Lesson #1 and #2: Always read the directions, and always put the stands under the FRAME. Ahhhhh so many other fine tails the Rustang taught me, usually at a significant financial loss.
The other big event of that summer was the start of what I knew was going to be my career. I got a job in Nashville working heavy construction for the princely sum of $7.50 an hour, at 70-100 hours a week. I was straight RICH! Visions of a shiny blue and white striped mustang galloped thru my little head. I could practically see the cheerleaders throwing themselves at me, the cool kids turning their heads in shame at the mere sight of my shiny steed. I figured it was only a matter of time before I would be the envy of everyone on my block. Did I mention the Rustang had more holes in her than cheese? Whatever, more minor details... After a summer of what amounted to slave labor, I had a car that ran, which I still think amazed just about everyone. She wasn't painted blue yet, but I'd managed to primer her to all grey. Her color never changed again...
My senior year was spent mostly slacking around, and dreaming about how great mustangs are. Some might say little has changed at this point in my life. The only things I knew for sure, and mean FOR SURE was this: I was NEVER EVER EVER going to college. Why do that when you can get rich working construction??? The only other thing I was even MORE sure of was I was NEVER EVER NO WAY NO HOW going to join any military. That "people telling you what to do all day" was for suckers. Apparently the concept of "boss" was still foreign to me. Well after a year of minimum wage fast food jobs, a stint working at the local BP, mostly so I could work on my uber-cool ride after hours, I somehow managed to graduate. I still to this day think it might have been more out of pity and a desire to never see me in their classes again that the teachers conferred that diploma upon me... Haha!! Suckas!! My only other truly clear moment of high school was when the guidance counselor told me "Daniel, some people aren't cut out for college. You're one of those people." How wonderful at her job she was! This wasn't one of those "reverse psychology" inspirational moments, either... Anyhow, May 19th, 1995 I was handed a diploma, bottom of my class and out the door I went. While everyone else was partying, I was packing for my new life as a well paid construction worker in Nashvegas, Tennessee!! May 20th, I arrived.
I immediately started back at my old job and new career at the same wages. I wasn't complaining though, I was rolling in the dough! Nevermind the fact the job was hellish in its' conditions at times, and I was living with my Oma (German grandma), I was living life. Now when I say hellish, I mean it. We installed all manner of stuff, usually basketball goals. Not the little dinky ones, but the huge fold up ones the you see in big gyms. We installed those before the air conditioning units were put in the gyms. We installed these in July, in the south. It would get so hot up there it would look like it was raining under the scaffold. The team leader would go up, mark the spots to be drilled, then send the resident flunky up to do the drilling. I was the Alpha Flunky. $7.50 an hour baby, yeah! Well it was doing this job that a pivotal moment occurred. We were at a jobsite when one of the fortyish year old laborers came over to me. Now this guy was a nice guy, had a few kids and a few ex-wives, and was living paycheck to paycheck, like most of us were. He'd been doing this job or ones like it his entire life, and was helping to mentor me. Anyhow, he came over and we had this pivotal discussion which was to send me down a whole new road in life. Pay attention, because it becomes quite philosophical at times. Here's how it went, nearly verbatim:
"Hey Daniel man, pull my finger"
"Uhhh yeah I don't think so"
"No really man, pull it"
"Uh really no thanks. I learned this trick when I was about four. I pull your finger, you blast your britches, we all have a laugh and try not to gag at the smell. Thanks, but no."
"No I swear man, I'm not gonna fart!"
"Fine then I'll pull it myself! (YANK! PHHHHHHHTTTTTTTTTT) Wahaahaahaahahahaaa!! I'll bet you didn't see that coming did ya?? I'll bet you really thought I wasn't gonna do it, huh?"
"I hate life."
It was at this moment, this turning point, this fork in the road that I had a vision. A true vision was blessed upon me, and I saw it clearly. In it I saw myself, forty or so years old telling the new guy to pull my finger. I saw this, and knew it to be the future. I saw this and knew $7.50 an hour was not for me. To this man I owe so much, yet it was a moment he likely never comprehended at the level I did. It was a moment I decided to join the Army in, and he was just happy his gas pain was gone. hey, if Pauly Shore could do it in his movie "In the Army Now", so could I! Ahhh the naivete of youth!
Well everybody, that hopefully gives you a glimpse of me before I joined the Army. To sum it up, I was a little turd. Failure was a term I knew well, and didn't care if it was associated with me. I've been asked numerous times in the last few years a question to which I always know the answer: "Where would you be if you'd never joined the Army?" The answer is easy. I'd either be in a dead end job with a few illegitimate yardmonkeys terrorizing my neighborhood, or in jail. It's where most of my friends ended up. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying construction workers are dumb or childish, because those guys worked harder than most people I know, and in necessary and usually thankless jobs, for $7.50 an hour. I'm also not advocating that the Army is the answer to all young men's goals. I'm just telling you what worked for me!!
Anyhow, that's it for tonight's episode of "This Jacked Up Life." I'll leave you with a few pictures of the Rockstar in the Bean, in his now typical positions. Tomorrow I'm touring the Suburban making plant, the heading up towards Minneapolis, so look for me there!! PLEASE let me know what you think of these "life interludes" on the blog. There may be more to follow if the response is good!