Shop Characters

            Every working environment that exists, military or civilian, has its share of characters. Most of them exhibit some minor abnormal traits such as close talking or wearing their pants too high like I do. We all know about them, have seen them on Seinfeld and lesser sit-coms and for the most part, they are barely worth mentioning. I found, however, that of everywhere I have ever worked, the Avionics back shop at Langley had some real strange cats that it’s worth giving a paragraph or two of mention. While the majority of those I knew fall into the same spectrum we do ranging from normal to kind of weird, we must celebrate those who went above and beyond to become truly distinctive in a ‘Andrew’ or ‘Dan Craik’ kind of way.

             The first worth mentioning is Kervina. When I first started work in the shop in October of ’97 a large portion of the shop was deployed over to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch and due to the lack of manpower, only 2 shifts were in operation as opposed to the usual three. I worked day shift for a month or so before the troops arrived back and I was assigned to mids in the TISS area under the watchful eye of the newly promoted Kervina.

While all in all he was a good egg for the most part, he did have a peculiarity or two. The most prevalent of these was his breath which smelled exactly and strongly like Taco Bell refried beans. The latter I could no longer stomach in any way once I had the association buried in my brain. While I knew it to be a legitimate medical condition, it nonetheless was a powerful disgusting force. Over the long night on the top floor of the building, the reek of it would permeate the atmosphere to the point where it could be detected even in the farthest corners of the long floor. Frequent smoke breaks were utilized to escape and even non-smokers would congregate with us on the balcony outside the third floor landing, preferring the stink of our smoke to Kervina’s bean breath.

One of the problems was that we lacked a Dan at the time so no one ever held him down to force Altoids in every orifice. He did, however, find out that Bissell, the other tech who worked in our area on the shift, had taken to referring to him as ‘Stinkbug’ and issued a very Jason like protest at the moniker. The best story regarding this took place in Saudi during mid rotation. Kervina apparently woke up in his tent one morning to find a camel spider on his face and appropriately flipped out. Afterwards he bought every moth ball he could find in the area and completely encircled his cot in a pungent magic circle of protection. The ‘official story’, however, was that it wasn’t a camel spider at all but one of the giant dung beetles strewn about ubiquitously who had caught a whiff of his breath and went looking for a good meal.

A final mention of note one this character has more to do with his appearance. There are those who when losing their hair choose to shave their heads for a much improved appearance. There are others who probably should consider any other option and Kervina was one of these. One evening he came into the shop and with him he brought for some reason a large Darth Vader figurine that he wished to show off to the disinterested shop. Yes, like the loyal readership of this blog, he was also a huge geek, surpassing even the nerdiest of us as a card carrying member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The feature he was so excited to display was the fact that in this special 36 inch collector’s edition, Vader’s helmet came off, which he proudly demonstrated. No one could hold back laughter at that moment. The figure’s likeness to its owner was nothing short of remarkable.

Since we are on the subject of hygiene, I must make mention of poor young Miley. He seemed like a nice enough kid until you got within a few feet of him and instantly regretted whatever reason you had to approach. Homeboy reeked fantastically and all but had the tell tale comic ‘stink lines’ coming off of him. I had found an Air Force Jason and did my best to avoid his presence. Fortunately, the Air Force feels no compunction to deal with the issue discreetly and privately and at least once a week the lad was sent back to the dorms to shower and don a clean uniform. We were embarrassed for him at first until we began to detect a certain Thirsty like resistance from him; a pride in filth resilience that like Jason could only explain how the problem persisted.

The Air Force doesn’t cotton to those who won’t toe the line and an aggressive campaign began to force Miley to bathe, wash his clothes and clean his room. He was issued a standing written order to take a shower each and every day, using soap and shampoo, followed by deodorant. He was to wash this clothes weekly using detergent and would be inspected by the nose of his regrettable supervisor each and every day. We thought for sure he would cave and give in to the militarily enforced demands of polite society, but no, he accepted reprimand after reprimand acknowledging his odious hygiene. The day finally came when the powers that be finally had enough and discharged him in less than honorable conditions for failing to adapt to the standards of military life. We all breathed much easier after that.

Those somewhat disgusting in nature were not few and far between and one of the most interesting of the bunch was Charlie Ford. It escapes me how Charlie managed to leave the Air Force without a sexual misconduct charge or two under his belt. His basic dysfunction you see was that he was a rampant exhibitionist. His modus operendi and most prevalent joke was to appear in your field of vision as a complete surprise, ensuring that the area you could not help but notice first by placement was his exposed penis. This particular maneuver he dubbed ‘the frontal rhino’, which had expected variations like the sideways rhino, the upside down rhino, and most disturbing, the rhino at attention.

While he frequently engaged in this behavior in the shop, we grew used to it and tried not to react in vain hopes of discouraging him. It was useless and ignoring only spurred him on to greater attempts to gain some cocky attention. On one occasion on mids, he went so far as to strip down completely and ran about the shop with the goal of grinding his buttocks into each and every chair, including the shop chiefs. Nobody really sat down a whole lot on mids for a long time after that, but naturally we kept the information from other shifts.

Going out with Charlie in the group was also a hazardous thing as we found that at work we were really treated to his everyday behavior. Those who ventured to his house found he had no reservation about answering the door completely naked, much to the irritation of his wife who unfortunately never did. My greatest close call came one night on the way to a concert about 10 of us were attending, requiring two stuffed cars. On the way there Charlie was in the same car as I, and the ride was uneventful. On the way back I ended up in the other car and found what a fate I escaped. The poor fool who now occupied the middle seat in the back had a most unpleasant ride back. Charlie took it into his head give all passing cars the ‘pressed glass rhino’ the whole long way back, ensuring his bare ass would be hovering just inches from the other guys face as he struggled to keep his balance.

Every place of employment should have at least one Jekyll and Hyde character and we were no exception.  Jean was one of the few female airmen to come into our shop and was the embodiment of the “librarian” type. Quiet and unassuming she wore her long hair in a severely pulled back pony tail, kept her military issued glasses (known as BCGs or birth control glasses due to their hideousness) on at all times and was only seen for the first few months in loose fitting uniforms. Due to overexposure of movies in which the gawky slobbity tom-boy is transformed into pure babe-aliciousness by meddlesome friends, none of us were fooled by her Clark Kent routine and knew in our hearts that she was but a coat of lipstick and broken rubber band away from a Wayne and Garth ‘schwing’ reaction. This of course proved to be true but in all honesty, irrelevant to the story.

As with many things, the original instigator was Kent. For reasons unknown and probably influenced by Ford, he began a practice whereby he would form a circle with his thumb and finger and bid anyone close by to watch as he would slowly lower it to his crotch and shout, “You lookin’ at deez nuts?”. The whole exercise eventually became truncated to either simply making the circle or shouting ‘deez’ at someone which entered common shop vernacular as “check out my nut sack, asshole”. The word and sign alone were in frequent use by the time Jean came on the scene.

Aside from having the librarian/ Cinderella thing going on, Jean also had about the filthiest mouth in the shop. She worked back in the roughneck Radar area and could often be heard cursing up a blue streak as she wrestled with a connector or inadvertently sprayed Coolinol over herself. “Shit fucking cocksucking motherfucker! I’ll ass fuck ya till you bleed!”, was not at all an uncommon outburst and we all took it with a grain of salt. Despite this willingness to verbally assault innocent equipment, she became incredibly offended by the word deez when she discovered what it meant. She even went so far as to formally report it as sexually offensive misconduct. The charge was eventually dismissed and it was explained to her that making a claim of offensive language sensitivity was simply ludicrous if your own speech was much much worse.

The use of deez when she was present in the shop did become verboten, though this was routinely ignored as she fumed in quiet fury at the rejection. The issue would have simply been forgotten had not Kent found a way to exacerbate it not long before departing. In 1999 we had two rotations to Saudi with Kent and half the shop on the first rotation and Jean, I and the rest on the second. Kent, before leaving the Saudi shop, had photocopied hundreds of pictures of his hand doing the sign, with ‘deez’ written beneath and hid them in every conceivable corner of the shop. Taped to shelves, under shelves, under tools, inside electronic equipment, you couldn’t move a thing without being reminded that Kent wished you to view his sack, asshole. Jean of course erupted in fury every time she found one, but was powerless with Kent 10,000 miles away back at Langley.

When I think of strange and inappropriate, Chad comes to mind. Chad was an old lifer who was nearing retirement when I arrived at Langley. We were sitting in the break/ meeting area of the shop telling tales of having been robbed. I shared my account of being mugged at gunpoint in broad daylight a block away from the Princeton apartments. When I was done, Chad decided to share and I believe I can quote him verbatim, “So I’m stationed in Bitburg (Germany) and went out drinking one night and ended up at this teen bar. There was this young German boy there who had way too much, so I bring him home with me, right? The next morning he’s gone and so is my wallet!”  A full five minutes of silence ensued before we all just got up and walked away.

Finally, there was Charlie Ahlm. Charlie started as my mentor and somehow wound up my nemesis 3 years later. When I first got to Langley I was assigned to Charlie’s area, TISS, and he was universally recognized as the most powerful of the TISS Gods, a label bestowed upon those who were acknowledged to be undisputed masters at repairing electronic warfare boxes as well as the test station itself. I was overjoyed at the assignment as it was an opportunity to work with the best, and he reminded me of this on a daily basis. We got along well in those days as I took his instruction well and humored his eccentricities. Those were, however, what made him of interest for this tale and included his love of giving people a really hard time, warped concept of professionalism, and enormous yet fragile ego.

My first morning in the shop, Charlie gave me a big spiel of respecting military rank, especially of those above you and following the formality of protocol at all time. Not 10 minutes after this the production supervisor of the shift (known as the prod-rod for some reason) Urban, a full rank above Charlie, called the morning meeting. In this meeting, and every subsequent daily meeting after that, Charlie would give this guy an incredibly hard time. He’d argue with everything he said, cracked frequent jokes at his expense and did everything possible to publically make him look foolish and incompetent. Urban would stammer, steam, make weak come backs and turn red. Why he never pursued formal reprimands and disciplinary action I’ll never know. Respect the rank obviously meant to just respect his rank. The experience was information I tucked in my pocket for a later day when it proved most useful.

When I moved to mids a few months later I exchanged Charlie as my supervisor for Kervina who I introduced earlier. It became readily apparent that Charlie was not Kervina’s biggest fan and morning turnover became a stressful event, especially for Kervina. Although much goofing off was done overnight, I always made sure to be actively working something when dayshift came in and thus was left alone for the most part. Kervina and Bissell were not always so diligent; a fatal mistake. On most mornings Charlie would come in sporting a foul grimace and silently stalk about the TISS area before erupting in rage at something or another. On one occasion I recall him kicking a large case of equipment clear across the room. Many times after reading one of the log books he’d toss that across the room as well or if particularly upset about what he read would tear the pages right out and crumple them before a trembling Kervina, who being in charge, bore the responsibility for whatever little thing set Charlie off. By that point Charlie’s visage was analogous to Arnold when he was pulling that tracking thingie out of his nostril in ‘Total Recall’.

My absolute favorite experience, which was repeated often, was when Charlie would rampage though the area in a bitter tantrum screaming threats and tossing things about, then ask me and Bissell to leave the room because he had to yell at Kervina and didn’t want to look unprofessional in front of us. We’d discuss the irony of this as we got just out of sight but close enough to hear Charlie hand Kervina his ass; a uniquely pleasurable experience after which he’d emerge like a beaten puppy and announce some asinine change or two we would be half ass implementing the following night. As expected, by the time the next night arrived, Kervina would be full of bluster about how Charlie could just go stick it if he had a problem, then recant by morning before taking his daily beating once again.

While Charlie and I were still tight in the Kervina years, mainly because I was the only one getting any work done at night, things began to deteriorate. I really think it began because of the Tide hat. I was at the mall with Carrie Pierce when we bumped into Charlie who sported an extremely bright orange baseball hat with the Tide logo. I understood it to be some kind of redneck NASCAR thing, but thought it would be funnier to act as if Charlie was this huge fan of the mediocre detergent. He corrected me of course, but I found occasion to bring it up again down the line. Here was the thing about Charlie; he was one of those guys who could dish it out to no end, but just couldn’t take it and I think my harmless joking began to sour his opinion of me.

Things really came to a head about a year later. I encountered a very stubborn problem with the test set that was not making sense and I spun my wheels on it for a full day. I decided to ask Charlie, as he now worked the shift before me, for his opinion and buttered him up as the best there ever was, although at the time I had a pretty high opinion of my own abilities after achieving the de facto highest repair rate in the area. He came over and offered some half assed advice, which I took. It got me no where and I ended up solving the problem myself. In the log book I credited him for giving me excellent advice and explained how I fixed the problem. The next day when he read that he apparently exploded. When I came in I found the log had that page ripped out, crumpled, then taped back in and decorated with a long angry looking note from Charlie that I couldn’t read on account of his terrible writing. A second later he came storming up to me and starting yelling something to the effect of “you don’t write this! You don’t write these things!” while emphatically poking the book with his finger. I had no idea what he meant and said so, sending him into a tizzy of rage I hadn’t seen since Basic, before he just stalked out the door.

One of the guys who worked on Charlie’s shift, Sam, was someone Charlie liked to jaw with and he didn’t know I was good friends with him as well. After the incident, Sam would tell me that every night Charlie would sit there fuming, declaring me an arrogant cocky bastard, which I was of course, and vow that he was going to bring me down. This was somewhat disconcerting given that Charlie was a full 3 ranks above me, but felt I could outfox him if need be. I was meticulously correct in all actions I knew he would look for and Sam let me know that he got more and more frustrated by the day that he couldn’t get a thing on me, the Teflon airman. Just in case, I decided to take my concern to Urban, who was delighted that someone had finally showed up Charlie and left him impotent and promised to throw his weight behind me should Charlie try anything unscrupulous. In the end, Charlie got surprise orders to England and gave me a reluctant handshake upon leaving forever.

I’m sure there are plenty more characters of note and they will pop up from time to time in other entries to come. I will save the tale of the most vile and reprehensible of the lot for a tale of his own that will come near the end.

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5 Responses

  1. How do these disgusting odd-balls make it? Just like the odd-balls form Comstock there is a big difference between those that are somehow without a clue (or a functioning nose) and those that are clearly intelligent, but making a statement or just being a pain in the ass.

    Discharged due to stink. I can only hope that was his plan, but I highly doubt it.

    Could someone not punch him (first donning a glove) in his Rhino. Why can’t we just shoot the fucking weirdos. Having experienced so much of there freaks I can say there is only so much you can take (I feel we have suffered far more than out fair share) before it is just frustrating. End their life! The military may not ask or tell, but some fuck running around with his dick out, even silently, has to constitute telling! Is the brotherhood of airmen so tight you would be shunned for turning this fucker in? I could understand that, but certainly no one would have shunned you for kicking him in the balls. Some people you should not feel sorry for.

    I assume Jean was smart enough to steer clear of a relationship with any shop folk?

    A huge fan of the mediocre detergent! this is the greatest thing ever to come out of your mouth!!

  2. How they made it was anyone’s guess. I think it came down to one thing – the odd-balls tended to re-enlist while us more “normal” folk generally cut and run after one term of service.

    I actually forgot one of the more disgusting incidents. An old tech sergent, Norton, at a shop picnic shot a pigeon with a BB gun, filleted with his hunting knife and at it. As expected, he reported that the rat with wings kind of tasted like chicken.

    The tale of the rhino seems to have made you uncomfortable. A new topic to explore? Ah, I remember that time at Goodyear where Knaus’s tales of penis torture methods actually had you curled up on the floor semi-comatose in horror! In any case, I think there were many attempts to kick him in the balls (tattling in the AF was slightly more dangerous than tattling on Crips in prison), but he was a Schultz clone – very fast and wirey.

    Jean didn’t date in the shop although she enlessly flirted with Bell – an engaged man who flirted heavily with every woman he ever came in contact with. Never took it any further – the attention alone was enough for him.

  3. It just struck me as suck a repulsive social practice,a nd I was appalled that this practice was allowed to persist. Should like he should have had a blanket party.

  4. Yeah, it would have been nice if someone had mentioned the whole breath thing to me earlier on so I could have done something about it earlier. But I appreciate your recognition it was medical (they F-ed up my jaw when they pulled my wisdom teeth), not just general disgustingness.

    I didn’t shave my head because I was losing my hair, I did it because earlier in my career I got hit several times for having it slightly out of regs. I figured if I just kept it that short nobody could bitch. I have since recognized I have an ugly head, and cut that crap out.

    But memory fails you… The Vader figure is only 4 inches tall. I still have him, still in the box. So, yeah, I’m still a huge geek (but I’ve quit the SCA). If I ever encounter a 36″ Vader, I’ll buy it in your honor.

    And in case anybody doubts it, I hereby affirm you were one of the best workers I had on that shift.

  5. Heh… Just remembered why I brought in the Vader action figure. Earlier that night I had found out that the new line of Star Wars figures was being released and stocked that very night. I called Viduya, who was running the shift at the time, and convinced him to let me come in late so i could be at Wal-mart when they were first allowed to sell the figures at midnight. (I realize nothing here so far is making me look any less geeky.) Anyway, after I successfully procured the figures I wanted, I came in to work. Viduya demanded to see what was so damn important that I needed to shift my work schedule by a couple hours, so I brought the figure in to show him.

    I know that increases the nerd/geek factor, but hopefully reduces any pathetic approval-seeking factor.

    As for the camel spider, while I admit the dung beetle story is more entertaining, I have never experienced a moment of more sublime horror than waking with a fucking camel spider on my face.

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