Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

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Home and Almost Gone

            The last month before leaving old Langley was a bittersweet and surreal time. A large deal of this of course was the pending separation anxiety from a very intrusive life I had known for 4 years, plus the feeling of loss over Tiff and Travis, and of course the malignant oyster introduced virus that was incubating, multiplying, and conspiring to shut down most of my major organs. This final tale of my Air Force days will see me out of drama central, into my first ever place of my own, and then on to the hospital ironically right down the road from whence I had just come.

            During those last days I had given up on any ideas of pursuing Tiff as anything but a best friend. She had announced she would relocate to Buffalo when she got a year and a half later so I figured I would wait and see what would happen with that. It certainly made my life easier at the end, though only a little. Friend wise, it was down to Tiff, Travis and I with occasional welcome intrusions from Celeste and Diana. I also managed to patch things up with Bryan and even Alicia; surprising given the malignant venom I spewed their way a few months earlier. Vaughn going Drago on Bryans face and our own troubles with him united us against the great shaved ape. As a farewell gesture, I planned 3 magnificent dinners for my closest friends that if nothing else, they miss me for the free tasty meals.

The first of these was a 3 day duck that involved a very complex preparation process that coincidentally took 3 business days, the bulk of this time with the ducks drying out directly on the fridge rack, dripping juices into a pan of water beneath. Fortunately, Travis neglected to keep much food in the house, so the loss of the fridge space was not a problem. The dinner was a hit with him and Tiff. My next effort was coquille St. Jacques and rum crème Brule; a masterpiece.

My final effort was Thanksgiving; a meal which had been my goal to tackle for years. The first year I helped in preparation at Ken Browns where the disenfranchised Airmen gathered. The following year I got an invitation to Mike Hamel’s, riding on Bryan’s coat tales and enjoyed smoked turkey there. The next year was meant to be mine, but the residents of the Animal House stole it at the last minute, leaving me sputtering in rage, but cooking nonetheless; me doing the entrees and Tiff the appetizers of mushroom stuffed mushrooms. This year it was my turn and I had the pleasure of putting on a 10 dish spread. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn, scratch made biscuits, and fresh pumpkin pie. Although originally it was only going to be Tiff and Travis, but invited Celeste as well when we heard she had been left forlorn in the dorms. Despite being cursed with bad luck in my earlier attempts to impress her, this time things went off without a hitch.

My last day in the shop was the day before Thanksgiving where they presented me with a nice little plaque and customary calzone our civilian consultant, old Mr. Ben, gave to all the departing airmen for some reason. The whole experience of it was very cloudy for me as my head was already being affected by the sickness, which had the effect of slowly introducing increasing levels of ammonia in the blood; powerfully hallucinogenic as I would later find out. I mumbled some words of thanks, then turned and walked out forever, my time as an airman done for good; a glorious and frightening experience all at once.

My move back to Buffalo date was set to Dec 7th wherein my father would fly in and we would drive a U-Haul trailing my car with all my worldly possessions. The days before this were even more surreal. My gear was all packed in boxes and Travis and I whiled away the days sipping beer and reminiscing. Tiff was somewhat scarce in these last few as we had a meaningless fight at my going away party a few days prior. It was a shame as I knew I would miss her most of all.

The day finally came and I picked my father up from the airport. Earlier I had picked up the truck and a good sized contingent from the shop came by to help me load it; which was fortunate given that my strength was already at serious ebb. Fortunately Jolly showed and did the bulk of the really heavy lifting proving it’s handy to have a muscle guy around here and there. For dinner my father treated us to my last meal at Harpoon Larry’s; Travis and Tiffany who finally decided to make an appearance. It was a grim meal and I began to get the impression that they were not happy to see me go. What was so strange for me was when they made plans for the next day leaving me feeling somewhat excluded from this life I was leaving behind.

Saying goodbye to Tiff was a sad affair. She had been my constant companion for the previous 14 months. Like tearing a bandage, it was quick and painful with a few tears and a kiss goodbye before I turned and walked out for good. I was grateful for the fact that Vaughn was not home, though unhappy she still had not found another place. We dropped Travis off next and this too was an unhappy thing. He would later be moving France Miller into my old digs; a far prettier replacement though probably not nearly as fun. That in itself was strange, handing over the key to the apartment Bryan and I had acquired in a 10 minute hunt, which would now be occupied by people we didn’t even know when we moved in.

On the morning of Dec 7th, my father and I awoke at 4:00 AM and drove over to the apartment where the truck was loaded and parked. I drove my car up onto the towing thing and we were dismayed to find that the strap that was to hold one of the front wheels was broke. Too late in the game to do anything about it, we decided that one of them should probably do it, but prepared for the long drive to be on pins and needles.

The drive for the most part was fairly uneventful. I was in a glum mood leaving and my father volunteered to do the first part of the drive. A good thing as my mind was already not all there and I was starting to feel jumpy in addition to fatigued, but chalked it all up to the difficulty of leaving. In the wilds of Pennsylvania we got off the highway to get gas and managed to get the truck good and stuck in the snow when we tried to execute a turn that failed. After an hour of fruitless pushing and engine revving, and no small amount of military grade cursing, the wheels had dug in nicely and we began to despair of freedom. Luckily a truck came along that happened to have tow straps and pulled us out of the predicament. My father ended up driving the whole way as I was simply not physically capable.

Moving my gear into my apartment sucked to say the least. It was a frigid night with high winds and the snow flying in tiny icy chips in the dark as we didn’t arrive until well after nightfall. My cousin Billy had come out to help, as did my brother in law. Knaus was supposed to help out as well, but we saw neither hide nor hair from him as the heavy lifting was being done. I was a man exhausted, both emotionally and physically. My mother kept stating that there was clearly something wrong with me, but I would hear none of it. Once all my crap was safely in and everyone left, I collapsed on the couch ready to sleep, which is when I heard and knock at the door and let in a Knaus holding a bottle of So-Co. I still hold that he was probably quietly idling down the street with the lights off, waiting for the heavy work to be completed before announcing himself like a dark wraith in the hallway.

December that year for me was eerie and surreal. I was a fish out of water wandering though stores alone trying to furnish my apartment with those items I carelessly left behind for Travis. Separated from the core group of people I had been joined at the hip with, I wasn’t ready to announce my return to the area to anyone except Knaus and Dave, whom my mother had told. Most days I spent alone in my apartment attempting to refinish a coffee table and watching Red Dwarf reruns on BBC. I still spoke to Tiff every day by phone and Travis at least once a week. I had no idea of what to do without the constant demand of shop drama and the emotionally inbred community that dwelled therein. Tiff provided the gossip updates of who was fucking whom at any given time and what alliances and feuds arose and fell like tiny empires of melodrama. I didn’t miss any of that at all.

My nights became progressively stranger as the ammonia built up as my liver started to fail. My dreams became incredibly vivid paranoid things. I had one in which my loaded truck was stolen out of the parking lot in VA by neighborhood hooligans (not an unreal vision as I almost got car jacked in that same parking lot). When I awoke, I mentally could not resolve the paradox of the stolen goods being far away in a truck and yet right there in my apartment as both things in my mind were absolutely true and irrefutable. It was the kind of thing used in movies to destroy robots whose circuits cannot handle illogical paradox. Unable to self detonate, I finally arrived at the notion that both things were mutually exclusive and real.

On New Years Eve that year I was convinced I simply had a bad flu. I had been unable to eat since the previous day and spent the time watching yet more Red Dwarf as the New Year rang in. New Year’s Day I was unable to eat at all and spent most of the time curled up on the couch in a state of half sleep. That evening my stomach began to swell and rumble fiercely. I tried to take some Night Quill to put myself to sleep, but it had the surprising effect of making me rush to the bathroom sink and disgorge the contents of my stomach for the first time since March of 1992, the night of the infamous rum and coke party. I was surprised when the chicken noodle soup I had eaten two days previous came up in the same form it was swallowed in. I began to worry.

That night was horrendous. I was still enough in my right mind to understand that something serious was happening to me, but not well enough to do anything about it. All night my stomach roiled and growled, continued to swell and caused me much pain. My paranoia returned and again I was convinced that the truck was stolen. I also kept thinking that someone was breaking into the apartment and I would get up every few minutes, clutching my ailing belly and check the door. I kept the machete I bought garage saleing with Tiff next to me at all times.

The following morning I called my mother and she sent my father to take me to the VA, as technically I was still active duty AF until the 26th of Jan. I packed a bag to take with me, convinced that anything serious enough to make me throw up for probably meant an overnight stay. The VA lived up to the expectations of all who have heard of some of the treatment our Iraqi and Afghanistani forces received upon returning home. Despite my incoherence, quickly yellowing eyes and skin, they diagnosed me with gastritis and send me home with anti-vomit medicine and valium. Unbelievable. I asked to be taken back to my apartment and spent the day resting.

The following day was the last where any memories of mine were real. In the morning my mother came by and brought me groceries. I had her put them down near the couch and said I would put them away in a little bit. She would end up finding them there a few days later. For most of the day I drifted in and out of consciousness. In my hallucinatory state, people I knew kept coming by and visiting, sitting in the sofa opposite me, and I would have long conversations with them. I would swear they were really there though most were actually in Virginia. I fell asleep and woke up deeply now in the realm of the unreal.

Again with the moving truck hallucinations. I was under the impression that my father and Dave were over to move stuff from the truck (apparently now recovered) and that I was supposed to help. I was irritated because I felt they were trying to do it without me, sparing me as I was sick, so I decided to surprise them and show up to bear my share of the burden. I put on sweats and sneakers and made my way through the snow and bitter cold to the back of the apartment in the dead of night. I didn’t see them, but saw the truck a few parking lots down, so made my way down the street, checking each one and seeing it farther away each time. I fell and had a hard time getting up and the cold was getting to me to me so I made my way back. I called my mother to complain that Dave and my father had absconded with the truck. As I was making no sense whatsoever, my father sleeping beside her at 2:30 AM, she managed to keep me on the line while my father came to pick me up. My dangerous trip out was the last thing I did in real life that corresponded to my dream state.

Although I was at the VA, in my mind I was here, there, and everywhere in places not at all resembling hospitals. According to those present, I had lucid and involved conversations with people not present, introduced imaginary people to real ones, and even played poker making all the motions as if the cards, chips and table were before me. Interestingly enough, I remember all of this except I remember these people really being there and could probably pass a polygraph attesting to the truth of it all. I really chatted people up at a picnic in my mother’s backyard, introduced her to Tiff and Travis, and played a losing game of poker in my aunt’s yard at her picnic table. I can remember the feel of the chipping paint beneath my arm and the reaction when I folded, all in.

Back in the real world, I was fading fast and they decided to mercy flight me to Walter Reed, the closest government facility that would do a liver transplant. My liver had shut down and was 60% dead, my kidneys stopped working as well as my entire gastrointestinal system. My mind translated the stretcher and plane ride to me being strapped to a surf board for some reason and that I was riding in the back of a pickup to some club in Virginia Beach with AF and college friends. The paramedic on the plane was insistent on taking all kinds of measurements and hooking me up to things. I perceived him as being some annoying douche that Dan invited and not only actively resisted, but verbally assaulted him. In my mind, who was this asshole idiot Dan knew and why was he touching me?

At Walter Reed my perceptions got very strange and it was probably the closest I came to checking out for good. I was placed number one on the east coast list for liver transplant and had one become available, I would have new one now. The outlook did not look good and this was communicated to my father, who rode in the plane down with me, as was my old shop in the AF, who I technically still belonged to. They decided not to tell Tiffany that I was almost certainly a goner. A doctor, who I still feel I owe a punch in the face, tried to convince my father to give permission for them to start harvesting my unaffected organs while they were still viable. Fortunately he had an inkling of my hardiness and declined the ghoulish body snatcher.

Tiff and Travis found out because my mother called Travis as he kept my old number. Their reaction was that of panic and they immediately jumped in the car and sped up to Walter Reed and had actually arrived before me. They were allowed in to visit as Tiff was canny enough to lie and say she was my sister and Travis my brother. I remember them coming in and was overjoyed to see them, though I thought we were visiting at my apartment. I told them stories of things I had discovered, like Bryan and Alicia going undercover for the CIA and Bryan adopting the identity of Eric Wells from tech school but that I was able to tell because of his voice. They got a kick out of that fortunately as I was apparently a sight to behold. Ironic enough Bryan and Alicia also came to visit right after and I filled their heads with similar tales.

In my mind I had been kidnapped by a cult who was doing horrid experiments on me. At one point I perceived myself to being strapped to a steam pipe opening with my arms and legs over the side while a large and slow device was slowly pressing down for the purpose of crushing me. One of them, a pretty conspirator, held my attention and kept telling me to look to the left as to not see, which seemed compassionate until I noted her smirking to those really operating the life ending device. This probably corresponds to when they did my biopsy but I can’t be sure.

I think the turning point for me came when I decided to fight. I was getting fed up with the strange and invasive treatment and began to get violent. I somehow found myself in the parking lot behind a pizzeria on Kenmore Ave near Military. Suddenly the lot filled up with assailants and an all out brawl began. I remember being pressed against other bodies, punching, kicking and using all of my strength to beat every one of them down. Suddenly, covered in sweat and blood, I realized I was the last one standing and a powerful feeling of victory filled me, the triumphant champion in the brawl to end all brawls. I don’t think this corresponds to anything real, but I like to think for no other reason than it pleases me, that it was symbolic of my victory over the virus.

In the dream world, I sought out my father who tried to convince me that the cabal who was trying to hold me was really comprised of well meaning doctors and nurses. I found this ludicrous and decided to hide out in the parking garage behind Jenss at the Boulevard Mall (no such structure exists). I clearly remember driving down Brighton and pulling in. My father was beside me and I still tried to talk sense into him. Suddenly the walls of the garage dissolved and I was surrounded by the cult. I decided to try to defeat them as well, but they somehow managed to tangle my arms in the seatbelts of my car. I broke free of one of them and threw a punch before they got me restrained again. Finally one of them threw a liquid against my neck and I faded to black.

What really happened there is that my hallucinations began to come back more to reality. My father reports that the conversation really did take place, that I did try to escape the ICU, attacked the medical staff and finally had to be restrained and knocked out. They took it somewhat well understanding my condition, though I think some less than others.

When I woke up several hours later, I was very surprised to find myself in a hospital bed in the ICU. They told me where I was and I was able to answer all the questions they ask sacked quarterbacks to see if they sustained brain damage. I got them all right. By then my mother had made it down and my aunt and I was able to talk to them coherently for the first time in days. It was interesting to hear what had really happened as in my mind, all the hallucinations were dead real, and even seem so today. It took many talks before I reconciled what had been real and what had been a dream.

My recovery was astoundingly quick, although they insisted on keeping me for another long and dreary two weeks. On the first day of coherency, they still wouldn’t let me eat or drink as they expected to still have to swap out my liver. A later biopsy, however, showed it to be regenerating quickly. On the second day they moved me to a regular room, which was far more comfortable. Although they had me on an incredibly strict diet, I took some of the cash my father left me and pulled my IV unit down the hall to the vending machine and got some M&Ms. They were pure heaven, even if the doctors got pissed at me once they found out.

I finally got a good look at myself in the mirror and saw what looked like a Simpson looking back. My skin and eyes were bright yellow in color; a condition that would take a few weeks to fade. My appetite came roaring back and I have never relished food so much. In the end, it was if I had never gotten sick to begin with. The days were long and dull with many tests, but Knaus generously procured a whole box full of books I might like and over-nighted them to me. After 2 weeks and 18 books, for the first time in my life I had read about enough.

In the end, they were never able to exactly pin point what it was that I had. After doing dozens of tests, poked and prodded me endlessly, plus asked a very personal battery of questions, all of which I answered truthfully as it was not very difficult to do so. For lack of any other evidence they put together the most likely scenario that I was infected with a yet unknown strain of hepatitis probably gotten from one of the raw oysters I was so fond of. Unfortunately there are multiple strains for which there are not yet any tests for as they are somewhat rare. Interestingly enough, since that time I have read of similar cases of sudden liver failure of the exact same nature, some of which resulted in miracle recovery like mine, and others with a less happy ending. All of them were either active or former military.

I was released from the hospital just a few days prior to the final day I was considered to still be part of the AF. I went home, reacquainted with all the old friends I came home for, all of whom since departed the area I might add, began an aggressive job hunt and started my life as a civilian once again.

 

This concludes the tales of the Air Force, though more stories of the days after are to come.

Travis Time

 

            Travis was my Virginia Dan, a term that will mean nothing to those who are not the originators of this blog and stumbled here for other reasons or simply too drunk to use the internet properly. If you have read this far, you might as well stay and I’ll refrain from using the term furthermore and spare your tiny intellects from the egregious confusion.

            Travis first came to the shop at the same time as Tiff; they had gone to tech school together and had actually found that they had known each other as children in Germany; both of them being army brats. We first hung out the memorable night Tiff invited Tim Kyle and I to the Westgate, an Air Force bar that by convenient coincidence was located right outside the west gate before it was burned down by NASCAR rapscallions. Travis was there with his wife Kelly and we had an enjoyable but brief evening. Tiff had consumed a double Jack and coke too quickly and needed to be carried to the car and taken back to the dorms where Tim and I spent a good two hours walking her around the outside balcony.

            It was around that time that I started hanging out with Travis, Kelly, and Tiff more than the old group of Bryan, Bell, Tim and John, but eventually I managed to merge the two groups and make my calendar easier to manage. Even more convenient for me, if you will recall, Tiff ended up moving into their spare room and made it easy to decide where we would all hang out. Many a warm spring night was spent playing ‘Lucky Bastard’ on their terrace, drinking beer and listening to the endless supply of Bob Marley Travis had accumulated. They seemed to me to be a great couple although I found it odd that their firm advice was to never get married. Something I understand that everyone present completely disregarded.

            Drinking with Travis could be an interesting experience as he was completely uninhibited even when totally sober. In quiet evenings with just a few people present there was never a problem but a crowd of more than five had a way of filling him with boundless energy and zeal while removing any remaining reservations that may have lingered. On more than one occasion we were forcibly ejected from establishments or found ourselves in a position where we had to grab him and run after he somehow managed to incense a far larger group of more dangerous folks, like drinking Marines.

            He eventually took over my old habit of falling asleep in crowds of people and on a few occasions we decided to have some fun with it. Kelly was irritated with him one day for passing out when we were all over and got him back by painting his finger nails pink and then dumping all of the remover she had down the sink. As his wife, she could get away with more than the rest of us as I found out when I decided to enact my revenge for the Diggs Tournament decorating I had endured. When I passed out I asked for and received a nice Sharpie and used it to write ‘penis’ on his forehead and draw on a twirlly moustache. This action woke him up and he lurched for the bathroom to pee. A few moments later we heard him scream “oh fuck no!!” before he came charging out enraged. I owned up and he booted me from the house with a great deal of swearing and threats. Kelly later called me to apologize and the incident remained our one and only altercation.

            One of the fun parts of Travis was his habit of irritating people in the shop with little pranks here and there. I already mentioned the incident whereby he drew fangs on the Wing Commander’s picture; an act akin to burning the flag. At one point we ended up with a mid shift supervisor with no sense of humor. Travis took to stealing the Coke out of his lunch each night which would send this asshole into a rage where he would come by and individually grill us. I tried to get him to also take a single bite out of the guy’s sandwich as well, but Travis feared this insane prick would use the forensic evidence to nail him. I’m not so sure as he seemed fairly leery of Travis to begin with as he was in the habit of spontaneously loudly barking at random intervals during the nightly meeting. He asked Travis why he did that, and Travis responded by simply growling and the question was not posed again.

            In tech school Tiff had told me about a time he received a negative 341 (a form we were all forced to carry that those of superior rank could demand and write positive or negative comments on that would get passed to those in charge) for eating bush. It’s not what you think. Travis had been in formation (wherein independent motion is strictly forbidden) when he suddenly got the urge to turn his head and began loudly knowing on the large bush to his right. Travis confirmed that when he was called on the carpet for it, the commander looked down, saw what it was for, laughed and shooed him away.

            Travis, Kelly, Tiff and I became tight enough that we chose to ring in the millennial New Year together and celebrated the night by having a lobster boil at my apartment, and then walked to downtown Hampton to watch the ball drop and get some champagne. While we had all kind of been hoping something apocalyptic, disastrous, or at least interesting was going to happen at the stroke of midnight, nothing did and we cheered new-years-eve-1999-kelly-bennett-me-tiffany-fitzpatrick-travis-cartoskiloudly at the notion of never hearing the term ‘Y2K’ ever again. The following day it was gratuitous, however, to bear witness to all the nervous Nelly’s trying to return generators and year supplies of toilet paper that were apparently not needed.

            Since the run of the stories is now dealing with my end times with the AF, I’ll put an end to the blissful fond remembrances and get into the meat of how Travis and Kelly figured into the collapse and made it both more bearable and more agonizing for me. While we had always laughed off their ‘never get married’ admonitions, we thought they were solid, but sadly to say problems lurked. If you recall from the last story, I was left in the lurch when Bryan moved out. While my original backup plan was to take the spare room at Vaughn’s, by the month’s end I was already looking at him a bit more critically and convinced myself it was not a good idea. In short, it was becoming apparent that I was screwed and was asking anyone and everyone if they were looking for a new living situation.

            Travis stepped in and saved me at the zero hour. He and Kelly had agreed to a trial separation to see if they could work things out better with a little distance between them. Tiff actually brokered the deal whereby Kelly would take the second spare room at Vaughn’s and Travis would move in with me. While it was a sad day for Travis, it was a great one for me. The first couple of days were good. Travis was understandably a bit on the mopey side, but still a hoot to be around. Then came the night that Bowsher came over.

            I had gone to Harpoon Larry’s with Vaughn and Tiff on a Sat night and came back to find the apartment empty. Not a surprise as Travis rejected our invitation to come with so that he could get the old apartment ready for inspection before turning in the keys. I did my usual thing of turning on the TV and falling asleep on the couch while watching. I woke up to tense hushed whispers and saw Travis and Bowsher staring across the coffee table at each other with beers in hand. The look on Travis’s face was unreadable and nothing I have ever seen before. I asked what was going on and Travis advised I go back to sleep. When I asked again they both rose and walked out the door into the courtyard. I could hear shouting and before I could look, Travis charged back in and smashed the bottle against the wall.

            It took some time to get the story from him, but in sum, he had gone over to the old apartment and was surprised to see two cars already there. He peered in through the window to see Kelly and Bowsher embracing each other. He pounded the window and left. What I had awoken to was Bowsher following Travis back to come clean and admit he had been pursuing Kelly for some time. The kicker of course, and worthy of a classic Degrassi plot, was that Travis and Bowsher had not only been best friends, but worked together on the same shift and in the same specialty area in the shop. Usually one has to turn on Telemundo for such a story, but the tragedy had indeed come to my doorstop. 

            Needless to say, Travis was inconsolable and the next few weeks would seem never-ending. Making the situation more difficult was that another division was occurring among the ranks; this time not precipitated by Vaughn for a change. When any two people fall out, there is an inevitable dividing up of friends and in this case, although Travis was the righteously aggrieved party, a large proportion of those friends they had in common decided to go with Kelly; a real bit of salt in Travis’s wounds. For me it was clear that I stand firmly for Travis and decided to do the difficult thing and not try to see them separately as some were doing, including Tiff who was in the unenviable position of having a prior friendship with Travis but was also housemates with Kelly. Very messy stuff!

            I do not want to give the impression that the 1200 hours of anguish Travis experienced was not terrifically bad, but it was stressing me out considerably as well. Given his state, I made every effort to avoid leaving him alone, which meant many long days in the apartment he was not inclined to leave. In addition, his method of expressing grief was to play his music as loud as the stereo would allow. His play list consisted of the same few Fugazi songs with some Galanas Cerd and Some Soviet Station thrown in for good measure. Here and there he would play some of the stuff from his own old band, which was admittedly pretty good. Given, however, that my preference is to play music just barely creeping above the audible level, the continuous shrieking and pounding was driving me slowly mad. I looked forward to each work shift as an undeniable obligation to release me from the raucous din of hell unleashed. Once I was certain he would not bring himself harm, I eagerly accepted an invitation to fabulous Pittsburgh, which will get a story of its own.

            In order to direct his mind in more favorable directions, he picked up a couple of hobbies that relieved me considerably. First off, he took up skydiving with the funds he had smartly cleared out of the bank account when things started to go south. He prodded me to go with him, which I very much wanted to do, but could never quite raise the capital. Inspired perhaps by listening to the old melodies from bands past, he decided to re-enter the music scene with a bang rather than a whimper.

            Farm Boy was in a band with some friends of his in the Navy and he invited Travis to come down and play with them. This proved to be great for Travis if not so hot for Farm Boy. Travis utilized his natural charisma to direct the band in the direction he felt it should go. When Farm Boy put up some resistance, Travis and the band simply went ahead and voted him out of the organization he and another were the original founders of. I found it somewhat hilarious and the activity kept him down in Norfolk a lot giving me the place to myself.

            In an attempt to better control his surrounding, he took it upon himself to completely redecorate the place. This was something that needed doing anyway as upon moving in, Bryan’s mom had come up and decorated the whole place. Nice at the time as I didn’t have to pay for anything, but as he removed every last item it was pretty bare indeed but for the third hand couches from Tiff and my TV. Travis’ tastes were strikingly similar to Greg Brady’s when he decorated his attic pad in the classic TV episode. Hanging beads in all of the doorways, blinking psychedelic Christmas lights, and some other weird lighting effects hither and dither. His stereo and turn table took prominence over the TV to my dismay, and it was with careful negotiation that we divided the time between them. The only thing I could get him to watch, however, was ‘Fight Club’, which I think we popped in a total of 10 times. After this, the theme of the month was to refer to everything as “I am Jack’s…”, in a game of one-travis-cartoski-me-tiffany-fitzpatrick-some-guyupmanship of outrageousness. This is how the deer head got his name.

            Travis at that time also became known as Paco forevermore. Not for any particular good reason, except that I started calling him that as I tend to do with people. Tiff had much earlier picked up the nickname ‘Pumpkin’ and kept it for the rest of my time there. The three of us ended up as triumvirate alliance as things slowly went to hell, united in a frequent love of Harpoon Larry’s seafood after we claimed ownership of the place from the other competing groups. For a time, and before Vaughn was completely exposed and exiled, we were a somewhat exclusive clique, though included Celeste and Diana from time to time.

            During these famous Harpoon dinners I was introduced to the joy of ‘arsters’, what Travis called oysters, fresh from the bay and served up on the half shell with a squirt of lemon. I had always been a clam fan, but these succulent treats were something I simply could not get enough of. Ironically, the prevailing theory of my illness that percolated in my last days in the AF and nearly killed me soon after arriving home is that it was a virus carried by one of these self same arsters that slid down my gullet so easily. Travis also introduced me to the famous Waffle House home fried, smothered, covered, and in the ring.

            Once the Friday morning beer sessions came to a halt due to lack of attendance, Travis and I fell into tradition of enjoying a glass of single malt scotch and listening to his Gordon Lightfoot LP, ‘Gord’s Gold’ ad nauseum and talking philosophy and whatnot. I convinced him to change it up once for my Pogues tape, but we concluded that Shane McGowan’s melodious chirping was not quite as relaxing as Gord. Much like Dan, without a large group present, he mainly became somewhat quiet, introspective and yielded many flashes of philosophical brilliance one would not necessarily pick out from first impressions. Those mornings remain some of the best conversations I enjoyed. Tiff having no interest in this pastime declined to join us and found other things to do.

            The way the AF handled what happened between him and Bowsher I found reprehensible. Adultery is considered a crime in the AF, and although they could do nothing to Kelly as a civilian, they had the wherewithal to pursue Bowsher. He was questioned, would not admit to any wrong doing, so the matter was dropped. The only initial concession the shop was willing to make was to move Bowsher to another shift, although Travis still had to see him every day at turnover. When Travis took issue with this and wanted additional measures taken, they offered to transfer him to another base. It seemed strange to me that the best offer they could make the offended party was to move them away from their friends and support system during their time of crisis and leave the offender to merrily go about his day.

            Refusing the move, Travis looked for a way out all together so that he could stay in the area for a while but not have to see Bowsher. He moved slowly up the chain of command until the Wing Commander, perhaps having heard of the fang incident, denied his request with final authority. My last act before departing the area for good was to draft a letter to Congress explaining the situation and requesting an honorable discharge. Two months after I left, so did Travis.

It All Started With Vaughn

            It was mid summer in my last year at Langley when Vaughn came to our shop after PCSing from England. Up until that point, where there was occasional heart ache when things don’t work out as we expect, things for the most part were very good. I had a roommate whose company I enjoyed enough to not try to make him leave at every moment, much like the early days of Princeton. I had a best friend in Tiff, who despite all that had transpired, remained my closest companion most of the waking moments of the day. My social network was excellent and I worked in a tight knit shop where nearly everyone got along. What could possibly go wrong?

      Shop life at the time was also good. Charlie had departed for the UK and most of the rest of the assholes had also dropped off one by one leaving things fairly calm. We had frequent parties, fight nights where we would gather for pay per view events, and a surprising lack of tension. The most violence we ever saw occurred in the old vs. young football games played twice a year. I’m proud to say that I and the other over 25 coots won handily every time. Vaughn came and it all changed.

      I first heard of Vaughn from Tiffany who happened to be around the day he first appeared in the shop and drew the duty of showing him around and helping him to get settled. She was quite taken with him and for days it was Vaughn this and Vaughn that until I had to meet this splendid character. He was not what I expected; a slightly chubby version of Mr. Clean; shaven bald, husky, with a booming voice, infectious laughter and sparkling personality. I liked him immediately as did most of the shop.

      The one person who decidedly didn’t like him was Alicia. I was never clear whether he said something that rubbed her the wrong way or she had an uncanny sixth sense and ability to see through disguise far better than the rest of us. She insisted he was a bad person, a bad influence on Tiffany, and dangerous to boot. We thought she was crazy, except of course Bryan, who politically had no other choice than to agree with her. Once he roused himself at 3:00 AM to go and kill a bug over at her place across town he was in it with no escape.

      Tension between Alicia and Tiff had been heating up for some time as they had shared a house for several months and discovered they were in a real Oscar/ Felix situation, with Tiff being unquestionably the Unger of the two. Bryan and I had a few conversations about it given his dating of Alicia and my friendship with Tiff and agreed that what transpired between the gals would not affect us and at worse, the four of us might be able to hang out together so much. Unfavorable but acceptable. Things came to a head, however, when Alicia made a bold move to ban Vaughn from their domicile all together citing a footnote in the complex and oft broken code of roommate conduct they had drawn up upon moving in together. It was a masterstroke of Machiavellian genius that set the whole row of dominoes tumbling.

      The shoe fell in early August as Bryan sat down with me to discuss. “I know we agreed that what happened between the girls would not affect us, but unfortunately things have gotten so they have anyway.” I was considerably uneasy about where things were going, getting the same feeling as all men get when a woman says, “we have to talk”. Tiffany, incensed at the ban, decided to announce her intentions on taking a spare room in the house Vaughn just bought and leave Alicia in the lurch. Bryan was then felt obligated to come to her rescue and immediately move in to share the burden of the rent on the place. The odd man out in this arrangement, was the one who caused no trouble to anyone in this situation, me.

      It goes without saying, although I will anyway, that I was not at all pleased with this situation. I was less than 5 months from departing the area forever and suddenly found myself with an apartment I could in no way afford on my own, even for that scant time. My response to Bryan was not at all kind and I felt justified in clearly accusing him of tanking the friendship all together by screwing me so royally without notice and leaving me with so little recourse. I offered to let her move in; a distasteful choice since watching them all lovey-dovey on the couch constantly made my skin crawl, but even this reasonable compromise was dismissed as she didn’t want the horrid mark of a broken lease on her record.

      What had started back in tech school was now broken. Bryan and I had broken every rule at Medina and Sheppard, lorded over the dorms, broke into the swimming pool and finally became roommates. In our first outing to get cheap furniture we loaded a gigantic entertainment center into the back of his truck and immediately tipped the thing into the highway where it splintered into a 1000 pieces and caused every manner of traffic problems. Our friendly rivalry in the shop spurned us to technical one-upmanship that resulted in our status as first of the TISS gods. Many beers drunk, many laughs, and much good conversation, all over in the space of a conversation.

      I was incredibly angry at the situation; probably more so than I had ever been previous and definitely since. I worked that night, and the morning after I went with Tiff to the house for the dual purpose of helping her move her shit and having it out with Alicia. To my delight, both Bryan and Alicia were present, and I entered into the only and only full tilt shouting match of my life. You see in my eyes she was a cold, manipulative shrew who trumped up bullshit charges against the innocent Vaughn for the express purpose of forcing Tiff out of her home and pulling Bryan in where she could keep better watch on him. A diabolical plot to get exactly what she wanted without regard to those destroyed in the wake of her slash and burn machinations. I made this opinion quite clear and loud and I give her considerable credit that although but 19 to my 28, she held her own admirably despite my foundation shaking fury and cold male logic. Probably because I was later proven wrong, but nevertheless impressive. Though the fighting Tiff kept silent looking scared while Bryan sat with his hands on his head weakly interjecting quietly though unnoticed.

      The fight of course changed nothing; angry accusations and grievous insults generally do nothing to change hearts and minds any more than ill planned invasions and I resigned myself to what lay ahead. The first division had thus occurred; and with it, the core group of friends. I ended up with Tiff, Travis, half of Kelly, Celeste, Vaughn, and pulled in Diana and France to round things out. I got McCauley shortly thereafter when Alicia decided she didn’t care for the cut of his jib. Bryan walked away with Alex, Bowsher, half of Kelly, and the younger set from the Diggs tournament. I felt I had the far better deal, though regretted the splintering of the group.

      Bryan’s move out day was a fiasco. In the days leading up to it, we managed to stay civil and even managed a joke or two. I didn’t volunteer to help him move and he never asked me to. He chose a time when I was sleeping to have some of the guys remove his possessions as was his right. What really set me off again, however, was that I woke up to find out what a Herculean effort he made to take absolutely everything he felt he had claim to, including the shower curtain when I knew full well Alicia had one as I had hung it. Now at the time he felt he was being magnanimous by using his moving truck to deposit the blue living room set Tiff passed on to me (which I still had until last year). At the time I discovered the curtain and confronted him about it, they had just move the sofa into the place while the fold out bed couch remained outside. I cursed him out for the removal and he responded by attempting to pull the sofa back out the door, with me finally jumping on it nearly breaking his fingers. A Jerry Springer moment at its finest. In the end, he left and I was still fueled with enough anger induced adrenalin to move the sofa bed in myself.

      Financially I had a month of breathing room during which I decided to keep the apartment while I planned my next move. The failsafe option was that I would also move into Vaughn’s, not a good choice for me given my ardent desire to cohabitate with less people rather than more. I also felt that living with Tiff would be a bad idea and she agreed; the reason she didn’t move into my apartment instead of Vaughn’s. We had settled into a comfortable equilibrium and living together was bound to bring back some of the old tensions. In the end it would prove a poor decision for the both of us, but the snake had not yet reared its head.

      Once Vaughn got his house in order, we began hanging out there a lot. He seemed like a really decent character and was considerably hospitable. His house was the ultimate bachelor pad with a regulation dart board in the living room, big screen TV and total surround sound which I helped him set up. He took to hosting Friday morning beer sessions as he worked mids as well. He, Tiff, Travis, Diana and I would gather there at the end of each week and have a jolly old time. On one occasion we were fortunate enough to have Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the door. Travis answered, in full uniform, with been in hand and invited them right in. They warily stepped though and we offered them a Jell-O shot Vaughn had made. When they declined, Travis barked at them as he used to do to Tiff’s dog, and they beat a hasty retreat.

      For the most part, I was enjoying my time alone at the apartment and threw frequent dinner parties as I really ramped up my love of cooking. Socially I missed the old group but felt things worked out for the best. Tiff’s life seemed to stabilize and she ended up starting to date someone in a long distance relationship after she met Danny, the brother of Ski from our shop, when he was down to visit. This is about the time that things started to turn further south. Tiff was aware, though chose to handle as she did me, that Vaughn was beginning to develop a thing for her. An uncomfortable situation at best considering she lived under his roof.

      I began to see the cracks in Vaughn’s gleaming gild the day Diana threw a dinner party and invited me, Vaughn and Tiff. It was a fun time to begin with enjoying many hot appetizers and a drink or two. Tiff and I, smoking on Diana’s terrace had the opportunity to witness something unusual which I wasn’t even aware ever happened. Two squirrels were playing in the tree a few feet from us when one of them actually plummeted to the ground, landed on its back, and slowly and much more carefully scampered back up. I wasn’t aware that squirrels ever fell and was grateful to have witnessed what I have no doubt keenly embarrassing to the rodent. How we laughed at his expense!

      Dinner was good although Vaughn was hitting the sauce pretty hard though it all. After dinner when we were sitting down relaxing, Vaughn suggested we play a drinking game, which none of us were in the mood for at all with Tiff being the most adamant. Vaughn was becoming increasingly agitated at his idea being rebuffed and finally stood up and shouted at Tiff that when Danny wanted to play the same game, she was more than willing. Her response was sarcastic that she liked Danny better and at that Vaughn lost it and stormed out. We heard him peel away in his Camero a few seconds later and sat there stunned.

      I ended up giving Tiff a ride home and implored her to crash at my place that night. I did not like at all how wound up Vaughn got and imagined him sitting there waiting for her in a wife beater nursing a bottle of whiskey. Tiff had come from a difficult background, however, and was nonplussed by the whole show and somewhat annoyed by it. Against my better judgment I brought her there and walked her in and felt better when it was evident that he had gone to bed. My spirits were high that night as Tiff revealed that she was considering moving to Buffalo after the AF and we spent time on Diana’s computer looking at pics of downtown that seemed to entrance her.

      The next day I received a call from a contrite Vaughn who apologized for his behavior the night before. I told him I understood where he was coming from having been there myself and if he wanted to talk, etc and left it at that. The outburst still bothered me and I resolved to keep a better eye on him. While most of the shop, aside from Alicia and her crew, still thought highly of him, there were things that were beginning to bother me more and more.

      For one, he seemed to take it really badly that I always beat him at darts in his own living room, as he was under some strange impression that the house should always win. He ended my streak by banning me from playing and was surprisingly serious about it. On one occasion when the two of us where hanging out, he revealed that he had an ex wife and son in Ireland, but that the Irish courts would not allow him to see his son despite the clear establishment of paternity. This seemed unusually harsh and atypical of any court and I had to wonder what else lay beyond the story. Finally, I happened to be present when he admitted that he had not once, but twice been accused of rape in cases where the woman “changed her mind after”; something I was quite certain never really happens and is the pat excuse of brutish animals who are somehow able to use personal charm to dodge the charges as he did. The more I was finding out, the less I liked.

      Not long after the party at Diana’s, I happened to be present when he and Tiff got into an argument over some piece of trivia or another and I was asked to weigh in. In this case Tiff was clearly wrong in my eyes but I chose her side anyway. To Vaughn this was the ultimate betrayal in male solidarity and he broke off relations all together which was fine with me. Again I implored Tiff to move out, but she stood firm in her ability to manage her own affairs and I could do nothing but abide. My invitations to beer Fridays were rescinded, so I countered by moving things over to my apartment and managed to capture the entire attendance; very satisfactory!

      A large part of Vaughn’s brutishness was revealed to all a couple of months later shortly before I was to leave the area for good. Much happened in between, which will be the subject of 2 more stories, but I am obligated to end this tale by really illustrating the quality of his character. While I am aware of yet more; a far more heinous act perpetrated by this monster, I am bound by honor not to speak as the person most affected requested that the details not be revealed and I have no good reason to break my promise, although had I my way, he would be rotting in Leavenworth to this day.

      Further rifts in the social circle had occurred as well as some mending by the time Bryan threw his big going away party for which his parents came up. While I was told I would be welcome I declined to attend due to being obligated to take a moral stand in favor of someone who was not welcome. Not going turned out to be the right decision as chaos erupted that night. Despite the whole collapse of the shop structure being precipitated by Alicia’s dislike of Vaughn, he had the balls to show up the party uninvited with some others. Bryan and Alicia, in the spirit of generosity and partially because Vaughn was currently allied to some of their allies and against some of their enemies, decided to be hospitable and let him stay.

      Bryan was not pleased however, when Vaughn spurned their hospitality by acting in an insulting manner to Alicia anyway and then left. Bryan was always one to take the southern concept of both hospitality and honor to heart and was incensed. When he found out what had happened, he called Vaughn and entered into a verbal altercation with him over the phone, where things transitioned into the physical threat arena. Vaughn handled this maturely by getting into his Camero and speeding over there. He pulled up and without turning the engine off or closing the door, leapt from the vehicle and charged Bryan who had been taken outside to calm down. Vaughn charged him before he could react, all 6’3” and 220 lbs of him to Bryan’s 5’11”, 170, and slammed him into the ground, straddled him, and pounded away at Bryans face like an enraged baboon. Alicia screamed and tried to pull him off but he punched her out of the way as well. It took 4 others to haul him off, at which point he just walked over to his car and drove off, leaving Bryan bloody and unconscious on the lawn.

      Tiff told me she was home when Vaughn arrived back and that he could not be more pleased with himself, proudly showing off his bloody fists and bragging at his manly defeat of a much smaller opponent taken unaware. Again, it was not the worst thing he had done, but it was the most public and had the one satisfying effect of unanimously uniting the shop against him, tanking his once vaunted position as most popular to most reviled. This alone I was happy about.

      The aftermath of the event was pathetic and firmed up my resolution to get the hell out of there and never look back. While one would think that the foregone conclusion to such a well witnessed happening would be Vaughn having the hammer of god brought down on his oily chrome dome, he ended up escaping virtually unscathed. While they had him firm with aggravated assault and drunk driving, moving forward with prosecution would have additional effects. While he would have gotten his, Alicia would be hammered for underage drinking, holding a party where underage drinking was taking place, and (purely ridiculous) assaulting someone of superior rank in her attempts to get him off Bryan. In addition, everyone of sergeant rank or above who had been at the party with underage drinking would be Article 15’d and probably lose rank. To court martial Vaughn, Alicia would probably be kicked out, and about 5 people would lose rank, 4 of which would have been over the high year tenor and forced out on a technicality. With great bitterness Bryan and Alicia dropped the matter and Vaughn escaped scott free.

      While I left not long after having never gotten the satisfaction of seeing his downfall, I did look up an old friend when last down there on business back in ’04. I was greatly satisfied to learn that Vaughn committed a repeat assault of the same nature at another party a few years after. His beating of Bryan was recalled and cited and used to exile him from the shop to perform much worse duties. It is my firm hope that by now he has been revealed and charged as the monster he is and doing time in Leavenworth bending over and grabbing the bars for a Special Forces nut with an uncontrollable Mr. Clean fetish.

Diggin’ It

            Many of you are probably assuming that the title to this missive indicates a discussion of the beloved Sugar Smacks icon Dig ‘Em, the cereal eating frog. Although I have met Dig ‘Em on several occasions and found him pleasant, he is in fact quite a dull conversationalist and not worth mentioning hereafter. The title instead refers to the infamous Diggs Tournament; an annual even held in Southern VA in which colleges from around the nation would come to play volleyball, camp out, and do plenty of drinking and frolicking. While my homies and I had no truck with the sport or those who played it, we were very fond of drinking and frolicking and so made glorious plans for that weekend.

            It was a beautiful spring in my last year in the AF and things were beginning to shape up considerably, or so it seemed. In the social turmoil that occurred after the Animal House fellows departed, a new core social group emerged, thick as thieves and sturdy as an oak. In these golden times we could not foresee the thunder heads on the horizon that would be sparked by the arrival of Vaughn that would culminate in violence and betrayal of the worst kind. Enough about that until its time.

            Tiff had gone to the tournament the year prior with Harley, Kent and the rest as Kent had a fine talent for sniffing out where the really good times were to be had. After returning, she seriously could not shut up about it and managed to finally excite the rest of us into mounting plans for a grand expedition. In preparation we obtained tents and camping supplies, enormous coolers filled with nothing but sausages and diggs-tournement-travis-cartoski-cliff-souder-bryan-bray-tim-kylebeer, and many yards of Christmas lights; my contribution as I had the greatest collection. The key to a good time at these things was to stake out a good camp site, and establish the boundaries. As thousands of people flocked to this thing, arriving early was essential.

            Tiff and I worked the overnight shift on Thurs/ Fri and took off for the event right after work that morning and managed to stake out a premium location. Alex arrived soon after and the three of us defined the campsite by pitching our tents at the three corners of the perimeter. I set to work hanging the lights, as a single outlet was available for use. Despite Alex’s protestations that they should not do so, I insisted they remain blinking; an affront I would pay for in the night to come.

            We spent the morning drinking beer, as on the overnight shift everything is reversed. Generally I was in the habit of being in bed by 11:00 AM for a 4:00 or 5:00 PM wake up. Though I tried to retire to my tent about noon, tired after working the previous night, the hot VA sun beat down making sleep difficult. In addition, people were flowing into the area by the dozens, and I would swear that despite the out of the way location I had chosen, every single one of them managed to knock into my tent as they strode by with their gear. The reason I mention this all is to help explain events further down the road, which I am obviously foreshadowing with the delicacy of a rock through a plate glass window.

            Unable to get good rest, I decided to join the revelers in what would be a long and hazy day. Our campsite consisted of our new core group: Tiffany, myself, Bryan, Alicia, Alex, Travis, Kelly, Tim Kyle, Bowsher, Celeste and Mike. In addition, some of the others from the shop managed to find us as well, like Farm Boy, Cliff, Badman, and to my considerable annoyance, Foster.

            I’ll be perfectly honest and admit that I didn’t care for Foster because Tiff had a thing for him. That in and of itself was not hate worthy, but that I found him to be such an idiot douchebag that it rankled me something fierce. It’s not that he was a bad person, per se, but that I saw him as someone with no future and definite bad news. For lack of anything else, I settled into an annoyingly protective big brother role for the time and let my unwanted opinion of this gentleman be known. My first encounter with him had been an evening at Travis’s where he called over to see what Travis was doing and admitted that he was just cruising about town with a bottle of whiskey. Travis had the good mind to lure him over and confiscate his keys until he slept it off, but it did not generate a glowing picture of him in my eyes. Sadly I report that his habits proved fatal and that he plowed his car into a tree not long after I departed, killing himself and his passenger.

            On the first night, no volleyball was played to my knowledge; not that we had any intention on watching any. One of the best features of the early evening was the annual marshmallow fight which I partook in with great glee. What I found interesting about it was that almost all of the participants seemed to actually fear being hit by the fluffy clumps of tasty goodness. As I expended my ammo early on, I moved up to the front lines in order to recycle spent ordinance and hurl it back against the other side. Before I knew it, the front line was a good 10 feet behind me and I was on my own hurling against the retreating opposition. All but one; a perky co-ed who also was not terrorized by the bouncy little missiles and joined me in reusing spent sugar. We quickly became locked in a death match.

            By the end of it, we were about 5 feet from each other, scooping up and hurling fast and furious, attempting to get desirable face shots in that had the devastating effect of causing the other person to momentarily blink. By that point the front lines on each side had retreated to the point where they could no longer hit each other, so instead concentrated on us to the effect of nailing their brave points in the back far more than the opposition. The match was finally called a draw. At that point, my brave competition charged up to me, into my arms, gave me a surprising kiss, and ran off. Later in the evening I went looking for her, but this was an impossible task in the darkness and chaos.

            Most of the evening was spent as expected, drinking and wandering about between campsites, with time taken here and there to cook a sausage or two to keep up the energy. I would like to remind everyone that by midnight on Friday I had been awake since about 4:00 PM on Thurs and that a full 32 hours had passed since I had last slept. Combine this with copious amounts of beer, an epic marshmallow fight, and much reveling and you have one tired monkey. I remember sitting down on the lounge chair for a moment of rest and nothing else until I opened my eyes to see Tiff standing over me smiling and tugging something off of me.diggs-tournement-i-am-decorated-ii

            I appeared to be tangled in some sort of wiring that was starting to burn in places. I moved my head and a full can of beer fell into my lap, making me drop the sausage that somehow found itself in my hand. It slowly dawned on me that I had committed the cardinal sin of falling asleep amidst this group of drunken assholes. I was very happy to find out that my eyebrows were in fact intact and the rest of me for the most part. I was fortunate in that my friends provided the necessary restraint in holding back the younger instigators. I received the information with some degree of horror that Badman had been poised to dump a cooler full of water of me before Alex pulled rank and stopped him by pointing out the usual negative effects of mixing water with live wiring. Oh, but he would get his.

            The following day was much of the same and I managed to get by without watching a single volleyball game. I have no doubt that Aaron is reading this with growing irritation as he would no doubt far more enjoy the recounting of a ball being batted back and forth than plodding through my seemingly endless and pointless story. Smack balls on your own time I say! Tiff and I each traveled back to Hampton for showers and I came back in the early evening with enough time to let the fun begin again.

            One of the benefits of this trip was that it gave Tiff and I a chance to iron out some issues and definitively define what our relationship was to be from then on forward. While the final conclusion was not my first choice, I did feel somewhat relieved to have things settled once and for all, lingering hopes not withstanding. I felt that with that I would be able to enjoy my remaining time all the more and could not have been further from the truth, but for other reasons.

            That night I was introduced to the concept of ‘muddin’; a sport by which someone with a jeep revs it up and goes charging about, usually though the mud, until it becomes stuck. Bowsher was so kind as to bring his jeep along, and although we had diggs-tournement-bryan-bray-attempts-to-driveno mud, he and Bryan felt the freedom to plow it careening through the trees between campsites at breakneck speeds while foolish passengers stood hanging on to the roll bar. Naturally I was first in line and managed to take the attached picture but moments before Bryan managed to surprise me with a quick right turn which threw me from the vehicle. I can’t believe no one got killed that night, though many an angry pedestrian was forced to dive out of the way.

            By the following morning, I had enough of the hoopla and peeled out of there at the crack of dawn. In my haste to be away I ended up missing Badman getting his finally in a move of unbridled stupidity it should have been included in my last story. Our way of disposing trash at the campsite was to burn it in the fire. Everything from paper plate to beer cans and bottles met their end in the fiery furnace at the camp center. Badman, apparently deciding he didn’t want to carry the rest of his cooler home, decided to chuck a full, capped bottle of been into the fire. Not understanding what happens to pressurized containers when suddenly heated, he remained next to the fire looking in. The bottle of course exploded right into his face, showering him with boiling beer and glass shards, nearly taking out an eye. As it was, he had to be rushed to the emergency room and was known as the bonehead of the month in the shop for sometime after.

            The Diggs tournament had one other longer term effect. On the second night we were there, Bryan decided it was time to call me out. He didn’t approve of all the time I spent hanging out with Tiff instead of pounding brews with the boys. The nipple ring as well particularly offended him. I was accused of the high crime of being unable to hang anymore and a pussy to boot. The charge hung heavy in the air, greeted with thunderous silence by all present and hushed to hear my rebuttal. Thus the challenge was born whereby I had one shot to prove my manhood and relative worth to the drunken assemblage.

            Having taken the proverbial glove to the face, I responded to the slap with a call to formal dual. A date was quickly set and rules established. Deciding to eschew the traditional 10 paces and pistols as the Air Force had recently banned the practice; we chose as a field of honor our living room with the weapon of choice being Jagermeister. The rules were simple. Every 10 minutes we would each down a shot of the syrupy medicine, poured by an impartial third party, until one of us passed out or hurled. Anything else was fair game – we could eat or drink anything else we chose, but just not throw up.

            The event itself became well publicized in no time and everyone who heard begged for invitations to the event. In the two weeks leading up to it, heavy wagering was made, and Bryan emerged a quick favorite. Once it was a foregone conclusion that I would indeed be the one to fall, more bets were made as to how many shots I would last; some of the speculations being pathetically low like 4 or 5. Bryan may have had the rep, but I had an angle, Charlie.

            The day came with much bravado and chest beating. A select few observers were invited to witness. Wagar, John McCauley, Bowsher, Travis, Kelly, Celeste and Mike in Bryan’s corner, and just Tiff in mine. God bless her for believing, although later I found she had money on Bryan and was just trying to be outwardly supportive. Bryan and I each made a show of having a couple of beers before the contest even began as evidence of superiority. The time came and we began. Alex poured and we did the first shot. Immediately I put my strategy into play. I got up, went into the kitchen and downed a full 16 oz glass of water, and continued doing this after each and every shot.

            Bryan, who was welcome to do the same thing laughed at my strategy feeling I was likely not even delaying the inevitable crash. By shot 5 I had a mild buzz but Bryan was talking loudly. At shot 8 I was teaching Tiff how to play chess while Bryan was staggering about with a glass of water trying to catch up. At shot 11 I was making spaghetti for everyone in the kitchen while Bryan was starting to not make so much clockwise-johns-sister-bryan-bray-me-alex-wagar-john-mccauley1sense anymore. Alex appeared in the kitchen and remarked that things weren’t looking so good for the home team. I then wrote down my spaghetti sauce recipe for him from memory with a steady hand. At shot 13 I was playing chess again when Bryan suddenly lurched over, scattered the pieces from the board, then bolted for the door and hurled in the courtyard. The mighty Wolf had won the day and bragging rights forevermore.

            Alicia put Bryan to bed and the party continued for some time more. Everyone was somewhat schnockered by then and it suddenly seemed like a good idea to hop the fence of the complex pool and go skinny dipping, my first time to engage in this activity and much emboldened in all respects from the awesome victory I had won. Unfortunately I may have beaten Bryan down a bit too hard. Not only did I publically trounce him, see his girlfriend naked (which he understandably didn’t appreciate), but I didn’t even get a hangover due to the massive amount of water I drank. The following evening as he staggered about with the dry heaves, I callously offered him a beer, which he wisely declined. I was not challenged again.

            We all agreed that Diggs had been a real hoot, and would have been even more so if the extras hadn’t shown up with their howling and bloody accidents. We planned a 4th of July weekend down in the Outer Banks of NC with just Tiff, me, Alex, Bryan, Alicia, Tim, Bowsher, Travis and Kelly. At that point I felt we were a pretty tight knit group and had no way of predicting that within 2 months any given person was only on speaking terms with one or two others. In any case, we kept the trip hush hush and I was tasked with making the arrangements.

            Tasking me with this was a fairly stupid thing as the sum total of my planning was that we would drive down there and figure things out from there. Initially we planned to go down caravan style but ended up doing a ‘Cannonball Run’ style race to the big fish at the Nags Head welcome center. Tiff and I won handily as she knew some back road shortcuts. Tension ran a little high once we met up and it was clear that we had no idea where to go. It was here I also learned that women really don’t appreciate history lessons in times of uncertainly as my attempts to explain the significance of Roanoke Island and Kitty Hawk were shouted down in short order.

            As the sun was going down and things seemed hopeless, we stumbled upon a beautiful stretch of beach with large sand dunes and a grassy field for the tents in Kill Devil Hill. The property was posted of course but we decided to trespass wantonly as no one was around to shoo us away and all the real campsites were full to capacity. My total lack of planning actually worked to our benefit as the illegal accommodations were far better than being crammed into a crowded KOA full of families, frats, and grouchy seniors.

            We didn’t know that it was to be the last great time we would all have together, but enjoyed it as if it were anyway. It was also Tim Kyle’s last weekend as he was the first of our generation to say goodbye. Aside from his faux homosexual advances on old Grigs, he was one of the few to make it out without significant strife and would be sorely missed in the war torn months to come. It was a great weekend filled with fun on the beach, big cook outs; crab dinners at the local shacks and even a bit of go-carting. The nights were filled with drinking, story telling and watching the sunset from the giant dunes; the makings of a golden time in the last great summer. When we packed and left, we were already excited about the next outing which was never to happen.

A Few Bad Ideas

            I have no doubt that a loyal reader looking at this title might wonder if this is going to be a rehash of things past told as nearly every post is filled with ideas ranging from the realm of ill conceived to down right deplorable. Unfortunately I must report that no shortage of these gems exists and that I have but siphoned off the mere surface of the well of them. Should any reader who stumbled across this be starting to worry that I might be dredging up dangerous things best forgotten that may impact life and career, fear not, for after the Ken incident last year I understand that for some reason people actually read this drivel and take stock in it. That said, take comfort that all mentioned, the author included, can be considered three time losers for the largess of poor planning.

            To begin this collection, I’ll take another shot at AF management and recount a bad idea that was not mine, nor my friends, but the eager young Lieutenant for the squadron. His name escapes me but his actions caused no shortage of heartbreak and financial cost to me and mine. It was my second winter at Langley and tensions were high as Clinton and Saddam thumbed their noses at each other regarding the presence of weapons inspectors. Given that he had none and what came to follow under the next administration, kicking them out was as stupid a move as our invasion based on the sketchy reporting of a known ne’er-do-well. In any case, the holidays were approaching with Saddam threatening to kick them out and Clinton was countering with the threat of a stern airstrike spanking. In the midst of this, I and others were granted leave to go home for Christmas.

            It was 3 days before Christmas and both sides decided to make good their promises. Not something I was all too concerned with as we had forward deployed planes in both Saudi and Turkey and the smoke had cleared within a few hours. We were just sitting down to eat the glorious repast my mother prepared when the phone rang. “Airman Wolf?” Crap. Being called by rank at home could never be considered to be a good thing. “This is Lt Douchebag. In light of recent events, all leaves are cancelled. Report back to base immediately.” More disheartening words mere inches from my most favorite of holidays had ever been spoken.

            Dinner was like ashes in my mouth and I couldn’t choke down desert. The price gouging airline attempted to charge me $800 to change my flight, but I successfully used my military recall status to get them down to $300. Still a monumental expense on an airman’s salary. The next morning my disheartened family drove me through the blustering snow to the airport and watched me board with the knowledge that a very real possibility existed that I would be spending Christmas in the sand. It was, however, what I signed up for when I enlisted and was determined to be in best spirits about it.

            I arrived back in Virginia where the rain was coming down in sheets. Rocky Vance picked me up from the airport and took me back to my apartment, where I changed into uniform and made my way into work where I spent 9 hours repairing band 3 amplifiers rather than drinking beer with Knaus or having my picture taken on Santa’s lap as I had planned. Oh miserable day! I did all I could to take it stoically; a man of duty and self sacrifice. The shop chief called me into his office.

            “Wolfie, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. This really sucks and I’m impressed with how well you are taking it.” I mumbled something about how it was my job, yadda yadda. “Yeah, it’s too bad how the Lt. jumped the gun and started calling people back on his own before the Colonel stopped him.” Wait, what? Yes, as it turned out, this butter bar fuck nut eager beaver saw the news reporting, overheard someone wonder aloud if there would be a recall, and took it upon himself to go erasing people’s leaves to look like a go getter. A truly bad idea from my point of view.

            This news did not do much to improve my mood, especially after I found that while they weren’t cancelling leaves, they were not yet approving new ones, which I what I could have to apply for to get back home. I spent the next two days pleading my case to all who would hear, and at the 0 hour was approved to go back home on Christmas leave. While it was the Christmas that almost wasn’t, all was good in the end although my family and I ended up a good $800 more in the hole that was naturally non-reimbursable. I’m sad to say, however, that the eager Lt. was shortly thereafter promoted up to his further level of incompetence.

            As I had mentioned in earlier posts, I was known for slipping out the back way of establishments and walking back home when I felt I had enough and wasn’t in the mood to debate the matter. In the beginning they launched unsuccessful manhunts for me, but after a spell understood ‘that is just Wolf’ and let me be. While my famous 5 mile treks home where in and of themselves not bad ideas (well perhaps they were but nothing bad happened to me because of them), they inspired one that surely was. I will decline to mention the name of the poor unfortunate, but this should spark a memory or two for the parties actually involved.

            It was a Friday night and one of the legendary party night’s at John McCauley’s apartment in Newport News, about 30 miles away from me. My roommate and I arrived early and the three of us enjoyed one of the payday lobster boils we liked to have now and then and began the beer drinking early. My contribution was a 30 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, chosen carefully as I knew that even if I didn’t return for a month, every last can would still be present in the fridge, unlike the favored Icehouse which would disappear less than an hour after my departure. My roommate was sucking them fast that night and it didn’t help that John was doing everything possible to irritate the crap out of him.

            At one point we were playing a board game and John took to slapping my roommates hand each time he went to move a piece. After several warnings went unheeded, he launched himself at John and popped him in the face, setting the tone for a violent evening. It didn’t help matters that the place filled up with many partiers and a tournament of drinking games began. I was in the usual practice of sitting the majority of these out, but my roommate was in a more competitive nature that night, though without skills to match and he was soon roaring drunk.

            Despite our best advice to the contrary, John continued to needle him. No match for John’s enormous size, he got it into his head to storm out and drive home. While ‘friends don’t let friends drive drunk’ was a phase often ignored, it was clear that my roommate would not make it to the end of the block before killing himself. A few of us ran out the door, caught him in a flying tackle and wrestled his keys away. He did not take this well, though after a time we convinced him to take a nap in the spare room. In no shape to drive myself, I rode the couch that night and decided to make my way home in the morning.

            The next day John noted that the spare room was now empty but my roommates truck was still parked outside. Very curious. John also still had possession of the keys. “Well, he’s bound to turn up somewhere”, we figured. I made my way home and expected to see him at the apartment. The place was empty when I arrived, although there were several very garbled messages on the machine from him. No matter, I figured, if someone is holding him for ransom a note and perhaps a severed ear would probably follow and the lads and I could organize a bake sale or something.

            I settled in for a morning nap when the phone rang to my dismay. It was my missing roommate, evidently still alive, though imprisoned. As it turned out, he was embittered by his treatment at our hands and decided to take a page from my book and hoof it out of there on his own. In his advanced inebriated state, he did not consider the fact that we were 30 miles away and not 5. He realized this a few blocks into it and made a judgment call of seeking to shorten the journey by any means necessary rather than slinking back in defeat. His inspired method was to cut though people’s backyards, as if this would be easier than using the sidewalk for some reason. Most of the locals had picket fences and he sought to remove these barriers by kicking them down, which is what he was doing when the police cruiser pulled up and arrested him for drunken disorderly and other misdemeanors. By a minor miracle, he escaped with just a fine and the Air Force never the wiser, for truly, they would have smote him fierce. All good chillun’s know, imitating the Wolf can come to no good.

            Speaking of misused substances, some of the most monumentally bad ideas I heard while in the AF involved them. The first occurred to a foursome in the dorms at the time I lived there. I’m happy to say I did not know any of the individuals involved, at least this time, but their pictures can probably be found in the dictionary under ‘fool’. Though it was gravely verboten, it was not wholly uncommon that military members partook of illicit substances on an at risk basis once in a while. Such action was inherently risky as the AF held and used the power to select any member at any time for a random pee test; a sword of Damocles if you will for the young hippies amongst us. Such tests came at blind moments; one would be working away and then approached by someone in charge who would escort them right there and then to the medical building and then watch intently as the chosen , fully exposed, would pee into the provided container and then immediately take possession. There was no way around the system. If you were too shy to go, you would stand there hanging out till you could. In any case, some foolhardy members would choose to take the gamble that their number was far down in the queue. If you popped positive though, you were gone.

            The four fools in question evidently felt they had the numbers on their side. A poor bet for obvious reasons. To further increase their likely consideration for a Darwin award, they chose to enjoy their odiferous repast right there in the dorms that regularly had security forces patrol by. What really made them special and worthy of mention though, was that after getting the substance induced munchies, they called for a pizza. Not a terrible move; what did this civilian delivery monkey care? Normally not at all, except they thought it would be a hoot to tip the guy a single penny, then shut the door laughing. On his way out the gate, he happily blew them in and within moments law enforcement descended on them in force like the hammer of God. As I understand it, they were not only dishonorably discharged by brought up on criminal charges as well.

            Now what also made these retarded baboons even the more so was the well known or at least suspected presence of special investigators on long term assignment infiltrating the dorms. I took advantage of this bit of knowledge while I lived there and started a rumor that I might be one in order to eliminate the continuous requests to buy beer for under 21 airmen; a move that would be ridiculously stupid in its own right as the buyer usually received a far worse penalty than the underage imbiber. Be that as it may, the presence should have been a strong deterrent from engaging in illegal activities.

            Sometime in my last year at Langley, long after my dorm departure, scandal erupted and even spilled into my shop. A cabal of young airmen from our squadron came up with the brilliant plot to start an ecstasy ring right there in the dorms to earn some extra spending cash. Now, starting such a thing in the civilian world is considered dumb by anyone’s standards due to the harsh penalties for drug related crimes, intent to distribute, and conspiracy. Then consider doing such a thing in a well scrutinized environment where 21 Jumpstreet style infiltration was well known, and in an organization that busted someone a full rank and confined them for a month for riding a bus without permission. I can’t imagine what these idiots were thinking. To highlight the Idiocracy even further, they actually managed to recruit one of the undercover agents into the organization! Usually news of such thing is kept very hush (OSI prefers infiltration remain a rumor and not a cold fact) but it so happened that I was friends with the Reporting Official of one of the busted; a brand new airman who had only been in the shop for a week before getting tangled in the scheme. I don’t believe that a one of them has yet seen the light of day again now close to 10 years after.

            As it is my philosophy and method that while I freely bust the chops of all who fall under the wheels of my pen, I am obligated to put my own person under the same harsh light of my recounting. One of my own bad ideas I will share started on one of the legendary Friday mornings spent drinking with Tiff in her kitchen. Tiff had been dieting and working out for some time following her breakup with Harley in the hopes of netting herself a quality man. Despite much throat clearing and eyebrow lifting on my side of the table, I somehow mentally never feel into that category for her, but by then I had already partially accepted that or at least sufficiently fooled myself into believing that I only wanted to be friends anyway and that my slavish following of her was typical buddy stuff. The example I’m about to share illustrates this beautifully.

            It started with Tiff being very proud of her flat belly and suddenly wishing for some manner in which to adorn it. Fortunately the permanence of a tattoo seemed too extravagant as well as too expensive, so in sounding out other ideas she settled on a nice belly button ring that I confirmed would be very cute if she couldn’t just leave well enough alone. Tiff was not one for patience in such matters and insisted I drive her to the piercing place right that very second, and never one to say no, I did. In the little waiting area (piercings were popular that day), she began to get nervous; no pain junky by any stretch of the imagination. She turned to me and said, “I need moral support to do this. So…what are you going to get pierced?” Now, I had gone there with no intention whatsoever of having my person violated by a pin the size of telephone pole and adorned with something that would cause endless embarrassment at airports.

            The better part of me wanted to laugh and tell her to fuck off, but that part hardly ever won. Somehow I found myself sitting shirtless in an uncomfortable chair while a gothic looking girl with a whole lot of shit in her face dabbed alcohol on my left nipple before plunging a medieval knights lance through it followed by a gleaming steel ring. Fortunately my pain tolerance is very high as the experience is such to inspire one to scream like a little girl; something Tiff did not long after having been fooled into thinking it painless from my stoic reaction. It was my little way of giving back in this case.

            It was my intention that the invasion would remain a closely guarded secret to be removed as soon as it was not so incredibly painful to touch. To my regret, I somehow neglected to convey this clearly enough to Tiff and for a solid month my receding hairline took a big backseat to what was said to be through my nipple. The other airmen took great fun in slapping my breast for the pained reaction, though I am proud to say I was crafty enough to “confirm” it was indeed my right one that was affected and saved myself a bit of agony if not sexual harassment. Such foolishness to impress a disinterested gal ranks among my most ill conceived notions.

            Tiffany somehow was at the root of many of my bad ideas in the AF, whether I came to them on my own, or they were innocently suggested. Most don’t warrant a full telling, but I’ll share a few more instances of my humiliation. The piercing was not the only cosmetic change I made to my chagrin. I also let myself get talked into a tanning salon membership one spring and managed to cook myself a nice dark brown over a period of months and probably introduced the seed of a nice lingering melanoma years on down the road. An additional personal appearance change I decided to make after she suggested that smooth was infinitely better than hirsute. No Superman symbol with Nair this time though; it was the Steve Carrel special all the way with Tiff doing the honors of applying hot wax and pulling clump after clump of chest hair off. Somehow personal appearance “improvements” necessitated a great deal of pain.

            I will end this embarrassing tale with a parting shot at someone else for a change. Travis, my Virginia Dan, was a big fan of my chili and begged me to make it on a regular basis. His only persistent complaint, however, was that it was never hot enough for his liking. Finally having enough of his kvetching, I took the latest batch and divided it in two. The one pot I left alone, but to the second I added copious amounts of both Dave’s Insanity sauce as well as about 20 fresh habenero peppers which I cooked until they dissolved in the mix. The amount of airborne capsicum from the cooking action alone burned the eyes and caused no small amount of coughing. I tried the tiniest bite of the finished result and after pouring a gallon of milk down my gullet concluded that this would shut him up good.

            Through tearing bloodshot eyes and near constant coughing, Travis miraculously choked down a whole bowl of the stuff and asked for container to take home. The next day he revealed he dipped into the doggie bag though this time ended up throwing the whole thing up. The final shoe dropped the next morning, however, when Travis discovered the effects of that much capsicum entering and exiting the colon through a new meaning to the ring of fire.

Pet Smart?

            It goes without question that the most elite echelon of the brave, daring and most oft sacrificed members of our Air Force are not the boys and girls in blue but the poor beleaguered creatures forced by the cruel hand of apex superiority to abide them. This entry, before moving on to the weightier matters of foolish ideas and the eventual collapse of the core shop cabal, serves to pay tribute to the handful of animals who endured us; some to their eventual demise while others perhaps still now breathing the sweet air of freedom. Probably not though as it has been a while and all but perhaps a cat are quietly rotting in a Hefty bag beneath Mt Trashmore.

            I first observed the sacred bond between human and animal back at Sheppard in the halcyon days of tech school. Although I have gone on ad nauseum regarding the strictness of the rules in said place of torturous learning I will bore you again by reiterating that disobedience brought on the most draconian of old time tortures this side of Iron Maiden; a far cry more heinous than the spiky namesake rusting away in the Tower of London. Airman Jackson, however, was a man without fear or good common sense and like a slightly enhanced Lenny managed to capture a baby jackrabbit and smuggle it into the dorm.

            Sheppard was littered with various forms of wildlife include the aforementioned jackrabbits which in Texas grow to the size of dogs and are incredibly fast. Jackson would never reveal how he came across is prize but he sauntered into the smoke pit one afternoon cradling something in a towel. “Look what I got!” he revealed a miniature version of the fleet footed vermin proudly as if he had a hand in the creation poor creature frightened into a stupor. Against the advice of everyone present, he proceeded to smuggle the beast into the dorms hidden in his pants. Apparently baby rabbits don’t bite or the canny thing had the wherewithal to distinguish a true carrot from the distasteful similarity crammed before its face.

            While he expressed a deep and paternal love for his acquisition, he proved to be a poor caretaker. Refusing to heed advice that it still retained its milk teeth and likely wasn’t on solids yet, Jackson dutifully smuggled greens from the chow hall up to the rubber banded shut shoebox where he kept it. His constant surprise at its lack of appetite did nothing toward inspiring a decision to opt for release into the natural environs. Due to the rigid inspections we were all subjected to, Jackson kept the thing in the shoebox all day beneath carefully folded laundry. I am sad to say that the wee beast held out for the better part of a week before spiritually departing for sunnier fields.

            While the Air Force management would have taken action to prevent the demise of the poor bunny, I feel there is a different policy in order when it comes to fish; the ferocious beta specifically. Once I got rid of Jim, my dorm roommate at Langley, I felt a small pang of loneliness at having the abode all to myself.  It was during the time when Carrie Pierce was around a lot and she suggested I look into getting a fish and offered to support the decision by entering into a commitment herself by doing the same. It was initially with trepidation but soon with great joy that Carrie and I made our way to the mall and emerged each with gleaming new bowls, colorful rocks and plants, and glorious betas encapsulated in those plastic bags of water they give you that should not be left long in the car on a hot day.

            I set up my fish, named Dr Doom after my car, upon the shelf such that I could see him from any part of the room. He proved a far better companion then Jim ever was; rarely haggling over what we would watch, declining noisy and pointless projects, and shutting the fuck up when told. To boot, I could beat him at chess as well. Each morning I fed him a carefully measured amount of bloodworms and in the evening stood vigil to ensure my ill intentioned friends did not pour beer into his bowl to see what would happen as they frequently threatened. It was a partnership for life in my mind.

            The joy was not to last and what I feel was a deep and far reaching conspiracy reared its head on monthly inspection day. Once a month the First Sargent of the squadron would let herself and an inspection team into each one of the dorm room and perform a white glove casing of the joint. Failure meant suspension of privileges but most passed but with some notes for improvement or complaints short of the fail mark. I came home after the first such inspection and greeted Dr Doom. He failed, however, to greet me back, being far too busy floating at the top of the bowl. I sank to my knees in despair; our time together, rosy and budding like spring, was already at an end. In a daze I picked up the inspection results that MSgt Wood so kindly left next to the bowl. ‘Pass but one demerit for dead fish. Pls remove. Tx – MSgt Wood’.

             My outrage could barely be contained. Who the hell did she think she was? Fortunately I knew exactly who she was and wisely kept my fury local. The sheer audacity overwhelmed me nevertheless. On what rational basis would I meticulously clean the room to utter perfection yet leave something so conspicuous as a big old floater in the middle of the room? Was she suggesting I was so obtuse as to polish each individual venetian blind yet leave great hulking carcasses about in defiance of her iron handed pristine order? A niggling thought resonated. What if she could not abide perfection in the lower ranks? What if despite her best efforts to uncover flaw it simply was not to be had? What might someone desperate do then?

            I find the best method of dealing with loss is to abstain with the whole 5 stages process and the dreariness that accompanies it and move right on to direct replacement and pretend the whole sordid business never happened. I dragged Carrie back to the pet store even though her familiar made it though the inspection unscathed, and obtained a nearly identical fish, which I also named Dr. Doom. Despite some minor personality differences and obvious dislike of my friends, it was a good match and for all intents seamless. DD and I settled into comfortable routine though I looked uncomfortably toward the future inspection that loomed. My expertise as a procrastinator allowed me to bumble forward for most of the 30 days without much care.

            Before I knew it, inspection day had come around again; the rough beast to come slouching through my door to ensure our living conditions were as comfortable and homey as a Cadillac showroom. I spent the night before scrubbing the dickens out of the joint such that not even eagle eyed CSI type nosey parkers could detect the tiniest speck of organic or other evidence that I had ever been within a nautical mile of the room. This would be the acid test to se what was really going on. I was tempted to call in sick and be present for the inspection, but Air Force regulation held that it was come to work or go to the hospital and I didn’t feel my acting skills were up to par to feign overnight stay caliber Buellering. With a heavy heart I tapped the bowl goodbye and left for work.

            I came home and found my suspicions correct! Once again my finny friend lay sunny side up next to a mocking note from the First Shirt. ‘I thought I said, get rid of the dead fish! 2 demerits. All else good. Pass. Barely. Tx – MSgt Wood’ That fucking coldhearted bitch! She was killing my fish just to have something to complain about! I began investigating with the other dormies who also harbored animals; legally or illegally. I got no corroboration as everyone else went unmolested. Obviously their hygienic standards were such that Wood needed no trumped up excuse to kvetch about their rooms.

            There was nothing I could do. Her power was such to smite me from afar and I knew even my inquiries were dangerous as spies lurked everywhere (a truism as will be explained in another story). Taking a page from Homer who advised that anything hard should be abandoned, I quit. I donated my fish supplies to Carrie who apparently had a much nicer inspector; plus she was a slob. The next month my room was pure perfection though fishless. I came back to find the usual note. ‘Pass. One demerit for fingerprint on the mirror. Tx. MSgt Wood’. It wasn’t mine.

            Interestingly enough, a year later MSgt Wood became our shop chief and I got on friendly terms with her. A battleaxe for sure, but pure excellence in leadership wisdom. I became comfortable enough to discuss with her the fish incident though stopped short at hinting at her murderous actions. “Wolfie, every time I came in there I could barely breathe with all the cleanser in the air! There were probably enough chemicals in that water after you were done to kill a horse.” Oops.

            The next pet worth mentioning was not mine but Tiffany’s. Tiff had moved out of the dorm and into the spare bedroom in Travis and Kelly’s apartment. They liked the idea of the extra income and Tiff was hard up at finding another roommate so it seemed to be an ideal situation. Though an innocent maneuver, she nearly immediately incurred some degree of animosity by procuring a puppy shortly after she took up residence and hadn’t quite gotten around to consulting with them first. Like me, she was a beg forgiveness type of gal, which is how she ended up with Josie the basset hound. I believe the namesake was glam-rock superstar Josie and the Pussycats and not the tragically transgender named Outlaw Josie Wales.

            Josie resembled a miniature version of canine icon Flash from ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and was almost as smart and fast. Naturally she was not housetrained yet when procured and truly never would be. She and Travis entered into a hate/ hate relationship early on. It was clear the poor thing wasn’t terribly bright as she never even learned her name, how to use the bathroom outside and other examples I’ll get to. She did, however, possess a certain level of defiance in her insistence on waddling up to Travis, looking him dead in the eye, and taking an enormous crap on the floor.

            While Travis was no neat freak, he grew resentful of constantly stepping in dog shit, puddles of urine, or one of the numerous foamy piles of Resolve that added to the landmine aspect of the carpet. At first, Travis took to barking loudly at Josie at any circumstance, which would scare the puppy something fierce and of course make her pee. It had the added effect of teaching the dog the one thing it ever learned; barking as an effective tool to annoy and began doing so almost incessantly. Travis took a more passive aggressive approach thereafter to Tiff’s annoyance. “Dammit! Travis ate all the Pupperoni again!” He had found an effective tool to both deprive the dog of her favored snacks while irritating Tiff and saving his personal snacking budget.

            The situation could not hold and she ended up renting a house with Alicia, who also had an irritating pet habit with her gigantic turtle pond. On the evening she left, Travis threw a ‘Ding Dong the Bitch is Gone’ party and did not inform Tiff as it was left conspicuously unclear who precisely the title of the party referred to. I declined to attend out of an enamored sense of loyalty and never had the heart to reveal to her that it had taken place. The dog pee smell never quite came out of the carpet despite all clean up efforts and I believe they lost some or all of the security deposit as a result since it was a ‘no pets’ establishment.

            The troubles with Josie continued at the new place of course and no amount of effort was making a change. She read up on and tried crate training, but the dog seemed perfectly happy to not only crap in the cage, but then roll around in it forcing Tiff to add bathing a shitty dog to her itinerary of morning chores. She finally decided that Josie was best suited to be an outdoor dog and figured a pounded in stake in the yard with a chain would serve as the beast’s new home. The keen intelligence of the animal, however, thwarted this clever scheme. Josie, lacking comprehension of physical limitations, would strain against the chain with all of her might, which had the effect of closing her windpipe and would then pass out for lack of air. When she awoke she would immediately do the same thing; strain until she passed out, then fall over, wake up a minute or so later and so forth. Tiff took pity on the situation and procured a harness whereby the dog could strain forever injury free.

            She discovered one of the benefits of having Josie perpetually air deprived was lack of breath for barking. Once freedom to breath was restored, the hound would bark continuously from the moment she was put out until Tiff had to haul her back in to appease threatening neighbors. The solution of a bark collar which provided a shock when the dog got going was briefly employed. The problem was again that Josie couldn’t understand cause and effect and would bark more with the shock until the repetition drove her into a rage. The device was removed and set aside for dares, drinking games and pranks.

            One Friday morning after the overnight shift, Tiff and I were drinking beer in her kitchen and listening to the Bloodhound Gang and Dynamite Hack as was our start of the weekend routine. Josie was making it hard to listen to the grating sounds of late ‘90’s faux punk, so we took a chance and invited her to partake with us. Initially the bubbles made her bark more until she took a taste and slurped up the whole bowl. She was considerably mellow after that and Tiff was relieved that at least something existed that would relax her into shutting the fuck up, even if she did crap on the floor soon after. The problem was that keeping the dog drunk, while probably having some ethical considerations, was not sustainable and caused strife amongst the humans who were now competing for scarcer alcohol resources. Beaten, Tiff finally found a nice family who took Josie at no charge, renamed her Duke, and had her fully trained in less than a week.

            After the Josie experience, Tiff decided it might be advisable to go with a more maintenance free animal and set about looking for a cat. Despite there being numerous SPCA shelters about and plenty of local ads in the paper, she somehow set her heart on one of a set of kittens way down by the NC border about an hour away. As usual, I was recruited to drive her down there one morning after work as I was incapable of saying no, no matter what the level of inconvenience was. I was never clear on why she was determined to pay $50 for a far away kitten she had never seen when plenty of free ones were available, but nevertheless, she did.

            Our scheme for getting the cat home was a cardboard box wherein the flaps could be folded closed and a roll of duct tape. We made it down there and met the family and were introduced to the cat who immediately ran and hid. The family gave us no help in catching the wily creature and we spent about an hour getting a hold of it. Putting it in the box was no easy task either as it did that infuriating cat thing by splaying out its legs to make itself too big for the opening. I managed to force it in and close the flaps while it went apeshit inside, sticking its claws out and drawing blood more than once. I was trying to duct tape the box closed when it found a new strength and burst free, running away to another part of the house as I cursed a blue streak and Tiff and the family laughed. We finally decided the Tiff would just carry the thing home in her lap.

            Surprisingly, it turns out that cats don’t much enjoy lap rides in moving vehicles. After a long bout of freaky mewling, it voided the contents of its surprisingly large bladder into Tiff’s lap and the seat. I was considerably grateful that we took her car down instead of mine, though smelling the rancid cat piss smell for the rest of the ride was no picnic. Rather than immediately have the car detailed, Tiff let the odor bake in for a few days and ensured it would be a permanent feature of the vehicle. On days we traveled together thereafter, until I got my next car anyway, it was always a discussion as to whether we wanted to enjoy the fragrance of spoiled milk or cat piss for the day. The last time I went down to visit her, the rank stench was the first thing I noticed when she picked me up from the airport.

            The cat worked out marginally better than the dog, but continued to share a lack of good toilet habits. Tiff, annoyed that the cat constantly avoided her and could not be found, tied a large jingly bell to its collar. The cat retaliated by pissing then in Tiff’s bed. They made a truce after that for the most part, although there was an unfortunate incident during the collapse period where the cat was suspected of pissing in Alicia’s bed leading her to demand the cost of a new mattress. Due to the huge amount of it and lack of distinctive cat pee smell we countered with the alternative theory that it was actually Bryan who peed the bed while drunk. We were not on good terms at the time which may be part of the genesis of this unfavorable hypothesis, but in the end it was agreed that the cost would be split.

            I thought all was well and done with the wild kingdom until Tiff decided to take custody of one of the dormies large aquariums. Having no special expertise in cleaning them, it soon became a horror. When the collapse occurred and she was forced from the house, she decided to foist the damn thing on me, and of course I took it under the auspices that she loved the fish and wanted to visit them, which was all right by me. When I moved back to Buffalo months later, I left it there, one gift of many, for Travis and my replacement at the apartment.