Which Rooster Market? Learning Arabic At The Defense Language Institute.

“Your DLAB score shows that you qualify for CAT IV languages,” said the First Class Petty Officer from behind her desk inside the quota manager’s office. “And we have seats available in all of the language classes that the Navy needs filled. What do you want?”

This questioned was addressed to me of course. It was September 2000, and I was a young seaman in the United States Navy, having just recently arrived from my prior duty station in Florida. The Navy had offered me the chance to become a linguist, and so there I sat in at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, a twenty three year old about to make a choice that would affect the course of my life.

For those that don’t know the DLAB stands for Defense Language Aptitude Battery. This is the test the military administers to gauge the potential language-learning abilities of all those that would become linguists. It’s basically a reading and listening test of a fictional language, and you have to decipher the meanings of words and tenses the best you can.

It’s basically listening to gibberish, and then figuring out that words like “glorgulstank” mean “licensed plunger operator”.

CAT IV is one of the levels of language difficulty. It is short for Category IV, with IV being the highest. All accept for one language, which is regarded as the only CAT V language in the world. Take a wild guess which language that is. English. That’s right. A language that gave us words like “crunk”, “bae” and “holy fuck nuts!” is considered the world’s only CAT V language. But I digress.

“How about Japanese?” I asked the First Class.

“I’m sorry, “ she replied. “But Japanese is for officers only. We would like you to choose from the available CAT III and CAT IV languages.”

This basically meant that the Navy wanted me to choose a CAT IV language because I had scored high enough for it. That meant my choices were Chinese, Korean, or Arabic.

“Where are the duty stations for those languages?”

“Chinese and Korean linguists go to Japan and Hawaii.”

Japan and Hawaii? Not bad.

“And Arabic linguists go to Augusta, GA, Bahrain, or Spain.”

Spain?! Arabic linguists got to go to Spain! Going to Japan would be cool, but I had really wanted to go to Spain and Europe. Needless to say I chose Arabic. As a linguist in the military, your language specialty determined where you go. It wouldn’t make much sense to send a Chinese translator to Saudi Arabia, or Klingon and Elvish translators to anywhere other than ComicCon. That’s why I initially chose Arabic. Spain was waiting!

When I began the course for the Arabic program at the Defense Language Institute I didn’t know a single word of the language. But that didn’t matter. The learning environment there consists of small rooms with only few students per classroom, and a team of native-born instructors teaches all of it. Several of my teachers were from Egypt, and others were from Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq.

I still vividly remember that first day of class, the very first hour where one of our teachers strode into the room. He wore a nice suit and tie, which he pretty much wore everyday, and his baritone voice greeted us only in Arabic. The teacher went around the room speaking to each one of us, but not a word of English emerged from him. I remember looking around the room at my fellow classmates, some Air Force, some Army, some Marines, and all returned my look that bespoke a look of confusion and horror.

What the fuck did we just get ourselves into?

Eventually the teacher reverted to English, and explained everything he was saying. By the end of that first hour we could all say “hello” and “how are you?” and “I’m fine” and “my name is…” and “what’s your name?” in Arabic. This was the pace that the entire 63-week course would set. You read that right. The Defense Language Institute taught us, those of us that made it through the entire course, to speak, read, and write Arabic in just 63 weeks. That’s about a year and three months. We attended class five days a week, seven hours a day, plus homework.

By the end of the first month, we could all write in Arabic and read it. That’s the first thing the class focused on teaching us. We could read it and pronounce the words. Sure, we didn’t know the meanings of the majority of the words we read, but we could read in Arabic after only a month. After that, it was fourteen months of grammar and vocabulary. Much of it was a mix of classroom instruction and immersion. There was one particular teacher who spent his entire instruction hour telling us stories. In the beginning, his stories were mostly in English, but he would incorporate the words we had learned up to that point. By the middle of the course his stories were half Arabic, half English. After a year, his in-class stories were entirely in Arabic.

Learning all of this grammar and vocabulary didn’t stop us from having a little fun, sometimes at the teacher’s expense. After all most of us were either just out of high school or college. Much of our fun and amusement with Arabic vocabulary came in the second or third month. This is where we were learning about foods, restaurants, shopping, etc. The first words to send us into snickering, giggle fits was “sugar cake.”

What’s so funny about “sugar cake”? Well, that’s because those words sound a little different in Arabic. Both “sugar” and “cake” are cognates in Arabic. A cognate is a word that is similar sounding in both languages. When our teacher for that hour, a woman from Egypt, told us how to say them, we all about died laughing.

The word for sugar in Arabic is pronounced, “sooker”.

The word for cake in Arabic is pronounced, “kaak”.

To be clear, these words were not listed together on our sheet of vocabulary for that assignment. But leave it several members of the world’s finest military to pay extraordinary attention to detail, as we were trained, and connect the dots.

“Professor,” asked one of the Airmen in the class, his face completely serious but his mischievous plot betrayed in his eyes. “How do you say ‘sugar cake’ in Arabic?”

“Kaak sooker,” she replied.

Our military discipline may have waned at that point as we erupted into gales of naughty mirth.

“Why are you laughing?” asked the teacher. “I don’t understand.”

She honestly had no idea. This made it all the more hilarious, especially after we explained that the word “kaak” just sounded funny to us. Of course we didn’t really tell her why.

“I don’t know why you laugh at kaak,” she stated, making all of us giggle more. “What is so funny about kaak!”

We completely lost it at that point.

The double entendre behind “sugar cake” wasn’t the only combination of words that we identified as having X-rated potential. We were among some of the finest minds the military had found to attend its prestigious language school. You have to have some decently high scores on both the ASVAB and the DLAB to get in, and if you do get in, the Defense Language Institute has a high washout rate. Trust me; our talent did not go to waste in that school. We expertly used our analytical talents, the same kind of talents that later helped find Bin Laden, in order to put “kaak sooker” together.

America! Fuck Yeah!

The next set of words we came across that made us guffaw, much to our teacher’s confusion, involved roosters and markets.

The word for rooster in Arabic is pronounced, “deek”.

The word for market in Arabic is pronounced, “sook”.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. But it gets better. Much better. Or worse depending on how you look at it. Take the word, “which”, for instance. In Arabic, it is pronounced like “aye”. Now that same aforementioned, enterprising Airman knew this. We all did. But it didn’t stop him from asking a teacher a new, and completely straight-faced, vocabulary question.

“Professor. If someone asked me to get a rooster from a market, but I didn’t know which market, how would I ask ‘which rooster market’?”

“That’s simple,” the teacher said. “You would say, ‘Aye sook deek?”

This teacher looked just as confused as the lady teacher from Egypt for the next five minutes while his students, all of us, couldn’t keep our laughter to ourselves.

You can’t blame us for trying to inject a little humor and fun into an otherwise intense academic program. A few, immature dick jokes here and there can be stress relieving.

Despite the fast pace of the school, and the dick jokes, about two thirds of my original classmates I started with went on to graduate, including me. Once we had graduated in early 2002, it was time to get our orders for our first duty station. Remember the whole thing about going to Spain? Hahahahahahaha! The Navy played a funny joke. You see, three months after beginning the program, the Navy announced it was closing the base in Spain to all but aircrew personnel. That disqualified me because I’m colorblind. Fuck.

So on my dream sheet I wrote that I would go to any ship, anywhere. When the day came that my orders came through, care to offer a theory on where the Navy sent me? Was it to the Navy base in Bahrain? An Arabic-speaking country? Hell no! My first duty station as a newly graduated Arabic linguist for the United States Navy was Augusta, Georgia. Oh, and it was shore duty.

Why Georgia? Wasn’t it just full of rednecks, Baptist churches, and Waffle Houses? Yes. But there was another reason I was sent to Georgia, but I’m not going to say. It’s “secret squirrel” stuff. But where I was sent didn’t really matter. I learned valuable skills, earned irreplaceable qualifications, and gained experiences most people only dream about.

Learning Arabic at the Defense Language Institute and becoming a linguist in the Navy was a major part of my life, and I’m proud that I did it. It also meant that I never had to resort to becoming a licensed plunger operator.

Monterey: A Seaside Town With Fine Pubs and Epic Sandwiches.

20160429_173450Monterey is a nice, seaside town on the northern California coast. It has wonderful, temperate weather, interesting shops to visit, a world-renown aquarium, and British pubs nestled in the midst of historical buildings and night clubs. It was, however, the last place I expected to be accosted by a one-armed hobo who accepted credit cards.

I exited the Walgreens Pharmacy on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey on a Friday evening. I needed some Advil to soothe my newly acquired headache after attending a Paula Poundstone show (not sure if that was the headache’s cause, but she did rant and ramble for three hours). Waiting for me on the sidewalk outside the Walgreens was a scruffy-looking nerf herder with only one arm along with his female companion.

“Pardon me, sir,” he asked, gesturing at me with his stump. “Do you happen to have any spare change? I really need to get some Orajel for my mouth.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I don’t carry cash.”

“How about American Express?” asked his equally scruff-looking companion.

I have to admit, the fact that they just asked me if I could donate to their change cup with an American Express card left me stunned for 1D4 rounds (D&D reference, ask your uncle). I politely declined, and went about my business. I do have a confession though. I happen to have an American Express card. Just don’t tell the one-armed hobo.

Can you imagine what this seems to imply? We’ve moved closer and closer to a cashless society, what with our ATM cards, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, etc. It won’t be long now before the hobos, beggars, vagrants, Muppets, and homeless people begging for change on dirty street corners will no longer ask for actual change. They’ll just have an attachment for their iPhone where you can swipe your card. I’m sure there will be an App that allows you to donate “change”. It could be called the iBum.

Anyway, I was visiting Monterey for the weekend. Why? Why the fuck not? Monterey is a great town. And I used to live there. While I was in the Navy I got the opportunity to become a military linguist. The Navy had sent me to the Defense Language Institute in September 2000 where I was enrolled in their Arabic program. I spent a year and a half in Monterey, studying Arabic in classes by day, and frequenting the pubs and cafes at night. It was a great time.

I hadn’t visited Monterey in many years. I had always been meaning to return there, but I never got around to it. I only live a three-hour drive away, so I had no excuse. Once that realization set in, I may have flogged myself once with my Indiana Jones bullwhip to get my procrastinating ass into the car and on the road.

**Side note: I actually have an Indiana Jones bullwhip because I’m a nerd and because reasons.**

Where do you think is the first place I went upon returning to my former language-learning, military stomping grounds? The Crown & Anchor? Cannery Row? The aquarium? Those places were nice and all, but there is a place in Monterey that I would drive three hours for, even if that was the only place I would visit. I speak of course, of Compagno’s.

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Best. Sammichs. Ever.

Compagno’s is a deli in Monterey that has the best sandwiches on the planet. The quality and caliber of Compagno’s sandwiches is not the subject of mere opinion. It is scientific fact. I’m sure there’s a paper in a scientific journal about it somewhere, such as notable culinary publications like “Sammich! Quarterly” or “Dennys Gives You The Shits”. Compagno’s sandwiches are like an orgasm in your mouth. Wait. Um…not that I would know…what that’s like…um…shut up. Everything there is freshly made of course. Your meat is freshly sliced, crisp veggies, real cheese, flat breads the size of paving tiles, and to tempt you even further into a sinful food coma, there’s a large, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake taunting you from behind the glass. Compagno’s even has a wall of imported beers. Gasp!

Where is the wonderous place? Well…that’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you. Compagno’s is a locally owned deli that has been in Monterey for many years. It isn’t on any of the tourist strips. It’s not by Cannery Row or the aquarium, not at all close to Fisherman’s Wharf or Pebble Beach. It is tucked inside one of Monterey’s neighborhoods. The only people who know about it are the locals and members of the military. This is what adds to its charm.

Upon my return to Monterey, I went straight to Compagno’s to get my sammich fix. (Colloquial spelling of sandwich. Suck it, grammar Nazis!) Also it was too early to check into my hotel. With my sammich and bottle of Polish beer in hand, I drove to one of my favorite spots on the coast. It’s along the road, beyond Lover’s Point, with a rocky outcropping the juts out into the sea. I used to go there often, and climb out onto the rocks. As you can see from the pictures below I could no longer go out to the very end the outcropping. That part has now been roped off as a bird sanctuary. I may have felt slightly evicted. I mean…that was my spot! I wonder if the Seagull & Pelican Lobby LLC donated heavily to members of the Pacific Grove City Council in order to gain a monopoly on said rocky outcropping.

It’s all part of the conspiracy for Big Avian!

Despite those scheming birds I had no trouble enjoying my lunch out on the rocks, overlooking the crashing waves. If the pictures can do the scene any justice, you’ll understand why I always came out to this spot.

 

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Scheming conspiracy birds.
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Epic sandwich, beer, and the ocean.  It’s okay if you’re jealous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch I checked into the hotel and spent all of thirty seconds in my room. There were historical sites to explore! For any of my readers (all two of them), you know that I love history, archaeology, and exploring places with any sort of historical significance. On a related note I also love good beer and Doctor Who. If you combined all of this in say…a pub on top of a Mayan pyramid overlooking an American Civil War battle site that serves drinks in Tardis mugs…I would declare that to be the greatest watering hole ever.

Greatest. Watering. Hole. Ever.

Monterey has no shortage of fine historical places to visit. The main one I wanted to visit was the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo. It’s smack in the middle of Monterey, and easy to access and visit. It was built by the Spanish in the 1700s and is one of the oldest buildings in California. It is still a working and fully serviced Catholic church. Only this one didn’t have any creepy priests that I could see. The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is free to visit. It even has its own little museum.

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The Cathedral interior.

I strolled around the Cathedral, and then by the door to the museum, which is located in the building next door. I had just noticed the sign that read “Museum” when the door sprang open, and a friendly lady practically ambushed me.

“Hello! Would you like to come inside and see our museum? We have lots of relics from the history of Monterey and this church.”

Of course I accepted her invitation. Free museum? Ancient (sort of) relics? Sign me up. The docent’s name is Geralyn, and we spent the next half hour talking about the history of the Monterey area as she showed me around the displays of the museum’s collection. The museum itself is small, but it has many interesting and impressive pieces. I even got to show off some of my historical knowledge when I brought up that an Argentine pirate once sacked Monterey. Geralyn was surprised that I knew that, and even suggested I could become a docent there. Of course I thought about it. The opportunity to live in Monterey again is more tempting than a box of donuts that make you lose weight. Another time maybe.

Le sigh.

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Some of the museum’s relics.
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Geralyn and myself at the museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving the cathedral, I took a stroll down Alvarado Street. Alvarado Street runs through downtown Monterey, and leads right to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had spent many an evening on this little strip during my student years, studying Arabic at cafes like Plume’s, imbibing mass quantities of beer at pubs like The Crown & Anchor or The Mucky Duck, and seeing movies at the Golden State Theatre.

Walking down Alvarado Street, thinking that an afternoon Guinness at The Mucky Duck sounded like a mighty fine idea, was when I realized that nothing lasts forever. For any of my fellow military linguists and old salt shipmates, I am sad to report that The Mucky Duck is no more. It is now called The Bull & Bear Bar. It is no longer a pub or tavern like it was, but as you can see from my photographic proof, it is now more of a nightclub. I went by there later that evening, only to find a line to get into The Bull and Bear, young people waiting behind a red rope to enter this establishment that was guarded by giant, ogre-like bouncers. I could even hear the rhythmic thumping from the bass beat of electronic techno dub step that was undoubtedly produced by a DJ covered in glow sticks.

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What once was The Mucky Duck.😦
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The Bull and Bear Glow Stick Club.😦

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Un-tiss un-tiss un-tiss!

This sound quickly morphed into:

Bootsandpantsandbootsandpantsandbootsandpants!

Followed by a:

Wawasssssssshhh—krakkakrakka—dowwowpowdow—(unknown power tool noise) bootsandpantsandbootsandpantsandbootsandpants!

Honestly, I don’t really mind dub step and think it’s okay. But is it just me, or does dub step music sound like two robots fucking?

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Nautical pint.

Despite the vanishing of one of Monterey’s eons-old dinner and drinks establishments, I am happy to report that The Crown & Anchor is still there. And it is still as nautical and alcoholic as it always was. I’m sure you’re not surprised that this is where I had dinner…and some pints.

The Golden State Theatre on Alvarado Street used show movies, but now it is being used for various shows. On this particular evening, the comedian Paul Poundstone was performing. I used to see her on TV many years ago on “An Evening at the Improv.” I figured this could be a fun idea, and purchased a ticket. I enjoyed the show. Paula Poundstone was pretty funny, but her stand-up set did run rather long. She even joked about how she tended to ramble on and on and on and on. Ironically, after making that joke, she carried on for another seven months. But the thing about her show that evening that stuck out to me wasn’t her jokes, but a couple that sat next to me.

This couple was laughing and guffawing at everything Ms. Poundstone said. Even if it wasn’t a joke, these two were yucking it up and having a great time. For about an hour, anyway. That’s when Paula Poundstone talked about being an atheist. She even made a point to say she had no problem with anyone’s religion, she respected their beliefs, and then made jokes about her own atheism. She didn’t poke fun at any other religion at all. But you couldn’t tell that to the couple next to me. Suddenly their raucous merriment came to an abrupt end at the mention of “atheist”. They went deathly quiet while in mid-laugh, their previously joyous faces turned to stoic slates of displeasure, and their eyebrows hunched forward so far their brows looked like miniature Quazimodos.

The couple stood up, and walked out. I never saw them again. Some people just have no sense of humor I guess.

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The beer taps at Crown & Anchor.

I left the theater after the show. Unable to or even wanting to enter what used to be The Mucky Duck, I spent the rest of the evening back at the Crown & Anchor, chatting with people, ogling the ship models and Royal Navy wall paper in the men’s room, and knocking back some of the pub’s nice selection of beers.

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The next day was spent in the touristy areas, and buying little trinkets such as a couple of zombie coffee mugs and a “Game of Thrones” garden gnome. You know, as we all do.

 

 

 

Monterey is still a great town. I can’t wait to go back for another visit. Only this time I plan to be a little better prepared. I’ll make sure to carry some ninja smoke bombs to aid me in escaping those one-armed, credit card-accepting hobos.

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Game of Gnomes!
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On the wall of the bathroom at Crown & Anchor. I swear.

World War II Bunkers!

IMG_0614The Greg opened his newly purchased bottle of Vitamin Water only to have some of its contents suddenly spill onto the ground, “Shit. It’s frozen.”

Indeed it was. The inside of The Greg’s Vitamin Water was almost entirely a block of ice save for the few melted bits that had dribbled out as soon as he opened it. The fridge at the shop he purchased it from obviously had its temperature set to Antarctica. Why does this matter? Well, my friends and I had just spent half the day hiking around the Marin Headlands, exploring the remnants of the artillery emplacements left over from the Second World War. Because of all this hiking, The Greg was quite parched. Alas, since his freshly acquired Vitamin Water was now more frozen solid than a polar bear’s dwindling home, sating that thirst would have to wait.

“Try shoving it in your crotch if you want it to melt faster,” I said to him in encouragement. In hindsight, I don’t think that helped much.

At this point in the afternoon we were in Japan Town in San Francisco. When I say we I’m talking about myself and my friends Joel, Micah, and The Greg. I had had a brilliant and adventurous idea to drag everyone along to the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco to explore the World War II bunkers that remain there. And when I say I dragged my friends along, fighting tooth and nail to remain at home playing video games and watching clown porn, only agreeing to accompany me on this expedition because of the promised bribes of sushi and blow, what I really mean is that the conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, did you guys know that there are World War II bunkers that are still in the Marin Headlands, and we can go explore them? We should go. Also, we can have lunch in Japan Town after.

Joel: That sounds awesome. Let’s go.

The Greg: I’m in, but I’m actually in it for Japan Town. I’ll text Micah.

As you can see it was quite difficult to convince my friends to join me in exploring history. It would have been easier to convince the populace at large that The Phantom Menace was a decent movie (full disclosure: I liked the prequels). And so we set off on a bright and shiny Saturday morning where we could engage in one of my hobbies of pretending to be Indiana Jones, and then gorge ourselves in one of Japan Town’s many restaurants.

The Greg, Joel, and I live in Sacramento, but Micah lives in Santa Rosa. Because of this we agreed to meet at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which is right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. It also happened to be right next to where we wanted to go, and there’s free parking. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone about the free parking spot. It’s probably the only place in the entire Bay Area that doesn’t charge you the equivalent of fifty gold pieces for parking. Another surprise benefit of parking at the Bay Area Discovery Musuem? There is a set of old artillery bunkers already there. Given the position of this battery, it was obviously intended to protect the interior of the bay. The battery lay just northeast of the Golden Gate, and faced Alcatraz. I’m sure that when the guns were present in decades of yore, they menaced and intimidated the earliest whale watching tours.

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Anyway, we explored the concrete structure and took many pictures. The bunkers underneath were gated and locked, so we couldn’t enter. What we could see was that all the interior crevices had been filled with trash, and likely some hobo droppings. Many of the walls had graffiti, including one that looked like little Smurfs climbing the stairs. Despite the rubbish and the spray-painting version of Gargamel’s bane, I still got a kick out of it all. I love exploring historical places, especially involving military history. So you shouldn’t be surprised that I struck a pose on top of the World War II artillery battery emplacement, doing my best to look dramatic.

The seriousness (or lack thereof) was immediately erased when we began the walk down hill towards the car. Joel thought it would be funny if one of us rolled down the road so he could get a picture of it. I volunteered. Once I began my roll down the hill and Joel snapped away with his camera, that’s when The Greg decided he would “assist” with his foot.

There is photographic proof. Just look!

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After reaching my car we drove over to the Marin Headlands. The road that takes you into the headlands is a small and windy road that is somehow congested with the same traffic levels as Mumbai. The Marin Headlands are a popular day trip destination and tourist spot, so we did our best to ram our way through, Mad Max style.

Witness Me!

Oh, and Joel tried to photograph our ears while in the car. However, the pictures kept getting photo bombed by Micah and I’s middle fingers.

We had to drive past the parking area for Battery Spencer, the first set of bunkers. There were way too many people, and not a single hope of parking there. We drove further into the headlands and found a nice spot, and more importantly, a place to park at Hawk Hill. From this vantage point we were treated to some excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco off in the distance. And also located at Hawk Hill was a tunnel that took us into the concrete remains of what once housed massive artillery guns. Just look at the pictures below.

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As you can see, the position where these huge guns sat had a total view of the California coast, able to spot any potential naval threat coming at us during the war. While were exploring one of the tunnels, Joel thought it would be a grand idea to get the other three of us to stand in a “Charlie’s Angels” pose for a photo. After some gentle coaxing, we all agreed to it. My part in this would be in the middle, holding my hands aloft as if holding a pistol. However, it was not to be. You see, just as Joel was about to snap the picture, I saw The Greg duck away from out of the corner of my eye. I quickly turned to find him cackling like a young prankster who had just spiked his sister’s ice cream with Worcestershire sauce. I knew then that the joke had nearly been on me, so I responded in the way we all would in those circumstances with, “Oh fuck you.”

The pictures below is our botched attempt at “Charlie’s Angels”while The Greg howls with laughter.

We were able to explore two of these gun emplacements as well as other smaller platforms, and even what appeared to be a small observation deck. As we approached it was suggested that one of us try to climb on top of it. When I say “suggested”, what I mean to say was that Joel, The Greg, and Micah were all looking at me as they said, “Someone should climb up there.”

And so it fell upon me to make the arduous climb of about five feet. I positioned myself on the concrete wall so that I could reach the railing of the observation deck. I grasped the railing, and steadied myself to make sure I had the proper grip and leverage to pull myself up. As I was doing this I heard Joel call out from behind me, “God dammit, Private Pyle! Do you mean to tell you can’t do one lousy pull-up?”

Yes I can. And did. I even stopped to make a “Charlie’s Angels” pose on the observation deck. Such is the life of those who seek out adventures in the footsteps of history.

We finished our exploration of the area, some of which involved hiking up and down a hill or two. Afterwards we crossed the Golden Gate, and headed to San Francisco’s Japan Town for lunch. Did I mention I love Japanese food? Anyway, after lunch we headed over the crepe shop for some…um…crepes…and that’s where The Greg purchased his aforementioned frozen Vitamin Water. We returned Micah to his car at the Bay Area Museum, and that was when we decided we could really use a beer at Moylan’s. Moylan’s is a Northern California brewery that produces a great Scotch ale called Kilt Lifter.

And they have it on tap! Just behold the glory of Kilt Lifter on tap!

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We finished our beers, parted ways with Micah, and the three of us drove home to Sacramento. After dropping Joel off The Greg reached into the back seat to see if his Vitamin Water had sufficiently thawed enough to drink. It had been several hours at this point. But alas! It was not to be. The Greg stared in dismay as his cure for dehydration was still a block of ice.

“I told you that you should’ve put that in your crotch to melt it faster,” I reminded him.

Without pause, The Greg responded with, “If I jammed it in my hot crotch, then the water would end up boiling. I don’t want that.”

Here are a few more pictures of the old fortifications in the Marin Headlands:

Riddle Me This

There’s been a picture riddle making its rounds on the internet lately.  It was apparently used as a logic puzzle for school children during the Cold War, or the War of 1812, or maybe even after the Battle of Serenity Valley.  It doesn’t matter when it was used.  What matters is that this puzzle, riddle, quest, thing, was apparently used to determine which of the school kids were the smart ones, and which of the school kids were the ones who ate paint chips in the corner, and were later duct taped to the tether ball pole.

It apparently works like this.  There is a drawing of a scene below of some kids that are obviously camping.  All boys.  I’m guessing that camping in the 1950s was a real sausage party.  Anyway, there are a series of questions that you’re supposed to answer about the picture, which is featured below.

I thought I’d take a crack at this puzzle.  Here we go.

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1. How many tourists are staying at this camp?

Well, the picture shows three and implies there’s a fourth in the bushes.  With that implication in mind there could be several more boys hiding in those bushes, doing what boys do in the bushes.  Or there could be ninjas.  How do you know there aren’t fucking ninjas in this picture?  You don’t know.  You can’t see ninjas.  Or snipers.  You can’t see snipers either until it’s too late.  Next thing you know, a gillie suit-clad sniper, having Vietnam flashbacks, snaps and springs from the undergrowth, breaking the neck of that twat paying way too much attention to his camera.  Therefore, the correct answer is there could be dozens of people in this picture when you include ninjas and snipers.

2. When did they arrive: today or a few days ago?

They obviously arrived recently.  That dude in the foreground is cooking with a smile on his face.  This tells us that they still have plenty of food.  They haven’t yet consumed all of their Twinkies, Slim Jims, and Red Bulls.  There’s also a chicken there, pecking around the campsite like he owns the place without a care in the world.  Who does that chicken think he is?  Safe, that’s who he thinks he is.  If the guys had been in camp for several days, food stores empty, you wouldn’t see a chicken in the picture.  Just its gnawed-on bones.  And maybe the bones of one of the other boys, as the extreme hunger would’ve force them to resort to cannibalism.  Those boys should’ve binge watched all of Man vs. Wild before this trip.  Bear Grylls is shaking his head in disappointment at them.

3. How did they get here?

One may think that they either hiked, or even used a kayak.  However, that isn’t the case.  Look at the clothes those little douche bags are wearing.  Nice and tidy designer clothing.  If they hiked, their clothing would be dirty and stained with mud, sweat, and tears.  With their nice clothing, it implies that these are rich guys who have their own servants.  So the answer to how they got to the campsite is by helicopter.  Also, only one of those boys brought the oars.  That little fucker thought ahead.  He knew that they’d eventually be hungry and isolated, and that he’d have to eat one of his friends (note the cannibalism deduction above).

4. Is there a town nearby?

No.  If there was then those rich kids wouldn’t have needed a helicopter to get there, now would they?  Seriously, this isn’t that hard!

5. Where does the wind blow from: north or south?

What am I, a fucking weather man?

6. What time of day is it?

Judging by the fact that the picture is not…you know…dark, I’m going to go out on a limb and say…umm…day time?  But what is time?  People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect.  But actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.  (hat tip to you if you understood this and where it came from)

7. Where did Alex go?

Jerking off in the woods.

8. Who was on duty yesterday?

Why does a casual campsite among all-male friends (sausage party) have a duty roster?  It’s not like they’re expecting to raided by the Mongols.  Unless of course, this small group of young men is actually a special forces team in disguise.  Stay with me on this one.  They have a duty roster and top-notch gear, so that right there implies that there is a military connection.  Who else needs to keep a lookout for intruders inside a camp?  The oars stacked against the tree show that perhaps this special forces team can move by water.  They are amphibious.  The boy in the background is photographing something.  We don’t know what he’s taking pictures of.  He could be engaging in reconaissance against a North Korean nuclear site. These boys could be Goddamned Navy Seals!  Or they could just be really afraid of ninjas.

9. What date is it today?

Today it could be date palms.  Maybe tomorrow it will be Sunsweet California-grown dates.  Who knows what date it will be tomorrow of the next day?  I’m unpredictable!  Either way dates aren’t half bad of a snack.

I did my best to answer these grueling questions to the best of my ability.  Please don’t duct tape me to a tether ball pole.

The Blog Awakens

I didn’t originally plan to see the new Star Wars movie on Thursday.  Don’t mistake me.  I’m a big Star Wars fan, but I thought that there would only be midnight showings on Thursday.  I have a Monday through Friday job, and I wasn’t up to staying out until 3am, and then having to get up at 5:30am to get ready for work.  If I had done that, I would have arrived to my job resembling a barrow wight.  Only a large, strong cup of Turkish coffee is the known cure for the viral strain of barrow wight.  However, a friend of mine notified me that the theaters in the area were showing Star Wars at about 7:30pm that night.

Score!  Well…at least until I tried to get tickets.  All of the showings in Sacramento from about 7:30pm until about midnight were already sold out.

(insert Eeyore sigh here)

Not so fast!  I work in El Dorado Hills, which is just east of Sacramento.  There is a Regal Cinema in El Dorado Hills.  After leaving work on Thursday, I went to the theatre to find the Star Wars lines had already begun.  Of course many of the would-be Star Wars viewing padawans were in costume.  It’s Star Wars.  I saw Attack of the Clones in a small town in West Texas, and people there were in costume.  It comes with the territory.  Upon seeing the droves of my fellow, costumed fans, I thought that it would be sold out there to.  As I approached the ticket counter I saw that they not only were showing Star Wars at 7pm, that they were not sold out.

Megaton Score!

When it was my turn at the counter I asked for a ticket for the Star Wars showing at 7pm.  The girl behind the glass looked at me and said, “Well, it’s 97% full.  Are you sure?”

“It’s a brand new Star Wars movie,” I replied.  “It’s going to be full until the next century.”

The ticket girl just rolled her eyes at me before thrusting the ticket in my hand.  Why would she try to dissuade me like that?  My hypothesis was that she was trying to use her official, inside position within the theatre establishment to procure tickets for herself and her friends, and didn’t like it when us pesky, nerdy customers came to her theatre demanding Star Wars tickets.  On opening day!  Can you believe our nerve!  Hmmph!

Or the ticket girl actually worked within the Clandestine Services of the CIA, and a high-level contact was supposed to meet them inside a Star Wars showing at that very theatre, at that very showing.  What better way to discuss spy business without any eavesdropping than during the showing of a new Star Wars film?  No one would even notice.  There could be a porno being filmed right there while Star Wars was showing, and someone would complain about too many boobies blocking their view of light saber duels and Han Solo.

But then again, I could just have an overactive sense of wonderment (writer).

I’m not going to spoil the movie for anyone, but I will say this.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was fucking amazing!  It was honestly one of the best of the franchise.  I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Return of the Jedi, but the new film was up there.  Go see it.  Right now.  Yes, you.

As you may have gathered, this is my first post in several months.  I’ve updated the look, shaken off the spider webs, and even changed one of the pages. I added a “Creative Endeavors” page.  This is to highlight and track the progress of the various projects I’m working on, mainly books and music.  I’ll be posting here much more often, as well as completing my first book…finally.  Until then, enjoy your holidays.  As for me, I’m going to be watching the Christmas classic, Die Hard.

Civil War Days

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It is a scientific fact that one cannot operate a cannon without having coffee.

I recently attended a Civil War reenactment. It was located in Duncan Mills, CA, which is a small town near the coast in northern California. Why a Civil War reenactment you may ask? In California? Because history is awesome. History is without borders. Kinda like those doctors.

Historians without borders.

I know some of you are thinking that dressing up as Billy Yank (not a dirty term for fapping…I think…) and Johnny Reb occurs only the southern States. You know, those States that made up the Confederacy of the American Civil War, some of which are so much like a different country I’m surprised that a passport isn’t required for entry? I would know; I lived in Georgia for six years. There are many differences between the South and California. The most surprising is that I heard the best southern jokes while living there. Southerners seemed to have a laid back, self-deprecating sense of humor. People in Georgia would say that if you go to Mississippi, you needed to set your watch back forty years. And while in Pensacola, a native Floridian told me that a favorite Halloween activity in Alabama was to pumpkin.

Anyway, you’ll find Civil War battles, or any other form of historical reenactment, all over the country. Historians pay no heed to so-called lines drawn on maps (yes we do, shh)! They’ll just fabricate their own lines, dammit! Just ask Sykes and Picot.

Of course there was a Lincoln impersonator. Duh!
Of course there was a Lincoln impersonator. Duh!

This was my first time attending a Civil War reenactment. It only took me about twenty-five years to do so. For those that have known me personally for a long time know that I became a little Civil War buff when I was about thirteen. I had watched the movie “Glory”, and was absolutely enthralled with the story of the 54th Massachusetts, the raging battle scenes, and Ferris Bueller teaming up with the Dread Pirate Roberts. This movie also starred Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, for which he earned his first Academy Award. After seeing that movie, I spent the summer watching Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”, in its entirety two times through.

IMG_0213Yes, I watched all 5,398,846 hours of “The Civil War” by Ken Burns. Twice. It was that movie, and the Ken Burns film, that jump-started my love of history. Oh, and Dungeons & Dragons too. But that’s another story.

But for all those years, I never got around to finding or attending a Civil War battle. I have no real explanation as to why. No excuses. However, I did start going to Renaissance Faires and SCA events as a teenager. So, I guess that means you can forgive me for taking twenty five years to go to my first event where men and women, clad in blue and grey uniforms, pointed and fired boom sticks at each other.

One day while at work, this realization suddenly hit me. That’s when I google searched for any Civil War battles in northern California, and low and behold, there was one happening! And it was only a 2-3 hour drive away from Sacramento. Jesus Dinosaur-Riding Christ, of course I was going to go!

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Don’t Surf On Space Mountain

We rode Splash Mountain each wearing a fez because we're classy like that.
We rode Splash Mountain each wearing a fez because we’re classy like that.

The rocket ship coaster car on Space Mountain came to a halt. Thankfully we were in the beginning of the ride, in that little tunnel with all of the flashing lights just before you make the climb. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and ridden Space Mountain, you know that it’s a roller coaster almost entirely in the dark. The opening section of the ride is set up like a space station launch tunnel that leads you into a slow climb full of streaming lights, and a countdown. Then you’re whisked away over the other side to enjoy a thrilling ride in the blackness of “space.” I think they were trying to make it as realistic as to actual space flight possible. The only thing they’re missing to take it to the next level of realism is to have Matthew McConaughey sit next to you as the coaster flies into a weird library.

As I mentioned before, the ride halted in the middle of the space station launch tunnel. I thought to myself, “I’m glad that the ride broke down here where we can still see, and not in the middle where it’s nearly pitch black.”   That’s when all the lights switched off. What followed was what normally happens when all light in a room full of people is suddenly extinguished. There are the obligatory screams of “Eeek!” and “That’s my leg!” and “Who’s in my mouth?” Once we’d all settled down, that’s when I felt it. A phantom finger, from out of the shadows, brushed against my lips. The finger quickly retracted followed by the sound of mad cackling.

This really happened.You see, I was not on this trip to Disneyland alone. I was accompanied by two of my friends, Greg and Micah. The pair of them sat just in front of me in the same coaster car as I. In the moment after we lost all light, Greg having a Loki-like nature, thought it would be funny to yank on my hair when I couldn’t see anything. Lucky for me, or maybe not so lucky, Greg couldn’t see anything either. Instead of finding a lock of my hair, his solitary digit found my mouth instead. Rather than yank my hair in an impish prank, all that ended up happening was that his index finger gently caressed my lips as if to say, “Shhhh. It will be alright.”

It was only a minute or so after that that the lights came back on followed by an announcement from Disney staff that someone would be by to let us out of our cars, and escort us back. This was our first ride on the first day of our two-day trip. Greg, Micah, and I were on an all-guys Disney trip. Why? Why the fuck not? Disneyland is fun.

Anyway, we got to the park just before it opened so we could get to the most popular rides early. If you don’t get to some of these rides early enough, or at least grab a Fast Pass for them, you’ll be standing in line for about three hundred years. The park opens the main gates a half hour early, but only to allow the throbbing, undulating masses of tourists to access the Main Street area.

This is done to allow everyone to queue up near the entrance to their particular “land” of choice, such as Adventure Land or Fantasy Land. Wait…I just said queue up, didn’t I? Queuing up implies that the droves of tourists plowing their way through Disneyland’s Main Street are behaving in some sort of orderly fashion. I meant mob up. We all mobbed up like a horde of unruly Wildlings assaulting Castle Black. This reminds me, it was a little chilly that morning. So the person we encountered outside the park earlier that we originally thought was just some tweaked out meth head was more likely in fact, a White Walker. That explains it. (On a side note, how do we know that all tweaked out meth heads are not White Walkers?)

The three of us readied ourselves for battle at the entrance to Tomorrow Land, along with the other rabid packs of families brandishing spike-and-flame-thrower -bedecked-strollers that were surely used in a Mad Max movie. As the clock ticked closer and closer to 9:00am, we all packed as near to the Tomorrow Land entrance rope as was allowed by the nice, and very fucking patient, Disney cast member. These Disney employees, standing vigilant guard over the entrance ropes like some Rohirrim soldier manning the walls at Helm’s Deep, are like the Jack Nicholson of Disneyland.

Disneyland needs them on that wall! Otherwise, I’m afraid chaos would ensue. The swarms of us tourists run the risk of pillaging the happiest place on Earth.

The Disney cast member manning the wall to Tomorrow Land on that morning dutifully, and at precisely 9:00am, removed the rope. What happened next is like a scene from the Running of the Bulls in Spain. That poor Disney cast member may have leaped to safety once the stampede began, but I’m not sure. All I know is that I never saw him again.

If you knew my friend, Greg, you would know that when he walks it’s at a measured and relaxed pace. He’s rarely, if ever, in a hurry. This is why I was surprised that Micah and I had a difficult time keeping up with him once we were allowed into Tomorrow Land. Somehow, without even running, he was moving faster than the crowd, bouncing and zigzagging between bodies. He moved with such frantic alacrity while making a B-line to Space Mountain, he was like a squirrel that had just ingested a gallon of Jolt Cola laced with cocaine.

Needless to say, we didn’t have to wait more than five minutes to board Space Mountain. At last! The first ride of the day. We were off.

And then we weren’t as we came to a sudden halt.

After the lights had come back on, a Disney cast member walk past and explained that she needed to free the passengers on the car ahead of us first, and then would return for us. The car in front was already in the aforementioned launch tunnel. Once she got to them, we all got to hear her speak to them for a minute, and that is when we learned why Space Mountain stopped.

The ride didn’t break down. From what we overheard, the cast member had to lecture a passenger in the car in front of us that the reason for the stoppage was because he had decided he wanted to stand up during the ride. This asshat felt it would be okay to essentially surf the ride. We listened as he was told he was supposed to remain seated at all times, and definitely not stand up during the ride.

If this candidate for the Darwin Awards had tried to stand up in his coaster car, say further into the ride where there are many low overhangs, his head would have been yanked off like a paper towel. Not only for this guy’s safety, but for everyone on Space Mountain, Disney staff stopped the ride, and got everyone off.

Space Mountain BrokenEven though the first ride of the day was stopped in the very beginning, I tried not to let it ruin my fun. Just note the picture here showing me doing my best to enjoy the coaster properly even though we’re stationary.

“Standing up on the ride” became a little inside joke for the three of us through the duration of the weekend. Whenever we would board Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Carribean, etc, one of us would sternly point a finger at the other in warning to not stand up and ruin the experience for everyone else.

One such accusation of note occurred on the Cars ride in the California Adventure Park. Its premise is that park-goers board competing cars from the movie, and they have a race. It was my first time on the ride, and in a car opposite to Micah’s. Greg had gotten onto a car ahead of us and was already flying through the track, and would be waiting for us at the end.

We reached the part of the ride where our two cars lined up to start the race. That’s when I decided to look over to Micah’s car, outstretch my hand with a “thumbs down” gesture, and called out, “You’re going down!” The people in Micah’s car immediately got right into it, and returned the same expressions to me. The people in my car followed suit, and within moments, all of us were taunting each other with our downward-pointed thumbs. We were ready for this race. It was on. Micah, and all of his gesture-flinging compatriots were going to eat our dust!

The ride sputtered, then failed to move. The lights went out, again, but only for a moment. Several minutes later, a voice came over a speaker to tell us that the Cars ride had malfunctioned and a cast member would be by soon to escort us out.

Mother fucker.

First time on a new ride, which was to be the final ride of the evening, and it breaks. At least neither me nor anyone else tried to surf this one. As Micah and I waited to be extracted from our colorful, temporary restraints, Greg sent each of us a text message accusing us of standing up in the ride, causing it to shut down. How dare us!

The proper way to dress for  a Jungle Boat Cruise.
The proper way to dress for a Jungle Boat Cruise.

All in all, we had a good time at Disneyland. I encourage anyone to go sometime with just your friends. You can even do so over the course of a weekend like we did.

In closing, I have to regale you with a quick text exchange that occurred after our trip. Greg dropped us off in Sacramento where Micah and I retrieved our cars for the drive home. I live in Sacramento, but Micah lives just north of Santa Rosa, so he still had two to three hours of driving ahead. A little while after dropping us at our cars, Greg sent a text to us to make sure we all made it home safe. This is what followed.

Micah: Ok. Home now.

Greg: How was the traffic?

Micah: I admit it. I stood up in the vehicle and they shut the whole freeway down. Otherwise great!