Monday, December 6, 2010

Shrine of St. Therese

                It was a few years ago, on my second visit to Juneau, that I had the opportunity to visit the St. Therese Shrine out past the ferry terminal. It must have been in April or May because I was on my way home to Haines for the summer. I had a ticket for the but-crack-of-dawn ferry with my car and meager belongings. Not wanting to miss the early wake-up, I decided to stay awake throughout the night by drinking at the bar. Well, the bars closed at 2am and I still had a few hours before I could board the boat, so I headed out to the Shrine to do some sightseeing.
                I arrived at the place as just as the sun was starting to peek over the mountains, casting the densely forested area around the mission in an eerie light. Undaunted by the creepiness, I walked down the path from the parking lot towards the shrine. I went to the mission/church and was disappointed to find the doors locked so I started to walk the Stations of the Cross. It took me a few tries to find the beginning due to my slightly intoxicated state, but I finally managed to find the start point. I admired the workmanship of each station as I tried to remember from my CCD classes from my youth which one would come next.
                I had almost made the entire circuit when I heard what I believed to be a baby cry.
                “Hello? Is there someone there?” I asked into the silence of the trees. There was no response and I hadn’t heard or seen anyone else during my trek out to the shrine. I poked around some more, blowing off what I had heard even though it creeped me out. I walked off the hardly used path and stepped a little deeper into the surrounding trees when I heard the noise again.
                “Hey! Who’s out there?” I shouted. The only response I received was that of the wind causing the branches of the trees to creak a bit. I heard the noise again which prompted me to pick up the nearest make-shift weapon that I could find.
                Now armed with a small twig, I repeated my inquiry to the forest, “Who’s out there? Quit fucking with me!” I looked down at the pathetic branch clutched in my hand and dropped it to the ground as I looked for something more substantial. “What the fuck?” I said to myself, “how can there be no sticks in the forest?” I gave up on trying to arm myself and decided to find the culprit instead.
             I heard the noise again and immediately ran to where I thought the sound to be coming from. There was nothing and no one there. I heard the noise again, this time, from where I had just run from. I ran back to where I was before and still found no one there.
It was then that I looked up into the trees and spotted a raven about twenty feet above sitting on a branch.
“Hey, stupid bird. What are you doing?” I couldn’t believe that I was trying to speak to a bird, I was a little tipsy and sleep deprived though. That’s when the raven opened its beak and mimicked the sound that I had been hearing.
“What the…? Stupid fucking bird. Scared the hell out of me.” I picked up the nearest twig and hurled it at the trickster raven. I missed of course and the raven launched into the air and flew away. I haven’t been back to the shrine since.

Qatar 2006

While on my first deployment to Afghanistan I and three of my buddies got the opportunity to go to Qatar in Saudi Arabia for some R&R. I was new to the Army still and had only formed friendships with my fellow mechanics and a few of the Joes from the Earth-Mover platoon. Their job was to make dirt roads between the various villages in country and my job was to fix the many vehicles they broke each day. They would operate, and I would subsequently repair, construction equipment such as Dozers, Graders, Dump-trucks, Vibe-rollers, and Scrapers, not to mention the tractor-trailer combinations that hauled the equipment to and from the job sites.
                I had met a fellow Alaskan from the EM Platoon who turned out to have the same smart-assed sense of humor that I had. Needless to say, we hit it off and were ecstatic when we learned that we would be going to Qatar together. A senior mechanic in my platoon was to accompany us; he was the kind of guy who could jerry-rig the equipment in order to get it back on the road. The third member of our motley crew was a Mormon fella who was also a member of the EM platoon.
                We had all been in country for about nine months and, as far as I knew, none of us had partaken in the consumption of alcohol during those months. The first thing we asked after getting off the C-130 transport plane was, “Where is the bar?” Most of the other Joes who had traveled to Qatar wanted to see the sights or engage in some good, wholesome fun, i.e. dune buggy rides, shopping at the Saudi mall, or swimming/snorkeling. Not us representatives of Alpha Company though. We were there to drink until we fell down- one of my favoritest games. Like I said before, there was a Mormon guy with us and he proved to be invaluable. Qatar is a military run base, and as such, it has certain rules for the Joes who visit. The main rule is that there is a three drink maximum. Lame. We figured out a way around this technicality though, have the Mormon guy, who did not drink alcohol as per his religious beliefs, buy his three drinks and give them to us. This worked out perfectly… until we had drunk our fourth beer.
                We found out another way to consume more than the three allotted beers, we petitioned other Joes for their beer tickets. Normally, after showing your military ID card and paying ten dollars for your drinks, your name and last four were entered into the computer to ensure the adhering to of the three drink max. My fellow Alaskan and I had more cash than common sense and proceeded to procure beer tickets to the tune of ten to twenty dollars apiece. Thus, we were able to get extremely blitzed every night.
                Now, for some reason or another, when I get wasted, I develop a Scottish accent. I refer to myself as Kevin and am fearless when hollerin’ at the ladies. The other Alaskan decided to partake in the accent but adopted one from the U.K. and proclaimed to be from Manchesta’ True to form, four of the seven female US soldiers at the bar found themselves drawn towards our table. We held their attention the entire night until we were asked to leave by the Military Police- we were having too much fun, I guess. The very next night, we decided to use our normal American accents to see if the ladies would still come around. Nope, not a one sat with us. After partaking in more than a few beers, our accents re-emerged and the ladies, though puzzled, yet inebriated, found themselves at our table once again as we regaled them with B.S. stories from our respective homelands.
                Just goes to show you, I guess, that men aren’t the only superficial ones amongst the humans.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kids say the funniest things

    I have a son who is nine years old and I'm praying that he won't get into the same shenanigans that I did when I was his age. Most people say that he is a miniature version of me and that he is a very entertaining child. A few years ago, when I was living in WA with the family, I came home for lunch from work even though I had already eaten the sandwich and chips I had brought with me. Since I had about an hour to kill at home, I decided that it would be a good idea to try and seduce my wife into some afternoon delight.
    She conceded to my request after much protesting about the boy being home and awake. I had laid her fears to rest by putting cartoons on for my son and making him some popcorn- he loves the stuff. After making sure that he had everything that he could possibly need, I left him to his ‘toons and proceeded upstairs to my bedroom.
    My wife and I were “practicing” for only a few minutes when we heard the boy yell something from the T.V. room. Naturally, we ceased our activity and remained motionless as the following exchange took place.
    “Did you hear that?” I asked
    “Yes, Caleb yelled something.” she said.
    “What did he say?” I asked.
    She replied incredulously, “I don’t know! This stupid bed makes so much noise.”
    We resumed, well, I resumed my activity for only a few moments before I stopped due to my son’s yelling from downstairs.
    This time, I heard what he was yelling, “Stop jumping on the bed! I can’t hear the T.V.!”
     My wife was absolutely mortified, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
    “Get off me!” she said as I continued to laugh, knowing that the moment was very much over.
    “What’s the big deal,” I teased, “it’s not like he knows what we’re doing up here.”
    That’s when I heard the boy running up the stairs.
   “Shit,” my wife said, “did you lock the bedroom door?”
    I stopped laughing because I realized that in my haste, I had indeed neglected to lock the door. I flew off the bed in my birthday suit and lunged for the door knob and pushed in the little button that locks the door just as my son tried to come in.
   “Hey!” he exclaimed, “why did you lock me out? And how come you guys get to jump on the bed and I get yelled at when I do it?”
   With my hand still clutching the door knob, I yelled through the door, “Go watch your toons Caleb.”
   “I can’t ‘cause you guys are jumping on the bed and making a lot of noise.”
   “Just go downstairs!” I said. I heard him walking away and quickly put my wife’s robe on. I followed him downstairs and turned the T.V. volume up to blaring.
    “There, now you can hear your toons.” I told him.
    He just gave me a perplexing look, probably due to my pink, silky attire, but settled down on the couch and continued to watch his toons. I returned upstairs in hopes of salvaging my alone-time with my wife.
    No such luck though. She was already dressed and was in the process of fixing her mussed-up hair. She saw the look of disappointment on my face and simply said, “We need a new bed, one that doesn’t make noise.” She patted me on my head as she passed by me in the doorway and told me that I was going to be late for work if I didn’t take her robe off and get dressed. So much for afternoon delight.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fangoria magazine and clown dolls

       I was but a wee lad at the time of this story, about seven or eight years old. My family loved scary movies and I was sometimes allowed to watch them with my older sisters. I had recently watched the movie Poltergeist that came out on the early eighties and came to the conclusion that I was deathly afraid of clowns. Do you remember the clown of which I speak? The one in the boys bedroom that hopped down from the chair and scurried under his bed. Anyway, the clown tried to strangle the boy with its red and white stripped arms... freaked me the fuck out. Well, my sister, whom I affectionately called Ee-ka, was totally into scary stuff and loved to scare the bejeesus out of me and my younger brother almost an a daily basis. She had acquired from somewhere, a clown puppet that bore a striking resemblance to the clown in the movie.
    Normally, my sister would wait for my brother and me in our room underneath our bunk bed. My younger brother and I would finish brushing our teeth and saunter down the hallway to our room. We took turns turning off the bedroom light, one day, I would wait for him to get safely into the bottom bunk before turning the light off and running to jump onto the ladder to the top bunk. It was my turn this particular night. I don't know if it was the fact that both my brother and I suffered from short term memory loss or the fact that we were just, as my dad often said, brain damaged, but we never once checked under the bed for my sister. Just after I turned the light off and closed the bedroom door, I heard a shuffle from under the bed.
    I immediately froze, "Todd, did you do that?"
    "No." he said from underneath his blanket.
    Not wanting to turn the light back on for fear of seeing what had caused the noise, I leaped the three or so feet from the door to the ladder and slammed my shin on one of the rungs. Fearing for my life, I ignored the pain and scrambled up the rest of the way and barricaded myself under my blankets. Silence ensued for the next few moments only to be broken my the loud beating of my scared little heart. Then, I heard it... it was just a whisper barely audible over my panicked breathing.
    I started to recite, "Hail Mary, full of grace... crap, I forgot what comes next. Hail Mary full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou..."
    "Dennissss...Dennissss," now the whisper sounded more like a ghostly moan.
   I tried to recite the prayer louder and could hear my younger brother crying as quietly as he could. The whisper had gotten louder with each repetition and I could sense that it was coming, not from under the bed anymore, but from right next to my covered head. Now, this may seem like a dick thing to do, but I stopped praying and remained quiet in hopes that whatever was calling my name would ignore me and focus its attention of my quietly sobbing little brother.
    No luck, the voice got louder, "Dennissss...Dennissss!"
    I figured that if I was gonna die this night, that I might as well satisfy my curiosity and decided to take a peek from beneath my blankets. Bad move...really bad move. My room was dark, but the venetian blinds let in a small amount of moonlight, just enough for me to see that God-damned clown with its puppet mouth moving in sync while it called out my name. I tried to scream. My mouth was open, but only a strangled hiss was coming out, that is, until I inhaled and tried to scream again. This time, I sounded like the scream-queens from the movies that I had watched in the past. It was epic.
    My scream had scared the puppet and my sister to scream in response and my brother had decided to scream out as well. The clown disappeared and there was a scrambling towards the bedroom door by my sister. But before she could get to the door, it swung open into the room and she ran square into the edge and crumpled to the floor. My dad had been in the living room watching the boob-tube and ran down the hallway to see what the matter was. As the light from the hallway flooded into my bedroom, I looked towards my door to see my dad standing there, doorknob in hand, looking perplexed. He told me and my brother to calm down and go back to sleep and proceeded to pick my unconscious sister, who had released the damned clown puppet. As my dad turned to leave, I noticed that he was shutting the door with the clown still in my room.
    "Dad! don't leave the clown in here! Please!" I said through bouts of heaving sobs. He stopped, turned around and gave me a blank stare. He must have seen the absolute terror in my eyes because he sighed and stooped to pick up the clown and then shut my door.
     I didn't see that effing clown after that, I guess my dad got rid of it in order to be able to watch T.V. in peace. My sister got yelled at when she finally woke up the next morning and was grounded for a week and told to stay out of our room. The only plus to the story was that my sister had a huge black, blue, and purple goose-egg on her forehead for weeks and was mortified when she had to go to school.

The Cult

     I was a freshman at the University of Anchorage and the year was 1993. Halfway through the Fall semester, I was attempting to reorganise my notebook when I noticed that another student was speaking to me. He was a quiet fellow who spoke in a pronounced up talk style (stressing the last syllable of every word). I looked up from what I was doing and said hello. He seemed to me to be somewhat awkward in his mannerism and social skills, but I asked him what he wanted. It turned out that he was trying to invite me to a bible study on Wednesday. Having been raised a Catholic and having studied the Bible as literature in high school, I agreed to his invite.
    Wednesday rolled around and I found myself at the Spenard Rec. Center off of Minnesota Drive. There were only a handful of cars in the large parking lot, so I assumed that I was early and proceeded in. I wasn't early; there were only ten or so twenty-somethings in attendance and I was the only one who was a guest. I, being a young single guy in the AK, noticed that the guy to girl ratio was promising. There were four or five pretty girls and six or so guys. I was immediately approached by the entirety of the congregation and was welcomed to the group with genuine acceptance. This, of course, made me feel good. Rob was the one who invited me out, so it was he who introduced me to the rest of the gang. I felt like a part of something good and being that I was having troubles on the home front, I was relieved to feel so much caring and, dare I say, love, from my new-found friends.
    As the weeks turned into months, I started to spend all of my free time with the fellowship and was ignoring my two best friends in the process. My mom noticed a change in by behavior- for the better- and said that she was glad that I had found something to fill the void in my life. My dad, on the other hand, being a strict Catholic, wasn't too thrilled with my new found faith. He decided that as long as I kept my grades up and stayed out of trouble, he wouldn't have a problem with me. I was attending church at the rec-center twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday, and was praying before each meal (like my family used to do).
    Eventually, my holier than thou attitude started to affect my already precarious relationship with my family. I was trying to convince my family to see the light of my church, which was called the Greatland Christian Church, but they ridiculed me and called me a Bible-thumper and said that I had been brainwashed. Of course, my pastor told me that this was a common reaction of the non-believers. One day, my dad came to me and said that he had seen on the t.v. show 60 minutes, an expose on a church that started up in Boston. It was called the Boston Movement and was accused of blackmailing its members who tried to leave the flock. He asked me to find out more about my church and said that he hoped that it wasn't affiliated with the Boston Movement. It occurred to me that it probably was due to the fact that before I could be baptised into the church, I had to compile a Sin List. The list was to begin at my earliest remembrance of breaking one of the Ten Commandments. I of course didn't list everything that I had done, mainly due to the statute of limitation on some of the shenanigans I had partaken in in my youth. I did say that I had stolen candy and toys as a child and had constantly disobeyed my parents and had pretty much been a little shit for most of my life. Then there was the case of touching ones self in an inappropriate manner, a 'menage a uno' kind of thing. They were all but salivating at the anticipation of reading how often a day and how many days a week I embarked upon this journey. I felt a little uncomfortable because of the pretty girls in the flock, but was assured that each of the ten or so members had completed a list of their own and had felt better for it. They were right about feeling better, I wasn't ashamed of my actions but was remorseful. They accepted me for who I was and solidified my bond with the Church.
     Back to the Boston Movement. I asked my pastor about the origins of the church and about the stories in the media. He confirmed my suspicions and replied that sometimes drastic measures had to be taken in order to save souls. I asked about the morality of blackmail and he said that God works through his disciples in many ways and that the path to Hell was full of good intentions. The pastor then asked me why I had not been giving very much money during the collections at church. I reminded him that I was a college student, still living at home and had no income nor allowance. He said that he understood, but that it was important to sacrifice my comfort in the name of God. I took this with a grain of salt and said that I would try.
    The months wore on and I was beginning to see a pattern in the 'recruitment prospects'. I noticed that there were no families being invited to church nor the elderly or down-and-out. All I ever saw were social misfits who seemed to need a place where they could belong. I asked my pastor about our demographics and he told me that the old were set in their ways and that couples with children didn't have time for church. WTF? I grilled him about the need to save everyone and not just those who were easy targets with money from mommy and daddy. He had no reply and told me to think and pray to God for forgiveness at having questioned His authority. Okey-dokey. I was starting to see through the mist of blind-faith and decided to challenge everything that I had been told.
    I started inviting homeless people to church and was met with outrage for my actions from the flock. I then asked them if it was not our mission to save every soul that we could for the glory of God, and was this mans soul not worth saving. They couldn't argue with my logic until my pastor escorted the homeless man out of the rec-center and told us all that the man had given up on God a long time ago. I, being raised Catholic, still remembered God as a forgiving person... no matter what you had done. I told the flock what I thought and said that I had had enough. I started to leave and the pastor asked to speak with me in private. I agreed.
    We talked about my waning faith and my errant behavior, then he pulled out a piece of paper... it was my Sin List. He said that he would hate to have to release the information to my family and friends and that I should reconsider my choice of leaving. He said that I was one of the most charismatic people he had ever met and that I had great potential in the church. This sounded kinda like a bribe to me but I was dead-set in my decision. I told him that I hadn't listed everything on my list because of the statute of limitations thing and informed him that I knew were he and his wife lived and that I had been a bit of a pyrotechnics geek in my youth and that I was fascinated with fire. His eyes went wide and he handed me my list. I took it, stood up, and left the room. On my way out, some of the girls were crying while the guys were talking quietly to Rob, my sponsor.
    I had been with the church for almost a year and had ostracized myself from my family and friends. I had a lot of patching up to do and vowed to disrupt the efforts of the church's recruitment practices every chance I got. I eventually moved from Anchorage and never saw the flock again.