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Rock, Paper, Biscuit

"Say Again?"

​​Now I’ve had my share of memorable meals: from C-Rations in combat school that tasted like they had washed up on shore at Normandy to MREs (which we gamely called Meals Rejected by Ethiopians); from a Korean meal that included a live octopus to Mediterranean fare served by French waiters whose armpits lent the aroma of fermented gym socks to a dilapidated little restaurant in Riyadh, I’ve had culinary adventures that spanned continents. None of which prepared me for this evening’s experience.
After welcoming one and all to the weekly installment of Ricochet’s primary podcast, James Lileks typically brings in Peter Robinson and Rob Long and asks how they’ve been getting along. Whereupon Rob can be counted on to preface his remarks with a happy reference to, “Sunny Southern California.” Uh huh. Having spent today in southern California, I can vouch that this is the kind of sunshine that resulted in Noah’s ark. Perhaps Rob really said, “I’m growing gills,” and I just misunderstood. I’ve been very busy misunderstanding a lot of people lately.

The load that brought me to Ontario, California today originated in the Nashville area on Tuesday. My understanding of the load was that it had to be delivered by 6PM today. I planned my trip accordingly. Then, Wednesday night, I checked the computer and saw that the delivery had been changed to 8AM today, effectively moving events almost a full work day earlier. Did it really change, I wondered, or did I misunderstand the assignment in the first instance? What followed was a grueling schedule that culminated with an all-night drive last night, providing time to wonder if I’ve been paying sufficient attention lately.

At 2 o’clock this morning, while I was nearing the Arizona / California border, a contemporary yet deliciously sweet piano rendition of Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring filled the cab. The patch of desert landscape, illuminated by the headlights, seemed all the more bright against a cold starless night. The delicious warmth of the coffee seemed especially comforting. I caught just a hint of what looked to be a brush of silver light to my left, almost like a reflection from one of the dashboard gauges against the driver’s side window. I looked again and saw that it was moonlight, formless, without focus, just a wisp of silver fading in from behind the clouds.

I had misunderstood my fortune, because rather than an arduous task, this night time drive was turning into a wondrous experience. Or so I thought. The California authorities were thoughtful enough to construct an inspection station in the middle of Interstate 40, where they could more properly welcome commercial drivers. “Papers,” said the nice officer. More misunderstanding ensued because I didn’t believe myself to be passing through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. I handed over the bills of lading, which stated that I was delivering medical supplies to a Costco distribution center.

“Wachagot?” he asked. “Pardon?” I asked. “What are you carrying?” he asked. He was staring at the load list that told him precisely what I was carrying. So I answered, “drugs.” “What?” he said. “Medical supplies,” I clarified. I was allowed to proceed.

A few hours later, I was traveling south on Interstate 15 toward Los Angeles, when the highway took a turn up through a mountainous region. We drove up into large black cloud of “Sunny Southern California,” which opened a deluge on us, causing me to remember that I had come all the way out here and forgotten my suntan oil.
Later still, the load having been delivered, I wandered inside the truck stop restaurant in Ontario for a hot breakfast prior to turning in for some rest. In most truck stops, if one wants to engage in conversation with other truckers, one sits at the counter. Drivers who opt for a table or booth are generally understood to be feeling a little less sociable. Soaked to the bone, I went straightaway to a booth. A few minutes later, another driver sat in the adjacent booth. “Hope you drive wrong,” he said. “Pardon?” I asked. “Have you been driving long?” he repeated. It was going to be one of those meals.

Now, my daughter and I don’t always have the greatest of phone connections, due to my cell signal and her wireless gizmos, so that what she says and what I actually hear are not always the same thing. Occasionally, instead of asking her to repeat something, I’ll simply tell her what I thought I heard, which is always good for a laugh. This morning’s conversation was worse because the guy would neither speak up nor shut up. I had hoped, after asking him to repeat himself some five or six hundred thousand times, he might give up and go back to his eggs and bacon. Alas, his narrative was as boundless as his appetite. I threw in the towel:

Him: “My aunt flapped on a flatbed all the way to Norfolk.” 

 Me: “Really?”

Him: “Yeah, I told the idiot that lumber wouldn’t make the trip in a ribbon like that, but you know how dispatchers are.” 

Me: “Yep.”

Him: “Spinach.” 

Me: “What?”

Him: “Spend much? On food?”

Me: “About 10 bucks on average.”

Him: “Yeah, you know what I told the manager at Petro?”

Me: “Yep.”

Him: “I told that sonovabiscuit eater that there ain’t no way a cackeroni with flim flies can run no 8 bucks.” 

Me: “Really.”

Him: “If l’m lyin’ I’m fryin’, besides, the menu said the steak lice was sledge over cork.”

Me: “No kiddin’.”

And on it went. And went. He ate more food than I could manage, quicker than I could manage, and never broke stride with his story-telling. I’m not sure, but I think he was telling the waitress how much he’d like to take her to Topeka on a wheel barrow, but I might have got that part wrong. It was time to pay the bill and get some sleep. I was reminded of the story of the genteel old man who, on the occasion of his 60th wedding anniversary, told his wife, “Honey, I’m proud of you.” “Well,” she said, “I’m tired of you too.”

Meanwhile, the southern California sun continues to rinse off my truck. I think I’ll have to turn the volume up for the next podcast.

Rolling With The Thunder

And here I thought this piece on Rolling Thunder would be a difficult one to write. After a phenomenal escort by upwards of a hundred motorcycles, two fire trucks, and a special response vehicle Saturday, which ushered in six Ride of Pride trucks to a veteran’s observance, I thought there would be too many events this weekend to synthesize into a coherent essay. Then there were the two young children who stood and saluted the bikes and trucks as we rolled into the parking lot.

Holiday Driving Tips

My late grandmother could put more elegance to language than anyone I’ve ever known. She could also eviscerate an adversary and shred their arguments into fine little pieces suitable for slicing tomatoes, but that’s another story entirely. There was one phrase in particular that seemed almost musical in its graceful refinement. She always employed it when praying for our family when we were about to make a long trip, kindly asking The Almighty to extend us, “traveling mercies.”

Faith on 18 Wheels

It must be very difficult for small minds to survive Iowa. From horizon to horizon, there’s virtually nothing to obstruct one’s view except corn stalks, and even those recede into the endless patchwork of soft, rolling countryside when observed from a hilltop. The mind roams while the truck rolls along, the rhythm of the pavement thumping under the wheels.

Where Everybody Asks Your Name

It is a high honor indeed to make a living traveling America’s roads, moving freight from one corner of the country to the next. Many is the time I’ve sat quietly in the driver’s seat practically dumbstruck by the awesome splendor of a sunrise, as it seemed The Almighty himself had taken a few minutes off from the world’s problems to splash a panorama of fiery brilliance on the canvas of the heavens. At such times, in the privacy of my mind, I’ve fancied truck drivers as modern day cowboys, working in the elements, sleeping with the freight, and living the life of a drifter.

  ​​ Letter To A Truck Stop

To Whom It Should Concern:
The attached photo, taken in your restaurant this morning, where I spent $10.99 on a “Little Smokies” breakfast, advertises that I can get a T-Bone Steak breakfast or dinner, including side item and beverage, for under $13. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for your showers which, I found out this morning, have risen to 13 bucks. For 13 bucks, I ought at least to get a baked potato with my shower, don’t you think? And a beverage, preferably something strong to take the edge off having to pay more money for the simple act of bathing than for consuming a T-Bone Steak.

The Adventures Of The Tylenol Kid

When I think of the vast distance covered in recent days, the adventures and misadventures, I want to go lie down. These were my thoughts yesterday while lying down, flat on my back, on the floor of the trailer staring up and checking to see if anything was broken. “Are you okay, sir?” one of the delightful young ladies called out from the back of the trailer. “Yes,” I said. “I fell and thought I’d rest as long as I was down here.”

Warmth Beneath The Ice

Well, it all started in Columbus, Ohio last week, where I got stranded for a day due to an impossible freight schedule that was made hilariously impossible by a sudden snow. (I don’t play in the snow, in a semi, on untreated roads.) So I used the unexpected down time to call my boss and explain that I really need to get to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in order to repair the fender that I used to kill that deer with last month. I’m scheduled to bring the Ride of Pride to a rather large special event in early March, and the body shop manager in Carlisle assures me he can restore her to original splendor in time for the event. So my dispatcher agreed … I must beat a path toward Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Which of course, is how I came to be here in New Hampshire.

  ​​Politics and Culture      

The Village Voice Goes Ankle Biting

Some Questions for David Hogg

The Village Voice recently offered an energetic little romp through conservative opinion regarding the Supreme Court’s Obamacare endorsement. The piece, by Roy Edroso, was evidently not intended to be taken too seriously, unblemished as it is by much in the way of serious thought. Instead, Mr. Edroso bounds from one writer to another, nipping at the ankles, unable to leave more than an occasional scratch. He even singled out yours truly for some attention, about which more in due course.

Edroso writes that Rich Lowry’s column contained a, “…grand cataclysm of metaphors: ‘The umpire called a balk, but gave the pitcher a do-over. The ref called a foul, but didn’t interrupt the play… On ObamaCare, the umpire struck out.’ Then he called himself for goaltending over the blue line and got a red card.” No substantive rebuttal of Lowry’s comments, of course. Just a light nibble about the ankles. Referring to John Yoo as, “…torture enthusiast John Yoo,” Mr. Edroso invites the following question: If helping design the system of enhanced interrogation that brought Osama bin Laden within the trajectory of a Navy SEAL’s bullet makes John Yoo a “torture enthusiast,” does the refusal to take bin Laden when he was offered to the US make Bill Clinton a “terror enthusiast?” Well, of course not. No level headed person would advance that argument, its seriousness being on par with Roy Edroso’s.

But let’s move to the fun part. Concerning my piece on the Supreme Court decision, we read: 

“Dave Carter at hip new internet thing Ricochet took the decision very personally. Carter quoted Shakespeare, then reported, “these weren’t the first words that came to mind when I heard the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare. No, nothing that profound came immediately to mind. Unfortunately, the first phrase I uttered, while driving an 18 wheeler through Scranton, was unprintable.” What an interesting person he seems!
Carter went on: “My refusal to be pushed around and bullied by an out of control government is yet another thing I have in common with Patrick Henry.” (Not to mention, his photograph suggests, Larry the Cable Guy.) Carter scorned as “tyranny” the enforcement of universal healthcare, and promised, “I will not compromise with it, accommodate it, lend it the veneer of euphemism, nor counsel acquiescence to it. I will instead fight it, mock it, and scorn it with every means at my disposal.” Give him liberty or Git-R-Done!”

The emphasis on my photo (complete with sleeveless shirt), the reference to Larry the Cable Guy, and the “…Git-R-Done!” phrase is playful enough, with just the hint of mockery. No harm done, though it is instructive that when progressives, who fancy themselves as the voice of the working man, are actually confronted with one, they instinctively resort to stereotypical derision. But it’s a harmless frolic, really, until: 

Carter scorned as “tyranny” the enforcement of universal healthcare, and promised, “I will not compromise with it, accommodate it, lend it the veneer of euphemism, nor counsel acquiescence to it. I will instead fight it, mock it, and scorn it with every means at my disposal.” 

At this point we reach down, pick the errant puppy up by the scruff of the neck, and remind him of a few things. If you wish to refute my ideas, Roy, honesty requires that you to state them correctly. By omitting two thirds of the sentence that you quote from my piece and substituting the term “universal healthcare,”which term appears nowhere in my article, you misrepresented my point to your readers, Roy, and that’s not very nice. So to set the record straight, here is what I wrote:

"But to be ordered, by means of regulation or taxes and penalties, to enter into a private contract or to purchase a private product or service against my will, by virtue of my simple existence, is tyranny and I will not compromise with it, accommodate it, lend it the veneer of euphemism, nor counsel acquiescence to it." 

You see, I was addressing the larger meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision, not merely the implications vis-a-vis Obamacare. I wonder how many of your readers, Roy, would celebrate laws that compel the purchase of gym memberships, or require every American to purchase a firearm, or a Bible, under threat of a penalty or tax? Because by expanding the tax authority to compel us to engage in commerce without us having first taken an affirmative step, such as the purchase of a car for example, the Supreme Court has found such coercion constitutional. That, sir, is the crucial point here, made all the more relevant in light of the fact that we just celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document signed by people who gathered for the singular purpose of freeing man from the commands of the state.

In a larger sense, this is the root of the conservative case against the coercive designs of men who are no better nor wiser than the rest of us simply because they hold public office. We believe in the “self-evident” truth, “that all men are created equal,” and are not therefore organically suited to micro manage the lives of other men. We believe that you and your readers have the right to pursue your dreams, unfettered by regulations and dictates that suffocate the life from your initiative. We believe that that which you earn belongs to you, not David Axelrod. It would never occur to us to forcibly confiscate that which you have earned, be it money, property, employment or position, and hand it to someone who has not earned it as an expression of our egalitarianism. We believe that your liberty to make your own decisions as you think best is a sacred right. That it should remain so is an idea that we will continue to defend.

Roy, you wrote that I took the Court’s decision, “very personally.” On this point, you are correct. If you raise your nose above the ankles, look up over the sleeveless shirt, you will see some military medals on my hat. The fight for freedom, is indeed personal to me, sir. Too many good men and women have died to protect you from being commanded about as if you had a ring through your nose, for your freedom to be pissed away by temporary politicians. Oh, and one more thing: Being incinerated alive is torture. The simulated drowning of the terrorist who incinerated thousands, is not.

And with that, we gently place the puppy back on the ground, and tell him to run along and play. “Go on now. Git!”
“Blessed are the young,” said Herbert Hoover, “for they shall inherit the national debt.” Whatever the shortcomings of the Hoover administration, he was right about the debt, and might have suggested a great many other things which America’s youth appear destined to inherit, including a stunted understanding of their nation’s history and culture.

Donald Trump and the Order of the Iron Butt

Whatever one makes of the existence of the “secret society” mentioned by FBI lawyer Lisa Page in a text message to her paramour, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, no one can doubt the existence of another beltway society whose existence is now about as secret as former Congressman John Conyers’ underwear (which a former staffer says he sported rather flamboyantly at a meeting, answering for all time the age-old question: “boxers or briefs?”)

Black Lives Matter Doesn't Believe It's Own Slogan

Like so many, I’ve watched with a heavy heart the malicious violence that is sprouting like poison ivy across the country, germinated by liberal applications of incendiary rhetoric and misplaced indulgence. In the city in which I was raised, Baton Rouge, three police officers were assassinated and three officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. One of the dead, a black officer with 10 years on the force, had recently posted on Facebook about the angst and mounting pressure he felt from the very community he ultimately gave his life defending. Does his black life matter? Where are the protestors on his behalf?

Tell the Fourth Circuit to Go Fly a Kite

The USS Enterprise, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, was delayed by a storm during its return to Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Halsey and his staff learned of the December 7 attack through the desperate radio transmission of an American pilot who, upon nearing Pearl Harbor, identified himself as an American and was shot down. Finally able to enter Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, Admiral Halsey surveyed the wreckage and the carnage and announced that, “Before we’re through with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.”

The Conservative Challenge

Thanks to the wonders of Audible’s audio book app on my phone, I enter the new year about halfway through Professor Robert C. Bartlett’s, “Masters of Greek Thought: Plato, Socrates and Aristotle,” lecture series, recorded at Boston College. I undertook the series to deepen what I fear are my own deficiencies in understanding some of the foundations of Western thought. As often happens with me, any given laudable activity soon becomes an obsession and the next thing you know, presto(!), I’m also reading Plato’s Apology, wherein he has Socrates making a point that I’ve felt for quite some time:

"What I do, as I move around you, is just this: I try to persuade you, whether younger or older, to give less priority, and devote less zeal, to the care of your bodies or of your money than to the care of your soul and trying to make it as good as it can be."

Bonfire of the Sophisticates

Just a few days before Christmas, National Review’s Rich Lowry — easily one of my favorite writers — penned a sober analysis titled, “The Right’s Post-Constitutional Moment,” in which he laments that, “Trump has captivated a share of the Tea Party with a style of politics utterly alien to the Constitution.” This is especially vexing, Lowry continues, in light of a movement which in 2010 produced “… a class of constitutional obsessives, such as Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who were focused not just on what government shouldn’t do, but on what it couldn’t do, and why.”

Rednecks, Deplorables and Catholics (Oh My!)

Eight years ago, we were an amorphous blob, a nondescript and motley collection of malcontents who, “…get bitter, they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” However, this description of those who would later comprise at least part of the Tea Party by then-Senator Obama was hopelessly out of focus as it could apply in equal measure to the KKK, Islamic radicals, Black Lives Matter, Bill Ayers and his Weather Underground bombers, or the Beverly Hillbillies. But now, thanks to that rollicking fun couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who discombobulated the word “is,” who popularized speculation on what sort of underwear the president prefers, who compromised America’s national security, and who made it fashionable to use an intern as a humidor, we now have some clarification.


On American Independence

   ​ If The Wall Could Speak

Sometimes it’s the privations that inform. While on active duty, I had on my desk a copy of a diary. It belonged to an American Revolutionary War soldier. A private. The shelves in the history office were lined with books detailing the strategies of brilliant military minds, while the archives contained books that I and others had written as the official record of the fighter wing’s operations and the issues facing the wing’s leadership. But to repair to that diary was to be reminded that, absent the dedication and courage of the individual soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, generals are but theorists.
Rays of sunlight burst from above, bathing the very air itself with my spirit as the deep rumble of a motorcycle across the lot heralds the arrival of another veteran. He just parked his bike, regarding me from across the parking lot. Sometimes they walk right up to me, and I recognize them, though the lines in their face betray the years and the pain, their eyes searching for a brother in arms. Sometimes they walk all 288 feet, though often times the emotions overwhelm them and they have to break away. Other times, however, their grief is too strong and they watch me from a distance before riding away in silence.

Very seldom do I hear someone say that a comrade or loved one’s name is etched in these panels. Instead, they say, “My grandfather is on the wall,” or as one Purple Heart Recipient said yesterday, his eyes welling up, “twelve of my friends are up there.” I see all who gaze my direction. I remember the time my granddaughter came to visit. She was born long after after I arrived here, of course, and I recognized her long before she saw my name. It hurt harder than anything to see the tears stream down her young face.

I was young when one of my teachers last saw me and, in a sense, I suppose I’m now forever young. She came to see me just yesterday. Wizened, walking slowly and carefully, she placed a white flower on the ground under my name and then reached out, her fingertips tracing the letters. Her eyes, as keen and sharp as they were that day in English class when she referred to me as the “the epitome of asininity,” were a study in compassion and love. I wish she could have heard me as I thanked her for her steady and strong influence.

At one of my stops each year, a buddy used to bring two bottles of beer late at night, drinking one and leaving the other unopened, propped up, for me. He wasn’t there this year. Time is now exacting on my friends that damage which the war couldn’t inflict.

On another night, a veteran arrived just as one of the older volunteers was preparing to leave for the evening. It was the first time I had seen him since that firefight so many years ago. He was one of my soldiers, and I was his lieutenant. We had both been injured. I lost an arm in that one, and I knew my time was up. The last time he saw me, I was walking away, deep into the jungle while the medivac took him away. He came to see me late one night, and I remember the look in his eyes when he told the elderly volunteer my name, because that volunteer was my dad. “Let me tell you about your son,” my troop from long ago said, as they looked at my name, the tears flowing. What I wouldn’t have given if, only for a moment, I could have reached out to them somehow.

These are the kinds of memories that accompanied me to Lake Jackson, Texas, where I’ve stood in solemn and muted reverence for three full days as friends, family members, school children, along with warriors past and present filed quietly by. Last Wednesday, police officers, firefighters, motorcyclists, and even a military-themed 18-wheeler truck escorted me from Pearland, Texas down to Lake Jackson. The authorities blocked the highway to traffic as our motorcade, which stretched several miles, made its way south.

In one town, a local fire truck was parked on an overpass, an American flag flying from a ladder extended over the highway while in another town, a large crane was parked by the roadside with a huge American flag suspended directly over us. I saw the cars parked alongside the road, their occupants standing outside as my trailer rolled by. I saw veterans standing at attention, rendering perfect salutes as our procession entered the flag-lined entrance to MacLean Park, our arrival announced by a thundering herd of motorcycles.

Perhaps the happiest moments here were on Thursday, when veterans showed up to unload me from the trailer and prepare me for display. First they stood at the back of the trailer and bowed their heads in prayer, giving thanks for the sacrifices of those whose names are carved on my panels and asking for wisdom and strength for those who even now stand guard on freedom’s front lines. With great care and solemnity they carried me to display and secured my place on the rails. Vietnam vets, Desert Storm vets, Korean War vets, some Purple Heart recipients, all with one purpose, carefully assembled my parts and prepared the area.

I remember their laughter when a comrade who had earned a Purple Heart as a door gunner when his chopper was shot down, observed a little bicyclist riding toward us who was wearing some ridiculously tight fitting outfit and something that looked like Aphrodite’s shell on his head. “I think he may be a terrorist,” said the door gunner. Another veteran replied, “He probably thinks we’re the local chapter of Hell’s Geriatrics.” “Don’t worry,” answered the gunner, “if he attacks, I’ll go get help.” We all laughed.

The school children arrived on Friday, one class after another, as Greg Welsh, who has brought me from place to place and overseen my events for many years now, told the children about me. Greg and his wife, Maureen, are retiring this year, after which I will be entrusted to the capable of hands of Doc Russo. The children walked quietly by, some reading the names aloud, others searching for names assigned to them by their teachers.
They held a ceremony on Saturday. A local musician sang about taking a break on long trip and seeing a military cemetery.

“I don’t know why, but I stood there,
And I stared out at the field.
And I wondered just how many stones,
Stood there cold and still.
Young and old, black and white,
A place where heroes go.
They died for our country’s sake,
So many years ago.
And it hit me as I read the names of soldiers carved in stone,
There names will live forever, or their memories’ all gone.
They’re all fallen heroes, though they died in different wars.
Heroes, … all American boys.”

Then, Greg spoke for me in addressing the assemblage:
Most importantly, what this wall is about is the Vietnam veteran. Some of them may be coming for the first time. They might only get as far as that parking lot. They might make it to the curb, or they might even be able to make it all the way to the wall. But the fact is that they took the first step in the healing process to cope with what happened so many years ago.

Those people, my comrades from another time, those who render a slow salute, those who look as tough as nails and yet weep uncontrollably when their eyes meet mine, my heart would beat for them if it could still beat at all. I would weep with them, if I could but weep. Surely there is a special place in Heaven for these people who have already served so much time in Hell.

In a little while, the names of local heroes who were killed in battle will be read. A 21-gun salute will follow, each report of the rifle registering as a thunderbolt through the hearts of those who lost someone dear in war. Then, after the mournful notes of “Taps” are played and everyone goes home, I’ll still be standing here in the quiet night, waiting for the friend, the comrade, the child or grandchild, the mother or father, teacher, sister or brother to spend a few moments with me.

That veteran on the motorcycle just stopped, his engine idling while he looks dead at me, his white beard moving in the breeze as he contemplates me from a distance. He just turned his head as if to see if anyone was watching before bowing his head in a moment of quiet before reaching up under his sunglasses to dry an eye. My God, if only I could cry too! Another rev of the motor and he rides slowly away, unseen by most, but I know him. I know them all, my brothers and sisters in arms, because ultimately, they are my family.

21 Steps

In movements that embody the term “military precision,” it’s the number of steps that members of the Old Guard take behind the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington. At the end of the black mat, the sentinel faces east, pausing for 21 seconds before facing north for another 21 seconds. Executing a perfect “shoulder-arms” movement, the sentinel moves his weapon to the shoulder furthest from the Tomb thereby placing himself between the Tomb and any threat. Another 21 steps to the opposite end of the mat and the process repeats itself. Why the number 21? The 21-gun salute is the highest military honor that can be bestowed, hence the number’s preeminence in a ceremony that honors those who gave not only their lives for their country, but their very identity. No loved ones greeted their return home, no hometown processions took them to their rest. Today they lie in honor, in the company of heroes, guarded by impeccable soldiers who stand watch regardless of the weather or hour. Odds are, however, that it isn’t where the Tomb’s occupants wanted to wind up.

"I Never Wanted to Kill Anybody."

In April of 1945, US Army Private Mike Colalillo was removed from the German front lines by armed Military Police, and taken to Division Headquarters. He didn’t know why, but felt he must be in some kind of trouble. At headquarters, the Private was informed that he had been nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor The Hibbing, Minnesota native replied, “What the hell’s a Medal of Honor?”

For Veterans, It's Personal

We were invincible.  It was 1984, and we had just emerged from a lengthy field exercise during Air Base Ground Defense training, at Camp Bullis, TX, a combat school for Security Forces. We had not known sleep in days, spending the daylight hours fortifying our fighting positions, the nighttime hours being devoted alternately to defending some pieces of real estate and then attacking others. We were versed in a variety of weapons, mines, grenades, and booby traps. From law enforcement training, to weapons training, to small unit tactics and combat school, we had been trained to save a life or take it with equal skill. There was no doubt that we had earned our berets. We were invincible. I was a machine gunner, having achieved the top score in M-60 training, and felt entitled to be as cocky as you please until the instructor asked:

“Carter, do you know how long your life expectancy is in a fire fight after you fire off the first rounds from that weapon?”
“No sir.” 
“About 15 seconds. Congratulations, Airman, you’re a helluva gunner.”

A Soldier Comes Home

When the sun rises tomorrow, July 24th, it will mark 40 years to the day that Army Spc. Randy Dalton was killed in action. It will also be the day that Randy will finally make it home to the St. Louis area, to be laid to rest next to his parents. Randy’s father, Fred Dalton, had purchased the extra burial plot in the belief that, though he wouldn’t live to see it, one day his son would come home.

Medals For Endangering Citizens?

In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Jameel Jaffer (ACLU deputy legal director) and Larry Siems (Director of the Freedom to Write progam) sing the praises of unsung heroes, but they shy from taking their argument far enough I think. After perfunctory praise of the young soldier who, thankfully, made Army officials aware of the abuses that were going on at Abu Ghraib, they get down to the real agenda regarding what used to be called the War on Terror:

"Throughout the military, and throughout the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful and immoral. The Bush administration’s most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level."

The Slander Of A Hero

We hear the cliché, “Some gave all, all gave some.” A cliché’ to some, that is. To others, the saying underlines a truth seared into the soul. We hear the horror stories of troops that came home from a hellish Vietnam only to be greeted by the half-witted narcissistic jeers of the unkempt and the unhinged. Coddled flower children and assorted blooming idiots whose only concept of combat was a sit-in at the dean’s office had the stupid audacity to spit on men who lost friends and body parts in a far away land and call them “baby killers.”

Must Our Troops Fight Terrorists And The Chain Of Command?

I​t may have been sheer luck, or divine intervention. Certainly, it couldn’t have been intentional, but it seemed that the very best commanders I had the pleasure of serving with during my time on active duty were usually found in forward operating theatres. The closer I got to the pointy end of America’s military spear, the more competent the commanders became.

Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, is home to the Wolfpack, the 8th Fighter Wing, whose commanders include the legendary Robin Olds. The wing commander when I was there was tough as nails. When his staff surprised him with a birthday cake, he volunteered to cut the cake by retrieving a ka-bar knife from his combat boot, cutting a couple of slices, and then sticking the knife into the conference table before sitting down to enjoy his cake, leaving everyone else staring at the knife as if they had just witnessed the planting of Excalibur.

In Appreciation

Kennedy Smith, 1971 - 2012

Illuminating A Sunburst

My earliest memories of her are of being carried in her arms as she would sing “I love you a bushel and a peck.” I was too young to be really good at walking yet, I was too short for her to press her cheek against mine unless she were carrying me, and I couldn’t move as fast across the floor as she did (neither could anyone else for that matter). I knew that she was “Granny Bob,” and though I didn’t know exactly what a bushel or peck was, I knew my Granny loved me and I got the impression that she thought I was incredibly special and just about the best thing to hit town. As the first of four grandchildren and many great grandchildren, I was not the last person to have that impression.
It was in 2010, when his humor reached out and made me shoot coffee out my nose. Ricochet’s Managing Editor at the time, James Poulos, had posted an “Assignment Desk” post, asking members what sort of topics they would like to see covered by which writers. Kennedy Smith unsheathed a rapier sharp wit, and went to work:

"Well clearly, there’s a glaring gap in our coverage when VDH hasn’t weighed in on Linsdey Lohan. Let’s see, Dave Carter has been strangely silent on the Salzburg Festival production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Ursula’s got the Waziri desk pretty well manned. Rob should explain the role that the undervaluation of the yuan plays in our economic troubles. Peter would be a natural to infiltrate the New Black Panthers (he and Tucker could work shifts). Thinking outside the box. I volunteer to follow the trail of Michelle on the Costa del Sol. We get expenses, right?"

What does one do except marvel at the versatility, the mischief, and the sheer energy of such a mind? Well, one can thank God above that we get occasional glimpses of the fire of a truly bright spirit. Which we do today, though saddened by the news that this particular fire in the night has been called home. We received the news a short time ago that Ricochet Member Kennedy Smith passed away earlier today.

Last summer, his health took a serious turn as he spent an extended time in ICU. Prayers on Ricochet, Facebook, and throughout his universe of friends and family were said on his behalf. Recovering at home in August, he wrote on Facebook: 

"Amazing, the number of friends I’ve suddenly discovered. Had no idea the number of people I’ve inadvertently touched (sorry about that; good luck suing), both in real life and on the internet. I have the rare opportunity to know that my funeral will be well-attended. Trouble is, there’s been a marked decline [in] the ratings since I moved from somewhat likely to die to somewhat likely to live. I need a new hook. Something catchy."

Well, it wasn’t a hook, but rather his own faith and family that kindled Kennedy’s spirit in recent months. On an October trip to Mass, he writes: 

"On our whirlwind tour of local churches, ere I settle back at my place and choose a parish, we hied ourselves up Lookout Mountain to Our Lady of the Mount. Catholics who still have a certain Episcopal staidness. Not demonstrative, but reliably well-dressed. 

The decor: fresh, wooden, mountainy. Lots of nice friezes, including a striking St Francis near the altar. I prayed for Maggie.

Music, always important to me. Piano & singer. Much better than a damned guitar, unsuitable for non-hippie churches. Started off with a ragtime playfulness, then calypso, then British Imperial for the majestic bits. Got a standing ovation at the end. Looked for a tip jar during Eucharist, but he didn’t have one.

Pastor, a genial old buffer, pleasant to meet & greet, with a dog.
Homily, a strong stance on the sanctity of marriage, which suited the readings. Not backing down, though he did say 'doesn’t matter what the government does.'

Eucharist: being lazy, I like them to stick it on my tongue directly. Though I think they honestly prefer to stick it in your hand (creeping Episcopalianism) I’m leaning on a cane, dammit! Which I then hooked around my arm to bow to the wine lady, who gave a nice blessing."

And, from his Facebook page, we see the happy announcement in November that the Smith family had welcomed a new member: 

"For unto us a son is born. Unto us a son is given. And the Government shall be upon his shoulder, And his name shall be called Campbell! Montgomery! Smith! The Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.

Yes, Young Master Campbell has arrived, and he is pissed. Heart surgery does that to a kid. A true Smith, he’s a fighter. Defiant little guy. Gonna be a handful, I suspect.
Bizarrely, no damned pictures have been included on Campbell’s or my Mother’s announcement. You’d think, you’d just think, somebody would have a picture attached to a Nativity Announcement."

As I wrote to Peter and Rob a little while ago, Earth is less of a happy place tonight without Kennedy Smith here. But Heaven, on the other hand, must be positively sparkling with celestial zingers right now. God be with this man’s strong and loving family. And may God grant comfort to those who are now in shock that such an indomitable and larger-than-life gentleman is no longer with us, saddened by the sudden loss we feel, but grateful to have seen that fire illuminate our night, and hopeful that we will enjoy our friend’s company again in a place that knows neither darkness nor sorrow. Rest in peace, my friend. We will miss you.

"Mari's Song" 1948 - 2012

She captured my heart shortly after she captured my Dad’s. It was 1978 when Dad brought Mari and her delightful little freckle-faced, red-haired daughter to Louisiana to meet the family. Dad was a minister of music at a church in the Florida panhandle and Mari was the church organist, as I recall. Her demeanor was as attractive as her smile, and she had this knack of countering some of Dad’s one-liners with hilarious facial expressions in which her eyes would either cross, or go in opposite directions. The effect was a disarming humor that won me over immediately. 

Jim Carter 1940 - 2015

Our knowledge of scripture leads us to suspect that Heaven is a place where the angels sing. Our knowledge of Jim Carter, on the other hand, confirms beyond doubt that Heaven is now a place where angels also laugh. And so we celebrate a man who spent a lifetime teaching people both to smile and to make music. Someone once described Groucho Marx as guy who would insult a king in order to make a pauper laugh. I’m happy to report that my Dad wouldn’t have done that…but would instead have reduced both the king and the pauper to a terminal case of giggles.

Darn Precious

My Grandfather. D.P. Carter, is ailing. Cancer is running its insidious course through his body. My company was able to get me through my home town so I could spend some time with him today. I knew he was frail, but I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw. He has such a strong mind and determined spirit. The man is a fighter par excellence, yet his body is letting him down. He was sitting in a chair next to the hospital bed, because he didn’t want me to see him in that bed when I came in. He looked shrunken … frail … and tired. From a distance, he almost looked “hollow-eyed,“ but those eyes burned bright when I walked up to him. The first thing he noticed was a my bald head. “Where did your hair go, boy?” I told him I gave it the day off. He laughed. He wanted to go in the living room where we could talk. So the hospice nurse, a dear soul named Lou, got him in his wheelchair and in the living room we went.


It Don't Mean a Thing When the Kids Want to Swing

Starched Shorts In C-Minor

Victor Borge once explained that the main difference between a violin and a viola is that it takes a viola longer to burn. For my part, I’ve concluded that the main difference between the opera stars I heard this morning and an automobile is that an automobile will usually fire up when needed. But the starter on the operatic howler is unreliable.

A miserable drizzle coated the highway when I left San Antonio at 3:30AM Monday. It was just enough to form a layer of slime that was dutifully picked up by vehicles and thrown onto the windshield, where it enlarged the glare of the headlights. Trying desperately to make an early morning appointment in Houston, I chased down a bear claw pastry with some robust coffee before reaching for the touch pad on my smart phone. I have the phone wired into the truck’s speaker system so I can enjoy good music. Since the sun would not make an appearance for a few hours, screaming metal guitars would not work. Jazz and Cajun music seemed a little too nerve-wracking for a night time run, so I gently tapped the little section on the touch pad menu that said “J. S. Bach.” This would be soothing, I thought, and would allow time to reflect quietly in the hours before I reached the madness of Houston traffic.

I had never heard Liebestraum played on a harp before. For that matter, I had no idea that one could play as many notes simultaneously as can be played on a harp. It was beautiful and put me in a mood to anticipate what the sky might look like in a few short hours when the sun would work its magic, changing the horizon first from an inky black to rich hues of deep blue and purple. I knew the very edges of dark clouds would then take on a reddish tint that would slowly spread, turning orange and brightening the landscape. The world would awaken and I would be invigorated. This is how music speaks to me at times, by helping to illuminate with the mind things that the five senses dismiss as routine.

Soon a harpsichord struck up a strange tune, sounding rather like a group of skeletons doing the tango. I was stuck on that uncomfortable visual when the next number was announced by violins that sounded like a soft breeze. So light and soothing until, …until it happened. A soprano entered the concert hall with a pocket full of vowels she had evidently purchased from Pat Sajak, and began dispensing them freely. It could have been a foreign language I suppose, but I doubt it. Is there any language that prohibits consonants? At inconsistent intervals our soprano would pluck out a vowel she was particularly fond of and take it for a tour. From one end of an arpeggio to the other she would haul it, up and down. There was no end to it. She dragged that thing through every scale in the neighborhood with an “ah ah ah ah ah ah AAAAHHHHHHH!.” Or perhaps it was stuck to her shoe. And, oh the heights she could reach. I’ll take my oath on a stack of Bibles that there’s not a dog whistle between San Antonio and Houston that can stand the competition. This is what too much starch in one’s shorts can do to a person. But clearly she was having difficulty bringing this project to a conclusion. So presently, a ’57 Chevy cleverly disguised as a baritone came in to assist. He went to work on the problem from a different angle, but his tool box had no more than the same collection of vowels the soprano had employed. His starter was stuck. Confusion reigned until they both seemed to lose interest in the project altogether and the violins sounded intermission.

Next, a full chorus belted another round sounding nothing less than magnificent. I’ve no earthly idea what the commotion was about, but they were singing boisterously and making a strong and majestic racket until, …until you know who came back on stage. The chorus receded and made way for Madam Starchy Drawers herself. Only this time she toted a few “R”s with her as well, which she rolled all over the place. She seemed a good deal more confident this time around though and didn’t need further help from the baritone. But he showed up anyway, and with his starter rebuilt. The brass section got into the act. The chorus was thoroughly energized, the kettle drums rumbled like thunder, Chevy and the Drawers howled one for Old Glory, and the cymbals smashed the whole thing to bits.

On second thought, Imus in the Morning wasn’t such a bad option, as the sun came up and Houston came into sight. Ultimately it turned out to be a good day, culminating with the house special at the truck stop tonight: Chicken Armageddon.
Then there was the time when a bunch of us kids tied a rope around the back tire of a bicycle, and tried to pull it to the top of the tall metal slide on the school playground. School was out for the summer, which left the playground open to neighborhood kids (and those, like me, who spent their days at neighborhood daycare in a private home). The slide was a steep, narrow, imposing structure to us, and wouldn’t it be mad fun, we thought, if we could ride a bike down the thing, do a wheelie at the bottom and, who knows, maybe even survive!

Just Another Panhandler

I awoke to a cool morning in Ohio last Fall. As I got out of the truck, I noticed just a slight bit of frost on the ground. I was thinking about how nice a hot mug of coffee was going to taste when a fellow approached me in the parking lot. “Excuse me sir,” he said. “My car is out of gas, and I’m trying to go south. Do you have any spare change?” I fished out a few dollars, he invoked the Almighty’s blessings on me, and I proceeded toward the truck stop. Panhandlers have the same migratory habits as birds, heading south for the winter. And they hang out at truck stops too. Truck stops are notoriously pricey, and treat the trucker like little more than an ATM with B.O. A simple shower runs $10. Ditto with just about any meal. And what the store doesn’t get, the panhandlers try to mooch, no one having told them that Donald Trump doesn’t drive a truck.

The 10 Rules of Staying Alive While Driving in Memphis

When I was driving an 18-wheeler cross-country, I could almost always coax myself into some measure of enthusiasm upon being dispatched to New York City or Boston on the grounds that eventually I would also be dispatched out of them. After all, they are such wonderful places to leave.

Piercing the Fog with a Non-Union Escort Service

If necessity is mother of invention, then adversity is the wellspring of salty language. So while negotiating through a thick fog of government and labor union ineptitude today, I lit my way through the darkness with fiery descriptions.

One of the government’s responses to the 9/11 attacks was to beef up security at our ports. I’m not sure what ordeal ships must endure at port, but for the landlocked, it is a nightmare. My delivery today was to the Georgia Ports Authority, in Savannah, GA. Knowing that the port is a big place, and not having any directions on where exactly in that big place I was to go, I called the number provided.

Port Lady: “Georgia Ports Authority.”
Me: Yes Ma’am, I have a delivery to your location this afternoon, and need directions please. I’ll be traveling north from Jacksonville….
Port Lady: “Do you have a Twick?”
Me: Do I have a what?
Port Lady: Do you have a Twick?
Me: What’s a twick? I have Special Dark candy bars in the truck, if you…
Port Lady: A Twick card. You must have a Twick card to get in the port. If not, you’ll have to get an escort.
Me: I don’t have the magic card. Do you have a number I can call to arrange for an escort?
Port Lady: “We don’t give those numbers out.”
Me: That’s helpful. How do I get escorted then?
Port Lady: “Just come to Gate 1, and there will be escorts off to the right as you drive up.”
Me: Sounds like a red light district. Is this le…
Port Lady: “Thank you.”