Blue Side of LonesomebyJakeRivers©
This is my fourth semi-annual writing invitational. The previous three have been based on specific song titles: "This Bed of Roses," "El Paso," and "Maggie May."
The theme this time is somewhat broader: any country western song.
The various authors hope you enjoy the stories – Jake Rivers
A nod to Microsoft for their great new product, Sync, that makes media of various kinds actually make sense on automobiles.
Thanks to Techsan and Lady Cibelle for their editing assistance. Their help is always appreciated … and it makes a huge difference in the readability of my stories.
Be aware that I am taking some artistic license with the dates that certain events take place: for example, the Army Airborne Jump School is now held only at Fort Benning, Georgia. Way too many years ago when I was in the 82nd Airborne, jump school was also held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, outside of Fayetteville, NC. Also, the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Airborne Infantry was resurrected during 1960.
Blue Side of Lonesome (written by Leon Payne)
"I'm calling to tell you its over.
Yes, darling, you're now free to go.
You're saying you're sorry you hurt me.
But you hurt me much more than you know."
WHO'S CHEATING WHO
"I thought I knew her well.
I really couldn't tell,
That she had another lover on her mind.
You see, it felt so right,
When she held me tight.
How could I be so blind?"
Even though my name was really Jack – Jack Johnson – everyone always wanted to call me John. It was a particular problem when I (against my Dad's advice) joined the Army. There are sergeants scattered all over the world that are convinced they knew John Johnson. Now who would name their son John Johnson … that's a pathetic name!
Lately I have been thinking thoughts I never expected to have on my mind. I'd always been impressed with the implied sanctity of that bit in the wedding vows where the bride and groom promise to love only one another, "… until death do us part." That had caught my attention as being somewhat serious and I took it literally. I'd for sure assumed that Jenny Johnson nee Wilson had felt the same.
So I'd been musing: what is it that leads a man or woman into that sense that all is not right with their marriage … that infidelity may be in the air? I hear men say that they never had a clue – that there was nothing that they could perceive that might have indicated a straying wife.
Other men indicated that there were clues: changes in behavior that, though they were small in themselves, led to an aggregate that said in big bold letters: cheater, cheater!
Maybe everyone is right: there is such a vast range in the personalities, attitudes, and learned and instinctive behaviors that each situation is different. For me it was simple. You live with a person long enough, and if you have any sensitivity or empathy towards your 'significant other,' you can tell that the relationship is not right, that changes are taking place, possibly, even probably, unbeknownst to you. Now these changes may be sudden and strong as an earthquake or slow and so incremental that you aren't sure if anything has changed at all.
But, it isn't really being able to quantify and identify what the changes are … it's just that at some subliminal level you sense that something has changed. You become uneasy without knowing why. Your comfort level with your spouse is not the same but you are not really uncomfortable at all. It's like there was some infinitesimal shift in the space/time continuum and one day you realize that the world is a different place … but still awfully familiar. It would be like you had a neighbor that looked and acted exactly the same way but suddenly he was left-handed. You try to figure out whether he was always a lefthander or if all of a sudden maybe you were losing it.
I hesitated to talk to Jenny about it – I mean, what could I say? If I started talking to her about sub-atomic particles and how they were reflecting changes in our relationship she would give me one of those looks and throw away my beer. And dammit, I had about as close a relationship with my Shiner Bock as I did with her. It later turned out that Shiner Bock had my love hands down. And that was without even considering longneck Lonestars. It was hell to realize that your beer was more faithful than your wife!
It took several months of ruminating over the intricacies of married life before all the little disturbances in the force crystallized in the firm conclusion that, "Damn, she's cheating on me." I didn't confront her right away. I came to be curious to see if I could detect any clear changes in her schedule, behavior or her attitude towards me. One thing was for sure though. If she had a problem that I could have helped her with that was serious enough, she could have – and should have – come to me about it so we could work it out. If she hadn't … well, I wouldn't be feeling one whole hell of a lot of forgiveness.
She hadn't come to me about any problems so when (not if, I was way past if) ugly things came to light of day, it was over. The image came to me of turning over a rotted log in the forest. All the dank, smelly, disgusting things that live in the heart of darkness scurry as fast as they can for another dark hiding place. Would that be the case with Jenny? The nasty things in life that feast on the darkness of infidelity are nothing but ugly and repulsive when seen under the clear light of reason and faithfulness.
Would I forgive her? Can America forsake Chinese imports and Middle-Eastern oil? It's not like I wasn't essentially a man that forgave, I mean I am clearly a forgiving man. When Jenny backed her new Mercedes into the dumpster at the local Kings Soopers, did I yell at her? No, I gave her a supporting hug and told her, "Dear, these things happen." When she forgot my birthday last year, I just smiled and said, "I'm not counting birthdays any more."
But a man has to have some level of pride. Yeah, I know. Pride comes before a fall. But sometimes you have to take the fall if you want to be able to live with yourself. So I spent some considerable time thinking about what I'd do and where I'd go. It turned out later that it didn't make any difference. Circumstances sometimes happen to us and we go with the flow – it seems easier and logical … even predestined.
THOSE DEVIL'S IN BAGGY PANTS
How had I come to this point? How had I fallen in love with a wanton woman who turned out to have the same degree of loyalty as a hungry shark? Just how had my sweet Jenny turned into a cold-blooded assassin that killed my love with the same compunction she would have swatted a fly.
Well, it was easy and natural, actually. After graduating from Cherry Creek High School in the southeast suburbs of Denver, I enrolled at Denver University. It was a good school and close to home. I was doing great in all my classes – I was probably carrying around a 3.8 GPA – when I got a terminal case of the stupids.
My girlfriend from high school – Mary Lou Fossett – had decided on Fort Lewis College in Durango. We were calling each other regularly with maybe an exchange of letters once a month or so. I tried to call her to see what her plans for Thanksgiving were. I called her a number of times over three days with no luck. I did leave a couple of messages but there was for sure no call back from her.
I had a term paper for English that I'd been putting off. I had to write a paper about a well-known author. I'd picked Rudyard Kipling thinking it would be easy. Well, he turned out to be an incredibly complex person and writer. All of a sudden I had tons of work to do and damn little time to do it in. So I had to decide: finish the paper or go find out why my one true love wasn't answering the phone.
It turned out I made the wrong decision on so many levels it wasn't funny. I drove down to Durango and over to the college. I went to her dorm room – I knew where it was since I'd driven her to the school and helped her move in – but she wasn't there. Her roommate told me to try the Student Union building. Sure enough, she was sitting on the front steps kissing a guy like there was no tomorrow. I watched unobserved for a few minutes and even a dummy like me could see it was a serious kiss.
Finally she came up for air and saw me standing there looking like all kinds of lost. She had the grace to blush and the balls to introduce me to the guy.
"Jack, this is Joey Green. He's my fiancé … we're getting married in June."
Well, hell! What do you say to that? I mumbled something that even I had no clue what it was and slipped away. I wasn't sure what my feelings were. It was a battle between being numb, feeling godawful stupid, and wondering how I had wound up in Alice's wonderland.
It turned out that my prune of an English teacher was the original hard case and she flunked me without even letting me explain or giving me a second chance. Later I realized that I should have just taken the hit with one failing grade and worked on the rest of my classes. But I wasn't thinking too clearly and I dropped completely out of school and joined the Army.
When I went to my dad and asked to borrow some money to get me through basic training I found out that this nice pleasant man I had always admired for his gentle nature could get highly pissed off. And he did: at me! I guess he figured if I was going in the Army he'd best enhance my vocabulary. Damn, and I thought I knew everything.
I'd always had this dream of being a Civil Engineer. I saw myself building bridges in Perú, airports in Brazil and highways in Spain. When I enlisted I signed up for Army Engineering training at Fort Leonard Wood. I should have been forewarned on the bus ride to the base when one of the guys in the know told me they called it, "Little Korea." That was because it was always either blistering hot and impossibly cold and windy.
I did okay during basic training. I ignored the crap they threw at you "to make you a soldier." I thought it was silly but the sergeants seemed terribly serious about it. There were a few key things that if you adhered to them would make life easy. Simple things like looking sharp, paying attention (listening and being where you were supposed to be and at the right time), and being respectful. It seemed that most of the guys got in trouble when they got together as a group but as I was more or less a loner I didn't have any problems staying out of their mindless meanderings.
One area that turned out positive was the rifle range. I was raised going antelope hunting on the plains of eastern Colorado and was coached by my dad at an early age to be careful around weapons and to shoot accurately. I qualified expert on the M16 with ease and caught the eye of the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of the range. He was a vet of 4th Battalion 39th Infantry's sniper program and had been on several of the Army's competition shooting programs.
SFC (sergeant first class) Timmons got me out of several days of KP and gave me some one-on-one training on advanced shooting techniques. He also gave me a chance to shoot at six hundred and one thousand yard targets.
In spite of my dad's misgivings I thought I'd had a pretty good plan. I decided I would stay in for the three year commitment then go to school at Colorado School of Mines in Golden (which had the added plus of being several blocks from Coors). It didn't work out that way.
It was January and February of '89 when I went to basic and it was cold with several snowstorms during our training. One day while we were scouring the company area for cigarette butts – yeah, scrape aside the snow with your boot and lean down to pick up butts and any other trash – the first sergeant called us together and asked if anyone was interested in seeing a movie about the airborne in the post theater. I didn't really know anything about the airborne but getting out of the cold sounded pretty well.
One of the Squad leaders took about ten of us over – there were maybe a hundred or so guys in the theater in total. It started out kinda interesting. They showed a movie of paratroopers jumping out of planes in WWII. After that a Captain from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg started talking. The theater was hot and stuffy and I was soon sound asleep. Suddenly a corporal with the 82nd AA patch on his shoulder was shaking me awake.
"Damn, soldier, you should know better than falling asleep in here. You're lucky I saw you. Get your ass over in that line and I won't say anything."
Still half-asleep I saw that most of the guys had left and about ten guys were in a line signing some papers. I assumed that we had to sign in to make sure we had showed up. I was still half asleep and just signed a couple of papers where the PFC (private first class) showed me. It wasn't until the Captain told me, "Congratulations, soldier," that I started wondering.
I found out what had happened the next week. That damn Corporal had sent me to a line to sign-up for airborne training. The papers I'd signed were for me to take a physical, to go to Fort Gordon, Georgia for communications training and for me to cancel my request for Engineer training and to go to jump school instead. Damn!
I didn't find this out all at once. I went for the physical and kept telling them it was a mistake. Well, I found out the Army doesn't make mistakes – they told me that flat out. One nurse was kind enough to show me the orders for the exam. It sure enough had my name and serial number on the list.
When we got to the line where they took blood samples I could see that this wasn't for me. I'd never had a blood test before and I watched as the two guys in front of me passed out. This was the last station and I was standing by a door so I just walked out. I very stupidly tossed my folder with the results of all the tests in a trashcan outside and made my way back to the barracks. I could have gotten court-martialed for that but no one ever said a word and no one ever noticed that I went to jump school without a physical.
Basic finished several weeks later and I'd forgotten all about my throwing away the physical folder. I guess I assumed that they would just ask me to take the physical over and I'd tell them I'd changed my mind. On our last day of training we gathered in formation in front of company HQ for orders. There were buses to take different groups to different posts or airports but since I was staying at Fort Leonard Wood for Engineering training I didn't think much about it.
When they called my name and gave me my orders to Fort Gordon, Georgia, I was confused. A sergeant was at the door of the bus checking orders and I told him about the mistake.
He gave me a dirty look and said, "Private, these orders say to get on this damn bus. Now do it!"
Well, it was then I remembered about discretion being the better part of valor. I was to think of that often over the next few years.
I signed in at Fort Gordon (famous for getting soldiers free passes to The Masters golf tournament) where they told me I was going to study to be a pole lineman. When I found that that was climbing poles and hooking up commo wire I asked to see personnel – I had one of the highest scores on the test at Kansas City where I went through initial processing. Finally, someone listened to me and did something useful. I got the orders changed to go to radio school. While it wasn't what I wanted it did sound interesting.
It was springtime when I went through communications training and I did like what I was studying. I'd been a boy scout and knew Morse code well, so that part of the course was easy.
When the training was over it was time to wait for orders again. Almost everyone in my class was getting orders to a post outside of Munich for the remainder of their tours. By this time I'd forgotten all about engineering and the dumb airborne thing. So of course, I was sent to a bus going to Fort Bragg. I tried to tell them again it was a mix up and they just told me to tell them at Bragg. Yeah, right.
When we arrived I was at the back of the bus and I saw guys getting off with their flat caps. There were some guys laying around that already had their jump patch on their shirt and they were jumping up and down on the hats of the guys getting off, making them do pushups and generally harassing them. I left my hat on the floor and got off the bus and immediately started doing pushups without being told. I quickly learned to go along to get along.
We had a six-week jump course – later changed to a three-week course at Fort Benning. I gave up on trying to tell the Army they had made a mistake when a buddy of mine from St. Paul could not do the required seven chinups and they sent him to Korea for thirty months. Hard duty!
So I jumped out of planes and became a paratrooper, "Airborne, all the way!"
OPERATION JUST CAUSE
The United States invasion of Panama, codenamed Operation Just Cause, was the operation initiated by the United States that deposed general, dictator, and de facto Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega in December 1989. One of the guys had a poster with a picture of Noriega with a banner below it that said, "Cara de Piña," or "Pineapple Face." Noriega had such a pitted face that he looked like a pineapple with all the points sticking out.
My attitude had changed a lot about the Army. I had actually started to like it. When I arrived they were just forming a new battalion, the 2nd of the 504. The second became famous in the Second World War when a German officer was killed at Anzio found with this written in his diary:
"American parachutists – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can't sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere ..."
These paratroopers were part of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was reorganized in 1957 and later the Second Brigade was reformed as the Second Battalion. I got there just as it formed and eleven months to the day after I was sworn in I was promoted to Spec 4 (specialist fourth class).
After I finished jump school I went one Saturday with a buddy into Fayetteville. He was going to the USO – I didn't really want to go but he dragged me along. It was the one and only time I ever went there but it was enough. It was there I met Jenny Wilson. Her mom was in charge of volunteers and Jenny rarely went but she was there that day. It took me less than three months to convert Jenny Wilson into Jenny Johnson – and being in the Army I felt that was a promotion for her.
It seemed that jumping out of planes had done a lot for my self-confidence that showed a new ease around women. What I remember most about Jenny at that time is that she was a sweet girl. Not sugar sweet but just a nice caring, thoughtful person. The word that comes to mind is empathy. She had the ability – no the gift – of seeing things from the other person's viewpoint.
She was slightly plump and cute in the girl next-door sort of way. Shortly after we were married we started jogging together. I'd been on the track and cross-country teams at Cherry Creek in Denver but suddenly found I was putting on a couple of pounds I didn't want. I got down to the weight I wanted and Jenny lost the residual baby fat that young girls sometimes keep into their twenties.