English isn't English

A colleague recently reminded me of George Bernard Shaw's famous quote that "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I have lived through many situations where I have experienced that sentiment firsthand. And with that in mind, I'd like to share a story about a conversation that I had when I was working with the British RAF:

RAF: "You troffing today?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Yamming?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Nose-bagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Scoffing?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Bucking & gagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Are you eating lunch?"

ME: "Yes."

It's a New Year with the Same Warped Sense of Humor

I joined the Army in early 1986, at which time the following dark humor marching/running cadence was in prominent use:

A yellow bird / With a yellow bill
Landed on / My window sill
I lured him in / With a piece of bread
And then I smashed / His yellow head

Although to be perfectly honest, the original cadence didn't say "his yellow head;" instead, it used a more-colorful expression with the same number of syllables. But this is a public forum, so I'll stick to the sanitized version here.

Nevertheless, an unfortunate mishap occurred at my house recently: a tiny yellow bird flew into one of my windows, and - tragically - died as a result. However, when I discovered his demise, my first instinct wasn't to clean up the carnage. Instead, I grabbed my camera and a half-piece of bread and took the following picture, which I uploaded to a veterans' group on Facebook with the caption: "This guy landed on my window sill today... it didn't end well for him."

Now at first glance, this might seem rather... morbid. However, my fellow veterans immediately recognized my joke, and they posted comments like the following:

  • "His head seems intact. I'm confused."
  • "I see you lured him in with a piece of bread."
  • "You MUST finish what you started... CRUSH HIS ******* HEAD!!! "

They also replied with images like the following:

yellow-bird-knows
yellow-bird-grenade

One dark example of veteran humor was answered by dozens of darker examples of veteran humor. Once again, this behavior might seem somewhat disturbed to the casual observer, but none of the people involved in the ensuing discussion were sociopaths; most of them were happily married, with great jobs/careers, and selflessly devoted to their kids and grandkids. With that in mind, a short examination of the dichotomy between what veterans might find amusing versus what "acceptable society" might find amusing is worth discussing.

Here is another example of what many veterans find funny:

mushroom-cloud

I have to admit, I literally laughed out loud when I first saw that image; I honestly thought that was one of the funniest cartoons I had seen in a long time. However, when I showed it to my wife, she didn't find it funny. In fact, her comment was, "That's kind of sad..." And as I thought about our different reactions to the same image, I realized why veterans see things differently: we have learned to laugh at death. Not death itself, mind you, but the concept of death. We have to; we'd go crazy if we didn't, and I'll explain why.

The longer you serve in the military, you will eventually have to face death. This will rarely be your imminent demise, although that occasionally happens. But sooner or later you will have to survive the death of a friend or acquaintance, or you will have to come to terms with the fact that what you're doing is likely going to get you killed. Both of those realities are extremely difficult concepts for any sane person to deal with.

In an attempt to deal with the stress of these likely scenarios, most active service members of the military will employ the following coping mechanisms: toxic sarcasm and a dark sense of humor. This may seem strange and/or counter-productive to outsiders, but contrary to common sense - developing a cynical worldview helps service members successfully grapple with the subject of death. Learning to laugh at the inevitability of facing death in some form or other makes time in military service a little more endurable.

When veterans leave the service, their dark senses of humor follow them home; much like having a psychotic ex-lover stalk you across the country. But this is why I love hanging out in the veterans' groups on Facebook: I love seeing that there are others who still see things as I do. My sense of humor may be warped and distorted, but there are others who share that same warped and distorted sense of humor.

In short, other veterans "Get Me." They understand me. They share the same irreverent contempt for death that I do. Or to rephrase a famous idiom, "Fate whispers to the warrior, 'You cannot withstand the storm.' The warrior whispers back, 'You could really use a breath mint.'"

When Your Heroes Grow Old

I grew up listening to Yes - they were some of my original music heroes, long before I got into bands like Rush. That being said, I am profoundly aware of that fact that as I grow older, my heroes are growing older, too. But some of us aren't aging that gracefully.

Just the other day I saw the following photo of Steve Howe from a recent Yes tour:

Steve-Howe

I hate to say it, but the first thing I thought of was the Crypt-Keeper from the old Tales from the Crypt television series:

Crypt-Keeper

Now that you've seen that, you cannot unsee it. You're welcome.

Surprised smile Open-mouthed smile

More 511th Stories: Sometimes You Should Shut Up And Be In The Photo

In my last year at Fulda, I was chosen to be the translator for COL John Abrams, (commander of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment [ACR]), during a ceremony when GEN Boris Vasilievich Snetkov, (commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany [GSFG]), and GEN Alexandrov (commander of the Soviet Military Liaison Mission in Germany [SMLM]) came across the border.

EPSON MFP image

When the 11th ACR's official photographer for the ceremony heard that I was COL Abrams' translator, he asked if I had a top secret clearance; and if so, was he forbidden from taking my photo. Like many people, I hate having my photo taken, so I told him that it was against regulations to take a photograph of me.

Later on, however, COL Abrams followed up with me and said that I had done a great job as his translator, so he had instructed the photographer to make 8x10 copies of any of the photos from the ceremony for me to keep. (I think you can guess where this is going, even though I didn't at the time.)

The photographer called me when the proofs were ready, and when I showed up at his office, I discovered that he had - in fact - taken photos from dozens of angles, and yet he had managed to faithfully keep me out of every shot. The closest he came to having me in an image was during the pass-and-review, where I was walking to the right of GEN Snetkov. On the bottom left of the original photo you can see a sliver of my shadow, which completely disappeared when I scanned it.

EPSON MFP image

I learned an important lesson from this experience: sometimes you should just shut up and let someone take your @#$% photo.

Always Remember to Shave in the Army

I attended the USAREUR Air Assault School in 1988, and one of the cadets failed to shave one morning.

He was ordered to dry shave while standing on a stump that was placed in front of the entire class, and he was required to loudly lecture everyone on the merits of daily shaving, while the rest of the class stood at parade rest.

At one point, the following conversation took place:

"Roster Number 30!!! Are you bleeding???"

"Yes, Air Assault First Sergeant!!! Blood helps lubricate the blade!!!"

After which the guy's squad leader was order to kneel next to the stump and catch any blood in his cupped hands, lest any blood hit the ground and desecrate the surrounding area.

Vintage Aircraft Fly-by

I was driving down the road, and noticed that a B17 was flying past. I thought to myself, "Well, huh. You don't see that every day."

PS - My wife does not share my love of vintage aircraft; she saw this said, "Meh, looks like a plane."

Open-mouthed smile

The Ups and Downs of Illnesses

I've had a cold for a few days now, and as of last night I lost my voice. (My wife, Kathleen, thinks this is an improvement in our relationship.)

Fun fact: when my voice disappears, so does my ability to cough loudly, so I sound like a dog's squeaky toy whenever I have to cough. (It's amazing Kathleen isn't laughing harder at my expense.)

Open-mouthed smile

Cow Chip Cookies on Valentine's Day

My wife special-ordered heart-shaped Cow Chip cookies for me for Valentine's Day. If you've lived in the Seattle area and you don't know about these cookies, then either a) you've been living under a rock, or b) you're dead.

Cow-Chip-Cookies

PS - They were great, and yes - I shared.

Tales of Christmas Past...

In ancient days of yore, constable Ioan McClane (of the clan McClane) routed the Visigoth Hans von Gruber from the prodigious citadel of Nakatomi...

Die-Hard-Medieval-Tapestry

The 12 Days of Paper Writing

As we rapidly approach the Christmas season, we are also reaching the end of my semester in Graduate School. With that in mind, I thought it apropos to post a version of the "12 Days of Christmas" for my fellow students who are bogged down with writing academic papers:

12 Pages Of Citations
11 Primary Sources
10 Cups Of Coffee
9 Hours Of Proofreading
8 Advising Hours
7 Rhetorical Questions
6 Quotation Blocks
5 Split-Infinitives
4 Supporting Arguments
3 Complete Rewrites
2 Illustrations
And A Thesis Statement In My Opening Paragraph

academic_christmas


UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."