Sunday, June 10, 2012

Oahu 1

The small town of Kailua had not changed much since I left the base in 2007. Everything is green and beautifully overgrown, green growth that swallows seventies style suburban homes with worn wood trim. Locals of the city drive by, some piled with surfers in the back of a pickup truck. Shirts are rare and flip-flops patter across the cement of the strip malls where young tan people are drinking smoothies and where I could be found as a twenty-year-old Marine drinking at a bar that didn’t card, shaking off Afghanistan and preparing for another sleepless night at eleven in the morning.

I parked the SUV and Antonio and I dismounted and headed into, “Teddy’s” a burger joint that rivaled the best. Tony and I ordered and waited for our burgers. In the back corner sat a Marine with his parents, as I looked around the establishment I noticed that there were several Marines, they always have the same haircut and are fit. I thought about how some must have been in Afghanistan not long before and I remembered something about what that had meant to me, something I knew inside a burger joint but that no one else was paying attention to, this would make me feel uncomfortable and angry for a reason that I could never explain until it was time to order a burger.

After Antonio and I consumed our pound of deliciousness I directed us across the street to see my old bar. I had heard it closed down and was able to confirm that “Tropics” had turned into a postal store. At night in 2007 when I could not afford a cab back to base after a dozen hours in “Tropics” I would follow the blinking light of the radar tower on our base and walk home in time for three hours of sleep before the morning’s formation run. Consequently the first half of 2007 is a memory that seems to span a week. I remember that in a deep haze of intoxication I would feel those Marines who did not return and wonder what they would be doing with their time if they had more of it to spend. In 2012 I was happy to be a mostly responsible adult, l just wanted to see the sites.

Meanwhile back in the SUV, Antonio and I headed for Lanikai beach so that I could orient myself with our new camera. It took us quite a bit of time to find the beach as I seemed determined on taking the scenic route and seeing more suburban houses. In one of these old houses used to be Doc Lynch's, “Foxtrot Palace,” a two story house inhabited by Navy Corpsman and shared on the weekends with K-Bay Marines and beautiful kind women who would hang around the servicemen and treat them like humans. I had read on a social network in 2008 that Doc Lynch’s “Foxtrot Palace” was soon to close down so I flew up immediately for my last trip to Hawaii.

Antonio and I stood on the shore of Lanakai beach and he mentioned that he had not seen water in such a light shade of blue before. Yellow kayaks headed for a small island and surfers were catching waves. Antonio showed me how to use the new camera and the old memories started to return. I had worked as a photographer for my mother’s studio shortly after leaving the first hospital in 2008. Antonio and I were filming with two Cannon 7’ds which are not too different from the Cannon 5d MkII I had worked with before.

Antonio and I headed in for the night after an educational day. The guard for the back gate waved us through and I said, “Semper Fi,” and chuckled a bit because that used to be my old job. In 2007 I was eagerly waiting for my contract to end so that I could get home. I had only been an adult for three weeks before I had left the civilian world for the military, so naturally I imagined that life on the outside would be something like a theme park, a never ending party that I remembered leaving almost four years and two combat zones before. Instead of sending a group of us back to Afghanistan our infantry battalion gave those of us with short time left on our contracts the opportunity to work a base job, I scored military police.
After a nine day expedited course the salty senior Marines on loan from our infantry battalion hit the mean streets of Marine Corps Base Hawaii with badges. These were young men who I had spent the majority of my time in the infantry around, and these young men were biting at the bit to go home but at the same time most of us did not look forward to being away from our friends that had become closer than family after so many years. We were the survivors of our war behind us. At night we would party in the bars and the atmosphere aboard the military police department began to change. The infantry Marines at the end of the contracts began to mix with the new arrivals of real military policeman, different than the infantry or (grunts).
The grunts had all been to war, most of the military police Marines had not and were not going. One night I remember hearing a junior military police Marine howling when asked by a superior, “Who kicked the shit out of you?” The young man bellowed while still in shock after his encounter with senseless violence; his eye filled with blood and his face swollen deep purple, “It was the god-damn grunts sergeant!” When we left the Marine Corps most of the grunts were able to put the violence on a shelf where it belonged. After years of acceptable fighting and killing, drunk brawling mixed into the grueling physical exertion required by the infantry,  we had to flip a switch to fit back in, a couple grunts never got the memo about the difference between the two worlds.
  I was standing as an armed sentry at the main gate of Marine Corps Base Hawaii with a new real military cop, a fresh faced nineteen-year-old named Wheeler, it was late 2006.  Many times tourists would get turned around and drive up to my post because the base was located at the end of a freeway, normally the confused tourist would ask for directions and I would send them somewhere other than where they were going. I never drove in Hawaii and despite having spent three years on the island between deployments, I still could not tell a person how to reach popular destinations. I would give the tourists directions down streets I had heard about or seen out of a passenger window with confidence and one day Wheeler realized what I had been doing when I put a new spin on my trick.

I could spot them from a hundred feet away, some dad with wide eyes knuckling his steering-wheel. The wife was telling him that this was not the way to go and one of the kids in the backseat would be screaming bloody murder. He would slowly creep up to my post trying to consider any other available options even though there were none, making a meeting with me inevitable. I would wait for him to roll down the window, his saucer eyes locked on the armed twenty-two-year-old he had gone out of his way years before not to be. “Excuse me sir, I think I’m turned around, I am trying to get to Waikiki, can I do a U-turn?” I looked at him sympathetically and without missing a beat I said with a straight face, “I’m sorry sir but due to the new statute of the patriot act twenty tac bravo we can intern anyone attempting to trespass on this base for up to two weeks. You’re not going to Iraq or Afghanistan but we are shorthanded on base so you’ll probably be picking up trash, what I need you to do is pull over to the side of the road and a recruiter will be with you shortly to size and fit you for your uniforms.” Shocked and caught off guard the man would say, “Please, what? No sir! I just want to make a U-turn!” It would be then that I looked at him as I sternly said and pointed with my index finger, “Sir, pull over to the side.” I posted Wheeler and followed the car to the side of the road, at that point I would tell the mark I was only joking, they would crack up and then I would proceed to give them the wrong directions to Waikiki. This 2012 gate guard just waved me through, not even giving me a hard time for my Army ID. Things had changed.

Antonio and I made it an early night after eating dinner with the Baders. We started talking about what we wanted to film and I came up with a plan for the morning. When it came Antonio and I scraped ourselves off of the air mattresses loaned by the Baders. Tony and I loaded into the SUV and headed for where I would send the tourists, to the most beautiful place on the island of Oahu, the North Shore. We took the Kamehameha Highway, the black asphalt two lane road disappears into thick jungle and clears into open brilliant green sugar cane farms at the base of a valley with dark mountains watching over the land and then you hit the ocean. Clouds move quickly and storms pass through in minutes until the darkness dissipates and the humid air gives way to a sky so blue.

We made our first stop at a convenience store so that I could share the island breakfast experience with Antonio. I bought a delicious treat that resembles sushi except instead of fish this delicacy is topped with spam wrapped in seaweed set upon a small brick of rice. Spam has been hot on island since the days of World War II when spam was cheap, lasted forever and could be presented an infinite amount of ways. Antonio seemed to like it as we watched a few wild roosters wandering around the parking lot…never pet the wild roosters. I am always happy to have Tony around; he was a good friend to me when I got back home at twenty two years old with a half flipped switch.
                                   (Stay Tuned Oahu 2.2 to follow)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hawaii Project (1of 3)

In the first year of our new millennium I was fifteen years old when I met Antonio delaTorre in an audio visual class at Palmdale High School. He was going to be the editor for a news story I had filmed about Area 51 outside of Rachel Nevada. I still had an adventure high and I asked Antonio what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a movie director and my stomach sank. I realized at that point that I was not unique, if this kid wanted to be a director everyone probably did.

Antonio flew in from Los Angeles California and I from Portland Oregon meeting in the baggage claim at Honolulu International Airport, it was eleven-forty-five in the morning on May 23rd, 2012. The jetliner touched down February 2004 and I fell in line wearing my Marine Corps issued dress green uniform outside of baggage claim. The humidity was thick and a bald Marine ordered us to attention and to fall in when he called our name. The young men arranged themselves into column and file as their names were read from a list sending them to their new rifle company, and so sealed the fate for those who would later die.

I could not believe I was going to see Marine Corps Base Hawaii again. Antonio and I loaded our gear into the back of my old friend Troy Bader’s car, the last Marine of my generation still stationed on base. In December 2004 Troy and I were riding on large troop transportation truck next to each other as we left Camp Fallujah Iraq bound again for the city. The armored side-wall of the vehicle supported the benches that we sat on and the heavy iron was held vertically by iron pins. At some point as our vehicle reached cruising speed Troy noticed that something did not feel right about his bench. He looked at me as the vehicle bounced through pot holes and said, “One more bump like that and I am going to fall over!”

I laughed like I knew what he was talking about; but I didn’t have a clue. The truck hit the next bump and a pin must have slid out, releasing the iron side-wall our benches we were connected to and sent me head over feet, I looked at my boots in awe but forced my body to relax as I impacted head first into the dirt. I don’t remember being knocked out but I do remember being in the path of the next truck in the convoy and in too much pain to move. The Marines who did not fall off the truck raised hell and stopped the convoy, when our truck stopped I watched my buddies hop off of the back of the trucks and come to aid us while others held security. Ambulances picked us up.
 In the morning Troy and I awoke on military cots inside an old Iraqi Army barracks. I moaned in pain and Troy echoed, it took us twenty minutes to get dressed and I remember feeling like every bone in my body was broken. The nurses at the aid station had stripped my chin together after it had been split by my helmet strap. After three days Troy and I convinced a Navy Corpsman (medic) to let us rejoin our unit. The doc informed us that we could stay for a week if we needed to but we declined and hitched a truck full of combat replacements back to our company firm base, we could hardly walk but needed to be with our brothers. Captain Johnson gave us radio watch until we fully recovered.
 In 2012 the gate guard waved Troy’s SUV through and I was home again. We drove passed the bronze replica of the Iwo Jima memorial; its flag waving in the wind and at the base surrounded by bricks with all of the names of our fallen brothers. I thought about the last time I had seen my old home, I was twenty two. Troy and I had gone to a Luau with his new wife Lauren and child Zack before we were both discharged in 2007. In 2012 Troy and Lauren welcomed Antonio and I into their home and even let us use the SUV so that we did not have to rent a car.

Tony and I were on a mission to film twelve people I had fought with on November 22nd 2004 during the second battle of Fallujah. Troy had not been with that crew that day but I wanted to open the film with him because very soon Troy Bader would be discharged from the Marine Corps the second time. After Troy and I left the Marines in 2007 we would talk to each other once or twice a month and as time passed and the economy tanked in 2008 it became a problem that Troy had not secured employment. So with a family to feed and a yearning for stability and familiarity Troy reenlisted in the Marine Corps. Troy would become the beginning and ending of our documentary, sharing his thoughts about his upcoming transition that would transition into Catcher Cutstherope’s story. Catcher lived on the big island and would be our next stop. I started the ignition for the SUV and Tony and I headed out the back gate into Kailua. I had training to do and a craving for an old favorite burger.
(Stay Tuned Part II (Oahu) to Follow)