Even though I was part of the entertainment industry for over a decade, I never had occasion to meet Robin Williams. Even working at E! Entertainment Television, where big name stars routinely roamed the halls, Mr. Williams was not one of the ones I encountered wandering about the building. (I did ride the elevator with Lou Diamond Phillips once. I also walked past Raquel Welch one day grotesquely stretching every muscle in my neck just to get another fraction of a second’s glance at her beauty, which really was um… substantial.) But I think Robin gave me one of the biggest and most memorable laughs of my life while I was at E!.
In those days, E! routinely covered movie premieres. People from E!’s talent pool would camp out on the red carpet and conduct the usual interviews live on the air with the stars as they proceeded to whatever venue was hosting the premiere. This was pretty early on at E!, and we didn’t have a lot of the technological bells and whistles that the major networks had. In fact, it wasn’t too long before this that E! got its very own steerable satellite dish. We hadn’t yet installed a delay and dump button. (We didn’t do that until one of our hosts said “I’m sweating like a fucking pig!” before she had been cleared by the floor manager.)
Anyway, down the red carpet comes Robin and he stops to talk with one of our reporters. It was a routine interview with the usual questions: Who are you wearing? What was it like working on the film? What do you have coming up for your next project? Of course with Robin, nothing was ever routine and I honestly don’t remember how he got started. I assume he was going off on one of his riffs when he said “tits” live on the air just as plain as day. Realizing that he’d just said “tits” on the air, he raised his voice, looked straight at the camera and gleefully said “Tits! Can you say ‘tits’ on E!? TITS!!!”
Of course, it was insanely funny to hear this on the air as long as it was Robin Williams and not Joan Rivers. I remember the entire master control room where I worked erupting in raucous laughter. There was no delay, no dump button, and no way to stop what was then still a verboten word from making it out on the air. But because it came from Robin Williams, who knew without a doubt that he was doing something naughty on the air and that probably (correctly) that there was nothing that we could do about it, all we could do was laugh. And that was OK with us.
I saw Robin in concert here in DC just a few years ago. I wound up sitting in the front row of the audience that night. He was funny enough, but he didn’t look as though he was having a lot of fun up on stage. But I surely did.
One final thought: I saw Disney’s “Aladdin” probably five times in the theater when it was first out back in 1992. I remember seeing it at least three of those times at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. (Still one of my favorite movie houses, along with the original Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.) First of all, it was a genuinely great movie on its own merit, but much of the draw for me was the strength and magic of Robin’s performance as the Genie. For years I listened to the soundtrack album and again, much of the draw was his voice performance.
Anyone who’s ever read this blog past the first few pages has heard me mention Jeff Tobin a few times. Jeff is one of my oldest friends, mostly because he’s 16 hours older than me. We were both drum majors in our all-scholarship military school band and went to the same college afterwards. We also shared short but colorful careers in radio.
This is from JeffreyTobin.com, Jeff’s professional site and blog. Jeff brings up this radio “war story” whenever we see each other, which is far too infrequently. ‘Preciate the write up, sir!
And if you’ve not subscribed to Jeff’s blog, do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
I’ve worked in broadcasting in some form or other since I was in my teens, and I learned early on that one must always expect the unexpected.
It was the late 70′s at radio station WKST in New Castle, Pa. My best buddy from school and I had continued our close and wonderful relationship through college and into the broadcasting world at area radio stations.
We knew each other well. We were a team and trusted each other implicitly. We still do, these many miles and decades later.
Dan Wolfe was live and on the air on a sunny Saturday morning. From atop a downtown building, he described for his audience a community parade as it passed by. I was back at the studio in the control room running the show from behind the scenes as Dan listened to the broadcast through his headphones.
“Here comes the high school band!” He described the view as the audience listened to the music. “And there go the WWII veterans all marching in formation…”
He heard the music of the bagpiper regiment grow louder as it approached the grand stand. But he could see no bagpipers. He looked up and down the street, but there were no kilts, no drum major, no drums. Nothing. Still, the music swelled in his headphones. How could this be?
Suddenly I heard an almost imperceptible chuckle in his voice: The little giggle of which I’d become so fond over the years. Dan realized the music wasn’t coming from the parade at all, it was coming from the studio! I was playing a recording of bagpipers and carefully feeding it into the mix.
Dan didn’t miss a beat. He described in great detail the approaching phantom regiment – the bagpipes, the colors, the regalia. And off they marched into the mind’s eye of our listeners. There never really were any bagpipers, and no one was ever the wiser.
My little joke was not a test of Dan’s abilities, but an investment in trust. I was confident that Dan would manage the situation. He was able, and he handled the unforeseen with the panache of the consummate professional he was.
And we grew closer together, both personally and professionally.
This week at my office, I demonstrated that same trust in one of our current employees, handing her a substantive project I knew she could handle. Like Dan, she rose to the occasion, taking the project on as if it were her own. It was. And she didn’t miss a beat.
If you want to move your organization forward, first develop trust. When trust is established, you can hand off responsibilities that express that trust. In this way, a test of skill is no longer a test; it becomes an empowerment… an empowerment for personal and organizational growth.
“Handing off the bagpipers” to an employee is a gift. It’s a gift that makes everything stronger: The employee, your relationship, and the organization.
I could post a zillion photos that I took of the President during his visit to my workplace on Tuesday July 15th, but I’m only posting two from that event here, one of which is not of the President.
My friend and co-worker, Taylor Lochrane, shared research details with the President during his visit on July 15th.
Federal Highway Administration’s Robotic RABIT Concrete Bridge Deck Assessment Tool. This thingy can evaluate the condition of a concrete bridge deck in about one-eighth the time required by more conventional methods. I have no clue how this works, but it does and it’s cool.
While yes, the President was at Turner-Fairbank on July 15th, I was also afforded the opportunity to photograph our Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx. Foxx became the 17th United States Secretary of Transportation on July 2, 2013 and gave the introduction to Mr. Obama’s speech on the economy. This was Secretary Foxx’s first visit to our research facility.
When I was in Pennsylvania covering the RABIT’s appearance on a rural bridge, I happened across these helmets in the community fire station in which we held some informational briefings about the robot. I thought the lineup of these fireman’s helmets made for a good photo.
I stumble across all sorts of stuff in my archives, some of which has never seen the light of day. Here’s #1 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:
a.) I’m in the photo or…
b.) … I took the photo.
Youngest son Andy, Me, oldest son Jonathon and the ever-so-talented actor and great friend, Frank Simons many moons ago in California. Frank was one of the very first people I met when I moved to California in 1990. He and I have shared many discussions about politics, Star Trek, television and pretty much everything. He’s one of my most dear friends and miss our debates. There’s no one else I’d rather have an argument with!
Ben Vereen visited the Pentagon some months after 9/11 when I was working on the Army’s Crisis Action team. Great guy! So is Ben.
Look closely — you’ll see a laptop computer in-flight immediately prior to its demise. We called this “Computer Assisted Suicide” and had a party to celebrate the passing of my laptop. (Needless to say, alcohol was served.) Acting as the Range Safety Officer is the late Lt. Col. Bob Hagen, who assured that we didn’t drop the laptop on an unsuspecting vehicle. He’s giving us the thumbs up at the top of the photo.
This was taken on the flight line at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, NV in 2005. With me is Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster who was at the time the director of the World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. I was the Chief of Staff for awhile as well as the PAO for the Committee. This job and working with this fine gentleman was one of the highlights of my nearly 29 year Army career.
Six-year-old Nate cued up “The Simpsons Movie” in the DVR the other day before departing on spring break for Ohio and it got me to thinking about all things Simpson. I remembered the earliest shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” on through the later episodes. Some were genuinely hilarious and at the beginning, it was cutting-edge, subervise television. The writing never ceased to be clever, intelligent and tight.
One episode I remembered that really got my attention and made me laugh was “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge.” Right before he goes to bed, Homer tells Marge, “I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life: boxer, mascot, astronaut, baby proofer, imitation Krusty, duck driver, hippie, plow driver, food critic, conceptual artist, grease salesman, carny, mayor, grifter, body guard for the mayor, country western manager, garbage commissioner, mountain climber, farmer, inventor, Smithers, Poochie, celebrity assistant, power plant worker, fortune cookie writer, beer baron, Kwik-E-Mart jerk, homophobe, and missionary, but protecting people, that gives me the best feeling of all.” It’s a very funny little bit and stops you dead in your tracks if you’re watching the episode. For me, it’s always been one of the more memorable scenes from a really great show.
This was the final episode of season 13 and they’re up to season 25 or some such thing. Imagine how many other jobs he’s had by now!
Anyway, I was wondering what my list would sound like. So here’s my list. I’m including the stuff I did for free, but that were still significant enough to say “It was my job.” There are some repeats because I did some jobs a few times.
Read it with Homer’s voice in your head. It’ll be a lot more interesting that way.
Summer camp counselor
High school and college teacher
Fast-food sales clerk
Consumer electronic salesman
Assistant News Director
Radio TV Officer
TV news anchor
Community theater actor
Radio and TV Station Manager
High school instrumental music teacher and conductor
Assistant Conductor of a military band
Commercial deejay again
Community theater actor
Commercial deejay again
Electronic Media Officer
Public Affairs Officer
TV master control operator
Instructor in computer subjects
TV network master control operator
Computer subjects instructor
Radio and TV Station Manager
Video tape operator
Public Affairs Officer
TV network master control operator
Computer subjects instructor
Supervisor, TV Network operations E!
Plans Officer, Army Public Affairs
Chief, Army senior leader support team
Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff again
Marketing Communications Specialist
This is a rerun of a post I made in December, 2013 and unfortunately lost in a giant computer and database crash. I believed it to be lost to the ages, however, I found a copy unexpectedly today while assisting another blogger in site management. I am reposting it here because… Well, because I liked it and was disappointed to have lost it. More importantly, it celebrates a terrific friendship dating back to 1972 and continues to this day.
But MOST importantly, I hope to settle this highly contentious disagreement once and for all.
I’m the better Drum Major.
Now SOME might try to mislead you to the conclusion that I’m not, but I am. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here.
I’m the better Drum Major.
This misinformation campaign has been going on since 1974 and I think it’s time for the definitive work on this subject to be written, disseminated and entered into the public record. So make note of this. You’ll be tested on this at some point and I expect y’all to have the right answer:
I’m the better Drum Major.
Someone is spreading lies about this. And I think I know. Who is it that dares to challenge decades of Drum Major greatness? Well, that would be the SECOND best (by a long shot) Drum Major, Jeffrey Tobin. While I respect Mr. Tobin and actually consider him to be a friend – perhaps even his ONLY friend, I’m just tired of the whining. Get over it, dude! Here’s a hanky. Go dry your eyes, put on your big boy pants and get a life.
“Come and take it – Slogan at the Battle of Gonzales”
(Yeah, I searched Google for that. Dammit Jim, I’m the better Drum Major not a military historian.)
This all goes back to the Valley Forge Military Academy and Junior College Band. I was a member from 1971-1976. The aforementioned Mr. Tobin joined me in my second year. It was during that second year that I started practicing to lead this talented and accomplished group (including Mr. Tobin) of high school and college musicians while on the march. You’ve probably seen photos of military bands each with a brightly dressed Drum Major in front of the band with a mace, a roughly five-foot long staff, weighted at one end and adorned with all sorts of flashy accoutrements. The Drum Major uses the mace to move the band forward, turn left or right, or perform some other maneuver all while the band performs martial music to stirring effect. The Drum Major’s specific movements are rehearsed so often that just a glance from any member of the band and they know what the hell is going on.
Being the Drum Major was a big deal at Valley Forge. The Drum Major had a different uniform and a huge, ornate sash sewn with gold thread. The sash weighed a ton, but it looked awesome and as soon as I saw the Drum Major my plebe (first) year, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
Greg Ream was the Drum Major my plebe year. Jeff Zimmerman was the Drum Major the next two. That gave me three years to practice and get good at it. Somewhere along the way, Jeff Tobin also developed an interest in being the Drum Major, but as I was hoping to be the heir apparent, he’d have to get in line behind me where he belonged. And much to his credit, he did.
Tobin and Wolfe, early to mid 1970’s.
We were friends – still are, really. Best of friends. For the years we were at Valley Forge, we practiced the mace manual, which is what the movements are collectively called, almost every day. Yeah, we were both pretty damned good. Jeff even developed a modification of the manual for the mace in which we could both participate simultaneously. Yeah, he’s creative AND talented. Best friends, yes, but I hate his guts anyway.
So the year comes and the Bandmaster, Col. D. Keith “Duke” Feltham notified me that I’d be the Drum Major in my fourth year and since there was another after that before graduation, probably my fifth year as well.
It was a lock. When Duke said something, it happened. Period.
That’s me on the left with the mace.
So in the 1974-75 academic year, I was the Drum Major of the Valley Forge Military Academy Band.
But Mr. Tobin, that rat in sheep’s clothing, never let me forget he was waiting in the wings for me to have a heart attack at the tender age of 19 or some such other debilitating event.
Tobin’s taunts, in pencil (Click to examine closely.)
In fact, while digitizing some music from reel-to-reel tapes of the era, I found this on the back of one of the boxes. My note mentions my cadet rank at the time “M/Sgt Drum Major.” Please note Mr. Tobin’s handwriting reads “But not for long, Ha Ha!”
So anyway, as I said, there I was in the fall of 74, leading the band as the Drum Major. That was, until drummer Pat Parker was involved in a serious automobile accident taking him out of the four-man drum line for a number of weeks prior to the band’s VERY important performance at the Harrisburg Horse Show. We’d already learned the marching routines thoroughly. Reorganizing the band to account for Pat’s absence and relearning everything was far harder than sending me back to the drum line where I’d been the previous two years. Fortunately, there was one man who was prepared to step in and lead the band while I was back in the drum line.
Ha! Revenge, in whatever minute quantity, is still sweet.
That’s right. Jeffrey Tobin, back stabber.
I jest. (I don’t.)
So Jeff led the band until Pat came back healthy, took his place on the drum line and I went back to the front of the band where I belonged, Jeff in the trombone section behind me where he belonged.
I was the Drum Major for Harrisburg and the rest of the year proceeded without incident. I did my job as the Drum Major proudly and with all the dignity, flair and precision that I could muster – and that was a lot. WAY more than that wanna-be in the trombone section.
The next year, to make a long story short, as expected, I was again selected to be the Drum Major. Until they needed a trumpet player on the march. But this time, it wasn’t temporary and I was asked by Col. Feltham if I’d go back and play trumpet instead of being the Drum Major.
Yeah, not part of the plan, but we were all being paid generous scholarships and Duke always stressed professionalism and all that happy horseshit (all of those things are true, but it felt like happy horse shit at the time) and so of course, I reluctantly agreed to step aside and play trumpet.
So Jeff Tobin could take the mace.
So a few weeks in to the 1975-76 academic year, Jeffrey Edwin Tobin became the next in a long line of bandsmen to lead the VFMA band.
Tobin and Wolfe, circa 2002.
Did I mention we’re still friends?
Well we are. Thoroughly.
And I could not have been more fortunate to hand over the mace to a finer cadet, a finer person and yes, even a fine (Ha! You thought I was going to say “finer,” didn’t you?) Drum Major. If I were going to give up something that was that important to me, I would have wanted it to go to someone worthy and who deserved the opportunity as much as any of us who led the band.
Jeff performed admirably. We still kept at the double-man mace manual often. We continued to be a team through those years at VF, then at Westminster College. When we discovered that we both had some talent for radio, we were a team there too, doing all sorts of crazy stunts at our respective radio stations.
Ok, so maybe I wasn’t the best Drum Major. (But I was.) But Jeff was damned good, too. Really good. Really, really good.
I like to think that I’ve mellowed over the decades, but I’m still bitter and I’m still better.
I jest. (I don’t.)
No, seriously. I’ve mellowed. The long-standing feud about who’s the better Drum Major is now, due to advancing age, a long-sitting feud. But there’s no person alive or dead who I’d consider a peer when it comes to being a Drum Major other than Jeff.
I didn’t say that out loud, did I? (I did.)
So ok, you can believe whatever you want to about who’s the better Drum Major.
Just lie to me about it when you see me, ok? I have feelings, you know. Thanks.
Tobin and Wolfe, circa 2012. (Long story about the USS Enterprise in the background.)
The initial sting and sorrow at losing our beloved Bella, the dachshund, on Friday has abated. And the house continues to seem unusually quiet. This probably stems from the lack of profanities being uttered as one of the occupants residing herein found a pile of puppy poop the hard way, if you know what I mean.
Many of you have followed her since we got her last year. Many of you don’t know the backstory of how she came to be such a huge part of our household and how she won our hearts. So for my own mental health and in an attempt to capture these memories, I’m going to tell you Bella’s story.
I was desperate.
Now that’s not something that’s really unusual for me. I’m desperate for a number of reasons, but just a year and a few weeks ago, I was really, REALLY desperate to come up with a birthday gift for the lovely, talented and buxom Beth Geyer, my dearest significant other. (And before you get all weird on me, she not only approves of the aforementioned description, some time ago she insisted on it and it stuck.) She had mentioned a few times that she was longing for a pet, namely a kitten.
I’m fine with cats. In fact, this is one of the few places I’ve lived in which I do not have a feline patrolling the premises. So I had been on the lookout for a kitten for a number of weeks, making it a point to hit up the PetSmarts and Petcos of the world in search of a small furry feline. I even scoped out the Prince William County animal shelter when I was in the area. But, as it was the tail end of winter, small kittens were in short supply.
I should have seen it coming. February 28, 2013 was upon me more quickly than I had anticipated, the invariable progress of time notwithstanding. Two days. I was down to two days and I was desperate.
I gathered Nate, the younger of Beth’s small humans, and departed for some such adventure, as was our routine in those days before permanent employment. Shortly after our departure, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Prince William County Animal Shelter. I asked Nate if he wanted to stop in and he agreed.
Nate hadn’t been there before, but I had. So I knew where to guide him to have a look at the kittens and cats available for rescue. On our way past, I noticed a small cage sitting on the floor of the hall in which was a tiny brown furry creature of some sort. But since we were in search of a kitten, we both breezed past pretty quickly. Upon determining that there were no kittens that fit the bill, Nate and I turned around and headed back through the hall toward the kennels in which the dogs were housed.
There again on the floor of the hall was the same tiny brown furry creature but this time, it was facing us.
Bella as we first encountered her.
It was a very tiny dachshund. In a very tiny cage.
I should mention that I’m a sucker for a hard luck cases. This poor little puppy practically defined the term. She was clearly frightened, dejected and not at all well. Nate and I bent closer to have a look at this pup and she scooted over toward us. After determining that this little dear heart wasn’t in a defensive mood, we moved in even closer and the puppy started sniffing and licking our fingers through the cage as puppies do.
I don’t remember if her tail was wagging at all or not. She was still confined to the small wire-framed kennel in which she’d just been surrendered and didn’t have much room to maneuver.
Just then, one of the shelter’s employees happened by and I stopped her and asked if we could pet the new arrival. She gladly obliged my request and let the puppy out of her kennel.
Nate, of course, was excited but having not been around pets at all very much, he didn’t know exactly how to behave. It was hilarious to watch Nate! It was a classic approach-avoidance scenario. He wanted so badly to interact with the puppy, but when she tried to hop up and lick his face or sit on his lap, he was alternately welcoming and terrified. The more he tried to get away from her, the more she’d try to get close to him. And the more she tried to get close to him the more he’d wriggle away, not sure just what to do about this small creature.
Bella and Nate’s dance on day one.
I tried to tell him that the puppy wouldn’t hurt him — she just wanted to play with him. I instructed him to sit still and she’d come to him, but he wasn’t having any of that whatsoever! Their “I’m-going-to-get-you!-No,-you’re-not!” dance continued much to my delight.
This dance would define their relationship.
Here’s the big problem. This was a dachshund puppy. This was the one breed of dog that Beth mentioned as being her least favorite breed of dog. Not just that she didn’t like them. She specified that they were her least favorite.
Seeing Nate’s alternating joy and slowly abating horror at the puppy in his presence, I started to think that this could seriously solve the birthday present problem, but there was great potential to create a longer-term issue of bringing home to Beth a pet that she’d dislike.
The words “least” and “favorite” kept buzzing around my head like annoying, biting flies.
I asked the shelter employee about her backstory? Why was she surrendered to the shelter? Where did she come from? The dog had been given the name Rosie. As I recall it now, Rosie had lived with someone who was at first provided a loving home. They had paper-trained her for peeing, but she hadn’t completed the housebreaking process and still pooped somewhat indiscriminately.
At some point, Rosie’s original owners had to go away on vacation or some such event that forced them to be away and made arrangements for a third party to care for her. This continued for some time and the people never came back to claim her. I don’t know why or how someone could do this to any living creature, but in the days and weeks following, Rosie had been essentially ignored. By the time she arrived at the shelter, she was horribly underweight, she had infections in both of her ears, and a number of skin lesions.
She was a mess.
Remember when I told you I was a sucker for hard luck cases? Here’s where it’s becomes relevant.
I could not allow this poor defenseless puppy to be placed into the general population of shelter dogs. Even if she were only there for an overnight, it was unthinkable for such a sweet, small, sick puppy to bear such a thing. You’ve been to those places. You know what it’s like. The dogs are often stressed to the breaking point just from being in a strange, uncomfortable kennel with other dogs. The yelping and howling of other shelter dogs would undoubtedly unnerve poor baby Rosie were she to enter the general population. She was far too fragile and far too sweet and Nate was far too engaged with her for me to allow that to happen.
So we rescued her.
$45, I think was the adoption fee and that included shots. The shelter was sure to explain the contractual obligation to have her spayed through the shelter when she was healthy enough to tolerate the surgery. $140 for the surgery. $30 for post-operative pain meds. No problem.
I recall the staff at the shelter being such wonderful people and made the process as easy and as stress free as it could be. I really was delighted with the process though I found myself terrified about bringing home a wiener dog to Beth. That’s ok. I was committed to taking the ass chewing, if necessary. But there was no way I could allow Rosie to suffer any more injustice at the hands of an overburdened animal control facility.
Nate and I dashed over to the closest ATM, which was just a minute down the road. We got the cash for the adoption fee, drove quickly back to the shelter and sealed the deal.
I took Rosie and Nate home. Beth had been napping that day and so after putting Rosie in the living room with Nate, I proceeded upstairs and gently woke Beth.
“Your birthday present is downstairs and wants to meet you.”
Bella and Beth, March 2014
It was love at first sight. And I was thrilled at the reception Beth gave her. Beth was all smiles and so very affectionate with Rosie that any sense of “least favorite” was gone.
Rosie was home.
That afternoon, I took her to the local veterinary clinic to address her health issues. When I got to the clinic, there were a few larger dogs there and to keep her calm, I held her close and rocked her gently from side to side as anyone who’s ever had children does almost instinctively. She snoozed a little, trembling at the loud noises but settling back into my arms with a relieved sigh when the immediate threat was gone.
After a long wait, we were escorted into the treatment room, she was examined and determined to be the mess I thought she was:
“Thank you for bringing Rosie in to see us today. She is such a sweet little lady and did great for her exam. We are sending home medication to treat Rosie’s skin and ears. Please monitor the mass on Rosie’s side for any change in size or character. If the mass hasn’t resolved in the next 4-6 weeks or were to increase in size we would recommend rechecking it.”
They gave me three prescriptions, a long list of instructions and some gentle shampoo for her skin.
Bella in her usual state.
By the time I got home, Garrett, the older of Beth’s boys, arrived home from school and greeted his new family member enthusiastically. The boys played with her, and Beth cuddled her. From that moment on and for the year or so she was with us, there wasn’t a moment that Rosie, who got the name Bella after a day or two, wasn’t engaged with one of her human family.
Bella in the dog nest.
When Garrett woke up in the morning, Bella would stay with him on the couch watching cartoons snuggled up close by until it was time to go to school. Garrett would often say that Bella was in her dog nest when they were cuddling together. When Nate darted downstairs and around the house, Bella would chase him and growl at him playfully, reinvigorating the dance they’d started on the floor of the hall in the shelter the day they met. She’d grab at his pant legs and hang on for dear life. We always said that Nate was Bella’s own personal chew toy and Bella would never pass up a moment to engage him in raucous play. During the day, Beth and Bella would snuggle up and read or watch TV. Bella would accompany Beth around the house when she was doing housework. Rarely was Bella out of sight from at least one of us. And at night, Bella would demand to lick my face as we watched TV together, and after repeated refusals, would finally settle for falling asleep on my outstretched legs.
I’m out of words now. Writing this has made me laugh. It’s also made me sob. I miss Bella terribly. She spent all of 379 days in our world and I can’t remember a day in which her little brown face didn’t enrich me in some way.
379 days. How can someone so small who was with us for such a short time have affected our family and me so profoundly? I have no explanation nor am I really interested to find out. All I know is that I miss her. And as I move about the house, I’m filled with reminders of her presence. The baby gates that kept her and the carpets upstairs safe are gone. Her bowls are washed and stored away, her puppy food no longer nearby. Bella’s dog toys no longer adorn the living room floor. The dog spit she chose to deposit on my face with her boundless affection has been replaced with my tears.
Goodbye, sweet puppy. You made a difference in my life.
It’s heresy to admit you miss it once you’ve been retired from active military service. Most people can’t wait to retire, take all their old uniforms to the post thrift shop for consignment and do something different.
I was like that at first.
When I finished my 20 years of active duty (jammed into a nearly 29 year overall Army career), I was ready to retire. Lucky for me that the law requires officers like me who hold Reserve commissions to retire when they rack up 20 active years of service. This keeps the most senior jobs open for those officers with regular Army commissions – the professionals, as it were. So even if I could have found another job in uniform, by law I couldn’t have taken it. I had done and accomplished far more than I ever expected but there was really nowhere left for me to go.
It had been a crappy couple of years. Late in 2005, my marriage failed and failed spectacularly. A few weeks after that, I changed assignments. (Changing jobs is reported to be one of the more stressful life experiences and a new assignment is essentially the same.) Late in 2006, nearly a year after we separated, my spouse was diagnosed with breast cancer. I became her caregiver throughout her recovery. The day in August that I had my retirement ceremony was the day after she completed her last radiation treatment and was declared cancer free. At the ceremony, she got a standing ovation when I shared with my colleagues and friends her courage and determination. I had gained about 40 lbs. by then.
Those last nearly two years were just plain miserable. I did my best at work, but I wasn’t all there most of the time. I emerged from all that beaten and defeated.
I was a hot mess.
I retired on November 1st, 2007 and within a few months, took a government contracting job supporting an Army agency. It took me awhile to make that transition from colonel to contractor, but I did it. I only answered the phone as “Colonel Wolfe” once.
Time passed. I grew apart from the Army in many ways. I still subscribed to the Department of Defense news service to keep track of my friends and former colleagues who got promoted to general officer ranks. I continued to receive and read the Army’s daily feature “Stand To!” And I still sorta felt like a part of it.
After about four years of the contracting job, nearly two years of unemployment and near financial ruin, I got hired about two months ago to work as a government employee at another Federal agency. A couple weeks ago, I turned off all the military themed news feeds and email blasts because I’m not reading them and when I do, the people, terms and acronyms are generally unfamiliar to me now.
I wore a uniform of some sort since I was high school. By the time I entered the Army in 1979, I was well aware that I was a part of something that was way bigger than me. Of course, as I navigated my very odd and by Army standards very unconventional career, I came to appreciate being a part of it and knowing that even when I was sitting in a TV production truck among my entertainment industry colleagues, I was still a part of the Army. Still belonging. Still immersed in a system of doing business that I understood and in which I was comfortable and successful.
There are still quite a few uniforms hanging in a closet upstairs. Not like I even notice them, or take them out or anything quite like that. But they’re there, just down the hall just like the military school uniforms I’ve carried all over the world since I graduated back in 1976. More and more, I need the closet space, so that stuff is going to be out of there one of these days when I get the urge to reorganize. But since they’re all stored in an out-of-the-way closet, it’ll probably be there for a while unless I make a honest effort. The likelihood of that actually occurring is questionable.
Most of the time, I don’t give it much thought. I don’t actively sit around wringing my hands lamenting that my Army career is done. But I gotta tell you, there are days. Usually when I’m out on post for some reason, all of the positive feelings about being a part of the Army come to the forefront of my consciousness. I drive past old haunts on post, much as I do when I’m in my home town in Ohio. Mom says I like to drive around and make sure that everything’s where I left it and I think she’s right. And I think I do that for the familiar Army haunts as well.
You can say what you want about the Army and trust me, Soldiers do. I know I did. For me, the Army was my life long companion. And like all long-term companions, our relationship had its ups and downs. The Army provided me with more than a job and income and a title. I carry with me so much experience and so many positive lessons that I learned in 29 years. It’s a welcome part of me.
But there are days when I long to be back in uniform. It’s not every day, and it’s not even most days. Frankly, memories of the last two horrendous years of my career keep me from really savoring the success of the other 27. I don’t like thinking about that. But when I go on post even just to the commissary I find myself standing a little taller and walking a little more smartly. I find myself exchanging more smiles and everyday courtesies with everyone I encounter. It’s such a strong, positive, shared professional and cultural experience. I realize how much I miss it when I’m back on post and immersed in it like that again.
I miss it. There, I said it. Out loud and everything.