I was born a drifter. A wandering kind of guy. Everyone liked me. I liked everyone. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Place of Birth - Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. But I consider myself French Canadian. You may ask, "French Canadian"? How could I be Canadian if I was born in Milwaukee?
I don't think this is a way to start a life story, with a barage of questions. May I continue? Thank You.
Milwaukee. A sleepy hollow in the Menomonee Valley of southeastern Wisconsin. Butted against the western shore of Lake Michigan. City of Festivals and serial killers. Famous for their Beer, Bratwurst, and Large Women. Milwaukee is an Indian Name meaning "Casino".
Upon meeting the natives for the first time, the white settlers were heard to proclaim.
"Vas ist los mit das feathers"?
Times were hard back then for the homesteaders, pretty much like it is right now if there are any homesteaders left in Milwaukee. So they drank beer and got drunk. Here again, pretty much like it is today in Milwaukee.
This would be the place to put to rest the stereotype that all people from Milwaukee do is drink beer. Thats so cruel, and unfair. Oh Know.....DAMN......I spilt my can of beer on the keyboard.......DAMN.... T é eyb ard s ems to b o y. Le me dry it off. There. Good thing I bought a 12-pack when I left the Tavern alittle while ago.
That new "ICE" Beer goes right to my head. Gets me crazy.
Anyway, I think as mature adults we can forever put to rest the unkind stereotype of us French Canadians in Milwaukee drinking Beer all the time. Its ridiculous.
HEY....hold on there. Thats ridiculous.
Milwaukee is a place where the Men are Hearty, and the Women are....well.....Hearty also.So it should come as no surprise that our children are hearty.
I was born on a brisk October morning, 1949. A morning like so many mornings in the MidWest, with the exception of the Lunar-Solar Eclipse which occurred at the moment of my birth.
Some say the eclipse was an omen of something terrible to come. Yeah right!
The place was St. Josephs Hospital, a half a block down from "Bill & Dotties Tap".
(when giving a location in Milwaukee, you always reference the closest Tavern)The Doctor, Dr. Mengile, was rumored to have some connection with Nazi Germany. Well whatever it was it did not impede his practice here in Milwaukee. His Offices were located upstairs from "The Watering Hole II" Bar.
You know, they say first impressions are lasting impressions. This is true. My first impression was,"Geeesh these people are stupid".
I grew up a block and a half north of "The Music Box." The Music Box Tap was on Capitol Drive. At that time the busiest street in Milwaukee.
My street was typical, shaded by huge Elm trees. Everyone knew everyone else. The only Black family in our neighborhood, lets say it together, was a D-O-C-T-O-R.
Not far was "Gentz's Beer Depot."
Besides the Beer Depot, my young informative years were spent in Carl's Drug Store and Winkie's. Winkie's was a Dime Store. At the time of this writng, Dime Stores will probably be extinct. Down right shame.
People will never know the smell, or the sound of the bell when the door was opened. You could not enter or leave without its announcement.
Immediately to your left was a glass enclosure filled with every candy concoction made. In this store the man (or boy) with 25 cents was King.
This "Winkies" was owned by a Jewish man, small in stature, almost hunch-backed. The glass of the Candy Counter would distort his image even more. It was customary to begin by looking at the candy you would buy if you had a dollar. of course you know you only have 23 cents, but whats the hurry your nine years old. I would wait for the first prompt.
"Liddle Boye, Vat Vill et be?"
At this point I would look at things I would buy if I had 50 cents. Ding, Ding. Saved by the bell. A Customer entering would give me a reprieve to scan my Candy Mountain.
"So mister, Mr. Rockefeller, vat vill it be".
He was back, distorted as ever.
"Ah. do you have any Atomic Blasters?"I would mutter.
"Do you zee Atomic Blaster heer?" he'd reply.
I like a dope would take a long sincere stare through the glass, and relpy, "NO". Ding, Ding. Whew.
Someone else coming to buy socks. You see, to me , at age nine, Winkie's was a glass case loaded with candy, and a big four-legged table with SOCKS. That was it. Candy and Socks. I would venture that all my Socks were purchased at Winkie's."Maybe vee komm back later, huh liddle buoy?"
He was back, I would now get serious.
"I know vaat, I mean, what I want now please." I said proudly.
This only made one his eyebrows stand up. "Yeah, I'll have one pack of Baseball cards and aaaaahhhhhh.....an airplane."
"Das ist 17 cents."
I would give him all 23 cents, and he would return my share, with a,"JA, JA, Zoe it goes." Ding, Ding!
Once outside I would rip the paper off the Baseball cards, and consume the gum. Then I would assemble the plane.
It was made out of the cheapest wood known to man. You would slip the wings through the slit in the body of the plane. The tail and rudder in the same fashion. In the nose rested a metal staple for weight. If you didn't have every part assembled just right your plane would spiral and crash in pieces upon contact with the cement.
But if you had everything right, oh man! The plane would soar to heights unimaginable, and get stuck in the Giant Elms that covered our streets. It was Glorious.
Now, I also mentioned Carl's Drug Store.
I wish I could tell you there was a Carl. If there was he never approached me. There was a Giant who worked there. He stood behind a ten foot counter, making only his head visible. Visible that is to a nine year-old. He was dispensing drugs. Ergo, Drug Store, clever, heh. Carl's Drug Store sold everything but Socks and Beer. Socks you got from 'Winkies", across the street, Beer at the Beer Depot.
Carl's had a "Soda Fountain".
My mother worked at Carl's Soda Fountain. Of course, she was not my Mother at the time, or was she? Whew, heavy. Lets just say, she did'nt know she was my Mother when she worked there.
Chocolate Soda was my Usual. All of a sudden, Soda Fountains vanished. Pooof! I feel it was a turning point in American History.
We, as a people, would never be the same. Our innocence stolen prematurely. Our hopes dashed.
To this very day, I can go nowhere and find a "Chocolate Soda". Why does God do stuff like that?
When I completed sixth grade I knew at that instant I had learned everything I was going to learn.
You have to realize I attended School in the 1950's. At that time the system emphasized Reading, English, Mathematics, Science and Home Work. I just knew at the tender age of twelve the system was wrong. I was ahead of my time. I just wish I could of convinced my Grandparents of this grand insight on my part.
Do Good! Do Good! Do Good! Thats all they cared about. Obsessed they were. The pressure on us little people was immense.
So after sixth grade, learning all I was capable of learning, I adopted the "It's OK to be an idiot, just be a good idiot" idealogy we embrace today. Unless your on the cutting edge of a new philosophy, like I was, you can have no idea the HELL that I went through. I mean to find yourself in 1961 previewing a "character" that someday would be known and loved by millions as "Forrest Gump," was unsettling to many. Here again, cutting edge.
"Hey Pea-Brain." "Hey Jello for Brains." They would taunt me.
"My MaaMa sead, that I am Naht", I would slur back at them.
You know, I think they were jealous of me. But hindsight is 20/20. At the time I just figured they thought I was a Creep. But now I see.......I am Naht!
My Senior year was uneventful. I also have no recollection of this particilar time period. I am told that at the graduation party someone forced me to drink Beer in such a quantity that I blissfully fell over an open Beer Case, almost breaking my neck.
The result? I acquired multiple personalities and created a new "character" not unlike Forrest Gump meets Rain-man meets the Jack Nicholson character in "Easy Rider".
Do not leave open Beer Cases laying around where someone who was just forced to drink large quantities of Beer might trip over it. Beer should be kept in the Refrigerator at all times you're not drinking it. Beer does not gow on trees.I JOIN THE MARINE CORPS
Have you ever got SO DRUNK, that you did or said something that you later regretted? From time to time this will happen with Beer.
Beer Drinkers have been to the "OTHER SIDE". They have seen the foamy light at the end of the tunnel. Alien abductions and probes are a daily occurence to many.
If you consume large quanities of Ale, your senses are enhanced. You hear things that other people are not privy to. You see objects more distinctly. A Flying Saucer could buzz down Pennsalvania Ave. in the middle of the day and only the inebriated pedestrians could see them. In all primitive cultures the Shaman or Witch-Doctor was always drunk. Modern day Shaman's can still be seen in communities throughout the Country. Their arms flailing, their bodies being pushed by invisible wind currents, they rant the sacred words to ward off evil spirits, almost appearing to speak in tongues to the untrained ear.
What does this have to do with joining the Marine Corps? You ask?
I think that is a fair question.....................Now may I go on?....... Maybe some things are more important than STORY LINE.
As I was just about to say, it was during one of these spiritual abductions that I enlisted in the Marine Corps. Things here again are fuzzy, I only remember being abducted by Green, very unpleasant aliens. And when I sobered up I was in my second week of "BOOT CAMP."
Now, let me share something with you.
I kinda heard about the Marine Corps while I was growing up. You know, TV, Movies, you couldn't escape it. I had even watched the Movie "Bataan", where all the Marines were killed. But, did that stop me? NOOoooOOO.
This is also when I became a French Canadian.
On another cold October morning, in the year of our lord 1968, I lit from Milwaukee on an Airliner. Destination: MCRD San Diego.
The flight was uneventful. I think I was in Shock. I just remember people trying to communicate with me,but all I could manage was a mumble which sounded like "Help Me, Help Me, Help Me..."
Upon landing, I assembled myself in a line and was marched into a large trailor that looked like a Cattle Car. You Know something? I think it was. Inside I had a startling revelation. I think I might be Jewish.
Slits for windows, this "Cattle Car" was hauled slowly through the streets of San Diego. [San Diego in Spanish means "BIG MISTAKE"] The city lights would sporadically hit my face as we lumbered along. I thought , "Oh my god, the Hollocaust, I'm living the Hollocaust!"
I believe this is about the time I snapped. Snapping is not a pretty thing, so I would assume my snap was appropriate. Unfortunately,nobody noticed me because they were in the later stages of shock themselves.
Now perched on Yellow Footprints, we are marched in one by one to have all of our hair cut-off. As we return from the shearing, one by one, and return to our yellow footprints, a haze formed in the courtyard. Everything was wet, but it wasn't raining. Two lonely floodlights reflected off the wet cement. Brisk foot steps are all that is heard. Knowing it was wrong. I moved my head from side to side. Looking down the rows of young men, I realized that this can never happen to another person again. I must stand out, I should step forward and yell "Cease".
"Are you looking for something, LADY!"
How do you respond to a question like that? You don't.
"I'm talking to YOU, slime bag."
"Can't you talk, BOY!"
"Aboat what?", I exhaled.
"Did you say ABOAT."
"Aye.""Where are you from Peter Puffer?" he roared.
My first day in the corps was like a Steven Spielberg Movie about the Hollocaust.