Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Well, I took my son to a whore house last night.

Well, I took my son to a whore house last night.

But all in all, it probably wasn’t my worst parenting fail ever.

The night started off innocently enough, I suppose. I was standing at the bar in the Rising of the Moon pub, drinking Jameson (and not that Protestant shite, Bushmill’s), while talking with a drunk Pinkerton detective. He was buying.

The warm Irish whisky had emboldened me enough to insult my commanding officer—Brigadier General of 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, II Corps who was also at the bar—which got my company captain laughing, before saying, “Hey, we should all go over to the bordello and visit some Dutch whores!”

Seemed like a fine idea to me, and soon a small knot of officers, non-coms, and enlisted men like me (and my 20 year-old kid) were stumbling down the dark road towards this tent of ill repute.

It was over in the Confederate side of camp.

All this happened last weekend in Huntington Beach, California, of course, at the 24th Annual Civil War Days Living History Event.

See, a few months ago and against all better judgment I fell in with a group of Civil War re-enactors. They portray Company C of the 69th New York State Volunteers—part of the legendary Irish Brigade during this country’s war between the states.

For years, I swore I’d never do something like this. After all, I considered myself a serious armchair historian, so donning a uniform and assuming a character seemed reductive. And sad.

Having read Tony Horwitz’ “Confederates in the Attic,” I also assumed that all reenactors were humorless pedants—obnoxious purists with an overinflated sense of self-importance derived from their annoying insistence on period-correct detail.

But that description doesn’t fit the guys of the 69th.

Profane. Outrageously funny. Generous. Fiercely loyal. Family men. Most of these guys are firefighters and first responders, public servants and government employees. There’s no pretense. No delusions of grandeur. They try not to be too “farby" (you can look that one up), but they don’t drain all the fun out of it, either. 

Yeah, the heavy wool uniforms are brutal in the summer heat, the hobnail brogans are absolutely sadistic, and field-cleaning a 1861 Springfield replica is tedious at best. It’s not an easy hobby. So of course, I had to try it.

But as it turns out, Civil War Reenacting is equal parts cosplay, weekend camping, frat party, history class, and gun club. 

But you really join up for the camaraderie.

Unfortunately just as I enlisted, historical reenactors came under heavy fire from a formidable new foe—and it isn't Johnny Reb. No, the enemy is smug, short-sighted “social justice warriors” on a mission to silence any expression of this country’s past that does not conform to their Orwellian vision.

Antifa demonstrators across the country are pulling down statues, desecrating cemeteries, and vilifying even Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln. Under the threat of such violent protests, several long-standing Living History events have been canceled. After all, according to a 2016 article written by VICE‘s Wilbert Cooper, such reenactments are simply an “attempt to fantasize about living in a bygone world of white supremacy.”

All I can say is that has NOT been my experience.

Two qualifiers:
1.) I belong to a Union army unit. While joining a Confederate group may seem more precarious in this current political climate, all I can say is that for there to be a battle re-enactment you have to have two sides, winners and losers. Wouldn’t be much of a show if only one army showed up.
2.) I can only report what I’ve observed.

That said, reenactment is not some good ‘ol boys club. Female reenactors are a common sight. Many (on BOTH sides) are noncommissioned officers or hold high rank. One of the generals in our Union Army of the West is a woman.

Many different races, ethnicities, and religions are represented in the ranks: White, Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and Black. Our quartermaster sergeant is Pakistani. At my first event I fought alongside an Asian twenty-something woman. And this past weekend, I observed an African-American gentleman fighting on the Confederate side. I know that none of this neatly fits certain narratives.

It’s a family event. Our weekend campsite is comprised of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and even entire families with toddlers and preschoolers. Some in period dress, others in Scooby Doo jammies.

All of the above holds true of the spectators as well. Families stroll the re-enactment camps, take pictures and ask questions, shop at the sutlers tents, peruse historical displays, and join in period games and dances. Since these events draw from the surrounding communities, our Huntington Beach crowd last weekend was largely Asian, Hispanic, and white.

So there’s definitely a disconnect between what protesters are claiming and what is actually taking place. And this is America: A vocal and violent minority cannot tell us what we can and cannot do. They do not get to approve or deny our weekend amusements. And I don’t have to justify myself to ANYONE. I don’t owe any group an explanation or defense of Living History events. And they don’t get to shut it down.

But I guess it shouldn’t really surprise me that the generation criticizing re-enactors for putting on historically accurate costumes and playing Billy Yank is the same generation that dresses up like Harley Quinn and Cassian Andor and lines up by the thousands for Comic Con.

#     #     #

As I said, for the re-enactors themselves these events can be equal parts cosplay, weekend camping, frat party, history class, and gun club.

As an amateur historian, I was finally drawn in by the chance to experience vicariously some semblance, however slight, of what life may have been like for the common soldier during the Civil War. It also seems like a good way to continue some of the experiences that my son and I shared during his time as a Boy Scout. (He “Eagled out” a few years ago.)

My son—like many young men—has always sought out unique, intense, and challenging experiences, preferring outdoor activities in spartan conditions. And he craves the camaraderie that the close-knit reenacting units provide. 

Oh, and the whore house thing…

At night, after the crowds of spectators go home, these Living History camps come alive: Canvas-walled pubs open up, cotillions commence with officers in dress uniform bowing to ladies in hoop-skirts, and musicians pull out mandolins and banjos and sing “I Wish I Was Back Home in Derry.” These camps feature many of the attractions—and vices—that traveling army camps had back in the day. Including, as it turns out, a “bordello.”

Of course the coquettish lady there is no more a prostitute than I am a solider. She pretended to flirt with some of the boys while we sat at a faro table and a shady card dealer tried to teach us the most popular game of that era. (I think he might have been cheating, but I‘m not sure.)

And while the nighttime visit to the whorehouse was faux fun, the boys could seek out real-life repentance and redemption the next morning. This Living History camp also featured a Roman Catholic Mass in Latin. 

The priest wore period-correct vestments.

#     #     #

(*I noticed that the Rebel units didn’t fly the now-notorious battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, and instead unfurled unit banners or even the flag of the Confederacy itself—which 99.5% of Americans would not even recognize. Probably a prudent move on their part.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Bono, Rosa Parks, and...Lena Dunham?

Can someone please explain to me why, in a video montage celebrating great women in U.S. history, a true American hero like Rosa Parks shares the screen with…Lena Dunham?

This past weekend, U2 played two sold-out shows at the Rose Bowl.

I was there. 

The focal point of the concert was a vast video screen which “displayed striking high-definition landscape scenes by the photographer Anton Corbijn, who’s managed U2’s visual approach for decades,” according to the L.A. Times.

For example: An early segment showed a clip from the obscure 1958 TV western “Trackdown,” in which a “huckster” by the name of Trump “tries to frighten the residents of a small town into building a protective wall.” 

Big cheers for hitting the obvious target.

Ok, I get it. So clearly it was going to be a night of feel-good “virtue signaling,” during which the once subtle and inviting frontman Bono instead simply checked all the politically correct boxes: Immigration, gender issues, AIDS, poverty, social justice, and what have you.

We in the audience could clap along while simultaneously patting ourselves on the back for sharing all the right values—for being one of the cool kids.

Late in the set, the band played “Ultraviolet” as a tribute to women of significance throughout American history. A wide-screen montage showed images of true trailblazers such as Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks alongside more recent public figures with arguably more modest resum├ęs. (Michelle Obama got the biggest cheers.)

Notably absent were women from more conservative backgrounds—Nikki Haley, Condoleezza Rice, or, say, Sandra Susan Merritt, even.

Still, Lena Dunham made the cut.

Dunham is an outspoken liberal who (to use liberal argot) grew up in privilege. A celebrity comedienne who, like virtually all comedians these days, mines a vein of coarse, cringe-worthy “humor.” In her recent book, she recounts how she sexually molested her six year-old sister. She won a Director’s Guild Award, and is a darling of the Hollywood community.

But I think conflating the achievements of the truly courageous Parks, the “first lady of civil rights,”  with Dunham is nothing short of dumb and insulting. It diminishes Park's landmark contribution to our country.

I fully appreciate that an overarching theme of this leg of the Joshua Tree tour is a sincere appreciation of, and tribute to America—even as Bono seeks to prod or even chide its citizens, all in an effort to encourage us to continue to “reach out and touch the flame.”

But I don’t think people like Dunham will be leading us to that promised land.

On the other hand, what would I know?

I just drive a truck...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Blogs...And Welcome to 'em

Spent part of the afternoon tidying up my various Blogger accounts, and reflecting on my side gig as a hack writer.

Since 2007, I’ve started four different blogs:

The first one, “Switch 2 Plan B,” I ginned up as an outlet to write about my life in the fire service. Humorous anecdotes. Trenchant observations. That sort of thing. Unfortunately, in 2011, I forgot to renew the effin' domain name on time and subsequently lost it. (I still have access to the posts—all 393 of them—on my Blogger dashboard, but it’s no longer publicly viewable.)

A few days after “Switch” disappeared from the internet, I was back in business with my current site, “The Damage is Done.” I like the new title better anyway.

But sometime last year, I realized I had slowed down with the amusing fire house stories and adulterated the site with rants on politics and culture. 

Jesus, no one wants to see that.

So I started “I Just Drive a Truck,” and have since exiled my crackpot political thoughts to that domain.

So today I cleaned out “The Damage is Done,” and purged the politics. You’re welcome. From now on, it’ll be reserved for work stuff, mostly, and other witty but innocuous observations. I may even sort through the archives and repost some of the old “Switch 2 Plan B” pieces. Because, let’s be honest, I peaked way back then.

Since 2007 across these four blogs I’ve posted over 500 pieces, received over 83,500 page hits, and garnered more than1300 comments…mostly “please stop writing” kind of remarks. Those stats are really unimpressive in the blogger world, by the way.

And at one time I even had one creepy stalker leaving disturbing comments.

Wait, what’s that? “What about the fourth blog?” you ask. Oh it’s still floating around out there somewhere. Good luck finding it…

Sunday, July 21, 2013

George Washington Slept...Here?

One of the first things I learned on my recent trip back east was the definition of the euphemism “historic site.”

Specifically, the word site (at least in National Park Service parlance) means that what you are looking for used to be...right...about...HERE

But it ain’t anymore.

While some of the iconic structures, roads, stonewalls, and earthworks so integral to, and extant during, whatever historic battle you’re retracing has indeed survived both the war and the ravages of intervening years, other such landmarks are long, long gone.

This was made painfully clear to me when one day I visited Ferry Farm, boyhood home of George Washington and, years later, site of Federal encampments during the Civil War. (I should clarify that this area is now privately owned and operated, so the Park Service is not to blame for this one. I have great regard for the NPS, by the way.)

After ponying up an $8 admission I was free to wander the grounds, but quickly realized there was nothing to see. There was no “here,” here anymore. The foundation of the original home had been located and excavated, but then--for reasons not entirely clear to me--it was reinterred. The four corners of the old foundation buried beneath the grass were marked by a low stack of modern masonry work. 

All I could do was stand near the very spot where George Washington once slept. Cicadas buzzed in the summer afternoon heat. Cars zoomed down the interstate a couple of hundred yards behind me. The nice young lady at the front desk conceded that, in fact, none of the quaint buildings, beautiful gardens, split rail fences, or stately trees were “original.” I hid my disappointment, but left after spending only about 15 minutes on the otherwise scenic grounds.

Across the Rappahannock in Fredericksburg, the wood-sided Innis house was once caught in a deadly crossfire between Confederate forces hunkered down behind a sunken road and stonewall, and waves of Federal troops on a suicidal charge towards their position. The Innis house still stands. You can walk inside and see dozens of small holes blasted through the interior walls by rifle fire during the daylong battle. 

...But Widow Stephen’s place next door survived the war only to burn down in 1917.

At Spotsylvania, there are literally miles and miles of low earthworks--trenches--hastily dug and topped with timbers by Confederate troops in 1864 in a vain effort against Grant’s unstoppable march towards Richmond. But the McCoull house which once stood in the middle of the salient is now just a...site

That structure is, well, history.

(At Harper’s Ferry, I surmised that my mildewed room at the Quality Inn may have rested over the approximate site of Pender’s lines. Perhaps I shared the lodgings with a spirit or two from those North Carolinian units.)

I spent a lot of time that week searching for various Holy Grails--famous houses, stonewalls, roads, and other historic landmarks, sometimes only to discover that what I was now looking at was merely a reproduction of what was once there.

Other times there was nothing there at all.

And so, when it can no longer be seen, it’s called a “site.”

And that’s a shame, by a damn sight.

(to be continued...)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lost in the Woods

I spent the past seven days hiking the Civil War battlefields of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Killing fields with iconic names like The Bloody Angle, Slaughter Pen, Devil’s Den, and the Sunken Road. Through dense wilderness, over rolling hills, and across now silent peach orchards, cornfields, and wheat fields that, for one terrible season, yielded only unspeakable human carnage and immeasurable tragedy. I stood in the cool waters of Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, and crossed the Rappahannock, Rapidan, Shenandoah, and dozens of other creeks, runs, and branches. I took in the expansive vistas from atop Maryland Heights, Marye’s Heights, Culp’s Hill, and Little Round Top

Today, some of these battlefields are utterly surrounded, besieged from all sides by a standing army of urban encroachment; others lay beyond the edge of forgotten gravel roads, or buried beneath 150 years of thick, tangled undergrowth.

And yet, I never found what it was I had come in search of: Answers to fundamental questions about this, the bloodiest, and arguably most significant war in all of U.S. history...

Why did they fight? What was accomplished? Was it worth it?

And the deeper I searched, the more disoriented I became.

I was lost in the woods.

(to be continued...)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

CPR, part 4 (Re-posted from "Switch 2 Plan B")

When we walked into the back bedroom, I was sure he was already dead.

Yup…Pretty sure.

See, I can’t remember really ever having to worry about it too much before. The paramedic squad would be right behind us, bring in their Zoll heart monitor, hook ‘em up, and most likely “call it.” But with the department’s recent reiteration of certain field protocols, the in-coming squad would be canceled if the on-scene firefighter/EMTs (emergency medical technicians) determined right then and there that the victim was dead.

So it was up to us.

As I’ve said before, there’s no point in working up an elderly person with extensive medical history who’s been down for a while. Chest compressions and all the drugs known to man just aren’t gonna help. So before we drag him in a tangle of blankets off his bed, ease him to the floor (best to do CPR on a hard surface), and start pumping on his chest, we can verify certain criteria.
Moments before, as we sped to the call, sirens and lights, our boot firefighter admitted he’d never been on a full arrest and had never used an AED (automatic external defibrillator) on an actual patient. Now I stood in a tiny bedroom with that same wide-eyed fireman waiting to follow my cues.

While our captain took the old man’s wife aside, we established that our victim was pulseless and apneic, and began checking for additional signs that would let us off the hook, in regards to initiating CPR.

Evidence of rigor mortis? I tugged gently on his lower jaw, and it did not seem to give readily. Post-mortem lividity? We rolled him slowly on his side, lifted his pajama shirt, and observed what appeared to be that purplish discoloration caused by pooling blood that can occur within 20 minutes of death.

The captain glanced up from his clipboard and looked at us expectantly. “Well?” the raised eyebrows seemed to ask. Are we going to cancel the medics and call it, or start CPR and continue them in?

Protocols also call for auscultating heart and lung sounds for at least 60 seconds, but as the rookie would later confess (and I remember all too well from my days as a new fireman), when you steady that stethoscope to the victim’s chest and listen intently, trying to block out all external distractions, you’re so nervous that you begin to second-guess whether the steady thrum you hear is indeed the pounding of your own heart and not the patient’s.

Nervous, because the next words out of your mouth had better be definitive.

Is he, or is he not, dead?

And even though that may be a foregone truth, it will be you, in fact, who acknowledges this reality for the first time—for the anxious wife, the concerned children, and the well-meaning friends all to hear.

And it will set off a chain of events.

A chain of “No.”

No, there will not be any life-saving measures…
No, there’s not going to be a paramedic squad coming in…
No heart monitors, no defibrillators, no ambu-bags…

And we have been told: When informing family members, do not use euphemisms such as “passed away” or “gone on,” or any other gentle yet gauzy terms you may be tempted to couch this hard truth in just to help sooth loved ones or ease your own conscience. The pronouncement must be unambiguous:

I’m very sorry

There is nothing more we can do

He is dead

…And so maybe I did pause, if just for moment. And in that split second, feel a dizzying kaleidoscope of sorrow and pain suddenly coalesce. Pulled back to those moments in my own life when someone I loved slipped away.

I’m very sorry

There is nothing more

The Doctor is In (Reposted from "Switch 2 Plan B")

I’m standing in the middle of the physical therapy gym of the rehabilitation center in downtown Boise.

As I wait for Gary, I watch others hobble in and out. A gray-haired man stares out the window as he slowly pedals nowhere on his stationary bike. Another man—his wife at his side—lies patiently on a padded table as a therapist attends to his ankle, gingerly working the joint back and forth. The elderly and young, sick and injured, all around me are people—crumpled, lame, exhausted.

Outside the huge plate glass window, pedestrians—Plato’s shadows—hurry by, pretending not to see into this brightly lit clinic. They are well-dressed and walk purposefully past.

Back here inside, I notice that even one of the therapists is limping.

And then


in this single moment

the entire universe

comes crashing into view

In here, the broken help the weak
the injured attend to the dying
while we all await our turn
as servant and the served

Every one of us
in need



None of us whole

none of us well

Each of us
on the other.

This is reality

This is how it was always supposed to be,
how it was all ordained:

Christ told us,
then showed us,
feed those who are hungry,
clothe those in need,
visit the sick and imprisoned…

because sooner or later
we will all find ourselves
starving, suffering, alone
in a prison of our own making

are shadows.
An unreal
where we imagine ourselves to be
healthy and happy


Inside is the real world
A community of the vulnerable
The weak and the broken
The tired
and waiting

So welcome to the hospital...

The doctor/
The patient/

Will see you now