Gushing Water and Non Judicial Punishment

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Everything about this is true. I first published this on my blog in November of 2009. A time later, my Company Commander, Captain Tye wanted to add his perspective…and that made this good story “pure gold.” Enjoy.

When I originally signed up to be in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, the limited billets open consisted of being a driver for the misguided children under Uncle Sam’s direction. Therefore, after Boot Camp I attended “tactical driving school” learning how to support troops in combat environments. Upon completion of boot camp and MOS training, I enrolled at Texas A&M. Relocating to central Texas required that I transfer to a Marine Reserve unit in Austin Texas. The catch; it was not a transfer to a Motor Transport unit, fitting my military occupation specialty, but an infantry unit….more specifically an Infantry Company. That suited me fine as I really didn’t want to be cooped up in a vehicle all day, even if it was a HUMV. The down side is that the main mode of transportation for an infantry guy is the high end black Cadillacs issued and worn on the feet of the Marine.

So here I was, assigned to second platoon, Bravo Company as a basic riflemen. Even though I had graduated high in my driving class and was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal, these skills would never be seen while shooting. Didn’t bother me a bit….in fact I dug it….Until…some admin guy made note that I had a military license to drive darn near anything the Corps had to offer. A couple of months later, I find my-freaking-self right back behind the wheel of a HUMV driving around either the company commander Captain Tye, or the much less important (but not in his mind) Gunny Reyes. Gunny was the company Gunny and wound bout as tight as a banjo string. For nearly 2 years, I drove…supported the the company with water and food….survived on little sleep and learned to talk to the Officers on the officer level and the gunny on a kindergarten level….it worked out.

On January 14, 1991, I had receive a phone call from the platoon sergeant. “Saddle up Dave, President Bush has scheduled a war to start tomorrow and our unit has been activated.” A week later 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines found themselves at Camp Pendleton California preparing themselves for combat situations occurring in an oversized sandbox halfway around the world.

The training exercises continued and at one point, the company was to complete a 25 mile night hump. For you civilian types a “night hump” is not a title of a porno movie but a long hike to take place under the cover of darkness. I would be supporting the troops and would be driving all night. After contemplating the schedule and the available fuel left in the tank, I deemed it necessary to refuel in the motor pool. Now is good time to clarify a few things. A week prior, the Regimental commander had issued a memo that ALL UNATTENDED VEHICLES would have chock blocks placed under the back driver side wheel. It should also be noted that the military HUMV has a hand break that is manually loosened and tightened. This hand break is the only mechanical device to keep the vehicle stationary while the HUMMER is parked.

I had documented the stop in my trip ticket, thrown the notebook over on to the console area between the driver and passenger seats and went into motor pool office to talk to the dispatcher about refueling. We joked around a bit and he was filling out paperwork while we both heard a loud bang and then a very loud “gushing sound.” We all ran out of the motor pool office only to find the vehicle I was driving had rolled down the hill about 75 feet and hit the only fire hydrant within 50 miles. The hydrant was broken off and the water was literally gushing, giving the HUMV under carriage a really good cleaning…..OH CRAP….or something like that.

What had happened is that the trip ticket book at hit the parking break, loosened it….and since I had not followed a direct order of Chocking the back wheel, my little humv rolled down like it was aimed right at the bulls eye….at the peak of a Southern California drought.

Needless to say the Regimental commander, Colonel SO-and-So…(I never knew his name…probably should have learned it) wanted the case to go to Regiment. Because I had been a “squared away” Marine with meritorious promotions and accommodations, Capt. Tye wanted it to stay at the company level. The compromise? Let Battalion handle it. Major So-and-so….I don’t remember his name either….wanted to make an example out of me. They took it as a Non Judicial Punishment case….no lawyers involved. Major So-and-so yelled at me awhile, Capt. Tye and 1st Sgt. Calloway spoke on my behalf…then Major so-and-so took a month’s pay, restricted me to base for 45 days and suspended any promotions for 6 months. That was the worst part as I was 2 weeks out from being promoted to Corporal – noncommissioned officer. He then ripped up the military driver’s license in front of me telling me it would be a cold day in hell before I drive in his unit again. I responded that I had wanted to do that about 2 years ago. He didn’t think that was funny, but Captain and 1st Sgt. did. I would run through hell in a gasoline suit for those two guys.

After all that was over, Captain Tye said, “it’s done…you’re a hell of Marine….but you can’t drive…and you don’t want to be riflemen do you?” 1st Sgt and I had worked out that I wanted to be in the mortar section. I had taken a liken to those guys and I really wanted go there. 1st Sgt. speaks up and says, “Captain what bout mortars….I think he’ll fit in there?” DONE…and for the next three years, I served as a 60 MM mortar man. They took me in with open arms and for my duration…made some of the best friends a guy could have. Oh, there are stories to tell there but that is for another day. Bravo Company Mortar team called themselves the TATANKA tribe…the Indian name for Buffalo..(Another story for another time) and each member had an Indian name….given by the team….you don’t have much choice…it’s given.

My Name…GUSHING WATER…go figure.

After my Company Commander, Captain Tye read this, he decided to document his point of view.   This documentation is as follows:

I remember well when this happened. 1stSgt Callaway walks into my hooch and goes, “Sir, we got a problem.”

“Yeah, 1stSgt?” “Elliott ran over one of those water things.”

I’m thinking, “WTF? Water things? A fire hose? A water buffalo? The Pacific Ocean?” The possibilities are almost endless at Camp Pendleton, even in the middle of the worst drought in 20 years. “What kind of a water thing, 1st Sgt? Something in the motor pool?”

“No, sir. He didn’t chock his vehicle. It ran down the hill and hit a fire hydrant.”

I go ballistic for about two minutes. A fire hydrant?? Callaway keeps trying to say something, but he can’t get a word in edgewise. For a couple of days now, he’s been on me to transfer you to the mortar section. He’s about got me convinced, but I want another driver before I lose you. We’re negotiating the final terms, and all we needed were a couple of more days for a replacement driver. You’d already been driving for far too long, and it was time to move you over where you could be a grunt, and get some NCO leadership skills exercised. This is probably going to F- that up big time, and after all of the time that you’ve been driving, with a spotless driving record. Well, spotless as far as I knew, and no one else was going to say anything about it.

After Callaway peels me off of the ceiling, he reminds me about Regiment’s recent edict about chocking vehicles. I’m back on the ceiling again for another couple of minutes. I wasn’t a big fan of Regt in those days for a couple of reasons.

Callaway lets me run out of gas, and we sat there for a minute. I said that we’ll just handle it ourselves at Company NJP. Callaway says, “Well, sir, let’s do it. I’ll go sell it to the Battalion Sergeant Major, and you talk to the Battalion Commander. We’ll cut the deal and handle it at our level.” We look at each other and nod.

Then he says, “But damn, sir. You shoulda seen it. It looked like a mini Old F’ing Faithful or something.” Which cracks us both up pretty good. We’re laughing our asses off about it. It’s really not funny, but the only thing that got damaged was a fire hydrant. Hell, we’ve blown up a lot worse than that. We figure we can dodge this bullet, so…

Callaway talks to the Bn SgtMaj. SgtMaj says, “No.” Callaway goes into his best sales job mode, “he’s a good Marine,” etc. “No.” Then Callaway gets pissed off about the whole situation, makes it really clear to the SgtMaj what he thinks about things. SgtMaj says good luck, but it’s not gonna happen. Regt really has a hard on with this one, especially since there have already been a number of accidents. Plus the Regt Cdr just issued his edict about chocking wheels a couple of days before the accident or something.

Callaway hunts me down as I’m on my way to find the Bn Cdr, gives me the scoop with what happened with the SgtMaj. I’m mildly irritated, but Tom Peeler’s the Bn Cdr, and there’s a lot of history between the two of us. I figure he won’t like it, but he’ll kick it over to me anyway, and then he’ll fade the heat from Regt for not referring it upstairs.

I go to find Peeler. He’s out. Gone. Emergency leave or something for a week or so; I can’t remember now, just that he wasn’t available. But I know the Major whose Acting Bn Cdr pretty well, too, so I figure we can still work it out. I start talking to him, and he won’t budge on it. He’s referring it to Regt, per Regt’s direction. And he won’t let it wait until Peeler comes back, because Regt wants it up to them immediately; the Regt Cdr wants it handled at the Regimental level.

The Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed starts explaining “the situation” to me. I start explaining it back to him. I tell him that you’re a Marine that I’d take into combat with me any day, and I’ll hammer the crap out of you at Company NJP. I tell him I’ll also chew out the 1stSgt, the Company Gunny, your Platoon Commander, Squad Leader, Fireteam Leader and everybody else within two degrees of separation of your chain of command. Everybody will be happy that this good Marine got his ass handed to him at NJP because of one minor f-ing accident in years of safe driving.

I don’t tell him that Callaway and I have already decided that I’d give you a 6-month suspension, and if you didn’t have any more vehicle accidents within that time, that everything would go away. Clean record. And the day after NJP, your butt would be in the mortar section, humping a mortar baseplate. We could make that look like part of the punishment. You wouldn’t be driving anymore, so you sure as hell wouldn’t have any more accidents with a military vehicle. A clean-record, no-driving, mortar man.

I said that I thought the Regt Cdr was off on some boondoggle somewhere anyway, and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. The Major is adamant about it. I engaged my call sign, Frag. As in, it takes six seconds for a grenade fuse to go off, and that’s about how long you’ve got to get something unscrewed before I go off. He let me go off.

A few minutes later, the Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed said something like, “Captains don’t usually talk to Majors like that, and you shouldn’t speak so loudly like that about Regiment. You never know who might come walking by. How about if I handle it, and we’ll take it middle of the road? He won’t get off easy, but it won’t be as bad as it could be. Regt will have to be satisfied with what they get.” The Major really was a pretty good guy, too, so he took some heat for not kicking it to Regt.

Anyway, you got moderately hammered, and Callaway and I had a drink about it afterwards. You ended up in mortars anyway, and you seem to have recovered pretty well from the experience.

 

 
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The Canyon Spoke…or how I learned to Balance

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The canyon speaks. The instructions to life are there if I listen.

I drive through the Texas Panhandle and the sea of grass is broken up only by a barbed wire fence and the occasional one traffic light towns. If you happen on just the right two lane road, you may just catch a glimpse of Palo Duro Canyon.

I have been going there since I was a five year old kid. We would camp. We would play. We would watch the production of TEXAS! In that inspiring amphitheater.   I still see the cowboy riding that white stallion along the ridge of the canyon.  Silhouetted by the sun, the horse would gallop and the cowboy wielded the Texas flag, that Lone Star and all it symbolized. You never forget your first trip to the canyon.  Never.

I have been back several times.   As a youth, we camped there with my Scout Troop.   As a family we would return from time to time. After graduating high school, it would be several years before I would make it back.

It was to run a 50 mile ultra-marathon one brisk October Morning. I stood listening to a bagpipe player play amazing grace.  The sound echoed of the canyon walls in the predawn morning.  The canyon always exists, in my mind, on each end of the extremes.   As the sun creeps over the eastern edge of the canyon, the beauty took my mind to my Maker in heaven…. as I begin to prepare to take my body through the depths of hell.

There was no balance. That morning was on the edge of freezing.  That afternoon, the mercury rose above 90 degrees.  In retrospect, that day was a microcosm for areas of my life.  To live as close to the edge as possible, all or nothing.  Extreme.

Only 9 months earlier, I existed to work and sit on the couch. Now shivering in the predawn chill, I was in the best physical condition of my life.  A normal existence was not possible.  Do not run a marathon.  Run two, back to back, off road.  My training was on the edge as well.  Some Friday evenings, I would run all night long.  I would run 8 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday and total over 50 miles in those two days.  The laser focus and intensity called for one thing…to train, always on the edge.  In my mind, if I wasn’t training, I was losing ground.

I never missed any one of my children’s events. More than once I would be on a ball field coaching at 8:00 A.M. after running all night.  Regardless of being present, always, somewhere in the back of my mind, was the training; the event.

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For six years I lived on that ragged edge of The Extreme. I have no regrets. I loved it.  But as the kids got older, it became ever more difficult.  Do not allow me to pretend I had balance.  As the edge begins to crumble, one realizes that balance was only an illusion.  The providence of God began to change things that mandated a schedule change.  Work out intensities waned.  Work out partners came and went.  The long Saturday cardio sessions went from 8 hours to 6…then to 5. My 1000 rep leg days (where I would close out the workout with three sets of fifty reps, leg pressing 450 lbs) were no longer.   That ragged edge I lived on cratered.

The Lighthouse formation in Palo Duro Canyon is iconic. The hike is only 5 miles from the main road.  But once you get close to the formation, it becomes perilous.  You carefully shuffle around, feet on the edge.  Many don’t make this last few hundred meters because of the potential danger.  If you lose your balance, chances are you may be helicoptered to the nearest trauma center.  The payoff for those who overcome fear and timidity, a view that humbly acknowledges a Higher Power.  Thousands of years of eroding away presents a photograph of epic beauty. And the key:  Balance.  Yes, in a land of extremes, true balance to take you the place to enjoy what is beautiful.

I had made a conscience effort to introduce real balance within my training. Many hours I felt broken. I would tell myself how I was a shell of my formal self.  I would question my ability after only a 2 hour run. I would question my identity.  I would question my purpose.   The struggle was real.  The struggle was intense.  The struggle was required.

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Real balance of life began to evolve. So did the metamorphosis of what I thought of myself.  I became a better husband and father.  Despite my Herculean efforts not to let training encroach on the family, it did.  Balance in my life was a mirage.  If I continued to shuffle along the edge as I had for the past 6 years, there would be a world of regrets.

Those past six years eroded me down to something that was better than before and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Pages can be written on how hours of solitude revitalize one’s spirit.  But the paradox of the intense training had transformed me to be one dimensional. Interest I had been passionate about had been placed down in the cellar and only existed in the dark corners of my mind.  I hardly read much.  I didn’t write.   Performing magic was a lifetime ago.  It was not the season of my life to pour so much energy into such epic goals while sons and daughters cheered me on from the sidelines. Oh, one day I may return.  And maybe from time to time, train for an event.  But for now, I cannot let it consume me.

Balance allowed these other passions to come back alive.  But more important, I was living in the moment with my family. Going to all day wrestling tournaments, softball games, band concerts and being in that moment.  Those days will soon be looked upon as only memories.

Now, I train only 5 times a week and my Saturday workouts are down to about two hours. Yes, I still have to fight back insecurities of when I contemplate, “where I use to be.”  I have to say with the balance it took to softly tread around the edge, it was where I found real joy…. Where I saw the beauty of my life in the  moment….and I have to remind myself of the balance every day…up to the Light House, so that He can show me something epic…and that something epic had to be worn down a bit to reveal its beauty.   So the Canyon spoke.

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Landry Lockett has been a friend for a long long time. My grandmother taught his dad in elementary school.   In small town Texas, that means we ran around and played…and caused a little trouble along the way.  He is a family man with a beautiful wife and three kids.  He has his PhD in something to do with farming.  His blood is Texas red dirt in color.  His roots run deep into the heart of Texas.  He loves Jesus, he loves the outdoors…and he loves Texas.  He has become a photographer that people have begun to talk about…in a good way.  He captures Americana, Farming, Ranching and the extremes of Texas.  All these photos are from Palo Duro Canyon and taken by Landry.  I encourage you to go to http://www.palodurocreative.com/ and check out his work.  Thank you and you welcome.  

At the Diner…(or Men Gossip Too!)

This story is completely fiction…all of it.  But if you are ever fortunate enough to stop by a small town west Texas diner sometime, chances are you will hear a conversation like this. Enjoy!

 

Yeah, you can sit there. Wha’s dat? Oh! Oh, Morton’s bout 30 minutes west here and Clovis is up the road from there a bit. I say you get there in bout hour an half. Right down 114.  Ah naw, won’t be no traffic.  You not familiar with west Texas are ya?  Moline Iowa huh?  You sell what? Oh, Well you in the right part of the country to sell tractors, don’t matter if it’s John Deere or not.

Yeah, I lived here all my life. These parts anyway.  Grew up in Ralls. You know where that is. Just outside Lubbock.  Dad was a farmer.  Graduated school, and I knew I wasn’t going to be no farmer.  I got hired on with Amoco. Back then it was Standard Oil of Indiana.  Retired 15 years ago.  Huh? Oh, I worked for them nearly 42 years.

This place has been here over 40 years. If you want to know what’s goin’ on.  Git here early.  I have breakfast here every Wednesday and Friday.  I use to eat here only on Wednesday’s.  Til my wife passed away.  The cancer got her bout seven years ago or so. Then I started comin’ on Friday’s too.

You can’t beat the breakfast here. It’s all good.

Hey Fred, you’re late.   Your crew has been hee hawing for 15 minutes.  Hey, before you go, meet….excuse me, I don’t believe I caught your name.  Fred, meet Ronny Facius.  He sells tractors. Ronny this is Fred.  Well, you better get over der to defend your honor.   Tell Linda I said hi.

Linda’s his second wife. Ole Fred’s first wife ran off with a football coach here at the high school.  If you ask me, Ron, he’s better off without that old broad.  Na…I probably won’t git remarried.  At my age….nah.

Those ole boys over there with Fred….they gossip worse than a bunch of women. You want to know whas going on in this town.  Sit at the next table over and just listen.  I tell ya…you won’t get that much information at a Baptist Women’s luncheon.

Whacha you have over at dat table there is a Baptist deacon, a funeral home director, a couple of retired school administrators and a ole farmer. Naw… he won’t buy a tractor. He’s done farming.  Five years ago.  Turned it over to his son.  Third generation.  Naw, his son don’t need one either.

Ron, see the heavy guy? Yea, the one with the Sports coat.  He’s the one that plants people in the ground.   Everybody calls him Big John! Nice man.  Goes to the Methodist church in town. His wife died of the cancer too.  Oh, I‘d say about 3 years ago.  But any way, the stories he comes back with from the morgue.  There was Thlema.  She played the piano down at First Baptist.  She was killed in a car wreck.  Word had it, she had a tattoo on her lower back.  A butterfly.  No lie.  And she was north of 65 years too.  Hahahaha. I know! I guess she found Jesus after she found that tattoo.

That’s nothing though. You should had heard bout Rodney.  Wife slit his throat in his sleep. Yeah.  With a kitchen butcher knife.  Found his phone.  Guy was having an affair with a teacher in Lubbock.  That trial was the biggest thing round here for bout six months. Big John said she mus been mad cause she slit that artery clean through. Huh? Oh, that’s before Fred’s wife ran off with Coach Johnson.  I’d say bout 4 years ago.  Hell, I don’t know.   She got off on the “Crime of Passion” defense.  Went back to Oklahoma with her two daughters.

Jimbo Hodges is the Baptist deacon over there. Huh?  You tell me which one you think he is. Hahaha.  That’s right.  Runs his own business. Book keeping, Accounting and such.  Pretty squared away guy if you ask most of the people in this town.  If you ask me though, well, I wondered whated happen if the IRS ever got ahold of his books. Oh, no…no. I ain’t got proof. Just a haunch. Plus I heard if you take him golfing, you will need to take another Baptist.  Otherwise, he will drink all your beer.  Hehehehe.  It’s an old joke. With him though, I think it’s mostly true. He does have one purty wife.  I’ll say that.  Now I ain’t lusting or nutin.  Hell , we go to the same church.  She is what we would call a “hiiiigh maintenance woman.”  Always looks like she stepped out of the band box.  Huh? Like she is always dressed up.  Make up, hair, clothes.  Like I said. She is really purty.  Doesn’ require a lot of paint on the barn either, if you know what I mean. A real natural beauty.

The old man with the grey sweat top on. He was superintendent of our school district.  Retired now.  No, he didn’t grow up here.  They brought him in from east Texas.  Really good guy….and a fine golfer too.  No. I don’t play golf any more.  Hell, I never played much anyway.  That hole is too small. Hehehehe.  Your a sales guy, you have to play golf.  No?!?!?  Don’t know if you’re a real sales guy then.  Hehehe.

Anyways, that guy’s name is Randell. He has a son that graduated from MIT and Lord have mercy, got recruited by the CIA.  If you hear Ole Randy talk about it, you’d think he won the war on Iraq all by himself.  We, pretty good friends and all, But CIA boys don’t like publicity…at least as much publicity that Randy gives his son.  His wife died about the same time as mine.  Caught the cancer too. But she hadn’t turned fifty yet.

Yeah, now that you mentioned it. Lots of cancer.  Hell, that other guy over there in the red shirt.  See him?  He is a retired high school principal.  He had both a son and wife die of the cancer.  Now, I can’t prove anything as such.  But I always suspected there’s sumtin around here that is causing it.  I don’t know if it’s the water, or maybe the oil and gas industry around here.  But we sho seem to have a lot of the Cancer.   But it’s more than jus around here.  Seems like every week at the Wednesday prayer service, there is a request for someone battling the cancer.   It made my wife shrivel up to nutin.  She was a strong lady and dat cancer….and the treatments.  Sometimes I think dats worse.  Wha’s that? Naw, it dudn’t bother me to talk about it.  It use to….but that was a long time ago.  We all go some time.  Just ask big John over there.  None of us make it out alive.  Then you meet Jesus.  That’s if you’ve given your heart to the Good Lord and all. Been a Baptist all my life.

Yeah…yeah. I need to be going too ole Ronny boy.  Yeah.  That’s right!  Just git on 114 and it’ll take your right to Morton.  About 15 miles you will pass Whiteface.  You blink, you missing it.  Then you keep going.  To git to Clovis you going to need to go north.  I don’t remember that highway.  Never had much a reason to make it out that way much.  Yeah.  I gotta go to the bank.  Always on Wednesday.  No. No real reason.  When you git my age Ronny boy, the bank becomes a social event. Hehehehehe.  That and going to the Proctologist.  Hahahahah.

Hey Jimbo, tell that beautiful wife I said hi. You boys stay out trouble now.  Especially you Fred.

The Great Fire of 1987…(or How to Win Homecoming Hall Decorating Contest)

It was the meeting of the minds, or at least some of the Levelland Senior Class. It was also homecoming week in the small west Texas Town and James, the class president was holding that meeting of the minds in his parents’ home.  It is important to note, at this juncture, that the parents were not home.  And in a small west Texas town, homecoming ranked just behind early settlers day and the second coming of Jesus Christ.  They called it homecoming as if people actually made it back for a Friday night football game.  The truth was, if an individual did escape the gravitational pull of self-descriptive Levelland, the likely hood of making it back for a Friday night ball game was zero.  None the less, homecoming was a big deal.  And big enough to have a meeting of the senior class minds.

This meeting’s topic, “Homecoming Hall Decorating Contest!”  A traditional ritual where each grade decorated the assigned halls depicting how the great Levelland Lobos would lord over the Canyon Eagles in the epic battle of good and evil.  Or at least in a mediocre played game by a team who hadn’t seen the play offs since the birth of any residing senior.   The class president spoke up, “any ideas on what we are planning for this year’s theme.”  You had to have a theme.  It wouldn’t be good hall decorating if you didn’t have a theme.  And it wouldn’t be a winning hall if it wasn’t good hall decorating.  And the seniors have never lost a hall decorating contest.  And By Gosh, they weren’t starting now.  “This is homecoming…not the Rapture.  Jesus Christ has that covered.  But the seniors will win this one.  Simply, because we are seniors.”

It was quickly determined that the décor would be about “Roasting those Canyon Eagles.”  The girls were working out the details on what the “big wall” would show.  The guys didn’t really add much in the decorating category.  In fact, the seventeen year old guys were there more for the girls and for offering smart aleck comments.   Frankly, you wanted the guys to be present at the meeting for the “girls and the smart aleck comments.”   If “decorating prowess” was what was hoped for from the boys, then the football game was further out of hand before kick off than one could have imagined.  Especially in Levelland.

“Oh my Gosh!,” exclaimed Rhonda.  “We have to decorate the display case in Mrs. Griffin’s ‘Home ec’ class!”

After lots of ideas being thrown around, one finally caught some traction.  “I got it!” exclaimed Karen.  “Let’s dress the lobo mascot outfit on a mannequin.  Have him roasting a chicken on a grill.  It’ll be real burnt an all.  Above his head will be one of those things you see in cartoons that says, ‘We like our Eagles Well Done.’ ”

“One of those cartoon things, huh?” chided Marcus, “I think they call it a dialog bubble.”

Evidently this idea won by default as the girls sent the guys scurrying to United Supermarket to buy a full chicken.   As best as anyone could remember, the boys had boycotted any idea of “burning the chicken in the oven.”  Preston thought that it would be much more economical and a lot more fun to just take the chicken out back on the dirt alley.  Pour gasoline on it.  And let it burn.  The girls didn’t think that was the best idea but were quickly outvoted. Mainly because James quickly ran to the garage and returned holding a red plastic container designed to specifically hold gasoline.

Marcus grabbed the frozen chicken from United Supermarket, tearing off the plastic wrapping from the chicken.  A hoard of 17 year old boys followed Marcus and sauntered out the back gate to the undeveloped dirt alley.  The wind was blowing the tall dried grass along the alley. The acrid odor of oil drilling rigs drifted in from the north.  That odor was just something one got use to when they live out on the plains where farming and oil were what brought in the money….especially in the brisk night air. James’ younger brother had run to the kitchen for the matches.  He was two years behind James and was more amused at the idea of catching a chicken on fire, than the potential outcome of starting a flame in an alley with a brisk wind and dried, dead grass.

Preston grabbed the red container and liberally poured gasoline onto chicken sitting on the dirt. The gasoline fumes wafted and the mixed with the oil field smell.  No one really noticed the smell though when Kevin lit the match and threw it on the doused chicken.  The flame roared up and a minute later subsided to nearly nothing.  As the gasoline burned off, the chicken was left mildly singed and mainly still raw…half frozen.  It was so obvious that you had to keep pouring gasoline on it.  And you had to keep pouring gasoline on it before the flame went completely out so that you would waste no time relighting it with matches.  It was quite apparent that Preston would be in charge of this very precarious task of providing gasoline to a an open flame on a raw, half frozen chicken sitting on a dirt path behind a house surrounded by dry grass and a brisk evening wind.

Seventeen year old boys get bored inside the time it takes to change a light bulb. After dousing the mostly raw, half frozen chicken from United Supermarket three or four times, the excitement quickly subsided.  That was until Preston started pouring gasoline down the alley making a trail of a combustible fluid.  The flame would run from the mostly raw, half frozen chicken from United Supermarket down the dirt trail.  Preston was good at this as he could get that flame trail about ten feet long.

Somewhere in this well executed scheme to roast a chicken, things went kinda awry. James didn’t see it exactly happen.  What he did see was his younger brother, who seemed to be in awe of the older boys’ skills of manipulating gasoline and flame concurrently, on fire…somewhere around the head and arm areas.  Additionally, several fires were flaming up among the dead grass along the dirt alley.  If it wasn’t for the hazardous potential, the orange flames would have been really pretty and comforting in the brisk night air.  James ran to fill up a five gallon bucket that was stranded in the backyard.  Even though he only filled the bucket half full, it seemed like it took forever because in Levelland you are under the restrictions of the water pressure produced from one of the three water towers.  The thoughts that ran through James’ mind while filling that bucket  were to first put out his brother, who would by this time, sure to be hauled off in an ambulance to a burn ward… he would probably have to call 911 because by the time this damn water bucket gets filled, all that damn grass will be on fire and half the damn neighborhood will burn down and this will be one of the hardest things to explain to the his parents and the cops and the fire department…that they only meant to roast a chicken so that the Seniors would win the hall decorating contest because the seniors never lose….and.

James ran through the gate to the alley with water sloshing out of the bucket with each step. Evidently, the same boys that had incredible technique in operating gasoline dispensing to open flames where pretty good firemen.  James gazed in wonder as he realized that half the damn neighborhood would not burn down.  In fact, most the seventeen year old boys where stomping around, putting out the flames, beating them back in what looked like a pagan ritual of stomping square dancing and yelling things that would not be uttered in First Baptist Sunday School.  James’ little brother was no longer on fire either.  Lack of eyebrows and arm hair where the only indication that he had impersonated a stuntman on fire in the latest Chuck Norris movie.

After that brief stint of excitement, the chicken was still mostly raw, half frozen and wreaked of gasoline. The brain trust of the boys present made an executive decision.  A handful of the guys went up to school and broke into the cheerleader’s storage closet.  They quickly grabbed the black and brown temper paints used to paint posters and huge signs for the football pep rallies.  James will tell you that if you mix black and brown paint and apply liberally to a mostly raw, half frozen, gasoline fumed chicken from United Supermarket located on College Avenue, you can get it to look like it was burnt to a crisp. James never mentioned to anyone that the “burnt to a crisp” chicken was only camouflage and that the bird was one big breeding ground for salmonella.  The other issue with that is after two days of sitting in a display case located in Mrs. Griffin’s Home Ec class…well, a raw chicken can get what Mrs. Griffin kindly called “ripe.”  At which point, James was called out of class early Friday Afternoon to come dispose of a chicken that was nearly the root cause of burning down Cherry Street.  If Mrs. Griffin was ever concerned about salmonella, she never mentioned it.  She also didn’t know that a “ripe” chicken in a display case was a minor incident compared to the Great Alley Fire of 1987.