Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reaction to "Ender's Game"

When I saw "Ender's Game" in the theater it brought back a lot of memories and feelings from my days in the US Navy. Especially my experiences in bootcamp. It was kind of disturbing. However, as I watched the film I did remember one experience that I was particularly proud of and I'd like to share it here. This was written while I was still in the Navy toward the end of my enlistment...
     March 25 of 1998 marked my five-year-anniversary of being in the Navy. As I’ve prepared for the end of my active enlistment, I’ve been looking back at the last five years, trying to see what it is that I’ve accomplished in the Navy. Certainly a great deal of personal growth, though that’s the kind of thing that’s difficult to measure on an evaluation “brag sheet.” I can’t say that I’ve turned too many heads professionally either. Though I do sincerely try to be a professional when it comes to work, I can’t seem to suppress the urge to take an assignment and put my own little Puente spin on it. Such as writing movie reviews in lieu of division news reports or ending briefings with jokes instead of formal dismissals. When asked why I joined the Navy in the first place, I can honestly say that it was a decision based on reasons economical, educational, political and even philosophical. I needed a job, an education, proof to myself (and potential voters should I someday run for elected office) that I’m a patriot and... a strange need to understand conformity. Well, after five years of living and working in an environment where conformity is the rule in almost every aspect of our lives, I’ve come to the understanding that I know what conformity is and I’m really not all that impressed with it. Oh, sure, there are a few things I’ll take with me, but, for the most part, I need to go back into the real world and be as different as I possibly can because that’s the only way I’m going to accomplish the other things I’ve set out to do.

     If I had to look back at my military “career” and try to determine exactly when my finest hour was, I can’t say it was when I became a petty officer. I remember going through “Petty Officer Indoctrination” and being told that it was the first of two major events in any sailor’s career (along with becoming a chief). But anyone with drive, dedication and, in some cases, patience, can become a petty officer. Is it the ribbons I wear? Yeah, right. I’m lucky enough to join the Navy while there were still American troops in the Persian Gulf so I’ve “earned” the National Defense Ribbon. I happened to be stationed at a Naval Security Group Activity at the right time so I “earned” a Joint Meritorious Unit Award. I managed to last three years without going to Captain’s Mast (UCMJ Article 15)... That’s not counting how many times I was threatened with it, but it’s what’s on paper that counts, so I “earned” a Navy Good Conduct Medal. No, I have to say that in the last five years that I’ve been in the Navy, my finest hour was in Boot Camp. It wasn’t anything obvious, like graduating, though I’m glad I did. Actually, it was something that occurred in the briefest of moments. It happened while my company was being “cycled.”

     I don’t remember what it was. But we screwed up somehow. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it was the first time that I didn’t let it get to me. Our Company Commanders decided to cycle us. Cycling is the act of performing calisthenics to within an inch of one’s life. And as if that wasn’t enough, other Company Commanders in the division were invited to join in. They threw everything in the book at us. Jumping jacks, eight count body builders, push-ups and sit-ups... but not ordinary sit-ups. They devised a sort of “Team Sit-up.” We all had to lock our legs together and formed a wave of human bodies. As the recruit to your left came down from his sit-up, you were going up. When you went down, the recruit to your right went up. There were probably eighty recruits on the floor. I imagine that, were we able to see ourselves (and actually do the exercise properly), we might have looked like some strange ciliated, two-toned blue, microorganism.

     Well, it didn’t take long for me to get winded. I was having a heck of a time on one particular set of sit-ups and I made the mistake of making eye contact with one of our visiting company commanders. He saw me struggling and, like a hyena going after its wounded prey, he walked right to me and bent down looking at me like a bug he was about to squash. And there I was, looking at him upside down as I struggled to get that next sit-up.

     “You better get up there, recruit!” he said.

     “I’m trying,” said I, struggling before him.

     “Well, I don’t think you’re trying hard enough!”

     From that moment, time seemed to stop–or at least slow down–so that I might comprehend what he had just said to me and formulate a response. In that instant, I knew exactly what he expected to hear. The words any struggling youth might utter in a time of stress like this one. The words, “I can’t.” True or not, they sounded pathetic and hopeless. And, quite frankly, I didnt want to give this man the pleasure. Somehow, he was enjoying this and I knew that I had to do something to take the fun out of it for him. It has never been my style to offer a conventional answer when an unconventional one will do. I looked straight into the eyes of this man and said, at the top of my lungs so that everyone in that compartment could hear it, “Then I’ll try harder!”

     The room literally fell silent. Few were aware of the exchange that had occurred, since most were occupied with their own efforts, but all were aware of my contribution to the little talk between myself and this senior petty officer. The look on his face was priceless and words could never do justice to the emotion that I could see in his persona. It was first a look of shock followed by one of utter disgust. He had no response to what I had said. If I had cried, “I can’t,” as he expected me to, I’m sure he could have come up with something. “It figures,” perhaps, or “Then what are you doing here?” But there simply was no comeback to “I’ll try harder.” So he did the only thing he could think of. He walked away... angry. I called his bluff and he knew it. In our war of words, though I was the one struggling on the floor even after he left, I had emerged the victor. And he knew that as well.

     And that was my finest hour.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Philip I (1998-2013)

One winter day I had planned on taking my dog, Philip, to my friend Sandy’s house. She’s his regular baby sitter. I put some of his dog food in a plastic container and loaded him into the car. I didn’t make it to Sandy’s and wound up just taking Phil with me to where I needed to go.

On our way home, we stopped at a grocery store. Standing outside the parking lot was a homeless man and his dog. He was holding a sign asking for loose change. I don’t usually give money to strangers on the streets. I’m not unsympathetic, I’m just limited with my own resources. I went into the grocery store and picked up some things I needed.

On my way out of the parking lot, I saw the man again and remembered the extra dog food I had packed for Phil. I stopped on the way out next to the man and his dog and opened my passenger side window.

“I don’t carry cash,” I said, honestly, “but I do have some extra dog food with me that your pooch can have.”

With a smile on his face, the homeless man said to me, “That’s even better than cash.” He took the food from me and said, “This will keep her warm and she keeps me warm.”

That night, my Philip was the hero. Though he’s always been my hero. Just by being in my life, Phil always made sure that I made my way outside to get some fresh air and sunlight. Even toward the end of his life, when he wasn’t able to tell me that he needed to go outside, I still made sure to take him out and spend time with him laying in the grass and getting some sun.

I miss Philip. Whenever I was away from him, I missed him. When I took him to the vet that last time, I missed him even before we said goodbye. I missed the energy he used to have. His personality that shined through his canine complexion.

In the end, he was just tired and hurting and I had to make the difficult decision to help him let go. Now It’s my turn to let go.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Childhood flashbacks

This week I worked on a movie called "Dear Dumb Diary." I was a background player portraying a cafeteria worker. The set was dressed like a modern middle school cafeteria and it brought back a lot of unpleasant memories for me.

First—and this wasn't a bad memory, just a weird one—part of the film included an 80s flashback so I saw a bunch of kids wearing neon and crimped hair. I haven't seen that since I was those kids' age.

Then there were the signs about the school being a "bully free" zone and promoting friendship over bullying. I was bullied a lot when I was growing up and back then, no one seemed to care. Not even the teachers. I even recall being bullied by a substitute teacher once.

There was also the fact that the scenes we were shooting were in a cafeteria. Lunch time was a difficult time for me. My parents didn't seem to care if me and my sister ate or not. They didn't sign us up for school lunch, nor did they put much thought into having much for us to take to school with us. As a result, I didn't eat much during lunchtime. There was one time I recall in elementary school when I got to have a school lunch. I stepped away from my tray for a minute and when I came back, someone had chewed up something and spit it into my food.

I was grateful for the ability to work on this film but I didn't like the memories it brought up for me.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Romance novels

I read a romance novel last week. A friend of a friend wrote it. I don't think I read a romance novel since "The Bridges of Madison County."

This novel was more of an erotic romance novel. The love scenes were a bit more detailed. I liked the story and loved the characters but being single, I found myself kind of annoyed.

Conclusion. A lonely person like me shouldn't read romance novels.