Just who the hell do I think I am, anyhow?
Well, it's a fair question. I've been wandering round blogs for purt' near 15 years, going back to when they were Atari 2600 versions of what's floating around now. I can't remember when I became a serial commenter on a few of them, but the moniker of "You can call me, 'Sir'" came about as a result of a brief conversation with a subordinate way back in another life. Though offered in jest, it sort of stuck and became an occasion of entertainment when offspring of the aforementioned subordinates would be encouraged to toddle over to me, teddy bear firmly in a headlock, offer me their hand, and squeak, "Hello, sir." It subsequently struck me as an original way to present myself to strangers, so I started using it as a comment handle and continue to go with it today. It should be noted for the more delicate readers that it's an option rather than a command.
Fascinating stuff, no? No.
In putting together the 100 Things below I found myself leaning more heavily toward the autobiographical than the mundane (24. I like puppies! 25. I like walking on the beach! 26. Grapes are super! (all true, BTW). So, with sincere and heartfelt apologies to Scott and his army of patent lawyers: Welcome to me, you.
1. I never knew my real father.
2. I was brought up in the formative years by the maternal grandparents.
3. Everything good I’ve ever done is a direct result of this.
4. I grew up idolizing my grandfather and his friends, all of whom, it seemed, had served in WWII.
5. To this day, I try to emulate their ability at understatement and humility.
6. They are, beyond question, the greatest people I have ever known.
7. My grandmother taught me common sense and how to cook; two talents whose value can never be overstated.
8. When my grandparents retired in the late 70s, they moved to Branson, Mo, which was a lovely place before satan got hold of it.
9. Between their leaving and my grandfather’s early death from bone cancer, the verdict is out on which was the bigger slap in the face during my adolescence.
10. I’m indirectly involved in cancer research now, though not necessarily by plan (press on, intrepid reader).
11. Following their exit to the burgeoning Musictown USA, the only good thing that I can say about my childhood is that Stalin was never directly involved.
12. Someone once told me that a less-than-stellar childhood was what made me so good with words.
13. I’d rather have the childhood, all things considered.
14. I grew up surrounded by farms and church steeples, which means that baling hay, confessing your sins to a dude, and drinking cheap canned beer was sort of expected.
15. Lucky for me, I’m not Catholic, so, y’know…two out of three.
16. To this day, I can barely look at cans of Old Milwaukee Light without gagging, but Strohs kind of gets me all misty-eyed and PBR makes me break out in a goofy grin that turns into a grimace after the initial gulp, then back to a grin again.
17. I had friends who drove combines on county roads LONG before they had driver’s licenses, some of whom immediately got into accidents after acquiring said licenses and despite the fact that they were maneuvering a vehicle lacking an enormous front-loaded thresher.
18. I continue to find this hilarious.
19. I still have the empty can representing the last beer that I drank with my high-school friends before heading off to basic training.
20. I am a sap.
21. I was told that there was no chance I’d survive basic training.
22. I survived.
23. I went to technical school in pre-casino Biloxi, Mississippi. There are no words to describe the boring-quotient involved with pre-casino Biloxi, Mississippi. On the other hand, the beaches were hazardous to one’s health, so it had that going for it.
24. My first permanent duty station was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
25. When I arrived, I shit you not, I actually watched a tumbleweed blow across the road in downtown Oklahoma City.
26. It grew on me with the help of certain people and a biker bar. Three cheers for Oklahoma bikers.
27. One of my first dorm roommates introduced me to Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. When I meet him in heaven, I will hug him long and hard and without shame.
28. I went to a Pearl Jam concert during their ‘Ten’ tour and didn’t buy a t-shirt because I was an idiot.
29. I have lived in McLoud, OK, and consider it the best full year of my life. This puts me in astonishingly exclusive company.
30. It was here that I learned how to make beer, build a deck, kill and cook a pig, and drink sweet delicious alcohol until Jesus showed up and said “’When’, my son.”
31. I applied for an ROTC scholarship during this little stretch of history and my commander at the time refused to endorse me, telling me that I didn’t have a chance because of my less-than mediocre high-school academic record.
32. I am motivated by people telling me that I will fail.
33. I went to night school full-time for a year to erase my lack of foresight as a teenager (Lack of teenage foresight? Really? Anyone else with this problem? No? Liars.).
34. I acquired a 3.6 GPA because physics is tricky.
35. I reapplied for the ROTC scholarship and the same commander wrote and signed the recommendation without an interview.
36. In 1994, I was one of a handful of enlisted people in my particular service awarded a 4-year ROTC scholarship to the school of my choice.
37. I chose the Virginia Military Institute.
38. I’m kind of a masochist like that.
39. Many people told me that there was no way I’d survive the first year.
40. The first year was certainly no picnic.
41. Still, again, I survived.
42. I hated the place for four solid years.
43. Now I consider it home.
44. During this time, I studied abroad in St. Andrews, Scotland, for a semester.
45. Did I mention that I’d been golfing competitively since I was 11 years old? This little excursion abroad was, therefore, a very big deal.
46. I drank and golfed and spent 5 solid months with a smile on my face, while making life-long friends from all over the Isles. There were a couple classes in there somewhere, but they were afterthoughts, really.
47. I was commissioned a 2Lt in May 1998, proving multitudes of people throughout my past, including myself, wrong.
48. I attended technical school in post-casino Biloxi, Missippippi, completing that circle and welcoming the first of my demons to the party.
49. I was exceptionally good at two-deck blackjack. For awhile.
50. My first permanent duty station as an officer was in Anchorage, Alaska. Holy crap, yo. Awesome? Yes? Awesome. Yes.
51. I was less exceptional at ONLINE blackjack. Heh.
52. The male/female ratio in Anchorage was 8/1 at the time, so I met a lovely girl in Seattle.
53. I became a big fan of the Alaska Airlines’ frequent flyer plan.
54. I learned how to fly single-engine aircraft among the Alaskan mountain ranges with the help of a fighter pilot who was, admittedly, a little insane and a lot cocky. Great instructor, though.
55. I caught fish the size of small children. They tasted great (the fish).
56. Everything I touched as an officer turned to gold and I was soon winning awards and thoroughly burning myself out. Hello, demon #2.
57. As my 3 years in Alaska drew to a close, I received my first choice of assignments to a special operations unit in England, set to depart on 11 Sep 01.
58. This assignment acquired a different flavor of interesting starting on 12 Sep 01.
59. After spending two incredible weeks with the main squeeze at the time, I flew to England never to see her again by my own choosing.
60. Some people spend their entire lives regretting a single act in the little kabuki theater of their existence. This one decision colors everything if they’re not careful. I have found this to be painfully true.
61. Upon my arrival in the UK, I bought a cottage not far from Cambridge in a village slightly larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a burgh. The cottage was over 3-times older than America.
62. I was a bartender in the pub, as villagers volunteered their services certain nights of the week. It was as amazing as it sounds, however…demon #3, on deck!
63. In the unit in which I was employed, I gained the respect of people whose respect was eminently worthy of being gained.
64. I worked myself into the ground preparing for the inevitable.
65. I remember the Christmas party that our unit held in 2002, sitting at a table and watching those under my charge with their families. It kind of haunts me sometimes.
66. That Spring, I had to watch as many of them went into harm’s way without me.
67. This still bothers me.
68. I followed a month later.
69. I remember the beginning and the end, mostly. They’re the only times worth remembering, I think.
70. I was among the last to leave the base we called home in The North and watched the rotor-wash raise the dust from the improvised basketball courts.
71. I recall wondering to myself, ‘What did we just do?’, and generally being overcome with a feeling of anti-climax.
72. Everyone who’d departed, returned, which is all one in such a position as I was can ever ask.
73. I won a couple big awards for my ability to manage my little slice of conflict.
74. I was given the opportunity to go to Normandy for the 60th anniversary.
75. I was saluted by veterans, peers of my grandfather and his friends.
76. This marked the summit of a highly unlikely career and I do recall having that thought as I sat on the rock wall overlooking Omaha Beach. It was the last peace I would have for nearly two years.
77. I had my identity stolen and used for something unthinkable.
78. I had to stand up and be accountable for it despite everything.
79. I saw how little the awards and the career really mattered and found this an extraordinarily difficult lesson, though one that remains the most important that I’ve ever learned.
80. I realized very quickly that loyalty is not a given.
81. I know what the bottom of depression's well looks like.
82. I remember hearing the word ‘Endure’ whispered to me every night for a couple months during this period. Seriously. Spooky, but timely.
83. I remain inclined to believe that it wasn’t me doing the whispering, my plans at the time being of a significantly less self-preserving nature.
84. I occupied myself with applying to graduate programs across the country and was subsequently accepted into all but one.
85. Having been awarded a full scholarship into one of these programs, I decided to attack a course of study involving subjects in which I had very little background.
86. I found a house that needed serious work, bought it, then spent six months gutting and remodeling nearly every room and much of the outside; catharsis, thy name is sledgehammer.
87. In the meantime, I began doing biomedical research in areas FAR beyond my ability, but managed to catch up by virtue of sleep being merely an option.
88. I successfully defended the Masters’ thesis in May 2008.
89. I started a Ph.D. in a subject well beyond my ability in August 2008.
90. I've been involved in research concerning autoimmune diseases and cancer, thereby closing a very strange circle.
91. I would never have had this opportunity had it not been for the identity theft and the subsequent end to the only career I'd ever imagined wanting.
92. I would never have survived that ordeal had I not gone to VMI and learned how not to quit when everyone (including myself) is saying that it’s the right thing to do.
93. I believe that faith works, though not in the canned ways so many evangelists like to romanticize.
94. I’m thankful for the pain and the darkness, because those are the places where one finds themselves. It’s true in every way that the sentence reads.
95. I've somehow managed to balance an appalling amount of cynicism and a dangerously low regard for society with a sincere desire to at least try to cure a disease or two, almost as if someone or something is daring me or telling me, yet again, that I'll fail.
96. I am an enigma.
97. I am blessed.
98. I am cursed.
99. I have persevered.
100. I endure.