Tuesday, September 06, 2016

2076; A Dream

The Colonel dreamed last night; a dream as vivid and real as a documentary. The year was 2076. The Colonel, at 120, though chair-bound, was as clear of eye and as sharp of mind as ever – thanks to corneal transplants and a microchip behind his left ear.

In his dream, the Colonel’s progeny – six generations and nearly 300 in all -- had gathered to celebrate his birthday. As was his custom, following a personal key lime pie and cake for the masses, the Colonel slammed his palm on the table and announced, “Everybody outside on the porch. It’s story and game time!”

Helped to his rocking chair on the front porch, the Colonel took his seat and surveyed his family spread out on the lawn. “Well, what’ll it be? What story do you want to hear?”

A chorus of children’s voices exploded in shouts of favorites. The adults smiled and laughed at the calls. The Colonel’s fanciful tales had entertained his children for nearly a century.

And, then, one child’s voice lifted above the others, “Tell us a history story, Colonel!”

Ignoring the looks of abject horror suddenly etched on the faces of the adults – his fanciful tales were over relatively quickly; his history lectures, not so much -- the Colonel smiled broadly, leaned forward in his rocker, and fixed his approving eyes on the child after his own heart, “What history do you want to hear, young man?”

“Tell us about the Tallahatchie Republic, Colonel!”

The Colonel sat back, fixed his gaze on the middle distance, and rocked his chair slowly, “That is a name the Colonel has not heard in a long time.”

An impertinent voice from the front row chirped, “Why do you always call yourself ‘The Colonel?’”

The Colonel’s Lady, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, seated in her rocker to the Colonel’s left, hushed the child, “Quiet, sweet boy, the Colonel will talk himself to sleep shortly and then y’all can go play.”

The Colonel continued to gaze into the middle distance.

“Tell your history story, dear,” the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda encouraged.

The Colonel continued to gaze into the middle distance.

“Dear? Colonel? Hey, knucklehead!"

“Huh?,” the Colonel snapped his head around. “What, now? Is it nap time?”

“Not yet, dear. Tell your story, first,” the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda cooed.

“Well, then, where were we?” the Colonel asked his audience. “Oh, yes, the history of the Tallahatchie Republic. Well,” he settled back in his rocker, “in order to understand the history of the Tallahatchie Republic, we need to understand the things that led to the establishment of the Tallahatchie Republic. The first thing that really got things going was the election of 2016.”

“A billionaire real estate tycoon and reality TV celebrity won the presidency in 2016. Donald Trump was behind in the polling until the debates. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, coughed incessantly during the entire first and second debate, and was so obviously medicated in the third, that public opinion swung narrowly in Trump’s favor.“

A hand shot up, “what’s TV?”

“Television. That reminds the Colonel; he wants your undivided attention. Turn off your game feeds.”

The kids grumbled and whined, but all blinked twice and gave their undivided attention to the Colonel.

“So, anyway,” the Colonel continued, “Trump’s behavior in office was even more divisive than his predecessor’s and the mid-term elections in 2018 returned the Democrats to power in the House and Senate. Trump addressed the nation the next night on TV from the White House, expressed his disdain for the ‘rigged system’ that not even he could surmount, and announced his resignation. Trump concluded his address with the statement, “I’m tired of living in this dump. I’m outa here.”

“Vice President Mike Pence was sworn in as President the next day and, in accordance with the requirements of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, immediately submitted for Congressional approval his choice of Senator Ted Cruz to be his Vice President. The Senate debated the issue for three weeks, and then adjourned without decision; leaving the issue for the new Senate to address. The new, Democrat-controlled, Senate refused to even allow debate on Pence’s pick for three months. In April of 2019, President Pence was found dead in his bed of an apparent suicide. Evidently, he had smothered himself with his own pillow.”

“The next in line for the Presidency, per the Constitution, was the Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the nation’s first woman president. Her pick of Corey Booker for Vice President was immediately approved by Congress.”

A hand shot up from the masses at the Colonel’s feet.

“Yes, Number 231?”

“Is that when you declared the Tallahatchie Republic?”

“Nope. Be patient, little one. We’ll get there.”

The Colonel continued his lecture, “President Pelosi’s first months in office were marked by passage of more legislation forwarding the socialists’ agenda than seen since the FDR administration. The Hate Speech Elimination Act made all but the most “progressively-themed” speech illegal, effectively shut down conservative talk radio, and even private expression of conservative thought. The remaining Republicans in Congress never even mounted any opposition – the majority of them were never really conservative, anyway. A challenge to the law was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote (Trump’s ‘mainstream compromise’ justice pick in early 2017 sided with the majority who found an unwritten Constitutional right to not be offended based on the also unwritten Constitutional right to privacy).”

Another hand shot up, “Is that when you declared the Tallahatchie Republic, Colonel?”

“Nope. Not yet.”

“The next bill signed into law by President Pelosi was the American Safety & Security Act which outlawed private ownership of handguns and any long gun with a magazine capacity greater than two rounds. A court challenge based on the 2d Amendment was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote. When local law enforcement authorities, particularly in the South and Mountain West refused to confiscate illegal weapons, Congress passed and Pelosi signed the American Safe Policing Act which federalized all law enforcement in the nation.”

“Bet that’s when you declared the Tallahatchie Republic, huh, Colonel?”

“Nope.”

“Did they come get your guns, Colonel?”

“Oh, they came. They even searched the house and property, but didn’t find a firearm anywhere. The Colonel told ‘em that somebody must’ve broke in and stole all his guns. When they asked how come the Colonel hadn’t reported it, he told ‘em he was now because he just noticed they were missing.”

“Where’d you hide, ‘em, Colonel?”

“Why, the Colonel is surprised at you, Number 252! He would never do anything illegal,” the Colonel grinned conspiratorially. “Anyway, there must have been a very active gun-theft ring hereabouts because folks all over told the Feds the same thing – they had just noticed that morning that their guns had all been stolen during the night.”

“What happened, next, Colonel?”

“Well, things muddled along for several years. Most folks were smart enough not to openly defy the Feds, particularly after the Little Rock Massacre. The Democrats renamed their party the Democratic Socialists and doubled down on their governing philosophy of paying for huge social programs by taxing the wealthy and corporations at rates over 90%. The US military was slashed by two-thirds and defense spending diverted to expanding social programs. The economy was in a depression by the summer of 2024. If a Republican party had still existed at that point, they might have mounted an electoral challenge and gained control of Congress and the Presidency. But, the Democratic Socialists had too much of a stranglehold on the reins of politics – nearly 70% of the voting population was dependent on government assistance.”

“Is that when you declared the Tallahatchie Republic, Colonel?”

“We're getting close, youngster. Hang in there.”

“Does anyone know what happened in the fall of 2024?” the Colonel asked.

“Oooh, oooh, I do, Colonel, I do!”

“What?”

“The Triple Whammy!”

“That’s right, smart guy! The Triple Whammy. Within two months’ time, three major natural disasters struck the Continental United States. First, a Category 3 Hurricane roared up the Eastern Seaboard and came ashore just south of Atlantic City. A 25-foot storm surge and torrential rains inundated the New York metropolitan area. By the time the storm curved out to sea north of Boston, ten million people – most packed in cities -- were without power, clean water, and, after three days, out of food. As the Federal government scrambled to respond, it quickly became clear that major active duty military resources were needed. An air-heavy joint task force was formed. Helicopters were the key. From ships at sea and from points outside the affected area a steady stream of rotary wing aircraft flew in supplies. It wasn’t near enough, and within a week, the region was in open rebellion. President Pelosi declared martial law, and directed three army and one Marine division to occupy the region.”

“Three weeks after Hurricane Maureen hit, the Big One – a long forecasted 8.0 earthquake -- struck Southern California. The immediate death toll was greater than any other single event in the history of the nation. The Port of Los Angeles – the nation’s largest – was practically destroyed. Infrastructure providing transportation, power, water, and food resupply was cut in numerous locations throughout the region. Strong aftershocks stymied recovery efforts. President Pelosi didn’t wait for the riots this time and immediately declared martial law in the region. The nation’s remaining military resources flowed to Southern California.”

“And, then, we got hit. Right before Thanksgiving, an earthquake struck along the New Madrid Fault. Memphis virtually collapsed and burned. St. Louis suffered severe damage. And, just like when quakes struck along the New Madrid Fault in the winter of 1811 and 1812, the aftershocks over the next couple of months were just as strong as the initial quake. Bridges across the Mississippi River were dropped from St Louis to Vicksburg. In the area where Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas come together, bridges across smaller rivers and ravines collapsed. Highway overpasses collapsed. Vehicular traffic throughout the region was limited to local runs, but that didn’t matter -- within a week gas and diesel at stations was gone.”

“So, the president declared martial law here and you declared the Tallahatchie Republic, right Colonel?”

“Nope. President Pelosi didn’t bother to declare martial law this time. In fact, she practically ignored the fact that the Mid-South region needed help. Actually, she didn’t have much choice. There wasn’t much relief left to provide, nor any troops left for occupation duty.”

“Because things only got worse to the north, and the Mississippi bridges were down, the only directions that folks who were able to get out of Memphis could go were South and East. Within a week of the Thanksgiving Temblor, nearly a half million refugees were walking out of Memphis. Desperate for food and water, they looted every town in their way. When some small towns armed themselves with the firearms that miraculously appeared after being reported “stolen”, their ad hoc and disorganized defenses temporarily slowed but didn’t stop the flood. In fact, resistance only served to harden and organize large groups of refugees into armies in their own right.”

“Why didn’t the police and sheriffs stop ‘em, Colonel?”

“Stop ‘em? Heck, a lot of former law enforcement officers were leadin’ ‘em. They had hungry kids, too.”

“What happened when they got here, Colonel?”

“Well, let’s just say we had two things in our favor -- Time and the Tallahatchie. Although phone landline and cell communications were down, and radio and TV were off the air, we were hearing some scattered news from folks around here who were in ham radio contact with folks to the north. We had an idea that bad things were coming, and we had a little time to get ready. The Tallahatchie River forms a great natural barrier just north of us. The north – south highway bridge over the Tallahatchie was down. We had just enough time to get organized and set up listening posts and quick reaction platoons to respond to attempts to cross the river. After a couple of sharp fights, the bad guys moved farther east along the I-22 corridor and overran and occupied New Albany and Tupelo.”

“Why didn’t the state government and the National Guard come help?”

“Well, the Governor did exactly what the Colonel would have done in his position. He conserved his limited manpower and resources and established a defensive line a third of the way down the state, from Greenville in the West to Columbus in the East along the connecting US Highway 82. He established refugee camps at the intersections of north-south roads and 82 and waited for the refugees to come to him. Those stuck in the no-man’s land in the northern third of the state had two choices – run south, or stay and fight. A lot of folks sent their families south and stayed to fight for their homes.”

“Why didn’t you just take the refugees in and help them, Colonel?”

“We couldn’t and they wouldn’t. We didn’t have enough resources to share and they wouldn’t have shared if we offered. Look, the Colonel knows this is hard for you kids to understand. Those of you born since the middle of the century have never known a time of want. But, during the Thirties and Forties it was a different story. A couple of global pandemics and a regional nuclear war hit the world’s population pretty hard. You are lucky to be alive in this time of peace and plenty.”

“Yeah, my granddaddy tells me that all the time, Colonel. But, we want to hear about when you declared the Tallahatchie Republic.”

“Well, youngster, the Colonel will tell you. By late winter of ‘25, things had gotten pretty bad in No Man’s land. The ‘Gee Army had marched south out of Tupelo in February, surprised the State’s defenses at Columbus and swept West along Highway 82 through Starkville and then fanned out to the south, pillaging as they went. Heck, when they hit Columbus they even had a couple of tanks. The Governor panicked and pulled his forces south to set up a defensive ring around Jackson.”

The Colonel took a deep breath and gazed off into the middle distance. “Hard times. Scared, hungry men will do just about anything.”

There was a nervous shuffling among the crowd at his feet as the Colonel continued to stare silently into the middle distance.

“Dear,” the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda asked, “what are you looking at?”

The Colonel waved his hand dismissively, “Lookin’ into the middle distance for effect, dear. Please stop interrupting the Colonel.”

“Well, wrap it up. The natives are getting restless."

The Colonel turned back to his audience. “Shortly after the Second Battle of the Tallahatchie, and with no help coming, we had decided that we needed to get a bit better organized. Most of the folks of any means down in Oxford had already evacuated south. Those left in town sent some emissaries up here to talk to us. They offered manpower in return for food. There was a bunch of folks around here that wanted to treat the folks from Oxford like we had treated the Memphis refugees, but a few of us realized we needed an army large enough to defend the farmers and their crops if we were going to survive. As the logic of the idea sunk in, folks started to call for declaration of an autonomous city state. They asked the Colonel to command the army. The Colonel deferred to another younger, recently retired Army officer and offered to be the Baron von Stuben of the army.”

“Barry von who?” chirped a lad.

“Baron von Stuben was a Prussian mercenary who showed up at Valley Forge and trained Washington’s army how to stand and fight the British in open battle. Without Baron von Stuben’s work, it is very doubtful American’s would have won their independence from Great Britain.”

“So, we organized and trained an army, a regiment of which marched south in early March of ’25 and caught the bulk of the ‘Gee army in front of the Jackson defenses. They tried to squirt out of the trap to the southeast, but our regiment swung around on their flank in a classic pursuit operation and killed or captured most of ‘em.”

“So, when did you establish the Tallahatchie Republic, Colonel?”

“The Tallahatchie Republic? Oh, the Colonel declared that way back in ’16 when the Ole Miss administration stopped the band from playing Dixie.”                
                       

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Run, Walk, Crawl

The Colonel hates, has always hated, and will always hate, running.

The Colonel's hate had ample opportunity to take shape and intensify into a black storm of absolute fear and loathing during his nearly three decades of association with an organization obsessed with running.

The Colonel will never forget -- he has purposefully dedicated one of the remaining clumps of cognitive cells in his gray matter to the task -- his first Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT).  The shocking pain, breath-taking nausea, and morally degrading fear that washed over him was like no other experience in his theretofore unchallenged life.

And, that was just upon hearing the PFT requirements.

The insane men in insane haircuts wanted the Colonel, then a lowly midshipman 4th class in the NROTC program at Ole Miss, to do as many situps as he could in two minutes, immediately thereafter jump up on a pullup bar and do as many pullups as possible, and then...  oh, the horror at the remembrance... run three miles in under 28 minutes.   

The discussion went something like:

"Three miles, Sarge?  Are you kidding the Midshipman?  Couldn't we just jog once around the track and multiply the time by 12?"

"My name is Gunnery Sergeant McLain!"  The Purple Heart scar on the Marine's cheek flashed white in contrast to the angry flush on his face.  "You may call me 'gunny', but never call me 'sarge'!" 

"Yes, sir!"

"Sir?," a look of pure, unadulterated disgust, that the Colonel was later to realize was a look perfected to an art form by all Marine senior NCOs, washed over the Gunny's face,  "Don't call me 'sir' either.  I work for a living."

"Yes, Gunny!"

The Gunny surveyed the skinny runt in front of him, resplendent in his cut-off jean shorts, faded hang-ten t-shirt, and low-top Converse All-stars; and the practiced look of pure, unadulterated disgust softened to a look of disdain one normally uses when scraping something smelly off the bottom of a shoe, "There ain't no track, short round.  Just follow the herd."  
  
"Follow the what?"

"Look, knucklehead.  The 3-mile run course starts here in front of McCain Hall, around the Grove and across University Avenue to All-American Drive, then over to Coliseum Drive and out to Highway 6.  Then take the highway -- stay on the shoulder and watch out for the 18 wheelers -- back east to Old Taylor Road and then back up to, and across, University Avenue.  The finish line is back here where you started."

"That's just three miles?  Sounds like a tour of the entire county.   The Midshipman just got here yesterday and had a hard time navigating the two blocks here from the dorm.  How's he supposed to remember those directions?"

"Follow the herd, knucklehead."    

At the start command, the herd broke from the starting line like a herd of spooked wildebeests.  The Colonel was so startled he actually looked behind to find the lion.  He turned to the front to see the gaggle speeding away from him at an alarming rate and broke into a sprint to close the gap.

Mistake.

Within a quarter mile, the Colonel had closed the gap but was completely gassed.  The pack had settled into an energy conserving pace, but the Colonel was already drawing on reserves.

The next twenty-five minutes passed in a sweaty haze of unimaginable leg pain, respiration racing to match a racing heart, and heavy self-recrimination for accepting an NROTC scholarship from the Marine Corps.

The turn onto Old Taylor Road leading back onto campus and the finish line would have been a welcome sight but for the fact that Old Taylor Road was more like the sloping legion-built ramp at Masada, climbing steeply for a good half-mile.

Reaching the top of that excruciating climb was no relief.  The next quarter mile to the finish was lined with upperclassmen who, upon finishing their runs, had circled back to cheer on the rest.  Their shouts of encouragement infuriated the Colonel -- how could they be standing, let alone whooping and hollering, after completing the death run?

At the finish line, the Gunny awaited, stopwatch in hand. 

"Twenty-five, fifty-five!  Twenty-six!  Twenty-six, ten!  Twenty-six-fifteen!"

The Colonel crossed the finish line, veered off into the Grove and collapsed on the grass.  Death would surely come quickly and he wanted his last moments spent looking up into the trees.

"Get up, short round!," the Gunny yelled.  "Walk it off!"

Walk it off?  The Colonel was near death.  Even if he didn't die, he was certain that he'd never walk again.    


The next day, death having granted him a reprieve, the Colonel was bee-bopping through McCain Hall on his way to class -- Naval Science 101 -- when a long arm reached out from the office of the Marine Officer Instructor (MOI) and pulled him unceremoniously front and center of Captain Gerlach's desk.

"Morning, stud."

"Good morning, sir!"

"You really tore up that PFT yesterday didn't you, stud?"

"Uh, yessir.  Passed it with flying colors."

"Not hardly, stud.  Lessee, 57 situps, 9 pullups, and a 26:15 run.  Good enough for 3rd Class, but that isn't good enough for a Marine officer.  You need to be shooting for maxing out the PFT -- 80 situps, 20 pullups, and a sub-18 minute three mile run."

Captain Gerlach saw the look of disbelief on the Colonel's mug and laughed, "Gregory, how much do you weigh?"

"Uh, one twenty-five, sir."

"Well, stud, you will have no problem maxing the PFT."

The good captain was wrong.  The situps and pullups turned out to be no problem, but the run time only got under twenty minutes once -- three years later for the final PFT at OCS.  It wasn't for lack of trying -- on both the Colonel's and the Marine Corps' part.  In those days the Marine Corps was the world's largest running club.  In those early days in the decade of Reagan, there wasn't funding for much training other than physical training.  Marines ran everywhere.  

Marines didn't walk anywhere -- you either ran or "forced marched."

The only thing the Colonel hated more than running was forced marching.

At any rate, after thirty years of running, and hating every minute of it, the Colonel gave himself the best retirement gift he could think of -- no more running.

These days, the Colonel walks.  There's purpose to his walks -- but they aren't forced marches.  He's not going to walk anywhere anymore where he can't look around and enjoy his surroundings. This morning the Colonel's walk took him out onto the county road which passes his vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere and runs from his drive northward through the Holly Springs National Forest toward the Little Tallahatchie River bottoms.

The road is paved -- barely.  Narrow, winding, and shaded by towering old growth oaks and pines, it is all but guaranteed to grant the Colonel complete solitude for an hour.  Rarely, a car or pick-up passes.  

He rarely experienced the elusive endorphin fueled runner's high in all of his runs.  But, the Colonel's walks flood his senses and spark his memories.  Amazing, the thoughts that leap from synapse to synapse when the only sensory inputs are the sights and sounds of a walk in the woods.

The Colonel will walk until he has to crawl.  He guesses the point is to keep moving forward, while not forgetting what's around and behind.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Spidey Sense

The Colonel spent the weekend in a fever-induced hallucinogenic haze.  The massive swelling and intense pain (Category 6 on the Saffir-Simpson Nietzsche-Gregory Suffering and Whining Scale)  around a small site on his lower back led him to surmise that he had been bitten by a spider.  The fevered visions of webs shooting from his wrists seemed to verify that suspicion. 

The Colonel could have gone to the local hospital's emergency room, he guesses.  But he ain't smart and you can't make him.  Instead, he gutted it out for 48 hours and went to his personal physician's office first thing this Monday morning.  

The nurse practitioner who saw the Colonel took one look at the festering, swollen wound on the Colonel's back and immediately left the examination room, returning five minutes later in a full hazmat suit.  This did not particularly alarm the Colonel -- the Comely and Kind-Hearted Miss Brenda has a hazmat suit she dons frequently to do the Colonel's laundry.

"Colonel," she breathlessly declared, attempting mightily to maintain her medically professional demeanor, "I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like this."

"Oh, really?"  The Colonel was suddenly infused with a sense of perverse pride at his evident specialness.

"Well, you are in luck, Colonel.  I just so happen to be an arachnid bite expert, and based on the circumference of the site and the massive swelling, coupled with your fevered hallucinations, I think I know exactly what bit you."

Oh, really?"  The Colonel was intensely interested to hear the identity of the critter that had demonstrated the temerity to bite him.

"Yes.  I believe that you were bitten by the exceedingly rare Mississippi brown-spotted three-fanged vampire jumping spider."

The Colonel, who had theretofore been proudly presenting his formerly well-muscled back, turned to look her dead in the eye.  Even through the distortion of the hazmat suit's plastic face plate, the Colonel could see that she was maintaining a straight face.

The Colonel played along. "What's the prognosis?"

"Ordinarily, instantaneous death.  But in a small minority of cases, long-term lingering suffering."

"Well," the Colonel responded, "been there, done that.  Living through the Obama presidency, after all."   

The nurse practitioner broke out a hypodermic needle that was last used to harpoon a sperm whale, and injected a whale-boat load of steroids into the Colonel's formerly well-toned gluteous maximus, handed him a prescription for some more pharmaceuticals, and sent him on his way with wishes that he would feel better soon.

"No chance of that," the Colonel intoned in parting.  "Have you seen who is likely to be the next president?"