Monday, July 16, 2012

Gun Crazy

Ah, if only all life's problems could be solved with a bullet!

Only a moron thinks that, of course, or a mad-dog killer. It's true on the battlefield, maybe, nowhere else. But if so, I could solve them more easily now.

I just completed a five-day course in tactical pistol use. This was way beyond shooting at targets -- we were running around, using cover, firing from all kinds of positions, and even doing combative drills like hitting a heavy bag for thirty seconds and then backing off and shooting it.

We did "simmunition" training too -- like paintball -- and there I learned, in facing off against a Marine with combat experience, that it doesn't much matter about training and experience, if you have two guys in a narrow alley shooting at each other, they're both probably going to end up with holes in them. (To that end, we got a brief lesson on dealing with traumatic injuries, also -- how to apply a torniquet and pressure bandage, mainly.)

So I'm covered with bruises and my hands are cramped and cut up, but it was a really intense and interesting experience.

On the downside, I see that shooting is a tremendously expensive hobby, probably even more expensive than running around nightclubs. But hey, at least you won't catch herpes, and it could conceivably save your life in the worst-case scenario of waking up with a thrill-killing meth addict in your living room.

Since guns are somewhat off-topic in this blog, let me talk a little about this in the context of teaching.

Learner Based Activities

The instructors were all former army and police -- guys with big personalities and a lot of experience -- so they were pretty good at having teaching presence. They could perhaps have elicited a bit more, but they did, some, where possible. There wasn't much theory in this particular course anyway. Such pairwork as was possible to do in the context of physical practice with handguns, we did. And we spent most of the time shooting, not listening, so we're definitely talking learner-based activities here.

I recognized in the instructors that desire to walk the fine line -- to be friendly and approachable and yet not to be so friendly that your students start bugging you about personal stuff.

It seemed like most of the students were fairly intimidated by the instructors and the subject manner though, so they certainly didn't ask prying questions. In this case being "native speakers" means they used handguns in combat situations, and obviously that's not going to lead to students bothering the teacher about why he's not married.

I suppose in this case the equivalent would be "how many times have you shot at somebody?" and fortunately nobody asked that.


I'm still hacking away at Vodkaberg -- trimming the fat, clarifying the ambiguous, realigning the crooked -- but it's very, very close to being finished. It'll need another editing and then it'll be ready -- maybe a couple more weeks.

It's about 115,000 words, more than twice as long as my other books, and like any good Russian novel covers a long period of time and has tons of characters. It will be controversial, probably, and it's dark and complex, but I feel like it's actually a much more evocative and accurate portrait of my time abroad than my last memoir.
(By the way, TO TRAVEL HOPELESSLY, about my first five years of teaching, is still available for FREE on Smashwords and Amazon.)
Get it here on Smashwords

Get it here on Amazon

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Small Town American Streetwalkers

One guy that I grew up with here in small town America -- I'll refer to it as Bugtussle -- was telling me that not only are there drugs on the street in some of the poorer neighborhoods, now, there are also streetwalkers.

 He said that he hasn't seen one in a while, but he described to me in some detail the time a few years ago he picked up a girl -- a white girl, in her late teens or early twenties -- for a $50 handjob.

"I don't get it," I said. "Where do they even walk? Nobody walks in this town. Back in Vodkaberg they used to stand around the bus stops, after the buses stopped for the night, but there aren't any bus stops here."

"Well, that's it, nobody really walks, so a girl walking by herself at night, in this neighborhood, is kind of obvious what she's up to."

"And you just, what, roll up and honk your horn or . . .?"

"No, well, you kind of catch her eye and she smiles, and of course I ended up circling the block a few times because I was shy."

"Okay, gotcha. And then what?"

"Well, I asked her if she wanted a ride, and she got in and we started talking."

"You just asked her how much?"

"No, well, it took a long time to get around to that, actually, we just made a lot of small talk, I can't even remember what we talked about, usual stuff."

"Did you ask her if she knew a good shallow grave in the vicinity?"

"Well, we were both nervous, I stayed away from the jokes. Finally she said something like she was working or she was trying to make some money or something, and we talked about how much."

"And you did it in the car? Right on the street?"

"Well, we drove to a dark street."

"You took her to the cemetery, or the abandoned slaughterhouse?" 

"No, just a dark street around there."


"It's part of the experience, I guess. Then, the funny thing, a couple years later I was out again in that neighborhood, and I saw the same girl."

"You mean, just driving around, you saw her, or you were looking for a hooker, and saw the same girl?" 

"Looking for a hooker."

I laughed. "I didn't even ask, was she good-looking?"

"She was okay, kind of a white trash type, as you might guess, but well-built, nice boobs, kind of pretty face."

"Was she wearing a miniskirt and high heels?"

"Oh, no, of course not, just jeans and a top, you know, usual clothes."

"Cool. So you saw her again, did you say, Hey baby, how you been? Obviously you're moving up in the world."

"Well, yeah, we talked more comfortably. She recognized me. And I can -- okay, well, let me back up -- another time, I picked up a girl, a different girl, a hooker, on the street, and this guy was very obviously following us in his car, and the hooker said, oh, he's just to protect me, and she wanted me to go to a certain place, and I got a very bad feeling about it. I told her to forget it, to get out, and she got out and started yelling to the guy in the car that I wouldn't give her the money, and I was kind of blocked in by his car, so I had to swerve over the sidewalk and zoom away."

"Wow. Big crime in the small town. The Badger Game!"

"Yeah, anyway, I told the girl, the hooker that I'd picked up before, this story, and she said she thought she knew the girl -- that she and her boyfriend were famous for robbing the clients."

"Clients. They call them johns, man. Kid Rock said there are only two kinds of men in the world, pimps and johns."

"Which kind was the Green River Killer, for example?"

"Good question . . ."

We rode around the bad neighborhood for quite a while looking for an example of the Small Town American Streetwalker, but we didn't see any.


Monday, July 02, 2012

America's Got Meds!

So, two weeks into my American Summer, and the main thing that's striking me is not how fat everybody is (though they are) or how old the average person is (though they are) but how medicated everybody is.

Seriously, it seems like everybody around me -- relatives, slacker and successful friends, authority figures and counter clerks alike -- is seriously messed up.

Whether it's the telltale stoner eyes, the jabbering of meth users in shops or just legally-prescribed medications and cocktails, it seems like everybody's on something. Hell, a little kid even offered to sell me crack while I was riding my bike around a crappy neighborhood the other day. (Remember this is a town of 60,000 people.)

Part of that is just a natural result of the aging population. Anti-depressants and muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety drugs and painkillers. But there's plenty of that shit floating around.

If you watch commercial TV during the day, it seems like all you see are ads for restaurants and junk food, and medicines. Sleeping pills, hypertension medications, erectile dysfunction medications -- all stuff that you probably wouldn't need if you didn't eat at restaurants all the time and eat junk food. Capitalism is tricky that way.

I was never much on prescription pill type meds, myself, and I'm also limiting myself to no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day, and I often don't have any, mostly just out of general contrariness.

As for the anti-anxiety medication, of course, plenty to be anxious about -- enormous heat wave going on and a massive storm just knocked out power to more than a million people on the east coast. People fill their cars every week with crap at the Target and WalMart and yet still somehow lack the basic supplies necessary to survive a week without electricity.

One of my favorite medication commercials. About half the run time is dedicated to describing the various awful side-effects that could await you, while showing a woman sleeping peacefully.