Peace and Reality: Important Lessons in Aging

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The thing about being a Marine, for some people, is you not only feel a need to talk shit, but back it up as well. I was reminded of this Sunday morning when my friend announced he was going to the Lakeside Rodeo. I remembered that time in 1975, when someone I served with in the 2nd LAAM Bat. was an amateur bull rider. Being a 19-year-old smart mouth dumb shit I calmly stated bull riding couldn’t be very hard and anyone could do it.

So this person I served with, at MCAS Yuma (AZ), gladly entered me into the amateur bull riding event at the Yuma Rodeo the following week. I didn’t know it right away, but he eventually told me and said he would give me $100 if I lasted the 8 seconds.

Eight seconds, come on man, how hard can that be?

Just an aside here. I have since learned (almost) to never ask the question, “How hard can it be?” or any of its derivatives. Inevitably you will learn — the painful and/or embarrassing way — just how hard it can be. Like in bull riding.

So I show up to the Yuma Rodeo with this guy, decked out in his chaps and cowboy boots and hat, and me in my baseball cap and running shoes. Turns out there are practical reasons they wear chaps, cowboy boots and even Stetsons.

After watching a few people ride — and a few of these one ton beasts slamming into the sides of the chutes, with the riders sitting on them — I learned, very humbly and embarrassingly, just how hard it is to ride a bucking bull for a eight full seconds.

The first week I was at MCAS Yuma I got into a barracks fight with the biggest guy in the shop crew. I’ll leave his name out of it. At any rate, when you are in the USMC you have to be ready and willing to fight anyone at just about any time when away from the workplace. Didn’t matter if he was taller, shorter, thinner or fatter, we had to be ready to throw down with another Marine when it came up.

So there I was delivering body blows while he pummeled my head and shoulders. Then he picked me up and body slammed me on the tile floor, grabbed my right foot and started twisting it until I felt a sharp pain in my knee. I used my left heel to slam into his hand, thus breaking his grip and his hand. We both ended up in sick bay. He went first and then I went.

Had it just been my right knee that was ailing me I might have gotten away with the B.S. story I fed the corpsmen, but it didn’t explain why the left side of my face was swollen. So, me and this other Marine got in trouble for fighting in the barracks, not because we broke any rules for fighting, but because we ended up in sick bay, thereby generating reports the CO, XO and First Sergeant had to explain.

The author Tim Forkes the he was stationed at
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ (Tim Forkes)

They don’t give a shit about the fighting, have at it. Just don’t end up in sick bay. Very important lesson. Another important lesson — or at least an important observation — is that no one, and I mean no one, will step in to stop a fight from happening. They wait until one or both fighters are on the verge of needing medical attention, only in our fight they were too late.

On the bright side: getting pummeled by the biggest guy in the shop probably spared me from seme serious beat downs going forward. There was another fight with an extremely tall guy, in Yuma, but I was able to knock him to the ground before others stepped in and prevented me from kicking the guy in his face.

As I learned later, not every Marine gets into fights with other Marines — or sailors, airmen or soldiers — and that it was a select few assholes, like me, who did so.

I only got into one fight with a guy bigger than me … No, actually, well just the one guy. The barroom brawls were/are a different category altogether and I shall refrain from those details. Not because I’m modest and filled with regret, but because I was always shitfaced when they happened and the details are blurry.

So that’s the abbreviated version of “Shit Talking 101.” It’s relevant today though because the pups and I were out walking when a delivery van stormed into the parking area, where we were walking, freaking out me and the dogs. Then the van comes back at us from behind and I had to reel in the dogs to get them out of the way. The guy parked got out and delivered his package . Then he came storming at us from behind once again, wherein I yelled at him, “YOU’RE GETTING ON MY LAST NERVE! GET THE F**K OUT OF OUR WAY!”

The driver, who is clearly 30 or more years younger, just looked at me, walking two dogs while using a walker and drove out of our condo complex. In hindsight, I am obviously ill-equipped to back up my crazy old man outbursts, but at the time I felt ready to get it on with that driver.

Here’s the reality of it, putting aside the humor of that encounter: Number One, I have an obligation to protect those two little pups from all things dangerous, including my occasionally explosive temper. They don’t need to experience my anger and violent words, it scares them. Number Two, I’m not 19 and stupid anymore, long past it. I may still be stupid on occasion, but I’m completely unable to bareback ride an angry bull with its testicles cinched tight, nor am I able to throwdown with anyone who I might piss off with my occasionally caustic words.

It’s easy to look back on it 45-50 years ago and laugh, but it’s beyond stupid to engage in the type of behavior that puts the dogs and I in danger. That’s one of the realities of getting older and we would like to think we have grown wiser. Maybe I have, but still go into rages from time-to-time. I need to remember in this moment: think before speaking and practice controlled breathing, be humble and grateful … Peace out.