Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Destiny called and I put it on hold

A recent post by Spider Girl reminded me of a close brush with destiny. You could argue that, since it didn’t happen, it wasn’t really destiny, but it’s my blog and that’s what I’m calling it, so feck off. Besides, “Near Collision with Destiny” sounds way cooler than saying my life was saved by an all you can eat taco special.

In October of 1991, I was processing out of the Army. Instead of training to kill people or maintaining my weapons to kill people or actually being sent out to kill people, I spent my days cleaning and returning field gear, dropping by various stations and facilities to obtain release signatures, and generally goofing off as much as I could during duty hours. I thought the military owed it to me since I had given much more than I received over the past four years, and I never once shirked my duties. Except that one time. Oh, yeah, and that other time when I dropped ac…okay, my point is that every time the government told me to kill someone (often a small, brown person) using your tax dollars, I did it without hesitation so I figured they owed me a few small privileges you civilians take for granted, such as afternoon siestas, drinking Mountain Dew during duty hours, and having lunch off-base with real people.

I had recently discovered a giant buffet style restaurant named Luby’s. It wasn’t the greatest of restaurants, but they had a fair selection and the food was affordable on a specialist’s salary no longer supplemented by combat pay. I discovered the joy of liver and onions there, a meal (can you believe it) (you’d better) I had never had before. It tasted kind of nasty, but nasty in a good way if you can grok that (and to Hell with you if you can’t). Liver and onions and a pair of veggie sides and a soda to drink – that was lunchtime heaven for me. If you’d spent several years eating military rations, you’d flip for joy too.

One day while going for my daily dose of L&O (no, not Law & Order) I bumped into a friend of mine who was also in the final clearance process. He rode a motorcycle which wasn’t very convenient for hauling gear, so I had been driving him to places as needed. I invited him to join me for lunch at Luby’s and he countered by offering to buy me lunch at Mission Taco, a slightly better than Taco Bell type of joint which also rented movies and featured a juke box and several upright video games. No red-blooded hardcore American soldier says no to a free taco, so we piled into my car and went. I had the all you could eat taco special which came with beans and rice and free tea (Tea! Feck!), which is one of the things I hate about living in the South. Everywhere you go, you are expected to like tea. I hate freaking tea! It’s a total crap drink. If it was any good you wouldn’t have to add stuff like sugar and lemon and milk and raspberries and…well, you get the picture. That’s why I drank Mountain Dew. It was perfect in it’s purest form.

Anyway, we had our tacos and beans and rice and I made him buy me a soda separately because I wasn’t drinking their friggin’ tea no matter how thirsty I got, and we attempted conversation amidst all the noise, and then we gave into the noise and played a video game (I was Captain America and I kicked ass) and then we finally ended our long lunch and returned to base. All was well.

When we arrived we found several soldiers huddled around a tiny B&W TV at the CQ (Charge of Quarters) station, which was an odd sight. The duty sergeant and runner often break out a TV after hours, but not during the day and you never saw a gaggle of soldiers at the desk in the early afternoon hours. Clustered as they were, I couldn’t see what was on TV, but I didn’t really care. I started to pass by and one asked me if I had just been to lunch, laughing as if knowing the punch line to an inside joke. I told him yes, which elicited a round of laughter from the crowd. He then asked me if I went to Luby’s to which I told him I wanted to, but my friend took me to Mission Taco instead. After more guffaws I reluctantly joined the conversation and discovered the “joke.”

It was October 16, 1991, and some guy named George Hennard had also decided to visit Luby’s for lunch. In his case, he crashed through the window in his pickup truck and then jumped out with a pair of guns blazing killing twenty-two people not counting himself. I was shocked and awed way before that phrase became clichéd. Where would I go for my liver and onions? Denny’s? They sucked! And why hadn’t I thought of that before (except I would have gone for a church on Sunday, or possibly a boarding school). Oh, and also a bunch of people died, but I didn’t know them so I can’t say whether or not they deserved it.

Now before you start mewling such things as “Isn’t that horrible” or “Those poor people,” bear in mind the fact that he whacked twenty-two people (after letting a four year old and her mother go). Out of twenty-two, the odds are good that at least a couple of them probably parked in the fire lane instead of dragging their fat asses an additional thirty feet from the parking lot to return a movie, so they can’t have all been innocent. Just admit it – some people deserve to die, and our lives are enriched by their absence.

As for me, due to a fluke of fate I was sitting about a half mile away eating a taco without a care in the world when the shit storm went down. Thanks to all the noise inside Mission Taco, nobody there had a clue what was happening around the corner. I always wondered what would have happened to me and how it would have affected my life if I had stuck to my original lunch plans (I was tempted because I really wanted my liver and onions) or if I had stopped by the latrine and hadn’t bumped into my pal. You’re probably thinking I would be mercifully dead and you wouldn’t have been stuck reading this cruddy post, but let me add a few details before you travel too far down that path.

After returning from Operation: Desert Storm, where I personally taught Saddam Hussein a lesson he wouldn’t forget for days, I tried to settle back into the routine of peacetime operations but I missed constantly being surrounded by firepower. I used my untouched combat pay to buy a pair of engineer’s boots and a leather duster from a Harley store (I’m still working on the Harley) and I also bought a Glock 17 9mm pistol. Army regulations require that all personally owned weapons be checked into the company armory and can only be withdrawn after submitting a written request to the company commander and obtaining his approval, but that was inconvenient and I ignored it like I do all laws that don’t carry my personal approval. Note – most soldiers felt the same as me and so any who had a personal weapon usually kept it nearby. I kept mine loaded in my car, and usually carried it with me when I went into stores and such. So, with a slight twist of fate, one or two armed soldiers could have been in that restaurant when George paid a visit.

Despite my (limited) combat experience, I’ll admit I would have been seriously scared, but I think I would have reacted well enough. Based on other emergencies I’ve faced, I’ve learned that I tend to focus on what needs to be done until the situation is over, and then I panic on the inside later. After a combat situation, somebody once told me my face never changed expression even though I thought it would have been obvious that I was having a mental bowel movement.

Sometimes I wonder if my life might have been different if I had been there, assuming I shot the guy and didn’t get killed myself. Come to think of it, I guess my life would have been different if I had died, but what I meant was I sometimes wonder if things might have been better for me had I been there to shoot the guy. The press would have lionized me and everyone would know me as a hero, at least until Michael Jackson decided to change his hair or something and then I would have been mostly forgotten. Would security and the police have been more charitable as they threw me out of places (college, work, bars, etc.) if they recognized me as the guy who stopped the Killeen massacre. Would women want to sleep with me knowing I was a bloody heroic killer, or would they continue to react with revulsion and restraining orders to my sadistic gory anecdotes? Would my blog get more comments?

Fifteen years later and the events of that terrible day still haunt me. I’m hungry now. I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned the liver and onions.


Ddot the King said...

I wonder when they arrest you will they mention your blog? Hopefully so and they can call me to be on the news. I'll take all the blog exposure I can get.

Grant said...

ddot - If I'm arrested and the media finds out about the blog, it will definitely make the news. "He had his own web site" is more damning in the public (read: redneck) eye than a bad psych evaluation.

So you'd better hide all connections to me as soon as possible. :p

Kerry said...

wow! Isnt it amazing how things happen in our lives... people cross our paths for one reason or another and thank God your friend crossed yours!

BTW... we civilians appreciate the soldiers defending our freedom. *kisses*

Seven said...

That's one of those "Are you kidding me?" stories.
I know that feeling you described of taking care of business, then later feeling the effects of what has happened. Happens in law enfocement too. Although some officers just freak out from the 'get go'.
So far as the fate end of that deal...I am speechless....looks like you are on your own again soldier...it could have a thousand plausible exxplanations....and by the way thanks for your service....and I mean it.

Melissa said...

I remember that day vividly. I came home after class to grab some lunch before I headed back to campus to study. I was sitting there with my sammich watching Days of Our Lives and this flashed all over the tv. Nice twist of fate.

Spider Girl said...

Grant, I'm pretty sure you would have taken the guy down like Rambo.

All the same, I'm glad you didn't turn down a free taco.

Grant said...

kerry - kisses? Nobody ever offers hardcore sex. You people don't appreciate your freedom enough. :p

rick - when it comes down to it, the only amazing thing in the story is what might have been. In reality I ate a taco, played a video game, and drove back to base.

melissa - sorry they ruined Days of Our Lives with unprogrammed drama. You should sue the network for interrupting your sammich. :)

spider - knowing my luck I would have shot a few civilians and gone down in history as his accomplice.

Kerry said...

HAHAHA... I'll try to show my appreciation better next time :P

Kira said...

Well, I'd offer hardcore sex, but you didn't say feck off enough to arouse me, so screw it.

On a similar level, my sister had taken her daughter (my niece Allegra) to her soccer game one day in Ft. Worth, Texas, 1999. A strange looking fellow showed up there on the field, and one of the moms told him to put out his cigarette. Instead of doing so, he just meandered across the street...

...and fired on a bunch of people in a church, killing quite a few. The soccer match got put on hold while they tried to figure out what all the racket was. Good thing Larry Ashbrook smoked (on the other hand, maybe the mom who told him to put out his ciggy enraged him so much he fired away at the church...who knows?).

circe said...

The second I read the word Lubys, I KNEW.....

Grant said...

kira - my guy shot more than three times the number of people. Therefore I win.

circe - people eat there as well as commit mass murder, you know. But not at that location. They closed instead of reopening after the shooting, although they claimed the two events were not related.

Anonymous said...

I heard once bout a situation where a man holding up a bank had all the people sit against the wall. He then started shooting them one by one. I always wondered why by the third person the other twenty or so weren't all trying to attack him as a whole. But nope, they just sat there being murdered one by one.

Situations like the one you mentioned always make me wonder what the Plan is. Why do we live and not others? Why are we born in the time and place we are? And so on.

That Girl.

Liz said...

I remember that incident. I play the what if game a lot too. Seems to me you took the best avenue. At least you never knew the fame and so you don’t miss it now.

Luby’s is pretty good, especially if you want to pig out. I agree tea sucks, and people look at you like you are crazy if you say you don’t like it. Take a coke and ice, drink it all, then let the ice melt and that is what tea tastes like. It’s crap, sugar or not.