Friday, February 15, 2008


Hey Pete!

Why did the Siamese twins go to England?

...So the other one would get a chance to drive!

Did you hear the one about the guy who died and took a
little piece of everyone's heart with him?

Never mind... it's not really all that funny
after all, come to think of it...

23,024 ½ days...

January 15, 1944 ~ February 14, 2008

the lifetime of a dear friend and
much loved father, husband, brother, and one hell of a guy.

If you had a half-second more time on this
earth for every laugh you gave..
.. you would live to be hundreds of years old.

Godspeed Pete.. walk in beauty..
We all miss you dearly.

No more pain
no more fear

We Love You!

What do you say?

What do you say to your wife
when she has just lost her father?

How do you let her know
that the pain will one day pass,
and that she will smile again?

What can you do to help her find her way
when she is lost, and so very sad?

How can you show her
that her father's caress
is in the wind that touches her hair.. or,

that his voice can be heard in
the heartfelt laughter of strangers?

When her heart is sick...
and her tears are falling...
When the sobs shake her
and wrack your heart..

How do you tell her that
everything will be okay?

When the sun rises
on the first day of her life
over a world that her father
no longer shares with her...

... how do you teach her
that the breeze which dries her tears
is her father's soft loving kiss?

What do you say to a girl
who has just lost her father?

When you cannot find the words,
that will ease her pain,

sometimes you can find
a way to tell her
with your silent embrace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Crisp Winter Moon, Skeletal Branches...

Oh! Young folk -
If you fear death,
Die now!
Having died once,
You won't die again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Unpleasant Surprises & Continuity

The Backstory:

When I was in the military (I served first in the U.S. Air Force, and then in the U.S. Army -- This was in my Air Force days) I had a roommate named Barry.

The first time I knew that Barry existed was when I returned to my room (in which I had been the sole inhabitant) to find many of my belongings relocated to make way for the new occupant - who was not present at the moment.

Needless to say, I was none too happy at this new development.. preferring to have the room to myself.. and, therefore, none to eager to make whoever the intruder was feel all that welcome. This was exacerbated by what appeared to me to be an inordinate amount of vitamin and pill bottles which essentially took up the entire bottom shelf of my new roommates wall locker.

Irked, I rearranged my belongings on or in the pieces of furniture that were still mine to use, and went out.

When I next returned to my barracks room, my roommate was there. Truthfully, I was less than impressed. I thought he looked sort of dorky to be honest (looking back at photos of myself at the time, I have to say that I am *appalled* to think that I ever had the unmitigated gall to call anyone else dorky.. yikes!!).

I was thinking something along the lines of ("Just *fucking* great!! This is just my friggin' luck!"). The new guy introduced himself to me as "Barry", and I welcomed him.. by which I meant "I wish you would relocate to Antarctica - AND STAY THERE!!" and we went about the business of getting to know one another, setting out our boundaries, and testing those of the other occupant.

At one point, Barry pointed at my 'Do-Bohk' (Korean for the uniform you wear when practicing martial arts - literally 'Way-Attire') and asked me what I was studying. I told him that was practicing Do Hap Sool, and he asked me what it was. I explained, and he indicated that he would like to come with me next time.. and that he was interested in learning. I discouraged this idea enthusiastically... I didn't think that he could hack it, honestly... the training was tough, painful, and exhausting.

He asked why I was shying away from the idea, and, at a loss for a coherent and socially acceptable response, I asked him if he was sick or something.. weakly gesturing at all of the pill bottles. He explained that he was a runner, and that he needed the supplementation to stay healthy. This struck me as somewhat pretentious, and, scoffing, I asked him how far he ran... (How far would someone run?? 2 or 3 miles per day?? 10?? Why would you need all of this crap?!)

"Between 20 and 30, twice a week... and between 5 to 15 on the other days." he answered in what I came to learn was a very characteristic manner for him; softly, humbly, and very matter-of-factly.

?! ... .... ..... "Um... .. WHAT?!?"

He repeated it slowly, apparently deciding that I was addled in some fundamental way, and incapable of understanding human speech unless it was spoken very slowly and very, very clearly...

(30 MILES?!) (!!!)

"GET the fuck outta here!!", I blurted. Basically, I was telling him that I thought he was full of shit, without saying that I thought he was full of shit.

He stared at me, expressionless, for a few moments (I also came to know this quirk of his personality... I wish I had known what it portended at the time...), and he shrugged and said, "I'll make a deal with you; You take me to Do Hap Sool, and I will take you running with me."

I *HATED* running. DESPISED it. But.. the gauntlet had been thrown, and I saw no good reason for letting all of that testosterone go to waste.... so I agreed.

Off we went to the Do Hap Sool Dojang, where Barry plunked down his dues, purchased a uniform, and began his training (He subsequently earned his black belt, by the way.)

Here is proof! That's Barry - The Black Belt - seated front row on the right (the viewer's right)I am involved in the photo - but you can't see me since I was on the other side of the camera!

That same night, Barry explained that he was going for a 'short' run, and asked me if I would like to go along. I agreed, but admitted that running wasn't my thing.. and that I actually hated it, truth be told.

"That's because you don't know how to run." he explained.

Scowling, I replied, "Don't know how to run? What are you talking about?! Of course I know how to run! I run all the time!"

We put on our running clothes, tied on our running shoes, and out we went into the Korean night...

Barry explained that distance running was very different from running like one does when playing tag. He taught me how to carry my body, and how to roll my feet when I ran. He taught me the proper way to breathe... and most importantly, how to relax and to run effortlessly.

That first night, we ran... and we ran.... and we ran. Until...


We stopped... and put our hands in the air. A huge dog streaked towards us out of the darkness and showed us what big teeth it had. We were ordered to lay on the ground, face down, with our arms and legs outstretched. This was great sport, since we got to lay down in a bunch of sand, grit, and gravel.. and we were covered with sweat and all sticky.

We heard some radio squelch, and an unintelligible conversation taking place. At one point I started to wipe away a bead of sweat that threatened to run into my eye, but he dog patiently explained to me that it was an ill-advised idea which could, quite possibly, result in the loss of a limb, or fatal hemorrhaging.

We heard the sound of a tracked military vehicle approaching, and the beat of many feet on the ground as a squad of armed special response troops rapidly exited the vehicle from the rear ramp and took up positions from which they could most efficiently riddle us with bullets if the need should arise.

We were 'covered' and routinely searched... this was a brief affair, since we were wearing running shorts, running shoes... and nothing else.

Once it was ascertained that we weren't carrying any deadly weapons or devices, a grand poobah of the Security Police approached us and asked us why we weren't carrying military ID, what we were doing in the area (just to be clear... this area was one that we travelled freely during daylight hours.. we had no idea that it was off limits during hours of darkness...), what unit we were from, whether we wipe back to front or front to back, how many fillings we had in our teeth, and what our great grandmother's favorite color was..... after perhaps an hour, we were cut loose to continue our run in relative peace, and admonished to stay away from certain areas.

So... off we went.

We ran 15 miles that night. I had never, in all of my life, ran more than 2 miles in a single clip.

I felt that I had accomplished something amazing!! I had broken a physical barrier!

The next morning, Barry kicked my bed and told me to get up and go to breakfast with him.

I couldn't. I couldn't move. I couldn't even make it to the bathroom! Every single solitary inch of my being was shrieking in pain. My hair hurt. My bones hurt. I could actually feel every tendon and ligament in my body... and they weren't one bit happy about it. I thought I was going to die. I became terrified that I might NOT die with any immediacy... and that I would be forced to lay there.. in pain... perhaps for minutes... or even, Heaven forbid, up to an hour. I was miserable.

Barry showed his sympathy for me by laughing at me, and by going and finding everyone that he could rope in to come and gawk at me as I lay there on my deathbed.

He told me that the only way to make the pain stop would be to actually get up and force myself to move around... take a good hot shower... and get some food into me.

I told him that I was dying... and that I wanted to be left in peace.

Finally, he pulled me off of the bed onto the floor, ran the shower, and said... "Crawl if you have to... but get into that shower... and lets go get some chow! JUST DO SOMETHING... even if its WRONG!!"

(this became a watchword and motto which continues even to this very day! When I first met my wife, she drove a gray Chevy Nova with a bumber sticker that said "Just Do it!" -- I got a kick out of it, and explained that MY motto was "Just Do something!! Even if its wrong!" -- she most likely thought I was a dick... but, we became friends... and eventually married.. so there!!)

Barry taught me to break through my own limitations that day... limitations concerning my perceptions of others... my own physical limitations... including pain barriers. If not for that lesson, I never would have continued on to serve in the other units that I served in, which required a great deal from each member physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Barry and I became very close friends. We followed one another from Korea to the states, and back to Korea. He was there when my son was born... and I was there when his was.

We laughed, cried, sweat and bled together.

Eventually, I left the military and returned to the United States. Barry remained in Korea. Life moved in, as it does... and we lost touch with one another.

Which brings us to THE CURRENT STORY:

Last week I decided to try to find him... and I began to search for him on the internet. I found a person with the same name, listed as a Major in the USAF as being buried in an expatriate cemetery on the western outskirts of Seoul, Korea. But, Barry was enlisted when I last knew him... so this didn't really add up. I hadn't remembered him telling me anything about a father or grandfather that had served as an officer in the Air Force. Hmmmm.....

The last I had heard about him, he was a part owner of a nightclub in Seoul, and they had a billiards team. I looked up the team website, and clicked on Barry's link to have a look at his scores; they ended in September of 2004. The first trickles of dread began to creep in at the back of my brain... and cold fingers began to grip my guts.

I thought (and hoped) that perhaps the team had gone defunct. I clicked on some of the other members... and then all of the other members... and their scores were current up to the very day.

I stopped. I couldn't get my brain wrapped around this at all... so, relying on my training, I changed tacks and decided to attack the problem from a different angle. I decided to look up military alumni groups. I started with a DLI (Defense Language Institute -- Barry was a Korean Liguist) group; where I found this post -

Sad times for friends of the (Nightclub - name deleted)

Itaewon endured one of its saddest days in recent memory on Sept. 23, when the news went out that Barry ( DELETED ), who ran the ( Nightclub name deleted ), had died that morning in a motorcycle accident in Thailand.

Barry had been on vacation with friends, so it was they who conveyed the bad news to folks in Seoul. From there, word got out to Barry's many friends here via anguished phone calls and text messages.

That night an impromptu memorial service was held at the ( Nightclub name deleted ). Loved ones set up a small, touching shrine in one of the booths, with a big photo of Barry smiling happily, and an album for people to write their farewells. People who'd heard the news ¡ª and there were many ¡ª came by to share their sorrow with hugs and tears.

Barry's funeral was held last Saturday, at the Memorial Chapel of the Seoul Union Church in western Seoul. The church is adjacent to the Foreigners Cemetery, where his remains were eventually laid to rest.

The night before, his many friends had again filled up the ( Nightclub name deleted ) for a wake. From about midnight, 10 or 15 people gave short tributes, led by Sonny ( Last name deleted ), Barry's best friend and Air Force buddy.

Mr. ( Last name deleted ) first met Barry in 1979, when both were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He said Barry proved right away to be an exceptional linguist and interpreter; both were assigned to the Air Force base at Osan in 1980, and they became close friends over the next three or four years.

But most people who knew Barry didn't think of him as a scholar or a cadet. They think of, and thank him for, the great bar he started, the ( Nighclub name deleted ), right after he retired from the Air Force in 1994.

The original bar, located where its successor the ( Nightclub name deleted ) is now, had loads of character; it was jam-packed on Fridays, Saturdays and even some weeknights. On Sunday afternoons, Barry would show movies on his big-screen TV, a special treat in those days. Hungover locals would try to get there early and stake out the best booths.

The ( Nightclub name deleted ) really took off the next year, when Barry expanded it to the second floor, where the restaurant ( Name deleted ) is now. From the get-go, the new section, more like a nightclub, was phenomenally popular. Some nights you couldn't get in unless you knew Barry, or Marcel the doorman.

Back in the here and now, the good news is that the ( Nightclub name deleted ) will remain open. Barry's 21-year-old son Shawn, who'd been helping out over the last year, will take over, and a co-manager, Eugene ( Name deleted ), will remain on board.

Mr. ( Name deleted ) reassured me that he and Shawn "won't change a thing." So yes, the ( Nightclub name deleted ) will still be there. It will still serve up the best steaks in town, and it will still be the friendliest place to down a few. But it'll never be the same.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing!! My friend was gone! ... He had been dead for over three years and I had no idea!!

The sounds of my crying woke my wife... who did her best to console me... I was very upset... I couldn't believe that this had happened. Even though it was 'old news' - to me it had just happened at that very moment... and I was very, very sad.

It was the last thing that I would have expected to find.

My Zen practice doesn't really help me to avoid losing my center when hit with something like this... what it does do is to help me to recover it relatively quickly... which I did. I am still sad to think of a world without Barry in it, but, in a way he is not gone.. just changed. I still miss the relationship, though.. and that is gone. This is one the more difficult things that we must all learn to cope with eventually, I guess...

There was nothing that I could do for Barry. What I did do was to contact his son. I have a wealth of stories to share with Shawn regarding his father... and a stack of photos that I can send to him. Photos from before he was born, photos of when he was a baby... photos of friends and family that may no longer be alive.

I told Shawn that his father was a friend of mine, which made him a friend of mine. I reminded him that I stood by his father's side on the day that he was born, and that he (Shawn) used to play with my son when they were children.

I received a message from Shawn this morning.. in which he signed off with "Friends for life!"

Yes... Friends for life...and beyond.

The Phoenix (Bul Jo Sa) was very important to the Koreans. So much so that the Phoenix was depicted on the royal seal. Here is an image of a phoenix, painted, I believe, by a Korean artist;

And another by a Korean artisan of long ago;

The Phoenix is still to be found flying in the skies of Korea. I don't ask you to believe me... you don't have to take my word for it. See for yourself!

A fitting symbol I think.... for a new friendship has been reborn from the ashes of an old one...

Barry lives on in my heart, it is true... but his blood still runs through the veins of my new friend.

I am happy.