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The bio blurb on the welcome page doesn’t tell much of my story except the part about my wife planning the perfect murder. If I died under mysterious circumstances, you guys would see it was investigated, right? Just kidding. If I’m dead, why would I care? Besides, somebody has to help the kids with their homework. My wife hates math. Six years of homework help is enough to discourage her for now. I’m safe until our youngest graduates from high school. After that, I’ll sleep with one eye open.
“I was born at a very early age in a log cabin I helped my father build,” or so I read in Honest Abe’s memoir when I was a third grader. Not even eight-years-old, I had an epiphany: if you’re interested in reading silly, self-serving lies, pick up a celebrity autobiography. If you’re looking to glimpse the truth, grab something from the fiction section. As writer Tom Robbins suggested in an interview for Reality Sandwich, “just because something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
That conundrum is the Bokononist riddle. If all of the true things I’m about to tell you are shameless lies, then that statement is also a lie and some of the things I’m about to tell you have to be true. Having fairly warned you, here’s my personal tell-all in a page or two:
I had a typical childhood. In fact, I was a child hood. Growing up, I went to school with a toy machine gun in my toy violin case. See? That was a lie. Nothing about my formative years could be captured in an image that clever and engaging.
First of all, I played the trumpet, though not very well. Secondly, I was undersized until high school and dragging a hundred and twenty-six pound Browning .50 caliber machine gun (my dad kept two in the coat closet by the front door) to second grade would have been out of the question, even for an extra special show-and-tell. Okay, I actually did once but my mom helped haul it from the car and back. I only brought one belt of live ammo and another with blanks and tracers. Things were different before school shootings became set pieces in our social landscape.
My father was Force Recon, the Marine unit detailed for special ops. He raised me like the rawest recruit, training me vigorously from an early age. The First Aid class I took in high school was anticlimactic after years of medic training. By six, I could field dress a sucking-chest wound. In second grade, l learned to pack a parachute. One afternoon while we were grocery shopping, my dad shared more than a dozen recipes for making improvised bombs while we strolled down the cleaning supply aisle of the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly. When I was a kid, even stocking the fridge and pantry became a training exercise.
Three years in a row I got depleted uranium rounds in my Christmas stocking. Did you see the movie The Accountant with Ben Affleck? As my kids would say, “relatable.”
If I missed an answer on a pop quiz or, God forbid, an actual test, my mom threatened me with “when your father gets home, he’s going to shoot you in the face with a bazooka.” That was a bit of poetic license or, more likely, she was fuzzy on the nomenclature. We didn’t actually have a bazooka, only an M-4 with a 40 mm grenade launcher stowed on a shelf in the hall closet between Dad’s go-bag and a crate of grenades. My father took home defense seriously. He was not some kook with a deer rifle and a copy of Catcher in the Rye. He was a true believer with mad skills and a modular M40 sniper rifle that fit in a briefcase.
When I was seven, my grandmother came for a visit. We were watching my dad pack for maneuvers when she asked where he was going. He told her Miami Beach. She giggled. “Florida’s lovely this time of year.” Without looking up, he neatly folded his Arctic white, snow camouflage, tucked a sniper scope in the crease, and stuffed them into a small duffle. Turning my direction, he arched his eyebrows and gave me a half-smile. Then he grabbed his gear and hurried to a waiting staff car. I was up until after midnight, trying to decide between my two most likely suspects: Kamchatka and North Korea. I scoured the news for a couple of days trying to pin down his location. The evidence was inconclusive.
Sometimes my dad talked in his sleep. My mom said the words sounded Russian. Other times they sounded Chinese. Awake, he’d only admit to knowing enough Spanish to order a beer or ask directions to the bathroom.
He was on maneuvers when Dominican president Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. My mom was in the kitchen making hot dog spaghetti when I looked up from the evening news and shouted, “Look. Dad’s on TV.”
Starting when I was six or seven, he used to shut me in a closet, sitting cross-legged on an olive green blanket, with the door closed and the lights off. My task was to disassemble one of the M2 Brownings and arrange the parts on the blanket in the pitch-dark in a particular order. When I was done, I knocked on the door so he could check I’d done it correctly. Then he’d shut the door again and I reassembled it to firing order. I hear other kids played catch with their dads.
We did play catch once. Like most interactions with my father, the experience quickly devolved into a contest of wills. When a “pop fly” ricocheted off my glove, he called me “Sally” (we lived in North Carolina then and I had a crush on a fourth-grade classmate named Sally June). I settled stoically under the next one, clasped my hands behind my back, and let the ball hit me in the face. Picking myself up, I trotted inside. When my mom asked what happened, I answered tersely that I’d misjudged a fly ball as I grabbed a bag of peas from the freezer. I had a nasty shiner that lasted a couple weeks but he never called me Sally again.
He didn’t share many details about his work but I was on the ground for dozens of training exercises like night jumps and beach landings. When I was eight, I spent the summer auditing a UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) class he taught at the Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. Besides Marines, the school included Naval personnel who he derisively referred to in a bit of interservice ribbing as “frogmen.” A few years later when the Navy created the SEAL program, teams were formed exclusively from UDT graduates. By mid-July, I had a great tan and a well-developed fondness for blowing things up. There are always tells in the subtext. Learn to read between the lines. If you’re upside down on a sailboat insured for more than it’s worth, look me up on the dark web. If the money’s right, we can work something out.
Apples don’t fall far from the tree. When I left my government job, I spent an hour in a windowless room hunched over my jacket before final debriefing. Except for the psych eval, most pages were so heavily redacted the file looked like a sheaf of black paper. The shorthand version is I have good detail skills from being toilet-trained at gunpoint and am “emotionally detached” because I moved around so much growing up. I didn’t go to the same school two years in a row until the eighth-grade. Most years I went to two or three and twice to four. Learning trust in relationships with a zero shelf life is challenging but the upside of being thrust into so many different situations is I developed a chameleon-like ability to fit in. We’re all a blend of multiple personalities. My gift is I can rotate at will who’s in the catbird seat and still have over-arching control. I’m partial to the witty, charming, and occasionally snarky Scott. He’s a handy misdirect.
I’m pretty sure calling something final, as in final debriefing, is meant to be ironic. I’ve been through a half dozen since. Most fall under the heading of if-I-told-you-I’d-have-to-kill-you but the most recent didn’t directly involve company business. When Robert Mueller took a deep-dive into Paul Manafort, I spent more than twenty hours in two FBI “interviews” hooked up to a lie detector getting grilled about deals I brokered for Oleg Deripaska — the sale of Russian railroad steel for hard currency in the early nineties and 5-nine aluminum to Raytheon a few years after that. When somebody’s been rigorously trained in counter-interrogation techniques, asking firm but polite questions will only get you so far. Besides, the sales were sanctioned and I was tapped and wired for both. The interagency parochialism in Mr Mojo Risin is art imitating life.
My skills translated well to the private sector. I built a comfortable life for myself and my family. I worked banker’s hours so evenings and weekends were available for freelance projects. I’m mostly retired now but as a married father of five, doing a side job now and then means putting away extra money for college. Everybody has enemies. When you’re out and about, keep an eye on your six. If you’re home, get a big dog and always check the peephole.
Oh, and if I show up on your front porch late one night, you might give some thought to not answering the door. Like I said, everybody has enemies.