My First Trip to Las Vegas

6 August, 1967- I was nine years old and  my Dad had just  retired from the Army at Fort Carson, Colorado. We then started camping our way to California. Earlier that day, we had gone over the Hoover Dam. Dad stopped the car in the middle of the dam so Mom could take pictures. I had been asleep, so I just jumped out wearing just my shorts. From the air-conditioned comfort of the car and into 110 degree Summer in Nevada. The asphalt burned my bare feet so I tried to jump back into the car. I missed on my first shot and burned myself on the hot side of the car.

Mom and Dad had Army Buddies in Las Vegas and we were going to visit. They lived on Lake Mead Boulevard. Guess what? Las Vegas has two Lake Meads and we were tooling up and down the wrong one looking for Jim and Iris’ house. Mom raised the Bullshit flag and demanded a shower. We had spent three days in our camper/tent trailer. A shower sounded pretty good.

Dad checked us into the SHOWBOAT MOTEL, right across from the Showboat Casino. Oh BOY! It had a pool!! So as only an Only Child can do, I ranted and pouted that I wanted to go swimming. Hell, I was already in my trunks. So while Mom and Oma (my Grandma) unpacked the trailer, Dad sat down to watch me and I jumped in.

Mind you, my idea of swimming was to jump in the three foot and dive for rocks on the bottom. Having been stationed in France I had never learned to swim. So there I was jumping in and jumping out. Diving for rocks in the three foot.

Mom came over to tell Dad that there was a footlocker that only a Big Strong Man could carry and he stood up as Mom sat down to watch me.

In that moment. As Dad stood up and Mom sat down. Someone bumped me and I fell into the pool.

As my feet touched the bottom, I stood up. But instead of coming out of the water, I was looking at six inches of water over my head. I was four foot six in the Five Foot.

“No problem”, I thought calmly, “I’ll walk into the shallow end”.  I took two…maybe three steps. But each time the wave action of this pool pushed me back. Then I slipped off the edge and I was in the Nine Foot. Now I was in trouble. What do people do when  they’re drowning? I remembered that they hold up fingers. I fought my way to the surface and stuck my hand out of the water.

One.

I sank.  I struggled back to the surface and raised my hand.

Two.

Nothing. I sank again. A third try to get help and I put my hand up again.

Three.

Fuck. That’s not working. I decided to try screaming. For a fourth time I struggled with all I had to get my head above the water. As I went to take a deep breath, someone jumped in and swamped me. Instead of taking in air my lungs filled with water.

Bang. Everything changed. I calmed down. My lungs were full so I didn’t need to breathe any more.  I sank to the bottom of  the Nine Foot. There I was, laying on my back at the bottom of the pool, watching the bubbles. I said the Lord’s Prayer and passed out. I do remember seeing the really bright white light. Nobody came and talked to me or greet me. Just light.

Meanwhile topside Mom was looking for me. She suddenly recognized my swim trunks at the bottom of the pool. A Marine on leave jumped in and pulled me out. I was completely white except for my royal blue lips.  Four grown men couldn’t pry my jaws open to give me mouth to mouth. About then the Fire Department showed up (ain’t no EMTs in 1967). The fireman asked how long I’d been in the water and 15 or 20 minutes was a good guess.

The firemen says, “Well, he’s dead. Even if he comes around there’ll be brain damage”.

My Mom screams so loud and so hard she spits out her false teeth. She had lost one son in the War and now has lost another one. The Marine who pulled me out started to do      back pressure arm lift on me. Not for me, I was dead. But to keep Mom from having a stroke or killing someone. After a bit, all this water and vomit comes out of me. Oh My God. I am breathing.

Then things get weird.

Mom gets all crazy and won’t let anyone touch me. I was NOT taken to the hospital.

I wake up alone. Naked. Covered with vomit. Laying on a motel room bed. I have the World’s Worse Headache and World’s Worst Chest Pain. My first thought…..

“Is this Heaven?”

As I’m trying to decide, Dad pokes his head in the room and I hear him say “He’s awake.”

Mom came in and  carried me to the tub. Dad had put about an inch of water in the tub. As Mom lowered me down and I felt the water, I freaked. I punched Mom so hard she fell out of the bathroom. “Okay”, she said “sponge bath.”

The motel manager was kind of spooked by the whole thing. There was a sign warning that there was no life guard. But he still asked if there was ANYTHING WE WANTED. If your child had almost died and someone said that to you. What would you ask for? Mom took all the towels and all the ash trays. I said this was the weird part.

The manager asked what I wanted. I said that I was tired of Oma losing all my quarters and I wanted to play the slot machines.  That night I sat at a slot machine and with a “House Detective” (think Joe Pesci in Casino)  behind me  I put a roll of Showboat  Casino-provided quarters into the machine. I did not win. I then joined my family for a steak dinner on the house.

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This is me and Mom at the pool the next day. I pretty sure that Mom looking at the pool was NOT posed.  The infamous chair was still there. The pool was tiny.

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This is me and Dad at Lake Mead. I wearing the same trunks I wore into the pool. It had rained (flooded) in Vegas and we camped at the Lake where it was drier. By the 11th (Dad’s Birthday) we were at Disneyland.

 

 

 

How Much Trouble can a Kid Get Into?

We lived in Germany for a few years. That sounds so cool, but if you’re in the Air Force it’s really no biggie. We were stationed at Hahn Airbase in the Hunsruck. That’s a province in Germany that literally means “Dog’s Back”. Mainly farmland framed with really steep hills. Acres of barley, hops and wheat that goes into making that yummy German Beer.

So one day I was cheerfully playing with my F-16 when the Expeditor drives up. An Expeditor expedites stuff. Okay, he really drives back and forth making sure things get done. Jets get fixed, launched, recovered. Keeps track of who is working where. So anyway, John (the Expeditor) drives up to me and yells “GO HOME!!”

Me driving home.

I start packing up my tools and he shouts again (John never yells), “WE’LL GET THAT. GO HOME NOW!!!” Okay, okay. I get into the truck. He drives me directly to my car. I drive home.

We lived in off base housing in the village Rhaunen, about 20 klicks away. (that’s the cool way to say kilometers, no it’s not misspelled).   This gave me time to wonder what the big deal is. I’m betting that the wife has another migraine and needs to go to the E.R. As I neared Rhaunen, I saw a pall of black smoke coming out of our little valley.

This is what I saw when I topped the hill.

“Oh Shit”, I thought, “our apartment caught fire.”

When I got to the housing area I counted three German Fire Companies and the Air Force one. A quick glance to see our apartment building was unscathed, WTH? White smoke and steam filled the air and before I could park, my wife walked up to the car.

“Brian won’t talk to any one until he talks to you. That’s what he said. Don’t be mad at him”.

Okay, seriously, what the fuck is going on?

Brian in front of our apartment in Rhaunen.

There was Brian (eight years old, or so) standing, arms crossed with a half a dozen firemen standing with him. There were also the Air Force Security Police and German Polizei (police). He starts talking but the Security Policeman suggests we take the conversation somewhere else.

In my living room, the Security Police read me MY rights. I’m thinking “Okay, but what the hell is going on?” At this point the wife thinks that I’m in trouble. Well, I am. I’m responsible for the action of my “Dependents” (Militaryspeak for “family”). That out of the way I turn to Brian. “Okay. What happened?”

He says that he was playing with some boys. They had matches and were taking turns seeing how long they could hold a burning match. He dropped his and the wheat field caught fire. Oh yeah the four acres of smoking wreckage right outside. Gotcha. The Security Police thanks me for my “statement” and advised me to get a German Lawyer.

I get a German lawyer, Herr Rhaunen. I have always thought that was cool. Herr Rhaunen who lives in Rhaunen. Yeah, his family had lived in the valley since the Middle Ages and got to name the village.  Rechtsanwahlter is German for lawyer. A direct translation is “He who sees the Truth, or Right.”  I pay him a hundred Marks to have him suggest we talk to the farmer.  I don’t get to talk to him, Lawyer Rhaunen goes and talks to him. It turns out that the field  had already been harvested and the farmer was going to burn it anyway. Nothing was damaged, so the farmer thanked me for helping out.

Huh?

That was Brian’s story and he stuck to it. Until 1998, when Brian came to see me in Las Vegas.  Apparently it wasn’t the Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but The Truth. It seems that Brian took the Rap for his Little Brother. Dear….Sweet…Little…..Timmy was the criminal. Yeah there were matches. Yeah there were boys from the neighborhood. Yeah, Brian was there too.  Yeah they were playing “hold the match until it burns the shit out your finger”. But it was Timmy. Dear….Sweet…Little …Timmy who wielded the can of OFF insect repellant like a flame thrower. Which got out hand…literally and was dropped in that wonderfully harvested field of wheat.

Dear…Sweet…Little…Timmy on his Second-First Day of Kindergarten.