1999 in 1983

I arrived at Fort Sam Houston, located in near-northeast San Antonio, Texas, on a Friday evening on January 21, 1983 after being stuck in a crippling ice storm that grounded my flight from St. Louis for three days. I was on my way from Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky to my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam’s US Army Academy of Health Sciences, where I was to embark upon a rigorous, 4-month, 6-day-a week schedule of Chemistry, Microbiology, Hematology, Parasitology, Immunohematology, and all the other fun courses in the Basic Medical Laboratory school. My class was BML3-83.

So I arrive at my new unit’s HQ that Friday night to learn I’d arrived too late to enjoy the weekend pass that was given to the rest of my class that arrived that Wednesday when I too was supposed to arrive, but was delayed. I was confined to the barracks for the weekend because I wouldn’t get properly signed into the unit until that Monday, so I was basically a captive until then. The Sergeant on duty handed me two wool blankets, a pillow, and bedding, then escorted me to my new room, where he handed my new meal card and gave me a quick but very demanding set of rules for what I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t leave the barracks compound and especially not the post. I could go to the mess hall, gym, and Post Exchange (PX). That was it. Nice.

Luckily at the St. Louis airport I’d purchased Prince’s new album 1999 on cassette, so I loaded it into my Walkman and headed downstairs to my barracks day room, where there were a couple of TVs, a few pool tables, and some food machines. Sitting in one of the TV lounges was a tall, lithe, utterly gorgeous blonde girl wearing only PT clothes (Army T-shirt and shorts) and flip-flops, and, since I’d just come from Basic and hadn’t seen a hot girl in ages, I naturally walked over to her and introduced myself.

She arrived late as she was a Reservist from Maine who finished Basic in December went home on leave for a few weeks before AIT, and, like me. her flight was delayed, although for other reasons than mine, so alas she too was confined to the barracks for the weekend. She had taken a year off from the University of Maine after her sophomore year to join the Army Reserves for the college money, went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and here she was for BML.

Right away, as if to ward me off, she declared she was engaged to the love of her life, which I duly noted but ignored, and of course within thirty minutes of meeting we were in her room making out like maniacs, our clothes coming off with frenetic naughtiness, with my cassette of Prince’s 1999 blasting on her little boombox. It was, I should say, a wildly erotic and fun weekend, the two of us all alone in that huge barracks for those glorious two days, taking breaks only to go to the mess hall for food and the PX for beer. We played the fuck out of 1999 as we screwed like a couple of rabid dogs. It should be noted we also played my cassettes of The Psych Furs, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Stray Cats, but mostly our fuckfest of a weekend was serenaded by Prince. Dance Music Sex Romance, oh yeah.

That Monday, after we had our first formation with our classmates who were all back from a wild weekend pass that they bragged about to us relentlessly, she informed me she really loved her fiancé, although, yes, for sure, she had a great weekend and I was a great guy, and hot, but that was it, we wouldn’t be repeating our weekend’s carnal adventures. And we didn’t. We remained good friends all through our training, and when we parted at the San Antonio airport four months later as our flights left about the same time, she heading back to Maine and her life there while I was off to Fort Benning for my first duty station as a Regular Army Medic, we kissed for about ten minutes. A great kiss, the best of my life if I may be honest. We realized with that amazing kiss that we probably should have been a couple, but such is life.

She married that fiancé a year later as she told me in a letter while I was at Fort Benning, which was the last I ever heard from her. All I have is a great memory of that weekend, which, when I play Prince’s album 1999, becomes vivid in my mind. And I smile. She was a cool girl.

Thank you, Prince, you super-cool, nasty, sexy motherfucker.

Una noche de fútbol en Valencia

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

My best mates in Valencia and I gathered at Bar Canada on Avingnuda Regne de Valencia in the Russafa neighborhood to watch Valencia CF play Chelsea FC in a Champions League fixture. On hand in the green shirt was my very good English mate Clive, who, like me, is a diehard Arsenal FC fan and avowed hater of all things Chelsea, and, as you can see, my brother John attended, sporting his Valencia CF shirt, and next to John in the black sweater and blue shirt is his best mate in Valencia, the Belgian ex-pat Lodewijk. The other two chaps were friends of friends who are now my friends after a fantastic night watching a brilliant match, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Many adult beverages were consumed and we all went home happy.

Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain

Missing was our good English mate Chris, originally from Newcastle—who is now, like John, Clive, and Lodewijk, a permanent resident of Valencia—and the owner of Bike Alao; Chris was off to Girona visiting his father, though we texted him constantly with photos and commentary. Also on hand was London native Jonathan (standing behind me in pic #2), another fanatical Arsenal hooligan like Clive and me, who works for Chris’s Bike Alao shop in Grau. It was one of the best futbol matches of the year and about as exciting as European soccer can be, full of dramatic goals and wildly exciting attacks by both clubs. I only have a few days left in Valencia before I head home, but I am so glad to have made so many epic memories on this current trip. I’ll miss my good friends here until my next trip on 2020. This time I stayed 46 days after staying 40 back in February and March, and hopefully next time I can stay much longer. It is slowly becoming my second home.

Irrational America

The new USA motto: “It don’t matter no more, so pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka.”

As I stated the day after Trump won the US Presidency, his win marked the end of the Age of Enlightenment in the United States of America. Although Hillary Clinton thoroughly dominated the popular vote by well over 3 million votes, our insane Constitutional loophole called the Electoral College gave Trump the win. Millions of people across the states needed for an Electoral College victory for Trump voted for this insane, bloviating, utterly contemptible human being, like it or not. Sure, he lies like no other public figure in recent memory. Sure, he bragged like a randy frat boy about grabbing pussies and assaulting women against their will. Sure, he insulted and mocked the disability of a New York Times journalist. Sure, he bankrupted nearly every business he started and yet parades himself as a success. He’s an avowed racist asshole, pathological liar, failed businessman, and raging dumbass, and yet people voted for him.

That question I asked then was, simply, what the fuck, America? Why would people vote for this insane, silly, deeply pathological man-child? What insanity gripped so many millions on that Election Day in 2016? What nihilism led to this madness? Well, now I know.

The USA is, simply put, populated by some increasingly irrational, stupid, insane, and self-destructive people. Voting for Trump is just one symptom of a much larger problem with this country. Rejecting science is another, as is the rise in fundamentalist and evangelical religions and other irrational belief systems such as libertarian ideology or Chicago School economics. And finally there’s this amazing sad fact: recent health statistical data points to a declining life expectancy in the USA, due mainly to profligate alcohol and drug abuse (alcohol-related deaths have risen 41% since 1999; fatal drug overdoses have increased 387% in the same period!); overeating and morbid obesity and all the chronic ill-health pathologies associated with it (hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, et al.; mortality rates for obesity-related maladies have increased 114% since 1999); and a 39% increase in suicide rates for Americans aged 25-65—with a whopping 56% suicide increase for ages 55-64!

That’s right: Americans are killing themselves either slowly or quickly in much greater numbers. And this increase is largely happening to people in their middle-age years after 40. It has shifted health stats overall to reflect the first decline in life expectancy in a century in the United States of America. Crazy but true.

What is astonishing about this report in the Journal of American Medical Association is that this decline in life expectancy cuts across all races and ethnic groups, and happens whether people live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. It’s not just the poor and disadvantaged who are dying younger from self-destructive habits. The sad fact is that people of middle age across all demographic categories are dying in greater numbers in the USA from mostly preventable maladies in a country that outspends on average for health care than the rest of the world, and yet it has the poorest health of any wealthy nation. America, we have a problem, and we’re mostly doing it to ourselves.

People are literally killing themselves in this country with a frightening, and, I might add, highly perplexing self-destructive streak that defies logic and reason. So why not vote for a fucking asshole like Trump when you already don’t give a damn whether you live or die any more? Why bother listening to scientists who are screaming at the top of their lungs that our planet’s climate is in serious danger, or that income inequality continues to rise and the middle class is largely disappearing, when you’re going to OD on smack, or overeat yourself into a diabetic ketoacidosis state, or drink yourself into systemic organ failure, one abjectly self-destructive habit or other that will lead to an early death before you’re 60? Worse, why care at all if you’re going to blow your brains out with a gun immediately? Live and let die, bitches. Flip the world the bird as you exit that mortal coil. God and Ayn Rand are waiting for you with open arms in the afterlife you so quickly want to join, so fuck it, right?

I probably sound like an elitist jerk, and maybe I am, but I’m completely dumbfounded and stupefied by the overwhelming irrationality and suicidally self-destructive behavior of far too many of my fellow citizens. Rejecting science is insane on its own, and fraught with horrific peril for our future as a species. Voting for reprehensible human beings as our democratic leaders who then do everything to destroy the self interest and well being of tens of millions citizens to favor the super-rich elite few is another form of insanity. Add all that to millions of citizens—millions!—deliberately eschewing good health and longevity through shitty eating and not exercising, or suicidally abusing drugs and alcohol, or simply killing one’s self outright.

What the fuck, people? Are nihilism and self-destruction your only coping mechanisms for a life you so obviously hate? Is dragging everyone else down that rat-fucked hole with you your master plan? It sure feels that way any more. Like a kid who shoots up his school then turns the gun on himself, people are no longer content killing themselves, they have to take everyone with them. People voting for Trump in numbers great enough that he won the Electoral Vote indicates this insane nihilism as much as anything I have witnessed in my 56 years of living. Just look at the map of where life expectancy decline is the greatest: it’s in places where Trump won lots of votes. Think it’s a coincidence? Hell no.

Not all Trump fanatics are self-destructive alcoholics, drug fiends, or chronic overeating fat pigs. Nor are they all uneducated dopes who reject science and higher learning. Of course not, and I would never state something like that with any sort of scientific certainty. But, let’s be honest, his success seems to be greatest in regions where so many of the citizens are dying young from these highly preventable maladies, so there is some provable correlation between voting for Trump and all this self-destructive behavior that drives down our national life expectancy. He won because he got votes across the Ohio Valley, from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, and also throw in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri too; all of which, if you look at the map above, is where life expectancy dropped the most since 1999. The exception is northern New England where life expectancy dropped considerably too and Hillary won those states, but that’s not a lot of people (or Electoral Votes) compared to the states I mentioned above.

I rest my case; I really can’t say much else. The facts, as they say, are clear on this. Res ipsa loquitur. Extreme negligence towards one’s self means extreme negligence towards others. If people don’t give a flying fuck about themselves, how little do they care for others? The evidence clearly indicates they don’t give a damn at all about anything. Just pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka, and everyone else can go to hell.

Life Update: Fall 2019

Mercado de Colón, Valencia, 8 Nov 2019

I’m spending more and more time living in Valencia, Spain, as I’ve built a nice home office here and can do my job more than adequately some 6200 kilometers from my home office in Philadelphia. Spanish culture is vastly different than in Philly, considerably safer, cleaner, and less frenetic, and, for the most part, much cheaper, especially thanks to a strong US Dollar these days. I work US hours, so I have mornings off to go biking or walk around this old, beautiful, utterly magnificent city. With each passing day my Spanish gets better, but it’s a difficult process to fully master enough of the language to be effectively conversant. It will take me years to do so, but I welcome the challenge.

The good news is I have lost 40 pounds since I broke my arm in 2016. I haven’t been this thin or healthy in ages, and I’m working harder every day to keep thin and fit. I’m also gathering a nice group of friends here with whom to pass the time watching fútbol while guzzling beers at Bar Obispo or Bar Canada, our hangouts for such an activity. My friends Chris and his partner/girlfriend Klara own bike rental shops, called Bike Alao, in the Russafa and Grau districts of Valencia, and sometimes I join Chris as he takes tourists on bike tours of Valencia and the surrounding environs. Most of my friends are British and Belgian ex-pats who have lived in Valencia for ages, so much so that many have married or partnered with Spaniards or other ex-pats and have built nice family lives in this great city.

The Scheck Brothers bicycling to El Monasterio de Santa Maria, El Puig, Spain, 1 Nov 2019.

The best aspect of living part time in Valencia is spending time with my brother John, who has lived here 13 years and speaks Spanish like a native. John’s been arduously writing three novels the past few years and I’ve been helping him as his sometimes editor and critic. All three are fantastic and I hope they get published soon or picked up as the next cool Netflix series. John’s life experience as a master linguist, world traveler, and well-read intellectual has helped him create novels of tremendous depth, insight, and thoughtfulness, while also being exciting works that grip the reader’s attention on every page.

I return to the USA in early December, so my days are winding down on this trip. Next year my company is kicking off a huge project in Souther California, so I won’t have as much time to live in Valencia until that project is finished in a few years, though I’ll escape to here when I can. This trip will be my longest continuous stay, 46 days, though my last one was 40 in February-March of this year. It gets harder and harder to go back. It gets easier and easier to stay.