My Life at Age Twenty-Three

Wikimedia: Castle Romeo nuclear test
Castle Romeo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll.

It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico as I turned twenty-three I was studying nuclear weapons at the Nuclear Training Directorate. Although I had graduated first in my class from the electronics portion of my military occupation specialty at the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, I had difficulty with the study of nuclear weapons. We had to learn about many different kinds of "Test and Handling" gear, and I could not for the life of me memorize the designation of each tool and what it was used for, just as in high school biology class I could not learn dozens of unrelated facts about various species of plants and animals. I have always only been able to learn how a system works, not unrelated items like the names in a phone book. I would perhaps have flunked out, but one day the instructor was being evaluated for how well he was teaching, and he got in trouble for being too harsh on me for nodding off in the boring class, and so he made sure that I passed the exam as a way for him to get even with his evaluator, who must obviously have been wrong if I did well enough in class to pass the exam, right? It was one of many lucky breaks for me in life, when the instructor did the cheating for me. Not that I was a natural-born cheater, and you may be the judge of that question. In later years, back in Seattle I would enter contests or drawings where you had to write your name and phone number on an entry blank and drop it through a slot into a box for the drawing of the lucky entry. Like Napoleon Bonaparte, I made my own luck. I would take the entry blank and fold it over many times until, when I unfolded it, it was corrugated and no longer a flat piece of paper. In this manner I won a fancy Baskin and Robbins bicycle at the ice cream store. I found out that the manager's three-year-old daughter had reached in and pulled out my winning entry. Of course, there were not many entries, because not everybody carries around ballpoint pens in a nerd pocket as I did. At my alma day-job, the University Book Store, I dropped a corrugated entry blank into a contest-box, and a week later they called me up and told me to come and get the electronic scanner that I had won. Since I did not yet have the necessary USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on the free computer that I had obtained by skewed demographics (I was older) from, I gave the expensive scanner away to "Drifty", a former U.S. Navy submariner who had helped me in my Mentifex AI project. Drifty has threatened me that he will cut me off from the Internet if I refer to him as "Drifty" on-line, but I shall fear no evil. Anyway, Drifty lost his title of "Drifty" on the submarine when a new sailor came on board who was even driftier than he was, so they took away the name "Drifty" and gave it to the new guy.

In Albuquerque I bought myself a special bicycle with extra-thick tires to withstand the prickly burrs and thorns growing all over the surrounding desert. I rode the bicycle all over town and even out onto the "mesa" stretching from Sandia Base towards the mountains, an area full of storage bunkers with bored and lonely guards standing at each entrance. Suddenly on one trip a bird called a "roadrunner" ran across in front of me in a zigzag fashion, just like in the "Roadrunner" cartoons.

I told my fellow soldiers to point out the cutest girl at the swimming pool, and I would introduce her to them. They pointed out Martha, so I sunned myself near her. When everybody but her and me went in the water, we started talking. I ended up tutoriing her in German, and we often walked to her stepfather sergeant's house on Perimeter Road. I would lie on my back and she would sit on the hood of her family car and we would talk until two or three in the morning. When her friends saw her and me coming, they would say, "Here comes Marty and Arty." Another soldier with a car took her to the outdoor drive-in, and he told me to stop seeing her. I refused. I said she was not my girlfriend, because I had a girlfriend back in Seattle. The guy had to put up with going to the New Mexico State Fair not with her alone but with him on one side of her and me on the other side. Like a fool I did not agree to write letters to her because I had a girlfriend, and ever after I wished that she and I had corresponded.

As we soldiers neared the end of our training in nuclear weapons at Sandia Base, New Mexico, we got to fill out a "Dream Sheet" and list in descending order the duty stations where we would like to serve in our Army specialty. I put Germany first because I spoke German, and I got my wish. I was afraid of being sent to freezing cold Korea, where my cousin Warren Barton had served as a spook in the Army Security Agency after learning Korean at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. My buddy Larry Parr also went there and learned Russian. Then he got posted to Berlin, Germany, and he would listen in on Russian radio-operators calling out "Там ли? Там ли?" ("Are you there? Are you there?") over the radio.

After graduation where we received a diploma showing an atomic bomb going off, I had two weeks of leave back in Seattle before I had to report to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for military transport to Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The first words I heard in German when we landed were "Noch zehn" ("Ten more"), spoken by a German woman indicating that there was room on the bus for ten more soldiers. The bus took us to Gutleut Kaserne, where I stayed overnight and then traveled further to Boblingen south of Stuttgart. When one soldier stole another soldier's coat, the Army told us that we would not proceed to our duty stations until the stolen coat was returned to its rightful owner, and it was. Either at Boblingen or some other point en route, an Army guy singled me out in a large crowd of soldiers and said to me, "You there! Isn't it hard for you to write in your notebook and listen at the same time?" I reponded, "Yes, specialist." Then he reasoned aloud, "So don't you think you should put your notebook away?" Mystified at such treatment, I informed him, "I am writing down what you say, specialist." My taking a lot of notes is almost a kind of cheating in life.

I was sent on a German Bundesbahn train to Heilbronn am Neckar, where a call was made for my Army outfit to come and pick us soldiers up. Meanwhile I got into a conversation with an old man who had served in the German army on the Eastern Front in Russia, where he was wounded. In a German army hospital, Hitler came through to visit the troops, and the wounded man said to Hitler, "Fuer mich ist der Krieg wohl aus" ("For me the war is probably over"), and Hitler just smiled and moved on. When the American army vehicle picked me and some other GI's up from the train-station, we went up a hill and past a little eatery that one soldier told us was called "Tilly's" by the soldiers, and he promised us that we would be spending a lot of time there, and he was right. I spent countless hours there at the Weinstube Braun, eating Knackwurst and Schinken (ham) in sandwiches and slurping Gulaschsuppe while reading stacks of German magazines.

Although I was assigned to the 23rd Ordnance Company, I was processed in next door at the 101st Ordnance Battalion. There was a Russian propaganda poster up on the wall and I translated for the soldiers the slogan below a picture of Vladimir Lenin: Самый Человеческий Человек -- "A Most Humane Human." Although I do not cheat on tests, by the time of high school graduation I had learned many tricks to get the highest possible score in test-taking, so with 149 I had a high score on the General Technical exam in Basic Combat Training, and a clerk processing me in to the battalion said that now he would have to call up some soldier out in the boonies and tell him that he no longer had the highest GT score in the battalion. That mini-triumph was ego-stroking, but I have always been fully aware that I am barely smart enough to work as an independent scholar in artificial intelligence. All the IQ (intelligence quotient) tests over the years told me that I was at the ninety-eighth (98th) percentile of intelligence in the general population, which is a rank at the very bottom of intelligence among computer scientists. I dare to claim that I have solved AI not because of any claim to being smart, but because I have a knack for foreign languages and because my slow, plodding intellect figured out how the mind works after thirteen years of scribbling theories into notebooks.

In my two years as a Nuclear Weapons Electronics Specialist at the 23rd Ordnance Company, I worked in the tech support section in a special fenced-off area with a guardhouse manned around the clock. At first I had to do KP (kitchen police) up in the Mess Hall now and then, but I got on a special duty of sleeping overnight periodically in the Tech Support area that freed me up from KP. (I must Google the special duty before I know if I am at liberty to describe it here.) Just like at Sandia Base in New Mexico, I bought myself a bicycle, called a Staiger, in Germany and I used it to explore the city of Heilbronn, the surrounding countryside, and to ride fifty miles down the Neckar River to the Student-Prince city of Heidelberg.

From an outfit near Washington D.C. called Victor Kamkin, Inc., I subscribed very cheaply to the Russian newspaper Pravda, which came to me at my APO (Army Post Office) mailbox. It was probably the most boring newspaper in the world, but I enjoyed reading the cartoons in Russian. Now and then I would throw away huge stacks of unread issues in the Dumpster outside of battalion headquarters. One day I found out that a sergeant had retrieved one of my copies of Pravda from the Dumpster and had put it on the desk of the colonel in command of the 101st Ordnance Battalion. The colonel, who would see me at Mass on Sundays in the chapel, shrugged it off and did not bother to investigate my open reading of Russian propaganda. The officers in general were glad to have me around as a German-English interpreter. Once they took me to some factory to help them order German beer steins for hale-and-farewell parties. Another time a rather never-do-well Army officer had gotten in trouble with the German police, and his fellow officers had me try to help them fix things. I remember a German policeman telling his buddies in Swabian, "Schaffe, schaffe, Haeusle baue, nur nicht nach dem Maedle schaue," or "Work, work, build a house, just don't look at the maiden." Yet another time the officers took me to a German railroad station and tried to divert a shipment of fifty-two Army trucks from the northern seaport of Hamburg to a train-station closer to the base, but the German railroad people refused to change the destination of the shipment.

In downtown Heilbronn I went to the Horten department store to look at electric switches and wires and other materials with which I might conduct more experiments for my AI project. A petite little shockingly pretty German girl was in charge of the electrical equipment section and she spoke no English. When I would hand her something I wanted to buy and she had to work the cash register, she would say "So halten, gell?" and hand it briefly back to me. She would complain to me about American soldiers who had left German girls in the lurch. When I would use a perfectly good but literary German expression like "ein andermal", she would correct my German and say "ein anderes Mal". When she got used to me showing up frequently, she would greet me with "Der Herr" and I would greet her back, "Die Dame". If she saw me away from her work station, she would shake my hand, because Germans are always shaking hands. Eventually I got up enough nerve to ask if I could walk her to the train station after work, and so we did that promenade on several occasions. While walking to the Bahnhof, she would tell me in German that she would fly over to Seattle some day. Duh! I was too stupid. I had a chance to marry the German beauty and take her home to America. She looked like a German movie star named Uschi Glas, only prettier and petite-er. One day she told me I could have a photograph of her, and I had to choose between one of her in a bikini and one of her fully dressed. She was studying me very carefully and so I wisely took the one of her fully dressed. With my German Minox spy camera I took a splendid photograph of her standing next to my Staiger bicycle outside the train station. When I took my Army buddy to Horten to meet her, the American guy could not believe his eyes and he exclaimed, "Miss Heilbronn!" But I eventually went home to Second Love, who rejected me, so I returned to Europe with a heartbroken plan to live the rest of my life in Germany. Although I was living far up north in Goettingen, I did make one trip back to visit Heilbronn and I went looking for Miss Hess at Horten, but I could not find her.

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