This weekend I spent some time with a friend and we talked about growing up, and how life lessons that beat us up helped define us. My friend left home early and ended up pursuing an education. I wasn’t as smart, I went gung-ho and decided to join the military, the US Navy to be exact. The year was 1987 and I was all of 18 years old. I wanted to see the world, experience life, maybe go overseas and meet interesting people (read … girls).
So I signed, went to boot camp six months later, in Great Lakes, where it sometimes hit -40 degrees, and realized I may have made a mistake. It turned out that I probably wasn’t suited for the military because I was independent and liked setting my own schedule. All that gets tossed out the window when you’re enlisted. You have to return to base at a certain time, you can’t just run off for a weekend – especially if you’re deployed, because you’re separated by rules and a whole lot of ocean.
Being eighteen and knowing everything (because 18) one thinks they are going into things with a worldly perspective. I know I did. I thought I was prepared for anything. What I wasn’t prepared for was being responsible for my own well-being and safety.
A marine friend of mine by the name of Jerry Winfield used to say that every good story starts like this: So I was drinking.
So I was drinking…
I was in Sasebo Japan and a bunch of squidlings and I had decided to go out and see the town. We managed to get somewhat close to town before we found a bar. Then we found another bar. This led to yet another bar. I’m sure you’re seeing a pattern here.
So began an all-night journey to find not my friends, but the base. I knew that I had to head toward the water because I was awfully smart like that. I managed to make it to a something near the base, a small port with piers and little boats. I struck out one way, decided it was the wrong way, turned around and walked for another hour. It was terrifying to be lost in another country. I tried to ask people for help but they wanted nothing to do with a gaijin who was obviously drunk. Luckily, I ran into a group of sailors from our Japanese sister ship and they showed me, between stifling laughter, how to get back to the base. I found the ship and managed to get about half an hour of sleep before duty called.
Another incident occurred no less than 4 months later. This time I was in Thailand. The girl I was with stole my money (I guess I passed out – best to just leave the details out of this little soiree) and my friends had given up on banging on my door in an attempt to get me back to the ship.
Consequently, I rolled out of bed about 30 minutes before the last boat ride to my ship, which was moored off shore. The hotel staff wanted to be paid for all of the stuff that had been eaten and drank from the fridge, stuff I didn’t even remember, stuff I’m pretty sure the girl who stole my money took. I ended up handing over my Rolex knock off (purchased in Hong Kong for $10) to get out of the bill and managed to beg enough money for a jeepney ride that bounced all over the place and was packed to the gills. I managed to make it to the boat just as they were about to pull out.
Missing my ship out of Thailand would have been a disaster. Imagine, stuck in another country, without a penny, and you’re an enlisted puke who made a few bad choices and would be facing captains mast for starters.
The point of this blog is to show that people grow up in interesting ways. For me, it was being in the military and running around in other countries, getting lost, and being terrified out of my mind. It wasn’t always crazy. My ship spent a lazy month in Australia that included 4 different port visits.
When I’m writing the Z-Risen books, I try to put myself back in that mindset. What was it like to be in the military and learn from my mistakes? What lessons do Jackson Creed and Joel “Cruze” Kelly learn while they are trying to survive the zombie-fucking-apocalypse? It’s a whole new world out there and they don’t always have the answers. Instead, they go out, learn how to survive, and try to stay alive.
My heroes are not perfect but that’s what makes them fun and interesting to write. If they knew all the answers, and knew every step to take, every trick to survival, they would be uninteresting. I like to write characters that are flawed and have warts because who doesn’t want to root for an underdog?
There’s another story I may tell someday, that happened at a convention. It didn’t involve missing ships, getting my things stolen, or even passing out after a night of debauchery. In fact this event ended up changing my life. But, that story starts just like all interesting stories.
“So I was drinking…”