I've been partying like a rock star...actually not like a rock star...like someone who had two parties to go to in two weeks. This past saturday I went to a "gala" for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona. It was black tie optional so I chose the option of not wearing a black tie...actually Dan chose that option. It honored local geniuses and there were really interesting artists and one fellow involved in the Mars lander there. Pretty cool. By the way, the Mars lander is a pretty big deal out here because of the University of Arizona's substantial involvement with that program. They put it on billboards and everything. I've learned a lot about the U of A from those billboards actually. They also perfected the artificial heart, they invented tree ring counting or something and they did something with pima cotton. Yahoo! Oh yeah, and their men's and women's swimming teams were national champions this year. Billboards are highly educational.
First, let me tell you about the shirt Dan initially brought up to wear. It was made from some type of polyester blend sateen material and it was deep, dark purple. Yes...you read that correctly. It looked like something that Tony Soprano would wear. The tie options he brought only made it look more like a selection from Mr. Soprano's wardrobe. Dan played golf with some buddies on Saturday morning so I took his shirt to my mother's house -- because she really had to see it to believe it. My brother was there and we all agreed that I needed to get myself down to the mall to rectify that situation immediately. I mean, I could probably avoid standing next to him for a long time but eventually people would figure out that we're together.... I went to Banana Republic and, with my brother's substantial input, bought him a pale grey shirt with a really cool tie that had lavender and purple stripes (trying to tie in his earlier choices). To his great credit, Dan was happy to wear our selection and he looked very handsome.
The gala was on the rooftop of a downtown garage. You parked under the party and got a little red "superball" as your proof of admittance. When a few people asked us what we were supposed to do with the superballs, Dan told them that at midnight we were all going to throw them off the roof at cars below. Ahhh Dan does not disappoint! After getting our balls (that really doesn't sound that great), we headed to the elevator but not before we saw this woman who had the most enormous fake breasts I've ever seen! I mean, these things were so large they looked painful (because her skin looked like it was stretched to its limits). Of course, she was wearing something that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. I tried to fake taking a picture of Elizabeth and Autumn where I would focus on her chest and blur out their faces because it was that unbelievable. Unfortunately she moved before I could snap the shot...damn. The stuff of legends...
The rooftop was really cool. I also mean it was cold. Fortunately there were a lot of heat lamps around and I, being a thin skinned West Coaster these days, planted myself near one while Dan got drinks. Dan had to be the groundbreaker in the smoking department because there really was no place for those guys to go. Although, when you're on a rooftop can't you smoke anywhere? There's probably something about being a certain distance from the building but this building is a parking garage...oh well. He found a corner and started a trend. My nicotine addicted trendsetter.
When we were told to take our seats, I was pleased to know that a heat lamp was right beside me and my mother was on the other side. Dan was opposite me on the table and we had to lean over and yell to talk to each other...making conversation a bit difficult. It was a fun time though although the acoustics of the roof of a parking garage in downtown Tucson are not very well suited to hearing speeches. Something that had never occurred to me before. Afterwards Dan and I met some of the local geniuses and, by touching their hands, hoped to receive a little of their wisdom and geniusness(?). We had a great time!
The Friday before last, I went to Founder's Day in Tucson with Dan. On the drive over, I told Dan that he shouldn't be surprised if we run into several old grads who still can't get used to the fact that women go to West Point. I mean...it's only been 33 years...how are they supposed to get used to something that new? We arrived at the lobby area and I can see that most of these guys graduated in the late 40s and 50s. Yes...it was an old crowd. I check in at the registration and fill out our nametags. I put my name and '87 (denoting my class year) on my nametag and simply put Dan's name on his nametag. Well, I start to notice that a lot of older ladies in this crowd have nametags on with a class year on it...ok... I don't know if I mentioned this before but a lot of grads' wives (especially in the older generations) walk around and act like they also went to West Point and they usually know more about my school and its history than I do. I knew immediately that they would all assume that I was wearing my husband's class year on my name tag. I spot the bar and gesture for Dan to come over with me. We're definitely going to need drinks. On our way there these two older fellows (class of '48 and '56 I think) stop and introduce themselves to Dan. They ask him what class he was and he tells them that he didn't go to West Point and he points to me and tells them that I did. They both shake their heads and say "I just can't get used to that." REALLY?!? Dan just smiles because he can't really believe these guys just said that to me. Of course, Dan also likes to push my buttons so he responds with a quick "The Corps has..." and they all nod in agreement. I tell them all that we need to get a drink and yank Dan away....before I kill him. Dan couldn't stop laughing all the way to the bar. Sometimes he's a total ass.
I'm not sure whether I explained the expression "The Corps has...." to you guys but it is basically what everyone who graduates says about West Point once they've left. It loosely means that the Corps has gone to shit because things aren't nearly as tough as they used to be when the graduate was a cadet. The minute I drove out the gates after graduation, I leaned over and told my brother (sitting in the passenger seat beside me) that "The Corps has..." So...Dan knew this background and the fact that he said it at that time (and got the response he did) was pretty hilarious and ironic.
After I have my drink, Dan and I run into our "old friends" again and they want to know all about Dan and what he did in the Army, etc. I was just an ornament. I quickly found other people to talk to but Dan had a great time with those two wack jobs. So crazy. I guess that's why we go to Founder's Day though, to remember how nutty the school was....right?
When we sat down at our table, there was a potential new cadet sitting at our table with his family. I, of course, put the fear of God in him and told him that he would be lucky if he lived through his first summer...then I quoted Nietzsche. No...I told him that he needs to remember never to give up and that he's going to fail a lot at West Point but that he should "fail forward" and learn from his mistakes because they will only make him a better officer and better person. I told him that most people who go to West Point are big successes in life before they go there and a lot of the people who leave early can't handle the failures and challenges they encounter. I told him that failures prepare you the best for life and that he would never grow until he failed a couple of times. West Point is the place to do that and I said not to be too hard on himself and doubt his abilities because he faces challenges that he can't necessarily overcome on his first try. I told him that he would never regret his decision to go to West Point and that he'd cherish the friends he made there for the rest of his life. Then I told him to get in good shape -- because he looked a little skinny and weak. He told me that he was competing in some Shakespeare Festival in NYC the next week and I told him to keep that information to himself when he gets up there...
They had the usual toasts to the President, the Army, the Corps and then some grads told us stories about their WWII experiences. It was pretty cool. I guess that covered the oldest grad speech because there wasn't one officially. Some LTC from West Point next spoke with a power point presentation showing various facilities, sports achievements and the number of Rhodes Scholars, etc. (the usual hype). Then the legitimate youngest grad spoke (Class of 2008), still wet behind the ears and calling us all Ma'am and Sir. He had 5 reasons why "The Corps Has..." but he ended up saying something at the end of each one to the effect of "so I guess the Corps hasn't for that reason..." Whatever. His last one was that they only take the IOCT every other year now. WHAT?! I immediately yelled "And they still let you graduate?" (Dan found this highly amusing...he was also continually supplying us with alcohol from the bar at this point.)
The IOCT is the Indoor Obstacle Course Test and it is a grueling tradition at West Point. It is held in one of the old gyms and it's rumored that they use a special machine to suck out all the oxygen in the gym before the test. I believe those rumors. They also (used to) have bucket at the end of the course where you could throw up...because you inevitably wanted to....sometimes just looking at the bucket would do ti for me. There was also the distinctive hacking cough you would get once you finished the test. But first let me tell you what I can remember about the test. You start by stepping through a bunch of tires and then you jump over a pommel horse. You run over to "The Shelf" which is where a lot of people fail. It is basically a large wooden shelf about 8-9 feet off the ground that you need to jump up to and pull yourself onto. I was never able to do it the conventional way (which was to swing your feet to the side and get your knee over the edge and pull yourself over), I just pulled my feet up and directly through my hands and wormed my way up that way. More than a few instructors tried to get me to do it the "approved" way but my way worked and I was sticking with it (and there were no rules saying that I couldn't do it my way...I asked). After you got on the shelf, you had to jump over the railing for the elevated track and jump onto this suspended pole with railings which were just a little longer than arm's length away from each other (so you had to sort of leap between them while up in the air) and then get back down on the floor. You jumped through a tire held by a rope feet first and then ran along a balance beam (the olympic regulation kind) and jumped down (or dismounted), did a somersault and then had to make it over a wall. Now this wall required a running start because it was also about 7-8 feet high and you needed all the power you could get to push yourself up and over it. Once you made it over that, you had to go across a set of monkey bars (with sweaty hands...) and then climb up a rope to get back to the level of the elevated track. Once you got up and climbed over the railing, an instructor handed you a medicine ball and you had to run a lap, then you dropped the medicine ball and he handed you a baton and you ran another lap and then you dropped the baton and ran almost an entire other lap au natural (without anything to hold...your clothes were still on). Then you threw up and wheezed for hours and hours. How could they possibly eliminate that annual tradition and make it biannual? Well...the Corps definitely has Mr. 2008!
I'm pleased to report that there will (likely) be no heart attacks or other horrible effects from the youngest grad speech on Friday night because I am no longer the youngest grad at the event! A 2008 grad registered for the dinner so I can just drink, joke, do secret handshakes, etc. without any concerns that I'm going to offend the sensibilities of these guys en masse. I'm sure I'll offend plenty individually....
Founder's Day is an annual tradition for West Pointers and it basically involves a bunch of grads congregating at some rubber chicken dinner venue and paying homage to the great gray god that is sometimes referred to as the United States Military Academy at West Point. We reaffirm our secret handshakes and drink a lot...which is basically what all other exclusive secret societies have done since the dawn of...exclusive secret societies and alcohol.
There are traditional toasts, drinking, traditional songs are sung, everyone complains about how much harder West Point was when they attended the school and how its gotten soft (traditionally it is referred to as saying that "the corps has...." -- has what?...if you have to ask you shouldn't be saying it in the first place!) and there are required speeches from the oldest and youngest grads present at the dinner.
Now...I graduated in 1987 which means that I graduated over 21 years ago and that I'm 43 years old today. I have never been the youngest grad even though I've been to almost 18 or 19 Founder's Days dinners since graduation. But today I just got notice that I am the youngest graduate registered (so far) for this Friday's Founder's Day dinner in Tucson, AZ. Now...that probably doesn't seem so crazy when you consider the vast retired community that is Tucson Arizona but I just find it really hard to believe. I seriously need to dig into my memory to figure out what to tell these people about my school...it was that long ago.
If I'm the youngest graduate, than there must be a lot of candidates vying for the oldest graduate status. I'm sure there's someone from WWI there who's over 100 years old... Apparently there are going to be a lot of WWII veterans there this time so I'll have to acknowledge that Greatest Generation in any speech I give. Here are some of the things I was thinking that I learned at West Point that will never make it into my speech...
*I can sleep anywhere....ANYWHERE...I almost fell asleep during a forward movement in battle during Desert Storm....(As a caveat to this, I also learned that I am not the princess from the princess and the pea story because I can sleep on barbed wire and tacks without noticing that they're under me...).
*A cadet saber is a great thing to goose your friends with...it just hangs on your side waiting for the perfect moment to strike...and then it returns to its innocent hanging position very quickly...
*I can almost always guarantee that the guy (male cadet in this instance) who makes nasty comments about a female cadet's weight will have a heavy girlfriend. Its a scientific fact. Probably based on his inability to say anything to his girlfriend about her weight issues.
*Food fights are hilarious and it doesn't matter how much they take out of your cadet pay...its worth it to have one.
*Ice cubes go very well in milk....even if you don't like milk.
*Mess hall waiters are some of the most powerful people at West Point when you're a plebe and an upper classman has asked you to get more water....
*Do not throw your Leadership/Psychology Book in the bonfire during Navy week...you'll always regret it. I had to look at Wikipedia to make sure I had Lazlo's Hierarchy of Needs correct...
*People who weld their wedding bands to their West Point rings are way too attached to West Point. In fact people who wear a lot of West Point stuff all the time (not just when they're at a WP sporting event) should be avoided for the same reason.
*Really old grads (like the guys at the Founder's Day dinner) will likely never accept women at West Point...but who cares really?...if women did things just to please those guys we'd never be anywhere in this world...
*The wind whipping off the Hudson river first thing in the morning is just about one of the coldest things ever and it will often take 10-15 minutes for your fingers to thaw to the point where you can take notes in class.
I'm sure I'll think of more as the day wears on. I will let you all know what happens at the dinner!