Welcome to the supply room.

June 20th, 2019 by John Morris

The human brain is a remarkable structure. There are times when it’ll send forth information quicker than its owner realizes. There are other times you’re left wondering if it’s working at all. The former can make me feel invincible, and the latter causes me to question my powers.

I’m not talking about remembering names or why you walked into a room. This is normal “getting old stuff”. Dementia is not knowing where your car keys are it’s not knowing what car keys do.

I thought about an earlier time in my life when my usually serviceable brain refused to function.

I was stationed in the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas. My usefulness as an at-will enlisted man had come to an end, and my small band of malcontents were being pieced off in the hopes we would find meaning in our remaining months of enlistment.

The Sergeants decided I could do less harm if I got buried in the Supply Department where things were cut and dry. It was all about counting what you have and checking your count against the number on the manifest.

On my second day on this assignment, I was left behind while all others went to lunch. My instructions were simple: answer the phone and don’t blow the place up.

It was when the second call came in that my brain went AWOL. I answered the phone in a crisp, military manner. The caller went straight ahead. “Do have PFC Chevrons?” I took only a minor pause and said, “No, Sir, we have no one named Chevrons, PFC or otherwise”

His response derailed my composure. “I didn’t ask for PFC Chevrons. I want PFC Chevrons”! At this point, I figured this was some brand of Army-speak that a knuckled headed SP4 could not manage. I tried to defuse the situation by saying the supply guys are at lunch and call back later. This must have been the worst possible answer because the non-com-poop on the phone became loud and theatrical.

I hung the phone up and vowed not to answer another call. I concentrated on not blowing the place up.

It was when the Supply Sergeant returned, and I was telling him about the call that it came to me: “PFC Chevrons” were the physical stripes worn by PFCs. I stopped my report and told him what a bone-headed move I had made. He laughed his hillbilly, self-righteous laugh and said it would work out.

The Sergeant took the follow-up call, and looked at me while he listened to his counterpart’s version of the story. Seems the other guys felt treated to a story they’ll tell for a long time. I was assigned the butt-of-the-joke position and all was peace and light. This is when I learned Army life is so mind numbingly drab they’ll look for ways to break up the daily monotony.

I declined the offer to deliver our available PFC chevrons to their newest destination. I didn’t want to hear their mocking laughter.

A life lesson learned

June 4th, 2019 by John Morris

I am often guided by a lesson I learned in 2002. I was touring China then with my son, Adam. He taught English at a school in Tianjin, and we had planned a father/son trip of a lifetime together.

We were traveling by ship on the Yangtze River where the Great Dam was being built. After the dam was completed, rushing water would flood the many communities lining the storied river. It would be our chance to see Chinese history before it disappears.

The ship anchored at the end of the second day. It was here where we booked a day trip up one of the tributaries into a remote section of the river. We would see troops of monkeys; ancient fishing villages and religious symbols on the sides of mountains. It would make for a good adventure. The alternative was to sit all day on the crowded, dirty ship in a smelly harbor.

We were moved from our large boat and into smaller ones holding two dozen passengers. We then roared up the narrow inlet.

The day did present all we expected: monkeys, fishing villages and shrines were seen. At one point about a dozen local men pulled our vessel up the river and over rocks using ropes and muscles.

At the turn-around point, we were served a simple Chinese meal of rice and mystery meat. Tea was free, but if we wanted other beverages, the local market was standing by. They also were brimming with touristy purchases.

My son and I had a bad turn with the other adventurers on our mini-boat, and wanted nothing more to do with them. We found a section away from the food market. It was a rocky beach where fishermen staged their boats each work day. A nearby group of small children were playing without any toys or gear. They viewed us with mild curiosity but played on.

A boy aged around two years came over to me and extended his hand holding a small rock. He gave it to me and looked down. He did not ask for anything in return. I was struck stupid by this gesture. I bowed and thanked the boy but did not accept the rock from him.

Later my son told me these people have very little, and to the boy, this was all he could offer me as a gift of friendship. When I learned this, I was leveled by how badly I acted. Many times, I wished I could recreate this moment but that can not happen. All I can do is take the lesson I learned from this moment when a little boy made a lovely gesture of friendship to me, a stranger, and I was unaccepting.

I often remember this watershed moment. I learned to always look for the kindnesses of others. I now will accept small symbols of affection as the big gifts they are.

What happened to the little boy? He and all of his region were relocated to large cities to start new lives. He may not remember me, but I carry him in my heart every day.


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.