January 2, 2019
There's something you may have to do. You may want to back out. You should back out. People tell you not to do it. You know you are going to do it.
You know you're going to do it.
This moment occurs a lot. On the internet there are scads of made-up and true-story jokes about it... Just before you make the reckless move, you turn to your buddy and say, “Hold my beer” or “Watch this” or “Here goes!” or even “Banzai!”
The idea, the verbal joust, the moment of truth, the emergency room.
This column's for you; I give you as long as you need to review those moments in your own life.
Roger Miller's immortalized it in his song, Hard Headed Me.
Abba immortalized in their song Fernando.
Though we never thought that we could lose There's no regret... If I had to do the same again I would, my friend, Fernando.
I'd venture a guess that a lot more young men than the general population have had the “Hold my beer” moment. TV shows featuring interesting emergency room vignettes from several cities showcase these brave soldiers of fortune and their rueful friends and relatives. On, it seems, at least 3 cable networks... and often all night, prime time.
They tell these stories 50 years later, too, and proudly. My neighbor Tony. In his mid-80s, told me of the time he and a buddy broke into a local mortuary (on a dare, of course), lay on tables, covered themselves up with sheets, and went to sleep. They'd been dared to spend the night.
Tony woke up in the middle of the night, with only ambient light. His buddy was no longer in the building, but SOMETHING was moving on that other table, in the near dark.
Now, had HE wasted HIS youth watching a gazillion cheap sci-fi and-horror flicks, he'd have KNOWN it was just a cat. I'D have known it was just a cat. Of course his feet got tangled up in the sheets in his sudden panic.
Emergency room, twisted ankles, plus bruised chin from landing on the floor.
My dad, WWII, a Major, leading a small group of GIs up a steep rocky hill to attack a castle full of Nazis. They come across a GI cowering behind a rock. His whole unit has been slaughtered, except him..
The rules are that they get to corral him. He says, NO, just shoot me here. Dad says, Get into that attack group, you. He says, I'm not! Shoot me here.
Dad takes out his gun, gonna fake the threat. The guy doesn't budge!
The guy says, “You don't understand. This is the third attack group that's stormed this castle. I'm the only one left of the last one. And it gets worse. I've been in two other units this past coupla months and been the only survivor. DO YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR CHANCES?”
My dad says, No, I guess not. Go to the bottom of the hill and wait for us. When we come back down-- and we WILL come back down-- I'll send you back to England and arrange for you to peel potatoes or something for the rest of the war.
Normally, my dad would have turned around...but this was war.
They attacked the castle. Turns out there was only one Nazi left. He put up a great fight, but they captured him. The lone survivor DID get a cook's assistant job for the rest of the war.
I've had a couple of Hold My Beer moments myself. And seen a couple, of course. I'll tell you one of mine in a minute. It is a true Fernando moment.
Let us travel back in time...
I'm a 5'2” 118-pound 23-year-old who, due to being red-headed and freckle-faced, looked 16. I'm in the LAPD crime lab. I'm holding a box of 10 labeled jars I picked up from the county morgue.
When a person died without ID, we'd run the fingerprints. When the body couldn't be handled due to its condition, the coroner would send just the fingers. We could coax them to yield prints. We had the technology!
So I'm in an LAPD elevator going up to the lab. I'm carrying my print kit (large case), my large purse, my pillow (large, and thick) (I had to drive a police car and they were not expecting a dinky driver), and this short, flat, flimsy, ungainly box. And Officer Gorgeous gets on the elevator... and in an act of gracious chivalry, reaches for the unwieldy box. Practically says, “I'll take that for you, little lady.”
O, Hunk-O-Mat... any other time...
Except: the top of the box is partly open (flaps that don't meet in the middle) and the jars are rolling around. And they're labeled, and it's pretty clear anyway what they are, once you put them together with my fingerprint kit.
“I'm OK with the box, but it'd be nice if you'd take my print kit.” Which is sitting at my feet.
“Why? What's in the box?”
Here I make my mistake. He thinks I have donuts. I should have lied. “You don't want to know.”
THAT was JUST like saying “HOLD MY BEER!”
NOW he's GOT to see what is in the box! Didn't my mother never teach me nothing?
He reaches for the box, and he's got two arms that are longer than mine, stronger, faster, and not juggling a riser pillow AND a purse AND the floppy, ungainly Gift Behind Door Number Three!
It's Hold My Beer time. I cringe, and turn to the back corner of the elevator, but I cannot do more.
I say, “Don't-- please-- I'm WARNING you--” and he gets the box. How bad could it be, if Girlie Civilian Kid that looks like Raggedy Ann isn't bothered by it?
That's when nothing good happened.
Poor Officer Gorgeous.
Relax. The jars all stayed in the box, and nobody had to go to the ER. But what a shock. I asked him later what he THOUGHT I had in there. He just apologized again. I promised I wouldn't tell our co-workers. We both learned something.
And now... my Fernando moment. Well, one of 'em. I'm not saying I'm older AND wiser.
The Save The Whales Movement had just started. It's 1977 or 1978 and the federal government is about to use sonar to do something (I forget)... in the waters off Southern California... that will mess up whales, big time, because they use sonar.
Save the Whales is just getting off the ground, and they put out an emergency call for everyone they can get to come, to obstruct the access of the people who are going to board the (boat, submarine, I forget).(Hey, I'm a senior!). Very sneaky. They are starting out before dawn. The dirty rats.
Anyway I get there, and I'm short, so they put me in the very front of the protest group, and I get a swell sign (“Save the Whales”-- no time no make custom signs). We are facing about eight nervous-looking (shifty) civilians who are unarmed (not even signs) and standing in front of the boat. Turns out they were the cooks or something, and the REAL enemy hadn't even shown up yet. We number about 15, with more arriving as we wait.
We are in the right. We are defending innocent whales. We are going to win.
Well, the TV crew is setting up to our left, and asks us not to move till they are ready, so we promise we won't. We're about 100 feet apart from the boat crew in the last minutes of morning darkness.
Then, behind us, federal cop cars and Navy cars start pulling up, and they and some scientists' cars box us in.
Then the scientists go around us and stand with the other civilians. They look like they're checking on who's got the key to the boat.
Then the Navy guys, in uniform, start toward the boat, and the TV guys aren't ready yet. Their leader tells them to wait.
Can you hear the drums, Fernando?
Then the military police come forward. They are each 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide and they have glowing red eyes and fangs dripping blood... and they cross in front of us and get in formation about 20 feet in front of me.
Me, Rita Castillo.
And they draw their batons. In unison. And the TV guy in the suit yells, “OK SAVE THE WHALES! YOU are on the air!” And the official Save the Whales people salted through our little group yell, “OK, NOW!” and we move forward, slowly, chanting...
You wanna take a guess here?
There was something in the air that morning. The stars were bright.
The two you could still see.
...Chanting “Save the Whales! Save the Whales!”, and moving our signs up and down a little. The MP group put their batons in User position... and every baton, I swear, is chanting “Where's Rita, Where's Rita?”
NOW can you hear the drums? I know they are going to use those batons, and I know I'm in the front line with all the other small, elderly, and disabled people. I know they are going to use that sonar, and today, and that this is just a rinky-dink skirmish in a war that is going to last a long long while.
I didn't threaten anyone with my puny sign, I'm a redhead....and an Ares...and I had PMS... but that day I was a peacenik.
An MP baton broke my collarbone-- took many years for the bump to go away. Maybe it's covered by fat. Anyway, I never thought that we could lose, but there's no regret.
I'd do it again, broken bone and all. I'm proud of anyone who puts their body where their mouth is, even if I disagree with them. I'm from a country that was founded by people who risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the right to take a stand.
USA! USA! USA!
I've protested many times since. But never farther forward than the third row.
Thanks, all you Fernandos. To you I lift my glass. Or, if it comes to that, I'm here for you. Maybe even WITH you.
And even if you can't use me...I'll hold your beer.