James’ transition back to the land of the Great PX
For those of us not in the know, the Land of the Great PX was coined at some point over the years based on the perception of America. As it plays out, when the US establishes Army posts and Air Force bases overseas, labor is needed on those facilities to free US personnel to attend to more essential tasks.
Typically the indigenous help is in staggering awe of the amenities that come with US military forces: the snack bars, the bowling alleys (also with snack bars, Aloha!), the movie theaters… and especially the commissaries and, wait for it, the Post Exchange!
Yes the indig do by and large sum up the concept of America by the embodiment of the great PX; many making it their life quest to make it over to the land of the Great PX!
James and Conan both had a very deliberate plan for when they got out. They had a plan by the short hairs, a target in the crosshairs, a hare-brain scheme, and a clear mission focus. James moved to Las Vegas Nevada to work as a contractor for the Department of Energy.
James settled in to a picayune process of managing several insignificant tasks and endeavors that even the mundane would yawn at. But that wasn’t going to fit the plan; no not at all. With his hook into the DOE, James was done with phase one of his plan (establish foundation), and was now focusing on phase two: bring in more confidants from Delta.
I was hoeing in our backyard garden with my Mrs. one eve thinking of what lay ahead for me back at the Unit. I had nine months in the Balkans and three more on the way. I was suddenly embraced by the overwhelming sensation that I was tired. Not ‘huff-puff’ tired, but head-shaking spitting tired, and I needed to throttle back. Ten years had been a good run for me in Delta. My body meant well and could still answer the bell, but my mind was hinting at revolution. I know, I know… you say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world.
Bolstered by the juggernaut expiration of my term of obligation to the Army, I stood suddenly straight up and announced matter-of-factly to my pruning Mrs: “My enlistment is up; I’m getting out of the service.” My musing Mrs. mentioned modestly: “I totally support your decision.” …and I hoed on, because when you feel yourself slipping, well you got to hoed on. Suddenly I noticed the sweet aroma of flowers, tomatoes, peppers and melons that rallied me gingerly. Stress-induced tunnel senses were being reacquainted with a more amicable realm, you see; that’s just how it went.
I left the service and went to school to study IT network engineering. James got wind of my departure and immediately started calling me nightly with analogue knife hands of demand that sprang from the apparatus and menaced to collapse my chest.
He offered much. I countered more. We fenced verbally nightly until I gave in. It wasn’t so much a ‘give up’ as it was an eventual epiphany of logic and reason. I would be a blithering fool to parry this opportunity. Surely James would be mellowed and chill on the ‘outside’ no longer part of the military. I was of the mind to find out for myself.
Once I had processed into the DOE contract, I sat on a stone bench and waited in a specific time and place, just as James had instructed me to do. I mulled my morning experience, a gift of the company in-processing system. I tried to affect a mental accountability of the number of times my last nerve was stretched until it was see-through, and then snapped like a rubber band… one of those fat ones that really smart.
I tried to muster the hoard of negative experiences I had, or created… but my mind simply couldn’t hold them all. If I had a brick for every time I said the word ‘fuck’, I could build a second tower of fucking Babel. If I had a stick for every time I hissed “Jesus Christ” I could build a stairway to heaven, where Jesus would be waiting for me at the top shaking his head and saying: “I think we need to talk about this.”
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a towering man, and eight tiny yes-men. James (or Conan) stepped from the corner of the building and stopped with his business-suited self, hands clasped to his front, nodding his head and smiling at me. When he stopped his entourage stumbled and bonked into each other like wobbling weebles, startled by his sudden halt.
They stood silent as I arose to my feet, blinking like school kids trying to think of the answer to a just-asked test question. They looked me up and down, and side to side.
“Are you ready to get to work, George?”
“Just get me as far away from this in-processing center as you can, James or Conan.”
At its high point James had 14 former Delta operators in his program. Had had over 100 other company employees and new employees, all of whom James had hand-picked himself. James had jolted the Las Vegas community with new work; new employee opportunities and new revenue.
James had re-invented himself, morphed himself into a company kingpin, a monstrous mogul, an entrepreneurial quid-pro-quo bastard such that I had never seen outside of the Century Six Cinema. It’s a task to try and describe, really: James donned no-nonsense worsted wool business suits daily. He wore a Batman belt lined with terminally ringing cell phones. He marched non stop from building to building making meetings and contacts.
The most grotesque vision was of all was the passel… the bevy that rout-stepped all around him like a cloud of mosquitos, carrying his briefcase, his files, his charts, his laptop… all vying to get their question asked or their point delivered. He was a walking press conference, this guy. He was the Godfather, and you were grateful if he had a favor to ask you. He was Colonel Kurtz deep in an urban sprawl jungle, calling the shots and shooting the calls.
We almost walked into each other bumping the apex of a building corner. We came to a screech, his posse teetering like stricken bowling pins.
“Are you going to make that Department of Justice Labs and Scientific Services meeting this afternoon, George?” he ordered in his imperative disguised as a question.
“RGR that… er, Conan? …I’ve got this, can’t touch this, I’m here for your baby!” I was ready for that circus.
“No, your not making that meeting this afternoon. You’re not making it because you’re making a meeting with US Customs and Border Patrol.” My brain sank.
“Tablet!” he called as he raised his hand, into which an sycophant crisply placed a yellow legal pad.
“Pen!” James blurted out over his other raised arm. A pen miraculously pierced his pinched thumb and index finger. James look at the pen, snarled, and flung it on the ground beside him.
“Different pen!” James bellowed with an arm reaching behind his irritated head. James scribbled time and place jots on the front page of the pad, ripped it off, and gave it to me. With that he raised his hands and the pen and pad dissolved into ether.
Ok, I’m standing here, and I’m seeing, I’m standing and I’m seeing that I prepared fastidiously for one highbrow meeting, and now just a couple of hours before the fact I find out I’m going into a different highbrow meeting practically naked. I’m a wigwam, I’m a Teepee… I’m two tents. My mind’s eye showed me a preposterous scene, one of me opening the door to enter this Customs meeting, with James suddenly rushing up to me: “Now you’re a ballerina!” And shoving a frilly skirt into my hand: “Here’s your tutu, now get in there!” as he shoves me inside and slams the door, holding it shut with all his might. That’s just how it was working for James.
James took a inordinate amount of medication pursuant to his nearly 100 surgeries and medical procedures related to his wounds from Gothic Serpent. We all noticed he had a propensity to get overheated, was always complaining of the heat and sweating. His office was like a cryogenic factory. His central air conditioner delivered a Siberian winter. His mobile floor-standing cooling unit was about to pass out from hypoxia, his many desk clamped mini fans produced all their tiny lungs could muster. Papers not nailed down were in a constant rendition of deciduous autumn. The jokes mounted:
“Hey James, can we store our lunches in here; the fridge is broke.”
“My God, you need an Apollo space suite to spend any time in there”
“James, Frosty the Snowman showed up to work looking a little wet; can he sit in here for awhile until he feels better?
“Look James, I’ve gotta go; I’ve got 30 more seconds before my core temperature falls below hypothermic.”
And my favorite: “Hey James, the Prince William Sound just called; they want their glacier back.”
Jokes aside, there was a big fat throng of people who worshipped James and depended on him for their livelyhood. The company was not at all kind to him and continually tested and taunted him, trying to squeeze every last drop of blood possible from him. Conan never entertained the notion of taking a step back, and James kept pace the whole way.
“He’s going to have a heart attack if he keeps up this pace.” I heard ‘them’ say on several occasions. Well, fuck ‘them’, ‘they’ just don’t understand James. He’ll be alright; he’s the Roster! He ain’t never gonna die! They can come try to snuff the Rooster, but he ain’t never gonna die! James was an invincible sort, or so at least he fancied himself. That was fine with us because that’s how we all saw him.
I believed that and that’s what made it all the harder on me when Delta’s William ‘Suspect’ S. Called me with the news that James died of a massive coronary infarction.
James came into the world with a lot on his overburdened plate. James gave and gave until his pate was empty and there was nothing left for himself. James was survived by his wife Debra, and one thousand children; all of us kids who looked up to him and craved his example.
James brought to me to the Delta Force, he lured me by strong arm and devout faith, and by setting down his beer in a gesture of sincerity. He lead me safely all the way through the Delta Force kicking me the whole way with his vulcanized foot. He made sure there was the next thing for me when I came out on the other side. I had two children while working for James. Thanks to him I could provide as much as I wanted for them, as much as they wanted, and still have a little left over in my pocket. I’m a rich man now; that much I fancy myself.
James was three months my junior. He was my biggest little brother ever, in all senses of the word. He gave to me, showed me how to succeed, how to cope, how to excuse, how to tolerate, how to become a real man. God loves those who help themselves and others. God loves James Nelson ‘Conan’ Sudderth, and in effort to finally make things easy on himself, decided he couldn’t go on one more day without James. Until Valhalla, James… or Conan.
(Dedicated to Ms Debrah A. Sudderth)