#9

Baby girl,

One of the worst pieces of advice that anyone has ever given me is that I expect too much from other people.  I do not believe that I have ever held anyone to an unreasonable standard, as I have only ever expected from them what I would do for them.

You have the right to be picky about friends.  You have the right to be choosy about who you date.  If your lab partner is slacking off in class, take them to task.  If your friend did something obtuse or careless, make sure they know and make sure they know how you made them feel.

Furthermore, don’t tolerate repeat violations.  Your Old Man had to tolerate a lot of persistent mistreatment from an extremely mean-spirited stepfather, so he had a hard time learning where, when, and how you should draw a line with people.  I do not want you to endure the same nonsense I endured growing up, as it can result in you being quite a confused and resentful adult.

The good news is that I am finally breaking the cycle.  I was a hundred percent sure about the person I married, and it was probably one of the first times I was sure about anyone.  That doesn’t mean we haven’t had our ups and downs, but your mother continues to impress me with how intuitive and compassionate she really is.  I hope you find the kind of life partner that I have found one day.  I think you will if you learn how to hold people to a consistent and proper standard.

That’s all for now, little lady.  I don’t ever want to get too preachy in a single letter.  I need you to remember that these lessons are all a product of some pretty devastating failure on my part.  I’m just trying to help to curtail some needless heartache in your life.  I’ll try to make the next letter a little lighter, so that I don’t come off as an overly-serious guy.

Love, Dad

Update

Alright…

Finally getting my head screwed back on straight.  I’m sure recent events are all part and parcel to marriage, parenthood, and growing up in general.  My frustration did reach a maddening crescendo, but a little break from everything should help me establish a somewhat even keel.

You’ll notice there are a few new categories.  I’m going to try and put up much more older writing, and I’m also going to try my best to make updates of some variety several times a week.  Who knows when the next series of tasks that will require my attention will come down the pipeline, but for the moment I am finally getting back into doing these daily exercises.

For whatever reason, I can’t get back into Patterns of Misconduct right now.  I just can’t get back into that mindset (read:  I’m out of weed).  I took some great notes the last time I was… in the mood, so I am optimistic that there is enough quality content to produce a standalone collection of vignettes to follow what is sure to be the monumentally successful Failure to Adapt.

However, there’s always something that can be written.  In addition to trying to post new letters several times a week, I’d like to get back into my comic blog, write my first music post, and also dig up a few of the things I did over the summer and put them back up.

Here’s a quick preview:

BLOG – Why I don’t do NaNoWriMo

MUSIC – The Fat Boys and “Yo, Twist!”

A few haikus throwing shade

COMICS – Arkham Asylum:  A Serious House on Serious Earth
                  and I will also be reviewing Thor:  Ragnarok

Another Sh*t I like entry

That’s why I intend to do, anyways.

We’re in transition right now.  Next week is my wife’s last day at her job, and we are currently getting some major renovations done.  It is in my best interest to stay out of everyone’s way (see the recent letters for more info on that clusterbang), so while I’m not catching up with movies, perhaps I can forge ahead on some of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the increase in content.

October 21, 2019

Matthew,

I’m upstairs today on a mandatory stress break.  The contractors didn’t show up for two days in a row, so that’s when my wife finally made a what the fuck phone call.  Since I’m trying to keep myself nice and chill, I won’t get too much into it, but suffice it to say that a Thai person finally got sick of how loosely Thai people operate.  In a happy coincidence, her parents will be in town in a day or two, so everybody will be on their best behavior.

I had a dream last night about getting harassed by the police.  I’m pretty sure it signifies my frustrations over not having any control and being subjected to some shitty practices and not-so-equitable rules.  It would be enough to make anybody angry.  That’s why you often only find the worst of other countries living here.

And I think my wife finally gets it, too.  She saw the crazed look in my eye last night and finally told me to sit down and talk it all out.  After that, she told me to barricade myself in the bedroom with all my toys until I am feeling better.  I did not protest.  I did not argue.

Furthermore, for the first time, I don’t feel bad about doing nothing.  There’s nothing at all for me to do as these guys do spot repairs both in and outside of our house.  I can’t do anything with the plants or pond, I can’t cook, and I also can’t exercise.  There are laborers everywhere, timidly working as their balls were duly busted yesterday by an irate little pregnant lady.

It sucks that it had to come to this.  It must be embarrassing to be scolded like children for acting like dicks.  It’s frustrating, too, that nothing I do can influence their behavior.  Being nice does not always compel people to do the right thing.

But again, let’s not get that blood pressure up…

So I’m just gonna watch TV and play phone games, this time with zero guilt.  Let somebody else fuck with the adult shit for once.  Today and possibly tomorrow, I’m going to try and live in a bubble of zero responsibility.

Bong,
Pete

#8

Baby Girl,

I have so many things picked out for you already.  While your mother and your auntie are fussing over what you’re going to wear, I’m planning what you will watch and what kind of music you will be hearing around the house.

I’m not going to be controlling, I swear.  I’m just going to show you what I want to show you while you’re unable to decide on your own.  Yes, that does mean I will be trying to influence your preferences, but I’d like to think that, given the choice, you would pick Fraggle Rock over whatever nonsense the kids are watching today.  Furthermore, I’d like to think that you’d want to hear the sweet, sweet musical stylings of the late Buddy Holly over any of the insincere, manufactured pop music that is going on today.

I also want to read to you the books I was read when I was young.  There’s this amazing book called But No Elephants, and I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but it has a real surprise ending.  I want you to learn a bit of etiquette from The Berenstain Bears as well.  Those books are timeless, as are the lessons.

I want Home Alone and its sequel to be a staple in our home around Christmas time.  I want you to know half of the dialogue of The Goonies before you even know what all the words mean.  I might have to show you the tame version, but we’ll see.  I just don’t want you to be a potty mouth.  I don’t need any teachers calling my phone telling me that you’re dropping naughty words on the playground.

I also want you to see all the seasonal Charlie Brown and Garfield specials. Garfield’s Thanksgiving and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are two of my all-time favorites from childhood.  A Jim Henson Christmas is another great one.

With regard to Star Wars, we’ll just have to feel that one out.  We’re going to watch it eventually, but to be perfectly honest, Darth Vader scared the crap out of your father when he was young.  Maybe I’ll wait until you are in second or third grade for those.

I will also keep you in the dark for as long as possible about the prequels and the sequels.  Your mother loves Jar Jar Binks, and it drives me absolutely crazy.

And when you are a little bit older, maybe we’ll watch The Office.  If you seem interested, we’ll keep going.

But no pressure.  I promise.

Honestly, baby girl, I can’t wait to spend this kind of time with you.

Love, Dad

October 18, 2019

Matthew,

I’d like to follow up on what I was talking about a couple of days ago. Yesterday evening, I went out to feed my fish, and I beheld a series of things that I found to be more than a little… I’ll just say odd in the interest of trying to be respectful.  First, as soon as I opened the curtains, I saw one of the little girls walking around naked.  I was so shocked that I played it off like I was looking out for the mail or something.  I didn’t even go outside.  I wanted to give the mom a few minutes to resolve whatever it was that was going on.

When I actually did go outside, I saw that the workers had thrown trash all over the yard, including the empty bottles, cans and bags of the drinks and snacks I got them.  I also saw a guy pissing on the side of our house.

Furthermore, when I rounded the walkway, the little girl was still naked and just staring at me.

Freakin WOW, I thought to myself as I made my way to the pond.  The young man who decided to use my yard as a latrine lowered his head and made himself scarce, and the other guys kinda scattered to make way.  At least they knew to be ashamed, I guess.  I tried not to let my ire show, but I’m sure it was clear.  I fed my fish in silence, making sure to make eye contact with all who dared peek at me.

This morning, I was torn.  I still had all this stuff I bought for them, and I couldn’t decide whether or not to give it to them.  My wife had a day off, so I told her about it.  She said screw them, and that we could give the stuff to the gate guard.  Fair enough.  Our gate guards are cool.  They like to chat me up when I go out for coffee.  I like them because they try.

By this point, I wasn’t even mad; I was actually kinda hurt that they would act this way.  I was so bothered by the situation that I brought it up again with my wife as we were driving to the grocery store.

“Sometimes you just can’t teach people how to act,” she said.  I hate when she does that, by the way.  I talk for fifteen minutes straight, and she gives me a one-liner.  It’s probably just because when she does that it makes me realize just how much I run my mouth.

Anyways, this time I don’t really agree.  I don’t think it’s about being taught.  I think that, simply put, survival is a bitch.  Who has time for manners when you make ten dollars a day sweating in the hot sun for twelve hours?

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being nice.  The next time we have workers over doing the things that I can’t do, I will still give them drinks and snacks, provided it isn’t the same people.  I’m not going to harden my heart.  Never treat an entire group of people as if they were all complicit in a small portion’s misdeeds.

Besides, it’s not about their gratitude.  It’s about trying to create just a bit of equality between you and the people who were not born into your station in life.  Everybody could share a little if they wanted to.  Most people just don’t want to.

And nevermind if anybody sees it or understands it.  You don’t do it for them.  You do it because generosity is so easy to filter out of your vocabulary if you don’t practice it regularly.  Stinginess can be easily compartmentalized into the category of self-preservation, and I refuse to let myself become that way.

Bitterly yours,
Pedro

From Part I

THE BLUE PHASE

 

At the very beginning of the blue phase, the pace slowed significantly and we were given a few days to learn and practice a little bit of fighting.  We took a few hours one afternoon to learn grappling and takedowns, and then the next day the drill sergeants demonstrated a few pressure points and various other hand-to-hand fighting techniques.

Another afternoon was spent beating each other with pugil sticks.  They are basically enormous Q-Tips packed with rubber foam that is not nearly as soft as they appear.

The drill sergeant paired me up with the biggest guy in our platoon, too.  He was affectionately called Ox by everyone, as he was an unusually large specimen of a human being.  I was friends with this soldier, at least friendly with this soldier, so I hoped that he wouldn’t try to beat my brains out when I stepped up to take him on.

For whatever reason, Ox went easy on me.  It was clear he was holding back, because when his hits connected, they did not at all knock me back or sideways the way they should have.  I even had a moment where I thought I might get him, as he missed a shot at me and I checked him with the stick hard across his chest.  He lost his balance, but came back swinging from his hip.

But before he could connect, I came at him with a few shots of my own.  I popped him right in the head with more force than I originally intended.  The shot cancelled his last attack, and he even took a moment to grin and nod in approval before he corrected his center of gravity.

He wanted me to win.

The message having been received, I let out a flurry of shots to his abdomen, intermittently shoving him with the end of the stick in an attempt to keep him off-balance while I decided how on earth I was going to finish this bout.

But my hits weren’t throwing him off balance the way I thought they would, and he finally deflected one of my shots with his stick and tried to twist and disarm me.  As our sticks clashed a second time, he smashed my left hand and I let go of my weapon for just a split second.  I knew this was a mistake, and I cursed that silly impulse.

However, instead of knocking me senseless, Ox opted instead to use my own tactic against me, shoving me off my perch at full force using the center of the stick.  I flew off of the platform, almost in cartoonish fashion.  I landed hard on my rear, but I laid back after falling to catch my breath.  As I was about to sit up, Ox came and stood over me, extending his hand and grinning.

“Y’ok, Perkins?” he asked.

I nodded.  “I’m good, brother.”  I accepted his hand, and he clumsily jerked me to my feet.

“Y’almost had me, man.  Next time, yeah?”  He patted me on the back and then gave me a playful shove.

I laughed.  “Yeah, next time, buddy.”

*****

We also had a rather unusual occurrence only a few days before our final series of tests:  we were allowed to attend a concert.  We had absolutely no indication that anything like this would be happening, either.  After a Saturday filled largely with light yard work outside of our barracks, one of our drill sergeants told us to get ready for a break.

The drill sergeant did warn us, however, before we left for the evening’s festivities that there would be concessions being sold.  He said that the drill sergeants would not be present to stop us from buying snacks, and while he informed us that it wouldn’t be prohibited, he did send a rather stern warning that perhaps some of us should skip that part. With that, we were marched to an auditorium and told to march back when the concert was over.

The concert was OK.  Actually, I remember thinking that we could be in the barracks instead, sitting on our beds instead of hard bleachers listening to some shitty band that was probably made up of a bunch of semi-talented NCOs.  It’s not that I was ungrateful for this break, but the whole thing felt a little out of place for what was supposed to be military training.

Still, I enjoyed myself.  Of all the concessions being offered that evening, I opted for a bag of sunflower seeds and a bottle of water.  I had been chewing pen caps for the duration of basic training as a replacement for tobacco, so having actual food to chew on for the duration of the concert was actually more enjoyable than the concert itself.

But the event did manage to make me forget for a few hours what I had been through.  It also kept away the lingering anxiety about what might be next.

*****

And just like that, it was time for our final FTX.  We were awoken at three in the morning to begin gathering our gear.  We painted our faces with camo, helped each other with our gear, and gave reassuring slaps on the back to one another.  Though we were all poorly rested, we were incredibly lively for a group of poor saps who were about to be tormented by their drill sergeants all weekend.  It was almost like a pep rally.

It started raining almost as soon as we hit the trail, and it didn’t let up for the duration of the FTX.  For the most part it was only a gentle drizzle, but the drizzle was persistent.  After a great deal of trudging, we arrived at our campsite.  All that was left to do was dig a foxhole and set up our tents.   The drill sergeants explained that after those two simple tasks were completed, we would be free to turn in for the day.

That’s all we had to do.

A foxhole, as it is referred to in the military, is supposed to be the length of two and a half M-16s and as wide as one (lengthwise, of course).  Furthermore, the hole was to be as deep as the shortest person’s shoulder.  Boomhauer and I both stood over six feet tall, meaning we would be digging five and a half feet into the ground, just a few inches shy of a standard grave.  Don’t think for a minute that I didn’t have this on my mind as we were digging.

We were also informed that our campsite itself would need to be fortified.  Aside from digging a foxhole, it needed to be sheltered with sandbags and branches.  All displaced sand was to be put into bags that we would lay around our fighting position.

Also, we needed to have a small trench ready to fall in, just in case we were ‘attacked.’  This trench was called our hasty fighting position.  This position was to be as long as we were tall, as wide as an M-16, and about six to eight inches deep from top to bottom.  Finally, we needed to set up our tent, dig a trench around it, and cover the bottom with pine straw so the water from the rain on the ground wouldn’t leak in (I guess… I was just doing what Boomhauer did).

Just like the first day of basic training, more and more tasks unfolded as we went along.  The drill sergeants made our tasks even worse by firing all sorts of spectacular weapons into the air and causing blank explosives to go off everywhere we tried to go.

After about ten hours of grueling work, we established our guard roster and turned in.  It was probably only eight or nine in the evening, but after a day like the one we had it was well past our bedtime.

Day one was complete.

The next day was spent conducting all sorts of crazy exercises on and off for about another twelve hours.  After our meals we simply went back to running around.  Day two turned out to be as exciting as it was exhausting.  That evening we all marveled at how we breezed through the FTX so quickly.  This meant that we were finished; the next day was supposed to be only for a closing-down briefing from the drill sergeants, followed by a mass packing of our gear and a march to our checkpoint.

But the drill sergeants had one final trick up their sleeves before they were going to let us go home.

It was right before sunrise on the third day when Boomhauer and I were relieved of our fire guard duty.  I scrambled to the tent to lie down and Boomhauer went to one of the portable latrines.  If I was a good battle buddy, I would have gone with him.  After all, that was the rule while we were in these combat scenarios.

But screw that.  I was tired.

As I was lying down, I heard a soldier in the distance shouting “Gas, gas gas!”  This was the signal we were supposed to give in the event of a chemical attack.  The chemical for our exercise was CS gas, the same gas grenades we used for the exercise in the white phase.

Oh man.  Some poor saps are getting a rude awakening, I thought to myself.

That’s when I saw the stick.

For some reason, my instinct forced me to sit up.  I wanted to see how far away the “attack” was, just to make sure that the same wasn’t about to happen to me.  However, as I rose to poke my head out of the tent, a curious-looking stick met me halfway.  I could barely make out the stupid thing because the sun had just begun to rise, but I could have sworn that I was looking at a stick that had some kind of can tied to it.

And that’s when I realized I was already way too late.

We were taught to go straight for our gas masks when under attack, but panic set in and I did my best to cover my face with a shirt.  The shirt did nothing, of course, so I kept fumbling around until I found my gas mask, trying to keep a cool head while the CS gas had begun to burn my eyes and my face.

We were taught to exhale before putting on our gas masks, but I was already choking by this time.  I breathed out as best as I could, but a reflex caused me to involuntarily attempt to take a huge gulp of air.  I began to choke uncontrollably, and I found that my basic motor functions were beginning to fail in the throes of my panic.

Frantically, I threw off my mask and scurried out of my tent on all fours, blinded, drooling, crying like I just huffed an onion, and groping for nothing in particular, save a remedy for my miserable state.  I began rubbing dirt on my face in a vain attempt to quell the discomfort.  Spitting, cursing, and gasping, I propped myself on all fours and let my various glands try to clear themselves out.

From a distance, I could hear Boomhauer shouting, but it was far too late for consolation.  I plopped down on my belly, finally able to breathe again, and shakily delivered the thumbs up like a battered Evil Knievel.  That is what happens when you don’t listen to the drill sergeant and let your battle buddy out of your sight.

But after that, we were free to go.  Boomhauer and I got a head start on taking down our tent, and I once again scrounged for leftover pouches of Taster’s Choice from my fellow trainees.

However, there was an issue that none of us anticipated.  After three days of nonstop drizzling, all of our gear had become significantly heavier.  After all, at the beginning of basic training you are basically given two dozen different pieces of heavy cloth.  Let those pieces of cloth slowly soak up water over 72 hours, and you have a burden that has nearly doubled in weight, made worse by the fatigue of the exercise.

We were just lucky that the drill sergeants didn’t make us walk the entire ten miles back.

*****

There was actually a short phase following the final PT test.  It was called the gold phase, and though it only lasted three or four days, it was a very rewarding stretch of time.

We did PT one or two of the days of the gold phase, but during the day all we were tasked to do was clean all of our field equipment that wasn’t made of cloth, and tidy up both the inside and the outside of the barracks.  As our assigned leaders were well-versed in delegating, we did these tasks not only with little to no supervision, but quite enthusiastically.

During the gold phase, our two platoons made plans for our final night.  With the exception of a handful of soldiers whose AIT would be on the same base, we were all going to have to fly or ride out of there in the morning, which would likely afford us the time to sleep that we were probably going to miss.  If the drill sergeants were going to leave us alone, we were going to try and have ourselves a last hurrah.

As we lined up for our last evening formation by our beds, there was a palpable feeling of manliness in the air.  Those of us who survived did so not only under the constant stress of the physical demands, but also with the nagging reality that most, if not all of us, would one day soon be sent off to war.  These thoughts were quite pervasive for this guy in particular, but an ungodly shriek broke me from my daze.

“Where is Perkins?  Private Perkins, where is he?”  It was Drill Sergeant Lafayette, and she once again forgot to adjust her volume to an indoor setting.  She also seemed to have forgotten that we lined up by the same bed every night, as she asked a third time where I was before I finally sounded off.

“Hooah, drill sergeant,” I said, because why not?

Within two seconds she stomped across the open bay barracks and was directly in my face.  I could smell alcohol on her breath, so I expected either a kiss or a firm headbutt to the bridge of my nose.  I know myself, friends.  I knew I deserved one of each.

“So, Perkins,” she paused, smirking.  “You gonna walk out of my door tomorrow?”

I had no response for that.  She was drunk.  This was all for her own amusement.

Predictably, she repeated herself in a most dramatic fashion: “Do you, Private Perkins, believe you are going to be walking out of THAT door tomorrow?”  She was pointing, but not at the door.  I was trying not to smile at how obviously drunk she was.

“I plan on it, drill sergeant,” I responded, immediately unsure if that was what I should have said.

“You plan on it, huh?”  she snorted.

But then her face became calm.  All signs of amusement, frustration, and fatigue melted away for just a moment in time.  I was no longer looking at a drill sergeant.  I was looking at another human being.

She silently extended her hand, and I accepted.

“You did it, soldier.  Congratulations.”

I honestly didn’t know how to feel about this.  Every fiber of my being wanted to reject this praise, because I felt that I had not earned it.  However, following the drill sergeant’s earlier revelation that we were part of a pilot program did slightly nullify the feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Across the room, Chris Moretti began clapping.  One at a time, soldiers from 2nd Platoon followed suit.  Boomhauer was the first to do it on our side, then 1st Platoon all joined in.  I was left to awkwardly bear this strangely triumphant moment, still locked in at parade rest as Drill Sergeant Lafayette smiled a genuine smile at this young fuck-up.

I say this with no hyperbole:  that was one of the single most beautiful moments of my life.

From Part II

“Longboard”

 

When I was in AIT, there was a senior soldier on the first floor who was one of the long-term students.  He was a Hispanic dude named Pvt. Gonzalez, and in addition to being a little loud and self-centered he was kind of a bully.  Gonzalez seemed to only pick on new soldiers, however, and ones who didn’t seem so capable of defending themselves.

It was rumored that Gonzalez was a surfer.  Any time he was not in his uniform, he carried with him a humongous skateboard, which I would later find out was something that surfers used.  Around 4 p.m. every school day, he would parade out of the barracks in his civilian clothes, his cd player in one hand and his absurdly oversized board tucked under his opposite arm.  I didn’t find anything wrong with any of that, by the way, but I did think it was a big, dorky, cumbersome piece of equipment to be having in training.

Gonzalez also called everyone “broski.”  I don’t know if that was a word where he came from, or if he was trying to get it popular, but he used that word all the damn time.  Even to female soldiers.

Gonzalez was known for his temper.  I remember one day we were at the DFAC for lunch and he dropped something from his tray.  A female soldier said something like “Nice one, ‘Longboard,’” and Gonzalez got extremely mad at her.  He was shouting so loudly that two soldiers had to talk him into leaving the DFAC.  But before he finally left, Gonzalez had called the female soldier “broski” at least a dozen times.

And if you’re thinking there wasn’t a story behind ‘Longboard,’ you have not been paying very close attention.  Apparently, our friend Gonzalez was hit by a car a few weeks before I arrived.  He was on his ridiculous longboard, cruising down a steep hill while listening to his CD player.  He did not see a car coming at a four- way stop, and he ended up smashing right into it.  The car blew their horn and even tried to swerve out of the way, but Gonzalez still managed to hit the car with such force that he completely dented the passenger’s side door.  As the legend goes, he arose from the ground, bleeding, and growled at the driver “You broke my CD player, broski!”

The next formation, one of the drill sergeants called Gonzalez ‘Longboard’ in reference to his accident.  Gonzalez had left the scene after running into the car, and the driver called the police.  Some MPs found him sitting on the side of the road.  It ended up being a huge, embarrassing ordeal.  According to what I was told, the drill sergeant absolutely tore into Gonzalez the next day for it, and that was about the time that he became a bully.

The name Longboard stuck.  You couldn’t get away with saying it to his face, but people liked to say it when he was within earshot just to make him get all hot and bothered.

His reaction was always the same, too.  First, he called out the alleged heckler out in an unnecessarily loud fashion.

“So, what’s up, broski?  That you who said that stuff just then?  Was it, broski?”

Then, he would wait for the alleged offender to reply.  Meanwhile, he’d be looking the soldier up and down for something to insult.

“Whatever, broski.  How much were those shoes?  Fifty?  Forty?  These are the new Jordans right here, broski.  Cheap ass.  Can’t afford shit.”

And that would normally be it.  He’d walk away, idly promising a whipping to errant onlookers, and life would return to normal again.  I can’t tell if people were afraid of him or just completely in awe of him, but it would not have surprised me to find out he had a big mouth but a glass jaw.  To me, it seemed like an awfully lot of work to carry around that persona all the time.

I never heard whether or not he had been in any fights, but he sure looked like he wanted to fight the female soldier who mildly teased him.  Not only did that looked pretty real, but it made me lose even more respect for him.  A guy who even acts like he wants to fight a woman is already walking a line where he is going to have a high probability of being completely in the wrong.

Plus, it sounded like the car accident was his fault.

For whatever reason, Gonzalez would often visit the second floor to use our latrine as a repository for his hair.  From time to time he would come in on a weekend, shave his head, then leave his clippings on and in front of one of our sinks.  Everyone knew he did it, but nobody ever said anything.  They simply cleaned up the mess.  This also made me mad about the guy.  Not the hair, either, the fact that he went to so much trouble to be a piece of shit.

One Saturday afternoon I was tooling around the barracks, in uniform because I had taken somebody’s fire guard shift, when I went upstairs to use our latrine.  As I walked through the door, I noticed Gonzalez doing his usual thing.  I sighed and shook my head.

I went to the back to pee, and I said to myself, Not this time.  I was the floor leader now.  I was a screw-up in just about everything up until this point.  This asshole was not going to be pulling his normal disrespect on my watch.

Today was a new day.

I came around the corner again, and Gonzalez had taken off his clothes.  He had begun shaving his pubic region.

I walked by him, shaking my head.

“What, broski?  You got a problem?” Gonzalzez taunted.  I exited the latrine, and walked to the supply closet.  From the closet, I selected a broom and a dustpan.  I returned to the latrine and held them out to Gonzalez.  He chuckled.

“What, broski?  You like looking at my dick?”  He began swinging his hips like an uncoordinated ladyboy.  I was unfazed.

“I like looking at a clean floor.”  I said.  Since I had re-entered the latrine, I had never broken eye contact with Gonzalez.  I did not want to fight him, as I didn’t really know how to fight.  However, the position of the floor leader meant something to me, and I wasn’t going to have this idiot mess up the one good thing I had going for myself.

Besides, I was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to fight me naked.  I personally would have never wanted to find myself in that position, so I imagined that Longboard wouldn’t be up for it, either.  Second, I felt like I had the upper hand since I walked in.  I didn’t yell and nobody else was around, so the setting was not a hostile one.  I was certain that I had set up the situation for it to be clear, even to a moron, that I was in the right.

Gonzalez was smirking, but he snatched the broom and the dustpan from my hand.  Much to my surprise, he began sweeping.  He didn’t do it quietly, but he did it.

“Here you go, broski.  Have a look at that.  He was swinging his dick as he swept.  He then paused to dramatically prop his leg on the sink and dangle his willy as he pushed the final clump into the dustpan.  He then dropped his foot heavily onto the floor, took a mock deep breath like he had just done hard labor, then put his clothes on.

I emptied the dust bin in a nearby toilet.  I could see that Gonzalez wasn’t leaving.  This was not yet over.

As I walked by him, he put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.  His grip wasn’t particularly strong.  Maybe I could take this guy.  His weak grip made me want to take my chances.

I turned around, and he scooted up a few inches to try and get into my face.  I wasn’t quite as scared of him in that moment.  After all, he had just done what I told him to do.  I didn’t yell, I just spoke to him like I meant it.  As far as I was concerned, the score was 1-0, in favor of yours truly.

But Gonzalez wasn’t looking particularly angry.  He was just staring at me rather blankly.  I could not even begin to imagine what was going through his head, but what was going through mine was that I was about to be the barracks legend for kicking the shit out of this little coward.

Though I had braced for action, Gonzalez relaxed.

“Feel better now, broski?”  He said, morosely.  He sounded bored with me.  He sounded like he had somehow processed the whole situation and determined it to be a win for him.

I calmed myself before I responded.  “I do, Gonzalez.  I do feel better.  I feel better now that my floor is clean.”  I turned and walked to the latrine door.

I opened the door, turned to face Gonzalez, and motioned like I was holding the door for him.  Gonzalez clicked his tongue in bored disgust, then strolled out of the bathroom, still acting like somehow he came out on top from that exchange.

As far as I know, Gonzalez never pulled the stunt again.  I’m not saying I scared him off.  I just think my God-ordained authority as the floor leader was shining through that day.

And let that be a lesson to you all.  Most people like Gonzalez are cowards.  Paper tigers, if you will.  Don’t let pieces of shit like this push you around, even if they take off all their clothes.  That idiot is just lucky I didn’t kick his cojones up into his throat that day.

#7

Baby girl,

My mother was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but she was right about a handful of things.

First, don’t tell lies.  Avoid telling lies with every fiber of your being.

Second, don’t steal.  Also, according to Mom, sneaking food out of the kitchen late at night counts as stealing.  That’s still a gray area for me, though.  I don’t think I’ll be too mad at you for doing that.

Third, you need to share.  People aren’t going to share with you, but you still need to share with other people.  I know it sounds a little lame, but you just have to share.  There are days where I can’t even explain why I choose to be generous with some people, but I’m not going to let up just because people suck.

Finally, respect your elders.  There’s a weird kind of non-parenting that goes on in this country, and you are not being born into one of those homes.  The teachers at your school are not your butler, and the words of an adult trump anything you think is right.

There are exceptions to these, but if I have done my job as a parent, you will know them when they pop up.

That’s all for now, little lady.  I’m going to play with the cat, and hopefully get him accustomed to the idea that he will no longer be an only child.

Love, Dad

Book I, Part I – Chapter 5

Blue Phase

 

The blue phase was somewhat enjoyable at least.  I can’t really describe to you what we did in this phase, though, because I was always simply following along (and barely, at that).  We marched around with our rifles, we camped outside, and we got to throw fake grenades.  It was pretty cool if you didn’t think about the fact that you were using instruments of war.  I’m not a pacifist or anything, but I always felt a little sick when I was popping off shots with my M-16.  It felt unnatural in my hands.

The drill sergeants by this point were no longer very tough on us.  For the most part we knew what to do and where to be at what times.  Each platoon had a few soldiers designated as leaders, and we had no problem following their orders, especially if it meant the drill sergeants left us alone.  We were sharper, we were in better shape, and we also worked very well together.

Even Pvt. Walker had rejoined us, free of her crutches.  She began participating in PT every morning, and she also began running the obstacle courses with us.  It didn’t seem like anybody was giving her any guff any more, either.  In fact, the word “shammer” had not been uttered since the white phase, towards Walker or anyone else.

By this point, however, the pain in my knee had become far more frequent.  It wasn’t debilitating, but it was enough to keep me from going as fast as I really wanted to go on my runs.  I felt like the bones were grinding from the impact of beating the pavement too often without a break.  I talked to one of the drill sergeants about it, but he insisted that once I lost more weight it would go away.

I tried my very best to believe that the drill sergeants had a plan.  Maybe they thought I was doing a good job and were just going to pass me based on that.  It wasn’t impossible, was it?  I didn’t prefer that outcome, but at this stage I knew I would simply have to accept it.

I still had to focus on passing the PT test.   I had to pass and pass clean.  I couldn’t just pass because they let me.  That was a bullshit outcome.  I had to pass on my own.

*****

As the last major exercise of the blue phase, you do a seventy-two-hour field training exercise (or FTX) out away from your regular training site.  You march into the woods and play war games, shooting and jumping and hollering and, if you’re me, simply mimicking what your buddies are doing.  It was an exciting exercise, regardless of how tired I was or how little I understood.  This was the first time in the army that I began to feel a little manly, too.

Following our FTX, we were given two days of rest.  During that time, we cleaned our field equipment and turned it all back in to the drill sergeants.  The rest was certainly productive, though I took the opportunity to train up for the final PT test.

I was feeling accomplished, albeit nervous.  My optimism came and went.  I had done everything I possibly could have to squeeze off the extra weight and to get in better shape.  In fact, I was certain that I had pushed myself a little too hard, but there was no turning back.  Whether or not I had an actual knee injury would just have to wait a few more months as I negotiated the second half of the training phase.

But there’s almost no point in setting these things up anymore.  I failed.  Again.

This time, I was not upset with myself.  I was upset with the army.  Why hadn’t they let me go back when they had the chance?  Why did they let me go all the way through basic training not having passed their tests?  I didn’t want to leave basic training half complete.  I couldn’t even imagine how much harder it would be to learn even more specialized skills if I was already deficient in all the core areas.

After this most recent failure, I was informed by one of our drill sergeants that any soldiers who failed their PT test would be given one more chance to pass in three days.  All soldiers who did not pass would be recycled for real this time.  No messing around.  Even though I had heard the exact same thing before, I still had to take the threat seriously.  The army had been many things so far, but it was becoming less and less predictable all the time.

My target run time was 17:35 for two miles.  I had seventy-two hours to prepare for my retest, and in that time, I needed to fit in a Rocky-esque montage of bicycling, climbing a mountain, and chopping wood if I was going to pass.  This had to be one of those near-impossible transformations that only happen when the hero wants it badly enough.

I trained for forty-eight hours in every manner I knew how.  However, one of the drill sergeants said I needed to give my muscles a break, so I took his advice on the last day and rested.  I tried to talk to the drill sergeant about why I was never recycled, but he wouldn’t give me an answer.  He simply told me to focus on the task at hand. He said that if I dug deep enough for this final test, I would have nothing to worry about.

You know, I’ve always hated those stupid phrases.  They insinuate that you’re not trying your hardest.  I was already fucking digging deep.  This is what me digging deep looks like, understand?

Whatever, sarge.  Your words are starting to mean less and less all the time.

*****

The day of the final test came.  Again.  I was so sick of PT tests and frankly I was sick of the army, but there was no way they were going to defeat me.  I honestly didn’t care about what the army wanted from me.  What I cared about was that I accomplished what I set out to do.  Nothing else mattered.

The first two test events went very well.  I had improved greatly on push-ups and sit-ups and was feeling quite confident as we marched to the track where I would make or break my military career.

As we marched, one of the more obnoxious drill sergeants had somehow managed to sneak up on me.

“What’d ya fail, Perkins?”

“Nothing, drill sergeant.”

“Really?”

“Hope you brought your ice skates, drill sergeant, because that cold day in hell is coming fast.”

The drill sergeant seemed impressed by my uncharacteristic bit of confidence.  Too bad I didn’t believe my own words.

One of the platoon leaders, Pvt. Simpson, had volunteered to be my partner for the run.  This was permitted by the drill sergeants and was a very helpful thing to have.  My partner was a much more experienced runner, so he could set a pace for me to keep.  More importantly, I wouldn’t have to run alone.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-five seconds.  That was the magic number.  On my last test I had run an 18:40, so I had to be a minute faster.  It was absolutely possible.  As I walked toward the starting point, I repeated that number in my mind.

The call was given, and we were off.  The whole world began spinning as I poured every ounce of strength into propelling myself forward.  I had no sense of space or time; I barely even remembered why I was running in the first place.  I couldn’t see or hear anything, save the faint outline of Simpson drifting in front of me.

I knew that I wasn’t doing well.  I felt as if I were running the fastest that I ever had, but that I was still not keeping the pace that I needed.  Simpson was shouting for me to speed up, but my muscles simply couldn’t do what I was telling them.  My knee started to throb, and it made my stride wobbly and uncoordinated.

I managed to stay not too far behind Simpson.  My muscles were on autopilot by this point, as if my survival rested entirely on not letting this guy out of my sight.

After what seemed like an eternity, I came to my last lap.  This was my storybook moment.  A drill sergeant shouted that I needed to pick up the pace, so with every bit of strength I could harness, I ran.

My muscles were on fire.  I felt sick.  The PT test no longer mattered.  I would transcend space and time and simply disappear.  The only trace of me they would find would be my New Balance sneakers at the finish line, and they would posthumously give me the Medal of Honor.  My parents would gloat until their last days, the legend of their heroic son becoming more and more unbelievable as they aged.

This would be my moment.

There were checkpoints where a drill sergeant would shout out the time as I passed them, but for the duration of the run I hadn’t been able to hear what they were saying.  However, there was no mistaking the number I heard being called out when I crossed the finish line.

“Eighteen minutes!”

Well, shit.

*****

I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a minute when I was finally able to slow my poor body down.  I remember feeling lightheaded and badly off-balance. One minute I was standing, and the next I was on all fours, trying not to vomit.  My eyes were blurry as tears of rage began to form.  I couldn’t take it.  I started punching the ground in anger.

“Whoa there, soldier, get up!”  The drill sergeant responsible for keeping my time put his hand on my shoulder and shoved a clipboard into my face.

Across from my name was written 15:35.

What?  That was impossible.  I had just heard eighteen minutes being called.  I looked up at the drill sergeant, and he was smiling.  He looked at the number, and then nodded at me.

He doctored my score.

“Now pull yourself together, soldier!” the drill sergeant ordered.  I brushed myself off and went to go find Simpson.

I was angry over this turn of events.  It was illogical that I could have gotten that much faster in three days.  My drill sergeants would have to know that.  This time was well beyond the minimal score.  I think you could look at me and tell that I was not capable of running a mile in under eight minutes.

But nobody said a word about this obvious discrepancy in my run time.  In fact, I had a drill sergeant come up to me and congratulate me for my ‘improvement.’  This was the same drill sergeant who told me to dig deep, so he gave me a brief “I told you so” lecture about believing in myself.  I wanted to scream at him for being complicit in this sham, but I decided that this was just how things were going to be in the army.  If I was going to get stronger, I was going to have to try a lot harder in the next phase of my training.

Thanks a lot for that, by the way.

Still, having just received the first of many miracles, I was docile for the remainder of training in the gold phase.  I was finished—on a technicality, of course—but finished with basic training.  I was still disillusioned with how I had achieved it, though.

Granted, I had shaved another forty seconds off my run time from the previous PT test.  This made me feel a little better, but the fact that I didn’t pass my overall PT test still meant a lot to me.  I was beginning to wonder if I had passed the rifle test, or if somebody had changed the score the way they did with my PT test.

My peers were none the wiser.  In the end, I quit fighting against my discomfort with how I’d passed.  It was clear that nobody was ever going to find out about it, so why shouldn’t I accept this little miracle and move on?

Book I, Part II – Chapter 3

Shammers and

Broke-Dicks

 

Soldiers who were new to Student Company were designated AFI, or “awaiting further instructions.’  There was nothing for an incoming soldier to do initially, so they would simply hang around the barracks while everyone else was at school.  There were other reasons for a soldier to be AFI, though.  They might be injured, they might be in trouble, or they might have failed one of their classes.  If one of these were the case, the soldier might find themselves in administrative limbo for a very long time.

Regardless of the reason, all AFI soldiers were subject to being given errands to run or cleaning tasks to perform during the day.  Most of the time, though, we were simply free to hang out.  The drill sergeants would not normally allow us to leave the barracks, but a soldier was allowed to go back to their room or to relax in the common area on the first floor.

Personally, I wanted to hide in my room so that nobody would bother me, but Hudson insisted on looking around during the first few days.  While he was checking out the barracks, I tried talking to a few of the AFI soldiers.  Most of them were going to be in the next set of classes with me, but there were a few curious individuals who had more going on than it seemed.

There was one extremely tiny female soldier who you would swear was in middle school.  She had shockingly bright red hair, was extremely pale, and aside from being under five feet tall, she looked like she would fly away if the wind were to pick up too suddenly.

This soldier, Pvt. Sellers, had somehow broken her arm on a very old-fashioned piece of furniture in her barracks room, and even though the fracture had healed, she was placed on AFI for a medical board to determine her eligibility to continue.  She had already completed her classes, but the question that remained was whether she was too delicate to stay in the army.  I think she told me that she was going on her sixth or seventh month at DINFOS, and by that point she was simply burned out and wanted to leave.

Holy crap, I thought. Six months?!  How much of that time was spent just sitting around?  Medically mandated AFI sounded like a horrible thing to happen to a person.  Never mind the injury, but all that hanging around must have been torture.

Even as I was talking with Pvt. Sellers, a drill sergeant emerged from his office and made a comment to me about “hanging out with shammers.”  She winced slightly and lowered her head, her slight overbite coming down hard on her bottom lip.  The scene was very much reminiscent of Pvt. Walker.

And there was that word again.

After the drill sergeant walked away, Sellers told me that this was exactly why she wanted to leave.  She had gone to a great deal of trouble to get into the army, being instructed to take protein powder and eat bananas every day for a week in order to make the minimum weight requirement.  She said there was a time when she really wanted to be a soldier, but she realized after this unusual injury that perhaps she had made a mistake.  After all, she and the doctors were of a like mind.  If she had already broken a bone in training, and not even during an exercise session, it may be in her best interest to leave.

I met another female soldier who was on AFI, according to rumor, for failing a drug screening.  Her name was Tisha, and she was a rather striking mixed-race girl who I had to admit I would probably pursue in the outside world.  She was cute, she was petite, and she seemed like the kind of girl that enjoyed smoking a blunt and listening to some Outkast.  A drill sergeant warned me to leave her alone, though, lest I draw unnecessary attention to myself.

I needed to know more.

I tried more than once to get out of her why she was on AFI, but she wouldn’t talk about it.  She simply told me that she was sick of the army and sick of being picked on.  She was forced to man the desk at the front of the building every day while the students were at school, she wasn’t allowed to wear anything but her military-issued clothing, and she was only allowed to leave the barracks when it was time to eat.  She was even being kept in a room by herself by the drill sergeants’ offices.

Tisha’s situation left me with a lot of questions, but in the end, she insisted that I left her alone.  I think she was happy for the interaction, but I also think she didn’t want me to become guilty by association.  From that day forward I always surveyed the barracks to see where she was.  I hoped that, guilty or not, she would one day get the release from the army she was seeking.

*****

I met or at least encountered the rest of the AFI soldiers during my first few days at Student Company, but there were whispers of a guy named “Thievin’ Cleveland” whom I had not yet seen.  The list of his infractions ranged from being drunk in class to stealing things from other soldiers’ rooms.  It was also rumored that he had failed a drug screening and was waiting for a discharge.

Apparently, this guy had pissed off the drill sergeants so greatly that he was told it was best not to show his face.  He didn’t even come to formation.  He simply hung out in his room all day, paying people to fetch him food, alcohol, and tobacco.  At least, that’s what the rumors were.

Later that first week, I summoned up the courage to seek him out.  I cautiously stood in the doorway that was supposed to be his room.  What first struck me was that he had completely covered his window, creating a dark and rather ominous scene.  The entire barracks was well lit between the sun and the fluorescent lighting, so instead of seeing into the room, I was only able to detect the outline of furniture and a large lump on one of the beds.

The second thing that struck me was the smell, even as I stood outside of the door.  It smelled like an unwashed human wearing an unwashed uniform tucked into unwashed linens with various articles of rotten food.  Just as I was about to turn and leave, a deep voice bid me to enter.

The figure reached over and turned on a lamp.  As I entered the room, I beheld a soldier who was as obese as he was smelly.  His head was recently shaven by a razor, made evident by spots of blood and toilet paper, and there was some kind of food or sauce in the corners of his mouth.

I felt like I had entered Jabba the Hutt’s palace.  The only thing missing was a small creature at his feet cackling at me.   Well, that, and Leia in a metal bikini.  In one hand, this mysterious figure held a can of computer duster, which he promptly stuck into his mouth and inhaled.  He waited for a few seconds, and then he spoke.

“What’s up?” he croaked.

I wasn’t exactly prepared to engage him, but I told him that I was just looking around and trying to figure things out.  He asked me if I needed anything, to which I replied in the negative.  I didn’t know what he meant by that, and frankly I didn’t want to know.  All I wanted was to see if the rumors were true, and it looked as though they were.

We didn’t talk for very long.  He told me he was in trouble, but never said why.  All he really said was that the army was bullshit and so were the drill sergeants.  He told me that the rules were a joke, and that you could get away with just about anything so long as the drill sergeants liked you.  I listened to him for a few minutes, but I began to feel horribly uncomfortable.  Plus, the smell of the room was getting to me.

I told Thievin’ Cleveland that I was going to lunch, and he simply nodded.  He took another hit from the can of duster and told me to come see him if I needed anything.  Also, if I ever managed to get off base, he’d give me twenty bucks for another can of duster.  I nodded and quickly made my exit.

*****

By the end of the week, I had made it a point to try and brush elbows with every single AFI soldier regardless of the rumors surrounding them.  The only people who stood out to me then were Sellers, Tisha, and “Thievin’ Cleveland.”  Each of them was, in their own way, an example of what could go wrong with a soldier.  To me, this bolstered the argument against hanging on to soldiers who couldn’t make it through their training.  It made me wonder what other kind of dissatisfied, disgruntled “shammers and broke-dicks” I would encounter on my journey.

It also made me wonder what happened in the army to cause people to turn out that way.  After all, these three people were still in training, and all three had clearly given up some time ago.  I wondered how much of it was their fault.  I wondered if they were pushed too far, or if they never should have joined the army in the first place.  I wondered how I would react if something happened to me.

This was not the first time I had wondered if I had what it took to survive.  Never mind the PT.  What about the boredom?  What about the isolation?  These soldiers were all at the end of their proverbial rope.  I couldn’t help but feel bad for them.  I don’t think anybody ever intends to turn out like any of these people.

For the time being, it scared me straight.