Courting the Ladies

Readers of this blog will have picked out the various, highly-successful courting tips that we have dropped across various posts.  If you are a new reader, or someone of poor memory you can read about meatballs, multi-colored sneakers, and the $300 wardrobe.  Aside from those colossally effective tips I have some more for those still on the auction block.

Often you can learn even more from failure than success.  By now we should have volumes of useful knowledge.  Unfortunately we are left a pile of failures, but we like to think of some of these as sort of successful.

The first of these tips is more for camp counselors.  I was at a week long camp in the Catskill Mountains.  This was a co-ed camp for budding young adults between the ages of 13-15. They could have called it “Caligula Camp” given barely supervised new teens about to burst with seminal fluids. The best example is a game I call “Blind Grope”.

They took us all into a large, flat, open grass field. The camp counsellors stood at the borders to keep us corralled in the field. They blindfolded all of us and set us out. The object was to find the murderer before everyone was dead. A few people were murderers and a few more police, and the rest where bystanders. When you touched a person you both paused a moment. Bystanders say nothing. If someone whispers “murder” then you scream “MURDER” (causing the other bind players fleeing the area – only walking, no running). The police whispered police and if you were a murderer you where then caught.

The real “objective” was simple. Grab some boob. As you would expect, and as I confirmed when I was finally “murdered”, hence leaving the field of play and removing my blindfold with the other victims, was the boys expended one are out to encounter boobage, and the other arm jealously guarded the package. The boys moved about quickly to cover as much area as possible, obviously spending more time if they ran into a girl. The girls were well informed to take small, quiet steps and used both arms to fully protect their upper assets.

When you were “out” and got to watch the field of play it was very entertaining. The climax of the game was one girl who took the offensive. She had either played this game before, or was well aware of the perverted minds of young boys. Instead of guarding herself, she moved with brisk steps of force with her arms pistoning forward in a downward angle. This action felled more than a few boys. She seems to have a sense for boys approaching as she never caused damage to another female. I expect she is a CEO somewhere today.

The next tale of courtship also took place in a camping situation. This time there where only a few of us, and we took a canoeing trip for a week in Canada. We spent most of the week on a peninsula on one side of a lake. The lake was bordered by mostly permanent residents, but a few homes rented out for the summer. The one directly across form out camp site was rented to two older women who we watched for two days as they utterly failed to use a canoe. They were drunk every time we saw them. While some people drunk dial and others wander the Tops isle, still other try to get into a canoe. They continuously fell into the water and screamed at each other.

After two days they managed to get into the canoe, but also padding in the same direction, thus managing to propel themselves across the lake and towards us. As they approached all staring in order to get a closer view at what a train-wreck looks like close up. Suddenly they came into focus. Our eyes were torn asunder by the vision of two nasty old drunks that were topless this entire time. As we averted out eyes to avoid permanent blindness, we heard the cry of the Northern Light Hag, “Get a good look perverts!”

I cannot leave this particular story with such a crime against nature. During the canoeing to the peninsula we portaged (that means carry your fucking canoe over land) across an all girls camp. Enjoying the brief time, but soon forgetting about it we were surprised a few days later, to see some of the females from this camp canoeing towards us. They setup camp no more than 20 yards away. Their 19-ish women counselor was as lacks as our 19-ish male counsellor.

I should mention that there is normally a qualified staff member with these canoeing expeditions, but they ran out of staff and since our guide lived in the area, was 19, and had been on the trip a few times they deputized him. He lead us away from the normal paths, and into a den of disgust (the old women above) and love (see below).

The female campers were no match for the combination of Canadian wildlife, a sparking lake, and dirty boys catching frogs. Through some Druidic magic the even closed as were paired up around a roaring fire. Each couple encased in their own blanket. Being a gentleman I shant disclose what may or may not have occurred that night under the stars.

Now we will leave the romantic camping settings and escape to a simple phrase handed down from a guru of lotharioism. The proper procedure, according to this casanova is to whisper gently into a woman’s ear, “I want to eat you into utter submission.” Like an angry Republican from Texas the shock and awe of this statement will roll over her with such speed as to leave her defenses shattered. I cannot give any further details, but I will back up the perhaps surprising performance of this quip with a statistic. Two out of three times this has been employed it has bet with success.

The occasionally mentioned, but universally loved Rob gives us our next parable of love. Rob had been in a prolonged dry spell when New Year’s Eve rolled around. Many of the usual crew were gathered at our beloved Anacone’s. After the compulsory toast at the stroke of midnight we actually engaged in a round of declaring resolutions. When it came upon Rob to make his decree he raise his glass and gleefully yelled out, “I declare this The Year of Rob!” He consummated the proclamation by grabbing the mammary gland of the woman next to him. Again we witnessed shock and awe. It was a good thing the woman was a friend of ours. As this was out of character, and he had imbibed several quotas of intoxicants there was no rebut. Over the next year Rob made good. He found a new girlfriend that lasted several years.

The New Year’s following the successful year of Rob leads us into our final tale of seduction. I made a similar decree as to being “The Year of Aaron.” holding more of a strict character than Rob I set forth a rule. “I will ask out at least one new woman a month.” In January I asked out Chris’s sister, but given he pervious exposure to my juvenile antics there was not surprise on either part to the answer. February I asked out some woman I can’t recall other than this we of a slightly more serious attempt that the paper-attempt of January. No dice. With March approaching I had used my two options for asking out a woman without any fear. Now I knew I had to actually encounter a real life situation.

In preparation I read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This seemed to be a useful skill to acquire, no matter what kind of “conquest” you were out for. The point from this well-known tome that stuck with me is the tactic of asking a person two questions they cannot say no to before getting to the real question on the third try. The idea is that they are in the habit of saying yes with the first two questions, so that when you get to the third they will reactively say yes.

I set my sights on a buxom woman who was playing volleyball in Delaware Park. This is when Chris and I had been playing weekly volleyball with the alternatives. I later learned they did not like this woman. During the game I managed to flirt successfully with her. Before I knew it the game was over and people began to leave. She was only an occasional player so I knew I had to make my move. I volunteered to stay and help take down the equipment. Chris and JP where present and both knew what I was up to. They left, hiding out in the nearby parking lot so as to be the first to find out what happened. I continued the flirting, ask me not what I did exactly as I was in a haze. As I walked with her to her car I entered stage one. Damn! I was still surrounded by a cloudy haze. I had asked question one, but I did not know what I said! I have blown it already!

I saw her mouth move, and hear a “Yes.” Somehow I had not shot my self in the foot. I had to expunge this cloud out of my hear and think clearly. Before I could clear my head entirely I found I was already half way through my second question! What the hell was I gonna do now? I had no choice but to complete my question. Now I was done for sure. I managed to clear my head, now awaiting a sure-fired denial to an unknown question.

Somehow my luck held as I was gifted with a miraculous second affirmative. Now I was where I wanted to be. I finally had a clear mind. I had put in the pre-work, and all I had to close the deal with deliver my closer. I took a breath and confidently fired my final salvo. “Do you eat?” Her response was a collage of confusion and smirk. “What?” was her reply. I then asked he out, to which she told me she was engaged. I was still elated as I had executed my plan and it did not end in catastrophe. We parted and i started the trek towards the parking lot to make my after action report. As I strutted away, proud in my own accomplishment, I heard her yell. “Hey!” I looked back, her voluminous upper half protruding from her car door. “Nice line.”

And with an Aesoply ending I leave you with this. Into every life a little love must stumble, even if by remarkable luck, but place your bet upon a tactic of shock and awe.

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Basic Blues Part Fore!

           By the fifth week we finally got around to doing some more fun stuff. Not that standing about for hours waiting to receive dozens of shots all at once wasn’t a hoot, but a change up here and there was a decent thing. The first knock in the old routine was the introduction of additional duties. The worst of this of course was KP for kitchen something. While it is true that that bit of fun was not quite so bad as pulling out the dump bucket from the bottom of shitters (a duty main characters in military movies inevitably get stuck with), but not a whole load of hilarity either. The lucky ones got sent into the kitchen to not peel potatoes (they used instant) and other tasty things, and of course I got stuck in the dish room.

            Despite my extensive dishwashing experience from my teenage stint at Denny’s, plus my advanced dishwashing course in the hallowed back room of Norton cafeteria at UB, my technique was not up to muster and I was forced to endure several bouts of screaming from a fellow who had the prestigious duty of doing it himself when basic training slave labor was unavailable. On the upside, we got a full half hour to eat and were allowed coffee and caffeinated pop. On the downside, they woke us at 0230 to begin a day that would end at 2300. I used military time to accentuate the duration for the mathematically challenged oafs who no doubt read this sanctimonious crap. The other downside was the discovery that ingestion of massive amounts of caffeine after weeks of deprivation irritates the colon to an alarming degree, forcing me to endure a long bout of toilet riding while the douche bag in charge of the dish room screamed at me outside the door. I made sure to pull a good dose of odor out with me upon my exit for his edification.

            A far better extra duty was landscaping and lawn mowing; a sparse activity on account of the time of year. Again, my college landscaping experience was of no use and despite having survived it with nary a missing limb, they insisted in dressing me and the others in a veritable Robocop get up. Metal shin guards, foot guards, gauntlets, goggles and I believe even helmets; all sound protection against the deadly nylon cord of the weed whacker and flying grass gently wafting from the mowers. Given the insane level of safety precautions I wondered if in wartime we would be encased in enormous lead lined blocks of concrete and buried deep beneath the ocean floor; kept as pristine as the unopened action figures lining Mooney’s shelves.

            The day finally came when we were all put on a bus and driven out to the rifle range for M16 training. Hopkus declined to come with us on this venture as it had been decided, probably the hard way that it might not be terribly advisable to arm those you have browbeaten into submission, and then lollygag about as a convenient target. The Marines and Army somehow manage to do it, reinforcing the impression of their expendability. The instructors to whose care we were given were also amazingly nice in comparison to everyone else we had encountered including the mammoth breasted chow hall matrons. Once the weapons were distributed after a lengthy training seminar, it became incumbent on each to render their best ‘Full Metal Jacket’ “Hiya, Joker” impression of Private Pyle. Mine was sensational.

            I fully expected to receive my marksman ribbon for my shooting ability as I had been bragging to no end about my keen eyesight and steady hand. I sighted my rifle well and felt my first few shots went true. A few moments into it however, it was pointed out to me with a great deal of politeness that I was actually aiming at my neighbors target and not my own. My request for a do- over was pleasantly declined. 35 of 40 were needed to receive the marksman distinction and I fell short by 3, although ironically my four eyed neighbor somehow managed to squeak into the distinction. Passing, by the way, is 35 of 40 in the roughneck services, while in the AF it’s a measly 15. It was well thought that if times were such that the airmen were being armed, one bullet and a target range of 3 inches were all that was really needed.

            It was also around this time that the other airmen excitedly examined themselves in the mirror, jubilant at the sight of their hair growing back. Mine, mysteriously, was not except on the sides and back. Now prior to the ritualistic shaving a few weeks prior I sported a poorly maintained mop atop my skull and could not understand the poor performance of my follicles. It was seriously dismaying and the rest of the flight was all too happy to invent all manner of lame jokes that would be bounced about, following me from place to place until my discharge 4 years later.

            At the start of the sixth week, we were finally considered ready to face the greatest physical challenge the Air Force had to offer its new recruits; the fabled Confidence Course. The course was meant to inspire the ready and willing with the most enormous series of strength, stamina and agility based obstacles anyone could think of, stopping just short of anything that might give someone a boo-boo. We woke up excited that day and set forth to march to the proving grounds right after morning chow. The weather that day was somewhat less exciting giving us overcast skies and the coldest day San Antonio had experienced all winter; hovering just above freezing. Rounding the bend into the grounds we were all the more jubilant in seeing the first challenge involved navigating a precarious rope set up over a large body of water. Several other flights were also present; include a few female ones to make things more interesting.

            Unlike the obstacle courses of the more rugged armed services, we weren’t being timed or really even tested, although to maintain the illusion of it, TI’s were strategically placed about the course to provide motivation though destructive criticism. While I don’t recall all of the challenges, a few come to mind as being especially interesting or difficult. Most involved some sort of climbing, swinging on ropes, or feats of strength and endurance. It was required that each was completed or the failing airman was faced with being set back a week (known as ‘recycling’) and having to march back out and do it again. I came dangerously close a few times.

            One of the first challenges was to grab a rope and swing across a patch of sand and land on a large log. Having not swung on a rope for many years, my judgment of distance was off and I smacked my chest right into the landing log and fell off; a performance fitting Wile E Coyote. With bruised ribs, I was forced to try again until I finally managed to do it. I think, however, that the practice was worth it as I was to encounter a similar event later on. The next one to give me trouble was the old climb over the wall shtick. Running up to the challenge area I naturally picked the shorter of the two walls and went over it with only a little difficulty. “Well just look at little Sally Jane over here! He thinks he’s a girl!” I should have gleaned that the only reason for two different sized walls was to accommodate the women and of course was the only one to make this mistake. Red faced, I tackled the much taller men’s wall while the sadistic TI pranced around in apparent imitation of my femininity. To make matters worse, I couldn’t get over the right one and was starting to panic. Fortune smiled on me that day as he got distracted by weaker prey and I used the opportunity to simply walk around the wall and bolt the hell out of there in hopes he wouldn’t follow.

            On two occasions I was the object of frankly undeserved bitching out due to being stuck behind one of the females. The first instance was the long crawl; a 200 yard stretch of wet mud and sand with a 3’ x 3’ tunnel of barbed wire across it. The object was to crawl the 200 yards though the tunnel on your knees and elbows. I was good at this for about the first 20 yards until I practically rammed my head directly up the ass of the female airman in front of me. She was not finding the crawl so easy and was moving at a snails pace. Given the dimensions there was no way of getting by her even if she consented to the most intimate of contortions. Despite the enjoyable view, the half hour it took to reach the end was tortuous as the TI at this challenge decided to pepper us with insults and ominous threats the whole way. At one point she started crying and stopped all together, enraging the beastly man all the more to my frustration. By the end my fascination with her posterior undulations was considerably dulled by the overall unpleasantness.

            Shortly after I found myself in a similar situation though with a different female airman. The object this time was to navigate a set parallel beams ramping on ones back by hauling yourself over the first, under the second, over the third, etc.. Again, I was a short way into it when I caught up with the woman in front of me and was forced to hang under for some time. By the time she finally moved forward enough for me to take action, I found my arms had turned to rubber after hanging for so long. Worse, Hopkus was the TI at this particular site and took great exception to my performance. He delighted in shouting out to the world and the rest of the airmen present about my pitiful weakness on this challenge as well as recounting the rest of my personal failings from the first day onward. Pure spite played a large role in my successful completion.

            The worst of all were the water based challenges. I feel I am in the majority when I say that I hate to get my clothes wet when I’m in them and when I condition the statement with 30 degree weather and a 45 minute march to a fresh dry uniform agreement is universal. The course had 3 water events and if nothing else, I was strongly determined to navigate them without making a splash. The first was easy and consisted of side sliding along a three rope bridge over a shallow lake. As long as you held on to the guide ropes it was pretty easy and I only saw one idiot take a plunge. A tragedy as it was the first task; the remaining 31 to be completed wet and cold.

The second was a virtual repeat of the rope swing only this time it was over a pit of water. The ropes hung above the middle of the pool and the task was designed to take advantage of the person in front of you. One would swing across, presumably land dry and push the rope back to the next person. There was no waiting; you were up the second after the person in front of you landed. The fuck nut in front of me barely made it and swung the rope back in a most half assed fashion. With no choice but to go, I made a mighty leap at the rope slowly swaying toward me in a lackadaisical fashion. My hands found purchase and I propelled myself forward while sliding down the wet piece of hemp that my toes skimmed the surface of the icy pool. Hefting myself off at the other side I wind milled frantically for a few moments and caught my balance.

The final water challenge and challenge in general was the old horizontal ladder, again over a long deep pool. It was metal, slippery, a good 100 feet long, and naturally there was a female airman dangling helplessly about 30 feet in. Fuck this! I stood there waiting for her to get a move on or drop before even making movement to start. The TI started the usual litany of threats but there was no way in hell I was hurting my chances of success. Before he could fail me on the spot (as they had the power to do), she dropped, screaming at the instant chill. While never in my life, even as a child, had I managed to monkey my way across one of these, that day the force was strong within me. I powered across it grabbing every other bar and even passed over the poor sopping woman struggling to free herself from the muddy water.

I did it; I passed the greatest physical challenge the Air Force had to offer and did so dry. I felt my prowess to be magnificent and that night we boasted loudly of our Herculean accomplishments on the various tasks. Several months later when in tech school, also at Lackland, I along with a few others were volunteered to help supervise a group of 4H children on their monthly outing, this time to the fabled Confidence Course. Any residual ego boost from my own go around was dashed when watching 8 to 10 year olds scamper though the course, completing most challenges quicker than I did.

The feelings of elation from the course were dashed that very same day when we arrived back at the barracks and found that stand team had been by and left a representative to await us. Airman Brown was called forward and charged with leaving several dollars unsecured; cleverly hidden in the springs beneath his bed for quick retrieval in the event of a patio break. The violation was an instant 2 week recycle, meaning he would join another flight that was only in their 3rd week instead of 5th. In silence he packed up his belongings and was escorted out, not to be seen again. The collective mood was sullen for days after as this was our first fallen member since the typical first week infant mortality. The last had been Baker, who bruised his ankle running and decided to parlay that into an early out by repeatedly banging the injury into the shower wall until it bled. He was removed to medical where he finally declared he was gay to eliminate any chance of reinstatement upon healing.

My own danger of recycle loomed in the final physical test – run 2 miles in under 18 minutes, do 75 sit ups in under two minutes and 50 push ups in the same. The run and the sit ups I had nailed since the 3rd week review, at which time I did 18 push ups. I struggled to improve and during a test run a couple days prior to the final test found I could do about 35. Not at all promising. The loss of Brown, however, saved me as the bitterness of it solidified an agreement between us all that everyone shall pass. As the TI kept time, 4 airmen would spot another 4 taking the test. That day a miracle occurred as I did an astounding 68 push ups according to Kasparek; a good 30 in excess of my own internal count. Everyone exceeded expectations that day, much to Hopkus’s deep suspicions, but our indoctrination of integrity made our words above reproach.

            The sixth week finally came and went and the two most anticipated events finally came to pass. The first was liberty. While we enjoyed some degree of base liberty (being allowed to walk around without Hopkus here and there) since the start of the week, the day before graduation we were finally treated to a day on the town; sort of. The idea was that you would spend some quality time with your family who naturally make their way down to Texas for the big graduation. Those few, whose families didn’t come down, like mine, were allowed to board a bus and spend the day schlepping around old San Antonio. There were a few catches. First, full dress blues were the required uniform. Second, absolutely no smoking, drinking, going to bars, Hooters, or anywhere fun. We were informed that TI’s and other AF personnel would be patrolling the streets on the lookout for conspicuously dressed airmen in violation. Violation meant full recycle back to week 1.

            Despite the caution, I likely would have tried my luck with some illicit activity. Unfortunately, the two other airmen with non-traveling relatives who I traveled around with were about as white bread as one gets. Upon reaching downtown San An, the first thing these two wet rags wanted to do was go to church. I somehow managed to talk them out of it and instead spent the first of many Saturdays bouncing around the Riverwalk, checking out women not wearing fatigues for the first time in over a month, and eating at the fabulous TGI Friday’s. I think we also hung out at the mall as well to round out the typical weekend day of a 14 year old Mormon. A far cry indeed from the old Comstock era exploits, but such would return in good time, sooner rather than later.

            Graduation day was finally upon us and the sense of exhilaration was palpable! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, finally immune from the indignity of the snake pit and draconian rules. Allowed to converse while eating for the first time we made ample fun of the younger airmen so fearfully chewing in silence and delighted each time one was captured by the dreaded pit. We groomed ourselves up in out full dress blues, taking out time to get things just right. Hopkus, no longer the foul tyrant of deepest abaddon, was jovial, waltzing about and joking with those whose neck he would have snapped for no more than a prolonged look just days before. Under blue skies and the warm Texas sun we marched to the parade grounds.

            Unlike academic graduations there was no outside speaker, individual recognition, or diploma of any kind. We simply marched past the base General who nodded his assent and received a canned speech from the same. In his defense, he spends every Sunday doing the same thing, thus reducing the specialness of the event to some degree. Be that as it may, it was still a far sight better than anything else we had done so far and came with the BMT medal which everyone in the military gets upon completion.

            That night we received back all the belongings we came with and packed up our gear. In the morning we would all go to our respective technical schools; mainly in north Texas, Biloxi, Denver, California, and of course right there at Lackland. I, of course, fell into the last group and would be simply bussed across base in the morning. It was a sucky deal but at least I thought I would once again be a free man; not knowing the 9 months of intimidation and poor treatment that awaited me.

Basic Blues Part Tres

           Wherein there is absolutely no doubt that the majority of basic training was potpourri of terror, intimidation, tinnitus producing screaming, and of course endless sniping, there were instances that broke the day to day tedium. I will of course begin with the latter to prepare the reader for the former in order to enhance the well appreciated glory of such activities as writing letters and receiving fabled patio breaks.

            As oft mentioned before, the vast majority of our time when not waiting in lines, filling out paperwork or waiting up to 2 hours to enjoy a 5 minute meal, was spent making our immediate surroundings look as if they spontaneously manifested in a vacuum by some divine unction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, never to be touched by our grubby worthless mitts. It was to be presumed by our inspectors, collectively known as ‘Stand Team’, that this truism applied not only to the facilities and floors, but our personal belongings as well. Where I previously described a midnight dressing down based on a hair found within the haystack of the broom and some dust on the dayroom floor, Stand Team liked to focus on well shined boots, the precise way in which our laundry bags were to be hung, and most critical, the geometric perfection of our folded tee shirts. I cannot overestimate the importance of the latter.

            For collective items, teams were formed that were responsible of the upkeep of their respective area. Least preferable of these was the latrine team headed by a chosen leader with the unfortunate designation of ‘Latrine Queen’. Trying to keep the facilities inspection ready called for drastic measures that brought much hatred upon the queen that included a banning of use of the urinals, all but two sinks and toilets, a stricture against use of the showers except after Physical Training (PT), and the wildly unpopular rule about urination in the feminine position only. Even with such draconian rules rigidly followed, the poor queen barely made it within an inch of graduation having taken hit after hit for flush residuals due to the low flows and the occasional errant short and curly.

            Personal items were our own problem and maintenance bordered on the ridiculous. Some items we found our way around such as declining to clean our razors to inspection readiness but instead spending our meager pay on using and displaying a fresh disposable every day; chucking the used one in the trash. Annoying was the rule declaring the necessity of writing down and updating the serial number of each and every paper bill in one’s possession on an ‘as changed’ basis, including singles. The concept was to be theft deterrent and if asked, one was expected to be able to produce a money list upon demand as well as the bills with matching serial number. The penalty of mistakes was grave and included disbarment from the glorious patio which will be described later. Worst and most time consuming was the folding of the tee shirts.

            Each tee shirt we owned was expected to be folded in an exact 6” X 6” square, pressed absolutely flat, and most important, with edges flush perfectly with each other. The effort expended to meet compliance was Herculean. Folding was accomplished using a ruler and iron, pressing with full steam settling each and every fold and crease made to razor precision. This involved considerable teamwork, the alleged basis for the exercise, and my partner had the misfortune to have fat fingers I burned with the iron on multiple occasions. McMahon was also the one double lefty who marched worse than I did; earning him a place of respect for both calamities. Making the edges flush required pressing the folded shirt between two books and delicately plucking at the edges with a set of tweezers. Each shirt took an estimated 8 hours of labor. Stand Team would randomly open locker drawers and inspect the shirts, maliciously flinging them to the bed when done and assuring the ultimate destruction of the effort. Those bastards nailed my locker 3 times to my enraged frustration.

            The reward for a job well done was the coveted patio break. Oh, the very sound of those words together sent us into shivers of lustful anticipation! To earn one of these unparalled treats the flight would have to pass a Stand Team inspection with 0 or fewer demerits, accomplish a perfect drill session, or unilaterally invade Iraq and successfully win the heats and minds of the people; nearly impossible stuff but it did happen. A reader’s picture of this patio is probably sufficiently inflated at this point to represent a lavish tropical result or at least a Dave & Busters. No, the object of our desire was a poured slab of concrete, roughly the area of a midsized kitchen, containing several vending machines, a picnic table, and about 10 pay phones. The typical patio break lasted about 10 minutes.

            I still remember the first time we were awarded this prestigious honor and the chaos that ensured. The time was called and we simultaneously clogged the stairs to get down in short order. With 10 phones and 50 guys it was common courtesy to keep it to 2 minutes or under talking to weepy relatives, wives, girlfriends, or one’s bookie. The presence of two flights there simultaneously halved the time. The other 8 minutes was spent either waiting in line for one of the phones or waiting in line at the machines with hopes of being able to choke down a Coke and a Snickers before time was called. Oftentimes I would find myself attempting to ingest candy and talk on the phone at the same time; such was the way things worked out. Explaining the cruelty of the place was irritatingly difficult with a mouthful of Good-n-Plenty. I found another time saver in the Josta machine; an experimental soda made by Pepsi or Coke with the great tastes of guarana, saw palmetto, and panther if one was inclined to believe the can design. Hideous, but strangely addicting.

            There were a number of rules affecting the use of the patio, enforced at all times. The first of course was don’t shake the vending machines, even if it was your last buck and that Almond Joy was just barely hanging in there. Were you so unlucky to have this happen, you prayed that a buddy was in line behind you, otherwise some sneaky fuck would wait for you go back up, then get the old two for the price of one. Enforcing the rule was a patio guard assigned from your or another flight. In one instance I recall the patio guard being from our sister flight. She stood there keeping a wary eye out when an enormous TI came striding into the area and cut to the front of the line (as they were wont to do). He looked over at the poor airman guard, grabbed the top of the machine and started vigorously rocking it back and forth. The frightened woman stood there without a clue of what to do as this cruel behemoth slammed the back of the machine into the cinder block wall behind it. “I’m shaking the vending machine!”, he’d look over at her and grin, “I’m shaaaaaking the machine!!”. I could not decide if it was more likely that she would begin to cry or the moke would topple the machine atop himself. I hoped for the giant to fall with a vague idea that free snacks would come loose when he did. Before either could happen, he suddenly stopped and strode away.

            The second rule, far more important than the first, was that all food and drink had to be consumed or left in the patio. The core reasoning for the prohibition of edibles was simply to avoid any chance of having to deal with an infestation of vermin in the barracks. The way it was presented to us, however, was that doing so would present exceptionally grave damage to our collective national security. Finding even a crumb would bring on unholy wrath and presumably 7 years of bad luck as well. We knew in our hearts that it would be less analogous to the infamous jelly donut scene from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and more like the administrative discipline scene from film classic ‘Starship Troopers’. Our TI went so far as to tell us a parable of how dirtbag Airman Johnny (the fictional whipping boy in all cautionary tales) snuck up a candy bar, felt guilty and flushed it down the toilet. The system, he explained, was rigged with sensors that could apparently distinguish between a turd and a 5th Avenue as well as Bill Murray. He explained how they stopped the sewer system to retrieve the candy as evidence and used it to court martial poor dumbass Johnny. “Integrity”, he explained, “is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. And we are ALWAYS watching”. For the record, unlike most, I didn’t buy the tale.

            As time went on and we got more efficient at the folding, laundering, dusting, scrubbing, sewing and other 1950’s stereotypical housewife duties, we actually got just a little bit of personal time. Not that we could do much with it as we were not allowed to go anywhere or really do anything aside from extra PT, study our BTM IIs (Basic Training Manual, second edition), or write letters. I despised push ups and had the damn propaganda memorized early on, so I concentrated on my correspondence.

Each letter was specifically tailored to the recipient in order to best showcase the qualities they would best appreciate; sarcastic, profanity filled bravado to friends and emotional anguished letters to family with the appropriate levels of longing. My attention to detail in the content did not extend to the envelopes however. Naturally the two polar opposites were the ones to cross with Dan of all people receiving the dutiful son letter to my parents and they receiving a filthy diatribe filled with longing for booze, broads, beer and smokes. I was almost happy to be in Texas when the misfortune was unveiled. What also didn’t help was that a few months prior to leaving my name and address somehow (ahem, you know who you are) got submitted to all manner of pornography lists. When I changed my address to my parents to so that they could pay the last few of my bills, their mailbox was suddenly inundated with full color spreads peddling ‘Chicks with Dicks Turn Tricks’ and ‘Gang Bang Poontang’. That my 11 year old sister generally brought in the mail did nothing towards helping them see the humor in the situation. Though Dan was conveniently blamed, to this day they harbor suspicions that I am a degenerate of the sleaziest variety at heart.

While the postal system may have tarnished my image at home, it did not play favorites and gave my family a shot at making things a bit more difficult for me. On the first day we were instructed to inform our families that were not to receive packages, and certainly not packages with food in them or there would be dire consequences. One day toward the end of things we assembled in the day room for mail call. Hopkus would call our names on the envelopes, open them for contraband, view and confiscate naked shots of girlfriends and wives, and toss you your message. That day along with the mail pile was a great big package. They wouldn’t have. I told them. My stomach was clenched up in my throat through the whole mail call, Hopkus torturing us by withholding the name of the doomed fool. Please please…

“Wolf!” Fuck! He had the thing in his hands, reading off the label. Though some time had passed since I was the primary object of his ill tempered wrath, his eyes glowered dusky red in the coming twilight. His stare demanded explanation but said nothing as I rose. With a dash of flare and uncharacteristic bravado, I rose to my feet and said, “Uhhhhh…” Before I could make my way forward, he whipped out a razor sharp hunting knife, most likely to gut me like some jackass rabbit for the offense of my pedigree. He sliced the brown wrapping open and let spill forth pounds of chocolate, pistachio nuts, chips and other goodies. No one breathed, only drooled, and Hopkus stared at me with a look of bitter betrayal. Had it been 2 weeks prior, I probably would have been undone, but fortune smiled on me that day, for Hopkus must have gotten some that morning, and a good some at that. With uncharacteristic generosity, he allowed the flight to escort the booty to the patio and consume all we could in 8 minutes time, leaving the rest to the vultures. 

At the fourth week we hit an important milestone of sorts. We had crossed a threshold where the likelihood of any one of us attempting to abandon ship though a self inflicted injury or realization of homosexuality had dropped significantly. At this point the AF felt justified in fitting us with our dress blues – a substantially more expensive set of uniforms than the old BDUs. While on the outside spending the day being fitted for clothes is not exactly the cup of tea of most men, it was better than the usual grind. Making it more interesting was the explicit instructions from old Hopkus. In his experience, more than one airman would manage to fuck up some manner of his dress blues before graduation, meaning slightly more work for him. He explained this with the instruction that if it wasn’t nailed down, take it. We complied with gusto and a strength of purpose in abundant excess of anything attempted yet before. It was our first chance to stick it to the man since arriving, and we were hungry for vengeance.

I can only attribute our remarkable success to the presence of dozens of former petty thieves in our ranks. Where I was able to sneak away with an extra tie, the combined effort of the flight was inspiring when piled high upon several of the bunks once separated from the legitimate issue. Dozens of shirts, every size, pants of the same, shoes in every size, trench coats, winter coats, hats, belts and sundry. When Hopkus came in to view our tribute, he stopped dead, mouth agape. “Holy shit! You guys took all this? Shit. How the fuck am I going to explain this?” There was nothing he could say to us as we followed his explicit instructions to the letter, but in doing so left him with massive evidence of grand larceny only he could be held accountable for. He kept an odd assortment, but over the next few weeks he sent small groups back to clothing issue to return some ‘mistakes’, each time identifying themselves from a different flight.

Despite the holy terror he presented himself as during the first few weeks, SSgt Hopkus eased off a bit as time went on and the flight in general began to like him for the most part. Sure, he was still quite the asshole and enjoyed reminding us frequently, but he told asshole jokes now that given the absence of the same, were well taken.

The last installment of Basic Blues will deal with fun with small arms, the navigation of a watery Confidence Course on a frigid day, the days of liberty, a fallen hero, and the final days.

Basic Blues Part Deux

            As I’ve already indoctrinated the 3 or 4 people likely to read this drivel into the mechanics of how I arrived at Basic and the lay of the land, I’ll skip the preliminaries and go right into why life sucked so badly those first few weeks. The reasons are nearly countless, but I will try to cram as many as possible in for your consideration in the hopes my tales of woe buy some grudging admiration, or barring that, a good laugh.

            The best and worst times of day were chow times. The majority of this time was spent in relative peace, standing in formation waiting for the call to come in. Heel to toe we would file though and select a meal that was the easiest to shovel down in the sparse time we were allotted. Chili mac was a perpetual favorite for this, as was any kind of stew or casserole, no matter how heinous. The worst of concoctions in the belly was much preferred to the alternative one was guaranteed upon selecting a piece of meat that required cutting and chewing. A savvy gobbler could easily consume 12 ounces of chili mac in the time it took the thick skulled doofus next to him to cut and consume 2 bites of chicken or 1 of steak. In the first couple weeks, the object was to fill up as much as possible in as little time as possible and get the hell out before the next last person in your flight did. To be last was certain verbal abuse.

            The majority of the abuse came from the series of tables lined up at the front of the hall where an assemblage of TI’s sat on one side in banquet honoree or television show configuration with one side left empty. This area was known as the snakepit and like its namesake; it was simply somewhere you just didn’t want to be. The snakepit served one primary purpose – a strategic vantage point whereby the TI’s could view and terrorize all diners equally. Like a pack of hyenas, however, they preferred to collectively attack anyone separated from the herd. A typical situation was like this. An airman planned the completion of his or her meal poorly and found themselves marching toward the door when both no other diners were and no one was being abused at the pit that very moment. Hungry for fresh meat, they would call the unlucky person over, who would always look around hoping it wasn’t them, followed by the dejected approach once there was no hope of the alternative. The poor fool would stand at attention before the pit and be asked a barrage of questions formulated as such that any possible answer would drive the inquisitors into ever escalating levels of outraged fury. Red faced and shrieking they brought the wrath of the almighty down upon the quivering wreck of an airman until they were finally released teary eyed and broken to go tremble in formation outside.

            The trick of course was to first never leave alone; safety in numbers and all that, and to try to time your departure to when they already had a fish on the line and were busy gutting the bastard. I was pretty good about this, but for one time. I completed my meal without thinking and got up to bus my tray and headed for the door. I suddenly realized there was no one before me and no one before the snakepit either. Fuck. I had the door in my sights and was marching rapidly toward it when I heard “Airman!” Fuuuuuck. OK, there was a good possibility that someone was behind me and they were talking to him. “Airman! You, headed toward the door!” Fuuuck! Fuckity fuck fuck fuck! As if in a trance, I never looked around, never looked back and just kept on going. Here is the way I saw it. I’m either royally screwed for ignoring them to begin with if I turn around because then I will know they mean me. If I play dumb, there is a chance they will either buy my ignorance shtick or better yet, not come after me. I increased my pace. “AIRMAN! You with the bouncing walk and exaggerated arm swings!! Get back here!!!!” Ohhh yeah, they meant me all right! I pushed open the door and marched on out into the cool February air. They never followed.

            For the next 10 meals I dreaded the moment of recognition when they pinpointed me in the crowd and make me really pay for my direct disobedience, but the moment never came. The advantage to having them dress us alike and cut out hair alike was that it’s hard to tell us apart. I think some other poor schnook probably got netted and destroyed in my stead for daring to mimic my gait (which I make every effort to change after that), but that was a chance I was willing to take.

            A second area of chow related risk manifested sometime in the fourth week. As the flight became more efficient about doing things, slightly more time was allotted for meals and we eventually reached a place where it was possible for one to actually finish a meal with time to spare. The TI’s had anticipated this and set their insidious traps accordingly. The Mecca of the chow hall was located directly between the beverage counter and the snakepit and took the form of an enclosed desert carousel bursting with delicious pies, cakes, puddings and other tasty treats. After 4 weeks of chili mac and squishy dinner rolls, it sure presented a tempting package. We asked our own TI at some point if it was allowed for us to partake and he said that it was! A few days later a brave fellow named Gaulky took the plunge. With brass balls knocking around his military issue skivvies, he walked right up to the thing, selected a piece of pie, and sat back down unmolested. Not one of us breathed when he did it. This of course meant open season.

            The TI’s were clever you see and knew if they picked off the first few of the heard at the watering hole the rest would fear to follow. Instead, they waited and let us cultivate a real jonesing for the sweets and began the assault soon thereafter. The trick of course, like anything there, was to get your timing right. First, you eye up the carousel from afar, calculating when the item you wanted would come around to the door for quick pickings. No sense presenting more of a target than necessary. Glances would be exchanged between tables and at the right moment, several of us would get up at once and descend on the case. If no one was getting chewed out, it was certain that one of you would get picked off, but 4:1 odds were acceptable risk when the reward was so great. In some bizarre sense I always had the impression that the carousel was placed where it was in order to teach a lesson of war. The statement was always made that everything in Basic meant something and this was probably no exception. By the end, however, we were allowed access unmolested as we had reached a point where being screamed at was the least of worries.

            Being screamed at was, however, a significant worry for some time. It was also something I became rapidly immune to given my predilection for receiving more furious words of cussing more than the rest of the flight combined in the first week or so. You see, I was Element Leader 1, which meant that when marching in formation I was at the head of the line to the far left where it was impossible to see what anyone else was doing. An innocuous circumstance seemingly, but pair that with an individual who bounces when he walks, has a 50% success rate in distinguishing left from right, a tendency to wool gather in boring situations, and the immense importance the military attaches to perfect marching and you got yourself a situation.

            I mentioned earlier on that SSgt Hopkus learned my name first and it was in a marching circumstance that this information was revealed to me. Before that morning, myself and anyone else who screwed up were referred to as “genius”, “dumbass”, and “fucking cocksucking motherfucker”. We didn’t have nametags sewn to our shirts just yet so he had no real way of telling us apart. That morning, however, I was marching along thinking I was doing pretty good for a change. Suddenly I felt a presence directly behind me and could see the silhouette of the Smokey the Bear hat over my left shoulder. “Wolf, you better get your head out of your ass before I shove it so far up there it’s never coming back”, he hissed into my ear. It was the start of a great week especially knowing that he must have actually looked my name up to be ready in that instance.

            The following day was worse. We had been taught the correct procedure for breaking off column by column (or elements as they called them) to go to single file to march up stairs or anywhere narrow. The correct procedure was that Hopkus would call out “Forward from the right!”, and element leaders 1 through 3 were supposed to turn to the right and shout “Stand fast!” to the folks behind him while element 4 peeled off and went forward. I had completely missed that conversation somehow and had probably daydreamed though it. On the first go around everything went smoothly aside from my part. Having no idea what we were doing, I stared ahead blankly. I knew this was wrong when I saw the rage in his eyes and he strode right up to me and started screaming. At that moment I knew that I was supposed to have done something when he called the command and God help me if I failed to do so next time. He called it from the top once again, and as he did, I suddenly became aware that I still had no idea what I was supposed to do. Asking seemed like a bad idea, so instead I looked around to see what the other guys were doing. He was not pleased at all.

            I knew then that I was supposed to turn to the side and shout something, but my hearing being what it is, I was unable to discern exactly what. I was ruminating about this as he was simultaneously screaming directly into my face while banging the brim of his hat hard onto the bridge of my nose. Somewhere amidst the swearing and promises to bring upon my head and those of my children’s children the worst that military discipline had to offer were likely the words I was supposed to be shouting. Having tuned him out to try to recall when this was originally briefed, I missed the boat again. Third time now, from the top. “Forward from the right!!” I turned my head and shouted “Stay there!” For the first time since entering the military, the possibility of death in the line of duty became very real for me. I had never before seen anyone, in any circumstance, become that mad. Not in movies, TV, any sort of dramatic enactment, and certainly not in person. All I could think was, “Wow, he’s really pissed!” Given my nature I was momentarily tempted to fuck it up one more time just to see what would happen, but the ashen scared faces of the boys around me gave me enough pause to get it right. I got it on the fourth run and he glared at me with pure smoldering hatred as my element filed past him.

            Later that day I did the same thing, allowing for an even more furious outburst than the one earlier. When we got back up to the barracks several of the guys pulled me aside and said I had to get that right from now one as they couldn’t take hearing him go off like that again. They considerately helped me practice and I was spot on for the duration of my tenure. It was by no means the last time I royally screwed the pooch while marching, but the last time at least with that specific error. Drill practice was a nightmare as I constant let my element off in the wrong direction or worse yet, turned right instead of left and banged full force into the element leader to my side. I believe I still have a case of tinnitus from the outbursts that caused. The worst instance of such was right after lunch. Hopkus evidently had rice as part of his meal and managed to spit a piece right into my eye as he was screaming at me. I was unable to move and unable to blink it out. I’m very confident that he knew and continued to stare at me for a good 10 minutes leaving me unable to sneak my hand up and brush it out.

            Just when I thought I couldn’t be more on this guys bad side, by luck of the draw I ended up the front man on a random inspection. Backing up a moment, I should point out that the military is pretty tight on security. One of the measures used for the barracks is the constant present of a round the clock door guard who verifies each and every person who comes though the door via a written procedure. One of the ways the TI’s use to see if the person at the door would be trustworthy in time of war is to attempt to trick or threaten their way in. Overnight the door guards are the 4 element leaders, each taking a 2 hour shift. The duties of the door guard overnight is to both watch the door, but also wander the premises to ensure each and every thing is in inspection order; that being defined as looking as if created in a vacuum and never before been in the presence of anything organic. I was wandering the dark floor, tired as hell (nothing like having a 2:00 AM to 4:00 AM shift doing this crap every night) when a sudden furious pounding began at the door. Shit.

            I ran to the door and there was Hopkus, his Major Dad face framed in the tiny window, and looking pissed as all hell. I got the book out and ran though the paces. “Sir, please produce identification.” He held up a golf ball. Man, this mo-fo thought pretty highly of me! I referred him to the orderly room where after he produced a military ID with the same mean ornery expression. With great foreboding I let him in. He pushed right past me and had me follow him around the barracks for his inspection. From a hair found in the broom, a speck of dust on the day room floor, to a scuff in the tile (that I think he made) I was personally responsible for all of it. The threats started with him keeping an eye on me to being disallowed to eat that day, then that week, to him finally starting the paperwork to write me up to go away. Though the threat process initially gave me some worry, the sheer ludicrousness off his increasingly theatrical promises became somewhat comical. I hadn’t been in the military long, but it was my understanding that dishonorable discharges usually weren’t handed out for a water spot on the underside of a toilet seat. Wisely I kept this understanding to myself and exhibited the appropriate amount of chagrin. As expected, nothing came of it.

            The final straw came about the third week in. Although I had only been beaten up as door guard the once, the marching mistakes were a daily occurrence and despite my suspicion that the enraged hysterics expressed each time I screwed it up were nothing but drama, I think the energy he expended each day going though the routine began to wear on him. One day at the evening dayroom briefing he made a quick announcement that I was relieved of my position as Element leader 1 and that I would now be part of the dayroom cleaning crew. He turned to me, just a little apologetic, and said, “Son, you just can’t march.” This was the most joyous day in basic up until that moment! From there on in, things were coming up roses.

            I will leave you here, gentle reader, as I feel there are about 2 more installments to this story before it is all told.

Basic Blues Part 1

       Having finally had my fill of Comstockery and other foolishness it was with a light heart and filthy conscience that I bade goodbye to weeping family and strode down the gateway of the Buffalo International Airport. The prestige of the ‘international’ designation mind you was on the basis of a small independent outfit that would fly you to Toronto if persuaded by the right price. I was a man now, military bound, and was more than ready to put the silliness behind me for good and deal exclusively with crisp professionals who respected and admired my finer qualities. The videos shown to me by my recruiter set high expectations.

            My first assignment, upon arrival at the airport, was to take charge of the contingent headed to Lackland AFB in San Antonio via Chicago. Military structure dictates that the person of the highest rank, being graded on a scale of E1 to E9 with time in rank being the deciding factor in a tie, always is saddled with the responsibility over the lesser scum around them. As I came in E3 due to my college pedigree and had actually signed up a full 6 months before my departure date, I was the lucky fellow. Having no idea of the extent of my authority, my head swam with the delicious giddiness of the power mad. Sensing a general unruliness about me, specifically centered around several chattering females who had no concept of the gravity of the situation I dynamically gave my first order, “It’s about time to board, so let’s move it on out!”. I should not have been surprised, yet was, that my declaration only brought some disinterested momentary stares from non-military travelers.

            Through some careful cajoling, albeit with significant protest from the female contingent who were not generally in tears, plus some critical backup from the flight attendant on the loudspeaker, the group lackadaisically boarded the plane. It was a smooth ride to Chicago and once arrived had a dual mission. The first of course was to find a way to get one of my few remaining smokes in as I knew it was disallowed in basic. True, the recruiter heavily advised me to quit well in advance making the process much easier, I eschewed his moronic advice choosing instead to procrastinate indefinitely to ensure a more hellacious adjustment to military life. Like all desperate smokers after a flight, I was able to find the exit (no smoking lounge in the dreaded O’Hare) and led a contingent of the other smokers safely to satisfaction.

            Having satiated my cravings I returned to conduct one of the mandatory head counts I was advised to carry out and was determined not to fail in my first mission. The head count came up short sending me into a bit of a tizzy. It was not unknown for trainees to get cold feet and high tail it out of the connecting airport to hitch on home or engage in other AWOL activities. In the military there are always at least two responsible parties for such behavior; one being offender who’s actions may be explained away and the schmuck with the clip board who’s may not. As the latter party I was quite apprehensive having seen enough military movies to understand that I would either be hunted down and attacked with German shepherds or placed in a brig with wacky international types with a penchant for buggery. “All right, who knows where these three ran off to?”

            The missing persons, coincidentally from the gaggle of females who already had given me so much trouble, were revealed by one of their co-conspirators to have traveled down to baggage claim for the purpose of transferring their luggage. They did not have the understanding that the airlines generally will do this for you, with varying degrees of success, and thought it was their responsibility. Idiots. Further questioning unearthed interesting facts such as none of the rest thought this needed to be accomplished and furthermore that there was no need to advise the clueless three of this fact. My acquaintanceship with ‘not my problem’ had indeed not been severed as I had hoped. I found them in baggage claim 10 minutes before boarding and with the help of an airline employee was able to convince them that their luggage was in good hands.

            At the San Antonio airport we were greeted by two Amazons wearing the traditional Smokey the Bear hats indicative of drill sergeants (known as ‘technical instructors’ or ‘TI’s’ in the AF). One gruffly took my clipboard, gave it a cursory glance and tossed it to the side without comment. We were bid to sit in the same tone one would address a mutt who had gotten into the trash. To my delight, one of the two took exception to a look given to her by one of the gaggle I had grown to hate and castigated her with no reserve until the difficult doxie was reduced to sullen moist eyed silence. I was elated that her naivety allowed her to take the gag so seriously.

            Allow me to take a moment to explain that I was under the mistaken impression that all the ‘Full Metal Jacket’ treatment was pretty much tongue in cheek and just a bit of hazing by the exclusive club I was invited to join. The videos shown to me by the rat bastard recruiter portrayed basic trainees giggling in formation, eating sumptuous leisurely meals and even riding go-karts. Because of this I was able to get through the first 2 days feeling part of a big inside joke that the others had not been privy too. Smirking inwardly, I went with the flow.

            The rest of the day and into the evening we were introduced to the famous ‘hurry up and wait’ concept the military so enjoys. There was much standing in line, filling out forms, and general standing about until about 3:00 AM. Finally, as we were falling asleep on our feet, we were divided into groups of 55 to 60 and carted off on busses, group by group. In the darkness my group, or ‘flight’ as it was called, exited the bus under the overhang of an enormous building with a brown door squarely in the middle. The door opened and we could see two individuals in the STB hats silhouetted in the dim light conversing. One of them approached and Kasparek to my right muttered, “I guess now is when the yelling begins”.

            Before us stood SrA Dan …., resembling a grown version of the bully in ‘Christmas Story’. His first order of business was to line us up in 4 columns by height using the time honored ‘taller tap’ method. Everyone faces forward and you tap the shoulder of the person in front of you if you are taller. Next everyone turns to the right and does the same thing. It was never explained why it was so critical to order the flight by size, and in such a way that the tallest people were at the front making it impossible for the rest of us to see, but the TI’s evidently found it very important and would fly into legendary rages if things weren’t just so. Doing it the first time, we naturally fucked it up royally bringing forth the first dirge of verbal violence. He followed this up with a threat to one of the more clueless individuals that if he didn’t get with the program, SrA…. would stick his boot so far up the fellow’s ass that he would taste Kiwi. He was shortly after heard to whisper, “What’s kiwi anyway?”

            Tired as all hell we were marched up into the barracks and brought to a halt each before a metal frame bed topped with a mattress nearly as thick as a sheet of plywood with scratchy woolen blankets stretched over them with the tautness of a snare drum. “Get in the goddamn beds and get to sleep!” We were all too eager to comply but thwarted by the complex cover scheme which brought forth panicked struggling from the troops and vitriolic cursing from the angry hatted fellow. Once all had managed to get beneath the covers the lights went out. In the darkness I could hear the sniffs and gentle sobs of the overtired younger guys away from home for the first time. Rolling my eyes, I tried to get some sleep, though already pinging from nicotine withdrawal.

            I had been asleep for a full 20 minutes when I dreamed that someone was screaming for us to get up out of the beds. No dream this but SSgt Jeff Hopkus, our official TI. Tall, loud and resembling a meaner looking Major Dad, Hopkus shouted us out of the beds. We stood there confused and sleepy as he walked up and down the aisle between the rows berating us soundly and barking nearly incomprehensive orders. “Was that how the goddamn beds looked when you got in them you fucking geniuses?” It wasn’t but we’d be damned if we recalled the complicated folding scheme configuration from a half hour prior. We did our best as we were treated to a profane diatribe about how much we truly sucked. And this was the prevailing theme of basic; we were the early Israelites, not the savvy ones but the dumb ones with the golden calf, beset by a furious deity who was presumably working for our own good in an angry drunken stepfather kind of way. If you were doing anything but standing at attention, it was almost certainly wrong.

            Some of the guys were wrong more often then other and I fell firmly in the former lot and had the unwelcome distinction of having Hopkus learn my name first. Never a good sign in any military circumstance. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” could only have been based on idea that they knew what to call poor dead asshole. I’m getting ahead of things here as I want to touch on some of the more pleasant aspects of the first few days.

            First thing we learned was chow procedure – the most wonderfully fulfilling yet pants soiling frightening event to happen three times every day. At the right time of day, all the flights in the squadron building would form up outside the chow hall door and wait to be called. We’d send in a specially designated individual called the chow runner, who would announce to the powers inside that Flight number whatever we were was ready to eat, and they’d give him a number based not on the order of arrival, but how well he announced our presence. Apparently he pleased them very little as he would emerge most of the time with the bad news that we were to go in last or next to last. So for a good hour we would wait there, standing silently at ease and reviewing our training manuals. When it was time to eat, we would line up heel to toe and file in. In case you wondered, yes, heel to toe generally meant that if the fellow in front of you had a fat ass, well, that’s what your boys were pressed up against.

            So, bum to nuts we’d file in, make complex facing movements to grab the tray and silverware and move on down the line making our selections of the fare that meal. Generally speaking, the food was surprisingly good. We were allowed to take all we wanted, but leaned the first day of that folly. Taking our trays to the beverage center the temptation of cola and coffee beckoned but were only a tease as we were not allowed caffeine. Water or bug juice was the only two options and none were brave enough to test the restrictions. Glasses full, we’d sit four to a table, in order, with all four present before anyone could sit. Once allowed, we could dig in to the grub in silence. I still recall that first meal when I had my first fork full on its way to my mouth when Hopkus barked, “Hydrate and get out!” On this occasion and many after, if he felt we would arrive at our next appointment less than an hour early, he would order the whole flight out as soon as the last person was seated. We were given only enough time to drink our juice before dumping the taxpayer provided grub into the garbage. More on the wonders of the chow hall further along.

            After the first non-meal we were marched over to the barbers for the well known ritual shaving. One by one we sat silently in the chair while the cantankerous old barber would slam the clippers against your skull attempting to get as close to the skin as possible. Within seconds I completely bald for the first time; a condition I would soon adjust to much to my dismay. Next it was off to uniform processing where we shed our civilian clothes in favor of Battle Dress Uniform (BDUs) for the next 7 weeks. The boots were stiff and inflexible at first, creating magnificent painful blisters on my feet and ankles. Everything we were to touch was to be official military issue from our dog tags to tighty-whities. We were given part of our first paycheck in advance, only to turn it over to buy supplies at the BX – toiletries, stationary, stamps, pantyhose and absolutely NO candy or other foods. Yes, I did say pantyhose. As it turns out, in an environment where we had to keep the barracks looking as if no one lived there nor had anyone ever been there, they made fantastic dust rags, picking up each and every spec of dust. To my knowledge no one wore them, at least there anyway, even to take advantage of the flattering control top.

            Within a day or so we were set in our routine. At 4:30 AM sharp reveille would start over the loudspeaker and we would be up like a shot, with 30 seconds to get dressed and form up outside. Once there we would receive the safety briefing of the day, with favorites being the “use the goddamn fucking hand rails on the stairs” spiel and the “change and wash your motherfucking underwear before you get swamp crotch” lecture. Then for reasons still obscure to me, we were required to sing the Air Force song. The first couple days of that were rough as no one could remember the words accurately. The TI’s, like everything else, had very strong feelings about that song and would stomp around and throw things with every mistake. Fully awake after that (also because we were in short sleeves outside in Jan which is about 30 degrees even in San Antonio), we marched back up to do the morning routine.

            Morning routine was to make the beds to quarter bouncing perfection, brush teeth, shave, clean the joint so that it looked like no one had ever been there, then form up for breakfast. We usually had up to 15 minutes to get all of this done. On the second day I shaved so fast that I took off a dime sized piece of skin. Because I had to shave just as fast every day after and always hit that same spot, I had a constant trail of dried blood running down my face for the duration. Then came breakfast, followed by PT (physical training), shower, appointments, lunch, more appointments, classroom lectures, dinner, chores, cleaning and then the most blessed time of all, bed. By the end of the second day, my initial thought that this was a big put on was revised and locked away in my hefty file of things was I was unquestionably very wrong about.

            It is clear to me that the basic experience is going to take a few entries to get though. Next time I will recount the chow time terrors, why he learned my name first, and introduce a few new characters.