Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Young and the Gullible

I could not abide high school. I was the painfully shy loner, who wasn’t even significant enough to bully. I got decent grades, but I would have probably had a higher average if I hadn’t been absent every other Monday. Thirty-nine days absent in my last year alone. One more day out and I could not have gotten my diploma at the end of the year. There was a moment when I was so close to quitting school that I sat down in guidance counselor’s office, accompanied by my mother, with that exact intention, although my mom was against it. My counselor, like so many high school counselors, was useless. He looked like an overgrown Barney Rubble, and when he spoke, a ball of spit would form on his lower lip, and I would be held in suspense, not knowing whether the spit would be sucked back into his mouth, or come flying out in the direction of me and my dear mom.

After some discussion, I decided to stay in school with the intention of graduating at the end of my junior year. I loaded up on classes, including an independent study I created with one of my teachers on film-making. I walked onto the stage with the other graduates of 1978 on a sunny summers' day, holding my diploma. We then sang our class song: Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name.” I still cringe every time I hear that song. Nothing against Jim Croce, but for my class Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle or even Foreigner's "Feels Like The First Time" would have been more fitting.

Once out for the long summer, I was at a loss for what to do. I was not one of those energetic teenagers, driving my mom’s Ford Granada to a part-time job after school. I wasn’t browsing through college catalogs, trying to decide on my future. My future was up in the air…literally. The U.S. Air Force. It didn’t take long before some go-getting recruiter, got my name off of a list of recent graduates, and the next thing I knew, I was in his darkly paneled office in downtown Taunton, Mass., hearing his sales pitch. Let me just say that anything that begins in the city of Taunton cannot be good.

After the recruiter's spiel and the requisite audio-visual presentation, he asked if I had any questions. I only asked one: Was there any term of enlistment less than four years? The answer was nope, just four and six year terms. Rather than hot-footing it out of there, and running for the hills, I told the fool in blue that I would sign up for four years. I was still seventeen years old -- I wouldn’t turn eighteen for nearly another year -- so my parents had to sign a permission slip, so that I could go on a four year field trip, with chaperones from hell. I was on delayed enlistment, which meant that I got three or four months to tie up any loose ends before taking the oath.Unfortunately, losing my virginity was not one of those loose ends that got tied up before my departure.

It was when I took the oath of service that I realized I was signing my life away; allowing myself to be used as cannon fodder, if necessary. If I thought things were strict at home, I was in for a whole new ball game: a haircut every two weeks, ironing my uniform before work, and not calling in sick every Monday.

My parents drove me to Logan Airport on December 15, 1978. They stood with my siblings in their 70’s clothing and tearfully waved goodbye, as I boarded an Eastern Airlines jet for San Antonio, Texas. The beginning of anything new is usually blurry and confusing, and this wasn't just a job, but an adventure and often times a test of extreme boredom, while living in extreme climates. I was in the service that advised us to "Aim High." It wasn't until later that I realized that getting high was more fun. I became an adult in the service, or at least made my best attempt at maturing while living under the watchful eye of the biggest mutha' of them all, the U.S. military.

An obvious example of false advertising.
After that fateful day there followed nearly four years of below freezing weather, drunken weekends, and lots of missile maintenance. The only gunfire in North Dakota was the farmers, shooting up the street signs after a night at the bar. I did manage to lose my virginity, while on leave with a friend in Nevada, but luckily I found it again once I got out and before I got engaged to my first wife. Today I voluntarily got a haircut, but my mustache is totally out of regulations.

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