When last we met...I had just entered the Navy Recruiting Station...
Navy Recruiting Station
Quickly darting past a lonely-looking Marine Staff Sergeant (Vietnam hadn’t been good for business), I slid into the chair opposite my radioman recruiter, who insisted I call him “Tom” (I would learn all too soon that Navy petty officers weren’t usually cuddly, first-name types). Politely refusing his offer of coffee (I couldn’t imagine anyone drinking the nasty stuff), I firmly stated that I wanted to be an ‘AX.’
|I wanted this|
Not ‘Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Technician,’ but ‘AX.’
“Okay, then,” he said, “let’s get things rolling. Do you use drugs?”
“Are you a practicing homosexual?”
His stricken look told me that he didn’t think my joke was all that funny.
“Oh, God, no,” I hurriedly said.
Letting out a long sigh of relief, he continued, “All right, then. Oh, before we get started, I need to inform you of the pay rate you'll be enlisting for.”
"Excuse me, the what?"
He looked at me like I had a couple of horns. "Uh...yeah. Your starting pay will be $361.20 a month."
"Wow. You're going to pay me?"
Horns again. "Why sure. What'd you think?"
"Well, food, clothing, shelter are free. I didn't know you guys were going to pay me, too."
Probably thinking I had completely slipped off the rails, Tom didn't answer. Instead, he just made a strange face and pushed a stack of paper towards me.
"Well...yeah. So, shall we get started?"
|Hell, I would've even settled for this.|
Three hours later, I’d filled out a forest worth of papers, had my fingerprints taken, and learned that the Navy called the “bathroom” a “head.”
It’s like those guys had a different word for everything.
I also learned they had a different acronym for everything, too. For, when I got back to my car and reviewed the aforementioned colorful brochure, I saw that I hadn’t wanted to be an ‘AX,’ after all.
What I really wanted to be was an ‘Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator or ‘AW.’ Too embarrassed to admit I had fucked up (another common Navy colloquialism), I frantically flipped through the pamphlet to see if ‘AXs’ flew, as well.
Luckily, the job description read, “AXs fly as crewmen aboard Navy patrol and other aircraft.”
Whew! So I could fly, after all.
If I had only known then that one letter would have kept me on the ground for twelve years, I would have visited the head again.
|Yeah. I ended up with this.|
NOTE: Asian used for entertainment purposes only.
Besides, my rubber gloves were black.
And were missing half the fingers.
New Haven, Connecticut
It was my first experience with “hurry up and wait.”
It wouldn’t be my last.
Me and three other members of the high school soccer team were driven before the sun came up to the New Haven AFEES (Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station). Yet another example of the military’s love for acronyms, AFEES was replaced by MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) when it was decided that it would be cost-efficient to eliminate one letter. Plus, they ran out of stationery with the AFEES letterhead.
As the gloom of night gave way to the gloom of dawn, we wondered why in the world we needed an entire day for just a physical.
After all, it only took our family doctors less than an hour to thump our chests like cantaloupes, jam their fingers in our innards like an Aztec high priest, jiggle the “boys” like castanets, and ask us to cough. How much more detailed could the military get?
But, as we looked at a line which stretched around the lobby like the waiting list for Frampton tickets, we knew we were in for a long day.
Greeted gruffly by a pot-bellied man in dirty scrubs, we were ordered to strip down to our underwear (also known as ‘skivvies.’ Another new word!). Then, we needed to fill out the form attached to the clipboard being passed around the room.
|Kinda like this.|
Note to Penwasser Place followers: yep, you've seen this before.
That which is seen can never be unseen.
For the life of me, I didn’t understand why we needed to get half-naked just to fill out a data card asking for our address, phone number, religious affiliation, tobacco/alcohol usage, and whether we were allergic to poultry, fish, animal dander, latex, ragweed, ragtime, Raggedy Ann, clowns, dust mites, dust busters, dust bunnies, shellfish, peanuts, horses, lions, tigers, bears, oh my, saltwater, coffee, Dudley Moore, eggs, black ink, black licorice, MSG, saccharine, hippies, and rice.
Once we filled out the necessary paperwork and began to turn blue (it was December in New England), we formed a line for the removal of bodily fluids. Both red and yellow.
Although I thought Timmy Donnelly from North Haven was going to faint when Bill Metzler, captain of the soccer team, told him he was going to have to “provide a sample” in a Dixie cup.
“You know there’s seamen in the Navy, right?” he said.
|"OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD! Did someone say seamen?"|
NOTE: Yep, this is a repeat picture, too.
Somehow, I don’t think the guy in the dirty scrubs was amused when Timmy dropped his skivvies to his ankles.
After Dracula got his fill of my precious A+ and I had to perform target practice into a test tube, six of us were shut into a soundproof booth for our hearing test.
Seated on tiny black stools with headsets over our ears and little cords in our hands, we waited for instructions.
“If everyone can hear me, give me a thumbs up,” squeaked a tinny, disembodied voice.
Five of us jabbed our thumbs in the air. Within seconds, the door flew open and the guy with the headset wrapped around his neck was whisked away.
And sent to the Marines.
“All right,” tinny voice man continued, “you’re going to hear a series of three beeps. After the third beep, press down on the button.”
I wondered. Why did we need to wait until the third beep? If we could hear the first beep, wouldn’t that mean our hearing was great?
“If you press on the first beep, we won’t be able to build an accurate baseline for your hearing.”
Luckily, I passed my hearing test. While not nearly as good as the guy who could hear dog whistles, it was where it needed to be. I felt confident that I’d be able to hear “Abandon ship!”, “Battle Stations!” or “Last Call!” plenty good enough.
|Did not pass hearing test.|
The rest of the day featured a litany of physical gymnastics and bodily contortions that would either qualify us for service in the Navy or the circus.
Although, I had to admit that I was a little spooked when I stood in line to see an actual doctor. The back of the guy in front of me was covered in multiple rings of scar tissue. He looked like he had a fleshy connect-the dots crawling from his shoulder blades to the small of his back.
When I asked what they were, he casually said over his shoulder, “That’s where Charlie got me.”
Not realizing he meant Vietnam, I steered well clear of anyone named ‘Charlie.’
To be continued.....