The story of a boy, who enlisted in the Navy, who became a man, who still retained the emotional maturity of that boy, yet convinced a woman to marry him.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

1976 Part I

In our last episode, I found myself medically cleared for military service.  And I missed a math test.
So, I had that going for me...


“This is just a four-year camping trip to you, isn’t it?”
-Tom Spagnoula

January 25
Bridgeport, Connecticut

    “So, you’re going though with it, huh?”

    I regarded Tom Spagnoula, the friend I had known since second grade, with puzzlement.

    “It’s not like I’m taking off for boot camp tomorrow, ya know.  We still have six months of school left.”

    “True,” he said, “but once you swear in Wednesday, they’ve got you.  It’s called Delayed Entry for a reason.  You’re going to go eventually.”

    He looked on the floorboard between his feet.

    “Hey, beer’s gone.”

NOTE:  The drinking age in Connecticut in 1976 was 18.  It’s now 21.  So, you see, it was our generation which screwed it up for everyone else.  Of course, Tom and I were only 17 when this took place so...forget I ever said this.    
19 years old
Possibly one of the reasons the drinking age was raised.

    I had driven the 45 minutes from Wallingford to Stratford to visit a few friends in my mom’s canary yellow Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon with faux wood paneling.  

I know what you're thinking.
Chick magnet.
You mean it's not?
    Even though I liked my new home and school in the center of the state, I still enjoyed visiting the town in which I grew up.  It may have been a little on the shabby side, but Stratford felt more like home.

    And not just because Tom said he’d boost a couple six-packs of Carling’s Black Label from his dad’s stash in the basement.

    “Let me ask you something,” he said as I pulled in front of the newly-renovated fast food joint featuring eat-in dining (Stratford didn’t have a McDonald’s back then).  “This is just a four-year camping trip to you, isn’t it?”

    I had spent six years with Tom in the Boy Scouts.  While there, we learned how to pitch a tent in a blizzard, build a fire with only one can of gasoline, and amputate limbs with a jackknife.

    Sometimes even on people who needed it. 

Strangely, we never understood why
girls didn't find this look sexy.
    Still, I understood what he was getting at.  Going into the Navy did seem like an adventure.  Like the Scouts, I could hang around with friends, do a lot of interesting things, and sport a cool uniform.

    Except I was banking heavily on that whole “girl in every port” thing.

Carling Black Label
Favored by Dads, old ladies,
and teenagers who are too young
to buy good stuff on their own.
    “Look on the bright side,” I said, “I’ll be getting paid, so we can afford to buy better beer than Black Label.”

    He shrugged.

    “Two cans of which rolled under your seat.”

    Probably not a good idea to mention that we were drinking and driving.


    My bad.
January 28
Part II
New Haven, Connecticut

    Today I swore (or affirmed, whatever that is) that I would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    The foreign part I got.  That would be
"Oh, zat Jerry Lewis!
He ees-how you say?-
le comic genius, non?"
anyone who viewed Jerry Lewis as a comic genius, quoted Marx (Karl, not Groucho), didn’t shave (especially women), wore dress shoes with blue jeans, wore dishtowels on their heads, wore Speedos at the beach, wore Speedos anywhere, thought cologne was as good as soap, drove on the wrong side of the road, believed dental hygiene was a fad, humped anything that moved (French only), humped anything that didn’t move (French again), loved the Beatles/hated the Monkees (oh, wait, that’s everybody), or were tired, huddled masses yearning to be free.

    As far as who was or wasn’t a domestic enemy?

    According to one of the noted philosophers of the 20th Century, my father, that was simple:


    Make no mistake.  Even though I agreed to surrender four years of my life to the U.S. military in exchange for a mop and a chance to be shot at, I wasn’t due to “shove off” (not as dirty as it sounds) for another seven months.   

    Leaving today was for those poor souls surrounded by wailing girlfriends.  Even though I was going to go through the same thing that summer, I felt sorry for them.  They were given a set of orders, vouchers for two packets of Saltines, and directions to the train station.

    I had enlisted in the Delayed Entry program.  The Navy’s version of people lay-a-way, “Delayed Entry” enabled recruiters to boost their numbers during traditionally slow parts of the year-you know, like from January to December (after all, it hadn’t been that long ago when we said “good luck with that” to Saigon).  That way, they didn’t need to worry about a troublesome “quota” system or press gangs in front of strip clubs.

    Prospective recruits, on the other hand, were “locked-in” to a specific recruit training center.  Unlike today, the Navy had three boot camps in 1976-Great Lakes, Illinois, San Diego, California, and Orlando, Florida (although recruits in Orlando were required to wear mouse ears). 

    Since I could not abide the heat, Florida
Plus, I didn't think I
could take Orlando seriously.
was out.  I considered San Diego, as well, but was convinced (wrongly, it turned out) that Southern California is an inferno in the summer.  I figured that boot camp in Illinois, while it could turn chilly, would be the most comfortable.

    “Great Lakes, please,” I said.

    As it turned out...on the day I arrived in northern Illinois it was 98 degrees with humidity at “swamp.”  The night before I left, we had to assign several people to prepare to dig us out from an approaching blizzard.  Which never came, thank God.

    But we had to go scurrying about to chase our balls when they froze off.

    Mouse ears would have been preferable.  

    Further incentive to enlist early was guaranteed schooling, gift coupons to the New Haven “Army & Navy” store, and a nifty patch.

Go ahead, Google it.
I'm not making it up.
    Plus, we were issued a handbook which listed all the phrases used solely by the seagoing service, some of which weren’t even dirty.  Like “cuntline.”  Yeah...believe it or not.  Go ahead, look it up.

    But the best part about signing on the dotted line with a promise to return in August was that it gave us a chance to get back to school in time for gym.  Where we were going to play Dodge Ball against the guys who were going into the Air Force.

    In any case, I was looking forward to being Big Man on Campus.

    I had a patch, after all.
Which proved about as successful
with the ladies as that Boy Scout get-up.

To be continued..... 


  1. Dad drank Black Label when I was a baby. Apparently I drove him to require better beer, so he switched to PBR. We tried BL once in the nineties, a six pack a friend brought over. A half-can was drank and then thrown out, and the remainder were discarded unopened about 6 months later. And we used to drink Red White and Blue!

    1. I remember when I was a grocery store delivery boy, every Saturday I delivered a case of Black Label to a little old lady around the corner. Thus my inspiration for the picture. The beer we actually used to drink when we were kids (?) actually was Ballantine. A couple years ago, my brother picked up a six pack of the stuff. Nasty...nasty... Now...Red, White, and Blue... My grandmother used to pick up a case of the stuff from "the Puerto Rican store on the corner." Ahhhh...grandma...

  2. haha looks like you never stopped the speedo fad, as those enemies are still around. Cuntline, hmm now how can the cat use that. Never tried black label, by the sounds of it, never will

  3. When I was a teenager I had a patch on my bikini so I could walk into the pool area at the officer's club. I'm surprised the bikini was big enough for the patch. That was the only patch I ever wanted. Man, Illinois sucks shit.


  4. Why oh why do fat ugly men wear speedos is beyond me they look so terrible and can blind a woman just looking at the horrible sight and trust me we see the sight a lot here down under

    1. I could be wrong, but I think money is involved.

  5. Some of us liked both the Monkees and the Beatles! Great line about cologne instead of soap! Sorry you arrived at Great Lakes on a record heat day. Did I mention that years ago we went there on July 4th for one of the best fireworks displays we've ever seen? Sadly, that was long after your service when our kids were little. Looking forward to your next installment, Ken!


    1. I swear it was BEASTLY hot when we got there. Nothing like I expected.
      In my time in the Navy, I also learned that, in addition to getting hot in Illinois, it also got cold in Virginia and Southern Europe in the winter. And cold in South America in the summer (that whole hemisphere thing, dontcha know).
      Oh, it was always hot in the Persian Gulf, though.

    2. BTW, I kinda liked the Monkees, too.

  6. I haven't seen a station wagon like that in years. I'd almost forgotten what they looked like.

    1. While it's not a picture of our station wagon, it is a dead ringer.

  7. Who won dodge ball? I can only assume it was the Air Force.

    I knew I should have let my boys join the Boy Scouts. Now what will they do when someone needs a body part amputated?

    1. We actually never got a chance to play. The guys going into the Army and Marines came into the gym. And ate the ball.

  8. This REALLY brought back memories for me. I crammed as much into the 3 three months of my own delayed entry as I could. Oh boy, did you ever pick the wrong place to go to boot camp. San Diego has arguably, the best weather in the world. This was a great post and was really well written. Carling Black Label? It just might be the nastiest beer ever! Did you ever drink it warm, or hot? It just so happens I had my own Carling & Military experience. If you have the time and/or inclination here's a link to it. It's actually in two parts. So, if you do read it, when you are done click on the older link at the bottom for part two. If you don't want to read it, that is no problem...