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?”
“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.
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. |
You mean it's not?
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.
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.
“Two cans of which rolled under your seat.”
Probably not a good idea to mention that we were drinking and driving.
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
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.
|"Oh, zat Jerry Lewis!|
He ees-how you say?-
le comic genius, non?"
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
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.
|Plus, I didn't think I |
could take Orlando seriously.
“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.
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.
To be continued.....