Thursday, February 18, 2010

California Dreaming didn't Involve Boot Camp!

It's Theme Thursday again this week and the theme is BELL.

And I don't have time to do an outrageous post for you because I'm in San Francisco on vacation (and have been so all week!). But "BELL" reminds me of the Bay Area in a small but important way so I'm going to share with you another excerpt from my ridiculous life adventures (part of my book I might someday finish). Flash back to 1979 when I am 17...

Living on the West Coast in Oregon gave me easy access to experience the California dream I’d always imagined without immersing in a five day across-the-country travel nightmare which would probably have overshadowed anything I experienced while in California anyway. Or would it? Let’s examine the evidence.

Like Forrest Gump before me, I was stupid enough to enroll into the armed forces without a lot of thought to my future. And while “stupid is as stupid does” that doesn’t mean I’m quite as stupid as one might think. First of all, I happened to have enlisted and served between senseless foreign wars. You’re just going to have to trust me on this but I don’t happen to like dying. I don’t know about you but for me there just seems to be something so irreversible to it. Sure; death is inevitable for all us but you don’t see a lot of people adding it as one of their 5-year goals.

I didn’t enlist into any of the normal armed forces one initially thinks of. The Army seemed a little too GI Joe for me. I had visions of a trench somewhere in Turkey where I am hopping around with gang green and trench foot. Ok, perhaps I had been watching Gallipoli and All Quiet on the Western Front too many times.

I didn’t have the right stuff for the Air Force either. I never had that obsession with airplanes that so many others have. I just don’t care. I cared when my plane’s engine was on fire over the Amazon but even then I couldn’t tell you if it was a Boeing Jumbo Super Size Whatever or an Air-Bus-that-Flies plane.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself though. No, the Navy wasn’t any better. I didn’t happen to find those sailor uniforms very appealing; as if fashion were my primary concern for a military career. The Marines were totally unacceptable. The few, the proud, the shaved! Jack Nicholson was right, “I couldn’t handle their truth!”

That only left the Coast Guard. Hey, it was an armed force too! Ok, not very armed and not really very forceful either. They did save lives though and they had the same college education and that meant it wasn’t just a job; it was free tuition! I even liked that they didn’t technically fall under the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard fell under the Department of Transportation. This was good and bad: Good because it meant I didn’t have to strap on some automatic armor-piercing assault weapon with enough rounds to level Detroit onto my back at all times (although it might be a step in the right direction to level Detroit.) The bad was the reality that they didn’t get anywhere near the budget the defense services did. There weren’t any $5,000 hammers around the Coast Guard bases. We barely had the budget to afford hammers at all. “There are plenty of sticks and rocks that work just as well,” the petty chief would bark at us upon realizing even all of the cheap hammers had been stolen.

Joining the Coast Guard at 17 gave me my first experience being on my own. Boot camp in the Coast Guard wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I thought that since it fell under the Department of Transportation it certainly must be more like a health spa. I was wrong as usual. It turned out that they were second only to the Marines as the hardest boot camp to make it through at the time.

So off I went to Alameda, CA for boot camp. Now Alameda is an island in the Bay area but there aren’t any lovely beaches. There aren’t any palm trees. There isn’t any sipping of fruity rum drinks in the sun listening to the Beach Boys. No, it was essentially Private Benjamin, Stripes, and Full Metal Jacket all rolled into one all-inclusive 12 week experience.

What I recall most about my boot camp experience was eating. Now you would think that with all of the ridiculous physical and mental games they subjected us to all day and night it would really work up an appetite. It did! The only problem is that the military dining experience isn’t quite up to par with your typical big city dining experience. Rather than gallantly making your entrance at your designated reservation time, we had the pleasure of lining up “nuts to butts” single file to wait while infinity passed by in order to get into the mess hall. The waiting might not have been so bad even if you did have your dick practically crammed into the crack of the soldier ahead of you had they not played this other mental game during the process. It didn’t have a name but was essentially called “don’t get caught making eye contact with anything other than the head of the person in front of you.” Nobody seemed to ever win at the game and eventually you’d get pulled out of line and forced into the embarrassing improvisation of you as a buoy.

“Ding Dong. I am a Buoy.”
“Ding Dong. I am a Buoy”

Over and over you’d have to repeat it while swaying back and forth like a bell; as if you were an actual buoy. It was great entertainment for the sadistic men that ran the facility. Here they had reality TV before its time and they didn’t even realize it!

Once you did make it into the mess hall it wasn’t any better. Feeding recruits was clearly a biological necessity that pissed them off and therefore demanded the least amount of time possible. In and out was the mantra call. This wasn’t some European social eating activity where the table was yours for the night and you could catch up on the day’s activities. In real life you have waiters there to cater to your every need. In boot camp you have what I term ‘negative-waiters’. They are the opposite of waiters. They hover over your dinner screaming at you to wolf it down like there’s no tomorrow. Get something you didn’t really like? Forget it; you’ll be swallowing it whole too lest they single you out for something extra special.

Of course being in California there is always the likelihood of an Earthquake, right? It was only years later that I realized the odds of spending 12 weeks and actually experiencing a major Earthquake were pretty damn high. Well, the odds for anyone else were high. For me they were about even and sure enough, a lovely 5.9 shaker came along. I don’t remember a whole lot about the whole experience. I didn’t see Charlton Heston come in to save anyone like in the Earthquake movie and I don’t remember experiencing Sense-a-round either. It did shake things around like some amusement ride and rather than having to dodge shoddy construction cement from some dilapidated building in downtown San Francisco for the event we simply got escorted out to the tarmac. That’s a fancy word for a whole lot of pavement or cement. Perfect for push-ups and marching and other useless character-building activities one can spend their time doing during a major earthquake.

I made it through boot camp just fine. I didn’t bother to eat the shoe polish they gave us to try and get out like some others did. It didn’t look that appetizing. I didn’t try and drink the brass cleaner they gave us like another guy did. I just wasn’t that thirsty. And I certainly didn’t try to sneak away and walk across the small bay of the island at low tide only to get stuck in the mud while the tide came. That guy got lucky and was rescued before drowning. No, that didn’t seem like an enjoyable activity either. I kept my head down and my mouth shut and got through with very few personal incidents. So much for my California Dreaming first experience!

48 comments:

Mrsupole said...

Did you ever have to pull KP duty. I remember doing that. They had what was big giant trash cans full of potates and we had to sit out on the stairs and peel them with knives, hours and hours of peeling potatoes. Wow that was fun.

And how about when sweat from the cooks would drip down upon the food, wow it did not matter how hungry you were, you really lost your appetite. After seeing that you learn to be real careful about what you eat that is cooked.

Happy buoy day to you. And don't ask me how many California earthquakes I have lived through with living here for 50+ years. A whole lot of shaking is all I can say.

God bless.

#18 I think.

subby said...

I would've like the California sunshine for boot camp, as opposed to the "mistake on the lake" and the chilly winds...

subby said...

@ Mrsupole, I pulled "night baker" during "Hell Week" but had a blast doin' it! Pulled KP a couple times whilst in the Army tho'...and I'm still the fastest spud peeler around, heh...no wait...that doesn't sound right...er...

Mrsupole said...

@Subby

We did have contests to see who could peel a potato the fastest without cutting off a finger, which is hard to do with a knife. I did win a few times. But now I got me one of those Titanium Potato Peelers that they advertise on TV, and I have to say that it is fantastic, if only I would have had one of those while doing KP, then it would not have been so bad.

Plus they had electric potato peeler machines at that time, but for some reason they were alway broke when I had KP. I think they singled us out on purpose to pull KP during those times. Well since I did have this little problem about conforming and not questioning authority. I am sometimes amazed I made it through. Don't even ask how many times I got in trouble. Sigh.

anthonynorth said...

Enjoyed this post. Reminded me of my own basic training in the RAF.
You'll find mine here.

subby said...

back @ Mrsupole...electric~~HA! Then again, being a mechanic meant never having to go without coffee or lights ;)

Collette said...

The idea of boot camp never appealed to me. I did think it would be cool to get my education paid for but could never bring myself to do it. But, I've never been to California either.
And seeing that I live in a small city surrounded on 3 sides by Detroit, if you can level Detroit without getting rid of most of my city, please go for it! I'm about tired of Detroit as well!

Brian Miller said...

a nice tale... a good change of pace...hope your travels go well.

CatLadyLarew said...

Boot camp does not sound like my idea of a good time. Your description just confirmed that opinion.

The Incredible Woody said...

I think the Coast Guard is pretty bad ass.

tut-tut said...

Coast Guard, eh?

Roy Scribner said...

Yeah, 12 weeks of hungry. All that food was crap, too. Even the breakfast cereal was fried.

Roy Scribner said...

Oh yeah - I quoted you today, too :)

mama-face said...

Yeah, be sure to not miss you chance at the free ipad.

wtf?

Good story...and educational. I didn't even know there was training involved with the coast guard.

Elizabeth said...

Like the story, hope you're having fun on your vacation!

VE said...

Mrsupole – I didn’t have to do KP duty because they pulled all four of my wisdom teeth out at once. I’m not sure which was the better deal…

Subby – My boot camp was in Augh/Sep so it was plenty warm…

Anthonynorth – Yes, anyone that has been through basic training can probably relate…

Collette – Demolition Detroit it is then…

Brian – They are. Hit 70s in SF in Feb…who’d a thunk it…

Catladylarew – Yeah, it’s not exactly like a Caribbean cruise…

Incredible woody – I have many a tale…all in good time…

Tut-tut – Yeah…the ones that couldn’t fire a gun…

Roy – So much for nutrition training…

Mama-face – Is that like a new kind of maxi-pad?

Elizabeth – I am…we’re off to the Golden Gate Bridge today and then to meet my cousin, the comedian…

subby said...

VE, ouchies on those wisdom teeth! Had that happen to one of our company...PLUS a triple root canal! if it weren't for the Anicin4...

Perpetual Chocoholic said...

So how often did you get to be the buoy?

Quirkyloon said...

Hold the phone!

VE was in the military?

No way, now how, no VE!!!

That 'splains a lot Lucy! A lot! hee hee

AND... I'm sorry that Mr. Heston was out of town, actually out of the planet, dealing with some monkey business, erm, I mean ape business during your earthquake ordeal.

hee hee hee

Jill said...

Even on vacation you manage a TT post! Well done.

tony said...

(as someone who has never been to California) this sounds nothing like the Haight Astbury\Greatful Dead songs I listened too in my yoof.

JeffScape said...

I love that base in Alameda... can't recall the name. Treasure Island, maybe? Something like that.

Saw a car flip over on the Bay Bridge when I was there. That and the sea lions are my most prominent memories.

Weird.

Ronda Laveen said...

Ding-Dong. I'm a bouy? Soldiers are funny people. We don't often hear that in my area of CA. Although now that I think of it, we do have lots of lakes with bouys so we could steal it.

e said...

Enjoy your trip, and I'll leave Boot Camp to seventeen-year-old who don't know any better. Nice post.

Jaime said...

i really expected you to write about cowbells with this theme...

Maureen said...

Oh my.... Boot Camp is not exactly a great California memory; I'll bet the earthquake was one of the better times you experienced.

Let's hope you don't get the shakes this time around. Have fun!

Chris Eldin said...

Your life is really cool! So many interesting experiences. It does make for being a good writer... to pull from so many characters and conversations.

sinisterdan said...

You are really being unfair to the rocks-as-hammer movement.

I'll let you off with a warning, this time.

Great post.

Uncivil said...

I was a slimey squid back in the late 70's. Attack Squadron 128 Whidbey Island.

VE said...

Subby – What really sucked is that I had these spacers put in when I was a teenager with braces and they hurt but they were specifically done to allow my wisdom teeth to grow in properly. The military didn’t debate the issue; they went out automatically…

Perpetual chocoholic – I had to do it three times…not bad considering three meals a day and 12 weeks of it…

Quirkyloon – Well…I wouldn’t call it very military other than the boot camp. Still, I am a 6 year veteran…

Jill – Fortunately I’m prepared…

Tony – Yeah…those days were already gone even then. In fact, those days were gone before the Beatles even got over there…bummer…

Jeffscape – Lost my car in the drive in there…but that’s a whole other story…

Ronda – I think you should have your customers say that!

E – That was me…thank God I’m only 17 once…

Jaime – The key was writing anything. This one was already written and I am on vacation…

Maureen – Right up there with Hurricane Gilbert and Super Typhoon Zeb; both of which I was in the heart of…

Chris – It took me awhile to realize not everyone has these experiences…

Sinisterdan – You’re right…I feel bad about the rocks…give them my regards…

Uncivil – Ah yes, Whidbey Island…I avoided it! ;)

ReformingGeek said...

Ding Dong.

Now I'm hungry.

Or maybe there is someone at the door.

I guess the Coast Guard made a man out of you.

;-)

subby said...

VE, what e said; so we were 17, so what? And the Navy had reason for the tooth pulling...

Janna said...

Accgghhh!
What an awful experience.
I'd never be able to put up with junk like that.
Congrats on making it through, even if it did scar your sanity for life. ;)
(Hee!)

If you have a dull moment, you can check out my Friday 55, right here.
But if California is way more exciting than blogging, I totally understand. :)

G-Man said...

Nice story VE, but it's more like 555!!!
Thanks for visiting though...You Always Rock!!

secret agent woman said...

My stepfather was a drill instructor at a boot camp. That probably tells you all you need to know about him. No wonder so many people tried to find a way out.

secret agent woman said...

Last time I played mini-gold there was someone ahead of nm playing with just that sort of crazy intensity.

Tammy said...

I think I've enjoyed reading the comments as much as the post. LOL No boot camp here...just pmq brat living and moving. Enjoyed the excerpt and look to see you finish it.

VE said...

Reforminggeek – Now if they’d served Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s…that would have been different…

Subby – Nah…it’s all good now. Makes for interesting stories…

Janna – I’m barely keeping up with commenting back…but I’ll be back in full force next week…

g-man – Ha! You caught my theme Thursday post. My 55 doesn’t go up until 12:05am on Fridays…

secret agent woman – Your stepdad was a drill instructor? Bet THAT was fun growing up…

tammy – My readers probably wonder if I’ll ever finish ANY writing project. I blame the gnomes…

Baino said...

I'll never understand why mooting discepline has to involve humiliation. Crazy stuff. I wouldn't mind jumping that canteen queue tho.

Gladys said...

Did Kevin Costner train you?

I watched a Coast Guard Cutter do donuts in the San Diego Bay one day just for kicks. :) The CG not me watching.

Chris C said...

Time marches on...

VE said...

baino - We'll reserve you a spot into the queue...

gladys - Nah...Costner wasn't even in a movie back when I was there...

chris c - Why can't time take a lunch break...

Serena said...

Ha! Coast Guard sounds pretty fun.:)

P.S. - I'm willing to put the first money in the kitty toward a bounty on the damned Anonymous spammer who's sliming everybody's blogs.

Chris C said...

Damn I was hoping you got that Metallica reference.

On a side note For Whom the Bell Tolls was playing in the lounge when I arrived at work tonight. Weird.

VE said...

serena - I will add to that bounty. I had to delete 15 different anonymous comments today on various posts...

chris - Doh...I totally missed that one. Probably the rush of being on vacation...

The Silver Fox said...

You think death is irreversible? Haven't you ever read comic books?

lime said...

gee, it sounds like it was a really charming experience that left you with all sorts of warm fuzzy memories.

VE said...

silver fox - You mean somebody might write me back in? Cool...

lime - I forgot to mention how they'd feed you breakfast and then throw you in the pool for swimming just to see who would throw up...