I was chatting with the Sidhe Devils a bit last night, and somehow the subject got on me being really damn old (but not the oldest one in our guild, thankfully), and that I can clearly remember a time from before the internet.
You know, that ancient time when, if we were bored, we had to find something OUTSIDE the house to do.
And with one thing or another, I was reminded of an episode that I had gratefully almost forgotten.
And the stars aligned, and suddenly I both had a story on the tip of my tongue, and also felt in the mood to share.
Thus, we bring you… Storytime!
If you don’t like it, blame Wulfa and Dammy.
Settle back, my friends, for this is a real no shitter.
Way back in the day, when I was stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina (as mentioned in a previous story about my maritime activities), I had the pleasure of meeting a Marine named Neil.
Now, every Marine I have ever known has been a real character. Something about the stresses just seems to strengthen and reinforce any minor foibles or quirks and launches them into the category of full blown eccentricities.
Not that I’m an eccentric. Nope, no wai.
But Neil was a character of a kind I had never before met.
I’d grown up in Miami and Southern Florida. I’d gone to school with and hung out with people into bands like the Misfits, the Dead Kennedys, The Ramones (God bless the Ramones), Suicidal Tendencies, and on the other side of the spectrum, Styx, The Police, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the Grateful Dead.
But Neil… Neil was from Ohio.
Neil was into stock car racing, Neil Young, Billy Squier, Ted Nugent, Tom Petty… twangy guitars, heavy drinking, cruising the streets with the windows down and raising hell.
Neil was an alien life form.
And he was my roommate.
In Beaufort we had these awesome brand new concrete buildings divided into small rooms… instead of an open shared squad bay, we had our own small rooms. Just, awesome.
The PFCs and Lance Corporals were racked up 4 to a room, but us Corporals were two to a room, and it was sinful luxury.
You only had to coordinate stereos with one other person… it was wonderful.
Neil was a horrible influence on me. He didn’t read, or write, or play RPGs or do any other geeky things at all. And boy, he had no interest in starting. A very uncomplicated boy, our Neil.
Since I’m not afraid to try new things, and I didn’t have a geek crew to hang with, I started hanging out with him.
Thanks to him, I started hanging out with a totally different crew… people from the Midwest, hard drinking, country and rockabilly listening, race car and Mopar loving hardheads that liked to start every evening at the Enlisted Club (E-Club) drinking and shooting pool and throwing darts, and then moving on up to the off-base party experience.
And it was fun.
I learned that the more I drank beer, the better I shot pool… because my teacher, a venerable old Sergeant named ‘Kit’ Carson gave me pool lessons by playing for pitchers of beer… loser bought the pitcher. Boy, that got expensive.
I introduced my buddy Neil to Jethro Tull, Blue Öyster Cult, Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project, my favorite music of the time, and he introduced me to Billy Squier, Tom Petty and Ted Nugent. A fair trade, I think.
We got along well, but we were very bad influences on each other. When he got some beer in him, his ‘give a shit’ went right out the window. You could damn near get him to go along with any crazy idea, just bring it up, ask him if he wanted to go, and he could be counted on to say, “Why the heck not?”
And me… well, I’m normally the one that is just happy to hang out and relax. Go along with the flow, but raise the voice of caution. Normally. I tend not to drink to the point that my judgment deteriorates totally. Not totally. The few times I have, have had… unfortunate side effects.
We had Kit Carson in our regular group that was, in hindsight, a hardcore alcoholic. At the time, all it meant was that if it involved drinking beer or going someplace where beer was to be drunk, he was your man. Count on it.
And then we had Willie Ames. Damn, I miss Willie.
‘Soap Box’ Willie, the man who introduced me to the music of Queensrÿche, a hard tequila drinker who couldn’t drink that shit alone, and when you got a few into him, he would tell you, in detail, for hours, all the reasons why subject ‘x’ was all screwed up. In detail. With repeats.
Hey, can anyone tell me why tequila drinkers can’t just order shots for themselves? Why do they insist on buying everyone a shot and sharing the damn misery? God, I hate tequila. HATE tequila. Hmm, that’s a different story. Moving on….
Anyway, Willie was the crazy one of the group. He was the ringleader. He had a fertile imagination, and it was turned in the direction of raising hell. Never a dull moment, and in Beaufort, that’s saying a lot.
I miss that crew. At the time I took it for granted, but looking back I can see that even then it was a golden moment, where we were too young to know any better, and too old to give a damn. Except Kit.
On the night of our story, the usual suspects were mostly busy. For it was Thursday, and on Thursday the Marine Corps hath said, ‘Let there be Field Day’.
Field Day is when you tear everything apart in order to clean it. Every Thursday. Everywhere in the world.
If someone were to tell me that every Thursday the sand in front of temporary tents in field quarters in Iraq were raked into orderly, rock free rows, I would be unsurprised. It’s just a Marine thing.
Now, on this particular Thursday, Neil and I were adrift.
Kit, being a Sergeant, had to supervise the cleaning efforts of various work crews as they stripped the waxed floors of the hallways and scrubbed the urinals and dusted the ceiling fixtures of the lights. Again.
Willie, being a senior Corporal, had to supervise some damn thing in one of the common areas downstairs.
And me and Neile, being junior Corporals without supervisor details at the moment, and having been around the block a time or two ourselves, finished cleaning our own room in about an hour and had the night free..
Oh, and a secret? If you don’t trash your room, it stays fairly clean. Shocking, I know. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Let’s keep that between ourselves.
The floors are a sticking point, it’s true, but we had learned that if you were very careful when you stripped and waxed and buffed your floor, that if you only ever walked on it in socks after that, it would last for three weeks of field days, only requiring touch up on hands and knees with a soft rag and liberal applications of Pledge each morning. And I mean each and every morning, not just Friday.
And it had a nice, lemony scent. Yum!
Okay, you CAN go too far. I knew one guy who never slept in his bed. He made his bed perfect, perfect folds, perfect creases, perfect tightness… and then he slept on the floor next to his bed in his sleeping bag, so it never got messed up. There’s always SOMEONE that has to go to the extremes.
I tell you the truth, that guy? We were stationed in 29 Palms, the desert area in California… he didn’t make his bed in so long, he started to get yellow desert dust in a fine coating on the exposed linen that discolored it. Seriously, you can sleep in your damn bed, okay?
So, anyway, everyone in the barracks is working their ass off for Field Day, and Neil and I are finished and bored.
We COULD pitch in and help out, but we’re Corporals. The point is to get the enlisted men hustling, and the appropriate NCOs supervising. There comes a time when the work in front of you is done, and pitching in would be counter-productive. So, heck with it. Let’s go have fun, and get away from the noise and bustle.
So what do we do?
Why, we do what we do every other night, Pinky. Try and take over… oh wait. I mean, we go to the Beaufort E-Club to drink and shoot pool.
And we find out that on Thursday night, the E-Club is dead. Dead as a doornail.
And it was creepy. VERY creepy.
Dawn of the Dead creepy.
So we have a pitcher or two, and start floating ideas.
Go for a run around the flight line?
Go for a drive?
Go out drinking off base? (Funny how quick we came to that).
Anywhere sound good?
Go back to the barracks?
Nah, too damn noisy, the kids will be cleaning and slamming shit around until midnight, one in the morning. Just like every Thursday.
Get a case of beer and hang out in the parking lot, drinking and listening to the car radio? On the positive side, we wouldn’t be driving anywhere. And when Kit and Willie get off duty they could join us.
Nah. Been there, done that, and then they’d be rushing their jobs to get out to us.
And then, don’t ask me where it came from, but I had this idea…
“Hey, Parris Island ain’t that far away… you think they have an E-Club over there?”
“Son of a… I have no idea. They’ve got to, don’t ya think? Let’s go find out!”
Now, it’s the kind of idea that only sounds good when you’ve had a half a pitcher of beer. Let’s go leave this bar and go out looking for a different bar! Yeah! We ain’t been in that place before!
So we pile into his car and head for Parris Island, home of Drill Instructors and brand new recruits.
We drive on over and go through the front gate, and we drive around a little bit, since neither of us have ever been there before except when we were recruits. And I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was a recruit on Parris Island, I never even knew there was a drinking spot, let alone had any idea where it was.
The very thought that the Drill Instructors had barracks to sleep in (and possibly Field Day to do?), and their own facilities and, like, places to do non-Marine stuff never crossed my mind.
But in thinking about it, they were Marines, so naturally, there must be a place to drink on base, right? We are talking about Marines.
We found the E-Club eventually, parked in front in the parking lot with the other cars, and walked in to this moderately small establishment for to have a pitcher of beer, hey diddle diddle.
And as we did, there was this rush of adrenaline… a feeling that I had come full circle.
That whole, ‘when last we met I was but a student, but now I am the master’ kind of thing.
I guess it’s just a wierd feeling to be back in a place that has, itself, remained exactly the same, and know that all the changes you see are changes in perspective, knowing who you are, who you were, and recognising how far you have grown since then.
I’d imagine returning to the old High School for a visit after being away to College might have some of the same feeling to it.
Anyway, so we’re just sitting there drinking, feeling a little wierd, and talking about how strange it was to be there while not that far away hundreds of poor bastards were going through a form of hell… and we knew EXACTLY what they were going through at the moment. And thankfully, it wasn’t happening to us, but at the same time, those recruits had their entire lives ahead of them, a world of possibilities waiting to unfold.
And in the middle of our philosophical discussion walks a large group of Marines. All of them fairly young, and all of them with the swagger of real arrogant bastards.
Neil and I look at each other, and shake our heads.
And we’re both thinking, “God, how arrogant do they look. They’ve got chips on their shoulders the size of tree stumps. Is that what young Drill Instructors are like when they work with brand new recruits all the time? Like they are the kings of the world? I don’t remember MY Drill Instructor acting like that. What IS my modern Marine Corps coming to? Tsk Tsk tsk.”
So this group comes in, and really, they are very arrogant, just like the living stereotypes of your frat boy sports bar crowd. Loud, abrasive, full of themselves… and they see us newcomers in the E-Club, in civilian clothes, and we could just see the look in thier eyes as they thought ‘oh boy, we outnumber them, we’re going to have us some fun’.
And Neil and I enjoy the experience. We screw with them back, that deliberate vagueness, the almost believeable incomprehension that drives such idiots crazy. It’s absolutely no fun for some folks if they insult you but you honestly don’t get it. The point is for you to know you’ve been insulted.
If you don’t know that you’ve been insulted, you’ve taken away their power. And the more they push it, the more they draw it out to explain why you are supposed to feel stupid or insulted, the less they can pretend it is a joke, and the clearer it becomes that they are intentionally trying to get you worked up. And if you just don’t get it, they can either just cut to the chase and throw the first punch themselves, which is what they absolutely do NOT want to do, or they can drop it in disgust.
It’s not supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be a deniable attempt to start a bar fight.
But neither Neil nor I are the kind of idiots that those morons can bully into a fight. If you feel insecure, if you feel like you have to defend your masculinity, then you’re an easy target for some morons to goad into a fight. We were both just too amused to rise up to it. Like, what do we look like, rocks fresh from boot camp with something to prove? To YOU? Oh, please.
Unfortunately, even with those idiots in the E-Club, we didn’t want to go back to base just yet. And there was a part of it, where if you leave too soon after the idiots try and start trouble, they will believe you are running from it, and then they think that they were getting to you and they’ll escalate.
Sadly, such people DO think that everything the people around them do revolves around them. Even someone from another table getting up to go. And letting them think they actually had bothered us to the point where we were leaving because of them would give them too much power for my pride to deal with.
Seriously, these guys were wound up tight and really full of themselves. No sense of humor at all.
So Neil and I sat there, drank beer, and tweaked their noses, HARD. We had a lot of fun winding them up.
One of the games the idiots were playing, at least we thought it was a game at the time, was trying to get us to say who we were, what unit we were with, how long we’d been on base, you know. The whole ‘judge you by time in service, time on base, time spent in the crapper’ thing that people will try to use to find something they can feel superior about.
It’s not that they suspected we were recruits drinking or something. After all, you had to show your ID card to get served. Nope, that’s not what it was.
You see it in the game all the time. “How long have you been playing WoW?” “Oh, since a few months before BC came out.” “Oh, well I’VE been playing since it was in beta!” And no lie, I’ve seen the rejoinder, “Well, I’ve been playing since the very first alpha!”
Good for you. Want a cookie?
You get the idea. We were having a grand time. Man, did we piss them off by not getting worked up, and by not getting it.
But after a while, it was time to go. It was getting late, we’d had a ton of beer, and I liked to make sure I stopped drinking, whenever possible, at least 8 hours prior to going on duty. So, time to head for the barracks. It wasn’t closing time at the E-Club, but besides us, the only other people in the place was the group of morons and the bartender. And even tweaking morons gets old after a while.
So we get up and walk outside to the parking lot… and the other group gets up and follows us out.
Okay, fine. Whatever.
We come out into the glow of lights to see the parking lot.
And there are only 4 cars.
The car we drove in, and three Military Police vehicles.
Can you guess which vehicles belonged to the group of idiots? The group of idiots that came out behind us, and were standing there watching us with huge goofy grins on their faces?
Now, we had both been drinking, that was the whole opint of being ni the bar, but we weren’t stupid. Even if we weren’t drunk, if we were given a sobriety test right that second, we were bound to fail. Especially when it’s their word against ours.
And as we had gone outside to leave, and there was only one lone car in the parking lot, it was pretty obvious we had to come up with a solution, fast.
And I said to Neil, as though I were just thinking of it, “Why not take the shortcut back to the barracks?” and pointed in the direction of my old bootcamp barracks, which we had passed coming in. There are tons of barracks in the area, and I figured that if we acted like we were stationed there and had come in on foot, we could walk away from them, go hide somewhere and sober up to 100%, and then sneak back and get the hell out of there without brig time.
Neil, of course, said “Why the heck not?”
So off the two of us stagger into the darkness, on foot, on Parris Island, late of a Thursday night, a little the worse for drink, with a pack of very angry MPs hungering to bust us standing there watching us go.
And we have no freaking idea where we are.
And we KNOW that if we wander, drunk, into the wrong area and are caught, it’s our ass.
See, Parris Island has a section somewhere on it where the women Marines reside. And, I’m sure, also the women recruits.
And I don’t know for certain, but even at the time I could imagine that two drunk Marines from Beaufort found wandering around the womens barracks’ on Parris Island would be a galactically BAD IDEA.
So how the hell to hunker down and sober up without looking suspicious or getting caught in the wrong area, when we have no idea where the wrong areas are?
And that’s when I saw the water tower in the distance.
The water tower was a big steel structure that rose high, high up into the sky. It was fairly near the E-Club as far as staggering distances are concerned.
So I headed that way, and when we got to it, I said, “Hey Neil, let’s climb up to the top and we can chill out until the MPs have gone away. We might even be able to see them from here and know when it’s safe.”
“Sure, why the heck not?”
So we climbed up to the rounded top of the tower, and lay down to rest. It was nice and cool on the steel, and very comfy.
It seemed like a very good idea at the time.
Boy, that’s remarkably comfy for cold steel.
Yep, I fell asleep.
A little before dawn, the morning dew and the sound of distant screaming woke me up.
I sat up, disoriented, to find myself lying on a steel island floating in the sky among the clouds.
What the hell?!?
It took a few minutes for the events of the night before to come seeping back in.
I looked around and realized that it was a damn good thing we hadn’t rolled around in our sleep, cause it was a looooong way down.
In the near distance, in the thick mist of the early morning, I could hear the shouts of recruits being run through PT. The shouted commands, and full throated return cries of the platoons at full run.
I looked at my watch, I wore a watch back then, and then I smacked Neil to wake him up.
He woke up slow and groggy, and I have to say, watching him wake up, look around, and start to panic was a pure, evil hearted pleasure.
The early morning mist made it seem as though we were on a blue painted metal island in a sea of fog, with a few power lines and what I recall as a radio tower poking up nearby.
And from the shouts, it sounded like we were surrounded by searching platoons. I felt just a touch of what Steve McQueen felt in The Great Escape. Just a touch.
We scampered down the metal ladder, got our bearings, and headed in the direction we hoped the E-Club had been.
We turned out to be very, very close, and after piling in his car we blasted on out the main gate and headed back to base, praying we would make it back to the barracks in time to get cleaned up and make it to formation.
Not to mention do so while still keeping our room inspection ready. And not mess up the common areas that are also inspection ready.
I don’t really remember anything else about that day.
I know that we didn’t get in any trouble, and we certainly didn’t fail our room inspection. A Corporal failing a room inspection is something that would still stand out in my memory to this day.
But oh wow… I’ll never forget that feeling when I walked out of that bar, looked at that parking lot, and realized who the group following us outside really were. And just how bad that could turn out.
I had been half expecting to get my ass beat by a group of morons with no sense of humor… so imagine my surprise to suddenly realize that getting beat up would be the BEST I could hope for from the evening.
Damn, that was not cool.