This storytime is dedicated to anyone that was ever in a new and unfamiliar situation, was stressed out and without friends, surrounded by people you didn’t know but who you wanted to fit in with, and who ended up doing something incredibly stupid just to try and impress them. /salute!
And it’s also dedicated to Lady Jess, who wears the brand of the devil itself on her arm.
So, picking up where the last Storytime left off. I was a fresh new Private at my first official duty station for training in my military occupational specialty. Read: I was there to learn how to do my job.
The way it worked in my case, I had enlisted with a guaranteed opportunity to attend training for my pre-selected MOS, in this case aviation electronics. I had the opportunity handed to me. If I failed the training, of course, then all bets were off. I’d be fresh game for wherever the military wanted to place me. Can you say official full time potato peeler, 1 each?
Courses started at the beginning of each week, once there were enough students to form a class. If you happened to arrive and check into base on Tuesday when a class had just begun, you might have a solid week or two before enough boots showed up to get a new class started. During that time, you would be on generic work detail, waiting for someone to come by that needed bodies to pick up litter in the desert or build tank traps out of I -beams and welding torches.
You spend a couple weeks sitting around with other guys, every one of them waiting for one of various different classes to start, and you start telling stories just to pass the time.
You never knew who you were hanging out with in the work detail that you’d be in class with, either. The processes by which a class was filled and assigned was more arcane and mysterious than Blizzard’s threat balancing mechanics, and a lot of the guys there were NOT confirmed for a particular school in advance like me. Most of them went into boot camp blind, were tossed to this base, and were waiting to find out what job they would have assigned FOR them.
So, there you are. Sitting on a sandbag with these strangers, all waiting for various schools to start. At the ripe old age of 18, it’s amazing how few stories there were to tell. But we told them anyway, and for all I know, all of them were bullshit.
I don’t know if anyone ever wrote a paper on it, but stories like that tend to go in cycles. You’re sitting there in a group of guys, and somebody is looking for a story to pass the time. Somebody starts with a hunting story, so everyone else shares a hunting story around the room. Then the fishing stories go around, and the camping stories, and the working on a car stories, and, inevitably, the drinking stories.
There might be some kind of one-upmanship involved in those kind of things, but for the most part they’ve always seemed to be more like “That was a good one. Now, if you think that was crazy/funny/stupid, then listen to this…”
So, as I said. Inevitably, the drinking stories.
The name of the game in telling these stories is, mostly, to entertain the rest of the folks, yes indeed. But it’s mainpurpose when among strangers who are all Marines is to establish boundaries. You are all young, yes, and none of you know each other, you’re from all over the country, and quite a few of the folks are from Puerto Rico and the American Samoan Islands. No real shared cultural or regional background.
It doesn’t matter. There are no white Marines, brown Marines, yellow Marines, red Marines, whatever. There are only green Marines. You might not have any shared culture before you joined up, but now you are all united by gutting through boot camp.
I’m going to ignore the “which boot camp did you go to/which company IN boot camp did you go to” pissing contest. Yes, some people will make a contest out of anything.
Anyway, in shooting the shit in this situation, you want to find out what kind of guys you’re hanging with, and above all else make sure everyone else in the group knows that you’re tough, experienced and worldly. All 18 bold years of you.
Yeah, right. Sigh.
You’d think I had a lot of stories I could tell. And yes, some of them were appropriate. I had fishing stories, and camping stories, and hunting stories, and all sorts of stuff like that. I even had weapon misadventure stories, and my ‘blowgun versus the mouse’ was a hit.
I also had the role playing group stories, fun campaigns I’d run, and while that pushed some Marines away from the ‘geek’, it attracted others just like me to open up, and reveal just how many RPG freaks there were in the Marines. God bless us every one.
The few, the proud, the gamers.
A digression, if only for a moment. You might be surprised, but then again considering my audience you might not, to learn that there are a LOT of folks that play pen and paper role playing games in the Marines. I sure as hell never had any difficulty in finding a group, and the players were always kick ass. Just brilliant. Sometimes they seemed damn odd, but after getting out of the service, I realize that it’s all relative. They were damn odd for Marines, that’s all.
There’s also something to be said for having a hobby where you don’t technically need to take books or anything with you. You can go into the field with some laminated photocopies of character sheets, a few padded sacks of varied dice (or slips of paper with numbers written on them to pull out of a hat), and some grease pencils, and when it’s night and you’re huddled in your tent, get a game on. Side by side with the guys playing Spades or Hearts or Cribbage.
My core group in Twenty-Nine Palms ended up bumping into each other often over the next eight years, and we discussed having black satin flight jackets made, with all the traditional Marine Corps patches… but with an RPG twist. When we played RPGs on deployment, we could add location nametapes to the shoulders of our jackets for which foreign countries we had played RPGs in, and when we’d bump into each other in the years after, we could size up what international gaming we’d gotten in.
As with so many other ideas, that one never went anywhere, but it was fun to think about.
Getting back to the point, I’ve got a fair number of decent stories, yes I do.
But when the time comes for the drinking stories to go around, I’ve got nothing.
I, my friends, have never been much of a drinker. It’s fun on occasion, certainly, in small enough quantities to get a light buzz on, but I have never, ever been one to get hammered just for the sake of getting good and plowed. In high school, me and my other role playing friends would occasionally get together a bunch of wine coolers (Bartles and James) and some beer, and hit the pool in the summer. That’s about it.
Yes, I was a boring child. No drugs, no hard booze.
But when the drinking stories start going around in this crowd, it quickly became clear that the majority of Marines in the group have consumed mass quantities, gotten nuts, and been wasted. In hindsight, perhaps they were all lying their butts off. To me, it seemed that everyone else was far more badass than I, that somehow I was grossly lacking in the ‘manly drinker’ category.
And the stories do, in fact, have a recurring theme; how amazingly drunk someone got, how powerful the beverage consumed, and how manly the person was in holding their liquor… and how bad the hangover was the next day.
In this crowd, I learned that wine coolers just didn’t cut it. It’s not ‘manly’. Apparently, you’re not supposed to drink something just because you like the taste and wanted to feel a little mellow. Apparently, you were supposed to drink something for the express purpose of being obliterated in the shortest possible time.
As I said, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but what the hell, I’ve known drinkers in high school, and I know what their tipple of choice in the stories always was; the almighty Jack Daniels. Whenever a high school kid started talking about what a hardcore drinker he was, or how incredibly wasted he got, the drink he imbibed in the story was always the Jack.
It came my turn to tell a drinking story.
I had a simple choice; pass and look like a wimp without a decent story(which would have been true), or tell the truth about wine coolers being the hardest alcohol I’d ever had, and at that consumed in far less than massive quantities (which would have also been true), or lie my ass off.
I looked reality right square in the face, weighed the manliness of telling a story about how, “I had a few wine coolers, chilled out, and relaxed in a hot tub watching the Miami Dolphins get destroyed by the New York Jets, and felt that all was right in the world”, and realised that at this stage in my life, I still felt I had something to prove.
So I decided to lie in order to seem cooler.
Yes, yes I did.
I took my story about drinking wine coolers while watching a football game, and changed the beverage in question to be Jack Daniels.
In fact, I wove a tale wherein my favorite tipple of choice was Jack Daniels, and that I enjoyed drinking quite a lot of it while relaxing and watching the game.
Now, at the time, I did indeed enjoy watching football. I grew up in Miami, and my two favorite football teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, and whoever was playing against the Dolphins.
I’m from Miami, I lived through the Marino years, sue me.
But Jack Daniels? Not freaking hardly. Too damn expensive, for one thing.
The story was tame, but invoking the name of Jack Daniels elevated it to the level of manliness. It passed due scrutiny, nods were nodded concerning the inherent manliness of JD, and life went on.
Whew! I lied, and pulled it off, right?
Oh, damn, karma’s a bitch. A stone cold bitch.
As I mentioned in my last Storytime, I was feeling a little stressed out and cranky, and life in the barracks mostly consisted with my sitting in there, reading a paperback, and letting time pass while waiting for my class to form up.
In Twenty-Nine Palms, rather than an open squad bay, they had these amazing hotel style condos for Marines to stay in while they waited to see where you ended up, totally temporary. Four Marines to one room, with a shower. Incredible luxury, only three other guys to deal with.
I had, amongst my three temporary roommates, one insane 70’s drug culture rock fan with his own turntable and abundant record supply (yes, records, compact discs existed but were rare as hens teeth), one guy that had his own car and took off after every afternoon formation to try and find a girlfriend out in town all night, and a guy that, and I kid you not, was teaching himself to play the banjo, in the room, and spent most of his evenings working his way at various speeds through “Dueling Banjos”.
It took me two more years before I saw the movie “Deliverance”, so I did not realize at the time just how much I should have feared sleeping in the same room with him.
So I’m sitting there in my room, off duty for the evening, another working party completed. We’d spent the day in the desert up near Black Top as I remember (which was a heck of a LONG drive by cut-v), and so we’d gotten back tired, hot, dusty and worn out. A good feeling, and nice to relax afterwards with nobody shouting at you.
The banjo is tooling up, but is scheduled to be stopped so that the record player can begin playing Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Mothers of Invention with assorted interruptions because “you really need to hear this one cut, this is awesome, these guys are brilliant, let me find the right groove, hold on.”
“The white zone is for the loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no cargo in the white zone.”
As I’m sitting there, wondering at what point I pissed God off so much that he felt compelled to send this banjo playing devil to torment me, there comes a knocking at the door.
I open the door, and there in the doorway stands one of the guys from the work detail… and his arms are simply full with cases of beer.
At the time, the beer of choice on base was Keystone Light, in the ‘specially lined can’. It was very, very, very cheap. I mean, that shit was cheap. MMMmmmMMMM cheap. The idea was, it was okay that it was crappy beer, because they put in these special cans so, while it wasn’t good, at least it didn’t taste like metal. The cans were lined on the inside with plastic or something.
I kinda liked it. In fact, I miss it. Haven’t seen it around for a long time.
I liked Red Dog for a while too. They had funny little “Be your own dog” sayings and stuff on the inside of the cap, and a little humor somehow seems important while you’re drinking cheap beer in the desert.
Anyway, here the guy is, and he’s brought beer! Woot! My new best friend! Come on inside!
Yes, we were all underage. Statute of limitations has done run out. Again; sue me.
He comes inside, he sets these cases of beer down, and starts cracking one open… and announces “Hey, thought we’d have a party… oh, and I came prepared!”
He turns to me, and says, “I know your favorite drink is Jack, so I picked this up on the way out of the Package Store just for you.”
He pulls a paper bag off a bottle, revealing, you guessed it, a full, sealed fifth of Jack Daniels.
Oh, son of a bitch. Oh, joy. My own bottle of Jack Daniels.
Just kill me now.
And he’s got this big shit-eating-grin on his face, full of happiness that he’d been thoughtful enough to bring my favoritest beverage in the world.
But, but… I don’t want to drink Jack Daniels. Beer! There was nice, friendly beer!
Think Bear, think. How exactly do I go about explaining to the nice man who just spent a crapload of money on a bottle of Jack for me that I don’t actually drink it? That the thought of drinking that instead of beer fills me with panic, for every story I have ever heard about it alwaysled to craziness, puking, and misery? Did I mention the craziness? Puking, who cares about that, it was the craziness that seemed to take hold of those JD drinkers that was worth concern. I’d selected that beverage specifically BECAUSE it was evil, damnit!
How do I admit that maybe, just perhaps, I had been fibbing?
Oh, damn. I’m going to have to drink that stuff, aren’t I? It’s either pony up and gut it out with a smile, or admit I lied and lose face.
Ah, pride. How we do love thee, for you cause us to do so many incredibly stupid, life threatening, asinine things before we learn to tell you to PISS OFF.
Oh, and nobody in my generation, at the age of 18, had ever heard of “alcoh0l poisoning”, thank you very much. Ignorance is NOT bliss.
I gratefully accepted the bottle from him, and relaxed in one of the few chairs while the beer got broken out and passed around.
Everyone else relaxed, the banjo was put away (score!), and the record player was pulled out. The door was propped open, folks from neighboring rooms started drifting in, and I manfully cracked the bottle and took a good pull off of it, while the beers were passed around.
I remember thinking to myself, with a great deal of surprise, that it really wasn’t bad at all. I decided that I would resolve to enjoy it, and allow my cares and concerns to be laid to rest, and just enjoy the night.
My impressions from that point on are, and the reason for this escapes me, somewhat vague, so I hope you’ll forgive me.
I know that our room became quite a popular place, because a lot of people drifted in and out, and there was a never ending sea of changing faces.
At some point, I distinctly remember the rocking roommate put Pink Floyd on the record player.
I liked Pink Floyd.
I happened to think that Ummagumma was a work of exceptional brilliance.
During this particular evening, it occured to me that Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict was a work of such sheer heights of brilliance that it wasn’t possible to grasp all of it’s many layers of nuance at a paltry 33 1/3rd RPM.
No, no it really needed to be cranked up to 45 for the best effect.
Oh, heck yeah.
Yes, I did turn the speed up on the turntable, and grooved, mostly empty bottle of JD in my hand.
That is the last coherent memory I have of the evening, but I’m fairly certain that I continued to have a LOT of fun.
The next thing I DO remember, is waking up wet. There was a very loud noise somewhere far away. I did not know where I was, who I was, or what I was.
I was very wet. In fact, it seemed to be raining on me. Unusual, when living in the high desert.
It was raining on me. I was standing, and had apparently been both standing and asleep, at the same time.
There was something large, very furry, and as tall as me standing oh so very close to me, cheek to cheek as it were, standing right next to me, and in fact I seemed to have been hugging it in my sleep.
It was raining. I was hugging what, to my traumatized senses, appeared to be a wookie. It smelled.
I opened my eyes.
This took courage on a level I don’t think you can fully understand. I didn’t really want to know what I was hugging, but I was also too afraid not to find out.
In the years since that moment, thinking back to what I felt waking up wet and tired, head hurting, hugging what feels and smells like a wookie… it’s just one of those memories that makes amnesia sound so damn attractive.
I was in the shower stall of our room. I was standing up, having apparently been propped up stiff as a board and drunk as a lord in the shower stall. I was fully clothed, the shower was running ice cold, and I was hugging the small rug from the room floor, that had been rolled up and tossed in the shower with me.
The smell of everything that I had eaten and drunk the night before was sharing the shower with me. I don’t really need to paint a more vivid picture, do I?
I did not, and this comes as something of an understatement, feel very well.
Amazingly enough, the first thought I had was, “At least it’s not a wookie.”
The second thought, such as it was, concerned the fact that clearly, I had a LOT of cleaning up to do.
And what the hell is that noise?
I stumbled out of the shower stall to find the room pitch dark. Door closed, window shutters drawn. From outside the room, down the walkway and coming closer, was a loud crashing noise, repeated over and over.
Boom! Crash! Pause. Boom! Crash! Pause.
As the noise approached, faint words began to be heard, and there was movement in the darkness of the room.
The crashing approached. The movement in the room increased, accompanied by groans and muffled swearing.
The noise was a bedlam. It came to the room next door to ours.
BOOM! CRASH! “Everyone out for PISS CALL!!!”
It came outside our door. The door echoed with the sound of a booted foot impacting it just under the knob. The door crashed open. The horrific voice repeated it’s cry, “Everyone out for PISS CALL!”
It continued on it’s way, sharing it’s message of pain. The room exploded into a frenzy of activity.
The lights were turned on in the room, and it was asses and elbows as four drunk Marines desperately tried to find acceptable clothes for falling out into formation for a battalion-wide surprise urinalysis test taking place at 3 AM.
Oh yes, 3 AM.
I quickly realized that I was still drunk, and somehow this became something I wished to hide. I didn’t feel any shame at actually BEING drunk, but somehow I felt that, once having fallen asleep after drinking, one should be sober when one wakes up. As I was not sober, clearly I screwed the process up at some point, and needed to lurk below the radar.
I was not concerned with being drunk for duty, because regulations state that you must cease drinking alcoholic beverages no latyer than eight hours prior to going on duty, to ensure the alcohol has had time to leave the system. This was a Friday night. There WAS no duty scheduled the next day. No worries, right?
Running out onto the balcony (our room at the time was on the 3rd floor, and overlooked the high desert from a mighty vantage point), we quickly discovered that the uniform of the day for 3 AM battalion-wide surprise urinalysis tests was green t-shirt, running shorts, and shower shoes (also known in some regions as flip flops).
This, I felt I could manage.
How to describe the rest of that night?
Hundreds of Marines, possibly a thousand, standing in the desert night in three or four lines that snaked through the sand, smoking cigarettes, shooting the shit, all of them tired, none of them really sure what the hell was going on.
Bering drunk and hung over at the same time, and standing in a line that marched as far as the eye could see around barracks buildings and quonset huts, having to piss like a russian racehorse and not daring to go for fear of having ‘stage fright at the last minute? Oh fun.
Especially the stage fright part. It’s one thing to have to go, but if you’ve just gone, it’s a difficult thing to stand there in an official stall with some poor Corporal watching your, ahem, pocket python, waiting for you to go.
Yes, you read that right. The rules were that someone had to physically stand there and watch you go, the actual mechanics of it, eyeball to, umm, err, to make 100% certain you didn’t have a water bladder and a hose full of someone else’s urine ready to fill a cup. It had to actually be YOU filling the cup.
Surprise, turns out we had some drug problems on base back then. I had no idea.
As I recall, it took over two hours for me to reach and complete the pee test. At that point, I was free to return to my room… where I had to clean the room immaculately, and clean myself, and generally fix the mess I’d caused the night before. Only then could I pass the heck out.
I was somewhat concerned, as the rest of the weekend progressed, that I would find out that I had acted in some way wildly inappropriate while drunk.
I had to keep repressing shudders as I let my imagination paint pictures for me of what horribly dishonorable thing I may have said or done while drunk.
The fact that everyone else that had been at the party, that I knew of, seemed unnaturally quiet and sullen only added to my apprehension.
Way it turns out, funny enough, you can get hammered on beer if you drink enough of it, and everyone else certainly drank enough of it. And if you WERE drunk and asleep at 3 AM for a surprise urinalysis, you generally had something to feel sullen about on a Saturday morning, unless you had a guilty conscience.
I worried that I was the drunken center of attention, and instead, while I did represent a certain destabilizing influence on the party, it was about par for the course at these things, and at a reasonably late hour the party had quietened down and everyone else had left without incident.
I even made it to my bed and crashed nice and normal. No horrible surprises. no terrible behavior. I just displayed a need… a need for speed. A heartfelt desire for music played very, very, very fast. And loud.
It was only later that night that I apparently woke up and started unleashing my inner lunch upon the carpet, into the trash can, and anywhere else I happened to be pointing.
My roommates, reasonably enough, decided that this show needed to be moved into the only place easy to clean… which is how I ended up where I did, how I did, and as confused as I did.
It was certainly a learning experience. Just be yourself, that’s all. Don’t let peer pressure or a desire to fit in drive you to be anyone but who you really are. The friends you make that way are more meaningful in the long run.
Time marches on, and fun is there to be had, and whenever you meet new folks, stories still get told. These days it’s in the maintenance shop.
These days when the drinking stories start, I cannot help but think of my very first drinking story ever, in more ways than one.
And I can’t help but try to forget that damn wookie.