"PRIVATES, if an attractive woman is interested in you down Waikiki-- she is a spy."--Army Espionage Briefing.
Today, I am up early and ready for 'reveille' to blare over the entire base. I watch the cheap beige -colored shade start to emit light, as if it was an eyelid of a late night reveler waking up on the unrivalled Hawaiian north shore; I can start to see dark figures through the cheap barracks shade: two tall structures for rope climbing--in the faint form of gallows, and soldiers scrambling by my room on the balcony--in the silhouette of black lightning bolts. They are grunts, who are up early like me....might they sense what I feel, that the shade of light of the Hawaiian sun is in the form of present memories and that things were to change; and not till an old tradition is paraded back for one more drill and ceremony on that parade field down below.
Down below the three tiers of balconies, a soldier, up all night on duty at a desk overlooking the parade field, looks down at a piece of paper--rubs his eyes and sees a memo entitled "From higher, possible' Zonk' for mourning Pt." His only reply: "Well “I’ll be danged." Then shoves some beef jerky in his mouth.
The Last Zonk
If you look into my barracks room, you would see tall lightly stained pine wall lockers separating two "kinds of stupid," as my squad leader would say. The first kind of stupid is my roommate Sleepy Turtle. An odd nickname I know, mine is Freshwater and no, our nicknames are not related.
Sleepy Turtle is a neat, hip Californian, with no bends in the brim of his hats; who hangs every piece of clothing out of the dryer up in his wall-locker. I on the other hand, load my green army laundry bag full with hot cloths, and leave them in there until the designated day of dressing. Sleepy turtle calls me a Bostonian slob, but this Californian hipster is really mad that I use it as his alarm clock in the morning. For Sleepy cannot wake up in the morning, or stay awake when still for more than 15 minutes, so you can put that quality with the fact Sleepy is in the infantry, and surmise your own summation. So, my laundry bag moonlights as a chain mace, in which its target is Sleepy's face, at the nautical twilight hours of early morn. You might think that is downright mean, however, if a green bag with numbers in poor black marker penmanship, which is my social security number labeling it as mine,were not launched at his unaware face, well, it would be our squad leader's fist.
Sleepy and I are buds, battle buddies, but we just have a lineage stemming from basic training following us to Hawaii (when he fell asleep on guard, and it was me that was punished).
I remember it was like yesterday. Georgia, the state we should have let succeed (as Greece let Atlantis). In the field after a firing range Sleepy and I had first guard, six o’clock, the sun don't set in Georgia till nine, and this kid.....well, he fell asleep under the rockets red glare and the firing range still bursting in air and missed a radio report.
Well by the time I woke him up the drill sergeant was on me and only wanted me. He didn't like my Boston accent too much to begin with. Punishments in the army, are either a "smoking,"(physical exercise) or the option they offer: in which case the drill sergeants would physically exercise their minds to think of a humiliating punishment.
Well, my punishment was self-replenishing like that Greek myth when the guy rolls the boulder up to the top of the hill, only to have an eagle come to eat his liver--
if the chow hall sent their cooks out to feed us in the field(that is we weren’t eating our mur's(meals ready to eat)) then they would set up a chow line with servers. My beloved drill sergeant, selflessly took over the role of server (at the end of the line)...."would you like some beats Private Freshwater?" he asked. I kindly declined his solicit...."oh a growing ******* like you must have his protein, “and he would proceed to soak all my precious sustenance with bright red, beat juice, the color of an octogenarian's veins. I watched my bread dissipate, and my chicken would part from its previous structure (the parting of the red sea came to my mind those two months). Now I cringe when I see blood, it reminds me of beet juice.
It is already 0515, thirty minutes before first formation, and the halls are filling up with sergeants, along with the pale light of the Hawaiian rising sun. In garrison (when we are not in the field) we ‘Pt.’(physical training, i.e. running and death marches) every morning, and the soldiers who live off base(mostly sergeants) come upstairs in the barracks, barking and singing, and barking. Even with all my defects in uniform and room hygiene, I am an early bird, and this morning I decide to let Sargent Leghorn(our squad leader) into our room to strangle Sleepy awake.
But I am taken aback when he declines a Sleepy Turtle thrashing to speak to me.
"Freshwater, Poncho (our platoon sergeant) wants me to help you make a decision about re-enlisting."
I've been getting a lot of flak for sitting on the fence about re-enlisting, but honestly I want to get out. I haven’t told them that.
"Look," in his big southern drawl, “you know your too dumb to live out there, the army wipes your ***, you two idiots would be drinking your **** within the first day out in the world. Look, speak to the retention officer and then make the decision...."
He kept talking, but I heard the sound. Our barracks forms a ‘quad’ with three other multi-tiered buildings-- forming a rectangle. The ground floor are where the headquarters(offices where you go when you’re in trouble), and out in front is narrow roads circumscribing a grass parade field; well, in front of our headquarters is a mango tree; on that mango tree ,eternally perched is a Hawaiian Military Macaw, we call the "******* bird." Every time our lieutenant shows up, he is proceeded by the loud chuckle of the "******* bird," whereas the sounds are thus , "Platoon attenhuuut,"then the mad bird laughter of "******* ******* fu..." The bird is the harbinger of annoyance, and that annoyance is our L tee(lieutenant),and his name is Lt.Wheat Thin, and he hates me(understatement of the year).
Now doors with card readers are opening to reveal drowsy, skinny privates, who in the morning, before PT are like baby gazelles ,birthed in the African Serengeti --they are vulnerable for predators, and those predators are sergeants who smell the birth slime on them.
The favorite past-time of (any rank above a private) is to enter into a privates rooms and "**** with him." They will look at your pictures, call your girlfriend ugly, gig you on your uncleanliness, even look around for contraband.
Well, while the Lt Wheat Thin is making his way through the halls yelling "twenty miler today,hahah......hey Specialist Nifkin where is your reflective belt?" The sergeants are more relaxed, it is a Friday, and they are still in ecstatic shock from the "toad, “contest on Monday. Now since I mentioned the "toad," I have to elaborate, even though I have to get to formation.
Every Monday, our First Sergent (company sergeant) has a contest after mourning pt. The rules are such: the contestants are the ones who did the stupidest thing over the weekend, and only they would compete for the toad( a small porcelain toad).
When we are all standing in formation on the small lane in front of the parade field, our Pt uniforms turning into tiger fatigues from our sweat, the First Sargent, in his raspy voice (he was shot through his voice box in Somalia) would call the contestants in front of the company. He would yell(or rasp) "get down", then the contestant, instead of doing pushups (which is usually linked to "get down," or it is if your me) would have to dance with no music,untill you are the last private standing thus not being eliminated by boos caused by lousy dancing.
With that said, four days prior ,the winner of the "toad “was from our platoon , and we even boasted of two runner ups. I remember watching Private Catfish, Private Beachstick, and Specialist Hamburger going at it. For if you won the 'toad' statue, you got out of Pt for two days, but you more than likely danced the calories away of those two days while you had all those dip spitting southerners yelling "dance catfish dance."
Pvt. Catfish was nominated for getting caught with a ***** pump in the ceiling tiles during a room inspection and Beachstick was nominated due to the fact he caught stealing a cell phone down Waikiki. Poor old Beachstick, once he was turned over to army chain of command by the police, they conducted their sadistic physical exercise in their head to determine his punishment. He was to carry a cinder block around painted like a cell phone. He actually danced with the block might I add.
The third contestant from our platoon wasn't a new guy, he was of specialist rank like me--Hamburger--he got so drunk he walked home in his bright orange, white and red bowling shoes.
The bowling alley actually called the General of the entire Hawaiin base. So it was like a dixie cup communication line of "what? bowling shoes....Hamburger?" That finally tickled its way down to the ear of Poncho the platoon sergent with the concise army telephone call "Hamburger in bowling shoes, nominated Toad, out copy over?"
Well Sergent Poncho got the key to Hamburger’s room that next day, and found Hamburger passed out in his roommate Hotdog's bed; with all his clothes off, but the bowling shoes sticking out on his feet still. Hot dog was passed out too, and woke up in state of exasperation for Hamburger had urinated all over him. Hamburger and Hotdog were inseparable, it almost seemed like that big Kentuckian Hamburger even carried around that skinny Hotdog,(who was also from Boston, but I didn't sound like him, he just sounds ridiculous).
So Pvt Catfish won the "toad," and he is in the hallway. All the sergeants are making a bee line for his room to admire the "toad," amulet. Sleepy Turtle is getting up faster than usual, and the air feels a little different this morning. The rumor in the air, is that there will be "Zonk," and there hasn't been a "Zonk" for years. But Lt.Wheat thin is going around dispelling that rumor at its inception...."No Zonk you bunch of pansies, twenty mile run, on sand, up hill..."
Yeah I’m not going to lie, I like to put one of those Hawaiian ear wigs in his ear so it would eat his brain then go up to him,"hey lieutenant , how bout ultimate frisbee for Pt today," in which I could see it clear as day, him drooling ,"sure Freshwatah, frisbeeee."
I’m on the' lanaii' now, which is a balcony in Hawaiian. Three tiers of lanaii encompass a parade field, filled and overhanging with soldiers getting ready for morning Pt similar to a roman coliseum readying for a gladiator fight . It is Friday and we usually do company Pt on Fridays (bigger formations)…but looking across the parade field, the sister battalions are overflowing as much as us.
The light reflecting off the sand in the volley ball court, which we were not allowed to use(why make it then??), was glowing yellow, soon to be white in the hot sun. We are shooting the ****, dipping, smoking and just straight lollygaggin like we always do in garrison before Pt.
I see my friend Rich, and we start talking. He's a cool dude, a Californian like Sleepy, but Rich got his **** wired tight, we arrived here at the same time from the same basic training platoon.
"Freshwater man, you gunna re-enlist or what?'
"You’re crazy Rich for re-enlisting, this **** *****."
"Mang, Fresh, remember when Poncho made all the cherries(new privates) get in short shorts and get on the back of his motorcycle for a drive to Waikiki?"
"Yeah, he's nuts, he's a big reason for getting out."
"Why is that,"--
"**** changes so quick in the army, one day you’re playing volleyball for Pt, the next it's a death march, one day Poncho is your friend, the next he's handing out all your sandwich meat to Sargent Leghorn or Catfish. Too friggin erratic, and when it rains it pours, and there is nowhere to find shelter--"
"Man Fresh, they want you to move up ,be a leader, go to sergeant school, just do it bra...."
" I’m all set with that Rich, I don't have your discipline, you keep clean in the field bro, and cross yourself before every meal, me , I don't have that discipline, I don't like strictures, and I don't think I can be myself here."
"What I have, you don't have, but you have what I don't have Fresh."
"Ya, I got everybody breathing down my neck."
"No Fresh, you’re a tough dude, Poncho told me he don't try to flick your eyes while your copping Z's in the field anymore like the other 'joes' (enlisted soldiers, not sergeants). Said you almost kicked him unconscious while you were still sleeping and Wheat Thin hates you from when you were his radio man, he got jealous of you because you could handle the mission stuff...you read well....."
My attention was arrested by Beachstick, he was staring at the training schedule, man, everyday he would study this calendar with all our planned Pt on it. Like he could visually alter it with is mind, to change "15 mile road march," to "pocket pool" or something. Then his face changed from melancholy to total disbelief when he saw todays planned Pt--"friday,aug 12 2001, 20 mile brigade run." It was like he was reading a Steven King novel or something, that was the only thing that didn't change, Beachstick always thinking he would get out of running or *******, and he would probably steal another phone, carry another cinder block. I could never relate, because I never forget, when it rains it pours in the army.
I remember we were on this mountain, in this valley up north shore, we could see the ocean; it looked so beautiful, inviting, yet we were on a mountain with 80 lbs. on our back, sleeping in dirt with poisonous centipedes. The sun was relentless when you were in uniform, but a goddess near the beach, or when you were just stripped down to shorts(we were not even allowed to roll our sleeves up like the marines).
It must have been even rougher on Hamburger, he hated the army more than me, and he got a fungus, jungle rot from that field problem. The medic said it was a fungus that only grew on cows and trees in Hawaii, and to cure it you have to jump in the ocean. Man, I hope he didn't see the same ocean I saw. The infantry is sweat and soreness, that's all. They tell you to keep putting camo on your face, just to have it come off in a deluge of sweat, ****, army infantry is for the birds, the '*******' bird.
We're heading downstairs, to be ready for when one ******* yells "formation, “then it reverberates like a game of annoying telephone. The first person who yelled "formation, “is contrasted by the last person who yodels it, or hollers it like a wild Indian. It is a true transformation of sound.
At the base of the building, under the first floor balcony, is a cq desk(charge of quarter) where a fellow grunt has been up all night logging vistors,answering phone calls from higher up. He is in uniform unlike us in Pt attire. He was spied eating beef jerky,and a gang of grunts are surrounding him…"Hey let me get some jerky Fancy Pants...." is there zombie moan as they converge on him. With a mop handle, he is pushing them away- like a lucky survivor of the titanic in his life boat, pushing away swimming clingers on, that might swamp his boat, or in this case eat all his beef jerky(we like our beef jerky, and it is not heavy).
As I walk out from the ground level landing I hear Sleepy Turtle on the top lanaii: "Freshwater you dumb Boston Kennedy sounding dirt merchant....."
"What Sleepy, what do you want?" I yelled up back at him.
"What is this?, “he asked. He was holding a sardine can Rich gave me. I ate one and almost puked. I don't know how Rich could eat those things, maybe b
ZONK: informal infantry tradition of lastminute cancel of morning exercise to boost comraderie.