I don’t think there was any question of me leaving.
After all, I had put in my time and that was that.
Yet, if truth be told I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for civilian life.
You see, the United States Marine Corps had been my job for almost four years. Despite it being a dysfunctional parent for most of my tour of duty – it had been a home to me.
Surrounded by ignorance and aggression, I was an odd duck in a pool of sharks. While I had few enemies, there would have been many who thought little of throwing me overboard if it meant covering their own asses.
Unless you have served in the military, being in the Armed Forces is quite different from having a regular civilian job. You don’t get fired from the military (not unless you royally screw up – then they would court marshall your ass BEFORE throwing you out!) but that didn’t stop your superiors from fucking with you and making your life utterly miserable.
Piss off the wrong people and you could find yourself scrubbing the head (latrines), or made to pick up cigarette butts off the parade deck, or even worse transferred to some shitty duty station in god knows where.
Early in my enlistment, one inebriated friend rather crudely told me – each stripe in rank added one inch in length and two inches in girth to your Johnson. The bigger your Schwanz – the easier it was to fuck the poor sonovabitch below you.
So, yeah, I kept my head down most of the time. Every day was a prayer that I wouldn’t get on somebody’s shit list.
Anyway, it was the Spring of 1981 and I was poised to either reenlist or take my walking papers in a few months as my four-year tour was coming to an end.
The heat was on me by the brass to shit or get off the pot. They wanted an answer to whether I was in – or out – of the Green Machine.
To complicate things was the fact that I had been accepted by a prestigious acting school in New York City for the following Fall term.
But as my discharge date rapidly approached I was starting to get cold feet. “How in the hell am I going to make ends meet going to school full time? I gotta eat and pay rent – how’s that gonna work?” I wondered.
Ah, there was the rub. A change in status quo would threaten my natural feckless nature.
For four years I had been clothed (poorly), fed (not very well), and housed (most depressingly). I was told where to go, where to work, where to eat, and where to shit. In short, I had had very little autonomy or responsibility for a sizable chunk of my young life.
That was gonna change fast if I didn’t re-up before August 11th which was my last scheduled active day of service.
While trying to figure out my next move shit was startin’ to get real.
Rumors were starting to rumble at HQ about the US going to war with Iran after the Embassy hostage crisis. If not Iran – maybe another country in the Middle East that deserved a good ass kicking. After years of peace, this meant I could be kept in the service indefinitely as all discharges would be frozen if war was declared. My best friend, Sergeant Todd Gilman, had recently discovered he had knocked up a chick he had been casually messing around with and was totally freaked out. Despite my arguments otherwise, Todd was convinced “marriage” was his only option in the matter. (Note to self: Never try having a serious conversation with a friend when you are “stoned” or you are bound to say some stupid shit and fuck everything up). My Mother began pressuring me to come home. Every day the phone would ring and good ol’ Mom would be on the line offering unsolicited career and relationship advice. “Why don’t you come home and marry that nice Becky? She’s lost a considerable amount of weight since your last visit,” she said. My father – the Old Man and I still weren’t talking after he cut off financial assistance halfway through my sophomore year in college. My meager paycheck was being docked for student loan debts I had accrued before enlistment (Thanks Pops!) which left me with very little money for just about everything. Being terminally broke – I took a second job at a local pharmacy where I was made to do exciting tasks like stocking the Double AA battery rack on aisle seven. A thoroughly boring and hobsian task that would have caused Sisyphus to contemplate suicide. What else? Oh, I got passed over for promotion to sergeant (again, for the third time) and was told by my CO that the only way I’d get my third stripe and pay increase was to re-up again for another four years. To make matters more oppressive, I was forced to walk to a nearby Army base daily just to get a decent meal. While Marine Corps chow could be never described as haute cuisine – I was tired of living on Pepto Bismol and turning my toilet into a Jackson Pollock painting before morning formation.
With my discharge date a month away I began to read some books on acting thinking that I should read more books about the craft – just in case I decided to take the next step and leave the military. One of my favorites was Uta Hagen’s “An Actor Prepares.” Great stuff, really. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in the theater.
One afternoon, as I was taking a lunch break from the Comm Center, I decided to read Ms. Hagen’s book outside in front of the Navy Annex. While fully immersed in my study, I abruptly heard a deep voice addressing me:
Major Pollock: “Hello there Corporal, how is it going?”
Me: (Coming to attention and saluting) “Fine, Sir.”
Major Pollock: “What are you reading? Is that a fuck book?”
Me: (Jaw dropping) “Sir?”
Major Pollock: “Is that a fuck book? You know heh…heh… pornography.”
Me: (stammering) “No, sir it’s…a book on Acting.”
Major Pollock: “ACTING?!”
Major Pollock: (gave me a withering look that practically screamed – “What are you some kind of fruit?) “Uhum…I see…carry on Corporal.”
After Major Pollock walked away, I sat stunned for a few minutes, completely demoralized. To be honest, I don’t know what I found to be more embarrassing – the word “fuck” casually coming out of high ranking officer’s mouth or his assumption that if I was “reading” it had to be porn.
That’s when it hit me. I would never fit in. How could I be a part of a group that viewed any form of artistic expression as effete, effeminate, or gay for that matter?
Well, I couldn’t do it, man. It felt wrong.
You know it’s funny how seemingly insignificant events can shape one’s life. But, that rather small meeting set my course for the future.
A couple of weeks later I signed and collected my DD 217 discharge papers and boarded a train bound for New York City.
And like a pickpocket vanishing into a crowd, I was gone.
After sixty-five years of "hard livin" - Charles R. Bucklin decided it was time to write some stuff down. He is an Author, Humorist, Fantasy, and Heavy Metal enthusiast. He is also the creator of the ongoing short story blog - Read My Kool Tales - which is going on its second year of publication.