Forty years ago this morning I woke up in a concrete block multi-story dormitory on the largest US Air Force installation in the world without a runway, Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas.
Memory fails where it doesn’t merely fade but at some point in the course of the morning I’m very sure I received my very first military haircut for one dollar and twenty-five cents. It was as I had been promised by the recruiter in now distant East Brunswick, New Jersey, indeed, ‘closer to your head than far away.’
Along with the full wardrobe make-over of uniform issued items (most designed to fail to successfully answer the question, ‘what goes with olive drab?’) and three (count ‘em!) pairs of shoes to include oxford low quarters, combat boots and something the USAF called Chukka boots and for which many of us had a slightly different name that rhymed (sort of) with Chukka, I was an Airman.
Whiskey no good, PT so good. Yessir, buddy-from my lips to the Lord’s ear wherever in Texas He may have chosen to be. I can remember exotic fare in the chow hall to include jack-rabbit (but no armadillo), surrounded it always seemed to me by older guys in Smokey the Bear hats (drill instructors, also known as DIs) who did nothing but yollar at MaxVol. In retrospect I should concede they had provocation for their volume and I was a not small part of all that.
I had read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in college and thought it was an hilariously brilliant work of fiction. Eighteen hours of standing at attention on a drill pad behind a quadrangle of barracks buildings being shrieked at led me to reassess my definition of hilarity. So much for Captain Yossarian as a role model-I saw his roomie, Orr, in a whole new light.
As I said, memory fades and huge portions of the Seventies BEFORE "off we go into the wild blue somewhere" became part of my hit parade are forever lost but in bits and pieces, like dailies from a film still being shot, some of what did happen after putting my hand up and solemnly affirming still remain, like cheap and stale scent after a very long night.
If we are everyone we’ve ever met, it would explain why so many of us end up in witness protection and asylums, staring at life as it rolls and sometimes roars past the open window. I always keep my head and hands inside the moving vehicle because sometimes it proves to be a dark ride.-bill kenny