Off to Basic

30 January 2008

Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others. -Robert Louis Stevenson

Basic training is just that, basic training. At the time of my enlistment the Army had an 8-week training plan designed to take young men and women from the streets of the hood, or the fields of the farm, whichever the case may have been, and transform them into lean, mean, fighting machines. Hooah. I hadn’t heard a peep from my recruiter, Sergeant Michaud since the fateful day I singed the six year contract to be all I could be when on the eve of my shipping out he called. You ready to go tomorrow Jo?


I’m ready. Do you think I should get a haircut before I leave? I had pretty long hair at the time; I was a product of the70s after all. This may explain why I find That 70s Show somewhat funny today.


Nah, don’t worry about it, you’ll be good. I’ll be by to pick you up at eight.


Apparently there was some sort of rule requiring recruiters to drive their enlistees to the MEPS on the day of shipping out because I was not allowed to have my parents drive me though they would be permitted to meet me there and see me off properly.


At the MEPS, I along with 3 others took the oath of enlistment again before receiving a quick briefing on the dos and don’ts of traveling to basic training. We were recruits and expected to behave in the manner of such during our travels from Portland, Maine to Fort Dix, New Jersey.


Rodgers! You’re the senior man. That puts you in charge of this squad. You’re to hand carry these documents. Don’t lose them and don’t lose these plane tickets. Upon arrival to Newark airport make sure everyone in your squad retrieves their luggage and lead them to the military liason office located near the Greyhound desk where you will receive instructions and bus tickets to take you to Fort Dix. What are your questions?


So I found myself in charge. My folks followed us to the airport where we exchanged goodbyes. My mom cried. Turning to my rag tag squad I gave my first order. Let’s go wait in the waiting area.


I was nervous. I knew fear. Fearful of what lay ahead. My recruiter had downplayed basic training whenever I asked what to expect and now I found myself responsible for getting myself and 3 other kids to Fort Dix all the while behaving in the manner expected of Army recruits.


The attractive Delta Airlines gate keeper made the announcement that our flight had been delayed. My squad decided it would be a good idea to get some lunch. And some beer. We marched to the airport bar and got some lunch using the vouchers they had given us at the MEPS. The beer we had to pay cash for.


A large amount of cash changed hands while we waited at the bar. Are you the Rodgers party? They just announced last boarding call for your flight to New Jersey.


Shit. Let’s go guys!


I knew fear. Fearful that I had fucked everything up the first time I was put in charge. We drunkenly dashed through the airport making it to the gate just in time to board. The attractive Delta Airlines gate keeper chuckled as she took our boarding passes wishing us luck as we entered the long hallway to our plane. Good luck boys.


A Kiss is Just a Kiss

26 January 2008

I kissed my first girl and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I haven’t had time for tobacco since. -Arturo Toscanini

I was standing away from the bar, near the dance floor watching the sea of bodies move with the rythm of the B-52s blaring from speakers overhead. I had a bottle of beer in my hand, Heineken.

I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20, so hurry up and bring your jukebox money.

Out of nowhere a woman steps in front of me, grabs my face with both hands and kisses me like there was no tomorrow. She had great lips. Her hair was blonde, well blondish, she smelled wonderful and as shocked as I was I didn’t push away. In fact, I felt myself drawing in closer, deeper, feeling her breasts press against me the whole time kissing as if we were Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in the film A Farewell to Arms.

Glitter on the mattress
Glitter on the highway
Glitter on the front porch
Glitter on the hallway

When finally we broke, she looked deep into my eyes, took the bottle of beer from my hand drawing a healthy swig without breaking eye contact and said, You have nice lips. I just stood there awash with colored lights and watched her well rounded ass walk away never to be seen, smelled, or tasted again.

Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale, and it’s about to set sail!

The call came in to launch four of our CH47 helicopters. We were to fly to the port of Bari, then across the Adriatic to Albania to evacuate Americans who found themselves caught in the middle of a coup or some such. I was at the time the flight platoon platoon sergeant and hopped on one of the aircraft to be the NCOIC of the operation. We were flying in pairs heading south when our pilot announced we had a problem with one of the engines. Long moments of silence alerted me that this was not a simple problem, but a serious one. Having crewed for several years with more than a thousand hours under my belt I recognized the feeling I was having in my gut and told the flight engineer to shut down the internal fuel tank and prepare for a hard landing. The pilot either taking my lead or maybe realizing himself that the problem was indeed more serious than originally thought made a radio call to our sister ship declaring an emergency landing.

Sign says.. Woo… stay away fools, ’cause love rules at the Lo-o-ove Shack!

I began looking out the bubble window searching for a suitable place to land the 27,000 lb monster of a helicopter when the pilot instructed the crew members to start searching for a suitable place to put this bitch down.

I spoke into the microphone pressed against my lips. I’ve got a farmer’s field at 3 o’clock, looks like it’s been recently tilled.

The pilot accepted the farmer’s field as a suitable place to put the bitch down and began turning the aircraft towards it while pulling in as much power as he could in an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to slow our descent. We were dropping like a rock. My heart was racing, my gut a knot.

Well it’s set way back in the middle of a field, Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back.

When we hit the recently tilled field, we hit hard. So hard I felt my teeth rattle. So hard we bounced back into the air. I felt the ass end of the Chinook raise higher until I could look from where I was sitting in the rear of the cabin straight down through the cockpit window seeing only dirt. Freshly tilled dirt. We’re going to flip. We’re going to die. This is going to be a mess.

The nose of the aircraft hit the ground, the turning rotor blades did not, the ass end instead of flipping over as predicted, sat right back down on it’s rear and everything stopped. We didn’t die. It wasn’t a mess. I do believe in miracles.

Bang bang bang on the door baby!
Knock a little louder baby!

We got everyone out of the aircraft that had somewhat sunk into the freshly tilled dirt. I knelt and kissed that freshly tilled dirt and damn near kissed the angry old Italian farmer for freshly tilling the dirt. A kiss afterall, is just a kiss.


24 January 2008

If you come to a fork in the road, take it. -Yogi Berra

Every journey, good or bad, has at least one memorable fork in the road I imagine. Personally, I can’t count how many forks in the road I’ve come across  through my travels and I suppose I would still be standing there, looking, wondering, guessing which to take if not for following my gut and taking one, or the other.

Do I ever wonder what life might have been like had I taken the other fork? Absolutely. Do I regret not taking it? Never.

I applied to only one college my senior year in high school. Syracuse University had a very reputable communications school and as I aspired to be a journalist, naturally I applied to Syracuse. My application to the Newhouse School of Communication was denied, writing skills found to be lacking, however, I was accepted to the liberal arts program. I chose the road to upstate New York becoming an Orangeman, whatever that is, and studied liberal arts, whatever that is.

Three years later I dropped out. My college experience was wonderful, I learned quite a bit, mostly about myself which is ultimately why I dropped out. Had I taken the wrong road by accepting the alternative?

Not entirely comfortable with the notion of being a 21 year old out of work college dropout living at home with mom and dad, I made my way to Long Island finding work in the restaurant business. Cooking and bartending were skills I acquired early on that have come in handy over the years. Sometime in that initial year after leaving Syracuse, I ran into an old high school pal, Denise. Denise and I were good friends in school, we got along famously, shared a lot of laughs. Denise was always a looker, but the 4 years since high school had been very kind to her, she had blossomed into a hottie. Though her newfound hotness may have been more as a result of my newfound ability to see more clearly since leaving high school.

Denise and Karen, a hottie in her own right, were planning a trip to Australia. They invited me to join along. Sort of Three’s Company on the road and abroad I guess. Their plan was to obtain tourist visas to visit the land down under with the intent to immediately upon arrival find work, under the table of course, and an apartment and stay for a year or two. The tourist visa was for 3 months.

At the same time another old friend, Mark, had called and invited me to live with him in a beachfront dive on Siesta Key, Florida. So there I faced yet another fork. Live in Australia, albeit as an illegal alien, with two hotties and have the experience of a lifetime, or move to Florida.

By the time Denise and Karen returned to the good old USofA I was serving in the Army, being all I could be.