Chapter One: Temporary Insanity
It was a warm spring day in April. The air was full of promise for new and challenging ventures. After three years spent in small Missouri towns, Earnest Seeker was ready to get out into the wider world once again. He finished his last classes at the high school. He said goodbye to the principal and the other teachers and thanked them for their friendship, help and support. Tomorrow he would be off for the big adventure.
He knew it was crazy in a way. Was he insane? Some people looked at him as if that was the case when he told them about his plans. He had been married less than two years. Now his wife was seven months pregnant. And he was embarking on a wild adventure to the other side of the country and maybe the world and would have to leave her behind. Feelings of doubt and guilt crept into his soul. He wondered if what he was doing was right. On the other hand, there was the feeling of hope, adventure and escape from the deadening boring life that he had begun to sink into. He would not succumb to the idiocy of rural life.
He and his young wife loaded the last of their possessions into his small car and headed for his parent’s house forty miles away. The days had become long, so there was still daylight after they arrived.
His elderly parents were also suspicious of his intentions.
He walked around the old home place, as if taking a last look. He would not be seeing it for a while. The damp spring air was comforting. The grass had grown up along with spring weeds. The aroma of spring blossoms filled the air. He loved the place after a fashion, but could not fathom staying there any length of time. He felt the urge to get out into the larger world.
He made love to his wife in the evening. It was not clear exactly what her thoughts were. It did not really matter. He knew that he had to do it anyway. His mind was made up. It was salve for his restless soul.
There was hardly any packing to do. He was to leave with just the clothes on his back, essentially. He would take only a tooth brush, a bar of soap, and a razor, some basic toilet items. He would be off in the afternoon. The Navy recruiter had arranged pick him up in the local town some twenty miles away and drive him to Kansas City where he would stay overnight. The next day he would sign away the next precious years of his young life.
The following morning, he walked in the pasture north of the house with his father. The cow his father had given him was about to have a calf. In the afternoon, she would lie down and die shortly after giving birth. Was it a bad omen?
At Trenton, he said goodbye to his parents and wife and joined the others in the car for the city. It was less than a three-hour ride. Uneventful. He had little to say to the two other guys and anyway they would rather smoke than talk, it seemed. There was not much to say anyway.
They were left off at a motel in the suburbs where they would be picked up the next morning for the trip to the Armed Forces Examining and Entering Station. Earnest Seeker was now alone. In a way, it was a relief. He had always felt alright being on his own. In a way, he was a natural born loner. He sometimes liked friends and would have to get used to being around a lot of men while in the new life he was about to enter in the United States Navy, but for now, it was comforting to just be on his own.
He watched a little TV but there was nothing he wanted to see. So he went down to the package store below and bought a six-pack of Coors beer. It was cool and light and would get him through the evening. He could drown his doubts and loneliness in the buzz of the alcohol. The promise of adventure outweighed his feelings if doubt. Existentially, he would take whatever came. He was on the roller coaster and his future was out of his hands. Or about to be, once he signed his name to that piece of paper that would commit him for six long years.
The next morning the Navy guys came right at eight o’clock. He was picked up in a small bus that had several other victims headed for the same venue. At AFEES, it was the same routine again. They were run through for the physical examination, which he had taken only a month or so before. A distasteful and crude exercise for Earnest. The last thing he wanted to do was to line up with a row of hairy nude guys, bend over, and pull his cheeks apart for a Navy doctor to look up his anus.
After a tasteless lunch, they were ushered into a room and given a lecture at the end of which they would be asked to sign the papers ushering them into the armed forces of the United States of America. They would no longer be the owners of their own lives. They would be owned by the Government. They would have to raise their right hands and be sworn in. They were warned that this was a serious juncture. Once they had signed and taken the oath, there was no turning back. They would be trapped. If they decided to back out after this point, the military would fight like a son-of-a-bitch to prevent them from leaving at any cost. They would then be owned, virtual slaves, to the most powerful country in the world.
It was at this point that he had his most serious doubts. Indeed, who could know what would be the result? It was the case that hundreds died every year as a result of taking this oath. Indeed, hundreds took their own life as a result of what had happened to them as members of the Armed Forces. It was truly an existential moment. To think too deeply about the repercussions would make one go mad. It was also a moment of temporary insanity, necessarily so, as there could be no serious consideration of such an act as rational. Rational, it was not.
On the other hand, it was like getting on a wild roller coaster. There would be ups and downs, wild rides and spills and no one could really know what it felt like unless they actually did it. What the hell?
Whatever was to happen, it would put an end of the dull life in rural Missouri that seemed to be the alternative. He resigned himself to the gallows, signed the papers and took the oath. It was finished. He was now a member of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
Earnest, along with some twenty others heading to boot camp, were told to wait. Around five in the afternoon, Seeker was put in charge of three other recruits who would be travelling with him to the boot camp in San Diego. They were given their plane tickets and taken to the airport in a small bus.
It was a hopscotch trip across the country, switching planes in Denver, Las Vegas, Orange County and finally landing in San Diego. It was adventure, and to that extent he was enjoying it. After all, he loved to travel.
It was after ten in the evening when the plane landed in foggy San Diego. Earnest Seeker collected his three charges and headed out of the airport. They had no luggage to collect, just a small carry-on bag they had brought, according to instructions. The night was cool, damp, in the California pea soup. A little ways from the airport exit, there it was. Earnest spotted a rather broken down bus, like a school bus, except that it was painted Navy blue. It was just like the old school buses he had ridden when in High school. This was the vehicle that would take them to NTC, the Naval Training Center which was nearby.
Earnest politely asked the driver if it was the right bus. The driver was quite young, but fat and out of shape with a large girth. He was slouching lazily in the driver’s seat looking at the porno pictures in a Hustler magazine which he had stolen from a recruit earlier in the evening.
Not even taking his eyes off the nudes in the porno magazine, he growled at them in a hostile tone. “Get in, motherfuckers, and shut the fuck up. No talking. You’re in the military now.”
It wasn’t obvious, so why not ask? Why the growling? What a bore, Earnest thought. He needed to know if this was the right bus and how the hell could he know since he didn’t come here to catch it every day. It was depressing, but surely things would be looking up.
A few other recruits straggled in from evening planes that were landing. They got the same dressing down from the prick of a driver. He eyed them, watching to see if they had something that he could steal, such as another porno magazine.
Eventually, he started up the old crate and cruised around the exit road. It was a short trip around to the main gate of the Naval Training Base that was attached to a training center for the Marine Corps. Near the perimeter of a drill field he stopped in front of a two story barracks. There were already a crowd of recent recruits who had arrived in civilian clothes.
“Get the fuck out, you swingin dicks,” the driver barked, trying to look authoritative. It struck Earnest as rather childish. His job obviously did not require a very high level of intelligence.
“Move it, move your asses,” he barked. “You cocksuckers. Your gonna be fucked here tomorrow.”
Earnest and the other three recruits scampered off the bus and away from the demented fool who had pulled out his Hustler again. It was all a macho act. He probably has a shriveled dick, Earnest figured, and wishes he was one of the marines who was muscular and getting some pussy in their small town.
An enlisted petty officer met the new arrivals.
“OK, cocksuckers, pussies, fall in behind.” It was Friday evening, so they would have to sit around until Monday when their processing for a training company would take place. Earnest thought he would kill time by reading the book which he had brought, The Godfather.
“All fuck books, comics, reading materials, hand it over,” he growled. The red-neck petty officer took his only book, leaving him with nothing to read. They were shown the rack where they were to sleep on the upper floor.
After that, Earnest went down and out of the barracks. The others were wandering around. There was a sort of large lounge room, where some recruits were sitting around. A broken down TV set was running and some books about the Navy with pictures of Navy ships lay around. There was loud crude talk and some fights were going on. There was nowhere to escape. Looking around, he saw that half the chairs were broken.
It was soon time for lights out. Earnest slipped out of his clothes and turned into his rack. There were double decks and he had the lower one. Tired from the trip, he lay awake for some time, still feeling the motions of the planes he had been on. He would have to get used to flying again. It had been a while. He was in for it. There was no getting out and now he would take whatever came along. No choice. Nevertheless, he had enjoyed the flights. It was an adventure, although not all pleasant.
Morning came quickly. Four o’clock to be exact. The bare furnished and ugly barracks room was suddenly flooded with an intense bright light that pained even him at his relatively young age. Then he heard it, the most vulgar rant of gutter language he had ever heard from a human mouth.
“You dick sucking motherfuckers. You pussies. You cunts. Drop your fucking cocks. Grab your socks. Out of them racks and on your feet. Move it, shitheads. You have two minutes to get your fucking asses out, motherfuckers. Hit the deck and fall in. You civie scum. I’ll ream you a new asshole if you are not down on the grinder in sixty seconds.”
Earnest was appalled at the incredible crudeness of the assault. What the fuck was that? What could be the purpose of it? An attempt at terrorizing the fresh young recruits with a blue streak of sewer vulgarity? It was so far over the top that he could not really take it seriously. Maybe it was beginning to appear that he was not really Navy material. It was too easy for him, somewhat older and having been to the university, to really take it seriously. It was not even a good comedy.
Nevertheless, he moved quickly. Getting his civilian clothes on while he got his eyes open in the early hour, he rushed down the ladder. On the edge of the grinder the straggly recruits were starting to form up in ranks, four deep. A petty officer was barking at them, calling them worms. They had not yet learned to stand stock still at attention, so this would be their designation for the next three weeks. The whole section of the Training Center was called “Worm Island.”
Once formed up, they were marched across the asphalt drill field, referred to as the grinder, to the mess hall. Even though it was early in the morning, Earnest was hungry, hungry as fuck.
They were ordered to halt behind ranks of other recruits in front of them. Even though there was no shortage of room, outside the mess hall, the petty officer kept harassing them continuously to move it up. “Move it up. Move it up in there, you pussies, you civie scum. Nut to butt. Nut to butt. Don’t bend over. I’ll ream you a new asshole, you pussies.”
Seeker began to wonder what the fuck he had gotten himself into. Something as simple as going to eat breakfast was being made into an excuse to terrorize them. What was the purpose of such crude brutality? In fact, the real terrorization and dehumanization would not begin for another two days. But the petty officers enjoyed playing with the fresh young recruits, since they were the lowest caste with no rank at all. They were the only souls lower on the totem pole, the chain of command, than them. They were equivalent to outcasts in India, Earnest reflected.
Slowly but surely, the mass of civie bodies poured into the mess hall where they grabbed a tray and a plastic fork. As they moved along the line, the mess hall items were thrust at them in a crude fashion by the cooks behind the counter. Most of them were black women. A paper plate with a pile of scrambled eggs, actually egg powder, some strips of fatty bacon, a couple of pieces of buttered toast and a small packet of milk.
They were given five minutes to gulp the food down and ordered back in the ranks to wait for the order to march. Then they were marched back to the barracks across the asphalt grinder in the cold air. Half way there, they were ordered to halt. The petty officer ordered them to show him what they had in their pockets. If anything came out that he particularly liked, he would order them to turn it over to him. The only thing he was not taking was their money. They were still in civilian clothes, after all.
Back at the barracks, Earnest tried to entertain himself in the large room with the dirty broken down chairs. He had no desire to carry on a conversation with the others, being older than them. There was nothing interesting they could discuss, anyway. He would have to wait it out and see what would come when the real shit started to hit the fan on Monday morning.