Chapter Two: The Redneck
There were two days to kill. Earnest’s book that he had brought to read had been stolen by the petty officer the first night. He could not even use his mind to the extent of reading a novel.
It happened the next day, Saturday, shortly after lunch. He was killing time with some of the other recruits in the sunshine in front of the barracks. Suddenly, a gray Navy van appeared and stopped near where they were standing. A small built petty officer jumped out and started to assert himself by harassing the recruits. He reminded Earnest of those small animals that puff themselves up to look larger and fearsome to an enemy. He was wearing Navy dungarees, the work uniform, and there were two stripes on his sleeve. His face was rough and withered from over-smoking with a crooked mouth. He pulled out a pack of Camels and lit a cigarette. He was a second class boatswains mate, an E-5 enlisted man.
Taylor looked around apparently for an opportunity to harass someone just for the hell of it. Having suffered in life, he enjoyed making others suffer. It gave him a false feeling of efficacy. Earnest was minding his own business, trying to blend into the woodwork and not be noticed. But it was not to be. His attempt was futile. When one is an ignorant redneck the fact shows up clearly on one’s face. It is a clear mark of class. Surveying the recruits, Taylor saw that there was something that did not set right. Something was out of place in the picture that met his eyes. The scene did not seem normal for him. Somehow, Earnest stood out in spite of himself. The exercise for the next eight weeks would be one of breaking down the egos of the recruits. For those with no university education, which was practically one-hundred percent, it was a relatively easy task. They had never had to think. Earnest, on the other hand, had a radically different bearing, no matter how much he tried to hide it. The mark of intelligence on his face came across as a real threat to the cocky little petty officer from the South. It was the part of the country, after all, that hated educated persons the most. It was as if he could read Earnest’s mind and see that Seeker saw right through his phony strutting around. Earnest seemed to even be enjoying it. It was that educated look that he sometimes saw on the face of officers. It suddenly turned Taylor red with hatred.
Taylor momentarily seemed to not know what to do. He had come here to harass some dumb shits from a small town somewhere in the sticks. He took a step toward Earnest threateningly. Earnest looked at him in a relaxed manner as if he had met the ignorant son of a bitch in a bar and was ready to treat him to a beer.
Then he suddenly realized the nature of the situation. The little guy was there to see what he was made out of. If it was anything other than stupidity and ignorance, then Earnest would be in a world of shit. The other problem was that Seeker, at twenty-eight years old, was a good seven or eight years older than most recruits. Earnest realized that he would have to act out a lie that he was stupid, even more stupid than the redneck standing in front of him. It was something completely new that had never happened to him before. How could he instantaneously erase five years of university education?
“You, what ah you doin heya? What’s ya nayum? Why dja join the Navy, recroot?” the petty officer asked in a deep southern accent. What could Earnest say? What did he have to say to save his ass from this stupid redneck Taylor? He would be expected to say a certain thing, that is, tell a lie, even though the redneck would know it was a lie. It would get him by, if it was the right lie. After all, a redneck’s life was based on lies that he at least partially believed in.
Earnest realized that he had to act stupid to save his ass from this little asshole. Fleeting ideas floated through Seeker’s head. The real reasons for joining would make absolutely no sense to this little dick head. He could not say that he was sick of high school teaching and that it was a way to get out and see some of the world. What would such an idea mean to a southern redneck?
Earnest suddenly realized that he had to call the dick head “sir.” Sir, that’s all. Just sir. It went totally against his nature. He saw Taylor’s fists curling up at his sides and a twisted look of hatred on his face. Would the son of a bitch be so foolish as to actually hit him? Probably, Earnest figured. Violence was a way of life in his part of the country and sometimes in the Navy. He didn’t want to take the chance.
“I wanted to do something for my country,” Earnest squeaked, lamely, sounding like an idiot and feeling like an absolute fool. Taylor knew that Earnest was full of shit. But wasn’t everybody? He enjoyed humiliating him. But he wasn’t fooling Earnest who saw through the charade.
“What avya been doin? Ya too ole to be a recroot.”
Earnest was really up shit creek now. What could he say? The truth might clearly get him killed.
“I was in the university, Sir,” Seeker came clean.
He saw a sneer spread across Taylor’s weathered face.
“A colluj bowa,” he mocked. “Mothahfuck, I could see it on ya shit eatin face, ya goddamm fuckin pinko fagut. Ya look like a mothahfuckin cock-suckin offsah.” Earnest was afraid Taylor was going to hit him now for sure now.
“Ann whadja do aftah that, coluj bowa?” the dick head spit out.
“The Peace Corps, Sir,” Earnest squeaked.
“What ina fuck izat?” came from the little tight screwed up face.
“I went to India, Sir,” Earnest moaned, now with an audible tremble in his voice.
Hearing the name of a foreign country was like waving a red flag at a bull. Taylor’s face was red now, but he was over his head. He seemed to realize that harassing Earnest was not as much fun as he had anticipated.
“Ya a fuckin commanist from a comanist countrah and now ya wanna jine my Navy, mothahfucker? Ah otta ream you a new asshole, you fuckin traitaah. Geta fuck off my quartah deck, ya pinko fagut.”
There was no way that Earnest could tell Taylor that India was not a communist country. What the hell? But Taylor had had enough. His stupid little act had fallen through. He was getting out of his element.
“Ah otta write cha up and getcha sen ta the brig,” Taylor barked. But now he had accomplished his purpose. He had forced Earnest to quiver in front of him, not him, actually, but the brutal system of military barbarism, the perverted values that he represented. Never mind, that Seeker had just been putting on an act. It greased Taylor’s sorry ego.
Taylor looked around. The other recruits were quiet too. Would he now jump onto them?
Taylor seemed satisfied at having played his game. But meeting a guy with brains and intellect was a rather disorienting experience. He would have to let it go. Earnest had the brains of an officer but the lifer Taylor, had never been allowed to fraternize with an officer. He was out of his element.
He regretted not having jumped on one of the young recruits from a small town. That would have been more down his alley.
Taylor had to let it go. He stepped back into the gray Navy truck and screeched away. It had not turned out exactly as he had wished. Now he would probably go the enlisted club and get drunk on the cheap happy-hour beer. He would try to fuck another sailor’s wife in the evening, while her husband was away on a Westpac cruise. He knew where she lived and had her phone number. She was a little fat, but she was pussy.
Earnest felt like a fool. But he had done what he had to do. He had played stupid and saved himself from the petty officer’s ignorance.
When he had the time to reflect on it, Earnest took it to heart. He realized that he was way over-qualified for the rank he would have as an enlisted man. His designated duty was to act and be stupid, subordinated to the officer class, whose members generally had less education and experience than him. This meant that merely his presence was going to be a threat to both officers and enlisted alike. He would have to learn how to act dumb. But he could make friends and have some buddies to run around with. He would have running mates to steam with, to get drunk and laid from time to time. He would pretend to go along with their values to the extent necessary.
It was going to be somewhat tricky. It was a useful lesson early on. His official job description clearly included the category of idiot. It was a lesson that would take him a long way and that he realized that he should never forget. No matter how clearly he saw through the fuck-ups of the Navy, he could not let on that he actually got it. The uneducated enlisted could point it out in an inarticulate way, but then, they did not count.
On Sunday evening he got rid of his moustache. He loved wearing a beard, but had given that up when he went for high school teaching. Now, he made the sacrifice and parted with the rest of his facial hair. He was in the United States Navy.