Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eye To Eye

Once in a while, cosmic forces will bring polar opposites crashing violently into each other. I found myself battling for my very soul in one of the debates I knew was imminent the closer and closer I got to getting out.

"So you re-enlisting?" he asks, leaning back on a swivel chair. I give him my typical response to this question: a contorted face that says Are you serious? You gotta be kidding man. You know better.

He laughs. "You might be, just wait."

Already a little offended, I told him, "I can guarantee you with absolute certainty that I won't voluntarily extend my service."

"You say that n--" he began, at which point I sat up and interrupted.

"Since day ONE it's been a four year enlistment. The plans have never changed. Not even for a second. I've always been short. Always."

He's already got the inevitable question ready and fires away. "Why did you enlist?"

"To go to Iraq," my response is as basic as possible.

"Huh...well looks like you got that out of the way."

"Yeah, and now it's just killing time. Listen, I don't hate the Army, not by any means. In a lot of ways, yeah, it's been really cool, but you know how they always half-assed say that the Army isn't for everyone? Well it's true. And I knew it from the beginning. I fucking KNEW that I'd be out of place here and I went and did it anyway. Full knowing it was only four years."

He blinks, so I continue.

"I did it, did all I signed up to do, and now it's just a matter of fulfilling the contract, a technicality, you know? And then I can get out, and start doing what I should have been doing when I was nineteen."

"That's cool man," he offers, keeping the peace. "What are you planning on doing?"

Now it's my turn to slouch in my seat. "Depends on what day of the week it is, how I'll answer that question. Y'know, when the re-enlistment NCO comes around. I'll tell them, 'I'm going to call you while you're eating dinner and try to get you to subscribe to Parade and Vibe and US Weekly.'"

He looks at me like I'm fucking crazy and laughs. Mind you, I'm easily encouraged.

"Yeah, or you know, when I was three, I thought being a garbage man would be a good gig. Or who knows, I'll just tell them something elaborate, something they don't want to hear. I'll tell them my family owns a chain of hotels and they're giving me one to own to teach me about business and all that, get my feet wet. Or.....or I'll tell them that I already have a house lined up, got some roommates who haven't seen me in a while. Then I'll just tell it straight and say that I've decided to move back in with my parents, watch cartoons and eat cereal all night. Maybe flip burgers."

We keep this game going for a good twenty minutes, making up ridiculous answers to life after the Army. Have a few laughs, and then it hits me, and all I do is verbalize it.

"I miss the freedom. Not that Toby Keith flag-waving freedom, but I mean like personal freedom. To be able to do anything you want within reason, live anywhere, be anything. Stop being anything that isn't working. Know what I mean?"

I study him for a second to gauge his reaction. Then I prattle on some more.

"Maybe we just really get used to the way the Army does things. Hell, I noticed something the other day that I've seen a million times, but it never clicked like it first did when I was a new soldier. You know how when an NCO is smoking (forcing an enlistee to do pushups and other exercises as punishment -Ed) someone, they tend to stand there with their arms crossed, watching them? Well I was watching someone get smoked the other day, and I was like, "What the none of my other jobs would I ever have to physically degrade myself because the boss was pissed." You know what I mean? I have NEVER had to crawl through dirt and mud at any other job before. I've never given a boss so much power before."

We laughed about it for a second, because good God, it made SENSE. WEIRD!

"But yeah, it's the freedoms. Be able to do anything you want. Flip burgers and wash cars or sit in a cubicle or scan groceries or manage franchises, become a suit and set fire to Wall Street, write graffiti on the moon (someone has to have done it by now). Go to college, don't go to college. Be a bum or climb the corporate ladder, anything in between. How does that NOT sound appealing? There's endless possibilities, and at any point, you can switch gears or go in a total different direction. You don't like where you live? You can pick up roots and move somewhere new that's better suited to you. You just have to have the drive and courage to do these things, that's what I think. You can't tell yourself that you can't do it."

I stopped and thought about everything I'd just said.

"Fuck, that's what the re-enlistment guys are for. Let THEM tell you you can't."


Anonymous said...

I think all of us have a voice that says "No, you can't do that!" and any authoritarian person or system is perfectly willing to exploit that. Congrats on outing it because it works best when you're not even aware of it.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice how the people who say you can't do it (or that it can't be done) are the same ones who never have?

King Short

BigD said...

Hey Suspect,
Where is my flag cause you make me want to wave it! Not the Toby Keith kind of freedom flag wavin', more like the "I'm free (short) as hell and I'm not gonna take it (Army bullsh*t) anymore" kind of flag wavin'.

Have I told you lately how much I love your prattling? I bet that guy was ready to fall backwards off his swivel chair when you were through with him...HA!

Sign me up for watching cartoons and eating cereal all night.

Rock on with your bad ass Short-Timin' self!

Anonymous said...

ever read Fahrenheit 451?
tells you to think clearly and knowledgeably, cuz no one can tell you what the fuck to do...

Big Tobacco said...

Maybe I look at things differently.

That whole freedom thing isn't as free as you think.

I spent 34 years (minus one year for my last deployment) doing nothing. Really, honestly nothing. You know my claim to fame? I wrote software that helped people buy stuff they didn’t need anyway. I helped commodities traders manage risk on the price of coffee. I helped rental car agencies move their vehicles in and out of inspection faster.

And for what?

I wasn’t free. I was chained to my job, my house, my standard of living, my synagogue dues, my Brazilian housekeeper and my Blackberry.

“Release your attachments. Learn to suffer. You are not special.”

Then I come here. To this place. Now I help people stay alive. I don’t know how to fix a hummer, suture a wound or repair a radio, but I manage the men and women who do. And those men and women are keeping my line platoons running smoothly. I supply the KY Jelly in the world’s greatest anal escapade. I am the lubricant that keeps the mighty fist of the US Army pumping in and out of the butt of the insurgency.

And I am happy. I know that my experience and direction are keeping those men and women alive.

I look at you, a guy who has a wealth of experience that is so sorely needed right now. Trust me, Suspect. You are needed and you will be missed. Would you be that NCO standing there with your hands crossed or would you be the one molding that private into a creature that won’t screw up again?

I’m not suggesting that you reenlist, but do me a favor and at least try to knock out WLC. You may catch the bug one day and suddenly miss this life. Then you’ll join the Guard and want that E5 so you can make a difference.

Or don’t re-enlist and go to college and get a job. After all, I need taxpayers to pay for all that KY Jelly.


Lynn said...

Big tobacco:

Suspect is right about freedom. No offense, but if you did nothing in 34 years, it was because you CHOSE to do nothing. And it wasn't “nothing” anyway. You stayed "chained" to your unfulfilling job because you valued your wife, your kids, your standard of living. You were not required to stay there. If, at any moment, you became as fed up with your life as Suspect is with the Army, you could leave. Yes, that would require making a CHOICE to sacrifice certain things in favor of others, but you still could, and no one would be trying to throw you in jail for it or drag you back to get you blown up or make you do push-ups.

Suspect does not yet have that wife, kids and job thing so, to him, the freedom is real and NECESSARY.  He needs that chance to go out and see what he values, what he wants.  You seem well suited to the military, but I don’t think Suspect is. He’s a little too open-minded and independent. You’re right that he might change his mind later, but he might not. He has to go experience other things to know where he wants to be. There are plenty of ways to “make a difference” that have nothing to do with the military. And frankly, some people don’t care whether they make a difference or not. 

And by the way, Mr. KY jelly, the things you did in your software job provide the lubricant to help the world run smoothly. Did it ever occur to you that, at least in part, what you do in Iraq is done to give the Iraqis the chance to safely live that life of being “chained” to their family and jobs? If it’s so worthless, why bother to fight for that?

Suspect, don’t re-enlist (not that you need me to tell you that). Go chase that freedom. Just don’t let it get so exhilarating that you do something stupid and end up in jail. That’s kind of the antithesis of freedom. 

Anonymous said...

perfect, Lynn. Thanks for writing exactly what I was going to say!

The one thing, and the only thing, that Suspect needs to do with his life live it. In whatever manner he deems appropriate. =)


Anonymous said...

In what world do you live in? I'm pretty sure many employers cross their arms and watch you do work under them! Ive never been military but I've been an employee, and have seen many folks get excited about power.