Thursday, August 21, 2008
Ladies of the San Antonio Ornithological Society
Photo of the yesteryear: San Antonio, 1992, myself and Jeremy. I uploaded this picture to my "golden oldies" folder on Facebook, and the memories started flowing back...
It was the summer of '92, and my fellow soldiers and I were to soon leave AIT at Ft. Sam Houston and go our separate ways. There was one small problem. My civilian clothing pass had been taken away because, at inspection that morning, my boots had not been polished to a ridiculously glass-like shine. My friend Jeremy Beil (Beel? Biehl?) and I had a fun final night planned, and I really did not want to go out and party on the San Antonio Riverwalk in my Class-A uniform. I had suffered through the indignity a few times before. Imagine trying to enjoy yourself in a green suit, hard leather shoes and tie when everyone else is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. No fun.
Jeremy - who retained his pass because he was better at polishing boots than I - was kind enough to smuggle out my civvies in a gym bag. We took a bus to the local USO, where I rented a locker and changed. I remember they had an entire wall displaying "I want YOU!" Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter posters, ending with a vintage 60's poster of a Star Trek TOS Klingon lovingly painted in James Montgomery Flagg's style, complete with the command, "UNITE FOR YOUR EMPIRE!" At any rate, my Class-A's were stashed away and we were ready for fun.
We knew we couldn't get too wild. There was a 1:00 am curfew on Saturday nights, and anyway, we were just looking to feel human again for a few hours. Being the hip, cool, urbane young men we were, we went and saw Star Trek VI on an IMAX screen. (I had seen it about three times, but Jeremy hadn't.) On the way out of the theater, a Drill Sergeant from another company in our battalion - also in civilian clothes - spotted us and motioned us over. I couldn't decide to obey or to run away and pretend I was someone else. Were the cadre at Ft. Sam Houston so desperate to make our lives miserable that they actually had Drill Sergeants out on the town to card our civilian clothes passes? If so, I was severely fucked. Jeremy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to see what would happen.
"Hey, boys," the Drill Sergeant asked with a wink, "you like girls, right?" We blinked, flabbergasted. "You two look like training soldiers to me with those haircuts. Probably haven't had a girl in a while. Well, I got clean girls, nice girls, redheads, blonds, black, Chinese, whatever you like, cheap and clean! What do you like?"
In a flash, I could see the answer to my question was both yes and no. A little background information: Supposedly, at some point in the early '90's, an infantry general had told a general in the medical corps that medics weren't real soldiers. In retaliation, Ft. Sam Houston (the AIT center for medical MOSs) was made the harshest, strictest AIT in the nation. Whereas in basic training we were all told to look out for each other no matter what, in Ft. Sam Houston we were expected to rat each other out and stab each other in the back. Whereas in Basic a mistake was quickly punished, in Ft. Sam Houston, punishment could last for weeks. So yes, they were out on the town trying to make our lives miserable, but no, they weren't carding our civilian clothes passes. Rather, they were trying to entrap us for procuring a prostitute - a criminal offense.
"Yeah, right," I snapped in anger. "They're Clean? What, you have preppie prostitutes?" Jeremy was giving me a wide-eyed "keep your goddamn mouth shut!" look, but I was furious. All the unecessary, crushing, never-ending avalanche of bullshit that I had put up for the past few months - and they were not only trying to ruin my military career but get me a civilain criminal record as well? "Do you have some girls in Catholic school dresses, pimp?" I said, my voice rising. "HEY!" I shouted, "THIS GUY HAS SOME HIGH CLASS HO'S OVER HERE!"
"Fuck off!" the Drill Sergeant growled, giving me a glare that said if we ever met again and it turned out that he outranked me, my touchas would be slashed with razor blades and salt would be mashed into the wounds with a rusty cheese grater. He rushed on down the street.
Jeremy and I had a little discussion at this point. Despite my bravado, I was very afraid, because I could get in major trouble for skipping on the civilian clothes card. I didn't think this guy would backtrack and confront us - after all, we could just be two guys in crewcuts, or soldiers from another base, and he was trying to entrap us. However, if he saw me back on base that night in my class A's, I would be up a certain creek without a certain instrument - disobeying a direct order is disobeying a direct order. We decided to get some dinner and call it an early night.
Part of our plan had always been to patronize the local Hooters, so that's what we did. We had a lot of Coke, (we were both under age, and while that had never stopped me before, there was no one there to buy for us,) a couple of burgers, and a platter of very vinegary wings. Our server was a beautiful woman with brunette colored hair. I know Hooters deliberately hires young ladies with symetrical features, nice legs, and a balcony you could read Shakespeare from merely for the purpose of luring in horny young men, but most of the time it all seems so forced. As I've said before, Hooters is a lesson in advertising: you're promised something you're never actually going to get. However, this one seemed genuinely friendly and spent her frequent trips to our table, (there was a reason we kept ordering Cokes,) joking and talking with us. I told her that I had a bad night. Hell, it had been a pretty goddamn lousy year. I asked if she would mind taking a picture with Jeremy and me and she agreed, calling over a fellow server "so we could look like we were out on a double date and not just a couple of lonely dorks" (her words.) Another customer took the photo, but for some reason, held the camera at an angle. Maybe he was drunk. At any rate, she kissed me on the cheek afterward, (probably a major no-no in the Hooters rule book,) and told me not to worry, it would be all right. I know most of the women reading this are rolling their eyes and sticking their fingers down their throats right now, but too bad. It did make a difference, and it did make me happy for the rest of the night, or at least it calmed my anxiety down quite a bit. Live with it.
I changed back at the USO, gave the recruiting Klingon officer a solemn salute, and took the bus ride back to base, Jeremy happily teasing me along the way. I made it up to the barracks without incident or being spotted long before the 1am curfew. The next morning, we all compared stories. Mine was the happiest. One soldier actually did procure a naughty lady of the night, only to find out afterward that she had stolen his wallet while he was in the bathroom of his hotel room. I don't remember how he explained the loss of his military ID to our Drill Sergeant or how he got the cash to pay for the room, but I don't think it went over well. Another friend who owned a car got loaded, wound up getting arrested for drunk driving, and had to stay another two weeks while he sorted out his legal problems. I laid low all day Sunday. On Monday, never having ran into that "pimping" Drill Sergeant, I took a plane to visit my family in New Jersey.
By the way - Jeremy, if you ever come across this, please say hello, would you?