When I opened the door to the recruiting office all those years ago, I heard a little voice inside my head whispering the line that’s been repeated in so many novels and movies. “Better give your soul to Jesus, because your ass belongs to the United States Navy.” I really should have listened to that voice. Instead, I walked in and talked to the recruiter. I was young, I was bored, I wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.
Part of what motivated me was my father’s recent death. My extended family is large – and over the years, a lot of relatives had died. My dad’s was not the first funeral I’d ever attended, but I had never experienced the death of someone personally close to me. I was a little lost. Somehow I became convinced that 9 to 12 weeks of someone screaming into my face basic training and 4 to 6 years of military discipline was exactly what I needed.I called my sister the Virgo, who had recently gotten out of the Air Force, to ask her advice on how to handle certain … um … issues in my past. Namely, I smoked pot in high school. I smoked a LOT of pot. I did some other stuff, too. Some of the “other stuff” put me on a trip that lasted for four days and I ended up in rehab. The Virgo told me not to lie. She said if I lied, they would find out and it would be a lot worse than just not getting in because I told the truth. Damn.
I compromised. I told some of the truth. I mentioned what I had to mention, things that were already on record at the rehab facility. Because I was so young, I blamed the rehab itself on my parents and said that they had freaked out when they found out I had gotten drunk once. Because of that history, I had to do some things that other recruits didn’t have to do. I had to get letters of recommendation. I had to have a psychiatric evaluation. I had to talk to the Commanding Officer (of the MEPS station, I guess) and convince him I belonged in the Navy.But back to the first day. The first day, they made me take a little test. It had all kinds of questions on it. Math, science, reading comprehension. It was a hard test. The recruiter made me wait a few minutes while he scored it and then he told me I got a 67. I was pissed.
“Oh my God. I can’t believe I flunked the test.”
“You didn’t flunk. You got a great score!”
“A 67 is not great. That’s awfully close to not even passing!”
“No, you don’t understand. Women have to score a 42 to pass this test. You got a 67. That means you can do anything, go into any kind of job you want.”
As it turns out, women had to have a 42, but men could pass with a 37, I think. It may have been 39. It was a few points less than women. Discriminating bastards.
Then I had to go downtown to the MEPS place, which I think stood for Military Enlistment Processing Station. I’m not sure anymore. All I really remember is that it was another fucking nightmare.
I had to take another battery of tests. These tests were even harder and were designed to find out at what job you would excel. There were a lot of nonsense words – to see if you would be a language specialist. Lots of mechanical stuff – to see if you would be some kind of engineer. And there were probably questions designed to unleash a recruit’s potato-peeling potential. That’s the real reason I went through all the crap with telling the truth about my shady past. I didn’t want to peel potatoes for four years. I wanted to do something interesting, something I could take with me when I left the service. And all of the really interesting jobs require a security clearance.
After those tests, I had to go back to the MEPS building the next morning – at 5 am. Yes. 5am. Fuck. I should have stopped the process right then. I really should have known that the Navy was not for me. I was young, what can I say? I thought I could not only change the world, but I thought I could influence the United States government.
So I showed up at 5am. I was cranky. I was pissed off. I saw 18 year olds sitting in the lounge watching cartoons. For some reason, the cartoon-watching infuriated me. Hey, kids, you’re gonna join the fucking Army … let’s watch the NEWS so you know what you’re about to die for, eh? I glanced at their feet and noticed that not just one of them, but ALL of them had on tennis shoes with velcro straps. (That was back in the day when velcro was cool, however, I was less concerned with their coolness than I was with their intelligence. More on this in a moment).
I saw all kinds of doctors that day. I had to have a pap smear. The doctor was .. um .. let’s say he was not very careful. I had to have a routine physical. Then, in groups of three and four, we had to do certain exercises to indicate that we had no physical defects. Ooops. No, I don’t have physical defects. But I’ve never been an athlete. I’ve never even been especially coordinated. The doctor made us squat. In our underwear, no less. Then he said the magic words, “Now walk like a duck.” Fuck a duck. I tried. I took two steps and my hip popped and I nearly screamed. To prevent myself from screaming in pain, I threw my leg out to the side to relieve the pressure on my hip. He made me do it again. Thanks, you sadistic bastard. I nearly swallowed my tongue to keep from crying, but I did it again and managed to pass that little test.
Then it was time for the paperwork. In triplicate. Grandparents’ names. Mother’s maiden name. Mother’s date of birth, father’s date of birth. Mother’s address, father’s address. At that point I decided to save a little time. I wrote DECEASED in the address field. I finished all the paperwork and then had to review it with someone. When she got to that field, she said, “I need to know your father’s address.”
I said, “He’d deceased,” and pointed helpfully at that line on the page.
She said, “Yes, but I need to know his address.”
“He’s deceased.” I’m confused by now and losing patience.
“Okay, but I still need to know his address for our records.”
Oh. My. God. (It didn’t occur to me until later that maybe she thought I meant “divorced.”) All I remember is that I saw red. Literally.
“Miss! HE’S DEAD! He doesn’t HAVE an address because he’s been CREMATED!” I shouted it. And yes, people stopped what they were doing to stare at me.
I called the recruiter and spent ten minutes yelling at him. At the top of my lungs. In the middle of the ‘lounge’ of the MEPS station.
“Do you realize what they’re putting me through? I just talked to someone who doesn’t know what the word deceased means! They let HER in! And you’re making ME jump through hoops to join your fucking Navy? These goddamn kids are wearing velcro-strap shoes because they’re too fucking dumb to TIE THEIR SHOELACES and yet I have to get letters of recommendation? I passed your fucking test with the highest score you’ve seen in ten years but I have to have a psych eval? I’M NOT CRAZY! YOU’VE GOT PEOPLE IN HERE WHO DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT DECEASED MEANS AND I’M SMART ENOUGH TO TIE MY OWN SHOES, you motherfu …”
At that point someone tapped me on the shoulder. Remember that I had to talk to the CO and convince him I was Navy material? Yeah. Time for that appointment. I followed the messenger (private? seaman? airman? No clue) up to the CO’s office. I took a seat. I sat there for an hour. The CO was not even in his office. Lunch started. They warned us (at 5:05am) that the cafeteria was only open for one hour for breakfast and one hour for lunch. Anyone who missed those times would just have to starve. I read a magazine. I looked at my watch. There was about 6 minutes left for lunch. I told the private-seaman-airman I was going to get a sandwich.
I got to the cafeteria, got a sandwich, sat down and took one bite. Then the private-seaman-airman tapped me on the shoulder and said the CO would see me now.
“I’ll be there in five minutes. I’m going to finish my sandwich.”
“But he’s ready for you now.” She looked truly horrified.
“And I will be there in five minutes.” She left and the other people at my table were staring at me.
“You can’t do that. If they call you, you have to go! Right now!”
“I’m a civilian. I don’t have to do what anyone says yet. And I’m going to finish my sandwich.”
So I did.
I talked to the CO. He probably wrote down that I was insubordinate. I talked to the shrink. He probably wrote down that I was temperamental and insane. They told me they were going to put it in a neat little package, send it off to Washington and I would hear in 4 to 6 weeks if I was a desirable recruit. Lovely.
In the meantime, the situation between Iraq and Kuwait was heating up. I was over at MoC’s house and we watched Bush 41 make a speech to Congress. It was a great speech. Bush 41 wasn’t the best orator, but that was an inspiring speech. After listening to that speech, I wanted to wrap myself in a flag and jump off a cliff for my country. I said something about being happy to be joining the Navy to fight for truth and justice and … MoC was just staring at me.
In the interest of honesty and integrity, I do not recall the conversation verbatim, except for two lines. So this is how I think it probably went.
“What? Why are you staring at me?”
“You want to be in the Navy? Are you CRAZY?”
“No, I’m not crazy. At least, the Navy hasn’t told me I’m crazy yet. I’m still waiting for their response. Why?”
“You’re an idiot. You’re going to get yourself killed.”
And this is the part that I do recall verbatim.
“I’m not going to get killed. It’s the Navy. They don’t allow women on the front lines and they don’t even allow them in the battle areas. If I were sent there, I’d be way back behind the lines with the supplies or something.”
MoC got a look on her face that I have never forgotten. It was a look of disgust mixed with frustration mixed with disbelief. Disbelief that a child of hers could be so dense, I suppose.
She stared at me for a moment and then she said slowly, as if to a mentally handicapped person, “Cap. Just what exactly do you think they’re going to try to blow up first?”
Oh. Perhaps I didn’t think this through.
As it turned out, MoC needn’t have worried. The Navy decided I was unfit for service. That hurt my feelings.
I should have lied…
Lyric du jour:
In the navy, Yes, you can sail the seven seas
In the navy, Yes, you can put your mind at ease
In the navy, Come on now, people, make a stand
In the navy, in the navy Can’t you see we need a hand
In the navy, Come on, protect the motherland
In the navy, Come on and join your fellow man
In the navy, Come on people, and make a stand
In the navy, in the navy, in the navy (in the navy)
-The Village People
“In the Navy”