Friday, August 18, 2006

Laying Down with Devil Dogs

1400 hrs. The McFab compound.
I'm not a mercenary by choice. Like most men of action, my life's dream has always been to either serve in the armed forces or be the guy that hands out towels to other men of action at my local gym. I got fired from the gym job almost as soon as I started, even though no one had told me about the "no cameras in the showers" policy. As for the military...some stupid test called the MMPI always kept me out.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, as it's formally known, is a series of yes-or-no questions that any normal person would fail. Have I thought of hitting someone with a brick because I hate their hair? Of course. Who wouldn't? But apparently that's the wrong answer. Do I set things on fire when I'm angry? Well, I don't just let my anger fester. That would be crazy. For whatever reason, my responses were never good enough for the new liberal military, and I finally quit trying to join after the local recruiters took out that restraining order.
I was surprised, then, when I got a letter from the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Dogbollocks, a little backwater town about twenty miles from Fort Braggart. According to the writer, one GySgt. Chris Holmes, Master Recruiter and Generally Honest Man, the Marines had recently "adapted" their standards to allow people of my age, physical condition, and state of mind to join up. Especially, it seemed, at the Dogbollocks station, where only three people had tried to enlist this year and all had failed due to being married. To their sisters. Not that the why of it mattered to me.
I had a chance, finally, to wear our nation's uniform, the one real patriots like Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Newt Gingrich would have worn if they hadn't have had other patriotic priorities. I would wear the uniform John Kerry besmirched by earning medals in front of people with different political views; the uniform Oliver North looked so good in while he let the liberal Congress know that real Americans are above any so-called "law." I would be a soldier. A man.
"Mama!" I called down the hall, "can you wash me some underwear? I'm gonna go be a man!"

1600 hrs. Dogbollocks, East Carolina. United States Marine Corps Recruiting Station.
I parked up in the gravel outside the rusting mobile home. It didn't look like much, but the sign outside made up for anything the station lacked in amenities. Join the Marines, it read, It's Not Like Wal-Mart's Gonna Re-Hire You. I combed my mustache twice, and stood at attention a few seconds before walking up the concrete blocks to the door--the doorway to my future.
"Welcome, McFab." I hadn't even knocked yet, and the booming voice came from--behind me. I spun quickly around, ready to face potential danger. No one takes me from behind, unless I'm really drunk and the dude looks like Tom Cruise.
"At ease, dude." It was a Marine, a big one, and according to his blouse it was GySgt. Holmes himself. "I'm former recon," he said, answering my un-asked question. "I knew you'd be coming, so I hid in the bushes eating grub worms and urinating on myself so I could sneak up on you when the time came. Pretty damn sneaky, huh?"
"Y-yes sir." My God, I loved this man.
"Don't call me sir. Call me 'Gunny.' Or 'Gunny Holmes.' Or 'Sweetmeat.'"
"Yes, si--I mean, Sweetmeat."
"Good man!" He clapped me on the back, and I felt a rib detatch itself from my sternum. This was the coolest man alive. He was big, strong, good-looking, and he urinated on himself. A fighting man if I'd ever seen one, and I hadn't. But I've read about them.
"Let's go inside before you die in this heat, you fat piece of shit," he said, and at that point I wondered if he might be God himself. I followed him in.
"Sit," Holmes said, and pointed me to a plastic chair across from his desk. I noted the award plaque on the wall, Unethical Recruiter of the Month, July 2006. So he was a winner. I sat down and shut up while he poured himself a bourbon and coke and took a seat at the desk.
"I guess you know why you're here, don't you?" he asked, after draining the drink in one swallow.
"Yes sir...sir Sweetmeat. I want to be a Marine, and you guys are hard up."
"No, not hard up. 'Adapting.' We prefer to call it 'adapting.' Pour me a drink, would ya?" He handed me his glass and I obliged.
"Now, there are some things that concern me," he said, opening a thick folder on his desk. I could see that it was marked both McFab, Randall Nathaniel, and Crazy as a Soup Sandwich.
"I can explain the psychological tests," I said. "I was--"
"Doesn't matter," Holmes said. "The psyche tests are down to one question now. Let me ask you something, McFab. Are you Napoleon, the French conqueror?"
"You just passed the psyche test. What concerns me, though, is your ASVAB score."
Uh-oh. The ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, is a test administered to potential recruits to test their intelligence, reasoning, mathematical, mechanical, and other skills. It was the measure that determined what jobs one would be suited for in the military, and when I took the ASVAB I had just gotten divorced, had not slept for three days, and had eaten a gram of mushrooms with an Indian mystic named "Eggy" just a few hours before.
"Look, I can explain," I said. "When I took the test, I had just gotten laid, hadn't excercised for three days, and had drank four cups of coffee with a retired Marine just a few fours before."
"Oh, that's not the problem," Holmes said. "The problem is, you spelled your name correctly on the test. The Marines ain't lookin' for smart-boy eggheads. You brainiac types need to be in the Air Farce." He laughed derisively, as only a Marine can do to perfection.
"But...I'm pretty stupid," I said. "I cheat myself at poker all the time."
"Ha! That's Army stupid! We need Marine stupid! Let me ask you this," he said, leaning towards me. "How many times have you shot yourself...while cooking?"
I thought about it. "Grazed, or shot?" I asked.
He nodded. "So far so good, McFab. By the way, do you like the Allman Brothers?"
"Wrong, puke-stain."
"I meant...I don't like them, I love them."
"Good, check this out." Holmes walked over to a gun cabinet and unlocked it, swinging open the heavy steel doors to reveal eight or nine assault rifles and an acoustic guitar. He grabbed the guitar and sat back down. He strummed a few chords and began singing.
"Crossroads seem to come and go, yeah...the gypsy flies from coast to coast..."
He played and sang for a few minutes, finally ending with a heart-felt, "to sweet Melissa..."
He tucked the guitar back in with the M-16's and locked the case.
"Well?" he asked, sitting down.
"That was great." I'd heard a guy in a bar do it better once, but I wasn't about to say that.
"No, not that. The Cong. The VC. You ready? Kill some slants? Good Morning Vietnam?"
"I--I guess, I..." I didn't know what to say. The guy was in his thirties, couldn't possibly be a Vietnam vet.
"Don't guess, soldier. Be. Just be. How much do you weigh, McFab?"
"Two ten."
"That is exactly what Saddam Hussein weighs. So you're a terrorist. I should have known." He stood up, and for a moment I thought he'd swing at me. Instead, he opened a desk drawer and removed a Rubik's Cube. "Head's up!" he called, tossing it to me. "You solve it in ten years, you're in the Corps."
"But...In ten years, I'll be too old to--"
"Fine! Be that way. Give me my cube. Do you like Neil Young?"
"I..." It finally sank in. "You're gonna play Heart of Gold, aren't you?"
"Not necessarily, candidate McFab. I could remove an M-16 from that gun case and play 'watch the heart hit the wall.' Would you prefer that?"
"Neil Young rocks, dude...I mean, Sweetmeat."

2100 hours. Dogbollocks, East Carolina. United States Marine Corps Recruiting Station.
Holmes was finishing up the only acoustic rendition of the Miami Vice theme I'd ever heard when I realized something. This guy wasn't quite normal.
"Gunny Sweetmeat," I asked when he was finished, "did you serve in Iraq by any chance?"
He became perfectly still for a second, then smiled and smashed the guitar against the wall, breaking it into three pieces.
"Served!" he barked. "There! Kurt Cobain! Yeah!"
"Um...did it...did it not go well?"
"Went well. Won. We won. We won. We won. We are the champions, my friend. You know Mario, Mexican Mario? He had...he only had half his face, it was so weird. You could see his brain, and actually, his eye. From behind. So weird, man." He picked up two of the pieces of guitar. "You like Springsteen?"

0100 hrs. The McFab compound.
I was home, sipping a Zima and wondering how something as fun as war could screw somebody up like that. As it turned out, the guy wasn't on active duty anymore, he just had the keys to the trailer.
Sometimes you just can't catch a break. I was too crazy for them, and now they're too crazy for me. Maybe the life of an unemployed mercenary has its advantages.