Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Back on the Chain Gang"

I went off 2 Air Force basic training in Dec 1982, after 5 years of pretty great dead-end jobs, & after a year of total unemployment with no sign of things improving in the future. I'd bn married less than a month. The new wife & I agreed that this was something I could do that might get me closer 2 my chosen career (writing) + bring in a little $$$.
So away I went. I was almost looking 4ward 2 a Great Adventure. I knew all about basic training horror stories -- I was pretty sure nothing would come as much of a suprise. I was wrong.
After 1 of the worst airplane flights I've ever had -- I was absolutely CERTAIN the plane was somehow flying sideways, & later that we were skidding down the runway out of control ... as we flew thru a thunderstorm an hour B4 we landed at San Antonio -- I arrived 2 7 weeks of non-stop screaming, total regimentation, & Bing marched everywhere 24/7.
I wasn't worried about some of it -- I didn't worry about my hair (which was down below my shoulders) all being cut off. I Xpected that. I didn't Xpect the total rush-rush all the time, being screamed at 4 the slightest minor infraction, the unnecessary heavy stress that made summa the guys in R 50-bed open-bay dorm talk or scream out in their sleep.
I thot I handled it pretty well -- better than some, even tho I got "recycled" 6 days, graduated with a whole diffrent group of guys than the 1's I'd gotten 2 know, & at 1 point was forced 2 use crutches 4 a coupla days when a badly-fitting pair of combat boots crushed the nerves across the top of my foot.
But it wasn't totally bad. The food was actually pretty good -- I GAINED 12 pounds during basic, Bcame addicted 2 breakfasts & the fresh slices of fruit pie the chow hall constantly served up.
Some of the classes weren't bad, tho I hated the way we were force-fed some stuff as gospel. 1 sergeant defied us 2 name 1 person who'd "made it" in life without 1st "making it" in the military. The only guy I could think of was Jimi Hendrix, but I wasn't gonna suggest him 2 that crowd. Now I'd know at least a couple of others -- Robert Mitchum ... & I'm sure there R others I've forgotten....
San Antonio wasn't bad -- the little bit of it I got 2 see during basic. & it was good that I felt that way, cos I'd B spending mosta my next 3 years there. Waking up B4 dawn wasn't so bad either -- there was breakfast 2 look 4ward 2, & seeing the 50-man flights of trainees Bing marched 2 the chow hall with their AF-issued flashlights making little circles of light pooling & flashing across the ground....
We were sometimes given A LITTLE free time 2 clean the dorm or shine shoes or write letters home -- letters from home & VERY occasional phonecalls held us all 2gether, & we all Oooh'ed & Aaah'ed at pictures of each others' wives & girlfriends....
1nce in a very great while we were allowed 2 have music in the dorm. I remember hearing Toto's "Africa" & The Who's "Athena" & maybe some Hall & Oates. A buncha guys did a great impromptu performance of "The Message" 4 those of us who were on KP duty during Christmas Day. But that was about it....
Finally it came 2 an end & we all survived & graduated, & we were allowed as a group 2 visit the nearby "Shopette" 2 bag essentials B4 we were shipped out the next day. & as I circled around the tiny store looking 4 shoelaces & Dr Scholl's air-cushion insoles & shoe-shining stuff & Ghod knows what, I heard the store's sound system & Chrissie Hynde's voice singing something new....
"The powers that be/That force us to live like we do/Bring me to my knees/When I see what they've done to you...."
Knew it was Chrissie -- I'd played the 1st Pretenders album 100's of times -- it had gotten me thru 1980 in 1 piece. & the best parts of their 2nd album had certainly helped brighten up 1981. But I hadn't heard them lately....
"And I'll die as I stand here today/Knowing that deep in my heart/They'll fall to ruin one day/For making us part...."
It was like a letter from home. It seemed 2 sum up how I felt about my situation, & about being separated from my new Mrs. But in its bittersweetness it also seemed 2 say that things would B OK, that things would get better & life would go on.
It was just what I needed 2 hear at that time, in that place.
I went on 2 the Armed Forces Journalism School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, in early Feb, & soon got sucked in2 a wide-ranging, demanding 10-week journalism & public-affairs course that I thot I would flunk out of EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
There was more good music I heard there that helped hold me 2gether until I graduated in May -- Bob Seger's "Even Now" & Stevie Winwood's "Still in the Game" & "Valerie," & Genesis's "You Might Recall," & Dire Straits' LOVE OVER GOLD album, & Modern English's "I Melt With You" & their AFTER THE SNOW album. & Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was all over the radio. & Men at Work's "Be Good Johnny," Fleetwood Mac's "Wish You Were Here," & more I can't even remember now.
I heard "Chain Gang" again on the radio a few nites back. I hadn't heard it in awhile, but every time I do it takes me back 2 that time -- hearing it 4 the 1st time in that little store at basic training, & how it seemed 2 sum-up what I was living thru at that time, & how it still sums-up parts of my life, looking back:
"Like a break in the battle was your part/In the wretched life of a lonely heart...."

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