My column a couple of weeks ago was about my first day in boot camp. It was hardly Pulitzer Prize-winning material, and due to its content, I didn’t think I’d get any feedback on it. But oddly enough, I did.
The first Dope fiend to chime in was Sassy Sue, who e-mailed me from the alligator-infested wilds of southwest Florida.
SS didn’t say much about the column, only that she liked it because it was so “visual.”
I told her if she liked the visual aspects of my boot camp experience so much, I could send her a splendid pan-sensory description of the receiving center’s splendidly anachronistic bathroom. To her credit, she refused.
The next two folks to chime in were former bluejackets themselves: Peter Sayles and Keith Gorgas. Though we each recalled different parts of the experience, we all remembered being made to sing “Anchors Aweigh” when we went through the tunnel connecting the processing center with boot camp itself.
This, in turn, sparked my literally most colorful boot camp memory. It’s a big jump away from discussing responses to my column, but I’ll get back to them — honest. Just is, I wanted to share it with you. Consider it a private service announcement, if you like.
The weirdest Navy blues
During our sixth week in boot camp, all recruits were assigned a week-long duty maintaining the camp itself — in other words, doing all the crap jobs. They ran the gamut from checking in new recruits to restocking storerooms to the dreaded duty in the chow hall
A note about boot camp food: While the recruits complained bitterly about it, the food was excellent. And why wouldn’t it be? Navy cooks — as opposed to the Army, for example — were highly trained and skilled. Plus, all the food was made from scratch (an easy chore when you’ve an unlimited pool of unpaid help).
The only duty the galley slaves hated more than dish washing was baking. First, the bakers got almost no sleep since they had to arrive at work in the middle of the night. And second, they inevitably ended up making a boot camp dessert staple — blueberry pie.
The pie itself was delicious; however, the guys who made it ended up stirring all the gluppo by hand, thus dying their arms bright purple up to the shoulder. They were a sight to behold, for sure, but I think the psychic imprint lasted longer than the physical print: Like Lady Macbeth, they saw a blue tint on their arms long after it’d actually vanished.
And now back to the subject at hand — replies to my column.
The lengthiest and most piercing ones came from a totally unexpected quarter — boot camp itself.
They were from a public affairs specialist of the company that owns the boot camp training program. In his first, he asked me when I went to boot camp.
It’s a question the whole world wants answered, certainly, so I felt obliged to respond. But since I had some questions of my own, I figured I’d first play a little quid pro quo with the fellow.
So when I e-mailed him back, I asked about the current boot camp training programs and facilities, especially whether the old, nightmarish, WWII-era processing camp was still in existence. (Luckily, it’s not.)
He answered promptly and then again asked when I’d gone to boot camp. Finally being able to keep him in suspense no longer, I revealed the coveted date — April 29, 1969.
I figured that’d put an end to our exchange, but I was wrong. I got another e-mail, this time asking for a favor of sorts. Could I, he asked, “append a clarification to the dates to the online version” of my column? The reason? Just this: “a concern that recruits will think it’s talking about Great Lakes as it is today.”
An intriguing request indeed. And though worthy of reply, it seemed hardly worthy of compliance.
I wrote him back, and here’s my reply in its original text:
“As far as appending, first a brief explanatory note: The paper my column’s in —The Adirondack Daily Enterprise — is in Saranac Lake, a mountain town of 4,000 people, of which I’m a life-long resident. Plus I’ve been writing the column weakly (if not weakly) for almost 12 years. The point of it all is if there’s anyone around here that doesn’t know I went to boot camp almost 40 years ago, they had to have been living in a shoebox the whole time.
“So a note explaining when I went to boot camp would probably be seen as a sure sign of impending Alzheimer’s, rather than any sensible clarification.
“However, since you’re the training program’s P.A. dude, if you wrote a letter of clarification, it’d be perfectly logical, plus it’d give a chance for some free plugs about the kinder and gentler Great Lakes (or at least the new and improved one).
“The editor’s email is: email@example.com'>firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s a good guy and I’m sure would enjoy a letter to the editor that wasn’t about the new village water tax or our local terrorist threat — skateboarders.
“Lemme know what you think.”
He did indeed let me know, and for a public affairs dude, he did it most succinctly.
Here’s his reply, en toto:
I don’t think Peter has yet received an e-mail from him. And just between you, me and the lamppost, I don’t think he ever will.