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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Language Barriers and Chow

My best friend (the barracks vending machine) broke down this week. I don’t know how I’ll cope with not having easy access to 65% of my daily saturated fat in one package. While here at Fort FuckedUpPlaceToLive  my diet is chaotic and the effects are confusing.  I feel that while gaining the health benefits of exhausting exercise, the environment (and my stress-eating habit) enables me to pillage mountains of calories. I’ve been able to avoid the main culprits, the Chinese takeout and delivered pizza that Marines consume at a baffling frequency, mostly just because I’m cheap. We all rate free food three times a day at the chow hall. It is legitimately free, despite what our instructors would have us. The quote usually resembles “Blah blah blah I don’t understand why you idiots order so much food when you’re paying for the chow hall, whatever it’s your money.” While billeted here, our monthly pay increases by about $350, which is then immediately taken away because we are “paying” for the chow hall. There’s no way we’d see this money, even if we never ate there. I tried explaining this process to Sgt. TalksAtUsForever but didn’t gain much ground in the battle for mutual understanding of the system we live in. 

                Since I eat there all the time, my diet is at the mercy of the chow hall. Because I’m cheap.  I can make excuses: I’m still saving for college, eating pizza every night will rot my face along with my soul the next morning during PT, taking a cab to the grocery store costs a whole $4, etc., but being cheap is what it all boils down to. When it comes to the chow hall, I usually get what I pay for. There are days when the stars align and both mashed potatoes and veal (an ever-elusive and notoriously cruel meat) are available, but then there are days when for whatever reason there are no ketchup packets. I probably use ketchup on 85% of the meals I eat there, and the remaining 15% are days when there’s no ketchup. It’s bullshit and it makes me much angrier than the situation deserves. Having German heritage, my favorite type of meal is something you can mash together into an ambiguous grey mass and then eat out of a bucket. The chow hall abides, assuming there’s ketchup to alpha over the other, lesser flavors in said bucket. 

                The weird part is how continuously hungry I am, even though every meal feels like filling my digestive system with bricks. As I sit here, temporarily emancipated from my room (seeing that I don’t want to watch/listen to Evil Dead for the 3rd fucking time) I can’t help but bitterly mourn the broken vending machine. I could be shoving a dollar worth of knock-off Oreos into my face in a brief moment of unadulterated gluttony, only to then sigh heavily and then sit here, feeling greasy. At the chow hall this sort of rapid binge eating is encouraged by the atmosphere. The employees don’t want to be there, the service members don’t want to stay there long, and the chained baby cows never had a choice, so stuffing myself and then scuffling out the door is totally acceptable behavior. There are brief moments of entertainment. Today our Platoon leader misplaced his cover (hat) in the chow hall and assumed someone had stolen it, which may be justified considering everyone hates him. I only kind of hate him, and feel that he only deserves about 30% of the hate he receives. He asked the huge, scary-looking Chinese immigrant PFC if he knew where his cover was, and received the beautiful answer: “Go find your own cover, Ass Bitch.” I don’t know why this was so hilarious. Maybe it was the context, the fact that everyone hates the Platoon leader, or the English as a second language over-pronunciation of the slightly incorrect insult. But I still can’t think about it without laughing. 

In other news, I think I may be the worst welder in history. For some reason they’re still paying me to churn out dismal pieces, naively expecting me to perform better with practice. They say practice makes perfect, but the jury’s out on if practice can fix genuine incompetence.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Acetylene is Terrifying

I believe education at the entry enlisted level suffers from several issues. Most noticeably is the bizarrely inefficient time schedule that runs the day. Every hour and a half of class we take what seems like a thirty minute break, but the hour and a half feels mostly like break time or wasted due to the rambling by the instructor or having no instructor at all. “I need to take care of something, read from your books” is their preferred stall. Suddenly (not really that suddenly) your eight hours of “class time” has ended, and then you wait in formation for another hour before you go back to the barracks. 

While the instructors aren’t incompetent, they do tend to waste time, mostly with inane stories about what they did when they were deployed as welders. Actually, I take that back. The army Staff Sergeant who recalled his deployment as a solitary welder attached to an infantry unit was really interesting and gave a lot of insight on the type of work we could be doing and what equipment we would be working with (hint: not very much). However, the civilian instructors I’ve witnessed seem to relish in wasting time. No, Mrs. Smith, I don’t care about your stories of how you spent your time in army job school looking for a husband, and I don’t care about the class’s opinions on the current state of the NBA. I do care that I spent about 50% of your class reading from a textbook, supposedly studying for a twenty-question multiple choice test… that ended up being open book. Sorry, I’m probably biased due to resenting that the next three months are only going to cover a few weeks worth of material. 

This brings up my next issue. Everything in this process is intended to cater to the lowest common denominator (easiest tests in the universe, “can you read?” may as well be the threshold for passing), but the presentation still ends up confusing the shit out of everyone. For example, in going over the process of how to properly check and ignite the torch in Oxyfuel Welding, there was no helpful step-by-step diagram shown to us, there was not a lot of walking through the process in the helpful acoustics of the classroom. Rather, the demonstration was given to us on the welding floor, with a lot of noise coming from the ventilation and other workstations all around us. We were all crammed in, looking past the shoulders of those in front at the new instructor who is from inner city Baltimore and isn’t exactly a public speaking prodigy, and no one understands what the fuck he’s saying. This became more concerning, as we all watched him mime some arcane ritual with the equipment, occasionally a discernible word would pop out, such as: “Don’t” or “Regulator” or “Acetylene” or most noticeably “Explode.” After some mutually panicked “WTF is going on” glances we were all in our own booths running through this risky operation with only a bit of wandering supervision. 

I had previously read that the acetylene gas  we use with oxygen is highly unstable. Unstable as in over a certain pressure (15 psig) it could just explode, cataclysmically. I remembered this information as I stood in my booth, cautiously trying to not kill myself along with everyone else in the building. Thankfully, it turns out that you’d have to really work to get the gas up to that pressure, and that certain safeties exist to prevent such a disaster. However, the moment I held up the igniter to the torch I almost crossed my fingers, but my gloves were too thick.
It was actually pretty fun. I ended up with one slightly-respectable bead (a weld line) at the end of the four I sweated clumsily over. We get to do cool things like yell “HOT METAL” while carrying a steaming piece to the dunk tank. After today I’m feeling quite a bit more optimistic about this whole affair. 

In other news, I went to a bar Saturday with two of my friends. I was told it was Irish-themed, but they neglected to mention the Hooters element that factored into the waitress’s costumes. My inner feminist spent the night crying while I was goaded into spending over $50 on a sadly unintimidating amount of alcohol. She called me cheap okay! Therefore, I had to preserve my dignity as much as I had to drown my guilt in overpriced shots. Take that liver, I hope you enjoyed your three week vacation. Actually, I’m never going back there again. It was really uncomfortable.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Marriage and Mouth Cancer.

I just stole an extra bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos from the vending machine. I only intended to buy one, but after my dollar was accepted two bags fell out. I took the dishonorable route. I never meant for this to happen, but the urge overpowered me, and now the tragic decision weighs heavily upon my soul. What I should have done is walked righteously over to the Staff Sergeant on duty and surrendered the extra bag, earning myself the title of “Dumbass-who-wastes-time-over-extra-Doritos” in addition to my current billet of “Dumbass-who-locked-himself-in-the-laundry room.” 

I’ve often had trouble making small talk with fellow Marines. Part of this may be my ignorance regarding the latest trends in dipping tobacco, but with my return to the cesspool of MOS training I’ve realized that it also may be heavily due to my politics. There are still the classic apolitical instances where I’ve managed to be out of touch. I’ve found a way out of being involved in sports with the line: “I’m not very good with balls.” This prompts laughter and usually no follow up request for me to play. See what I did there? I made a joke about not being good with balls, which can be interpreted as a statement of my sexuality, and because being Gay is gross right? Right guys? That’s funny right? You’ll be friends with me if I make fun of being Gay right? (maybe I should reconsider the subtext of this messaging). This cover helps me escape the humiliation I would suffer if anyone here ever saw me try to handle balls (you know, like footballs or basketballs), because I honestly have no idea how. This last school year a bully named Chris Bero made fun of me in front of all the other 7th graders whenever I tried to play sports, crushing my self-esteem down to a level that’s now comparable with my skill. 
The truth is I’m quite a bit more liberal than the average Marine here and having the tendency to wear it on my sleeve hinders my ability to take part in some conversations. I’ve had to avoid the commonplace panel of white men talking about how equal opportunity is ruining America. I’ve been the less vocal minority on gun control laws, etc..  I can get by perfectly fine not fighting these uphill battles; however, sometimes my views actively prevent me from making or maintaining friendships. For example, one of my friends was going off about his wife, and I wanted to show that I supported him because I like the guy. However, despite my intentions I couldn’t really offer the affirmation that he was looking for. In response to “My fucking wife keeps spending all of my fucking money, she’s such a bitch!” all I was able to offer was a lukewarm “Yeah man! Fuck… the… institution of marriage, man!” This is all I can offer while avoiding softer and more prying questions regarding the state of his relationship, suggesting that it’d be best to avoid derogative slurs in discussing his significant other, and offering unhelpful advice such as “maybe you shouldn’t have gotten married when you knew you were going to be away for a long time, and also you are EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD, WHY WOULD YOU GET MARRIED AT EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD?” 

Seriously though. Getting hitched really early on is totally a thing in the military. The stupid part is that the system practically encourages it. Married Marines rate the basic allowance for housing (even while training with no living expenses) and it’s the only way of escaping the barracks as a Lance Corporal or below when you get to your unit. Though a Marine with the foresight to consider the Corps’ 80% divorce rate would wisely avoid this engagement, many see the instant pay upgrade and take it. When, and if I ever get married, I damn well better be over thirty and only doing it because my aging parents shamed me into it.  
I should get off my high horse. I feel most of this blog has been a poorly concealed “holier than thou” attitude towards my fellow Marines. I don’t want to give the impression that my fellow trainees are politically and financially illiterate idiots. There are some, to be fair. But to herald myself as the wisest one here would be narcissistic and (more importantly) inaccurate. I’m about to prove that to everyone by the straight up retarded welds I’m likely to make next week (and I don’t mean retarded as a slur towards people with disabilities, I feel it’s apt to describe my process of converting theory into action through my hands, a process that will most likely be retarded, similar to my balls-handling). In this case, I would seek out the better welders in the class and converse over some dip, just kidding I don’t want  MOUTH CANCER.

P.S. That link is gross don’t click on it. But then again what would you expect, it’s mouth cancer. 

Also everything is fine, I picked up class and all we learn is safety protocols… and mop floors.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

F---ing Field Day

Sorry for neglecting to post an entry in the last few days. I was busy cleaning my room.

No. Seriously, for the last few days I was cleaning my room.

“Field Day” usually conjures imagery of outdoor games like tug-o’-war. However, in the Marine Corps, Field Day is the bane of every Lance Corporal and below’s existence. It’s the designated day of the week when we clean the barracks and our rooms. Now, for clarification, I clean my room in some fashion every day. Every morning we sweep the floor, take out the trash, lock everything away, make our racks, etc. before we can even leave, it’s expected. Therefore, Field Day is centered on the most anal and obnoxious cleaning I’ve ever experienced. The NCOs and staff NCOs who run inspections aren’t looking for something legitimately unclean, such as a dirty floor or an unclean toilet, because they would never find one. They’re after the most minuscule piece of lint that hides in the bottom corner between your desk and the wall. They’re after the slightly off-white color that the grout between the tiles on your shower floor has become due to years and years of use. These ridiculous expectations result in over 90% of the Marines on my floor routinely failing their first inspection; they then have to clean again and try to pass another the next morning. Here at Fort Never-Leave, Field Day is Thursday, so after we were released we went back to the room and spent a few hours scrubbing down everything in sight. I was in charge of the bathroom, and I’ll just say that the toilet and I formed a very intimate relationship after I finished scrubbing down every part of it down to the muskiest of its hidden, shadowy contours. 

Another aggravating part of Field Day is that once inspection begins, everyone has to wait outside of their rooms until they’re inspected. Being at the end of the hallway means that my roommates and I wait around for about thirty minutes. Therefore, we spend the time dreading the possibility that we glanced over something and pondering every single cranny that is most likely collecting dust at the moment. My first inspection resulted in increased confidence in my own filter. When the Gunnery Sergeant (who, considering his rank, should have something much better to do than inspect my janitorial handiwork) angrily told me to look closely at a tile and tell him it wasn’t dirty. Instead of my first reaction, which would be: ”Well, Gunnery Sgt, I guess I can see how there are very faint water spots on this tile, which shouldn’t really be that surprising since it’s in THE FUCKING SHOWER” I censored myself to a brief: “Yes Gunnery Sgt, I can see it.” We failed, partly because of the bathroom but also that they were able to rub a bit of lint off the bottom a lamp. We were told that we were going to be inspected again the next morning at 0620 after PT. Remaining diligent, I opted to forgo a shower and woke up promptly the next morning at 0400 to correct these blemishes. We failed again, and along with half the platoon would Field Day again that night (Friday). After taking an enraged shower, my roommates and I went down to the shitty army store and bought some heavy duty cleaning solvents and scrubbed the shower into submission (we even had help from one of the class guides). The chemical process left me a bit more than light-headed and I think I saw God for a few seconds (she is Black btw). 

This third inspection passed us, to the apparent irritation of the Gunnery Sgt (who at this point seemed to relish our failure). I didn’t feel accomplished as much as a felt like buying a box of donuts and eating the whole fucking thing in about ten minutes. Thankfully for my health, the store closed long before we were done with inspection. This sort of Field Day makes me ponder the effectiveness of the training we’re receiving. I understand the importance of paying attention to detail, but when it goes so far that the process of wiping down the cleaned tiles of my shower result in them becoming dirtier due to lint from the towel, I can’t see the benefit. The boots here can be fooled into believing that the mystical and magical fleet will have similar standards, but I know better. The only obvious result is a bunch of miserable junior Marines, as a continuously failing room can lead to restrictions on liberty (free time) or paperwork leading to greater administrative punishment. For example, because my roommates and I didn’t pass the first time, if we fail next week we’re put on phase 1 liberty, which means we can’t change out of uniform or go past certain perimeters on base. I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time Thursday unintentionally huffing chemicals. Pondering the perspective of the Gunnery Sgt and others who designed this policy, I can refer to the comic series Terminal Lance (which is usually hilarious if you understand the context):

In other news, I pick up welding class this Monday. November 22nd is my projected graduation date. I also get to make an appointment with the neurologist on Monday, and they'll determine see whether or not I’m capable of working with my hands (whats the worst they could do, send me home? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA AHHHHHHHHH). Though I’ll be busier I’m certain there will be enough downtime to write a few entries per week. As long as there are still people who are interested in reading. I actually, scratch that. I don’t need you. If I’m not writing blogs I’m probably either staring at a wall or making elaborate lists of the types of alcohol I will drink when I’m home. And seeing that there is a finite variety of spirits in the universe I’ll end up losing my mind before the wall becomes any more entertaining, so I’ll keep blogging.    

READER SHOUT OUT: Alyssa Nydegger is a girl and does not have lice and I miss her eating ice cream with me when I get rejected.