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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

50%



It’s been a whole two weeks since I last cried all over this keyboard posted an entry. But <Here’s a lie in order to give me some excuse besides laziness>, I’ll try to make a more concentrated effort in the future.

Big daddy stick welding. The OG, pain in the ass welding from ye olden times. Now, I consider myself a reasonable person, but stick welding has reduced me to yelling racist slurs at inanimate objects. Along with the the immediate (and frequent) crisis of accidently welding my electrode to the metal (which is called “getting stuck”) there’s a slow, menacing torment to my craft. I’ve heard it called “rot” and it comes from “slag” that I fail to clean out of each successive weld as I layer them. This isn’t due to neglect since I spend a lot of time furiously chipping and scrubbing. Sometimes it’s just there, and stays there in a little cranny that I can only barely fit the goddamn end of the chipping hammer into. When I give up, think “good enough” and weld over it, it appears again, and again, and again. My mistake continues to haunt me, making everything shitty, and by the end I can’t fix it no matter how hard I hammer away. It’s a lot like Afghanistan. 

Today, as I unproductively scrubbed the contaminated spot (Lady Macbeth style) I pondered how fast life passes us by. I’m almost twenty two years old and my last birthday feels as if it happened just a few weeks ago. It was a quiet night out with some friends, I had my first drink (didn’t like it, alcohol is icky and bad for you) and made well thought-out and responsible choices. It was such a good time, I probably shouldn’t try to top it this year, wouldn’t want things to get too crazy. The point is, though time speeds up as we get older, I have the unique opportunity to spend the next two months experiencing the opposite phenomenon. While staying here at Fort ShitsOnEverythingYouLove I’ve experienced time in all its slow and agonizing glory. I’m not the only party suffering. I see the hollow and tired look in the eyes of the instructors who will remain here long after we’re gone. Shaved heads seems to be their preferred hairstyle, perhaps to cover up premature graying from the cruel onslaught of the somehow slower solar cycle. Junior Marines could be the culprit, dealing with a class of these idiots would probably give me good reason to pull my hair out. Unlike their unfortunate souls, I only have two months left here. As a matter of fact, by tomorrow, I will have hit the 50% benchmark.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break. Blogging is harder when you’re throwing up over the thought of what the future has in store for you. But I jest. I’m not that upset. I’m only dry heaving. However, fifty-seven days will get pretty interesting if my dreams keep up their current trend that leans towards the bizarre. Last night I was stuck in an airplane and all of my friends were in a religiously inclined nudist colony and it was not cool at all. At one point I was cooking meth, but this is just a poor attempt to connect with readers who are also fans of Breaking Bad, a show whose attempts at hyping people for the season finale really detracts from the drama and suspense by making us all picture the actors (and therefore picture the characters) as a bunch of fun, easy-going people who are really excited to see their own show and will be your friend for a day if you donate to a charity. But yeah. Dreams or something. Crazy stuff right?

Disclaimer: I don’t spend much time analyzing editing the content of this blog.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Flashback Friday: Boots



While memories often dissipate or disappear completely, there are certain aspects of particular memories that stick. I believe that something like a smell, sound, or other association can suddenly recall a vivid recollection of an event or person. For me, there’s a few of these strands out there that all recall one person in particular, or at least memories of his wrath. So, as I laced up my boots this morning, I recalled memories of Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Ramirez.  

It was during one of his speeches, most likely regarding why he loved the Marine Corps, that he tailored towards accusing us recruits of tarnishing its glory by our presence. We sat on the deck rigidly, cross-legged, packed in tight enough to individually count the hair follicles of the head of the other recruit in front of us. Having the current order to look directly at a Drill Instructor (the command was EYEBALLS, the response CLICK, SIR) we all stared attentively at SSgt Ramirez. He was a tall, wiry man of Hispanic heritage. A long face with high cheekbones framed two of the most sinister eyes I have ever seen, amplified by glaring out from the shadow of the Drill Instructor’s unique campaign cover. Whatever routine he used for his shaved head paid off, since it occasionally reflected sunlight. In between bouts of frenzied recruit punishment he glided around the room, seemingly coiled, smirking in anticipation. If I could describe him at all, he was a very snake-ish man. Smart as well. He apparently had a degree, and there was sharpness and eloquence to his language that perked my interest because of its contrast to the varying grunts of the Marine dialect. He enunciated certain words with a resounding reverence. Among the words were “PX,” “Boots,” “Shave,” “Drill” and “Up North.” “Up North” was what he called the Camp Pendleton training area we moved to for the second phase of boot camp. Before we got there, the holiness in the sound of “Up North” led me to picture forests, rivers, somewhere pleasantly colder than San Diego, but the dry expanse of dirt I saw upon arriving crushed those expectations. 

Going back to SSgt Ramirez’s particular speech, I remember that he attributed our irresponsibility and other undesirable traits to “a shitty upbringing by our parents.” He gave us a personal anecdote to show us how he learned how to be respectful. Simplified, at around ten years old he was on the bus with his mom when an elderly woman came aboard, his mom immediately “smacked the shit out” of him for not immediately giving up his seat. From then on, young SSgt Ramirez was very aware of the necessity to give up your seat to elderly people.

This isn’t so much the significant part of the memory that tying my bootlaces reminds me of, but the complicated context of recruit training relentlessly prevents me from explaining a single event concisely. Understand that Drill Instructors were gods, angry gods, perfect Marines dedicated to making our lives miserable in order to pull us out of the civilian mindset. They ran our entire day, and were half role-model and half terrifying monster that you would go lengths to avoid the attention of. So when privy to SSgt Ramirez’s ridiculous parenting advice, the legitimate side of my brain had to reiterate to the indoctrinated side that beating your children was not, in fact, an appropriate (or humane) method of teaching values. 

We had a few more insights into the life and mind of SSgt Ramirez, once during a class regarding the fraternization policy he said: “So let’s say we’re married, and I have to salute her while in uniform because she’s an officer. Obey all lawful orders and so forth. But when we’re at home would I take out the trash? Fuck no. Bitch, you take out the trash.” The issue of who’s taking out the trash came up frequently enough in these speeches that I assume it had a strong significance in how he defined status in a relationship. While most of the details I remember about him include these… interesting value sets, I don’t want to diminish how much I looked up to him. He always led by setting a perfect example and demanding the same from us. He taught us the most close-order drill, and his marching cadence was beautiful in its simplicity that even after hearing it thousands of times I still felt somewhat inspired. When I look at myself in the context of being a Marine I can’t help but compare myself to him and highlight my own deficiencies.  

The speech I most remember was about his own dedication. I can’t do it justice, but after explaining the value of what the Marine Corps had done for him he stated that he would serve until he was forced to hang up his boots. Again, “Boots” was the image-triggering holy word. The conviction of this statement I saw in him really stuck with me. From then on, boots have represented something particularly important. As a reservist, I only put them on for one weekend a month, but in bending down to lace them I always get kicked by the memory of my experiences. Lacing them by myself at 5am, about to drive down to Springfield for drill. Frantically shoving my feet into them while being counted down as a recruit. Pulling them out of my sleeping bag after spending the night awkwardly sharing space with them (avoid those spiders at all costs) and a rifle. Boots that great Marines like SSgt Ramirez would do anything to keep. For however longer I have the honor of wearing them I will work to hold myself to the professional standard that he would expect.


P.S. Shout out to friends Jalal, Taja, and Cleo. Whatever happens, know that a whole lot of people (like me!) care about you very much, and will for a long time to come.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Obey the Grinder, Fear the Grinder



My bed (or rack, as we call it here) is always made. Whenever I leave the room it has to be made to a very specific and rigid standard, which takes considerable time and effort to do. Since sleep is such a valuable commodity, everyone here sleeps on top of the covers, using blankets that we bought ourselves (which we then hide in the morning) instead of the issued ones on our made bed. Look what the Marine Corps has done to us. I don’t sleep in a bed, I sleep in a fake bed. We all sleep in fake beds. 

 Class 022-13 (that’s me!) started Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW or MIG) this week after passing out of Tungsten Metal Arc Welding (TMAW or TIG) last Thursday. To sum up my ability, I’m generally bad at welding with infrequent bursts of mediocrity. Thankfully, I experienced one of these bursts during test day and succeeded in not being recycled, ashamed, and miserable. In TIG you sit at a table, have a torch in one hand, a filler rod in the other, and operate a foot pedal to change your amperage. It’s a legitimate miracle that I passed (considering my coordination), but at least now I know that I won’t be dropped for my minor shakiness, as the other unfortunate soul wasn’t able to make it past the first day of TIG. However, I was often lacking cool confidence and control. My inner dialogue while welding sounded like: “Okay, got it, wait, am I too cold? I’m probably too cold, shit. Wait, no okay it looks good… wait when’s chow? This stool is really hard, and the ass of my pants is really sweaty- OH SHIT TOO HOT, okay, whew, maybe that section isn’t going to look like shit in the light, wait, I think I’m too cold again” (gets the filler rod too close to metal and suffers a minor electrical shock) “AGH FUCK- shit. Goddamn-no NO STOP IT STOP GET COOLER STOP NO NO WHY GOD WHY” (end of weld).
But that’s all in the past now, locked away and never to be seen again (TIG is only used on cool things like aircraft, as if they’d ever let me touch a helicopter). On to MIG, where you set up the machine, point the gun and weld. As a pessimist-romantic, I immediately decided that MIG was awful and TIG was my favorite type of welding, pardoning the awkward hardships and remembering instead the comfort of sitting down. The first day of MIG made me feel absolutely inadequate, but it turned out that my equipment was legitimately broken and gave reassurance that the ugly, splattered metal  I produced wasn’t 100% my fault. I got to witness my uninhibited talent earlier today, where my gloopy glop of a weld brought a very “are you kidding me” look from the instructor. After retreating back to my booth, I became acquainted with my new nemesis, the grinder.



If we had a fight, it would win. 

About 80% of my time in the MIG annex so far has been spent using this fucking thing. I don’t say "fucking thing" lightly. It’s a tool used to cut bevels prior to welding or erase the damage caused by one of my welds, and I hate it. As you “grind,” gripping it firmly with both hands, aware that any casual negligence could result in loss of limb or life, your hands experience the bizarre sensation of numbness accompanied by uncomfortable pain. I tried supporting the back with my torso, but stopped when I felt my internal organs rattling along with everything else. This results in having to hold the grinder at an awkward length away from me, slowly sheering edges of metal as sparks fly and sweat rolls down my forehead as I picture the visuals of mutilated body parts that came in contact with the incorrect side of the machine. Word on the street is be careful with the grinder, because by the time you realize you’ve had an accident, you will have really had an accident. 

After reading what I’ve written in this post so far I realize I sound like a crying baby. Good thing I know I’m not a baby. I’m just a sobbing man-child who’s afraid of a tool that he gets paid to use. Much better.Until next week, make sure you take some time out of the day to appreciate the disfiguring grinding accidents you haven't suffered.

P.S. To anyone who has been maimed or killed by a grinder, I apologize for not including you in my sendoff. It's hard to make these sorts of things universally inclusive.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Good Morning



Upon waking to the repeated yells of “FOR-MA-TION” (punctuated as three distinct words) by the unfortunate duty Marine as he tromps up and down the hallway, I don’t  imitate the frantic behavior of my roommates as they hustle to the sink to perform a minute of morning routine before running downstairs. Instead, I smugly roll over, pull my blanket over my head and wish them a good morning. “Fuck you Lance Corporal” or some variation is the usual response. This is one of my few and valuable privileges as a “Fleet Marine” that I have over the regular students here, which is not being required to report for morning formations on the weekends. 

The Marine Corps has definitely affected my overall attitude towards sleep. From the very beginning I acclimated to springing out of the rack at some ungodly hour in the morning and frantically getting dressed under the stress-inducing countdown of a Drill Instructor. The countdown always started from a high number like sixty, but it only took the DI about fifteen seconds to count all the way down to zero in an impressive barrage of barely discernible numbers. This was referred to as “by the numbers,” and any drowsiness I experienced took a back seat to the fear of being the one recruit out of ninety who didn’t finish on time, whether it be getting dressed, making my rack, or peeing (3 recruits simultaneously using each urinal was the solution).  Since we performed every task with “speed and intensity” after a long day of running around like idiots sleep became a precious commodity not only because of our fatigue, but because it was the only time we wouldn’t be fucked with. For me, sleep provided an opportunity to blissfully dream of the real world outside of the recruit training circus. Pleasant dreams of roaming freely, reuniting with friends and loved ones, serenely driving through the beautiful Willamette Valley with the breeze in my hair.


Then suddenly jarred awake and realizing depressingly “Fuck… I’m still here” as the lights flared on and I jumped down to fumble with my bag of hygiene items. Each return to reality in the morning left me anxious to escape it again the next night. Through boot camp and after, the sleep schedule for training remained mostly the same (though the activities less ridiculous). I assumed that in the end I would become more of a morning person than I was before. But no. I’m not. I still hate it. The only difference now is that my habits have changed to reinforce behavior that I despise. I hate that I consistently wake up at least twenty minutes before my alarm goes off, never enough time to go back to sleep, and never motivated enough to actually get up and be productive. What? Am I going to shave, brush my teeth, get dressed, etc. and then just sit in a chair for the next fifteen minutes waiting for my roommates? Instead I’ll just lay here staring angrily at the wall and checking my watch every two minutes, trying to prolong the inevitable movement from bed to floor for as long as possible. 

Therefore, each weekend here I get a little bit of satisfaction as my roommates and most every other trainee has to go stand outside each morning to have a prison-style headcount. I’m still awake when they come back and shortly after I usually go to breakfast. So it’s not as if I’ve actually gained any sleep, but something about being granted the privilege to be a lazy piece of shit two days of the week makes those mornings so much better. 

Happy September by the way. Sorry for not posting any entries this past week. If I actually graduate on time I will only be here at Fort Despair for another 81 days. In terms of meals at the chow hall, that’s only 221. The end is 1944 hours in the future, but keep in mind that I‘ll be asleep for roughly 567 hours of that time, and eating chow for about 162 hours of that time, and sitting in my room pointlessly looking at facebook (hooray for weekends!) for  375 hours. So, the rough estimate is 840 hours devoted to the study of welding or other Marine Corps bullshit. I will not endeavor to compare this figure to what I make per month, seeing that I’m sure the hourly wage will be depressing even by Virginia standards.