Chasing Alpha – Chapter FIVE
Of all of the things I did in my life, this endeavor was the most random. It was also the most amazing, rewarding, thought provoking entity I ever got involved in.. Outside of my professional service. The same endeavor was also the most heart wrenching and devastating I have ever faced.. The only thing I had close enough to so much emotion was the sense of duty day in and out I had to my people and country in the United States Armed Services.
I have never claimed to be an open book. The touchy feely type I am not. I have a certain mentality which was enhanced in the service. My mind fortified to focus on the present, be the best I can be, and keep outsiders at bay. I am the Father Flanagan to one and all. The one with the door always open, and the light spills from my office into the dark hallway which is the armed forces. I have been joked about in the Officers Club of taking in more huddled masses than America itself. But I had a knack which is oft overlooked as a good skill to have. Not just pride in myself, but I care about others. It’s a curse to those who don’t understand the mysterious ways I move, but to me it is a hidden talent I can use to make the world a better place. It became a hidden talent I unlocked.
The true story should be told in a linear form. How can one understand the current state without an understanding of the past? Yes, it can be done.. But that cannot fly from my view. Those not knowing the past. That’s a truth people feel is more a standard clause or passé opinion rather than the truth which it embodies. So it’s best to rewind a bit. At least back to the point around the time I became eligible as they say.
It started out of a sense of a last resort rather than an option I was calling my number one plan. High school was more about surviving with grades. Maybe it was a different time when I was becoming a “class of” and going though the motions to become impressive enough on paper to make a university to earn one of the more acceptable sheepskins.
There was a guidance center which was a place to get forms or understand options to continue a path of academia. I never wanted to be a career student. Just smart enough, but without a decade of school in the process and also without an Italian sports car’s worth of debt. Spending my life to literally pay for my youth is not what I consider happiness.
Career center always sounded like a larger place than it was. Actually it was not too much more than what a waiting room was to a doctor’s office. For the most part, the place always seemed like an afterthought for me. It was one huge building in which all the counselors were housed. Student got into trouble? Often was sent there as a secondary action because there may have been an issue. Student has a major issue with the schedule? See the counselor. And that happens again randomly for senior year where people get called in here and there to see what their options are and all of that. Most of the time the student just moves through the motions and satiates the randomly appointed counselor. The career center was mostly just where a collection of pamphlets would be stocked in a rack, similar to those large displays in the lobby of motels. However, instead of tourist traps, the booklets are of school or whatever fast track vocation is available. Fast to the dollars and not to the scholars mind you. The other funny notation is how this glorified “center” is not even in the middle of the room. It’s off in a corner basically which is why I said it was most likely an afterthought.
The pickings were slim when inside the center, and frankly a bit on the dismal side. Fluorescent light and dozens of various forms with graffitied and desecrated clipboards with retied and decrepit pens hanging off them. The “opportunities there” were as depressing as some of Bruce Springsteen’s pre-E Street Band work. Most of it was financial aid and local college forms to be filled out. It was not a secret it was a struggling neighborhood. The major problem was it wasn’t struggling enough, or crime ridden enough in order to let students there have the hardship type scholarships. Most who wanted higher learning had no other viable option but to hit a community college or the “continued campus” as the slang term for it was. When asked what the community college is like, a response from those attending was it was basically a campus that was about the same as high school but with ashtrays.
I wanted something better. The only way to better myself is to rise above the situation I was already in. There was no automated way to do it when I was in school, not from the career center. Many of the pamphlets would blur together. I had to fill all this stuff out myself by hand and then roll the dice to see who bit. I remember military cards, and in state colleges mostly. Others which I had heard of but weren’t ivy league or had a recognizable football team behind the name. I started as soon as was allowed to get the ball rolling on financial aid or anything along those lines. Funny as it was, I forgot the first choice of schools I wanted. I remember it being out of state and where I could barely afford to live there as well with aid of a dorm assistance program and aid in their finance department. The largest factor was being able to get money without having to pay it back. Otherwise I could do it practically next door. I wanted more.
I had to ~carpewampum: meaning to make a dash for the cash on my own rather than relying on a high school counselor in full, realizing they probably did not intend to be advising kids as their lifetime trajectory. The word is being active rather than passive as I learned and drilled into those who were under my command.. Even those who just came for advice who I wasn’t commanding. All of that was far away from the career center.
Things seemed to be in near to even odds as a bookie may say for setting the odds on my college dreams. I got to filling out all the forms pretty much the first day you could. There was sort of a hunting season so to speak which meant a certain window acceptable to send in applications or queries for getting aid or acceptance. Even the first day possible still seemed like procrastination to me. It’s basically the first day of fishing or hunting season: get in early while the getting is still good. The other problem was the fact it took at least a month to even get something back to know anything was even going to be considered. Not a pleasant thing to go though, since it was merely a shot in the dark.
I needed a minimum amount of cooperation from the guidance councilor which was a good thing. Grabbing some transcripts and recommendations, but I didn’t want my life to depend solely on him.
The way it was all set up was to have financial aid kick through and then attend a moderately priced out of town school which was a decent balance of price and academic quality. Months. I had it orchestrated to execute as smoothly as the lightest of concertos. All the pieces coming together at the same time. The financial aid had to have notification the school already accepted me to get the extra benefits. The school however needed a confirmation of financial aid in order to officially accept me. And I had to be creative and a little dishonest in order to secure a bright outlook for my future. I am not saying these plans were the best laid, but had the same crashing effect when an unknown force came to play. A snafu is the acronym one quickly learns to discuss a situation gone awry such as this.
Fortunately I was not a quitter. When the school found out the blank envelope was not an accident perhaps…or when someone from a certain financial aid department decided to so an active search rather than a passive one.. No matter what it was the same result happened. I was dropped by my school like some kind of scourge. It was the same thing as being dumped out of the blue by that sweetheart you thought you were traveling smoothly with. It had a very familiar sting for sure. Maybe that is the reason I couldn’t even recall the school now. Too many painful memories which I must have forgotten about before it enveloped me. A proverbial case of us or them.
Thank goodness I am a type who is resilient. Most people with a blow dealt that late in the game will dash dreams away the same as flushing a pan fun or dust bunnies. Sure I was very upset with the whole thing, but ordeals teach people like me plan As sometimes exist only to have the opportunity to dust off Plan B.
In all honestly, I did not have a true fall back plan. I guess I did feel I could always use the community college, ashtrays and all, if I had the worst of circumstances occur. These circumstances I thought would be something decided by me due to some event or atrocity: home trouble, natural disaster, college campus affected by locust swarms.. Whatever it may be. I did not really fathom it could all be attributed to an inked rubber stamp with the word “denied” on it.
I went back to the career center. By that time it was devoured by desperate high school students who fell ill with a serious cases of “senioritis” and severe apathy for the future. The eleventh hour rolled around and then a bomb of ambition, or desperation, went off inside the career center and the counselor offices. Trampled booklets of the worst schools to teen kind were all that were basically left as far as it looked to me at that point. Then something either intervened or merely stepped in. The men with the mirrored sunglasses, shaven heads and brass on their jackets.
The men had come a courting in the past and I was not too impressed with them. High school was basically the fresh meat which these people saw as numbers more than future casualties or stuffers of pine boxes. The sad fact is these recruiters have quotas. Why they exist could be up for debate, but not the fact that they do in fact exist.
One of the reasons I never wanted to do anything along the lines of recruitment is due to the fact I did not want that burden on my hands. I did my part wiggle and waggle my way from anything resembling recruitment.. Not directly recruiting at least. I already knew my place. The kids were lumped in and had whatever done to them, and I was the “good cop” type to help them get to the point they needed to be. Or at least to where they want to be if where they needed to be was too arduous for the likes of them. But at this point, I was nowhere.
T hese recruiters.. Yeah I spoke with them before. I was probably a little curt if I can recall. From the way I saw it, these guys should be able to handle it. If one cannot hold his own against some snotty teenagers once getting out of boot camp, then something seriously wrong was going on with that soldier. When I was of that age I would wonder how those people got the job of recruiter. It’s often more fun imagining an answer rather than getting the actual truth. Even I can at least admit my folly while in youth.
My misgivings about the service were completely warranted though. Someone who wanted to be holding a decent degree was not really considering the armed services a bit less than desired. All that and the fact I really wasn’t thrilled about dying before I could legally drink alcohol.
The answers I got were far and wide, and would often come back around to patriotism and duty. I didn’t take stock in it, and I was never the type to push the issue. Perhaps I did not end up a recruiter was the low amount of cards I would get filled out. Once I did even lose a box of those response cards. They were officially lost by accident of course.
So here I was with nothing else going for me. I ended up running into one of these guys. Like the song Glory Days, I think he was pretty much walking in when I was walking out. Some random thing happened and I ended up talking to him. Being a good matured kid for the most part, I was helping him out with something. He had to travel around with some extra gear or his partner never showed up. Whatever it was, that was my first step to the man I am today.
Thinking back he did have someone else not show up. This guy was a calamity as far as the day he was having. I followed him back into the career center while carrying a suit or something in a garment bag I think. I really do have a more forward thinking attitude than I can. Recollections are not an easy thing after all. Maybe since I was forgetting my childish things or I am more concerned with where I have ended than what else it took to work my way there. Once I get to my military career I’m sure I can open up so much more.
And how did I get to the point of basic training and beyond? An informal chat. The two of us sat down in those deceitfully uncomfortable chairs which were in the career center. There were two chairs which looked as if upholstered but still felt terrible once any short amount of time was spent. Then again, the only alternative was using something that was about the consistency of a folding chair. The two of us sat just as if we were on some late night talk show. A table in the corner, we had these diagonally placed chairs. This was after he somehow convinced me to sit down with him. The man’s name was Trill if I recall.
He didn’t have to be a class detective to make the conclusion of me being in some sort of bind. For the most part, anyone seeing a counselor or being inside this building this close to the end of school was most likely in some sort of academic peril. I let him know a bit about my story. Lost out on my college money and was making a mad dash for anything but a door slamming shut on higher learning.
After listening to me the whole time without interruption, he asked if I wanted to hear his day. So he told me how he was extremely late today and was having any number of things wrong until the moment, but then things were looking up since at least it afforded us the opportunity to have the conversation in which we were already knee deep in.
Of course he had to ask the obvious.. He wondered if I had considered a career or at least a temporary stint in some part of the armed forces. He didn’t glad hand, he did not try to invoke sense of duty or patriotism. He simple asked.
I told him I didn’t consider such a thing because I was happy enough with this body I was given and was still uncertain on the afterlife.. Meaning I really didn’t want to face any dire fate of meeting my maker since I have not even decided if I even believed in whatever maker I was possible going to see. It really was not so verbose or even eloquent, but the sentiment rang just the same.
Trill did something I hadn’t heard of until this point, literally. He said the military did not have to be a permanent career or lifetime vocation. There were a lot of ways to get out and actually use the life experience to tackle and handle something else in the future. Of course it was intriguing, but that was not the point to which I had the realization.
Somehow we got into my fiduciary dilemma and then he was talking about all of which went wrong with him that day. It had car trouble, inaccurate information, and what seemed like a half dozen additional incidents he had. It wasn’t a complaint on his part but illustrating what kind of a day he had. Being in the moment he was able to have more empathy with what I was going through. He did explain how he was in admiration of my resilience and making an effort to get something back into place.
I didn’t go into the full details of my sticky little fiasco. I didn’t explain how I was kind of using smoke, bubblegum, and paperclips to get my financial rigmarole into motion. It was a necessity to put an end and make the means, but I knew there was a slight chance it would all fold like a cheap card table. Some might say it was a called for subterfuge and others could call it deceitful. Whatever one calls it, it was not to be. No fruition from those seeds whether bitter or called for. For the sake of argument, I did not bring up the whole story on my financial papers and plans. Or the fact I might have a slight chance to recover financial aid towards a different school but it would be at a wafer thin timeframe to be accepted and the first day of a semester. I also did not want to end up falling into the “take a semester off” vortex. I knew people with older brothers and saw what the hiatus card turns into once it’s so-called successfully played.
He made a casual point to counter my woes of the pesos. There was the GI Bill. How it works now is not as liberal as how it did before, but the benefits are pretty much the same. Pretty much the government helps out a student by affording them the money to go to a particular school. There are some restrictions, but basically it could be a really good school and then it would be more like a little bit of help, or it could be a lesser school which would translate into a full ride. This is a very simplified version of it. Of course the man I was speaking with gave me an even more simplified version.. But he was not doing it in the way to deceive. For the most part it was a conversation which piqued my interest, not a lecture. The whole talk show and interviewing back and forth. Getting to know each other.
So after a bit of other topics and information we shared about ourselves, he wanted to offer an option. Not a signed confessional but as an act of good faith. I decided to see how far I could push it, on behalf of my fellow teens. This guy was supposed to be spending the day at the school doing to standing around and typical dog and pony thing which any number of Americans have already seen while experiencing high school or a college of lesser status. It’s called poking the fence I suppose, to use a turn of phrase from the movie Jurassic Park.
The offer I made was I would take a serious interest in everything he told me. I’m rather sure at that point he knew I was strongly interested in all he had to say.. In an objective or contemplative sense. I basically asked if I seriously thought it over and at least paid one visit to the office he was working out of, whether a yes or no or even maybe, if in good faith he’d abandon the campus and head elsewhere. At the time I think maybe I suggested our rival school actually. As luck would have it, he knew we were bitter enemies as far as the time honored school rival sense goes. He laughed and said he can’t promise he’d go trolling the arch nemesis’ campus for fresh meat, but he would retreat from my campus at least for today. We shook and I filed out one of those telltale cards. It literally told all my pertinent info. What he didn’t know was the fact I actually swapped a couple digits in my phone number. I really was planning to pay my visit in person anyway so I didn’t see the need to be a hundred percent accurate in my information. It wasn’t going into a court case or be notarized, so I took a little liberty.
And so the late night talk show style chat ended just as those encounters, with a handshake. Thankfully he didn’t go full throttle and announce my name as if he was David Letterman or anything. As full of myself as I might have been as far as pushing boundaries here and there, I was still a fair bit of a self conscious teenager.
The other up side to the conversation was its length. Not that I always relish an extended conversation with a stranger, but I was still in high school. I wasn’t the type to cut class but hearing the bells make their electronic “bong” sounds and knowing I was supposed to be elsewhere was a little bit rebellious. Perhaps it was even more of a rebel edge since here I was as a student talking with a guy about a place where you fall in and obey orders, all while defying the confines of a high school class schedule. The other nice part was the fact secretaries, faculty and councilors all respected the uniform. By respected, it meant it was not questioned.
“Are you still waiting to speak with someone?”
“No, ma’am. He is with me, thank you.”
So after the handshake, I did have to go back to class of course. I wasn’t the type who enjoyed missing class on a routine basis, but it was nice to defy the rules of the school. This was a counselor office for all practical purposes, so the man in the uniform walked me to my designated counselor and with a no bones about it approach told the man we had a meeting and now he needs to get back to class, and be excused from any other classes I missed while discussing my future. As stated above, it was pretty much the feeling this man had no choice but obey.
It was nice to see Trill in action. Maybe even that display was what made me lean a tad bit more in the favor of the service as a viable option. It was nice to see him take the brunt of the blame and then be absolved of any guilt or wrong doings. I doubt he did it to show off. T’was impressive though. In all honesty he probably knew he had to do it since in all likelihood there could have been repercussions if I was to try to get a pass on it. It could have been put down as an unexcused or some sort of consequence I couldn’t even think of. Maybe he knew he had to out of duty, which made the feat that much more impressive. Needless to say, any absence I had from my impromptu conversation had no ill effects. At least not in my high school career.
So I went to the recruiter office just as I said. A few times actually, since the first time he wasn’t around. If I really wanted to be talked out of my interest, I really could have spoken with another recruiter who was manning the post that day. The idea was to be objective so I wanted to speak with Trill in person at least the first time.
It was all rather anticlimactic to be honest. Three times in and two meetings. I had the same respect and interest in the man who first struck up a conversation with me in that school building. I discussed everything with the man in the uniform, he let me even take a day or so to think it over. If I came this far, of course I would return despite what the answer would be. We proved each other’s trust and so it went.
How it all eventually got hammered out was.. He was able to work almost every detail in regarding getting me going in the right direction as far as the money from the GI Bill and any other thread in the tapestry which could unofficially be woven until I pulled the trigger on the deal. I didn’t look too far as in where to attend. Thankfully it wasn’t a community college. If that was the case I would have just gone it alone anyway since it’s not really the kind of place a student can go into debt for if it’s done with a reasonably good head on top of shoulders. There was a state college which turned out to be one of the better colleges after all. Not too partying and without a complete nose to the grindstone mindset. Being in state meant there were huge tuition and fees breaks, which made it fit into the “full ride” category conveniently. Plus the commitment to the service was much easier as well in the short term. But as I emphasize. When I was going through things it was a bit more of a peace time situation.
So anyway.. There was a line, though not dotted, in which I signed. And thus began my first step towards military service.