I was such a good boy, mediocre at everything. C’s in school, JV in sports and socially a disaster with girls. My graduation diploma stated unequivocally ‘ Mediocre at best’…
It was 1966 and the Vietnam war was on. The boot camp training was reduced from 10 weeks to 7 weeks to quickly fill the ranks even if mediocre sometimes slipped through. My time in the Navy was not memorable as in heroic, more like mediocre in a uniform.
On to the drugs. My first couple weeks at San Diego Naval Hospital at Balboa was not memorable to me, I think it was because I was pretty beat up and nearly comatose. Drugs were needed and handed out to me like Skittles, They wanted me to rest painlessly and untroubled, and untroubled I was.
Upon improvement I came to know what the term ‘ working hospital’ meant. For every recuperating Naval druggie, there was a price to pay. I was assigned ‘toilet patrol’, in a matter of days , I was a soloist.
I was sent off the ward to a cement blockhouse on the hospital campus. No sooner did my foggy brain with attached body enter a huge ‘head’, sailor talk for restroom, than the lights went out.
My mind contemplated the blackness, Did I just die ? Is this what comatose looks from the inside?
Reaching and feeling in the dark for several minutes, knowing that I touched the same urinal three times, I took a seat and…
Sometime later,”What the hell?” said my ward orderly standing at the entrance to the stall.
“The lights went out.” I sputtered
“DumbAss!”, shouted the orderly. “The light was on when you came in. You turned it off on yourself . DumbAss!”.
I saw the move from toilets to floors an upgrade. The marines back from Nam were on the two floors that I mopped. Most were amputees and the like. The shine on the floors was like glass. To the floor guys like me, the buffer was like the Harley that we would never have.
My day came on floor 2C. With 36 feet of open road between rows of beds, I fired up my Harley buffer. The buffer swung me from one bed across to another. The drugs in my system limited my ability to react. Nary a bed not slammed into, the marines were as mad as hell. Two orderlies finally tackled me and my machine. Done for another day.
The next day in ward 3C, out to prove that I was at least mediocre. I snuck the buffer on to starting line. Bam!, off we went. Somewhere in physics, there is a law that says that the closer the weight is to the center of a spinning object, the faster it goes. To stop the buffer, I jumped on. We spun erratically to and fro until the cord slipped into the buffer. Now pulled by the wrapped cord toward the plugin and scalding the smoking rubber on the cord, I was thrown down the wonderfully waxed floor. I was sent to my room.
To my surprise, my Skittles must have been working. I was soon assigned ‘ yard duty’. I reported to the yardmaster (Head groundskeeper). He pointed me to the kiosk where one signs in and reads their assignment. My brain was so numb, none of the writing made it to the cortex.
Back at the yardmaster, “I don’t know what it says”, I said meekly.
“Can you read?” I nodded, “Then get back down there and try again.”
Somehow in my wanderings, I must have missed the kiosk because much later,”Hey DumbAss!’.
It seems my keeper and his new friend called M.P. had been searching for me. As they could tell, I was standing in a parking lot somewhere.
Finally, I was assigned to OGU, out going units. I was going home. My Skittles had been reduced to nothing and I was going through that stage where I couldn’t sleep at all at night.
My last night, wide awake and hungry. I reached in the dark for a handful of gum drops, put the whole handful in my mouth along with at least 25 transient sugar ants.
In the head, after washing out my mouth, I saw the little bottle in my shaving kit. A friend had forgone his skittle and gave it to me in case I really, really needed it. I took it.
I missed the plane the next morning…