(Continued from last week when I first considered enlisting because I was broke.)
Although I had forgotten completely about the Navy and journalism, chance intervened. My mother’s birthday is in February and I went over to visit her one day. While I was in her kitchen the phone rang. It was Petty Officer Hall. There was an opening in the Defense Information School, the training site for military journalists. Did I still want to enlist? He had to know and get me signed up in order to guarantee me the training. I remember standing there thinking that this must be karma. I rarely visited my mother. If I had not been there at that very moment it is doubtful that I would have gotten the message or acted upon it in time. So I said yes and took the train back to Coney Island to sign the papers. A few weeks later I went off to boot camp to complete basic training and be indoctrinated as a sailor, which was the prerequisite to getting the journalism training that I wanted.
Boot camp was a memorable experience. It is an exercise in brainwashing accomplished through a great deal of yelling and insistence on following meaningless rules just for the sake of building the habit of taking orders. If I close my eyes I can still remember the hot bourbon-and-tobacco breath of my drill instructor, Petty Officer First Class Gibson, standing almost nose to nose with me, screaming, “Do I look like your momma, recruit?” One instance from that 9-weeks of calculated abuse pertains to my journalism saga.
It was about midway through the cycle when I was told I had to take a typing test to qualify for the journalism training program. I used an old manual typewriter. I had to type either a dozen or 15 words per minute accurately. I failed. The boot camp authorities told me I could not go to the training program. No problem, I said. You can send me home. Because I was guaranteed a spot in the school and if you can’t hold up your end of the bargain, I should not have to finish my enlistment. I would have been more than happy at that point to call the whole Navy thing off. But whoever was in charge of such decisions figured it was the journalism program’s problem to teach me to type. Boot camp couldn’t afford to lose a recruit.
Next: DINFOS-trained killer