94-96, Ft Benning GA. Drill Sergeant duty was a great experience, I learned a lot but it was long, drudgerous work. Up at 0300 home again at 2300, that’s worst case but it went on for three weeks at a stretch. Then throw in CQ or Staff Duty roll the “max Drills” dice when you don’t get 24 hours off after pulling 24 hour duty. Damn, snake eyes again. The best it got to was 0400 to 2000, better than a sharp stick in the eye but only marginally.
So a buddy of mine from the Wolfhounds calls and says he’s coming to Ft Benning for school. We immediately make plans for a drunken reunion commencing upon his arrival. I told my partner and he was fully supportive. I was going to get an entire evening off from the trail! I left work at 1700 changed into blue jeans and my favorite black t-shirt, slipped into the really cool snakeskin boots I had then and drove to the airport. The Columbus GA airport wasn’t Atlanta Hartsfield but it had a bar. That was enough, all I needed was “a honky tonk song, a cold cold beer, a hardwood floor, a smokey atmosphere. A pocket full of change would last me all night long, I need to hear ol’ Hank moanin’ a honky tonk song.”
Unlike poor George, it wasn’t the law that stepped into my night off. It was work. Work in the form of a poor dumb Private. There I was, saddled up to the bar, just me and the bartender, I ordered a draft and got it instantly. My buddy’s flight was due in about thirty minutes, perfect. Then the private strolled in. My eyes were trained, I could spot a uniform violation from 400 meters, he was only across the bar but I couldn’t help but notice the pack of Marlboros buttoned into the pocket of his Class B shirt. I knew instantly he was going home on emergency leave, the skeeter wings on his collar and the “Thank You For Joining The Army” ribbon all by its lonesome self above the Marlboros gave it away. Trainees weren’t allowed to smoke by regulation, on leave or off My blood pressure kicked into high gear but I shook it off telling myself “If he stays away from me I’ll ignore him, poor kid, let him go home and deal with whatever it is that caused his emergency leave.” I turned back to the bar and sipped my cold, cold beer trying to get my mind right.
The bartender cut his eyes toward me, I knew things weren’t going as I’d hoped and he obviously recognized me by my high and tight flattop haircut. Even the bartender knew this private was putting his own head in the noose.
I had done some travelling by this point in my career, America was the only place I’d encountered this phenomena, we called it “The Queer Bubble.” Every American has one, its known as personal space by scientists and it extends to arms length. Everything within my arms length is mine and the instant anything violates that space, even behind you, your queer bubble sets off an alarm. The best example I can think of is the urinals in the men’s room. If there are three urinals men only use the first one and the third one. The center one would cause our queer bubbles to alert so no one uses it. There are waivers available, if its a busy night and there’s a a hundred men waiting to piss the middle is available, everyone voluntarily turns down the alarms on the queer bubbles but you must stare straight forward at the wall the entire time you piss. Meat gazing is strictly forbidden.
This rule also apply’s to barstools. If the bar is empty, which this one was, strangers leave an empty stool between each other, merely out of respect for their fellow man’s queer bubble. Not this private, he walked up to me like we were long lost brothers and sat right beside me. I rested my head in my palm trying to find a calm place while the klaxons from my queer bubble blared in my head. The bartender smiled, he knew what was coming.
While I was taking deep breaths and trying to get my blood pressure back to something reasonable the private rubbing his hips on mine unbuttoned his Marlboros and ordered a draft, then turned and started talking to me. I had given no signals that I wanted to be communicated with, most people would have seen me holding my face in my palm and deep breathing and thought I might be a bit unbalanced. Like the Unabomber or some such shit. Not this private, he actually struck up a conversation.
I don’t remember what his opening line was but him addressing me like I was his oldest, bestest friend pushed me over the edge. “You’re going on emergency leave aren’t you private.” It was a statement, not a question. “I know your First Sergeant briefed you on what was expected of you before he let you go.” I wasn’t looking at him yet but I could feel his entire attention focused on me as the volume of my voice rose from a near whisper to eleven. Then the questions started, “He told you as an IET soldier you weren’t allowed to smoke, or drink while you were on leave. Why the f*ck would you button a pack of cigarettes into your class b pockets? Why would you walk in here, sit right down beside me and order a f*cking beer. Why would you sit right beside me and rub my nose in your ill-discipline? are you queer? are you stupid? are you trying to piss me off? are you trying to ruin my night off? What have I ever done to you that I should have stupid privates follow me everywhere I go just to piss me off?”
Something in my command voice finally revealed the situation to the young man and while I rattled off questions he eased down off his barstool and assumed the position of parade rest. “Yes Drill Sergeant, no Drill Sergeant” was all I heard after that.
Now I looked him dead in the eye, “Take your private ass over there to that table,” I pointed to the furthest table from our current location, “and sit the f*ck down and shut the f*ck up until your g-damned plane comes. I don’t want to know you’re here. Leave you’re g-damned Marlboros here, leave your f*ckin’ beer.” I turned my attention to the bartender, “Take him a sweet tea to that farthest f*cking table then ignore his ass while I drink his draft and smoke his cigarettes. Sorry assed piece of shit. Get the f*ck away from me private!” He turned and ran to the table. “Turn the f*ck around so your not eyeballin’ me private!” He leapt into another chair with his back to me and sat straight backed and quivering.
The bartender knew the deal, he was about to wet himself. My buddy showed up a few minutes later, we had a beer there just to torment the private then we hit the honky tonks and titty bars of Columbus GA.
It turned out to be a fine night. For me.