Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Sweatshirt Story

Have you ever gone out and done the exact opposite of what you should have done, and then tried like hell to "fix" it? You too?

When I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, my unit would go up to Fort Pickett, Virginia every winter for gunnery. The ranges at Lejeune were not capable of supporting the weapon systems that we used, so we turned to the Army for support. What we got for support was the use of a decrepit old base that had almost zero infrastructure in place. It was perfect! Who needs all of those luxuries like hot food, a base exchange, or real medical care?
We had our own field mess to serve us up some heated "k-rats" on a daily basis, and our Corpsmen to identify the cause of death. In a sense, it was just like a deployment, and it suited us just fine.

There was a skeleton crew of civilians on base there, and they kept the electricity on, and that's about it. One thing that they did have, and our (the Marines) first order of business was to inquire about it, was an enlisted club. We didn't have the opportunity to visit the club the first week or so that we were there, but the green flag finally came on a cold Friday afternoon. We were all instructed, very clearly, that we needed to be on our best behavior, and that any "incidents" would result in our unit being banned from the club. Hell, what could go wrong?

My immediate circle of buddies consisted of a Sergeant (Sgt) who thought everyone was plotting against him (this was when he was sober), and a Corporal (Cpl) that was a state champion wrestler with a bad temper. Oh, the wrestler was also a really mean drunk.
I donned some jeans and a sweatshirt for what I thought would be a pretty tame night at the local beer joint. Sgt Winn, Cpl Patterson, and I headed for the club at 1700 on a chilly Friday evening. We were in good spirits, and were looking forward to finally drinking some beer, feeding some quarters into the juke box, and maybe shooting some pool. I reminded both of them that we needed to not get out of hand, or it would be our only night out while we were here; both of my companions were in agreement.

We walked through the frozen mud between the old movie theater and the enlisted club, and discovered that the club was actually pretty nice, in an old, battered, campy kind of way. The jukebox was fairly loud, they had a couple of pool tables, and there were plenty of tables around the ample bar. They also had a very well stocked bar, run by a pleasant man with an older woman helping out.

We sat down at a table and ordered a couple of beers, and then put some money on the pool table. We ended up playing a few games of nine ball with some mortarmen from one of the battalion's line companies. This was our first bad move. The mortarmen didn't share our desire to stay out of trouble, and they were on a mission to get as drunk as possible. They began ordering shots for all of us, and I did what came naturally: I downed shot after shot of cheap tequila. I felt great! I didn't want these shots to interfere with my beer drinking, so I swaggered over to the bar and took up station close to the taps.

I ordered a beer, and struck up a conversation with the bartender. I have no idea what it was about, but I think it involved horses. I was doing just fine with my beer when mortarman number one brought me two more shots of tequila and said, "You're falling way behind, Devil Dog. Get on it." Well, hell. I'm not going to be made a mockery of for turning down free tequila.

Fast forward about 15 minutes, and the same mortarman is back with another couple of shots. I can't remember if the idea that this might end badly ever crossed my mind, but I certainly didn't put up much of a fight.

A few minutes later, I discovered that bar napkins will completely dissolve if you slop enough beer on them. The bartender wasn't nearly as impressed as I was. He still brought me another beer though. Cue the mortarman with another couple of shots.

Mortarboy comes back yet again, and I told him that we needed to stop meeting like this. He laughed and said, "Don't be such a wuss; these shots aren't going to drink themselves!"

I'm now invincible, and have decided to tell anyone within ear shot that I can drink more liquor than any of them! Cpl Patterson, the mean, short tempered wrestler, says, "What? Bullshit! It's on now motherf#^&er." He orders more shots for all of us, and moves the entire party over to the bar, where it's much more convenient for me to indulge in the debauchery.

I'm unsure of how many shots I did after that, or how many beers I drank. Suffice it to say that I consumed far more alcohol than I should have. I found myself sitting (sort of) at the bar, alone, and drunk as I could possibly be while still remaining conscious. For the uninitiated, that's pretty drunk. Then, as if being drunker than the town whino at a wine tasting festival wasn't enough, I soon realized that I was going to vomit. I didn't think I was going to vomit, I knew I was going to vomit. I also knew that I probably couldn't walk very well. This all happened in the span of what seemed like half a second, and before I knew it, I had spewed chunky puke all over the top of the bar.

Now, remember, I was supposed to be on my best behavior, so that we didn't get banned from this bar. I somehow doubt that spraying the bar top with slimy vomit would be considered good form. The Marine in me came through. I had enough of a sense of mission accomplishment and Esprit de Corps to know that I had to somehow fix this social misstep.

I stretched the bottom portion of my sweatshirt out in front of me, just under the edge of the bar (just as if I was going to scrape a few crumbs from a table). I then reached out my other arm and began swiping all of this puke off the edge of the bar, into my sweatshirt. I vaguely remember a warm sensation in my lap, as the liquid portion made it through the sweatshirt. To my credit, I cleaned the top of that bar off so well, the bartender never said a damned thing about me puking on it (he was otherwise occupied dealing with mortarman #1 and Cpl Patterson in the other end of the room at the time; Cpl Patterson had reached "mean drunk" condition). I then hobbled over to a large plastic trash barrel in the corner, and emptied the contents of my sweatshirt into it. It felt like I was carrying a wet bowling ball in my sweatshirt! I tried to scrape the chunks off as best I could, remarked to a passerby that, "We had chili-mac tonight, and I ate a shitload of that slop!" and then headed toward the restroom to try and finish the cleanup effort.

I don't remember much after that, but I know I made it back to the barracks, and so did paranoid Sgt and mean wrestler Cpl. The Army contacted our CO the next day and said that they didn't appreciate the mayhem that ensued. Our CO placated the Army liaison enough that we weren't banned, yet, from the club. What a sense of relief that I felt! I was so worried that I would be the one to get us thrown out! Now it would surely be someone else...Maybe.

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