Growing up in LA, in a quiet middle-class suburb, my interactions with the military were few and far between. I remember one time, when I was 14, going to a basketball tournament out in 29 Palms. Besides being chock full of yucca trees, 29 Palms hosts a very large Marine base. The hotel we stayed at was populated by drunk Marines on their weekend leave. Even though these guys were only a few years older than us, they were pretty intimidating and we were sternly admonished to steer clear of them. Which we did.
And continued to do so throughout high school. My friend La Dona's family had a condo in Oceanside that we would often spend spring break or other long weekends at. Oceanside is the host town of Camp Pendleton, which is pretty much the Marine mothership. Picture a fugly, dreary town that is composed largely of tattoo parlors, pawn ships, liquor stores, and porn emporiums, and that's Oceanside. (But I loved the condo, La Dona! We always had fun there; it was just that we had to leave Oceanside itself to do so.) We managed to avoid any and all Marines while down there.
While interning in the U.S. embassy in Paris a few years back, us interns would often hang out with the Marine guards, since we shared the lowest spot on the totem pole in the embassy hierarchy. While they were essentially nice guys, they were constantly getting in drunken brawls when we went out and overall reinforced my idea that it would be a good idea to keep a solid distance from them.
That track record was shattered this weekend. While dancing off turkey on Thanksgiving night, a youngster came up to me and said, "You look bored. Let me buy you a drink." That offer was music to my ears - I never get free drinks - and I accepted. It turned out that the lad was a 22-year-old Marine from Texas. His home county in Texas still does not have a stoplight; he was in the Future Foresters of America during high school; he is an unapologetic Toby Keith fan. All of which I don't understand. Plus there's the age difference. The standard rule is you can go as low as half your age, plus seven years. So the Marine *barely* squeaked by there...and I do mean barely, because his birthday was last month. Holy shit.
But I find him interesting as a window into a world that I don't know but, given the election results, may be the path that our country's on for the next four years. I spent most of the weekend with him, quizzing him relentlessly about his earliest memories (he claims to remember Iran-Contra, on which I call bullshit) and what exactly what punishments various behavioral infractions merit in the Marine Corps. Who knew that you aren't allowed to wear a wife-beater in public, even during your "civilian" time?
So we'll see what happens. At least he's giving me perspective on my life. I was bitching about having to return to a - gasp - five-day work week, one of which days will have to be spent at a planning session with funders. He listened to me gravely, sympathized sincerely, and then said, "Yeah, I'm not looking forward to this week either. I have to go to the gas chamber on Thursday."