…I thought of my options. Why not join the Navy? Why not indeed. But the military life seemed to be an anathema to my easy going ways. Yes, I was intrigued by the stories my father told me of his military life. The fun he had although he never ever parlayed his combat experiences to me or anyone else in the family. His friends, the sports, the overt camaraderie he seemed to enjoy were interesting but I always sensed that he despised the discipline, arrogance and bullshit of the Army. It was no wonder, or joke, that we never ever went camping as a family. Holed up in a tent for weeks at a time: cold, dirty miserable English weather or the heat and humidity of a European summer all the while scared out of your ever loving mind. No, I think for me I was scared of the discipline and uncertainty of the military life. Especially the Army. All that salutin; yes sir, no sir, your shit lockers full sir etc. On top of that, the only insight I had of the Navy arose from the serious and dark images of Jack Hawkins in “The Cruel Sea;” or the fanaticism, madness of Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable in “Run Silent Run Deep;” or conversely “McHale’s Navy.” What should I do? Yes or no?
I decided to check it out as I didn’t have to commit right away. I didn’t tell a soul what I was doing. Down I went to the recruiting centre, taking the metro then bus to an imposing but stark and sombre looking building downtown. I hesitated. Should I or shouldn’t I? Yet the unknown always appears worse than it really is. Just go for it and see what happens. It may turn out that they “DON’T WANT YOU.”
In I went, to reception. Everyone here, except us snot nosed delinquents, was in uniform of some sorts. But I didn’t really know one from the other.
“Can I help you” a uniformed man asked.
“Um ah, yes Sir. I think I, well what I mean is, I would like to or perhaps – do you have any openings for a Boatswain’s Mate?” Not cool!
The guy looked at me like the dork that I was. He chuckled somewhat, gave me a book of forms and asked me, politely but assertively, to fill them out in the “fill out the book of forms” room.
I complied. It took me about an hour to complete the application, as best I could. Of some concern was the part about a criminal record, trouble with the law etc and my mind came back to that time with Timmy and the Great Record Robbery. I felt I had better be honest here and not lie for I had seen the movie and knew what happens to guys who lie in the military – Firing Squad – just like that anti-war movie “Paths of Glory” with Kirk Douglas. “Nothing glorious in being dead” I shivered to think of it myself. Then again this was the Navy. What then? Oh damn, the gangplank, as in walk it, as in how long can you tread water? As in how far can you swim? As in keel hauling, just like Jack London’s “Sea Wolf” with Edward G Robinson and John Garfield! Cookie and the shark! Good gawd man I thought to myself, stop with the movie fantasy, this is real life.
I handed the application back to the nice man in the uniform. He shuffled them into a file folder. Oh yeah, the infamous file folder. If you want to look good in the military and not be a target for some stupid duty, like KP, you walk around looking important, and busy, with a file folder in you hands – just like Phil Silvers as the Master Sergeant con man in “Sgt Bilko.” But I digress.
“Thanks John” the recruiter said, then adding “Now I have here a battery of aptitude tests for you to take: basic math, algebra, general knowledge, things of that nature. If you would be so kind as to go over to the “take the battery of aptitude tests” room and I’ll be right with you.”
In I went into the “take the battery of aptitude tests” room and sat down. I was the only dork there. The recruiter came in and told me that these tests were time sensitive in that I had a certain amount of time to complete them. Fine I thought but somewhat nervous.
“Try not to be nervous,” he reassured me. He was a nice guy actually. But then again they are all nice guys and gals until they have you dead to right or lost to your rights, right? No left!
First math – 20 minutes, done. Then some geometry, algebra – 30 minutes, done. Then general knowledge – 30 minutes – done admiralty, er admirably. Finally history – 20 minutes, done. Whew, finished, tough go for sure.
“Okay John, thanks. You can go back to reception, or go out for a smoke, or whatever. We should have the results in about 30 minutes.”
Whew, that was tough I thought. Almost two hours of this. I was a tad drained of energy.