51. Stories

Stories

Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.

Revelation 1:19

With our big training blocks complete, we filled in the gaps from July to August with shorter stints in the field at Camp Pendleton and pre-deployment leave. Rather than return home or take any leave at all, I decided to stick around the area and enjoy the Southern California sun. During this time I continued my summer weekend routine of sipping coffee at Starbucks while reading theology, jogging up and down San Clemente beach before or after a ring workout, and hanging out with my RTT family.

The day before deployment, on August 25th, the guys treated me with a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings. Greenwell joined with his wife and stunningly cute one-year-old, Salazar, Zorzynski, Thompson and his wife, Danson and Bradley all attended. Garcia came too, but he arrived late.

As everyone sat to order their food, two packs of cigars fluttered past my periphery and thumped on the table. I looked over my right shoulder to see Garcia grinning before speaking in his scratchy voice.

“I got some stogies!”

“Aw hell yeah,” Salazar said.

“Never had one,” I said, “But I’m down to give it a shot.” I always adamantly refused anyone’s attempt to pressure me into puffing on a cigarette, but I did like the smell of cigars, and I was open to the idea because rather than inhale the smoke, I heard the proper technique to enjoy them was to simply puff on the smoke and swirl it around in your mouth.

When we stepped outside in the open foyer of the outdoor mall after dinner, Garcia passed out the smokestacks. I waited for the cigar cutter now that I knew one was required after hearing of Wright’s1 ridiculous accident on Easter. 

“The hell are you doing?” Salazar asked as he watched Garcia gnaw on the tip of his cigar, ripping pieces off before spitting them out.

“I heard you can bite off the tip,” Garcia said.

“You look like a fucking idiot,” Salazar continued between chuckles, “Just use a cigar cutter.”

“Nah, I got this.” Garcia bought the lighter up to what now resembled a broom in his mouth. The flattened frays burned like a tiki torch for a few minutes until he puffed at it long enough for his ruined section to disintegrate.

Everyone else seemed to ignite theirs with ease, but mine took forever as I tried to puff the thick stick and rotate it as more smoke filled my mouth. The pleasant scent of seven cigars wafted about while the dry, tasteless smoke flowed between my teeth. With more puffs and tongue swishes I attempted to detect the nuanced flavor of the tobacco, but all I sensed was burnt leaves. I sucked in some puffs too far, to which my lungs quickly responded with coughs of rejection. 

As our cigar lounge continued in the outdoor mall, the reminiscence began. They laughed through at least a half dozen drunken moments and one night stands. I’d heard many sex stories over the years. From hanging out with Dust and his friends, to scores of six hour posts in Second Platoon, spending a year at RTT and now Golf Company, I came to dub these as “sexcapades.” Manazir impregnated a stripper, Hubbard brought home this crazy Navy chick from the gym who wrestled him around and scratched him up, a boot got a lap dance so rough he tore his penis, and there was always the occasional story of a Marine finding himself in bed with someone whom he thought was a woman. 

2/4’s most recent MEU made a stop in Thailand. While at training, my team leader Heath told me about it.

“Its fuckin’ nuts. Everywhere you go they reach out for you. They’re fuckin’ aggressive. They grab you walkin’ by like, ‘Me show you good time, come, come!’”

“Sheesh. That would get old real fast,” I said.

“Yeah. You gotta keep an eye out too. Half of ‘em are ladyboys.”

“Ughh,” I said, “Did you ever do anything?”

“Just the massages with happy endings. And soapies are the best. You know what a soapie is?”

“Nope.”

“Basically it’s a bath except instead of using a sponge, they use their whole body.”

The image of a tiny nude asian woman wrapping herself around a lounging, butt naked Marine scrubbing him with her torso popped in my mind. My nostril flared and one lip tipped up at the disturbing thought. 

Once the sexcapade stories died down, and my tongue shriveled into beef jerky, we were ready to call it a night.

“Hey Greentits,” Zorzynski said, handing him the phone, “before you go, get a pic of us.”

We all shot a look at the camera. Salazar, the only one who actually looked cool, flashed an icy glare with his flat billed hat and slick hand gesture. Garcia’s cigar shot out the side of his usual shit-eating-grin. I looked like I let out a fart and couldn’t keep a straight face. Danson’s lingering glare hung in the shadows behind me like a creepy photobomb while Bradley made a solid move to hide an otherwise dumb look with one hand gripping the cigar in his mouth, and Z managed the second-coolest pose, dangling his cigar in his right hand by his pocket accompanied by a flat, yet intentional expression as if trying out to be a GQ model. Zorzynski’s caption sums it up: “Cool guys doing cooler things.” We put out our cigars in the soil of the giant potted plants and said our goodbyes. 

I arrived at the barracks in San Mateo, trying to conjure up moisture in my parched mouth. The sand-paper I once called a tongue reeked of tasteless ash. As I approached the barracks, the sound of buzzing sent chills up my spine. I looked up towards my room on the second story of the building. A silhouette of two Marines gave me pause, one hunched over the rail and the other scrubbing his head with clippers.

“It’s your turn next Decoup!” Kath’s unmistakable deep voice boomed.

I sulked up the stairs and turned towards my room past Kath who stood up after buzzing the final patches on Miller’s head. I headed towards my room, but Kath barred entry, holding the clippers in his right hand. With a wide open grin he said, “She’s all ready for ya.”

“No, dude I’m not shaving my head.”

“Yeah you are. It’s tradition.”

“Why? I’ve been in for nearly four years now. I’m not a boot.”

“You haven’t deployed. Everyone gets their head shaved when they get their cherry popped.”

“I don’t care. I’m not gonna do it.”

“Look Decoup, we can either do this the easy way or the hard way. I can buzz ya nice and easy right here or we’ll hold you down with the whole fireteam. Either way, your head is getting shaved.”

I let out a long sigh. It was futile. “I hate this,” I said as I leaned over the thick balcony rail.

“Good boy.”

I cringed with each haphazard plow across my head as the first night in boot camp flashed in my now desecrated head. By this point they had already shaved us and we followed a drill instructor down a long hall with windows to my right stretching from floor to ceiling. When I caught my reflection in the panes blackened by night, I nearly puked in my mouth. 

The horror show of my uneven scalp made my eyes scream. For the first time I saw my shorn scalp with a small bulb protruding where a smooth downward curve should be, followed by a shriveled angle dipping down to the back of my skull. At that hideous moment, I vowed never to shave my head again once boot camp was over. I hung my head that night after being forced to break my oath.

Moping to my room, I sought to salvage some dignity by reintroducing moisture into my mouth by brushing my teeth. I shuddered at my reflection as I attempted to scrub off the smoke stains. The cleansing helped less than I’d hoped. My taste-buds felt like bristles themselves, flicking between the hairs of my brush. When finished, my mouth still felt parched and ashen as before but now with a minty aftertaste. 

Cigars smell a lot better than they taste.

I sat down at my desk and grabbed my empty black booklet. With a growing sense of purpose leading up to deployment, and eager to experience the hopefully wild tales about to unfold, I knew I wanted to record what would come next. So, I purchased a 5’’ x 8’’ Moleskine journal to record what may come. I opened my journal and began outlining my day, filling it with what would soon be one of many stories.

  1. I describe what happened in more detail in the post entitled Veggies.

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