Monday, May 24, 2010

A Letter to the BSA Concerning a Life Changing Outhouse

Dear army recruiters, hippies, and everyone in between,

The other night I was lifting a bag of groceries out of the car, and screamed in pain. This was unusual, because I don't make a habit of screaming in pain. I cuss in pain. I growl in pain. I'll even snarl and punch a door jam in pain, but, screaming from the mixture of surprise sensation mixed with the sorrow of my body failing me at the same time, doesn't really happen. I screamed at that moment because the plastic handle of a bag with a gallon of milk in it had slipped to rest its full weight on the side of the middle finger of my left hand, right next to the nail. The one, tiny piece of my body that, at that moment, was infected.

Now, I don't know how many of you reading this have ever had an infection on a sensitive part of your body before, but, it is pure hell on earth. Through multiple toenails, ears, a cut on the knee, and a few finger nails (like the one the bag caught) I feel like I've suffered three life times of infection pain in what, if you added up all the times between those incidents, would probably amount to maybe two months. So, when this bag slid down to my infected fingernail and stopped on it, I thought I might collapse to the ground. I held my breath (after the scream) and managed to make it inside on my feet. Then, I dropped the bags on the kitchen floor and told my wife I'd be right back.

I went into the bathroom and started producing things from under the sink. Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. I tore a wad of toilet paper from the roll. And then, I unclipped my folding knife from the inside of my right jean pocket and flicked it open. The blade, as well as my middle finger, were soaked in the alcohol, and I turned the water on, mostly just as a little distraction. Then, I leaned against the sink, used my thumb to pull the skin tight on my finger, and, well, I'll spare you the other details. I relieved the pressure.

When I came back into the kitchen a minute later with a band-aid my wife asked me what I had done. I got about ten seconds into the explanation before she had had enough. She didn't think I was crazy, but, she certainly wouldn't have ever recommended that course of action to anyone she cared about. I can see where she's coming from, but, to me, what I did was not that odd at all. In fact, I know a few people, my dad included, that would have chastised me for letting it get as bad as I did before I went into the bathroom and used my pocket knife to perform surgery on myself. It's one of the few common traits between my father's and my mother's sides of my family. That quality that someone possesses that allows them to disconnect from things that are distasteful in order to accomplish a more important goal. We're not survivalists or "tough guys". We just don't like the idea of being helpless or dependent.

But, I wasn't always like that.

I'll just come out and say it. I was a pretty wimpy kid. That's how I remember it, anyway. I remember getting beat up and picked on. I remember being scared all the time and never wanting to try new things. I tattled, I ran, and I hid. The word "p*ssy" was used on more than one occasion.

Now, not so much. Now, I seem to have a pretty good handle on my fear and pressure. If something looks dangerous, and I know I have to deal with it, I tend to just start dealing with it before my mind has a chance to overstate the risk, and if I'm lucky, I'm finished before I realize how dangerous or icky or nasty that task just was. My brain is screaming to stop, but I just keep walking or climbing or doing what I'm doing, slowly, carefully, letting my mind freak out while I remain calm.

And, when I try to trace the root of it down to the source of this change in myself, I keep coming back to the same idea. The same core concept that might have had the kind of long lasting effect that helps me every single day. I think it was because I was a boyscout.

I've always had a love affair with the military. When I was a kid I played soldier, when I was older I played Rainbow Six, when I was a little older I played paint ball, and then back to Rainbow Six, because I started smoking and didn't have any money. A lot of my free time is spent learning about, or simulating military actions. My grandfather was career Air Force; a good man and an actual hero (has the crazy stories and the purple heart to prove it). So, as a child getting to go on base and climb around in bombers was definitely fuel on the armed forces fire. I had made up my mind to join the Air Force early on, right up until the point where I met the girl that would become my wife, and even though love put a stop to the idea of enlisting, my obsession still remained.

But, believe me when I tell you that this interest and enjoyment for the armed forces has been troubling to me for a while now, because I find the idea of war distasteful to a very high degree. Since I was old enough to have a real opinion it's bothered the living shit out of me how much I love everything military, but hate everything war. Born to Kill written on my helmet with a peace button on my jacket. The duality of man, sir.

I think my brain has been working on this contradiction for a while in the background to try and understand how those two sides are linked in me. You see, I don't believe in personal internal conflict. I think outside forces can put you in a conflicting position, but when it comes to two ideas that were both born in your head, I don't believe they can be opposed to one another. I think there has to be a connection that explains everything that you just haven't found yet. I think the most important part of a person learning about themselves is figuring out all those hidden reconciliations. I'm a Reconciliationist (you just wait, that will catch on).

So, the other night I'm alone, playing a video game where I shoot people in the head, and something dawns on me. I was groomed into that lifestyle. Uniforms, order, medals, advancement, survival training, team building, chain of command. For a quarter of my current lifetime I was in the little army known as the Boy Scouts of America. Well, actually most of that was Cub Scouts, but it's the same root organization, and the same playbook. I was enrolled early, I think the first grade, and once a week or so was brought to a club house with a group of kids (a few who would become my then best friends) and taught how to prepare myself for life. Not only taught interesting things but trusted by adults to handle myself around knives and fire and axes and bows and pellet rifles and rope (if you don't think rope belongs in the dangerous category you've never been in the scouts and pissed off your friends). It was like boot camp for tots. That is my reconciliation for my hard-on for the military. I had just never really put it together before.

Probably because when I was actually in the Scouts, half the time I absolutely hated it. I didn't know why I had to give up some nights and weekends when other kids didn't to essentially go to another kind of school. I hated the school I went to that was required by law and my parents went ahead and signed me up for double duty. That teaches a kid the word "bullshit" real early in his life. I didn't know why I had to learn how to stake down a tent or build a fire or practice whittling. I lived in a house that had air conditioning. For heat we had these things called stoves and "out of control gasoline experiments".

The only thing I really loved about the Scouts was being with my friends and collecting donated canned food for the homeless. I should clear that up real quick; if you were never a scout, collecting cans was the best thing ever. You sprinted from a moving van to a house, grabbed a sack of carrots and ravioli and sprinted back, full speed, throwing them in the van and running to the next house. It was like you were robbing all the houses on the block in a single morning, we all loved the shit out of it. So, Scouts was miserable for me some of the time, and the rest of the time it was just kind of OK, until a single moment during an important time in my life.

What would become one of the happiest memories of my life was near the end of my tenure as a Boy Scout when we went up to a big hunk of woods and mountains called Camp Orr Adventure Base in Arkansas right on the Buffalo River. I had a pretty rough start, being a p*ssy and all. I had gotten to the point as a kid where I liked the idea of camping and cutting firewood and generally living outdoors. Over the years I had slowly drunk all the kool-aid and was now pretty much on board with what we were doing and that being prepared and helping my fellow man was exactly what I should be doing all the time. That is, until I realized that we were going to have to crap in a hole in the ground. A hole with a seat built on it and walls around it, but a hole nonetheless, and all that whimpering, lip-quivering, "I hate this and want to go home" bullshit came back like a flash flood. This time accompanied by some serious intestinal cramping.

Nevertheless, I refused to use the latrine.

Let me tell you about refusing to use the bathroom for two days straight even though you had to in the car even before you got up to the camp but thought your royal butt cheeks were too good for the McDonald's 4 miles back. Don't do that. Just don't ever do that. I was sick as a dog. I felt like I was going to die, and even then, I decided my dignity and privacy were more important than not having poop in me. So, in my tent I lay, my heart almost as heavy as the lower half of my body. And then nature took over. My brain, deciding that I was not fit for duty, relieved me of my command and I found myself, totally against my better judgment, sprinting through the woods in a race with the devil. 1.5 seconds later ass was on ply wood and I was feeling ten pounds lighter.


That was the last part of me left that thought it deserved the air conditioning. That was the last part of me that wanted to call my mom and tell her to talk to someone and get me out of this place. That was the last part of me that thought it was bullshit that I had to be a scout when other kids didn't. Some people describe defining moments in their life as a weight being lifted or a part of themselves shedding off. Well, that particular life changing moment of mine was crapped into a six foot hole in the woods near Jasper, Arkansas.

I wouldn't be in the Scouts for much longer after that, maybe a year, and I left for personal reasons having to do with an overbearing, abusive mother of one of the other guys that refused NOT to come to meetings. I decided that I didn't sign up to listen to her bitch for a few hours a week, so, seeing that the Troop leaders weren't going to do anything about her, I left. But, I was sad about it. Or, at least I'm sad now. Sometimes it's hard to remember what you felt then versus how you think you should have felt about it now.

Later in life, as a "rebellious" teenager, I would brag that I had been kicked out of the Boy Scouts, but that was mostly just to make people laugh. It was part of an image, the irony of which was while I was telling them how the Scouts just didn't want me, I would still never leave the house without a pocket knife, change for a pay phone, something to eat, and some band-aids. I had already been programmed and no amount of saying "fuck you narcs" after the fact would wash the lessons out of me.

And now, as an adult, I find myself always drawn back, over and over, to the lives of military personal and survivalists. I love learning all about life as a soldier or life out in the wilderness. I'm attracted to those lifestyles with a magnetic force. And now I think it's because I was trained as a child to be that kind of person. It's not that the Scouts took a soft week boy and made a man out of him. It's just that they laid all the ground work and training that an adult can fall back on when things get bad later on in life. That's what you hear all the time from soldiers and police and rescue personnel. Things get fucked up and their training takes over. I think the same thing happens to me, but I think there's something inside of my that feels incomplete, because I walked away from it. I think I am so seduced by the military or law enforcement because they feel like the continuation of that life style that, in hindsight, really helped me become the kind of person I am.

I know the BSA has its bad sides. Overly religious and homophobic leaders have taken a dump on what is, at its core, a wonderful way for children to learn very important lessons about life and the world. Yes, we were part of an organization that was made up almost entirely of white, heterosexual males. Yes, if I was to look at a group photo of us now it might look like a Nazi Youth Rally. But, we didn't know that. We were just spending time with our friends and camping. The military doesn't exactly have a bright and shining record either, and like I said, I hate the idea of war as a concept. But, I'm not signing a petition or running for office over this stuff.

I just miss the pureness of those experiences. I miss how everything we did had a purpose, and everything we were taught had a distinct and immediate point. We were taught to handle ourselves and to help each other. We were taught when to rely on others, and when to rely on only ourselves. We were taught how to keep living and help others do the same.

That's why I live out fantasies on the TV of being in the special forces or Top Gun. That's why I am so fascinated with the military while loathing the point of their existence. That's why I love the tools but hate the job. That's also why I cut my finger open in my bathroom sink a few days ago. It's all healed now and feels better than new. All thanks to me, which is all thanks to them.

Born to kill with a peace button. Nicely tied together by the Boy Scouts of America. Ah, sweet reconciliation, the world makes a little bit more sense than it did yesterday.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
If the chance remains to see those better days, I'd cut those cannons down
My ears are blown to bits from all the rifle hits, but still I crave that sound

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