About 5'7", stocky, partially bald with dark, thick stubble on his face, Michael Schwartz looked considerably older than his 32 years.
Surprised at his appearance, motioning towards the barracks, “You look kind’a old to be with this bunch.” Mitchell said tactlessly.
Sighing, “Yeah, I spent three years during Korea in the Merchant Marine thinking I’d be excempt from the draft, but guess what?”
“Jesus, no shit?”
“Yeah, no shit! They wanted to draft me into the fucking Army, so here I am… Look, I’ll talk to you later. I want to hop in the shower before lights out.”
“Yeah, sure, Mickey. Talk to you later.”
Cape May, New Jersey
October 9, 1952
Mitchell had spent the long hours during the trip from Chicago rationalizing his reasons for a four-year enlistment.
First off, the war in Korea had ended in July and no one would be shooting at him. Also, unless in college, he would be eligible for the draft within the next year and, really, the only thing he had been doing at Wright was taking up space and Mitchell didn’t know how long he would have been able to last there.
He further rationalized that in four years, after he was out of the Coast Guard, maybe he would be better prepared for college. Also, maybe he would learn a vocation in the Coast Guard.
All rationale aside, though, the reason for his enlistment, the real motive, was that he could not stand the thought of being that close to Susan and not be allowed to see her, not be allowed to be with her.
Other than that, he had thought about the Coast Guardsmen stationed at the Randolph Street Lifeboat Station in Chicago Harbor. The Coast Guard seemed like romantic, adventuresome, not-too-difficult duty that would get him away from Chicago, and Susan, and bring him into contact with any number of girls.
He had also felt, especially since taking the written Coast Guard exam, that the quality of people he’d meet in as elite a branch of the military as the Coast Guard would be better, intellectually, than the Army….
“Day is gone.
“Gone the sun,”
Boatswains Mate Third Class Gustand threw the switch turning off the lights of barracks 7.
“from the lake.
“from the hills,
“from the sky.”
His fingers absently caressing the stubble of his military brush, lying on his back with his hands behind his head, he listened.
From the far end of the camp the mournful sound of the bugle echoed softly… then all was quiet.
Sad, lonely; feeling the thickening in his throat and the stinging behind his eyes, swallowing, he attempted to hold back tears.
In Barracks 7 there was the rustle of fifty beds, the breathing of fifty men, and the muffled sobs of more than just a few, when…
“Hey, y’all!” In a light, chirpy, southern accent. “Y’all ever see a fuckin’ rocket ship a’blastin’ off?”
“Aw, no, ya rebel son-of-a-bitch! Don’t y’all go an’ be doin’ that ol’ shitty shit again!”
Slightly deeper, the second voice had the same southern accent.
“Aw, come on, Mac. These ol’ northern cock-suckers ain’t never seen a fuckin’ rocket blast… Don’t j’ya’all rookie, fuckin’ boots wanna see a fuckin’ rocket ship a’blastin’ off?”
“Wha’j’ya mean, ‘rookie, fuckin’ boots’?” In a New York accent, coming from the other end of the barracks, “You two fuckin’ rebel sons’a’bitches got here yesterday, an’ that makes you two fuckers fuckin’ old salts? An’ where the fuck you think you are?” the voice asked good-naturedly. “This here’s the fuckin’ Coast Guard, an’…”
“You! The Yankee fucker with the big mouth! Shush! Don’t’j’y’all go on an’ be encouragin’ the little fucker like that!”
“…not the fuckin’ Air Force,” New York going on. “An’ we ain’t got no fuckin’ rocket ships! An’ even if we did, we sure as shit wouldn’t go givin’ ’em to any dumb-ass, asshole, rebel fucker like you!”
“Y’all hear that, Mac? That Yankee som’m’bitch thinks that just ’cause this here’s the fuckin’ U.S. Coast Guard we ain’t got no fuckin’ rocket-ships!”
“Shit! Now y’all done it! Y’all went an’ made the lil’l fucker mad! Aw, shit!”
In the dark, on their elbows, the entire barracks was looking back and forth, towards the directions of the three-way harangue.
“Y’all ready, Mac?”
“Well, I warned’j’y’all. Yeah! May as well get it over with.”
Scklech. The sound of the flywheel of a Zippo cigarette lighter on the flint, and the northeast corner of the barracks was illuminated by the high, flickering flame.
The, “Uhh!” sound, “Uhh!” of someone, “Uhh!” grunting.
“Lord’a’mercy! The lil’l fucker’s conjurin’ up a bad’un.”
“I’s almost ready, Mac. Uhh! I’s almost ready!”
Except for the rustling of springs, there was not a sound in barracks 7.
Suddenly, illuminated in the wavering orange glow, someone’s naked buttocks were pointed upward…
“Oh, Lordy! Lordy!”
As his intestinal gas hit the flame of the lighter, a bright blue flame jetted five feet from the anus of the rocket man and the rotten stench of burning sulfur percolated throughout the barracks.
“Jesus, K-rist!” Coming from the northwest corner of the barracks, “You fucker! You stink worse’n fuckin’ shit!”
“I tol’ya’all! But no, y’all wouldn’t listen! Y’all wouldn’t believe me! Serves all’a’ya fuckin’ Yankees right!” Covering his head with his pillow to keep the stench out, “Mmffm!”
The overhead lights going on, frowning, “So you want to play, do you?” Chief Slattery was standing in the doorway. “Reveille’s at 0500, and we’ll see how much energy you boots got then!” He’d seen it, heard it, and smelled it all before. His frown turning to a smile, “And the guy that blew out his asshole better get to the sick bay first thing in the morning… Smells like something crawled up your ass and died.”
For Mitchell Lipensky a whole bunch of realizations came to mind: There’s no war going on and smart guys don’t enlist for four years! It’s okay to be drafted for two years, but—at the moment forgetting the real reason he had enlisted—only an idiot would enlist for four fucking years! And that southern guy, did he and me take the same test? And if we did, am I so dumb that I even thought it was hard? Or was he smart enough to pass it? Hell, any guy that sticks a lighter up his ass and farts so he can pretend he’s a human flame-thrower can’t be all that smart. Smiling to himself, What if he’d’a hiccuped?