Monday, October 22, 2012

Waxing Nostalgic

My boots were looking pretty scuffy, but having just paid $700 for a tank of oil, I wasn’t too keen on spending another $80 on a pair of shoes. So I bought a two-dollar tin of Kiwi shoe polish and decided to shine them up instead.

After finding an old t-shirt and spreading out some newspaper, I twisted the lever to pry off the lid, and the unmistakable smell that emerged instantly brought me back almost twenty-five years to my days in Basic Training. This in itself is not unusual, as scent is intrinsically linked with memory. What was strange was that the memory it elicited had nothing to with the many hours I spent in the barracks polishing my combat boots. Instead it took me back to the time my buddy and I almost died stealing some floor wax.

We were stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the Army Infantry School, the 3rd Ranger Battalion, and the infamous School of the Americas, where many Latin American dictators were trained.  Luckily, we were trained by a slightly less fascist group of drill sergeants, but there were several who openly took pleasure in our pain.

“Drop and give me twenty!” was too passé for the likes of them, so they’d dole out punishments like “Madonna in the Back of a’57 Chevy” where the offending soldier had to lie on his back with his legs spread and pelvis thrust high in the air while holding the position for several core crunching minutes. Or “The Koala,” which had the soldier wrapping his arms and legs around the nearest tree or pole and hanging ass in the air. These had no real training benefits for us soldiers, and were clearly done for the amusement of the evil drill instructors. But even the ones who were looking out for our best interests managed to do so in ways that were interesting to them.

The Canteen Drill is a good example of this. Training in the hot Georgia sun was a quick ticket to heat stroke (and maybe a few hours rest in the infirmary) so the drill sergeants made sure we stayed hydrated by force feeding us water every two hours. We all had 1-quart canteens strapped to our sides which were expected to be full, yet empty, at the same time.  Every so often, a drill sergeant would shout, “Canteen Drill” and we all had to stop what we were doing and chug the contents of our canteens and then refill them at the nearest water station. And then repeat!

Now, considering the average human bladder can only hold about ¾’s of a quart, the smarter soldiers quickly learned to keep their canteens empty (ideally through periodic drinking) so that when the inevitable Canteen Drill was called, they would not have two quarts of liquid sloshing through their system.

I was one of the smart soldiers. Or so I thought…

One day, my buddy and I were assigned KP duty at the Officers’ Mess. There was some bigwig general visiting, and somehow we got the call to serve orange juice and clear away plates. For some reason, we felt special and important doing this…until the meal was over, we were instructed to sweep and buff the floor.

We inwardly groaned, as buffing the floor was a BIG job back at the barracks. A tedious and thankless job that required three steps to properly remove the day’s worth of scuff marks and sweat from the floor. The guy in charge of the mess hall must have sensed our disappointment, as he pointed out that the floor wax they had in the Officers’ Mess was much better than what we had back “home.”

“It’s a one step process,” he said, showing us the 10-gallon bucket of floor cleaner. “Just spread it on the floor and buff away. It cleans, waxes, and shines all at once!”

And he was right. It was like some sort of miracle wax. We had the floor sparkling in one quarter of the time it would have taken us back at the barracks.

“We need to bring some of this stuff back!” my buddy said. “We’ll be heroes!”

“I agree,” I said. “But how? There’s no way we could carry that big bucket out of here…”

“We could fill our canteens,” he suggested. “They issued us two, so we can just swap them out when we get back.”

Such was the power of this wax that I agreed to his plan.

So we emptied our canteens in the sink, filled them with the noxious pink liquid, and set off across base to hide the contraband in our barracks.

We got maybe a half-mile before running into a drill sergeant, who upon seeing our sweaty faces from our double-time march, called for a Canteen Drill.

“Uh…” I stammered.

“Um…” my buddy stuttered.


So afraid of the screaming sergeant, we both unscrewed our caps and prepared to drink what was more than likely poisonous floor wax. We eyed each other in a “If you do it, I’ll do it manner” and I was shocked to see my buddy was actually going to drink his.

“Wait!” I said, stopping his arm. “We can’t.” I then babbled out the entire story to the surprisingly amused drill sergeant.

“Can’t say I don’t admire you boys’ initiative,” he said, shaking his head. “But I can’t ignore your stupidity. Now drop and show me Madonna in the Back of a ’57 Chevy!”

25 years later, you’d think it would be the smell of the wax I’d remember, but it was shoe polish. Either way, the memory still shines.

No comments:

Post a Comment