In the winter of 2005 I found myself between jobs. I was about to turn twenty-five and my marriage was no more than a month away. I had gone to film school at Southern Adventist University and was still trying to find my way into the film industry. Until I landed that dream job, I needed to pay rent. It was then I remembered my roots and heard the call of the Thunderbirds. I went to my local Air Force recruiter.
It was a Friday, a few minutes after , and I was surprised to find the place closed. As I peered in the window, someone called for my attention. I turned and found myself face-to-chest with my local Navy recruiter.
“Them flyboys are closed for the day, can I help you with something?”
“I wanted to talk to them about a possible career in the Air Force.”
He nodded. “Sometimes they close down early on Friday. Listen, if you’re interested in talking, why don’t you come by on Monday? Me and you could sit down and talk. I know we’re not the Air Force, but we have quite a bit to offer a young man such as yourself.”
I agreed. The following Monday, I showed up to the Navy’s recruiting office. We discussed my options. We ended up talking for more than two hours. We shared stories and laughed. He loaded me down with souvenirs and trinkets. He took down my information and the only sour note of the meeting was finding out I was forty pounds overweight. Before I could proceed any further, I would need to shed the weight. I left the meeting, Navy tote bag in hand, with the desire and determination to lose the weight and be all I could be . . . in the Navy. As I left, I noticed the Air Force recruiter’s office was lit up and active. I hesitated before turning around and heading into the Air Force’s office.
It was a small, cramped office. A ceiling fan spun lazily. A man with two bars on his collar, a captain, sat behind a desk, flipping through a Sports Illustrated. He reminded me of someone I would have picked on in school – at least behind his back. His hair was impeccably combed, coiffed, and gelled. He didn’t say anything when I first stepped in and I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be the first one to speak. His eyes scanned back and forth over the page and he softly shook his head. I waited. I noticed the name pin over his right breast pocket said “Reynolds.” He finished his article, closed the magazine, and finally looked up at me.
“What brings you to the Air Force today, son?”
I smiled what felt like a warm smile and sat down on the opposite side of his desk.
“Well, sir, I would like to hear what my options are.”
Captain Reynolds’ eyes darted down to the Navy bag I had set at my feet.
“You been talking to the Navy?” He asked, as if threatened.
“Yes, sir.” I nodded.
“What’d the squiddies tell ya’?” He cocked his head to the side.
“Oh, we had a good talk.” I smiled. “I’ve spent the past couple of hours over there, going over the various options I had – lots of good stuff over there. But the Air Force was and is my first choice, so I’m coming by here to . . .”
“Hear your options, right.” Reynolds shifted in his chair uncomfortably. He already looked bored with our conversation. “So tell me, if the USAF was and is your first choice, why did you go to the Navy first?”
“Actually, I came by here first . . .”
The captain held up a finger. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Scott . . . ?” His hand rotated on his wrist like a dying fan with a missing fan blade.
This satisfied him. “Continue.”
Wondering what difference this made to him, I continued. “I came by here on Friday and I must have just missed you because no-one was here and . . .”
“Oh, yeah.” Captain Reynolds interrupted me again – rather rudely, I thought. “On Fridays we go huntin’ and fishin’.”
“Oh yeah?” I was eager for any kind of real conversation starter – something I could latch on to and run with. “Like, with the new recruits or something?” Never mind I had never hunted before and
Captain Reynolds looked at me in bewilderment. It looked like he was trying not to laugh.
“We don’t work Fridays.” He clarified. “We don’t like to work Fridays, we don’t want to work Fridays, so we don’t work Fridays.”
“Oh, then that’s my bad. I thought your sign out front said you were open eight to five every day ‘cept Saturday and Sunday.”
“Yeah, it does.” Reynolds nodded. “The government runs this gig and they want us open 40 hours a week, five days a week and that’s just eight hours more than we’re willing. Now,” Captain Reynolds leaned forward suddenly, slamming his chair down on the floor, “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop asking me how we spend our Fridays.”
His sudden sternness caught me off-guard and made me feel as though I had crossed a line with him. I quickly back-peddled.
“Fair enough. I just was saying that I came by and you guys weren’t here and I went next door to the Navy and we got to talking and we set up an appointment for today. So I met with them and just got done and thought I should stop in and say ‘hi.’”
Captain Reynolds nodded. “How tall are you?”
“Sixty-nine inches, according to the Navy.”
Captain Reynolds nodded again, his eyes running up and down me as he sized me up. “And how much you weigh?”
“Two-twenty, according to the Navy.”
“Then why are we even having this conversation?” Captain Reynolds drummed his fingers on his desk.
I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure my mouth was hanging open like a mouth-breather as my mind whirled for a good excuse as to why and the captain were having this conversation. I could only think of one reason but it no longer seemed valid.
“I wanted to see what the Air Force had to offer?”
“But you’re forty pounds overweight.” Reynolds deadpanned.
“Yes.” I admitted. “I guess I was just hoping to maybe . . . I dunno, get some incentive to lose weight.”
“Being part of the Air Force isn’t incentive enough?” Reynolds snorted.
“Not really, no.” I almost laughed.
“Then I don’t know what I can say that would sweeten the deal for ya’.”
“Well,” I started, “I’ve gradated from college so I was thinking about maybe looking into officer training.”
“Where’d you go to school?” He suddenly looked interested.
“Oh,” a dark cloud of judgment instantly passed over his face. “An Adventist. You wanna be a linguist?”
“Um . . .” I had no idea where that conclusion had come from.
“Adventists are smart people, become linguists.” He said simply. “You wanna be a linguist?”
“I’m sorry,” I shook my head, “what?”
Captain Reynolds looked back at me blankly. “What?”
“I don’t understand what you just said.”
“Adventists are smart?” I said, not sure if I was cracking a joke.
I needed clarification. “Smart like they test well or smart like they’re conscientious objectors and avoid conflict and become linguists?”
“Yes,” he sighed, “they test well. They’re smart people.” He paused and eyed me. “You a conscientious objector?
It had been something I had thought a lot about and had discussed many times over the years. I had come to the conclusion that the military is needed and at times, so is war. I don’t think that the Commandment is about killing in general but the act of murder.
“The hell kind of Adventist are you?”
I laughed out loud. “A bad one, sir.” I wanted to say. But instead said, “what’s a linguist?”
Reynolds cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t know a linguist is?”
“Well in the general sense of the term, yes. But what’s a linguist in the Air Force?”
“Someone who gets trained up in some useful language like Korean or Muslim and then sent to some place where they can be used as a translator of some sort.”
“Of some sort?”
Reynolds nodded. “Either from person to person or reading foreign documents and translating them.”
“Wow,” I almost laughed, “that doesn’t sound interesting at all.”
Reynolds leaned forward, weaving his fingers together. “Well what would interest you?”
“I wanna be all that I can be.”
“Join the Army.”
“I want to make something of myself. I want to find a job that I can enjoy and where I could make a difference. I don’t want ‘just a job,’ I want a career.”
“Well that is one thing . . .” Reynolds leaned back in his chair and stopped abruptly. His jaw tightened and his teeth clenched. A vein that snaked its way down the middle of his forehead started to bulge its way out of his skull. His pale skin went from white to pink to red. He leaned forward, picked up the Sports Illustrated he had been reading, and held it so I could see it. “Did you write this?”
On the cover of the magazine was a picture an Alabama Crimson Tide tight end running the football, the title “Bama Blasts!” splashed across the bottom in a white impact font. I stared at it, absolutely clueless.
“No, this!” Captain Reynolds shouted, pointing to the “B” in “Bama.” I leaned closer and squinted. Down the spine of the of “B” someone had written “sucks.”
“No.” I shook my head. “No, that wasn’t me.”
Reynolds leaned back in his chair, chewing on a fingernail. “Oh, that . . .” He was so angry, he couldn’t even finish a thought. “That just . . . That just makes me mad. Can you tell I’m mad? I’m mad. I’m . . . When I get mad, I clench my teeth, I get all red and . . . my nostrils flare. My nostrils actually flare -- are they flaring?”
His nostrils were, indeed, flaring.
“My wife hates it, she says she hates seeing my nostrils flaring all the time and I tell her that they wouldn’t be flaring all the time if she could just – you know who did it? I bet you I know who did it. It was that guy who left before you got in here. Did you see him? He was gone before you got here but he was in here, wanting to become an enlisted man and . . . That sumbitch called me a goober. Hold on one sec.”
Captain Reynolds reached over and flipped through his Roll-A-Dex. He found a card and pulled it out. He shook his head, muttering to himself and dialed a number. He waited, cleared his throat, and then, “Hello? Chris? Double-Bar Reynolds here. Captain Reynolds! This is Captain Reynolds down at the Air Force Recruitment Office! Hi. You think you’re funny? You think you’re a poet or some kind of artist like Mozart? You think it’s funny to deface another man’s magazine with your libelous graffiti? My mother bought that for me and brought that to me on my lunch break! Now you just don’t so that, son! You still interested in bein’ in the Air Force? You still wanna be in the USAF?”
Reynolds paused, nodded, and cleared his throat again. “Alright, this is what you’re gonna do. Before you show your pimply, chinless face in my office again, you will go by Wal-Mart, you will buy me a brand-new Sports Illustrated with Bama on the cover, and you will bring it to me. You will give it to me and I will let you keep this one – the one my mama bought me – that you scribbled all over. You do not deface a man’s private property. It’s a disrespect. It’s about respect, son. Respect. Yeah. Alright. Good-bye.”
He hung up the phone and I became sure of the fact that this man was absolutely psychotic.
“Sorry about that. Nothin’ ticks me off more than disrespect.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “me too.”
“It’s not the fact that I’m a captain or that he’s just a civilian. It’s just common decency, that’s what respect is: Two human beings respecting each other’s property, body, creed and time.”
An electric bell rang, announcing the door behind me had just opened.
I turned to see who had just come in. There was a girl, maybe eighteen, wearing a tube top, low slung cut-off jean shorts and thong straps that were stretched over his protruding hipbones – in the middle of November.
Captain Reynolds’ face split into a broad grin. “What’s up, Jackie-Girl?”
She looked nothing like him. She should be thankful.
“I have to get on Vandy’s website and print off an application today if I want to make the deadline but I can’t get the computer at home to work!” She whined like her father, though.
“Well here, Pumpkin, use my computer.” Captain Reynolds quickly stood up, as if a four-star general had just entered the room.
Jackie brushed past me, her hip pushing my shoulder aside. She sat down at the desk and her fingers started dancing across the keyboard. Captain Reynolds, her father, leaned over her shoulder.
“Yeah, good.” He pointed at the monitor. “Just click there on that, uh, icon.” He smiled at me. “Sorry. Family comes first – always.”
I shrugged, glad I wasn’t doused with gamma rays at a younger age. I’d hate to Hulk out in a military installation.
“Speaking of which,” Reynolds continued, “could you please take a seat by the door. This is a family matter.”
I stood up rather awkwardly. Jackie smiled at me and batted her eyes. I moved to the chair by the door, which was all of three feet away. Had I wanted to, I could have sat in one chair and put my feet on the other without doing so much as swiveling one of the chairs.
“See?” Jackie pouted, “it won’t print here either!”
“You have to click on the printer icon.” Her father said.
I had enough. My thinly-veiled growl didn’t sound as much like as a sigh as I had wanted it to. I stood back up.
“Is this a bad time?”
“Hmm?” Captain Reynolds looked up.
“Why don’t I come back later?” I offered, having no intent of ever coming back.
“Yeah,” Reynolds smiled a big toothy grin. “Could ya’ do that? Lose forty pounds, then we’ll talk.”
I left, very much resisting the urge to flip the Reynolds family the bird as I headed out. Whoever said "you can't go home," must have been a military brat like me.