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My name is Sam Scanlon, though all my friends and some of my enemies call me Slim 'cause I'm skinny as a rail and can eat like a pig without worryin' too much about gettin' fat. Frankly though, I've always dreamed of having a physique like Schwarzenegger's. But, I was happy enough with myself the way I looked: brown hair, eyes the color of mud and a good set of teeth. My mom always said a man couldn't go wrong if he had a good, healthy set of teeth and a big smile. You know, she was right.
So there I was, leisurely floatin' on a clear beautiful pond, with not a care in the world.
I had it made until that day. I'd stumbled my way through high school, graduated in '65, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Mohawk Valley Community College, all paid for by Montgomery Wards as long as I majored in Retail Business Management and worked for them every third semester.
The first two semesters were an absolute blast. I found a job playin' bass guitar in a rock band called The Continentals and majored more in beers and broads than retail. My hair was as long as Jesus, I drove a souped-up '55 Chevy and I was just as happy as any eighteenyearold could be.
When it came time to work for "Monkey" Wards, as I fondly called it, I discovered that retail really sucked. Things steadily went downhill when I took the new cashier out to the state fair and warmed her up to a night dreams are made of, at least in my mind. She was late for work the next day. I wasn't. She turned out to be the manager's daughter.
After her father talked, well, yelled at me the next mornin', I gave my future a lot of thought, but didn't think much about workin'. What really made up my mind came a few hours later when I was mixin' up some Channel Blue paint for a nice old lady. I knew I was tired and had to be careful. I set each dial on the paint mixing machine just like the book said. What I forgot were the three clamps that held the can in place when the shakin' started. That can flew out between me and the nice old lady, who wasn't so nice anymore. My career in retail, as well as my scholarship, were over.
Well, back to the lake. Norm Cardinal, the drummer in the band, had called to tell me our lead singer had been busted for grand theft auto. That's stealin' a car for you lightfoots. Man, he was the whole band. So, those of us left in the band were floatin' on Jackson's Pond and drinkin' beer.
Nobody said anything, but all of our minds were on the same thing no more band. Norm, one of the coolest and smartest dudes I ever met, was the first to speak up.
"I'm just gonna join the Army." He flung his long, blond hair from his eyes with a shake of his head.
"Man, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," guffawed Dan, our lead guitarist and a Jim Morrison lookalike. "You'll be in 'Nam before ya know it. I'm gonna wait. I'll get drafted, play guitar in some lowlife Army band, and get paid for doin' it!"
Dan was the closest friend I had. He seemed to be perfect at everything. He had the perfect face, the perfect physique I longed for, perfect clothes, and what I thought was a perfect life. Plus he had a perfect set of teeth with a smile that would melt an Eskimo. He always helped me and gave me advice on every aspect of life, from playin' the right bass part to evadin' marriage until at least the age of thirty.
We all laughed again, our feet makin' ripples in the cool water. Norm fell through the hole in his innertube and lost his beer. That just made us all laugh harder.
I realized then that I loved these two guys like brothers. They had taken me under their wings even though they were a top local band and I was a nobody. I somehow knew that with Vietnam flarin' up, our lives would be different from that day on. But I truly hoped our paths would cross again. I took a "picture" of the scene in my mind, knowin' I'd never forget that day.
When I didn't show up for fall semester at the community college, I got an official lookin' letter that said I was now "1A." My school deferment was over. That meant I could expect a draft notice any day. Man, I didn't wanna get drafted, so off to town I went.
The Air Force, my first choice, was full no matter how much I insisted. The Navy couldn't get me in for six months and the Army, well, only losers joined the Army. I couldn't believe it.
I was walkin' down the halls of the old courthouse when I suddenly heard someone tryin' to sing "My Way." Badly. His voice was awful, like fingernails scratchin' a chalkboard. Even though I don't like cornball stuff like Frank Sinatra, I peeked into the room where the nasty sound was coming from. There sat a skinny li'l guy in blue pants, a brown shirt with a lot of stripes on it, and a wild grin on his face.
"Who're you?" I asked.
"I am Gunnery Sergeant Willy Phillips, son, one of the meanest, smartest, and kindest fools you'll ever meet," he barked.
"So, what service are you in?" I cautiously asked, trying not to sound too stupid.
"THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, SON, THE BEST OUTFIT THAT EVER EXISTED."
I jumped back at his outburst, but there was somethin' about him that made me walk right in that office. He showed me a poster of a Marine in the prettiest uniform I ever saw. Ocean blue pants with a red stripe down the side and a dark blue coat with gold stripes on the sleeves. The guy in the poster had a square jaw, no smile, and looked mean as hell. This Phillips guy told me the Army didn't train people very well and the Air Force wasn't as efficient as even Monkey Wards.
"The Marine Corps will teach you to fight right, son," he growled. "You'll be as mean as any ten airmen put together. You'll be able to shoot the ass off a mosquito at six hundred yards. We get more recruits in a day than the Army gets in a month. I can sign you up right now for November, find you a good job until then, and before you know it, you'll be on your way to boot camp."
I was sold.