Incense and Peppermints

So there i was at Camp Pendleton walking down the hill toward San Onofre. For two weeks our training platoon had been walking up and down hills with increasingly heavy loads and stopping every now and again to shoot imaginary bullets at imaginary threats.

It was a lot of fun for the first few days; rolling around in the mud, playing G.I. Joe. Heck, i even enjoyed mapping terrain features on the map with actual terrain features in front of me. "Whoo Hoo! Look at me! I'm a tool using mammal with my map and my radio and my M16A2 service rifle!"

The first time you eat a Chicken a la King MRE (Meal-Ready-to-Eat), it's not that bad. They came with a sawdust and wax cake which was mysteriously labeled "fruitcake," but it was okay, the wax chocolate substitute candy bar made up for any displeasure the fruitcake caused. And don't get me started with how much of a fruitcake i had to be to agree to enlist in the marines.

The second Chicken a la King MRE you eat is still not that bad. It's appropriately salty and kind of filling. for a packet of goo with peas and carrots, it's really pretty good.

But somewhere between the third and fourth Chicken a la King MRE, you realize you want to kill something. At first I thought they must have slipped some uber-androgen in the fruitcake, but it was okay, I would survive.

On the fourth day of marching up and down the hill, shooting blanks at invisible communists and subsisting exclusively on chicken a la king MREs, I realized it probably wasn't some uber-androgen infused fruitcake that made me want to kill, but rather the knowledge that the sadistic bastards in charge of this platoon made sure that the only meals we got for two weeks were Chicken a la King MREs.

I was still rational enough I didn't want to kill our drill instructors. No... that wouldn't work. But i did want to kill something. and that's sort of the beauty of the Marine NCO corps; they had elevated simple dickishness to a hilariously absurd system of ensuring mission readiness.

Marine training is an excellent exercise in applied psychology. I don't know if they teach this to their instructors or simply select instructors who are simply excellent dicks. I'm not sure it matters, really. Every bit of marine training is there to push you off balance in some way. Everyone's heard how the marines strip down your individual identity in order to rebuild it in the group mold. But they rarely tell you how imaginative they can be while doing it.

In platoon 3051's case, it was Chicken a la King. after four days of constipation and eating chicken flavoured goo, i was ready to kill something. And that's how we lived for two weeks. March. March. March. Run. Run. Run. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Clean. Clean. Clean. With random breaks for collective punishment for infractions i'm now pretty sure never happened.

For two weeks we were out in the sticks getting stressed and eating cold, relatively crappy goo. And then five hundred yards from San Onofre the yelling stops and you're marched right up to mess hall and politely called in one squad at a time.

After two weeks in the sticks the first thing you do when you get back to "civilization" is get a warm meal. You don't hit the shower. You don't even drop off your pack at the barracks; some random person is assigned to watch everyone's gear where it's stacked up in the parking lot.

You literally walk in from the woods where you're a pissed off wild-man directly into the mess hall. I don't remember what they were serving that day (it might have been steak & lobster.) What i remember is the music. For the first time in three weeks i heard music. It was the Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints."

It's really only a series of self-referential meaningless lyrics. But separate a kid from the burbs from pop music for a couple weeks and it hit me with the force and fury of a Verdi opera or a Beethoven symphony.