Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Monday, June 16, 2003 Supporting the Troops
Years ago, Trash’s brother was in the army for a few months. Normally you don’t only get to be in the army for only a few months and still come home in the passenger section of the plane, but he’d signed up to be a paratrooper and it turned out his body wasn’t up for it structurally. So he got a medical discharge.
As the first and only sibling of ours who had gone out of state with the armed forces, we figured Brother-In-Law was entitled to lavish care packages from home. But apparently the army has rules about that sort of thing, especially during basic training, so we contented ourselves with sending letters.
We put a lot of effort into creating these mailed missives. Not writing them, mind you. They hardly contained any writing at all. We preferred to communicate in pictures. Specifically, primitive stick-drawings in Crayola™ marker that made cave paintings look like Rembrandts. We would spend hours filing up sheets of typing paper with the kind of art that would get a four-year-old flunked out of daycare. The subject matter was invariably our lives in downtown Minneapolis. There would be stick M. Giant and stick Trash in their stick cubicles at work. There our stick selves would be, commuting to the stick office via stick skyway. We’d go to stick movies, attend stick concerts, and have stick picnics. And in every illustration, we would be closely accompanied by our two stick cats, whether their presence was appropriate or not in any given context. That included our visits to our stick apartment complex’s stick pool, during which our wet stick cats glared, droopy-whiskered, at the viewer. No detail of our lives was too dull, banal, or irrelevant to be rendered with unswerving amateurishness permeating every stroke. You know, kind of like this site, but before Blogger. We flattered ourselves that Brother-In-Law would post these masterpieces near his bunk so that he might look at them and be reminded of home and the people who loved him.
We sent two or three of these packages, with fifteen or twenty full-sized drawings in each one. We didn’t expect any thanks, or even a response of any kind, because you know what boot camp is like. Any environment in which you’re given fifteen seconds to move your bowels isn’t going to be conducive to pouring out your heart in letters home. And phone calls? Forget it. We figured we’d hear from him at 6:00 am. on Christmas Day if we were lucky.
One day he called us.
Trash answered the phone, thrilled and amazed to hear his voice. She excitedly asked if he’d gotten our packages. He couldn’t talk long, but he needed to tell us something important.
Please stop sending them.
We found out later that mail call in the barracks is a highly public event. Each recruit is called up individually by name to get his mail. Anything larger than a simple one- or two-page letter must be opened in front of the entire unit and its contents exhaustively inventoried.
You see where this is going.
“LAW!” the drill instructor would bellow (because in the army they call you by your last name, you know). “FRONT AND CENTER!”
Whereupon military regulations would require my brother-in-law to display to several dozen fighting men of our armed forces a small exhibit of work by what appeared to be the two worst artists in the world, one of whom was blind and the other of whom was suffering a perpetual grand mal seizure. All while paraphrasing our explanatory captions for their edification:
“This is…my sister… and her husband…watching TV in their apartment…with their cats…This is my sister…and her husband…watching Fourth of July fireworks…and waving…”
Reading that speech, it’s easy to imagine it being delivered at a reluctant whisper. Unless you’ve ever seen an army movie in your life.
I think it was the “and her husband” that confused everyone. If it had just been “my sister,” everyone would have just assumed she was barely old enough to hold a marker. But then he had to explain that it was his older sister. As it was, the quality and quantity of drawings known to have been executed by adults raised the repeated question: “Are they retarded?”
Our thoughtful gesture, intended to ease my brother-in-law’s transition to military life, had instead turned him into something of a pariah. In a place where anything that sets you apart, no matter how minor, can get you killed, we really weren’t doing him a favor. As it turns out. Quite the opposite, to the extent that he was willing to risk a court-martial and dishonorable discharge to get us to knock it off.
So it was probably just as well that he turned out to not be built for jumping out of airplanes. That might have dogged him throughout his military career, even if he made general. He came home early, but I never again saw any of those pictures we’d labored so hard over, at nearly ten seconds a page. He must have run out of room in his luggage.
During the recent conflict, Trash and I supported our soldiers in the Gulf by not sending them any pictures of any kind. The only sad part is that they’ll never know just how much we appreciate them.
posted by M. Giant 3:20 PM 0 comments