Six months into my Army career and other than shooting my Drill Sergeant in the head during basic training and narrowly escaping prison for harboring hippy protesters in the barracks, my life was pretty calm. I worked Monday through Friday in the Pentagon from 9:00 to 5:00 as a clerk typist. I still didn’t have a typewriter so my job was fairly easy.
Fortunately, there was a shopping mall in the Pentagon basement so I at least had something to do. Evenings and weekends were spent drinking 25 cent beer from the barracks Coke machine. At night we drank on the bus that ran in a loop from North Post to South Post. If you had to pee, the bus driver would slow down and open the door. All in all, it could have been be worse.
This would be a good time to tell you a little bit about the South Post barracks. The North Post barracks were new and made of brick. The South Post barracks, behind Arlington Cemetery, were made of wood and were very old. I lived on the South Post.
When we first arrived a sergeant told us that these were temporary wood barracks from World War One. (Personally, I believe they might have been even older. They might have been from Fort Whipple during the Civil War. At any rate, they were old, dry and obviously wood.)
Another thing to consider. In 1970 smoke alarms hadn’t been invented yet. So, safety was of the utmost importance. Hence, the fire safety speech from our sergeant:
“Ok guys. These are old wooden barracks. Last year one caught on fire and it burned down to the ground in five minutes.”
He paused while he let that sink in, “See those but cans?”
In the middle of the room there were several hand hewn posts that seemed to be holding up the roof. Nailed to each one was an old coffee can painted red with the word “BUTTS” drawn in black letters.
“At all times I want you guys to use those butt cans!”
That was the fire safety speech. Seemed simple enough to me. Besides, with a little practice, most of us could hit the butt can from our bunks anyway.
I was in routine. Get up in the morning. Walk over to the Pentagon. Hang out in the mall. Come home. Drink beer, maybe ride the bus, try to hit the butt can with my smokes. It was all good. I might even consider this as a career.
Then came the BIG inspection. For some reason our barracks were going to be inspected by an actual general. The whole place had to be spit shined and squared away. Our base commander expected us to make this two hundred year old building look like garden beautiful.
And you know what? We did it. We even scrubbed and repainted the butt cans. I don’t think that place looked so good since Abe Lincoln last inspected it. We were all happy with our work.
Our sergeant came through for a pre-inspection before the big day. He was happy with everything except for my Easy Rider poster.
“Kymla, that poster needs to go.”
“Sarge, Army regs say we can have one piece of artwork on our wall.”
“So find something more artistic. That guy on a motorcycle giving us the bird is out of here.”
That night I took down the poster and put together a little something more artistic. I caught a few cockroaches, pinned them to a poster board, made a nice little frame and hung them on my wall. This was art. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I just wondered if the roaches would still be squirming around when the general got here.
The inspection was going pretty good until the general got to me. His eyes widened a little. His complexion turned from tan to a shade of purple and I swear there might have been a little drool from the corner of his mouth. I wasn’t an expert on body language, but I knew this couldn’t be good.
” What the fuck is that?”
“Sir! What the fuck is what… Sir!”
He just glared at me. Shot a look at my commander and stormed out.
So ended the South Post inspection. I don’t know if we passed it or not. However, I do know for a fact that it was the last inspection the South Post at Fort Myer ever had. How do I know that? I’ll tell you.
About an hour after the general left a somewhat shaken sergeant grabbed me by the throat and suggested I relocate my “art work”. Of course, I complied. I took it off of the wall and put it in my briefcase. I was ordered to relocate the art and I knew the perfect place.
The next morning, as I was going to work, I hung it on the bulletin board in the lobby of the Pentagon. I labeled it “Artwork Compliments Of South Post”. It looked good….I was following orders… and most of the roaches had stopped wiggling around.
The next day our sergeant told us that we had to move. For some reason, the Army had suddenly decided to tear down our barracks and because there wasn’t room for us on the North Post we could live off base at the governments expense.
I teamed up with three of my barracks buddies and with our combined money we rented a very nice place. Our base commander tried his best not to recognize his new neighbors.