“Ah, yes, mere infantry — poor beggars”
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE)
I’ve probably hitch hiked over 50,000 miles and there is one thing I can tell you for sure, it sucks to be hitching in the rain at night. It’s bad enough hitchhiking at night because people are frightened (rightly so) to pick up someone that they can’t see very well, but the situation is made even more unattractive by the fact that a sodden hitcher will mess up their car.
Back in the early 80s I was hitchhiking across Georgia (it’s so long ago I can’t even remember why) on a cold overcast day that turned into a very miserable wet night. I ended up sitting on my backpack by the side of the road, miles from nowhere, in my cheap plastic poncho in the pouring rain. I sat for hours, bored out of my skull and freezing my butt off.
Car after car passed me.
After midnight, I was not only cold, but I was getting very tired as it’s impossible to sleep out in the open when it is raining. Trust me I’ve tried it. Every time a tiny little splash of a rain drop hits the you in the face you’ll be jolted wide awake.
It must have been about one or two in the morning when a beat up and rusted out little Japanese pickup truck stopped and the door was flung open for me to get in out of the rain.
Finally my misery was to come to an end!
I tossed my backpack in the tray in the back and climbed into the cab to be greeted by a pimply faced skinny little pencil necked geek with a smiling crowded mouth of deeply stained and twisted teeth. He flung his right hand forward to shake my hand and introduced himself with a, ” Howdy, get yourself in here in out of the rain”. Sure, he looked like the guy out of the movie Deliverance who played the banjo, but I just didn’t care and I was so grateful that I’d been picked up. As soon as I sat down I looked where to place my feet and I noticed that the whole floor of the cab was deeply littered with what must have been about a hundred Soldier of Fortune magazines.
I could almost hear the guy from the movie deliverance playing his opening notes on the banjo.
The thing about hitchhiking is that one can’t really be too fussy about who picks you up; particularly at night time and that goes triple for when it’s raining. Sure he was a rancid looking little hillbilly but at least he had a kind enough heart to take pity on me and give me a ride. I began to feel a bit disappointed with myself that I’d been so taken aback by his appearance. As is generally the way how it goes when you’re hitchhiking, we quickly struck up a conversation. He asked me where I was going and I soon found out that he was a soldier on leave returning back to his base in Savannah.
Back in the early 1980s there had been a big recruitment push in the United States Army. I can remember seeing the television commercials at the time, promising to educate the young volunteers and the glossy brochures were showing them the up-dated accommodation that was on offer. No more drab army barracks for the new professional volunteer army. The brochure I saw, showed what looked like quite nice town houses in landscaped grounds and I’m sure to a lot of poor inner-city kids it would have looked like Shangri-La.
It was obvious to me that the guy who had given me my ride was one of those people who came from a background that made the army look like a good opportunity to get ahead. As we drove along he told me about his life in the army and when he saw that I was looking down every now and again at all the Soldier of Fortune magazines on the floor he told me that he was interested in becoming a mercenary after he had received his training in the army. The way he saw it, it was the only way for somebody like him to make some good money and travel the world.
During our conversation he reached underneath his seat and pulled out a rifle and showed it to me. This wasn’t done in a threatening way, but more in a, ” hey, check out my neat gun!” sort of way. When I was in high school I’d been in the army cadets and I’d fired rifles and machine guns so I was able to engage him in some conversation about guns. My ride (let’s, for convenience, sake call him Floyd) was obviously having a great time talking to this foreigner about the army, guns and his hopes and aspirations for the future.
I guess he was starting to feel quite comfortable with me after about an hour or so of driving when he confessed that he was tripping on LSD.
Now, I’d done acid before and I found it quite amazing that he was able to drive, let alone drive at night in the pouring rain.
There I was, with a hillbilly soldier high on LSD armed with a rifle in a beat up old pickup truck full of magazines aimed at people willing to go overseas and kill strangers for money.
Strangely enough I wasn’t worried. I should’ve been, but I wasn’t.
At least he had put the gun back underneath his seat and wasn’t pointing it at me, plus there was the added benefit that I was out of the rain and we were making good time. Considering the fact that Floyd was high on acid, his driving and conversation seemed fine, so when he offered me a hit of acid I said, “sure why not?” And swallowed it without hesitation. When I think back about this situation I can’t believe that I was so stupid, but then again that’s what this blog is all about, all the dumb things, that I’ve done.
LSD is quite an interesting drug and I’ve always felt that the perception that we normally sense as reality has been toned down by our survival instincts and filtered so we can cope with normal everyday life. I don’t think it would benefit us from an evolutionary point of view, to be boggling on intense colours and deep thoughts instead of looking for a mate, shelter, food and protecting ourselves from predators and enemies. My experiences with LSD and magic mushrooms have led me to believe that what we see on a normal daily basis is akin to looking through a keyhole. Basically we only see a tiny bit of what is actually there and when we take hallucinogenics it’s like the keyhole has been removed, the door has been opened and the volume to every single sense we have, has been turned up. It’s no wonder that Aldous Huxley named his book about drug experiences, “The doors of perception”.
As I sat in the truck with Floyd with the LSD working on my brain I found myself contemplating the social economic realities of living in America. If you come from a disadvantaged background and the shallow end of the gene pool it’s pretty hard to get ahead in the States. Sure, if you’ve got some brains and some drive you have a chance at the American dream, but if you’re poor, black or not very bright it becomes your fate to become the servant of those who’ve made it.
It was still dark as we neared Savannah and Floyd asked me where I’d be staying for the rest of the night. I replied that, “I’ll just be sticking my thumb out and hitching on”. Floyd then said to me, “that’s crazy you’ll never get a ride. Why don’t you come and stay in the army barracks with me?”
“What? You must be kidding, how on earth can I get through the security and onto the base?”
“Aw, don’t worry about that, it’s okay.”
“But what about the sergeant?” I had some sort of mental image that they lived in barracks where there would be about 40 or 60 beds and a sergeant would be sleeping in some room at the end; a bit like the old TV show, “Sgt Bilko” or perhaps Gomer Pyle.
“Aw, we won’t see him until Monday, so don’t worry about it?”
Floyd then tried to put me at ease with, ” just relax, you watch, it will be fine.”
At that time in my life I had long bright red hair and a beard. In short I would’ve stuck out like dog’s balls on an army base full of clean shaven and crew cut soldiers.
Never let it be said that commonsense would get in the way of me having character building experiences.
So we rolled up a few hours before dawn in the pouring rain at the army base check point, both high as kites tripping our arses off and with me very obviously not a soldier. Floyd just wound down his window, smiled at the guard who was bending down looking at me and we were waved through. I just couldn’t believe that there was such a lack of security.
I bet you couldn’t do that nowadays.
On we drove through the muddy parade ground to what looked like a row of beautiful new town houses. It was just like in the brochures, except that obviously it was all so new, that the landscaping hadn’t been done. I was starting to think to myself, “wow this is incredible!” Soldiers high on hallucinogens, taking strangers into their barracks and no security check!
Land of the free?
I started thinking to myself that the US was going all out to make people feel comfortable here! Maybe the army wasn’t such a bad place after all.
It was all so appropriately surreal…… for an acid trip that is.
Up a short flights of stairs, we walked into the bright new shiny row of townhouses. As soon as I got through the front doors the change of scenery hit me like an icy wind. The outside was a facade bricks arranged in such a way as to make the building look like it was a row of townhouses but on the inside it was basically a great big long hall that was an old-fashioned barracks just like in Sgt Bilko. The only difference was the beds weren’t arranged in a line down the barracks. The beds had been grouped into threes in “U” shapes and between each of the “U”s was a row of lockers so that the effect was to almost give a sense of there being rooms; when in actual fact there weren’t any. Each of the “rooms” was actually a three sided affair made up of lockers with one open side that was open down the whole length of the barracks like one long hallway.
Another thing that struck me as we walked through the doors was the amount of vandalism that was apparent. There was graffiti scribbled all over the place with marker pen and there were also numerous holes that had been knocked through the walls. It looked like a slum and I couldn’t help but think to myself , “where’s the discipline here?” “What kind of people are running a place like this?”
It was all very weird.
Floyd with his duffel bag over his shoulder led me down the hallway, past the various bunks, slapping high fives as he went past his fellow soldiers.
Hang on a minute!
It was about four o’clock in the morning; why were all the lights on and what were all these guys doing wide awake?
Floyd led me to his bunk and tossed his duffel bag in his locker saying to me, “here, you can take this bunk, nobody is sleeping there at the moment”. So I sat down and we continued our conversation as various other an inebriated soldiers wobbled by, pausing occasionally to ask us if we had any weed or alcohol.
There, as I sat and Floyd prattled on to me about this, that and the other, I found myself contemplating the contents of the American infantry.
There was something that seemed a bit odd about them all, and at the same time, it seemed to also unite them into one group. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then the more I thought about it, and after chatting to a few of Floyd’s buddies, I began to think about the backgrounds that these guys came from and what being in the infantry actually means.
It would be a safe guess to say that all the sexy jobs in the army, air force and navy are held by the smartest people, and at the opposite end of the scale are the people who are in the infantry. I started seeing Floyd and all his comrades as the disposable people of his society. Who would you put at risk to do a very low skill and dangerous job? A potential brain surgeon or the bus boy? As I sat in that army barracks, I realised, in my drug induced heightened state of awareness, that in societies that make no effort to uplift the disadvantaged; the poor and the dull can be lured into risking their lives to kill strangers for reasons they don’t really understand.
The infantry is for the people that only their parents care about.
I can hear the howls of protest now.
But let’s be honest people, if we cared about such people we wouldn’t send them to fight in wars in the first place. It’s only because there are so many young men in the world that can be revved up for whatever slight reason that we even need armies in the first place.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
One man’s army is another man’s oppressor.
I think the whole world would be better served if all the young underachievers were trained and given skills to make a decent and honest living for themselves instead of training them up to kill foreigners, or in the case of the Third World countries, oppress their own people, for spurious reasons.
Surely it’s much cheaper in the long run, to educate the world’s poor people than to have a large well equipped army?
Yep LSD should be banned…….
because it makes you think too much!
As a post script, after reading an article by grasswire I was reminded of one of my favourite songs that I thought would be so appropriate to add to this post. Because you’ve been so good to visit, here’s a video of Iggy Pop’s, “Passenger”.