Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Army I Knew: Up In Smoke

I'm jumping a bit ahead of myself here in the "Army Days" series, but I ran across this little cartoon and remembered the story that went with it and wanted to write the post before I forgot again.

OK, so last spring I left you where I had just flunked out of SF School (SFQC Phase 1, to be technical about it). I went from there to the Land of S.F. Medic Rejects; the 82nd Airborne Division.

I do want to post about my early days in Division, but that's a whole 'nother story for another time. And I've already posted SOME of those in the Sinai Stories series. But after I'd been at Bragg for some time I got levied to Panama to fill in the conversion of the sraight-leg 3/5th Infantry to an airborne infantry battalion (the 2nd Battalion of the 187th, if you must know). And I've posted some about that, too.

This post is about part of that time; one of our many deployments to Honduras where we were making scary faces at the commie Nicaraguans, the ones that invaded us in Red Dawn (the original, not the shitty remake with the Norks for bad guys).

One of the places we manned was this island in the middle of the Gulf of Fonseca, Tiger Island. We were just there to pull security for a bunch of NSA guys who were snooping on Danny Ortega's pillow talk.

It was boring as hell, and as medics the worst we had to do was pull a desultory sort of sick call (since there was no real duty to get out of other than pulling guard, which involved sitting on your ass for two hours) and burn out the barrels from the latrines.

In these Halliburtonized days of portapotties and contract cooks you may never have seen a "burnout latrine", but they are as simple as an indoor shitter can be and a big step up from the slit-trench shitholes you have to use when there's real shooting around.

What you do is build a simple plywood frame one-holer only with a trapdoor in the back that opens to a space under the seat. It's tall enough to slide half a 55-gallon drum into it, and that's what you do. That's your turd barrel.

What's critical is that Joe does NOT piss in the barrel but in the piss-tube outside. Urine in the turd barrel makes the turds wet, soggy, and hard to light.

Because that's how you dispose of that used GI chow; you burn it.

You pull the barrel full (or hopefully NOT full - if you're smart you do this every day to keep the volume down) of shit out and replace it with a "clean" one.

You drag the barrel away from the latrine, preferably to a bare spot where you won't catch anything on fire. You pour in a spicy mix of MOGAS and diesel (a blend of about 1:3 or 1:5 is preferred), light it, and then keep adding diesel until the shit burns down to a fine ash.

One hint, though; you've got to stir the turde flambe' as you saute' it because if you don't the more coherent bits, the tootsie roll-variety turd, if you will, just get kinda charred on the outside but retain a gooey center; that's not good, sanitarily speaking.

So you stand over the smoking shit barrel with a long piece of angle iron and stir. Then when the ashes cool you shake them into an empty C-rat case lined with a plastic bag. When the case is almost full you tape it shut and send it out on the supply 'Hook and it goes to the Magic Place where shit-ashes go (in other words I haven't the faintest idea what the hell the Army did with all those cardboard boxes of shit-ash; sold them to the Hondurans, probably, like we did every other fucked-up thing down there...).

And that was that.

The thing is, I didn't mind burning shit.

I didn't love it. Given the opportunity I'd rather have been eating a steak dinner or making love to a beautiful woman. But I was on Tiger Island, I was a medic, and so what I had was burning shit. So I did it.

It wasn't that noisome. The smell was not that much worse than burning diesel fuel, and I had gloves and a long steel pole. It wasn't like I had to roll the stuff up in cigarette papers and smoke it. Fuck it and drive on.

My partner, Doc Sullivan, though, HATED burning shit.

He hated the very idea of it. He hated the act itself, the aroma, the degrading nature of lighting fire to other people's wastes. He loathed every iota of the entire business and was not shy about telling me how he felt.

I don't remember what I said, but I suspect it was something like; "Whatever, deal with it. Christ, it ain't like you gotta EAT it. Ain't nothing but a thing."

Sully hated my attitude, too. So he began this whole business about me being some sort of mystic sage of shit, a zen-master of crap. He decided that my name should be "Master Poo", from the old television series Kung Fu, and made all these bad jokes about the blind man and the shit barrel. I responded by doing bad Keye Luke impressions:

Doc Sully: I fear the smell of the shit is strong.
Doc Lawes: He who conquers himself is the greatest warrior. Do what must be done with a docile heart.
Doc Sully: What the fuck does that mean, Master?
Doc Lawes: Listen for the color of the sky. Look for the sound of the hummingbirds wings. Search the air for the perfume of the shit on a hot summer’s day. If you have found these things, you will know.
Doc Sully: That makes even less fucking sense that before. Bite me, Master, I don't like to smell the goddamn shit.

I also drew this little cartoon:

And between my humor and zen-like patience, and Sully's bitching, the shit got burned.

And though it was a long time ago and far away, the memory still drifts through my mind like the smoke from a barrel of burning shit.

Because, as Master Po would have said, the same tongue which screams, also laughs.


raybob said...


Music City, U.S.A.

FDChief said...

Like I said; it wasn't that bad.

Now the rats? THEY were a pain. I used to keep all my boots next to the head of my cot so I could throw them at the fuckers when they ran out into the medical hootch at night. It was that or the ballsy little bastards would run right under the damn cot.

Compared to that the shit barrels were a breeze.

Lisa said...

You have me laughing out loud --

"a zen-master of crap" ... and you see, we're back to Tarantino :)

FDChief said...

And I even think women's feet are pretty (when neatly tended and nicely shod) so, there; the circle is squared.

Lisa said...


Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely that man was created in God's image. Either/or: either man was created in God's image - and has intestines! - or God lacks intestines and man is not like him.

The ancient Gnostics felt as I did at the age of five. In the second century, the Great Gnostic master Valentinus resolved the damnable dilemma by claiming that Jesus "ate and drank, but did not defecate."

Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man's crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the creator of man.

--The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

FDChief said...

Which is a perfect illustration of why theology is such an endlessly delightful topic; only there can you postulate a living person who did not shit.

Sigh; no wonder I never aspired to any real insight into the more obtuse levels of philosophy...

OTOH, I still think there's a problem with evil; you can't be omniscient and omnipotent and still be innocent of evil. You're God and either you COULD have stopped it and didn't, in which case you're at least guilty of indifference, or you COULDN'T, in which case you're not omnipotent.

But fortunately I don't have a dog in that fight.

Lisa said...

Philosophy can devolve into a very silly game. I had one prof who taught it in a Vo-Tech sort of way, in that designing a nuts and bolts personal philosophy was all that really mattered; that made sense to me.

Ah, evil -- a problematic conception in itself. A multitude of evil has been done in the name of quashing evil, and I wonder if there is even a hierarchy of evil.

Thank god for Mike Myers, that I may smile at his Dr. Evil.

FDChief said...

Yes; we have a shorthand at the Fire Direction Center; the "white cat".

When confronted with a cartoon villain the kiddos will ask me: "Does he have a white cat?"

If the answer is yes, then he's a Bad Guy - they ALWAYS have a white cat to pet...

Lisa said...

I LOVE this sort of philosophical investigation! :)

White cats portend bad. Think about it: A great big guy owning a fluffy white cat with a gem collar (or worse, spikes) -- why that's against the laws of nature right there!

As an aside:

I have a dread fear of white animals, much worse with horses. One day I saw the Roman chalk drawings on cliffsides in England, and in particular the White Horse 3 miles away from the village in which my grandmother grew up. I had a dread feeling, like the white horse must've scared her too.

I asked my mom and she knew nothing about it, but some things in life are curious ...

Dick Pellek said...

Where has this blog site been hiding all of my life? It's a scream.

It's like M*A*S*H goes digital. Add one more to your fan base.