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.