Sunday, May 19, 2013

Playing Games

From shortly after World War Two till 1975 Fort Ord was the main basic training center for Army recruits in the western United Sates.  In 1990 it was closed and morphed into a state university, several housing developments and a strip mall with an REI.  Its easternmost acres became Laguna Seca Raceway.  At the time it was the largest army post to suffer the indignity of being shuttered.

Basic Training was a rite of passage for thousands of young men including this feckless fellow.  The Army or at least the Army Reserve version of same was a reprieve from a rocky first year of college in which my budding career as a folk singer and established career as a beer drinker kept my eye far from the academic ball.  And that puts it mildly.
Anyway, Basic is a mythic hurdle for the callow and immature.  Just entering the presumed depths of hell makes a boy’s knees quiver. In reality, it was easy if you played the game of playing soldier and Basic was a lot like play.  I really got into those manly forced marches, shooting Expert with a WW ll era M1 and the wearing tailored and starched fatigues that had other trainees saluting me until they got close enough to see there were no bars on my lapels.  Even got a bid to go to OSC (Officer Candidate School), heaven forbid.  I can see it now, shave tail Second Lieutenent Steve Immel leading a squad of grunts in some rice paddy in Viet Nam.   Or much, much worse.

Ted Newman, another folkie from Phoenix, was also at Fort Ord.  Ted, who was a couple of years older, had enjoyed a minor hit in 1959 called “Plaything.”  Nick Todd, Pat Boone’s younger brother, also covered the tune on Dot Records.   “Plaything that’s all I was to you.  Some tricks.  Your little game is through.  Right now, stop knockin' at my door?  I'm not your plaything anymore.”  Pure poetry.

Ted and his Martin held court on Carmel's Main Beach every Sunday and I followed suit; a Beach Blanket movie without Annette and Frankie.  I don’t know if Ted was authorized to leave the post.   I know I wasn't but, hey, the south gate was unmanned.

Ted became an Army helicopter pilot and an elementary school teacher in Gilbert, Arizona and Nick became a social worker.   I opened forty restaurants over forty years.  That's forty opening nights.  I win.
On the flip side the vacant hulks of the old barracks take a mournful turn.  They proffer an aching postmortem for the fort and for the youthful energy that filled these spaces half a century ago.  The murals from that era and the graffiti from this one compete for our attention.  Abandoned and empty, the derelict halls echo with the voices of raucous young soldiers and the billows of smoke that accompanied them.  The words "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em." punctuated every idle moment in this man's Army in the summer of 1960.


Daryl A. Black said...

Your writing is right up there with Hunter Thompson. With luck, there will be a Fort Ord book in the works, with your prose and photography. Given the Vietname War, the late 50s-early 70s were incredibly pivotal times, particularly for young men in America. The draft left very few untouched in some way. Kudos on this week's blog. The memories must be whirling.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Daryl. This one did have some emotional subtext though some of the images weren't up to the writing. I'm going to edit the last couple of posts to see if I can make them stronger/better through subtraction.

I was offered OSC (Officer Candidate School)while in Basic and shudder to think of the outcome, being a squad leader in some rice paddy in 'Nam. Fortunately, it was early enough that I had my honorable discharge in hand in 1966 before the shit really hit the fan in 1967.

As to a book, I need to do one about something to get it off my back if nothing more. Don't know why I don't just do it.