that everything -- bills, car problems, my breathing -- had the
potential for starting a major argument. We were arguing so much that
we eventually decided to just skip the arguing part and be generally
mad at each other at any given time.
And just when it seemed like things couldn't get any more
uncomfortable, my annual summer training with the National Guard came
up. I had been so preoccupied with my troubles with Angel that I had
forgotten I was due for a drill. Then I flipped the calendar early
one evening, saw two-and-a-half rows of big red Xs across the month
of June, and realized that I had to show up for formation in an hour.
"Well," I said, turning to Angel. "Bye."
And I grabbed my duffel bag from the closet and left.
The drive from L.A. to Ft. Hunter Liggett in Central California is
long by any standards, but particularly so when you're riding in a
bus of 50 extremely grouchy National Guardsmen. Almost everyone was
feeling put out over having to leave their "real" lives behind for
two-and-a-half weeks of dusty tents and Army food.
The only one among us who seemed to be having the time of his life
was my squad leader, a ferociously jolly pit bull of a human being
named Sgt. Stump. Stump was 6 foot 6, 350 pounds, and had one of the
most massive necks I'd ever seen. He was the kind of guy you wanted
next to you in combat because if he were shot in the head, it would
take his body an hour to figure it out.
It was my misfortune to be seated next to him the entire trip.
"LOOK at Silva!" Stump's voice boomed at me like a megaphone in a
walk-in freezer. "Actin' like we're goin' to the NAM or somethin'!
Silva's gonna have some FUN! Eighteen days of FREE meals and BLUE
skies! LORD, Silva's gonna feel GOOD!"
Stump also had a disturbing habit of addressing people in the
third person. For some six hours, Silva was a captive audience as
Stump boomed on and on about two things he simply couldn't get enough
of: drinking and fighting. As such, his singularly favorite activity
was the barroom brawl.
"So I tell this clown ... heh heh, Silva's gonna like this ... I
tell him, 'What you gonna do with that pool stick? I KNOW you can't
shoot pool!' Heh heh ... "