Wednesday, February 16, 2005
The few and the non-asthmatic
Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to join the Marine Corps? I swear I have but can't find it in my archives. It was a warm spring day -- probably a week or so after my 18th birthday -- and rather than fighting my pickup's increasingly dodgy transmission I walked down to the Marine Corps recruiting center at Valley West Shopping Center, about half a mile from my house.
"I'd like to be a Marine" I said.
The recruiter nearly fell over his desk in getting up. It had apparently been a slow year. He shook my hand and had me sit down.
"First thing you need to do is fill out this application," he said. "Oh, hell, I'll help you fill it out. What's your name?"
And we went through all the particulars -- the paper version of being "injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected," like in "Alice's Restaurant." Unlike Arlo Guthrie, however, my application was not dismissed due to a littering conviction, nor was there any trouble with the drug question.
"Ever done drugs?" the recruiter asked.
"Are you sure?"
"Really? Not even a little joint?"
"Because that won't automatically disqualify you, you know. Everybody's tried pot. That's alright. I'm just asking. We can get around it, but I'd just need to know."
"Really. I smoked a cigar last week and it made me sick."
And on we went answering more and more questions until we got to...
"Ever been hospitalized?" the recruiter asked.
"What, for tonsils, or something like that?"
"Yeah. And asthma."
The recruiter froze; wrinkled his face. In hindsight, I now recognize this as the look of a man waging a fierce internal moral war -- whether to follow-up on the question. Without moving any part of his body or changing the look on his face, he raised an eyebrow at me.
"When were you last hospitalized for asthma?"
"Last year -- when I was 17."
"Shit," he said, crumpling up the paper work and falling back in his chair. "Can't do anything with you. Go talk to the Coast Guard or something. Maybe they'll take you. Feel free to take some of those pencils and give 'em to your friends -- your friends who aren't asthmatics."