In honor of Valentine’s Day and all the cynical things it represents, I am going to share my best date cancellation story: I once had a guy cancel a date because he was being detained by military police. No lie.
Here’s the story:
Once upon a time I was stationed at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. And the earth was without form and void …
Hold on a second – that’s the wrong story. I’m sorry everyone! I need to go yell at the interns. Please stand by.
Okay, now that I have the right script, where were we?
I believe we’ve already established where I was, so the next thing I should tell you about is when I was. When I arrived in the middle of the year 2000, DLI was what was called an “open post.” There were no guard stations and there were many easily accessible ways to come and go, in the form of both roads and walking paths. Many of us were more interested in the walking paths since we didn’t have cars. In fact, I had a particular favorite perpetually open gate in the border fence which was useful for greatly shortening my weekly grocery walk to Safeway.
Now, if you have a passing familiarity with military installations, you’re probably thinking, “Why would you go buy groceries? What was wrong with the chow hall?” Great question – I’ll tell you. I found dirty dishes in the “clean dishes” pile. Not once. Not twice. Three times. After the third strike, that was it – I started buying my own groceries. Plus the air being vented out of the chow hall always smelled like decaying food garbage and spoiled dairy, which wasn’t super comforting. I have to tell you, though – what I really didn’t understand was why more people didn’t buy their own food. Anyway – I digress.
When September 11, 2001 happened, the post virtually immediately went from open to closed. Very, VERY closed.
By mid-morning, all buildings were locked down. One entrance per building was guarded by active duty personnel and all other entrances were blocked. National guard units were mobilized and began arriving that evening. By the next morning, guards armed with M-16’s manned every post access point. The line of vehicles waiting to enter by the one open entrance stretched all the way down the hill and into downtown Monterey.
In short, it was absolute madness.
The one silver lining was that we were now perpetually in a state of “battle-readiness” which meant that we got to wear this uniform every day –
and we got to skip the usual once-a-week dress-up day where we wore this –
After about a month of no successful or attempted terrorist attacks on our proud installation, they grudgingly agreed to open a second entrance. Now there were TWO WHOLE WAYS to get on and off post. Joy! Notably absent from our new, relaxed, anything-goes attitude toward post access was my favorite pedestrian gate that took a good 20 minutes each way off of my walk to Safeway. Bummer. Oh well. It’s not like I didn’t sign up for this.
Q: Didn’t you say this was a story about a cancelled date?
A: You know, a story is no good without a proper background.
Q: That doesn’t answer my question.
A: I’m getting there, okay? Patience!
One day in October, the unthinkable happened. Good unthinkable, that is. On my way home from class, one of my male Air Force compatriots named Vik fell in step next to me, started up a conversation, walked me back to my building, and then asked for my phone number. The next day, he called me and asked me out for that Friday night. With racing heart and fluttering stomach, I said yes!
I mean, up until this point I seriously thought that this sort of thing only happened in the movies. But it happened in real life!
So Friday morning came and Friday afternoon came and finally FINALLY Friday evening came. About an hour before we were supposed to go out, I get a phone call.
“Hi – Athena? Yeah, it’s Vik. Listen, I won’t be able to take you out tonight. Jake(*) and I are being held at the guard shack until they can get ahold of the First Sergeant(**) so we’re going to be here awhile. I’m really sorry about this – I’ll make it up to you as soon as I can.”
Not quite sure what I was hearing, I thanked him for calling me and hung up the phone. I didn’t see him all weekend.
We had a Monday morning ritual called “formation.” It was called “formation” because all the Air Force personnel arranged themselves (i.e. formed up) into rows and columns in pre-determined groups. At 7:00 sharp we were called to attention (Flight – tenHUT), turned 90 degrees to the right in order to face the flag (right HACE), and ordered to salute (present ARMS) while reveille played.(***) After reveille finished, we were put back mostly the way we were (or-der ARMS, left HACE, pa-rade HEST).
From the left, the guide-on bearer and the formation commander began marching toward the middle platform in front of the assembled squadron. That was normal. What WASN’T normal was Vik and Jake marching behind them. They reached the middle and stopped. Plunk, went the flag, and the formation commander addressed us all in a booming voice – “SQUADRON! Ten-HUT!” First the low thunder of over a thousand pairs of boot heels snapping to attention, and then silence. The unnatural silence of over a thousand airmen at attention – not even the sound of breathing.
Again, from the left, the TSgt who usually addressed us every week began walking toward the platform in the middle. When she reached the middle, she called, “At ease!” Instantly, the sound of breathing and hushed chatter was all around. “Good morning!” came her chipper voice. For the next few minutes, she went over whatever communications were required that week, and then when she finished, she said, “And now Airman Jones and Airman Waverly would like a few minutes to talk to you all.”(****)
Picture your favorite articulate, intelligent, easygoing college professor calmly explaining a very important foundational concept in a conversational style to help the knowledge calmly settle into your mind, and you know exactly what Jake sounded like as he took the mike and explained to us all that it was very important to not jump the border fence and to only use the two post entrances that were open. He continued to explain that it was also important to listen to the guards when they tell you to stop. Vik then took over and added that the guards had M-16’s and that they were authorized to shoot if they thought they needed to.
Wow. Okay, then.
We gave them the obligatory round of applause and that was that.
Vik caught up with me later and explained that Friday after class, he was heading to Safeway to buy some flowers and things for dessert to “try to be all romantic.” He ran across Jake heading in the same direction, so they decided to go together. Upon seeing that the pedestrian gate was closed, Vik thought they should use the open gate, but Jake said, “Why?” There were no guards around, the fence was not that hard to climb, and it really was a big time saver if you’re walking to Safeway. Jake won. He went first. As Jake was climbing down the other side of the fence, the two patrolling guards saw from the nearby road.
“STOP!!! HANDS UP!!! DOWN ON THE GROUND!!!” Vik sensibly realized he had no other option, so he complied. Jake dropped to the ground and bolted. Well, wouldn’t you know – guards are equipped with radios as well as guns so within a few short minutes they had Jake, too. Shortly after they were taken to the guard shack, Vik did the polite thing and called to cancel our date.
Sometime between when the First Sergeant came to retrieve them and Monday morning it was decided that in addition to extra duty, Vik and Jake ought to address the squadron to help make sure no one else “embarrassed the squadron” like that again. So they did.
And that is the story of the date that got canceled because the guy was being detained by military police. At gunpoint, no less!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
(*) Jake was another Air Force guy that I knew from my language class. He was a tall, strong, softspoken free spirit of a gentle giant. So he was a bad influence, of course, but he was a great guy so we all loved him.
(**) For those not familiar, the First Sergeant is a MSgt or above (E-7 – E-9) whom, among other things, deals with personnel issues. Such as when personnel are apprehended by guards, for example.
(***) Side note: after being jolted awake by reveille more times than I care to count, I have realized that anyone who has reveille as their ring tone is a sick fuck.
(****) Airman Jones = Vik and Airman Waverly = Jake