By the time I was trying to get myself kicked out of the Air Force for drug use, I had moved to a house in nearby Waltham that was shared with three of my Airman buddies. We dealt enough pot to keep ourselves in supply. There was Mark the D&D guy, a trombone player from Florida named George, and an underground music junkie named Ron who turned me on to Captain Beefheart and Eugene Chadbourne. I'd ride my bike the four miles to Hanscom Field. Sometimes I'd walk.
Ron and I rode our ten speeds up to his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, where we partied with his acid casualty brother who still lived with his mom. We hardly saw her. She was either working or sleeping. We dropped windowpane for the ride back and did Manchester to Waltham in less than four hours. One of my peak experiences that summer was playing Frisbee on acid throughout an afternoon thunderstorm.
That was when I started playing guitar. I auditioned for and got the part of Judas Iscariot in a community theater production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but rehearsals ended once the promoters ran out of money and decided the drummer was an asshole. That was also the summer that I flirted with Scientology. The Church decided I was an immature and emotionally unstable genius, and convinced me for awhile that spilling my guts while hooked up to an e-meter was a fun way to pass the time.
In the fall I moved back to the dorms and fell in love with Cindy in Military Pay. She was cute, more than a little wild, and going through an ugly divorce. Though just 5'1, Cindy could out drink any of us. She was the kind of drunk who could be in a blackout and, to most people, appear more or less sober.
My drinking circle started to call itself the Ten Percent Club, and a friend who worked in the public relations office made us all framed certificates for our walls. The name came from a speech that the new Squadron Commander, Captain Tony Stankovich, made while we were standing in formation outside the dorms. He said that ninety percent of the squadron was doing a great job.
I started getting into regular trouble for doing stupid, impulsive things. I got into a screaming argument with a mechanic at the base auto garage, and rode a rolling chair down the sloping paved sidewalk by the dormitories and broke the thing. I received several reprimands.
My friends and I rented a Cape Cod vacation cabin owned by the Air Force and I got into a drunken fight with Cindy that involved smashing handfuls of spaghetti and meatballs into each other's faces. Later, when we tried scrubbing the tomato sauce from the walls, the paint came off as well. The Master Sargent in charge of rentals was not pleased.
The most serious incident involved assaulting a server at Patriot Dining Hall with a tossed salad.
We arrived back from the Cape in time for a basketball game between travel and military pay. I decided to play the mascot, and pulled together my Captain Cosmic outfit, which featured a plastic space helmet with prominent antennae, aviator sunglasses, skin tight red sweat pants, army boots, and a purple satin cape. I'd steal the ball, heckle the players, and occasionally retreat beneath the bleachers to neck with Cindy. After an hour or so, I rushed to lunch before the dining hall closed.
As I proceeded to the serving line, I was feeling very much in character. I surveyed the various offerings on the steam table and placed my order.
"Give me the plutonium buds and the some of that Venusian fried rat." I meant by this that I desired the mashed potatoes and chicken.
The server, an Airman Bickford, was unamused. Some heated back and forth ensued and he told me to get out. I screamed fuck you at the guy and hurled my little plastic bowl of iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes over the glass. He dodged, and the bowl clattered harmlessly across the tile floor.
The following Monday, I was called in to see the Squadron Commander and given my first Article 15. For several months I arose early to pull weeds and such before going to work.
While I've somehow lost the paperwork, I can still remember part of Bickford's written complaint word for word. "His behavior was bizarre and unnormal, and if this is what the Air Force represents, then it gives me no pride in being here."
Cindy and I, who had taken to calling in sick together so we could drink, moved to an apartment in Waltham and made plans for marriage. Our relationship became increasingly stormy, and I started having gruesome dreams about being buried alive. One weekend, we hosted a keg and listened to Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia over and over. One of my friends put me on the spot about announcing our marriage, and I couldn't bring myself to say the words.
Things dragged on for awhile, but that was really the moment the relationship died. Shortly after, Cindy was ordered into detox. Our break up was part of the cure, and she immediately rebounded to some guy she met in AA. The news threw me into a highly-agitated state of depression that felt like it would never end.
I was taking classes at night at Boston's Northeastern University and reading Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. The play revolves around a group of drunks who basically live in a bar and have an unspoken agreement to pretend that their pathetic and useless lives are going somewhere.
As I sat alone on the floor of my dorm room deconstructing the play onto index cards, Harry Hope's bar came to life as a metaphor for my own situation. I used to tell myself I wouldn't live to see thirty, but at twenty-one, I already felt old and tired. I decided I was done. The decision was like flipping a switch.
Young, Gifted, and Miserable
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Life Begins at Seventeen
The Year of Living Dangerously
The Air Force Years: Part One
The Air Force Years: Part Two
The Air Force Years: Part Three
The Air Force Years: Part Four
The Air Force Years: Part Five
Working Poor In Waltham: Part One
Working Poor In Waltham: Part Two
Birth of a Student Radical
Harvest of Shame
The Owl of Minerva Flies at Midnight
The Road to Street
The Street Years: Part One
The Street Years: Part Two