Image by United States Army Garrison - Presidio of Monterey via FlickrWhile there are several time periods in my life that I would consider influential, there are two that stand as anchor points. Interestingly enough, both of them lasted roughly two years.
The first was my time on active duty in the US Army and the second came around three years later when I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They both helped shape me into the person I am today - for better AND worse.
For a year and a half of my military service I had the pleasure of being stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California at DLI. Like many acronyms in the military, DLI can (and does) stand for a number of things. The official name is the Defense Language Institute and it is one of the two best language training facilities in the world. One of the unofficial names of the installation is the Drunken Lust Institute (alternately the Drunk and Lust Institute - your choice).
To further entrench this concept there is the myth of the eagle. On the lower edge of the base, overlooking Monterey Bay, there is a monument to John Drake Sloat. John Sloat is the man credited for claiming California the US. The monument is of a stylized eagle. The myth says that on the day a virgin graduates from DLI, the eagle will take flight. The eagle is still there today. There are those who proclaim that they knew of someone - or that they personally, who met the criteria and disproved the myth, but I remain skeptical.
While there, I served with a number of characters who were just plain bizarre. There were those who wanted to leave the military so badly that they allowed themselves to be "caught" in homosexual relationships. There was the "Ether Bunny" episode at the Navy barracks. Closer to me personally, I lived on a floor with two soldiers who ended up being convicted of attempted murder and one who went just plain nuts.
The guy who went nuts was my roommate. I hasten to point out that I believe he was a few bricks short of a load before he ever met me.
His name was Valance. His military designation Valance, NFI NMI. (No First Initial, No Middle Initial) He had legally changed his name prior to enlisting to that of a fictional character from novels he had read as a kid. He tried to explain who the character was but I never really quite understood.
Valance was a screwy kid. He smoked a carton of cigarettes a day. Not a week. A day. I was grateful that A) the military had instituted the ban on smoking in the barracks unless everyone agreed and B) that my other roommate was as much of an anti-smoking nazi as I was. No smoking in our room. Even though I hate cigarette smoke, I do believe that everyone has the right to screw up their life however they want, as long as it doesn't impact me. I would never mess with anyone's cigarettes. Except Valance's. I guess he was the exception that proved the rule.
Two instances that come to mind. The first was the time that I told him I could balance a cigarette across the top of the pack, hit the filtered end and it would flip three times and I would catch it with the filter in my mouth. He was stunned. He had no idea how that could be done. So I showed him. I balanced a cigarette on top of the pack, lifted my hand . . . and crushed the pack.
The second was the day that I was just bored. Bored, bored bored. There is nothing worse than a nineteen year old solider who is bored. Things . . . happen. Valance had left his pack of cigarettes out. And I was bored. I believe we had been cleaning for an inspection so I had a can of Lysol handy. Did I mention I was bored? And that it was a new can of Lysol? I spent the rest of the afternoon spraying that can of Lysol into one cigarette. It took all afternoon because it would saturate and I would have to let it dry before I could spray some more.
Once the can was empty I placed the doctored cigarette on Valance's bookshelf in plain view. While the thought was tempting, I was not trying to poison him, just tick him off. The tampering was evident and, when he asked what had happened, I quickly (and joyfully) let him know what I had done in agonizing detail. I enjoyed the ensuing hissy fit immensely. Not as much, however as I enjoyed the following Sunday.
I mentioned that Valance smoked a carton of cigarettes a day. He could afford this because he bought them at the PX, which, at that time, still offered better pricing than the local economy. Valance would take great pains to ensure that he bought his weekly ration Sunday morning so that he would be set for the week. That Sunday something happened that kept him from reaching the PX before it closed. And he was having a nicotine fit. He just knew he wouldn't make it into town and back before curfew and he had to have a smoke.
And then he remembered. There was one sitting on his bookcase. Now, before you come to the conclusion that I was a complete bastard. I did try and talk him out of smoking it. The attempt wasn't even half-hearted. Mostly. To be honest, I didn't want to catch the crap that would be flung my way if he collapsed and it came out that I had been responsible for the doctored cigarette. The Army has strange concepts about personal responsibility. If he got sick, it would be his fault for smoking what was obviously doctored. If he died, I would be responsible for having put it in his path. Reminds me of the class on how to end one's life in Basic Training. But that's a story for another time.
So, yeah, he smoked it. Fortunately(?) he didn't die. The question about how fortunate it was comes in part two. But you needed to know the background to know why I feel that I played a small, if insignificant, role in the future events in the life of NFI NMI Valance.