Tuesday, April 30, 2013
"The Proles" (inspired by Army Basic in 1968) preceded "The Manifesto"
I’ve been preparing a “DADT III” manuscript (first draft – see Books blog Oct. 1, 2011), for official publication as an e-Book and print this summer, and in the course of doing so, I’ve reviewed my old manuscript for the novel “The Proles” that I sketched when I was in the Army (by hand in the barracks, 1969) and had typed up by 1972.
The novel has a detailed autobiographical account of my time in Basic Combat Training in early 1968. I streamlined the account and smoothed out the coarse language in my 1997 book, but I now think that the original chapter (about 48 double-spaced pages), with all its graphic, self-effacing detail and crude language common at that time in that environment, would be quite telling now.
The chapter presents me as a sheltered, spoiled,. “over-educated” yuppie, who doesn’t carry his weight and who could be perceived as a parasite on those who do. In today’s world, such a self-assessment sounds like Maoism. If everyone is brought equally low, no one can mooch on anyone else. Isn’t that what authoritarianism exploits?
But, of course, I wonder how many of my problems, of being “physically non-competitive” as a male, were the result of an inborn biological problem (genetic or epigenetic, perhaps neurological [mild autism or Asperger's]or maybe circulatory), and how much of it was moral – a physically lazy disposition? Actually, I didn’t lack energy – I was underweight, not fat. And, in Basic Training, I did get somewhat better after being recycled through Special Training Company for about four extra weeks, being able to pass the PCPT with reasonable scores after about eight weeks in the Army.
A key point is that I was not aware of my underdevelopment until others forced me to see it. And it seemed to have to do more with what others wanted to demand from me, not from what I really needed to take care of myself, excel in school, earn a living. After all, young men are required to offer themselves to defend the country, right?
When I subbed, I noticed that some students in special education probably perceived things this way. They didn’t know why the outside world needed to demand so much from them.
In the novel, there is a preceding chapter where I finish graduate school – stumbling on my orals on an important theorem (Liouville’s). In Basic, an officer trips me with a question on whether drawing two points on a line always results in a triangle. Maybe I had been mediocre as a grad student. I also gave a final to my “remedial” (or slow-track) freshman Algebra test and graded the finals on the bus on the way to Denver to spend semester break with a grad student friend before entering the Army. I was a kind of “visiting team”, batting first, and then having to defend my right to survive in the Army. Yet I prevailed. I would be sheltered away in a non-combatant MOS (“Mathematician”) and let others (bigger and stronger) do the fighting.
The moral implications of all this are still quite troubling to me, even if younger generations of upper middle class kids have barely seen this. Churches try – with exercises like 30-hour fasts.
The novel itself may seem nihilistic, although no more so that a Lars Van Trier film (like “Melancholia”, which after all brings the end of the world). In the book, a character based on me (named John Maurcek), a natural hero-worshipper, comes into contact with some young men who seem to be trying to bring about a “Second Coming”, as evidenced by a sequence of violent events and local signs. They seem to have invented a battlefield weapon that can make an enemy soldier (or anyone) dematerialize, and be digitally encoded. The person can be brought back to life multiple times, like incarnations, in which he will not recall other resurrections. (All of this is a bit of a stretch of physics, but even during my late 60s Arrmy service, I heard mention of scary weapons like flux guns, now the nightmare of conservative "doomsday preppers"). After Army service, Bill gets led on a treasure hunt, and awakens to find himself living in a world of post-nuclear apocalypse. People try to get life going again in little communities, but all the “undeserving” will get their specialized comeuppance, sometimes dispatched with a machete. I can see that, in my late twenties, I was capable of holding some people in particularly low regard. Old “Army buddies” (like ‘Rado Suhl” -- "collect on delivery") at Fort Eustis will remember me (“Chicken Man”) for this.
I think I’ll include this original chapter about Basic Training in my DADT III book as an “appendix” (perhaps ruptured).
By the way, one of the first songs I ever heard in a gay bar (Julisus's, in NYC) was "Bugler Boy", from WWII, with the words "You're in the Army now."