Mar. 30, 2004


by Victor W. Pearn

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Poem: "Receiving," by Victor W. Pearn, from Devil Dogs and Jarheads (Busca, Inc.).


After you sprint
from the barber chair
you come to a long counter.
Great shouting
down the halls:
what is your waist size,
your shoe size?
Somebody throws a sea bag
green socks fly at you
belts, T shirts, boxer shorts,
all the articles of clothing
you will need for the next 12 weeks.
If you get the wrong size
too bad, tough shit, wear them.

Then the herd
stampedes into a room
with cubical desks.
You are given a box,
take off your civilian
clothes, put them into
the box, and address
the box to your home.
This is your last chance
to get rid of any contraband,
guns, knives, drugs you may
have brought with you without
getting into trouble.
It is the last time
you will see that box.

Get your group shower.
Gold dial soap bars
five shower heads
blast steam, duck under,
lather up, rinse off,
get out, drip dry, try on
your new boxer shorts,
T shirt, green utility pants
and socks, black basketball shoes,
gray sweatshirt, put on your hat
grab your sea bag and run
out the door. Everybody waiting.

The sea bag on your shoulder
might weigh 60 pounds.
The DI wants you to
form four lines.
The tallest man
in front. The shortest man
in the rear of the line.
Now put your left hand
on the shoulder of the
man in front of you,
and lock your right arm
around the left arm
of the man to your right.
Now walk and stagger
like a million legged

Nobody knows how to march,
but somehow you finally
reach your assigned quarters.

Metal bunkbeds, wooden footlockers,
pick a bed, put your sea bag
into the footlocker.

You are given two green wool
blankets, two sheets, a pillow
a pillowcase, and the soft spoken
DI demonstrates how
to make your bed with
military folds,
expects you to
make your rack
like that,
gives you ten minutes
to make your bed.
And when he returns
your rack made,
you will be
standing at attention
in your skivvies.

The angry
green and red eyed
Drill Instructor
comes in yelling
to get your covers off.
"Take off those covers,"
everybody starts ripping
blankets and throwing them
on the floor.
Angry DI throws people
on the floor, anybody
he can get his hands on.
Then he grabs a recruit,
pulls his hat off and says,
"ladies this is your cover
and you better have
those racks made
before the other DI
gets back."

Soft spoken DI
comes in. Your bed is made.
You are at attention
in your skivvies.
He checks arms, legs, backs
for bruises, wounds,
broken bones, to be sure
we are healthy,
then tells us to get in bed.
At the light switch
he says, "there are armed
guards outside the door
with orders to shoot anybody
that tries to escape,"
then he turns out the lights.
"Good night ladies."
It is 3 a.m.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1933). He's known for writing novels about ordinary people in the upper Midwest, including Dear James (1993), Rookery Blues (1995) and The Dean's List (1997).

He grew up in Plainview, Minnesota, and began working at the local grocery store when he was eleven years old. He liked to watch the customers and listen to their gossip, and he came to know almost everyone in his town by sight. He later said, "I've always thought of the Red Owl Grocery Store in Plainview, Minnesota, as my training ground, for it was there that I acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist, namely . . . endurance, patience, resilience and sound working habits, and . . . the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him. I dare say nobody ever got more nourishment than I did out of a grocery store."

He taught at high schools and community colleges for twenty years before he began writing seriously. His first novel, Staggerford, came out in 1977. His first big success was The Love Hunter (1981), about two friends who teach at a small Minnesota college, one of whom is dying from multiple sclerosis. When they go on a hunting trip together, the healthy man decides to kill the dying man, to end his pain and so that he can marry his wife, whom he is secretly in love with.

Hassler was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1998, but he has gone on to publish a memoir, Good People . . . from an Author's Life (2001), and a novel, The Staggerford Flood (2002).

It's the birthday of novelist Tom Sharpe, born in London (1928). He's written more than a dozen satirical novels, attacking everything from politicians to publishers. After graduating from Cambridge, he spent twenty years in South Africa, working as a photographer and teacher. He wrote nine plays during his time there, but only one of them was produced, The South African. After its first performances in London, Sharpe was imprisoned and deported by South African authorities. He's spent the rest of his life teaching and writing in England.

His first two novels, Riotous Assembly (1971) and Indecent Exposure (1973), ridicule the South African police force and point out the absurdities of life under apartheid. He wrote in Riotous Assembly, "There didn't seem to be any significant difference between life in the mental hospital and life in South Africa as a whole. Black madmen did all the work, while white lunatics lounged about imagining they were God."

Sharpe said, "There's nothing worse than an introspective drunk."

It's the birthday of playwright Sean O'Casey, born John Casey in Dublin (1880). He wrote three classic plays in the 1920s: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). The Plough and the Stars is about a young, pregnant Dublin woman whose husband goes off to fight for the IRA. The husband dies in battle, leaving the woman alone with her baby. During the fourth performance of the play at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, a riot broke out in the audience. People were outraged to see their national heroes portrayed as cruel, uncaring animals. O'Casey was so upset by the rioting that he moved to London, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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