I used to be in the army. Basic training was terrible. Discipline, physical exertion and teamwork never agreed with me at the best of times, and being confined to a barracks with 30 other guys for 6 weeks didn’t help. Listening to one's bunkmate furtively masturbate every night isn't the uplifting emotional journey you might think. And the perfectly well adjusted don't seem to be drawn to the gun-toting, high-testosteroning, professional murderiser life as a rule.
I wasn’t a very good soldier. I made a lot of mistakes. But so did lots of other guys. I think you would be hard pressed to have found many of those 30-odd young men who enjoyed their time.
You would constantly think about how there was one day of leave at the four and a half week mark. Every evening you would talk with other recruits about your big plans for 'leave day', to try and temporarily escape the misery, if only through your imagination.
Leave was in the small town nearby: Wagga Wagga. It had everything you’d expect from a town near an army base called ‘Wagga Wagga’. A few bars. A bowling alley. And a brothel. That was pretty much it. The big day finally arrived, and due to our ignorance we were super excited.
We didn't realise that the nicest thing you could say about Wagga Wagga was that it was a shithole. In our minds, this was Nirvana (the transcendent place of paradise and no-suffering, not the Kurt Cobain vehicle that eventually drove him to eat a bullet). This was to be Shangri-La! This was the place in which our hopes and dreams would be fulfilled! It was only once we arrived in town, got off the bus, and our corporal drove away, and we were standing there looking at one another that the stark depression of the place sank in. Sad buildings. A sad street. And sad people. Apart from alcohol, there were two things we could do for fun:
1. Visit the brothel and have sex with a prostitute for $20.
2. Visit the bowling alley and play a game for $15.
Either way, there was no avoiding the fact that hundreds (if not thousands) of soldiers had inserted themselves before you, and had probably left behind a disease.
And I still worry about that finger.