C h a p t e r 1
THE BEGINNING OF DAY ONE OF 180 DAYS
I had been at the California Highway Patrol Academy for a total of thirty seconds before I decided I hated the place. It was a sudden change of heart on my part since everything had gone fine during the first twenty-nine seconds I was there. It was a nice, cool, early morning and all I had done up to that point was show up in my finest suit from Sears and stand next to my suitcase. During those first easy, non-eventful seconds, I was completely anonymous as I stood in a line of ninety-six people comprised of ninety-one men and five women all wearing similar business attire. I stood there waiting for something to happen and wondered what time that day they would issue me a handgun.
But during that thirtieth second at the academy, the second that changed everything, I was singled out from the group because I was the first one dumb enough to move his head.
In my defense, there was a loud commotion to my left. Due to basic human nature, I looked over to see what was happening. What I saw was a swarm of officers wearing tan uniforms and Smokey Bear hats moving very quickly toward the line I was standing in. The officers looked hungry, as if they were looking for something to chew on. What they found was me, wide-eyed and ill-informed, looking to my left, directly at them. Curiosity killed the cadet.
“Are you eyeballing me, son?!” the staff officer, now less than an inch from my face, screamed into my ear.
“Um, I…” I honestly didn’t understand the question.
“Do you know me?!”
I had never met this man before in my life.
“Uh…no,” I said softly.
“I think you meant to say, ‘No sir!’ And you will say it with authority! Do I owe you money?”
“No…sir?” I replied louder, but still as if I wasn’t sure.
“Then why are you staring at me? Do you want to be my special friend?”
“I think you do. I think you want to be my special friend. You and I can take long walks hand in hand in the moonlight. Get down and give me twenty push-ups!”
I quickly fell down onto the hard concrete and began to do push-ups. It seemed ridiculous to be doing calisthenics while wearing a business suit. As soon as I finished two push-ups the staff officer started yelling again, “I can’t hear you, Cadet! Start over and count them off as you go!”
“One! Two! Three!” By the time I was at sixteen my arms were shaking and my voice was giving away evidence of my fatigue.
“Cadet Karter, you are not prepared for this academy. You’re a disgrace! You shouldn’t be here in your sorry shape!”
After I finally struggled through my set of twenty push-ups, I stood up, out of breath, and with my suit disheveled. The unrelenting officer went on to verbally abuse me some more (my shoes weren’t shined right, my hair wasn’t cut right, my butt wasn’t puckered right). At this point I wasn’t the only one receiving verbal mistreatment. There were tan uniforms hollering at all of the brand new cadets standing in line. The officers’ loud voices hammered our eardrums as they shouted profanities which were degrading yet oddly politically correct. As the staff officer in front of me continued to go on about how I was “a disgrace” my mind wandered off to the roadmap of life that led me to this strange destination where I allowed people to yell at me for what seemed like no reason.
Previous to my first thirty seconds at the California Highway Patrol Academy I was on the road to college. Unfortunately, that road turned out to be a dead end. I spent too much time at the beach surfing, chasing girls, or hanging out at concert festivals. I didn’t spend enough time studying in the library to save myself from the ills of academic probation. Poor time management on my part resulted in an expulsion letter from the university which had the following memorable last line: “Rodney Karter, we wish you the best of luck, elsewhere.” Before I could come up with a way to gently tell my mom I was no longer a student, she found that little letter as a surprise in her mailbox. Since she was the one who was funding my college education/surfari, for obvious reasons, she was not happy.
Simply dropping out of college wasn’t quite enough to steer me toward getting yelled at on the hallowed grounds of the Highway Patrol Academy, the happiest place on earth. Before I could be “a disgrace” to the staff officers at the academy I was still working on being “a disgrace” to my family. Even though I was an academic failure at school, it turned out I was a physical success on campus when my reproductive organs worked just fine with a girl I met. This meant my mom was going to be a grandmother (another surprise). This unexpected revelation meant a wedding needed to be planned, and preferably within a narrow nine month window.
Some of our older, more traditional family members wanted us to keep the pregnancy a secret until after the wedding. My newfound fiancé, Samantha, and I weren’t ashamed of our situation so when we completed our wedding registry at Target, the first item we listed was baby diapers. Neither of our mothers thought that was very funny.
Soon after the shotgun wedding was over the two of us, myself and my baby mama, became the three of us, Rodney, Samantha and Gordon. Within a single year I went from being a guy who went to college and was supported by his family to being a guy with his own family that he needed to support. That meant I needed to get my crap together and find a good paying job.
In a feeble attempt to earn a living I was driving a forklift, which paid just a little over minimum wage. I had money problems and I needed to make more cash to cover rent and diapers.
Like any child of divorce I blamed all of my problems on my stepfather. He could be a bit of an asshole. My stepdad, “Officer Anal,” was the real article: a full-fledged, tan uniform wearing, gun toting California Highway Patrol officer. He and I first got along as well as any rebellious teenager and brand new stepfather/police officer could after being suddenly thrown together in a mixed family. He thought my mom let me get away with murder and I thought his busting my balls about the loud stereo in my car was chicken shit. He earned the nickname, Officer Anal, from me and my high school buddies after he threw a small fit of rage one day because my friend’s car leaked a dime sized spot of oil on the officer’s pristine driveway. He liked things a certain way, the anal retentive way.
Once I landed back on his couch after dropping out of college and then followed that up by getting Sam pregnant, he gave me a job application for the California Highway Patrol. I think he did this just to ensure Sam and I could afford to raise the baby anywhere other than his house. Regardless of his reasons, I appreciated the gesture and immediately filled out the application as a way of saying thanks. I also did it because I was desperate for a career with good pay and benefits. However, I worried that the CHP would not hire me.
I was a forklift driving, college dropout with no military or law enforcement experience. Unless the CHP needed me to unload some trucks, I didn’t see them offering me gainful employment. But thirty seconds into my first day at the academy, as the staff officer’s spit bounced off my face, I realized I had been wrong. The CHP did offer me a job. Well, maybe I should say they offered me a chance at a job. Graduating from the academy would determine if I actually got the job.
The insults from the staff officers continued, and I found myself smack dab in day one, hour one, of “pick up day” at the academy, the longest day of my life, and it was all my stepfather’s fault.
“Cadet Karter, pick your trash up off of my deck! You do not possess the mental capacity to be an officer if you can’t follow simple instructions! Pick up your luggage! I’m tired of your face! You’re a disgrace!”
I scrambled for my bag, looked straight ahead and kept my mouth shut, but I truly wanted to say, “Yes, I’ve got that, a disgrace. We’ve established that already. I’m all over disgrace. Can we move on to something else now? Like shooting the guns or driving the cars or something?”
Of course, I didn’t say any of those things to my new special friend. I was learning very quickly to keep my head straight, and I already knew I needed to keep my smartass mouth sealed tight. That was the advice my wife had given me when she kissed me goodbye that morning, “Good luck, and remember to shut your damn mouth.” Unfortunately, she didn’t warn me not to turn my head.
The guy next to me, a dead ringer for Uncle Fester from the Adam’s Family, thankfully pulled the staff officer’s attention off of me when he realized Uncle Fester didn’t have any luggage with him.
“Where’s your stuff, Cadet Franklin?”
“In my car.”
“‘In my car, sir,’ is how you say it!”
“Oh, in my car, sir.”
The officer got right in Franklin’s face. “Are you going to live in your car? Will you brush your teeth in your car?”
The officer corrected him again. “No sir!”
“No, sir, I’m sorry…sir!”
“You are sorry! And you’re going to smell sorry too wearing the same underwear for a week! All of you get down and give me twenty!”
As one of the cadets went down toward the ground to begin his push-ups, in frustration he mumbled under his breath, “Shit.”
That simple uttered word flipped the switch on three staff officers who immediately jumped all over him with angered intensity. “Oh, real good! Are you going to speak to the public like that?!”
“Cadet Arlington, do you talk to your mother like that?! Was she in the Navy?”
“Real professional! You want us to wash that dirty mouth out with soap?”
Cadet Arlington’s face was red with embarrassment. He didn’t speak another word. He just bit his lip and did lots of push-ups.
A cadet made the mistake of wiping his nose on the sleeve of his suit when he was supposed to be standing motionless at attention. This pulled one of the staff officers away from Cadet Foul Mouth so he could focus on Cadet Booger. “Did I tell you to wipe your nose?”
“Uh, no sir!”
“Do you have pneumonia?! Did your momma teach you to wipe your nose on your suit?”
“Then why are you using your suit as a handkerchief?! Is that how you are going to wear your new uniform, with boogers on your sleeve?! You are a disgusting little maggot! Give me twenty!”
We each quickly gained a fair amount of education on proper cadet behavior through push-ups. I stood at attention, as still as possible, and stared forward as if I was looking a thousand miles away. My arms were already tired, and I wanted to avoid more push-ups if that was even possible. The vocal attacks continued on each of the cadets. There were personal insults on everyone’s hygiene, clothing, posture, and height. “Are you tall enough to see over the steering wheel in a patrol car?! We don’t issue phonebooks here at the academy for you to sit on!” Over time that morning, each one of us felt the personal wrath and attention of one of the eight moody staff officers.
I remained standing at attention. I wouldn’t dare turn my head again. The air was cold and I could feel my joints tightening. My heart rate was racing. As the staff officers continued their verbal tirade, a guy about three people to my left passed out and fell right on his face. Immediately an officer yelled, “Get up! Don’t you bleed on my concrete!”
A makeshift academy ambulance, which was just a golf cart with a red light on the roof and a stretcher on the back, came out of nowhere and two CHP paramedics jumped out. I assumed they were staged somewhere nearby, waiting for something like this to go down. They picked the cadet’s limp body up and put him on the back of the golf cart ambulance. I kept my head pointed forward but tried as hard as I could to force my eyes to see how the cadet was doing without appearing like I was actually looking at him. The staff officers’ indifference to the cadet taking a dive made me a little sick to my stomach. It was almost like the officers relished in the fact that they had beaten one of us down. That unconscious cadet’s limp body was their trophy.
As they picked up the cadet, I heard one of the paramedics laugh and say, “That’s a new record. This one passed out before lunch.” I started to obsess about what was going to happen after lunch. With one cadet on his way out, suddenly, there were ninety-five where there used to be ninety-six. The attrition had begun.
The first minutes of the academy were absolute madness. None of us wannabes/cadets knew what we were supposed to be doing. The only thing that we actually knew, and we were reminded of it repeatedly, was that whatever it was we were doing, we were doing it wrong. This was made abundantly clear by the big man in charge, the mean one, the pit bull, the sergeant.
“My name is Sgt. Sherman and for the next six months I’ll be your daddy!”
He stood in front of us all. His tan uniform had three blue sergeant stripes on the sleeves. He was in incredible shape without an ounce of body fat on him. He was clean shaven with chiseled features. When he spoke, he spoke forcefully, loudly and with authority. Every word from his mouth shot a small amount of adrenaline through my body. He absolutely scared the shit out of me.
“You will do what I say and what my staff officers say! The staff office will guide you through this academy. They are not here to wipe your noses or your butts. However, they will wipe the smiles off your faces!”
Something caught Sgt. Sherman’s eye. Something he didn’t like. He stopped pacing in front of us and headed right for a short, heavyset, blonde female cadet at the end of the line, “What are you smiling at Cadet Almaraz?!”
Her petite voice murmured a weak, “Nothing, sir.”
Sgt. Sherman wasn’t happy, “How many pieces of luggage did you bring with you, Almaraz? Do you think this is the Hotel Highway Patrol? Do you think we have a porter here to bring your bags to your room for you? Make that smile disappear. He stopped yelling at Almaraz and addressed the rest of us, “I want all of you cadets to do ten push-ups for every piece of Gucci luggage Cadet Almaraz brought with her. For those of you bad at math, that would be five bags, times ten, fifty push-ups. Get on your faces!”
Down we all went, again. Since we couldn’t seem to start our push-ups at the same time, Sherman had us start over. Since we couldn’t all yell out each push-up in unison, Sherman had us start over. Since most of us couldn’t manage fifty push-ups, Sherman had us start over. When it was all said and done we probably did seventy push-ups. My arms were screaming at me in pain. My suit was a mess. I was starting to really hate the academy, Sgt. Sherman, and this Cadet Almaraz with her numerous fancy bags.
With our newfound knowledge (pushing the earth makes you learn fast) our cadet heads were clear. We were all listening intently now. Sgt. Sherman directed us to leave our luggage on “the deck” and head into a large building where we would officially report to the academy and get our uniforms. I was hoping “uniform” meant gun. I figured with ninety-five of us holding guns there would be fewer personal insults. I figured wrong.
Sgt. Sherman’s directions were very simple. Walk up to one of the officers behind a large table, say, “Sir, Cadet (state your name) reporting for duty.” Upon doing that we were supposed to get a bag of gear, uniforms and some room keys. The first guy to try it totally screwed it up.
He walked up to the table, stood in front of a female officer and yelled out, “Sir, Cadet Peterson reporting for duty!”
A staff officer sprinted across the room and started chewing on Cadet Peterson’s ear, “Does she look like a sir to you? Are you saying Officer Morgan looks like a man?”
Poor Cadet Peterson didn’t know what to say. In his defense, in uniform, Officer Morgan did kind of look like a man.
When I was at the front of the line, I managed to refer to Officer Morgan as a “ma’am,” learning from Peterson’s blunder before me. She threw me some uniforms and a large blue bag filled with equipment. Nope, no gun. The bag felt like it had rocks in it. I could hardly hold it since my arms were like spaghetti from all of the push-ups.
CHP cadet uniforms are comprised of navy blue pants, a long sleeved baby blue button-up shirt, a navy blue clip-on tie and a baseball cap. I’m sure wearing a tie and a baseball cap is breaking some type of fashion rule, but at the CHP Academy nobody seemed to be too concerned with high fashion. The cadet uniform resembled the uniform of a mall security guard, except cadets possess even less authority.
After all of us picked up our belongings, Sgt. Sherman spoke, “I see you all have your Smurf outfits. Make sure you each have the correct sizes.” I thought the Smurf nickname was appropriate since the Smurf cartoon characters are dumb, lovable blue creatures just like cadets. And just like cadets, they have a male to female ratio of twenty to one.
As far as our uniforms fitting, that was a stretch, literally. Prior to reporting to the academy, we each sent in our measurements so an appropriate sized uniform would be waiting for us. Either ninety-six letters with measurements were all lost by the post office or someone enjoys watching cadets wear clothes that don’t fit because none of us had a uniform that was even close to being the size we ordered. This was a problem too, because it wasn’t as if any one of us was about to raise our hand and say, “Um, excuse me, I ordered a sixteen and a half neck and this one is a fifteen. I can’t breathe.” Who wanted the extra push-ups? Instead of making a scene, I figured I could trade clothes with someone later and try to piece together some semblance of a respectable outfit that wouldn’t choke me or show my socks.
“It’s inventory time boys and girls,” Sgt. Sherman announced as he held up a clipboard. “I will call out an item. You will look through your gear bag. You will pull out the item. You will hold it up with your left hand for me to see. Do you understand?!”
His question was met with a loud and unified, “Yes sir!” As a group we were getting better already.
He announced the first item, “One yellow highlighter!”
I searched through my bag filled with belts, books, paper, pencils and binders, until I found a yellow highlighter. I held it up with my left hand as high and straight as I could. It felt a little like kindergarten. The guy next to me found his too, but he held it up with his right hand. This grabbed the attention of a staff officer, “Cadet Guzman, you don’t know your right from your left?”
“Uh, yes sir!”
“Yes, you don’t?”
“No sir, I do, sir?”
“Then why are you holding the highlighter with your right hand when you were told to use your left?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know! And what you also don’t know is your right from your left!”
The staff officer ripped the highlighter out of Guzman’s hand and then pulled the cap off with his teeth. He wrote a huge R and L on Guzman’s respective right and left hands.
“There, now you’ll know the difference!” Unfortunately, the rest of the staff office would know the difference between him and everyone else. Guzman was now, literally, a marked man and he would suffer the consequences until he had the opportunity to wash his hands.
I continued to hold my left hand up, displaying my prized highlighter as high as I could, but we weren’t moving along to the next item. Apparently someone hadn’t located theirs yet. I heard a scared voice from the rear of the room, “Um, I don’t think my bag has a highlighter.”
A staff officer yelled, “When you talk to someone you will first say, ‘Sir, Cadet Your Name,’ and then you will ask your question!”
“Sir, Cadet Quan, I don’t have a highlighter.”
The staff officer asked him, “Are you sure you’ve looked through your bag?”
“Sir, Cadet Quan, yes.”
The staff officer grabbed Quan’s bag, flipped it upside down and dumped all of the contents onto the floor. Amongst all of the items, I saw the sickening sight of a bright yellow highlighter rolling across the floor. This earned Cadet Quan and the rest of us more of those goddamn push-ups. I’m guessing Cadet Quan will never be able to look at a yellow highlighter again without having flashbacks. That little lesson made the rest of us look through our bags for the next item with painstaking care.
Sgt. Sherman called out the next item, “Vehicle code!”
I quickly began to rummage through my bag, praying the book would make a quick appearance. When I didn’t see it right away, I started to panic. I didn’t want my stuff thrown all over the place. Finally, I found it, held it up with my struggling left arm and breathed a sigh of relief. I had no idea this book was so thick. How was I ever going to memorize all of the laws in it? I dropped out of college for a reason.
Sgt. Sherman had a few words of wisdom about his prized vehicle code, “The vehicle code to a highway patrol officer is like a bible to a preacher. You will learn it. You will know it and you will live it.”
We continued through the monotony and abuse of the everlasting bag inventory until it was determined we all had everything we needed to successfully complete the academy. Well, everything except a gun, a muscle rubdown or a bathroom break.
Sgt. Sherman yelled out more directions, “You each have a set of keys with a room number. You will have five minutes to leave this area carrying all of your trash, pick up your luggage outside, go find your room, put on your uniform and report to classroom one. Five minutes, people. That’s plenty of time. Move! Get out of my face!”
Five minutes? Was he kidding? Ninety-five of us tried to run out of the same door at the same time. After a panic induced pedestrian traffic jam, we were finally outside only to find our luggage was not where we had left it. The luggage had been thrown all over the place. We ran like refugees, grasping our supplies, looking for our stuff. It took me a few seconds, which felt like minutes, before I finally saw my bag. I felt bad that Cadet Almaraz had to find her five separate Gucci bags thrown in five different locations. She didn’t have a chance.
I ran as fast as I could loaded down with my uniforms, my big bag of CHP gear (including a yellow highlighter) and my luggage. I looked down at my keys, 221E. I was running, but I really had no idea to where. There were buildings that looked like dorm rooms both north and south of the main campus. There seemed to be people in suits with bags running everywhere, but nobody really knew where they should actually go. I saw a group going south, and figured I would follow them. I had a 50/50 chance of being right. I was one hundred percent wrong. The south dorms were the 100 series rooms. I ran back the other way, knowing I was burning up time. Between finding my luggage and going the wrong direction, I was never going to get dressed in five minutes and make it to classroom one, wherever that was.
I finally found my room and at the same time, my new roommate, Cadet Kingsley. He was standing in front of his locker/closet already down to his underwear and was getting dressed as fast as humanly possible. “Hurry up, you’re gonna be late,” he warned.
“I know, man. This sucks.”
“We’re roommates. We gotta work together to get through this place. I’ll help you.”
I appreciated his “go team” attitude, and I definitely wanted a roommate who was helpful, but I really wasn’t sure how he was going to help get me dressed any quicker, nor was I all that comfortable with the process. Then again, it beat doing push-ups. I pulled off my jacket, while he yanked a shirt and pants off of some hangers. He looked through my blue bag and found the belt and hat that I needed. I felt much more comfortable receiving his help once I had my pants on.
After I was dressed, we headed out of our room and started sprinting toward classroom one, or at least we hoped we were running in that direction. There was no campus map in our big bag of tricks so we really had no idea. A few other cadets filed out of their rooms in a panic and started running with us. I felt safer in larger numbers.
One of the female cadets running next to me was wearing a uniform which was about six sizes too small for her. Her pants were so short they looked like floods and I don’t know how she managed to get them buttoned. Her butt looked like it was about to blowout the back of her pants. A staff officer yelled at her, “Cadet Jobs! Is there a twelve-year-old boy running around here missing a uniform?”
Cadet Jobs had no response. My guess was she couldn’t speak because her pants were so tight.
The staff officer kept yelling at her, “Did you lie about your measurements? Do you think you’re a size two?”
Cadet Jobs started to tear up and she whimpered, “No.”
“No! Get your crying eyes away from my face, Barbie! Go to the classroom!”
We continued running down the hallway and our group grew as more cadets poured out of the dorms half-dressed and in full panic. We rounded a corner only to find another staff officer. This guy looked really pissed. “You’re late! We’ve been waiting for you!”
One out of breath cadet spoke for all of us, “Sir, Cadet Benton, I’m sorry sir, we couldn’t find our rooms.”
“Get on your faces and give me twenty!”
And so we continued, yet again, with more push-ups. My arms were shaking they were so hammered. The staff officer had us hold our push-up halfway down and then he began to lecture. “This is not summer camp. You’re not attending vacation bible school. You are not here to take your time and leisurely walk around the academy grounds smelling flowers like some free thinking Bohemian. You’re here to become officers. Get your sorry selves to the classroom!”
We all stood up, exhausted and ashamed for being late. I saw a door that had a “1” on it. There were other cadets frantically trying to get inside. That looked like where we needed to be. We ran in through the door into a large room with stadium type seating to find Sgt. Sherman waiting for us. His patience had run out.
Sgt. Sherman yelled, “Take your covers off when you walk into a building!” The entire group of us quickly ripped our baseball hats off our heads as we looked for places to sit. The desks already had name placards on them, and I was relieved to find one that said, “Karter.” I was finally in the right place. I sat down behind it.
Sgt. Sherman was standing in front of a large chalkboard. He picked up a piece of chalk and drew a big whale. I didn’t recognize it as a whale but he said it was a whale, so I believed him. Then he drew lines to represent feces coming out of the ass of the whale. He pointed with the chalk to the whale, tapping hard on the chalkboard. “This is the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.” Then he pointed to the crap coming out of the whale. “This is me.” Then he drew little dots underneath the whale poo. “That’s you, the little plankton and gunk that’s smaller than whale crap. That’s you! Do you understand?”
“Yes sir!” It was clear the moment we arrived that morning that we were less than shit.
Sgt. Sherman pointed to a large sign posted above the chalkboard that read, “CHP cadets do not lie, cheat or steal, nor do they tolerate those who do.”
“You will live by this code for the next six months,” Sgt. Sherman announced. “If you do not, you will be history.”
I heard a slight whisper from the cadet next to me, “I’ve always liked history.”
I just looked forward, scared of earning more push-ups.
He kept whispering to me, “My name is Langdon. Based on our seating positions, it looks like we’re going to be partners. Let’s make a pact right now, you and me are gonna beat this place, alright, Partner?”
The mere mention of partners had my smartass mouth working faster than my brain, “Sounds good. If we’re partners then let’s blow this joint and head to a strip club and do some real cop shit like I’ve seen in the movies.”
This caused Langdon to chuckle just a little. Just enough to get us caught for being engaged in a human moment.
“What’s so funny?” a staff officer behind us demanded. “Do you think this place is fun, Cadet Karter and Cadet Langdon? Real good! You’re both a by-God disgrace. Cadet Karter, your uniform is a sloppy mess. You look like you’ve been wearing it for a week and you’ve only been here a couple of hours. Your gig line is out of alignment.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. What was a gig line? The staff officer offered an explanation by yelling loud enough for the rest of my class to learn too, “Your gig line is the centerline of your button-up shirt. It’s required to be in perfect alignment with the centerline of the fly of your trousers. If it isn’t, it’s considered a gig. Three gigs and you lose your liberty. You won’t be going out for a steak dinner with your mommy since you don’t know how to dress yourself. Ironically, she’s not here to help you get dressed, Karter!”
I looked down, and admittedly, my gig line was way out of whack, partially because my uniform didn’t fit, but mostly because I didn’t have a clue how to wear a mall cop uniform. Before I was a cadet, I never had a gig line. I never really tucked in a shirt. I wore T-shirts, board shorts and flip flops.
Sgt. Sherman interrupted my ass chewing, “Since Cadet Karter was kind enough to broach the subject of gigs, on your desks there should be five blue cards. Put your name on the top of each card and put them in your right front shirt pocket. Each one of these blue cards equals a gig. If an officer requests one from you, you will hand it to them and they will write down your infraction and put it in your personnel file. Three gigs equals a loss of liberty. You can have no more than five cards in your shirt pocket at any one time and no less than three. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir!” we bellowed.
We didn’t have our new blue cards five minutes before Cadet Hughes lost one for his digital watch alarm going off in the middle of one of Sgt. Sherman’s sermons about boot shining. “What’s that noise? Cadet Hughes is it time for your medication? Turn that alarm off and give me a blue card!”
After Cadet Hughes lost his first blue card, a scrawny, nervous looking cadet named Burns lost four of his own blue cards in about thirty seconds. This meant he also lost his first liberty. He lost the first blue card for not addressing an officer correctly while asking a question, the lesson here being: don’t ask questions. It was all downhill from there.
Starting with five blue cards in his pocket, Cadet Burns gave up one and then was down to four. The staff officer looked at the blue card and it was blank. Burns had forgotten to put his name on the card. For this he lost another blue card and then he was down to three. The second blue card he pulled out of his pocket luckily had his name on it, but unluckily, he’d written his first name first as opposed to his last name first. We had already established first names don’t mean anything at the academy. For not filling out the card correctly he lost yet another blue card, leaving his pocket with only two blue cards. That was when the staff officer asked the harrowing next question, “Cadet Burns, how many blue cards do you currently have in your pocket?”
“Sir, Cadet Burns, only two, sir!”
“Give me another blue card for not having the minimum required three blue cards in your pocket.”
Cadet Burns was down to one. At that rate he may not see liberty until graduation day, that is, if he could survive that long.
Finally, I heard the words I had been waiting for all morning from Sgt. Sherman, “Take a five minute bathroom break!”
Thank God, because I needed to take a monumental leak. On my hour long drive to the academy that morning (in my piece of crap Honda Civic that didn’t have the decency to break down so I could have avoided the whole nightmare), I had consumed a 64 ounce Double Big Gulp of Mountain Dew to give myself a little pick-me-up on the first day. Ironically, I experienced enough fear at the academy that no extreme amounts of caffeine were required, so all I succeeded in doing was punish my bladder. I ran into the bathroom practically knocking other cadets to the ground to relieve myself.
While standing in front of the urinal, I realized it was the first moment I had to relax and think since I arrived. It was sad to realize that the most enjoyable and calm place at the academy reeked of piss. I started asking myself again what was I doing here? This place was awful. I thought that Officer Anal could be a jerk, but he was like Santa Claus compared to the academy staff officers. What were my options? My wife and kid were depending on me to grow up and work for a living. As much as it sucked, I was being paid to be a cadet. It was a job, and a paycheck that I desperately needed. So far it seemed my new career was doing push-ups and taking verbal abuse. Still, it paid a hell-of-a-lot better than moving pallets.
I finished with my relaxing Guinness Book of World Record sized pee and went to the sink to wash my hands. I caught my first glimpse of myself in my Smurf outfit. It was a strange sight, seeing myself in the pale blue button-up collared shirt with the word “CADET” pinned on my collar. Growing up, I never imagined myself being in such a strange situation. Of course, growing up, I didn’t think I’d be kicked out of college and impregnate a girl in the same semester either.
Right then I needed a win in my life, a victory. The academy was my chance to show my loved ones I could be a success. I was starting to think I could get into this whole cop thing, the real uniform, the gun, the fast cars. I was ready to resign myself to being in law enforcement. I dried my hands, took a deep breath, looked myself in the mirror and said, “If you can just get through lunch, you’ll be fine.” Little did I know what academy lunch was like.
© Cadet Blues Rob Krider Copyright 2014