When I was in the Air Force I had a friend named Bryan Alsup who was in the Army. We were both stationed at The Presidio of Monterey in California training to be Russian interpreters. He was the most gung-ho G.I. you could ever meet. The job that we were doing required a filtration process before we ever got to Monterey because the training was intensive, very long (one of the longest) and very, very costly. Even with the exams and batteries and tests prior to ever getting into the school, there was still a better than fifty percent attrition rate after matriculation. Anyway, Bryan was not the kind of fellah who wanted to be seen as the smartie, he wanted to be seen as the soldier. The war torn, world weary, unlit cigar chewing sergeant to whom the women are inexplicably attracted. This is the way he saw himself.
I had the biggest, worst, gay boy in love with a str8 boy crush on him. It was pitiful and bittersweet.
One evening we were studying in his dorm room and he got up to change out his contact lenses and put on his glasses instead. I had never seen him with glasses. I was astounded by the strength of the lenses. They looked to be all of a half inch thick and the concavity of the lenses was so much that the lenses distorted his eyes as I looked at him. They looked like movie or theatre props.
What happened next was this:
“Man, you wouldn’t last two seconds on the Serengeti,” I said.
“What?!” Scandalized. The look on his face was the look you give after you have just seen someone smack your momma. Hard. With the back of their hand.
“Im serious, man. Look at those things! If you and I were on the Serengeti right now, with nothing but a stick in our hand and there was a hungry lion or cheetah or whatever, I would be up a tree and you would be food.” I was young and silly and had yet to understand certain nuances of dealing with people and with my own emotions and only many years later did I realize that such an attack might be damaging to his self image.
“Don’t worry about me. As soon as I hear you scream LION! I’ll just grab you and throw you out in front of me. You might be enough to satisfy the lion. Maybe not. Do you even weigh a buck?” he retorted as he flexed his guns at me with pretended nonchalance. I didn’t try to flex back in comparison because there was none.
“Oh, I ain’t screamin’. I’m goin’ up that tree without making a sound and you won’t know it because I would have seen that lion from a mile away and you wouldn’t know that the lion was there until you felt his breath on your face. Do you have the conjugations for the imperfective for listen memorized?”
The conversations of youth still come to me at times, word for word. I hold them and live them and talk them so that they do not fade.
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