Films like Stripes and Full Metal Jacket make boot camp look just awful. The goal, it seems, is to take a regular person, melt them into a puddle of emotional ickiness, then build them back up into fearless soldiers who are ready and willing to sacrifice their own lives for the happiness and freedom of others. Maybe I read that in a brochure; I can’t remember.
This heinous experience changes the sufferers forever. Even late into the winter of their lives, former Marines maintain an intimidating stoicism and a firm, life long, bond with fellow military men. They salute each other and chant a Latin phrase as if participating in a members only exorcism. It’s a bizarre ritual to witness for anyone who hasn’t been forced to do hundreds of push ups over a pile of moist horse crap while being called a worthless doughy twat by a man in a large hat.
I know that I’m not, nor have I ever been, tough enough for boot camp. Not even the one at my local gym taught by Tara who wears a camouflage sports bra and spells girls with a “z.” I’m certain that, in a matter of minutes, I would melt into that puddle of ick and have to wait there, festering in my own emotional miasma, until everyone else became beaten down enough to join me. If I was lucky, my panic attacks and awkward man-weeping might even grow so annoying that I’d be declared psychologically unfit and discharged to the care of my loving wife.
My elder son takes after me like that, and now that we’ve sent him off to Kindergarten, he’s entered his own little boot camp aimed toward preparing him to be a contributing member of the American machine. I absolutely love all teachers, but just hope that the big system doesn’t break his spirit and he can have a good time at school… but still become a painter.