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LIFE AS A LOSER #137:
"WHIMPER FI"

 
   
   
 

His name was Gerry, which seemed like a strange name for a Marine recruiter, particularly a Latino one, setting up a table in our Mattoon High School cafeteria. I remember there being something vaguely femme about him; I even commented on it to a friend of mine, which means it must have been obvious, considering it's unlikely, under normal circumstances, that the first thing I would think of after meeting a Marine would be to question his sexuality.

Gerry was not a soft-sell man. We were sitting there, eating soyburgers because we were too low on cash to drive for Hardee's for lunch, when he stood up and began to give an impassioned speech about What It Meant To Be A Marine. I don't remember much of what he said, but it was loud, and impossible to ignore. He had the strangest speaking voice; he was a Marine, so he had definitive oomph behind his grunts, but, again, that tiny twinge of fey was plain and obvious. It was surreal. This Marine was barking a lisp.

Then he got up and started harassing us at our tables. To my surprise, he skipped the tables full of hot, giggling girls and settled at ours. "Any of you have what it takes to become men?" Gerry asked us. This was a line that ordinarily would have prompted much snickering, but we all had a feeling that Gerry could kill us, quickly, so we looked downward and remained silent.

"Do you have an after school job, son?" He was talking to me. Salesmen and solicitors have always gone after me first. It's like they can smell the dupe on me. I told him I worked at a movie theater, winding film, cleaning up Milk Duds. "Is that what you want to do with your life? Is that what you think will make life worthwhile? You paying for all your Christmas presents with the money you make at that movie theater?" I told him I planned on going to college to become a film critic. "Son, the Marine Corps will pay for your college education, and we will make you into a man." The man thing again. We remained silent. He gave me his card.

Next to the Marine recruiting office in downtown Mattoon is Harold's Cleaners, which is owned by a distant Leitch family relative. In 1993, a cute girl named Kim on whom I had a rather intense crush worked there, and anytime Mom had a dress she needed picked up, I gleefully volunteered. It was Christmas break from school, so I had plenty of time. I sauntered in, chatted up Kim, pouring on the charm, until she went to the back and an elderly woman returned with the dress. I grimaced and carried it outside. I was stunned by Gerry.

"Will, so glad I got you here." I didn't even remember telling him my name. "Hey, you got a second? I'd like to talk to you a little bit about what we discussed at lunch a few weeks ago."

Now. Even at the tender age of 17, a time of confusion, a time when I knew nothing about myself or my future or what I had to offer the world, I knew there was no way I would ever become a Marine. Nothing against Marines; I just knew that they frowned on recruits taking their blankie to the first night of boot camp. Besides, I knew they'd make me shave off my mullet.

Gerry was standing right there. I could have ended it. I could have said, "Sir, thanks, but no thanks. Your institution seems honorable enough, but, honestly, I can't even do a push-up." But I couldn't. He had taken an interest in me, for whatever reason I didn't deign to even attempt to figure out, and I didn't want to disappoint him. So I said, yes, sure, I'll hear what you have to say. I went in his office, and he proceeded to explain to me why the Marine Corps not only had been designed with Will Leitch in mind, but also, in fact, would be a barren shell of itself without me.

I mean, he laid it on rather thick. He spoke of the commitment of the Marines to further education, something a "young scholar like yourself" would find most important. He spoke of an emphasis on "recruiting kids from stable families, like yours." (I also don't remember telling him anything about my parents.) And, perhaps most frightening, he said I had the "exact right body type" for the Marines; "you've got a lot of potential on your frame there."

I was in there about an hour and a half, and I said maybe 30 words. And yet, at the end, I gave him my phone number, home address, class schedule, and dog's name. I have no idea why. I gave it to him simply because he asked. I figured I just hide from him later on rather than just simply tell him that I'd be more likely to become a nun than a Marine.

And that's what I had to do. He called the next day to schedule a followup appointment. My mom gave me the phone, and I told him next Friday. I then waited until he was out of his office to leave him a message and cancel. He then called the next day, and the ridiculous circle continued. This happened five times. My father even asked me, "Who's this Sgt. Morales who keeps calling?"

"It's a gay Marine who told me I had the perfect body frame for the military."

"Oh."

Eventually I told my parents to keep telling him I wasn't home, and they didn't know when I'd be back. I began to quiver in fear every time the phone rang. This went on for the entire final semester of my senior year of high school. The phone calls dwindled to one every couple of weeks, but they never stopped entirely. Yet I always successfully avoided him.

It came May, graduation time. A week before baccalaureate, my cousin and I walked to the front door of the Cross County Mall to look in vain for Nirvana CDs. Coming toward us, carrying a large box which presumably contained a television set, was Gerry. I saw him first and moved to Denny's right, hopefully blocking Gerry's sightline. We made it past him. I scurried to the door, while Denny, befuddled, tried to catch up. I then heard, "Will! Will! You never called me back!" I knocked over an old woman while streaking to the bookstore. If Gerry turned around, enormous TV in tow, to look for me, he didn't find me. It would have been difficult; I had buried myself in coffee table books. I left for college three months later with the phone calls finally stopped.

When you can't say no to a gay Marine with an unhealthy obsession with making you a man, I'd say the odds aren't too good that you'll ever be able to say no to anyone. And, still, I've never really learned how. Hey … I just don't want any trouble. I mean no offense. Ten-hut. At ease.

*BT*

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