The Man in the Penguin Suit

Act 1, Scene 2
College Beginnings
In 1975 I graduated high school and began my college career at the University of Tennessee at Martin with a full tuition scholarship for marching band. It was nice, it was fun and it seemed all the Milan kids went there so it was a comfort zone for me. Tony D’Andrea was the band director and I had already studied with him some. Great guy, Italian, reed player, good person and liked to party. I thought what could possibly go wrong?
Well, I became a party animal and since it was my first year in college, I thought what the heck. The Hourglass was a local hangout and I think I had some large bar tabs there but I was on fake ID. I was having a blast.
The classes were boring to me except for English and History, accounting I whizzed through, and the rest was music. So my days were quite full with rehearsals lessons and the arts and of course my two hour practice sessions, then the Hourglass till midnight. It was fun times but when Christmas came around, something happened. Daddy and I got into it and it was not pretty. So, we parted company and not in a good way.


In February of that year, I felt down in the dumps. I was skipping classes and didn’t really care about them much as I could not stop thinking about things. I had been to the hourglass and was feeling pretty drunk and called my mother. She wasn’t in the mood and I had some legal prescription medications in my cubbyhole in the dorm. I was ready to go ahead and end all. So, I went to my room and downed all those meds and a few shots of Jack Daniels. I laid down after I wrote a little short note and went to sleep.
Next thing I know I am waking up in a hospital bed somewhere. There were these two people standing next to my bed that I did not know and I asked the question, “Where am I?”
Well, it turned out to be the Dean of students and his wife. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven but that was not the case. He informed me that he would be there to help me and if I wanted to take a quarter off, he could arrange it. He also told me that there was a man and a woman outside the door at each end of the hall with a man holding a gun and a woman holding a butcher knife. He asked if they were my parents and I said :yes they are”. I did say “that’s nothing unusual.”
As luck would have it, when my parents were allowed in the room they were civil with each other and me and the Dean expressed his concern for the University and that I could take as much time as I needed and I’m available for all of you. I asked the Dean for the rest of the week off and said that I would be back in class and would come to see him first thing when I got back. Daddy and I talked a lot that day and I took some time off. He had a heart and soul but it was sometimes buried, especially to me.
I did finish out the year at UTM, took the summer off and switched schools to Memphis State University with another full tuition scholarship for being in the marching band. I really didn’t care for college life, I thought, after I pledged Sigma Chi and didn’t really attend class. I was there just for the band and Sigma Chi and I knew that it was time for a change.
In November 1976, the first week, I called Marine Corps recruiter about wanting to enlist after I had been out partying all day. I made the appointment for 6 AM in the morning and promptly passed out.
At some ungodly hour of the morning (6:00 AM), there was a pounding on my front door and I crawled out of bed and opened the door and there was a Marine in summer class C dress blues with spit shined shoes saying, “I am here to pick you up to take the test”. I had to shake my head and remember what I had done last night. “Looks like I need to get dressed and real quick, Sir!”. He laughed.
Well, I ran to the shower and jumped in. I didn’t care that the water was ice cold as I didn’t want to mess this up. When I got dressed two minutes later, we ran downstairs and into the van and it was off to Downtown Memphis for the ASVAB test. I took the test with my hangover held high and after the free lunch, I fell asleep in the chair at the recruiting office. The Sgt. came back and woke me up to tell me the test results for back. He had this look on his face of concern and that made me concerned. Did I flunk the test? He fiddled with some papers and looked up at me and said, “Mr. Douglas, you have scored the highest I have ever seen on this test. You have a choice of anything you would like to go into in the Marine Corps.” I said, “Well, I have always wanted to be in the Marine Corps band and that’s what I would like to do.”
What I learned from this period of my life is to be prepared to walk through the doors when they open up to me. Test the waters and see if it is what I need or if it is a repeat of something I have already done. I do not like becoming stale in my approach to living and learning and make each day an adventure.
Marine Corps
Joining the Marines when I did was probably the best decision I had made for me at that time in my life I was away from the family squabbles and on my own completely. Aside from the first day at the camp, I felt safe. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I thought I could not make it and I wanted out. But, I found out that I had to face my fears and take responsibility for my actions. My first letter home from boot camp on that first day was one simple word in capital letters, “HELP!” Mama and daddy saved that letter till the day they died.

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