I just looked up at my shiny new UNC Alumni Association calendar, filled with page after page of lovely pictures of the Old Well, and realized Saturday is Jan. 17.
Jan. 17? What the hell happened Jan. 17?
Funny you should ask. But since you did, let me tell you a story. A heroic tale of daring do and bravery in the barren, treeless wilderness of a far-off land. A chronicle, if you’d like, of my time in the desert.
An epic of sheer, insane boredom punctuated by moments of pure, concentrated terror.
Let’s call this saga: “The stupid shit Marines do when they’re trapped in a desert combat zone with absolutely nothing else to do until the air war is over.”
From Jan. 17, 1991 when the air war began and lasting for about a month, we were stuck in Saudi desert with nothing to do. Nothing to do, that is, except make sure our gear stayed as sand-free as possible (not the easiest task, I’ll tell you), dig a new hole for the shitter every couple of days, stand guard duty every night, wait (and wait) for the mail every day, sleep and devise mischievous ways to pass the remainder of the day.
If you’ve ever heard the saying “Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings,” came from, well, idle hands have nothing on board Marines.
My platoon, Maintenance Platoon, excelled in that last category, mischief, and the best one we came up with was the eating contest. But, since its no fun buddyfuck the guys in your own platoon, we had to farm out the mischief to the other platoons in our company and battalion.
The first challenge was the Great Spam Eating Wager of 1991. One of the guys in Mux* Platoon claimed he could eat five cans of Spam.
I’ll say that again: Five. Cans. Of. Spam.
Sixty ounces of Spam.
The faux meat product was sliced and fried, wagers were made (with the boys from Maintenance covering the action), and the eating was commenced. Right now, as I think back, there’s something truly funny about an eating contest involving a predominantly pork meat product taking place in Saudi Arabia.
Anyway, Lance Corporal Anama, the eatee, was going strong. One can down. Two cans down. Three cans down without a problem.
He began slowing on the fourth can, though he earned the grudging admiration of the onlookers as he choked down that last gristly, salty slice from can number four.
For those of you keeping score, that’s 48 ounces of Spammy goodness that’s gone down his gullet at this point.
There were just six 2-ounce slices remaining between him and everlasting fame or bottomless shame.
One down. Closing his eyes, he forced his throat to swallow. Twoooo down. Sweat beading on his forehead. Threeeeeeee down. Eyes glazed over with the thousand-yard stare of man who’s seen too much Spam in his life. Fouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuur. Dooooooowwwwnnnnnnn.
Two slices left. Like wafer thin mints, they waited to pass his lips and bring him eternal glory.
Then, as if he could see 10 seconds into the future, his eyes grew wide and his jaw clinched tight.
Turning to his cheering platoon mates, Anama said simply, “Sorry guys.”
The past then crashed head-on into the future as he leaned over and began puking. And kept puking. Puking until he puked up all 56 ounces chunky, undigested Spam. You could still see the teeth marks in some of the chunks.
Sitting there, cooling in the desert air, the congealing pile of Spam puke looked like nothing else in the world but an unwanted lump of pink concrete.
The good thing about the desert? If you happen to have a puddle of pink, concrete-looking Spam puke, you can just grab your e-tool (that’s e- as in entrenching, not e- as in electronic), dig it a shallow grave and move on.
Move on, that is, until you need it again. The Spam puke, not the e-tool. You wouldn’t think once it’s been eaten and puked you’d ever have a need for Spam puke, but you’d wrong.
Oh. So. Very. Very. Wrong.
Two days later, a Marine Reservist from Indiana thought he had a winning idea and boasted he could eat two cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. The big ones, like the ones they use in cafeterias. (Interestingly, Dinty Moore, like Spam, is a Hormel trademark.)
Never ones to back down from a challenge, and knowing there was still a pile of money out there to be won, Maintenance again took on all comers and covered all the bets.
Not wanting to lose and, most likely, because the guy was a Reservist, not part of our company and we really didn’t give a crap about him, we did what anyone would do when large sums of cash were on the line.
We played dirty.
As the first can of stew was disappearing down his gaping maw, we all fired up smokes to fill the tent with a haze the likes of which have seen since the smoking ban cleared the air at the Dubliner and the Capitol Lounge. We were having an effect, but not enough. We needed more power.
More cow bell I say!!
So out came the e-tools and two of our guys went off to quickly search for the unmarked grave of the Spam puke, exhume it and resurrect it’s vast powers for evil. Pure unadulterated evil.
Long story short, it’s pretty damn close to impossible to keep your cookies down while you’re eating your second can of greasy beef stew with the stench from a bucket of two-day-old Spam puke filling the smoky air.
After touring the Marine bases in the South Pacific during World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt was asked her impression of the Marines she’d met. Her reply is classic: “They have the cleanest bodies and dirtiest minds; The highest morale and lowest morals.”
Truer words may have never been spoken.
*Mux is short for multichannel which, in the days before the mobile cells they now construct, was the only way of sending phone calls over the radio. Each system could handle eight, yeah, eight, calls at a time.