DAY 338: Hanging out with marines

4 Aug

It's not like this.

WHEN a bespectacled marine politely shuffles over and asks if he and his friends can sit at my table “as we’re great at conversation”, I say no.

This “no” is completely not in the spirit of Hey Man, but sometimes my concentration slips. And fuck dude, I’m at the only taken table in the joint.

Then my friend Geoff joins me, so a different marine comes back to ask again, and Geoff jovially bids them pull up a bunch of chairs.

I’ve never talked to a marine before, and these four don’t fit my expectations. Goofy, good-natured and corny as all get-out, they’re not screaming ‘killing machine’. They’ve been drinking since midday, they keep telling us, and they really want to cut loose, but they can’t. They’re constrained by fear of an unknown territory, fear of reprisal, god-fearing upbringings and fearfully good manners. Testosterone is buzzing around inside them like flies in a jar.

While they’re all in plain tees and jeans, other marines in uniform roam the streets of Brisbane acting as their chaperones. It’s not so much that our new friends won’t stick to their midnight curfew, it’s that come nine o’clock, every bozo in town is going to want to fight them.

More accustomed to amphibious warfare, with the easy lube of a few beers, these marines tell us they weren’t shown the small print by their recruiters. “We thought we’d get to see the world, get all our expenses paid,” says one. Turns out they earn $22,000 a year – much less than those in the US Army – and the food’s shithouse. They expected to be considered the elite; instead they’re tooling around Brisbane, trying to make some pals, offering around “American cigarettes”, which are revealed to be Marlboros. One expresses astonishment at how retarded he finds his fellow marines.

“Why did you reenlist?” I ask another. He’s 24 years old and into his second term. “I have a wife,” he says lamely. “She gets looked after.” Like his crewmates, he bears the hangdog grimace of the epically shafted. They’re all, Geoff points out later, from cities of high unemployment. Once they’ve served their four years, if they do find another job, they spend another four years of civilian life under the threat of being called up again at any time.

Most vexingly to them right now, the marines have been told they can no longer get tattooed in Australia. Luckily one already has an Australian emblem stamped upon him from a previous visit, but the others will have to miss out or wait till they get to Japan, where, mystifyingly, tattooing IS allowed. “They just make rules up and don’t tell us why,” one shrugs.

For now, they’re kicking back as best they can. Enthused by the topic of tattoos from every port, each marine starts pulling bits and pieces out of his pants for inspection. One fishes out a business card and rings a woman from my phone, but she doesn’t answer. Others discuss the merits of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. Our mate Tal turns up and he gets quizzed hungrily on what he does for a living, and whether he’s aware System of a Down have reformed. Then there’s the passing around of driver’s licences so that we can be shocked and amazed at how young they are. Yep: 1989. Could explain why one of them three times offers us an inventory of every drug he’s ever taken, in a punt for paternal approval (Geoff’s got that sort of look about him).

These guys… don’t let anyone fire anything at them, okay? They’re just pups.

Keeper? I wouldn’t want to start handing out my business cards, but I’m really glad I talked to these fellas. I liked them, and I felt for them. Well, whaddaya know.

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