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8: Electronics Technician School
One of the things I had wanted when I joined the Navy was to be away from Illinois and its winters. Fate, of course, dropped me into Great Lakes as the snow and ice kicked in. I had a room in one of the crappy student barracks with a couple of other guys. Before you were allowed into the sacred halls of Electronics Technician class “A” school, you had to complete a self-paced computer-based curriculum they called B E&E (Basic Electricity and Electronics). (Yes, even in the late 1970s there was computer-based training). This (for any younger readers I might attract, was the point where I got the answer to why I had to study things like Trigonometry in high school).
Except, there was a glitch. About a week into the first part of the course, I got sick. Very sick. To be excused from class, you had to walk across the icy, frigid base to the clinic, get a note, carry it to the school, then go back to your barracks. This took, very literally, hours. I started with bronchitis, but, after several days of this long trek to the hospital, class, and my room, it escalated. One day (finally) I did not show up either at the clinic, or at school. They found me and got me to the hospital, fevered with a full-blown case of walking pneumonia. Suffice it to say, my graduation from B E&E was delayed.
While I was in the hospital there was nothing to do – except read. They had piles of old westerns and series books. I read everything they had. I was too sick to talk to anyone, really, but I know I sucked in characters and scenes, details. They weren’t great literature, those books, but they were someone’s work – someone’s creation and life. I connected with them, probably at least in part through the fever and the drugged daze I spent those two weeks drowning in. Influences. They hit you when you don’t expect them, and given that it’s been decades, and I still remember… they linger.
My time in Electronics Technician training was interesting. There were a lot of life events, a lot of things that are probably formative, but it was not a huge time of creativity for me. A few things stand out, and I’ll limit myself to those. Being succinct is not my superpower, but I will try.
I made some of my first lasting friendships in Great Lakes… but, they didn’t last. I wish that I could find Brian Massatt, and Gary Clark. The former had very cool sort of LARP before LARP existed relationship with his soon to be fiancé Susan. She was his princess… they would go monster hunting, with swords and armor, and I (with my guitar that had a broken (and repaired) neck from the bus trip to Great Lakes, was the bard. I wrote songs. I wrote some poetry. I wrote no stories, or books, but I lived. I met a girl who was Susan’s best friend named Cheryl, but that never went anywhere, though it DID land me at a very unexpected (and unlikely) concert… Barry Manilow and Lady Flash.
Two formative things did happen during my time at Great Lakes. One was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Long afternoons, weekends, all-nighters, chasing dark lords and evil clerics. We had a good dungeon master, but I can’t remember his name. I remember that Brian played some of the time, but for the most part that period (for me) is mostly faces and memories of portable holes and gelatinous cubes. We did have a girl who played along for a while, and I remember finding it very odd, because she was smart, and attractive, and could have been out doing anything she wanted with whoever she wanted – and chose to fight goblins with geeks.
Later in life, my experiences with that game would land my station wagon in Lake Geneva (shortly after meeting Gary Gygax at the original Dungeon) – and in contracts with White Wolf and their World of Darkness, where I produced a fairly long string of novels that I am still proud of. I’m not always proud of what I’ve written in the past – though I usually am right up until, for some reason, I go back and read it. Writing is an endeavor where the words (from a writer) “You Can’t Go Home Again,” are very true. (Thank you Thomas Wolfe). I recommend, if you want to continue to be productive and creative, that you concentrate on what you are doing, and not too much on what you’ve done, aside from marketing it. Too many authors from my own generation, and those before, have simply stopped writing and are seemingly confused why they can’t continue to make lots of money selling things they wrote years ago… with nothing new to offer. Sort of self-explanatory, unless your fandom is in the millions, and movies are being made from your old books.
But I digress. Random memories from that time in Great Lakes include an instructor staring at the wall, where he’d hung a poster that said: “The only Stupid Question is the One Not Asked,” for a very long time. Gary Clark (who I still have to explain) was from Beaufort, Texas. He had just asked this instructor, during our module on transmitters, if turning the radio on its side would cause the electrons to flow down to the side, instead of taking their normal path. It was impossible to tell from his ridiculous grin if he was serious.
Clark is responsible for my liking beer. When I was young, and I covered my step-father much earlier in this book, I was given beer. It was a “hee hee” moment for Bob… my brother Bill gulped it down and loved it, but I hated it. It’s possible I hated it because, not only was I a child trying beer, but it was godawful beer. Probably Goebel’s or Ballantine. The taste was so bad to me that, for over a decade I could not even think about it. I did not have the same trouble with wine, or whiskey sours, but those are different stories.
Clark decided one day that I was going to learn to drink beer. He took me to the club on base, and sat me down by the pool tables. We were both good at pool, and played regularly. I had brought my own pool stick in the black case – a sad, young sailor attempt at being cool that many have emulated over the years. Clark said, “I’m going to get us some beers.”
When he came back, he had two pitchers. No glasses. He gave me the same grin he’d given the instructor when he asked his question (by definition not a stupid question once asked). It was Shlitz. At first I hated it… but it was cold, and we were playing pool.
I do not remember much about that night. I remember the next morning, though. I had only a mild hangover, but I did not have any idea how I’d gotten into my barracks room. There were two more pool cue cases leaned against the wall next to mine. I had very little time to put it all away, shower, brush the hellish taste (and likely breath) from my teeth, and get to class.
Clark was there, grinning. It seems we’d both won pool cues off of unsuspecting sailors. There was more than the initial two pitchers, at least one more shared… there were stories that were in all likelihood made up on the spot, but that I could not deny or prove to be false. I wondered if the neurons in my brain had flowed down toward my face when I hit the pillow, and I glanced at the poster on the wall.
I graduated near the top of my class in ET “A” school. It was time to move on to something new… real computers, satellite navigation, and San Diego California (again).