When Corporal Walstrom's tank bulldozed the potty -- with me in it

April 15, 1997|By Michael D. Nauton

RECENTLY I TOLD a social-worker friend about the time an army buddy ran me over with a tank. I was all smiles and giggles, but her face showed deep concern. ''And did you go into therapy after that?'' she asked. ''No,'' I said. ''He was just having fun.''

My socially conscious friend, so concerned about everyone's self-esteem, failed to see the humor in having a 13-ton tank push me around, and I think her lack of a sense of humor shows what's wrong in America.

On the day in question, Corporal Walstrom, my squad leader, and I had to transport a newly repaired M113 from Ft. Irwin's central motor pool to our battalion's motor pool. Between the two was a bivouac area, which meant that one of us had to walk in front of the vehicle and ''ground-guide'' it. Because a corporal out-ranks a PFC, I had to walk.

I really didn't need to use the spot-a-pot when we crept up on it, but I needed a break of some sort. I gave Walstrom the halt signal, pointed to the spot-a-pot, and stepped inside the little fiberglass closet.

As I finished unbottoming my fatigues, I heard the M113's big diesel engine rev. The spot-a-pot shook like a naked poodle in February. Then my little fiberglass sanctuary was rocked on its skids, and I was thrown against the back wall. Below me the toilet's blue goo gurgled, and I thought, ''If my dog tags fell in there, then there they shall stay.''

Beyond the door the diesel idled. My corporal had had his little laugh and I could now proceed to my business. Or so I thought. But my business had hardly begun when the diesel revved again. I yelled, though I knew he couldn't hear me. The fiberglass crackled as Walstrom's tank bulldozed the little spot-a-pot back on its skids. Along the bumpy ground we rode, my trousers steadily descending my legs as I braced myself against opposite walls, the blue goo sloshing and burping in the toilet.

Sitting on the ceiling

I laughed until the skids hit a dirt pile used for filling sandbags. It tipped over and I found myself sitting bare-bottomed on the spot-a-pot's ceiling. Above me, on about a 10-degree angle, loomed the toilet and the blue goo, already oozing over the rim. Scattered around me was about two dollars in loose change.

The blue goo inched closer. Quarters and dimes rolled out of my pocket as fast I shoved them in. I kicked the fiberglass door to no effect. Walstrom pulled on the door from the outside and laughed, but the door wouldn't budge. After a series of hearty kicks against the door, one of my boots landed in the encroaching blue goo. Then I panicked, and with a burst of strength that comes with panic I kicked the door to fiberglass splinters.

I must have presented quite a sight: a wide-eyed, disheveled GI surrounded by pocket change. Corporal Walstrom took one look at me and fell to his knees laughing. A wonderful sense of humor he had.

The ordeal left me with a boot that refused to shine and a couple of quarters poorer, but certainly not so emotionally scarred that I needed therapy then or need it now. My social-worker friend is the one who needs therapy -- to lighten up.

I mean, so what if to this day the sight of a spot-a-pot causes me to shake like a shaved poodle in February? Some people look at me and get a laugh. Nothing wrong with that.

Michael Nauton is assistant editor of the fiction magazine Show and Tell.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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