Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Leisure Activities

Eisenhower ("Ike") Hall provided a frequent source of leisure-time activities for us West Point cadets.  As firsties (seniors) we enjoyed the Firstie Club, where we were allowed to consume beer, and as upper classmen on Saturday evenings we enjoyed the cafeteria area, stripped of many of its tables, with dance floor laid out and tunes a'jammin'.  And then there was the theater--the second-largest theater in terms of seating capacity on the East Coast--where we were presented speeches by Vietnam POWs and U.S. Secretaries of Defense and other dignitaries, and also Broadway shows.

Oh, and there were concerts.

The first concert of my plebe year was The Kinks.  Now, The Kinks were a big group at that time, having experienced a major come-back.  They'd recently released Come Dancing and Destroyer, and they were reveling in the Second British Invasion.  They were the Justin Bieb....  the Justin B....  the Just.... 

*ahem* Sorry, my fingies figure out where my brain is going with that and won't let me finish such a ridiculous phrase.

They were quite popular.  How's that?

Now, I knew none of that.  I wasn't into that type of music at the time; I wouldn't acquire a taste for the sounds of Rush and Whitesnake and so on till my yearling (sophomore) year when I got roomed up with Emory, a truly eclectic music fan who could follow an LP of Metallica with one by Bob Marley without missing a beat.  As a plebe, though, my music world centered on Duran Duran (the English boys my girlfriend wanted to sleep with more than me), Wham!, Michael Jackson, and The Bangles, to name a few.

Sad, ain't it?

Still, there was no way I was missing The Kinks concert.  No way.  The academic year had begun, and so the grind of Beast Barracks had given way to a weird combination of memorizing The Days and learning calculus.  I needed a break.

Thus I found myself seated with a skosh over 5,000 other fans in a concert presented by a band I'd never heard.  And they were good.  In fact, that concert prompted me to buy several of their albums on the ancient medium we used to call a "cassette." 

Yes, the music was good, but what I saw at the concert shocked me.

I saw cadets taking off their shirts and swinging them around over their heads in time to the music.

How do I know it was cadets doing it?  Well, the "White" part of "White Over Gray" (our typical evening out uniform) was pretty unmistakable, even in the dim lighting of the concert.  For one thing, it's really really white, and for another, everybody but us plebes had shiny stuff--rank, year shield, etc.--pinned to their shirts.  When spun overhead, all that flair flashed in the spotlights.

There were hundreds of little flashes of undisciplined celebration going on in front of me.  I was--floored.  Flabbergasted.  Shocked.

You've gotta understand--these were the same folks, or at least classmates of the same folks, who just that same week had been yelling at me and at my classmates for putting four ice cubes in a firstie's cup when he'd asked specifically for only three ice cubes.  Or for taking a bite that was bigger than a pinky fingernail.  Or for missing a spot on the glass in the medicine cabinet.  Or, closer to home, for having a sloppy dress-off (the funky West Point tradition of folding uniform shirts back and tucking them in so that it's molded to your stomach).  Or for the gig line being off (the button edge on the shirt had to align with the zipper edge on the pants and the "in" edge of the belt buckle).

Hell, this was the place where just a few months prior I'd spent the first week of Beast too scared to go number two.  There weren't any stalls, after all, and I feared the amount of punishment I'd have to endure once they knew that it was my crap which stank.

And there they were, taking off their shirts in public.  Taking them off, and whipping them over their heads like wild men.


Okay, so once I calmed down, I realized that I wouldn't have even noticed the shirts being slung about overhead if it hadn't been for the shiny things attached.  Nor would it have made a difference anywhere else at any other concert.  Shirts coming off, in fact, was really rather tame on the scale of Lawrence Welk to Ozzy Osbourne.

It was hard to bring the two dichotomies together at first, but I got it.  The United States Military Academy Corps of Cadets always had been and still was one of the most disciplined groups of 18 to 21 year old men and women on the planet (now, I'm not so sure--I hear they even let the plebes walk down the middle of the hallways--but that's a topic for another post sometime if I dare open that worm-can).  But there's a time and a place for discipline, and there's a time and a place for letting your hair down, assuming you have hair to let down after meeting with Big Jim in the barber shop. 


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