Part I-Rubino and the Horrible News

When I graduated from college, I received an unsolicited offer from a large and well known employer.  I was flattered at first.  It was an opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the country and possibly the world.  It even came with room and board and a unique wake up call service.  They seemed to want a quick answer to their offer.  I contacted them and told them that I had a trip planned to drive cross country and see America before it disappeared.  They responded that it would be okay with them so I went.  I guess the draft board guys were not so bad after all.

When I returned from my trip, I was surprised that I didn’t here from them.  October soon faded to November.  Since I thought they would have wanted me by now, I didn’t even try to look for a job.  I did manage to have an excruciating battle with a kidney stone to break up the monotony.  I finally contacted a former co-worker who arranged for a job interview with a public accounting firm that he now worked for.

The job interview was an interesting experience.  The interviewer asked me questions about my experience in accounting (none), grades (C minus at best) and other matters.  I was questioning why was I even there.  Who would want to hire me?  He then finsihes and surprizes me when he asked me if I could start tomorrow.  I told him no because I had to report to Brooklyn for my army physical as I was classified 1A.  “How about the next day” was his next question.  Looking back it is easy to forget that there was this Vietnam thing going on and available young adult males were a bit scarce.  I thought I saw on his interview checklist that he answered “YES” to the question “Does the candidate have a pulse?”.  So I accepted the job offer.

My first assignment was the audit of a bank.  I was told to report at 0630 hours, (a time I would later become familiar with), so that we could prepare for our surprise audit.  After I completed the counting up the teller’s cash, I was called aside by one of my supervisors.  He told me “we don’t where that here at the firm”.  The “that” was a sports coat and not a suit.  I spend the rest of the day and into the night hidden away from my colleagues and client photocopying documents for hours on end.  When I was released, I immediately went out and bought a black suit.  For the next three weeks, I wore that suit every day, with varying shades of white shirts and different ties to give the illusion that it was not the same suit.  Was I being paranoid or were my colleagues actually looking forward to my arrival each morning so see what I was dressed in.  Is he still wearing that same suit?  Thankfully, Christmas arrived and my sister presented me with a blue suit and I was saved.

I lasted about three months in public accounting.  It was a scary experience since many of were very green and we were working on an audit of the first brokerage house to go public. 

My luck finally ran out as I received my notice to report for induction.  The bad news was that I passed the physical; the good news was that I was part of a unique socialogical phenomena that few experience.  How many of you have stood around naked with a bunch of guys (don’t answer yet; I’m not finished with the question) holding their urine samples before them?  It was like being at some really strange surreal cocktail party where everyone was holding their own cup of chardonnay (from their own vinyard?) while I mine was a cross between a German porter and a bad Chianti.  Obviously, this was as a result of my recent kidney stone.  It isn’t often you get the chance to compare urine samples with your fellow man and I was grateful for the experience.  So while others where dismissed and went down the hall and made a right, I went left and met with a doctor.  Looking back it is amazing how naive I was.  I think the doctor could have been persuaded to extend my induction for 6 months or so.  He certain hinted at it.  I didn’t take advantage of it.  Why should I?  I assumed that I would get by this portion of my life and the army would assign me to accounting school and send me to an exotic part of the world like Utah.  Hard to be believe my thought process looking back now.

My goal when I got to basic training was to get by without anyone knowing my name.  The drill sergeants like to pick on those who stood out.  I wanted to blend in and just be another bald headed guy.  It turned out to be more difficult as my last name was not Smith or Jones but had 4 syllables ending in a vowel.  The drill sergeants seems to resent that they had to try and pronounce my difficult name.  Later on, I was the only one in my platoon to fire expert with the M-16 and my cover was blown.  I was no longer anonymous and was made a squad leader.  That is when Rubino came into my life.

Rubino (have no idea what his or anyone’s first name was) was assigned to my squad.  I should have known something was wrong since the company was divided into platoons alphabetically.  Since my last name began with a “C”  I was in the first platoon; Rubino should have been in the 4th platoon. yet here he was.   The first day he was with us, he did what we all strive to avoid.  We are all at attention in formation waiting to start our day when all of a sudden who comes running out of the barracks, not quite fully dressed but Rubino.  The segeants jumped on him like flies on cow dung.  He did it again the next day.  I soon felt as though he needed help and I became his personal assistant.  Made sure he got up early and dressed himself.  Got him to where he had to be pretty much on time.  He had been made fun of and been ostracized by the rest of the group since some of his screw ups resulted in punishment for the whole platoon.  It was then I discovered something he was hiding.  Although he was a high school graduate, he couldn’t read.  He asked me to read his letters from home.  I tried to get him to read them himself.  He did recognized the letters but could put them together to form words.  If he saw a letter that began with a “W” he would say “what” or “why” or “when” etc. until he guessed correctly.  I started to feel sorry for him and wondered how he was going to survive the army and ultimately Vietnam.  After all, he was a prime candidate for Vietnam having no apparent skills and a lot of shortcomings.  I started to be concerned for his future the way a parent feels for their kids.

Basic training finally came to an end.  There was a final of sorts that tested you on all that you learned.  Some of it was demonstrating the proper technique, some of it oral and some of it written.  How was Rubino going to get by?  The answer is that the army has something called a “work around”.  In Rubino’s case, for the written portion of the test, they gave it to him orally and in private.  He wound up passing the test and would graduate.  Apparently the public school system also had a work around for Rubino allowing him to progress until finally he was no longer their problem.

I was looking forward to seeing where Uncle Sam would be sending me.  Obviously it would be to accounting school (didn’t know if there really was one, but there had to be I surmised).  But then where would I go?  I was singled and unattached and was waiting for my orders to see where I would be vacationing, I mean be assigned.

There are moments in life where things change on a dime.  Mine came when I open the piece of paper that told me where I would be heading.  Up to this point I was an optimistic sort of fellow and very naive.  I always assumed that things would happen just as they as supposed to.  Good things  happen to good people; bad things only to bad people.  All that changed that day.  I read with disbelief my orders.  I was to take the weekend off and report to the other side of the fort for AIT or Advanced Infantry Training.  Next stop Vietnam. I was dumbfounded and in shock.  Didn’t they know I was a good accountant and could serve the greater good that way?  What was wrong with the world?  Soon thereafter along comes Rubino waving his orders.  Of course he can’t read and he’s asking me to tell him what does it say.  My first thought is that I’m going to be his babysitter for another another 8 week training cycle.  What if we get assigned to the same unit in Vietnam?  Will I have to take care of him there too?  I don’t know if I can handle that. 

Turns out that I wouldn’t have that opportunity.  If I wasn’t depressed enough already, I read that Rubino’s orders were for him to take a 30 day leave and then report to the Presido, a fort at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge!  What?  Why?  The world is changed forever.  In an instant it seems I’m converted over to the dark side of Pessimism.  What will become of me? The Age of Innocence is over.  Welcome to the Real World.

(To be continued-Part II-Melvin/Lance and the Real Catch 22).

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