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precision and loafing in san antonio
sometimes it's not just the devil in the details
by scott n. gaines

I had taken sleep for granted. Of course once I enlisted in the US Air Force that changed. Up at 0500 (5 AM for the normal population), lights out at 2200 (likewise 10 PM) plus everything that needed to be accomplished made for sleep deprived days. I learned new and interesting ways to sleep, none of which would have pleased my Mom. But she was home in New York and I was dealing with an entire new world, and sleep was not one of the included perks. But I learned.

One of the things the USAF is diligent in is teaching new recruits how to make their bunks with military precision. What this meant in the long-term defense strategy I didn't know, but I could make a bunk with razor sharp creases and corners. Bouncing a quarter off the thing was not a myth. But all this required work. And it also left me with a way to get some extra sleep.

After making up the top of the bunk it was necessary to get underneath and pull all of the sheets tight. This was the trick. It also necessitated getting under the bunk flat on my back on the floor. The second time I did this I had an epiphany (OK, it took two times, I was groggy). I could hook my fingers into the little springs that ran under the mattress and close my eyes for some much needed sleep. This was good for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes of valuable nap time, something I had not appreciated since I was about three years old. Of course others in my squad noticed, but for the most part everyone else had their own little sleep scam and almost no one said anything.

Except Lou. Lou had a problem with everything. Nothing was to his satisfaction. Not the food, not the accomadations, the clothing, nothing. And Lou was one of those people who just could not abide by anyone resting when the sun was shining. Some kind of rural farm thing I suppose.

So there I was, fast asleep flat on my back under my bunk, when suddenly I awake to Lou's voice complaining very loudly, "but sergeant, he's sleeping under there. He's not doing anything."

Dead silence came over the squad bay. The T.I. (Training Instructor or God on Earth as we came to know him in basic training) was in the barracks, and Lou was complaining. I was a little slow in coming around, it had been a deep, deep sleep and I'm not one of those annoying people who can jump right up and be able to function after sleeping. I was bagged and I knew it. Life was about to turn ugly for me. Extra duty, command punishment, flogging? Who knew what the penalty was for sleeping under your bunk? I had no idea.

The quiet continued for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably less than 10 seconds. Then God spoke, through his voice on Earth, the T.I. "Well, dammit Lou, at least the bunk is made up high and tight. Maybe you should take some sleeping lessons from him. Now lemme see your underwear drawer."

This was not as unusual a request as it seems. For reasons that have eluded me for the past twenty-four years, the USAF insisted that our underwear be folded in absolutely precise six inch triangles, with the labels facing one way, and the stamped on letter and last four digits of your serial number facing the other. Everything had to be lined up just so, and if there was the slightest discrepancy, a "white tornado" was the usual result. This consisted of a very upset TI removing the offending underwear drawer and attempting to launch all of the contents into orbit. This was also done if an offensive set of fatigue uniforms or other apparel was discovered. It made for interesting scenes in the squad bays when the TI was in a particulary bad humor. One of those little snow globes with green flakes instead of white comes to mind. It was pretty in an off-hand way, but aggravating.

But I learned. I played the game as best as I could and got through basic training. I went on to serve four years in the Air Force, and brought many things out of the service with me. An undying respect for those who served, a desire for peace, and the absolute skill of being, to this day, able to sleep flat on my back on a hardwood floor with a pile of non-precise folded underwear strewn happily about my sleeping body. My wife tells people it's just "something that happened in the service" and lets it go at that. An understanding woman, if just a little perplexed at my fear of folded underwear.


Born in Brooklyn NY, escaped to Long Island. Military service in the USAF (they thought I'd be a great air traffic controller. they were wrong). Became a New York City cop in the 80s when it was still fun. Interested in science fiction and country music, go figure. Interested in almost everything and knowledgeable about almost nothing, but I keep trying.

more about scott n. gaines


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they just didn't pay me enough for this.
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topic: general
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jael mchenry
11.28.00 @ 1:20p

Sleeping on a hardwood floor underneath a bed is an enviable skill. I'm still trying to get over the fact that I have friends who can fall asleep in public places, like on the subway. (You know who you are.)

michelle von euw
11.29.00 @ 1:30p

When I worked on a Senate campaign, the first skill they taught me was to lie down on the floor with my head under my desk - perfect nap position. Little did I know that three months later, just about the only sleep I'd get would be the under-my-desk naps. (But we had carpets, which has got to have been easier than your dusty wood floors.)

roger striffler
11.30.00 @ 4:47p

So, did Lou pass the underwear drawer test, or was there a white tornado? You can't leave us hangin' like that...

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