What did you do on your summer vacation?
Remember this essay prompt? Well, for seven years (from ages 9 to 16) I could’ve written the same thing over and over again. As soon as school ended we were on the road in an overstuffed station wagon headed south from Reno Nevada. Six long hours later we’d arrive at our destination – a naval weapons station on the western edge of the Mojave Desert known as China Lake. The name is misleading. There’s no lake there, only dry lake beds. Before the military decided to build a base that area was known as the place where Chinese men mined borax.
Not many people head into the desert for the summer, let alone to a place where weaponry is tested, but our trip was one of necessity. Teaching college is a noble profession but it won’t support a family of five and so my father made up for shortfalls in income by teaching aeronautics to Navy pilots.
The entrance to China Lake
At that time members of the military lived on a base surrounded by a ten-foot fence topped with razor wire. The gates were guarded day and night by heavily armed soldiers. If you didn’t have a security badge, you didn’t get in, or out. Even children.The families of the “enlisted men” lived in a cluster of boxlike houses with yards so full of prickly weeds you’d ruin your feet if you went out barefoot and, unless there was an availability in the much nicer officers’ grotto, that’s where my family stayed.
The average temperature on the Mojave Desert in the summer is 117 degrees (fahrenheit) and so we lived like moles during the day. Our only escape from the madness of board games, puzzles and each other was the NCO gym with its olympic-size indoor pool. Next door to the gym was the movie theater where 25 cents got you a double feature – remember double features? If we didn’t have 25 cents, we went to the library. I read until I nearly went blind, generally historic romances set in lush, green countries like Fife and Fandago and The Scarlett Pimpernel.
Aerial view of the base
Once the sun began to set we were freed from swamp cooler air and let loose to run wild while our parents participated in that sacred military ritual of Happy Hour. If we were housed with the officers’ families we’d make a beeline for the Officer’s Club where there was an outdoor pool, snack bar, jukebox, and ping-pong tables. If we were with the enlisteds, we’d spend the night scouring alleyways looking for used condoms, half-smoked cigarettes and beer cans that were not quite empty.
The Officer’s Club
Just outside the razor-wire fence lived civilians, most of whom worked for the Navy. They ranged from skilled contractors to your regular Joe Schmoo desert rat working at a gas station up on Highway 395. Over the years we got to know a few of them but generally people inside the gates and those outside did not mingle socially. The military might be integrated but it’s still an authoritarian, fascist state where rank is everything which brings me to the point of this post.
Someone on Facebook recently made the comment that he’s voting for Trump because the US needs “a fascist kick in the ass.” I don’t know this person. He’s a friend of a friend but does anyone in their right mind want to turn this country into a Cold War era China Lake where you must carry a badge to get in and out of where you’ve been assigned to live? The military for most people is a brief time in their lives but in a fascist regime, no one gets out.
So, if you feel like you need a fascist kick in the ass, by all means, join the Army. Don’t sentence us all to China Lake.
On a happy note, I just downloaded Geoff LePard’s Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle which is free on Amazon for the next few days. It’s described as a hilarious coming of age so hopefully it will get me out of the Trump Funk.
Images in this post are all from Bing.com