Lords of Discipline

A view of the Citadel

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated. Kings Bay has been a great experience, and I’m learning a lot about the town. Work has been laid back from the start and I’ve been enjoying it, even when I have to stand some stupid watch. Last Saturday I got called up right as I was going to bed. I laid my head down on the pillow and as soon as I closed my eyes, I got a call from the quarter deck asking where I was and why I was late for watch. Someone had apparently penciled my name into the watch bill and never bothered to, you know, tell me about it. I explained it to the Petty Officer of the Watch and he says, “Oh, well, in that case… Surprise!” So, I stood that. Tonight I have the 1:30 AM watch in an empty building. Eh, oh well. (As a side note, I wanted to update this to mention that I got a call at 11:30 PM asking where the the guy before me was — and the guy they wanted had broken his leg, and it’s been broken for a month — so I ended up standing watch for a ridiculous amount of time. Love this stuff!)

So, I’ve been doing some reading in my down time and it’s really turned out to the be the best book I’ve read in years. I’ve read a few books since I’ve been in the Navy, but this is far the best. I’ve been name dropping it to everyone I see, but I’m not sure anyone will share in the zeal that I’ve accumulated. But, I’ll rub it in your face once more and talk about how it relates to me. It’s called “The Lords of Discipline” and it’s by Pat Conroy. It’s hard to describe in one sentence because it does so many things. The book is about Charleston in the 1960s, the Citadel (a military university in the city), how the city’s social politics work. But, at heart, it’s about becoming a man (or growing up, I suppose), fighting the system, and how it changes you. Definitely something that anyone who has lived in Charleston should check out, and it applies to everyone who has been in the military — but it also just appeals to anyone’s memories about growing up too. Like I said, hard to characterize it fully until you’ve read it for yourself.

It does a good job of showing Charleston in a different light. As a Nuke, I was stationed in Goose Creek, a ways up north into a swampy, stinky area (largely due to the nearby sewage processing plant). I’d have to drive into the city to see the city, and what I usually saw was a bunch of tourist traps by day and a bunch of expensive bars with stuck up girls by night. I’ve ran into some true Charlestonians before and they really do have an attitude that they are God’s only gift to this Earth, and especially much more sophisticated and cultured than the Navy folk stationed there. I remember talking to a girl when I was first going downtown and she told me she didn’t like to associate with us because we’re dumb little kids who could not make it in college. I explained to her that I had a degree and that I was older, but I think my words were lost on her. People just have their ways set about them. And, the author explains it far better than I could.

Observers have described Charlestonians as vainglorious, obstinate, mercurial, verbose, xenophobic, and congenitally gracious. Most of all, they elude facile description, but they do possess a municipal character that has a lot to do with two centuries of scriptural belief that they are simply superior to other people of the earth. If you do not subscribe to this theory or are even offended by it, well, it simply means that you are from “away”, that you are obviously not a Charlestonian.

Go out and buy this book right now.

The book describes some of this, though it romanticizes it to the point where I was I could experience Charleston the way that the characters did — the sights, sounds, and even smells of the city. Somehow he even makes the world’s worst humidity into something beautiful (and I’m thankful he mentioned the hordes of mosquitoes and biting gnats). Or perhaps the author is just nostalgic and remembers it in a fond light. I similarly think of San Antonio and the King William District, where there was such an old culture of money surrounded by a sprawling city. That city will always have a place in my heart, and I would give anything to live in it again. Then again, maybe I am just craving cheap Mexican food, dollar wells at Crabby Jacks with Christian, frat parties at Sam’s house, and drunken club adventures with Faber. Those memories are more dear to me because I spent four hard years at Trinity, some of the best years of my life with some of the best people.

I imagine everyone has this kind of nostalgia about the moments when they transition from being a kid fresh out of their hometown and thrust into a new environment. The longer I stayed, the more I grew as a person and moved on. Then I ended up in the Navy, ready to be a grown up, and then ultimately treated much like a kid again. I’m eager to “grow up” in the Navy and get to the point I want to be. Even as stupid as the Navy can be, I’m learning to love it very fast. I might not have memories tied to a specific city, but I have them tied to my buddies and the experiences we have.

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