A short story by Mr. Arkansas.
Now I realize that I don’t have to tell anyone about the obviously delicious qualities of this sticky substance, but what you might not know is that peanut butter also has the ability to preserve one’s sanity (well some of it).
July 2000, I had been at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, for a few weeks now. The chaos and rigor of day-to-day training had become a constant blur to me by now. Apply pressure here, firing pin there, stab like this, stab like that, blah blah. There are only two things that I could vividly recount from each day………Exhaustion and Hunger. These two were my constant companions in boot camp. I was HUNGRY. Meager portions and tasteless food was torture for a foodie like myself. It seemed like all they fed us was rice, baked chicken, some kind of shells and glue mixture, and salad with no dressing. To add to our gastronomic depravation the use of salt, sugar, butter or anything else tasty, was strictly verboten! It felt like they were keeping me alive with a diet of cardboard and water.
A few more weeks into it, I was assigned a new duty within my platoon. I was one of the recruits selected to guard the squad bay (our home), while the remainder of the platoon would march to chow. That meant that I was on “early chow”. My fellow guards and I would run 20 minutes ahead of the group, and eat as hastily as possible (no problem). Then we would run back to the squad bay, so the rest of the platoon could march to chow. Guarding the squad bay had one big advantage, lack of supervision. That my friends, is an environment in which I thrive! After a few days of learning this new routine, I found a way to exploit it. “Early chow” recruits are hustled through whichever line at the chow hall is shortest. Sometimes this includes serving lines for Marines (not recruits). Marines get to eat ‘people food’, at the end of the serving line, there is a huge tub filled with single serving packets of Peter Pan extra creamy peanut butter. I must have looked like a junky. Erratic breathing, swaying, drooling, fixation, trembling. I had to have that peanut butter! I already have a favorable disposition to this nuttiest of butters, but when starved and psychologically rewired, I was willing to take drastic measures to have something that was sweet to the taste. So after much planning and conspiring, I made my move. With slight of hand, under my plastic prison tray with cardboard and glue casserole, I snagged one of these little goodies, and smuggled it back to the squad bay. I hid it in my canteen pouch, under the canteen. So far, so good.
Now when I say that we were to guard the squad bay, what I really mean is ‘clean the squad bay’. There was four of us, only one had to actually be standing guard, the other three would busy themselves around the squad bay. Sweeping, polishing, tightening up racks, squaring away gear, scrubbing toilets, clipping Irish Pendants, and all other things Jarheadish. In particular, I stood out as an outstanding shitter polisher. Imagine a commercial toilet, all the chrome plumbing coming out of the wall and connecting to the toilet and flush handle, that all had to be GLEAMING!! These men shouted profanities at me and shook with conviction whenever they told me how shiny they liked their toilet plumbing, plus they were like badass ninja cowboys who would judo-chop your ass, so, I usually did as they asked. So when I was on ‘guard’ I would pretend to go polish crappers, with creamy delicious contraband in pouch. The head (restroom) is separate from the main living area by a few partitions, which provided for a tactical advantage. You could hear a Drill Instructor’s heels striking the concrete floor! That would provide me with enough time to ditch my loot.
Time is of the essence here people. There are no stalls separating the toilets here, so you’re pretty much out in the open (great teambuilding theory). First, rip open the single serve packet. The peanut buttery goodness wafts to my nostrils. Now I scoop it all out in one big glob on my finger, crush the empty package, and then flush. Now all the evidence to my great caper rests on the end of my finger. Leaned back, eyes shut, just a man and his peanut butter, shut down the engines for a minute, put it in neutral, ah. I would sit there and enjoy that glob for a good 10 minutes or so. That was my escape, my happy place, there on the toilet. Disgusted by the fact that I am eating barehanded on the toilet? Don’t be, I would go through surgery on the floor of a USMC recruit squad bay. There is a crew of 70 or so highly trained cleaning individuals in action there several times a day.
I’m sure there are a lot of people that wouldn’t really consider that much of an escape, but it worked wonders for me. In a world where almost everything is stripped from you a tablespoon of peanut butter can be profoundly therapeutic.
So take the time to enjoy the simple things my friends, walk barefoot in the grass, lie on your back and stare at the clouds, or may I suggest a spoonful of peanut butter. Just be sure to take time to - take time.