“shitcan”: [shit’kǣn] A highly offensive term for the act of discarding an object or objects of an unpleasant nature, of no value or of inferior quality. Origin unknown but possibly an old U.S. Marine Corps term.
I have often wondered why in my “autumn years”, as some wag defined as getting old, that I am able to recall some incidents in inestimable detail that took place a half-century or more ago, yet I cannot remember where I put my shoes the night before. Odder still, to recall one of these ancient incidents requires only the smallest hint to one of our senses to trigger the memory.
This phenomenon came to pass last week when my wife and I were on our foray for weekly groceries at Walmart. I stood patiently by while she was trying to make up her mind over which brand of peanut butter she preferred when I heard clearly a man’s heavy Southern drawl in the next aisle over; “Now whaa do we need one o’ thim thangs?” The single word ‘Why’ (‘whaa’) breached decades of dust over a dormant scrap of memory from 50 years before.
On September 1, 1963, we were 77 slovenly, pimply-faced adolescents thrust suddenly into a world so utterly alien it defied all imagination. In the initial shock of our arrival at MCRD, San Diego, every last visage of our annoying pubescent immaturity and childishness, silliness and things we thought were ‘cool’, traits that had taken eighteen years of sheltered life to accumulate, were brutally torn out by screaming, red-faced Drill Instructors in less time it took to tell about it.
The almighty DI was the ultimate being; there were none higher. The omnipotent DI in black-mirror shoes, green chevrons with crossed rifles and the Smokey Bear symbolized all life—the only life—as far as we were concerned. His eyes missed no sin, no transgression, no minuscule movement. The very first lesson every swinging dick (one of the better euphemisms the DI’s had for us) learned immediately was that the DI was on par with God. None dare address this Supreme Being without the bellowed “SIR!” as the first word to be uttered. God help those who mumbled.
Early one morning after ten days or so in this green hell, I was accidentally privy to the fact that there were indeed powers even higher than the god-like Drill Instructor.
“TURN TO ON POLICE CALL!” Our DI bellowed in this pre-dawn hour as usual.
The 77 swinging dicks of F Company, 2nd Battalion, Platoon 275 snatched up their galvanized buckets and fanned out over the area to glean any bits and pieces of trash where there was virtually none. I preferred working the edge of The Grinder as far away as I dared from our platoon area. I meandered about slowly, my eyes scanning the deck in front of me, giving every appearance of searching intensively for anything that might qualify as trash but mentally I was somewhere light years west of Andromeda. Anywhere but here.
The sky was light in the east, but the sun had not yet risen over the mustard-yellow buildings across the parade ground. Already, other platoons were being marched to the mess hall for morning chow. The Grinder was alive with the DI’s resounding cadences ”..AWN…! AWWWP…! REAP…! REAP PAW YA LEO…!”
I paid scant attention to this other than I noted one DI was screaming more emphatically than usual at his platoon. This DI was none too happy as his charges could not seem to get in step. Instead of the CRUMP…! CRUMP…! CRUMP…! of 150 individual leather heels striking the deck in perfect unison, it was more of a CR-R-RUMP…! CR-R-RUMP…! CR-R-RUMP…! indicating a noticeable ripple in their cadence. It was this ripple that was driving their DI to distraction.
“’TOON! HALF LEEEEFT …! HARCH!” He bellowed. Directly in front of his platoon several yards away was one of those large green trash dumpsters.
“IF YOU PEOPLE CAN’T GET IN STEP THEN I’M GETTING RID OF YOUR DUMB ASSES! YOU PEOPLE ARE WORTHLESS!”
This could prove to be interesting, I thought, but continued to keep my head bowed with my eyes on the deck in my quest for scraps of trash. I watched this mini-drama unfolding with my peripheral vision. The platoon reached the dumpster and since they could no longer move forward, they continued to mark time in place, mashed tightly against the dumpster.
“GET YOUR STUPID ASSES IN THERE! NOW, GAWDAMMIT! HURRY UP! HURRY UP!”The unfortunate souls of the platoon began scrambling awkwardly into the dumpster.
Then, from the corner of my eye, I glimpsed another person approaching the scene. This person was in full dress greens and I caught a brief glint of metal from his shoulder epaulet and row upon row of ribbons adorning his left breast. An officer. This drama was becoming more interesting by the moment.
The officer stopped a short distance behind the platoon, his arms folded across his chest, observing the recruits clambering into the dumpster. I wandered a bit further from the scene, not wanting to be caught up in the blast area I was sure was coming.
The officer continued to observe this unfolding incident from 50 or 60 feet to the rear of the hapless platoon. When the DI passed close by the officer, he snapped a salute saying, “Good morning, sir!”
The officer returned the salute and said softly so the recruits would not hear. “Sar’nt? A word with you?”
“PLATOOOOOON… HALT!” The DI bellowed. Every boot froze in his tracks… even those in process of scrambling into the already-packed dumpster.
“Sergeant,” the officer drawled, “why are you having these men climb into that dumpster?” The officer pronounced his words as, “Sar’nt, whaa ‘er yew havin’ these min clamb inta thet dumpstah?”
“They cannot get their cadence together so I am shit-canning my platoon, sir!” The DI said without hesitation
“Well, sergeant, while I admire your method of instruction, I think you probably better get those men out of there. Carry on!” (Wa’l sar’nt, whal ah admar yer method o’ instruction’, ah thank yew prob’ly bettah git those min outa thar. Cahry own!).
I was aghast! I meandered back towards the platoon area in a dazed state. In this dreadful hell called Boot Camp, filled with screaming sergeants, screaming recruits, running and more screaming, all under the tutelage of the omnipresent DI, I was shaken to the very core of my being. Was it even remotely possible there were life forms that existed even beyond the power of the almighty Drill Instructor?
So much to learn, so little time…
About the Author: Jack quit high school in 1963 and enlisted in the Marine Corps at the tender age of 17. When asked about his service in the Corps, Jack is quick to say, “I enlisted, I served, I was honorably discharged. I was never any hero, a Chesty Puller I was not.” Upon his discharge, Jack finished high school and went on to earn an MS degree in natural resource management and foreign languages the University of Wyoming. Jack’s computer is stuffed with book-length manuscripts and short stories and writes three to five hours a day. Today, working as a home health care nurse, Jack and his Colombian wife quietly live in Colorado.