If you’ve ever served in the military then you know what it’s like to do physical training–or as it’s more commonly known, “PT.” That is, of course, unless you were in the Air Force. Then you just know how to ride an exercise bike for twenty minutes. For all other military folks though, morning PT is just part of the job. You show up at 5:30 AM, freezing your butt off because your boss thinks 30 degrees is warm enough to warrant short-shorts and a t-shirt, then do a bunch of work-outs that are more likely to give you a torn ligament than an improved physique. After that you get to go home and get ready for your actual job. Sound like good times to you? No? Me neither.
On rare occasions–and I mean rare as in it only happened to me once in my whole enlistment–the boss man will say the word zonk. This mysterious word is meant to convey the following:
“Hey, I know I already made you guys get up super early and battle traffic to get here on time, but now that we’re all out here I’m going to release you from your ninety minutes of morning hell and let you go home.”
Now, I’ve got no idea idea where the word came from, but I do know that my one zonking filled me with a confusing mix of irritation and happiness. The happiness was easy enough to trace–my daily brush with frostbite was canceled! But the super irritating part was that they made me show up just to be told I could go home. Of course, such poetic mixtures of emotion are one of the things that gives the Army its unique je ne sais quoi.
So it’s in the spirit of the zonk that I post tonight. I’ve come down with a cold the past couple of days and have been spending my time reading A MIllion Suns and eating Chinese food. as such I thought I would post something easy–a video of corgis doing bellyflops, maybe?–and then hit the sack. However, once I get writing I find it hard to stop without making an effort to have it be somewhat presentable. Thus I ended up giving myself a zonk in reverse: I showed up with the expectation of getting off easy, but stuck around and wrote an entire fricken post.
Oh, well. Here’s that corgi video all the same.
In 2007, after jacking my back up in an Army related incident, I was prescribed a round of surgery that’s usually reserved for middle-aged asphalt workers. Keeping in mind the wonderful track record of the military medical system, you can imagine how excited I was to have my back chopped open by an Army doc. But as it turns out, crippling back pain is a fairly good motivator so I elected to let them have at me with the hope that I’d wake up with all my appendages.
The surgery went as well as it could, but I was left with thirty days of convalescent leave to spend splayed out on the couch. That might not sound like such a bad deal to you, but when you’re used to working nearly twelve hours a day it can be a little difficult to adjust to doing that much nothing. My wife suggested that I read a few books on my off time, and seeing as I hadn’t read a book for fun in way too long I decided to follow her advice. So on the first day of my leave, before she went to work, she left me the first two books in a series by some British lady that chronicled the adventures of a kid named Harry Potter.
I cannot tell you how incredibly awesome my wife is for doing that.
I was hooked from chapter one and blew through the first two books in two days. By the end of the week I was almost through the entire series, but more importantly I started to remember how much I loved reading and writing. I spent my college years reading nothing but accounting standards and business textbooks then after graduation I went straight into the military. Go ahead and take a guess at how much creativity is emphasized in the United States Army.
After I finished Harry Potter I started writing again–one of my favorite things to do as a kid. The stories I wrote were horrible–some of the worst in the history of bad stories, I’d guess–but they did lead to some good ones later on that have since been published. It’s strange to say, but that month was probably one of the best time of my entire life despite being unable to dress or bathe on my own. I think about it like this: without getting my back cut open by doctors with questionable credentials I might never have started writing again. And honestly, I can’t think of anything more sad than that.