Department of Diminishing Returns
Camp Squanto, Massachusetts
Five-year deregulation program
My recent unofficial visit to Camp Suzie convinced me that the present five-year program, now in its sixth and final year, is in trouble. Jake, they were shocked as hell to see me there last Sunday morning. If I had arrived any later, I’m sure the whole place would have been whitewashed and spitshined.
For starters, no guard was posted outside the compound. I had to honk the horn for 15 minutes before anyone let me in. It was Commander Moss himself who opened the gate and he was still in civilian underwear. Now this was well past eight-thirty; Sunday school had been over for an hour. I was wearing regulation skivvies, of course, but the man still failed to salute. He then stated that if I paid a two dollar toll he’d let me through, no questions asked. Jake, I had to look up at the flagpole to make sure I was in the right country. Moss maintained that the regulations manual never specified as to the public display of undergarments. I checked his facts. I can hardly believe it but he’s right. I’ll be damned if there’s a single sentence in the book which details a mandatory code of dress. We should rewrite the whole shebang, starting with the introduction, “Why We Serve” (the obvious answer — “Because it’s there” — doesn’t fool them anymore).
According to the list Commander Moss gave me, 47 percent of the camp personnel were absent without leave, 35 percent were missing in action, and another 5 percent never existed. A brief investigation, which involved poking around inside the perimeter bushes with a cattle prod, brought that last figure down to an acceptable 3 percent. It can only be hoped that the other figures are the result of gross clerical incompetence.
Among other problems at Camp Suzie, the living conditions are substandard. Everyone’s fed well enough — the Red Cross sees to that — but where are they supposed to sleep? We promised them a row of barracks four years ago. Well, Jake, they’re still living in abandoned boxcars and running around with shoeshine kits. Out of pity, I paid for a shine seven times that day. If only you’d seen the look on those men’s faces when I tossed a quarter up for grabs.
As I continued the inspection I began to realize that, although Moss is the highest ranking officer on base, he’s not the man who’s running the show. The Chaplain, Sergeant Lemmus, is a very charismatic character to whom all personnel exhibit an unusual degree of loyalty. Mass is held every night in a secluded area that he designates as his “invisible church.” All who attend are required to wear “invisible robes,” and from what I hear it’s quite a ceremony. You’ll laugh if I admit this, but the man disturbs me. When I said, “See you later,” he just smiled and shook his head no.
Now Jake, I’m aware that Operation Overbite is a pet project of yours, but I can’t beat around the bush. In this case I can only advise to terminate with extreme prejudice. There’ll be other five-year programs, you wait and see. Meanwhile, deregulation is not the answer. What we need are fewer chaplains and more shoeshine kits.