Symphony in Dress Blues

Kelly was the popular name at Daddy Jim’s Preschool for half a dozen boys. 

And me.

So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Coast Guard screwed up my entry to boot camp. Correct destination – the coed Cape May. Wrong company – all male.

Mildly anxious on the cross-country flight, I lost my fear on a puddle jumper during the last leg of the journey. Allegany Airlines, or Agony Airlines as my seat-mate moaned. I gave him a sidelong glance. His lips were white and pale fingers clutched the seatback in front of him. 

His eyes slid to mine. “Are you going to bootcamp?”

I nodded.

“Turn back!”

The prop plane roared to life as his Adam’s apple bobbed. If he was this undone by the flight, I wasn’t going to have trouble. One eye on the barf bag, in case I needed to hand it over, I relaxed into my seat.

Induction was a blur. Hurry up and wait the mantra.

When inoculations began, I was asked to swab arms. The guys towered over me as they received multiple injections before moving on, or falling to the floor in a dead faint. Grinning wasn’t an option but my cheeks hurt.

The barracks turned out to be a problem.

“You’re a girl.” Voiced by many, hovered between statement and question. 

There’s really no good answer to the obvious so I maintained my silence.

Hours in, I was approached by a burly guy with broad shoulders and a clip board. “This is an all -male company. Do you play an instrument?” 

“Sort of the sax.” I replied. Which was sort of true. I’d spent my eighth-grade year hidden behind an alto sax with part of the body caved in. Private lessons, when the problem was discovered, weren’t much help.

He turned and walked off.

I followed across the quad of marching sailors and into a brick building.

“Unused barracks.” He led me upstairs and into a large room of vacant cots. “You’ll sleep here tonight. Someone will come get you tomorrow.”

Exhausted, I tossed the seabag onto a spare bunk and slept to morning.

Morning turned into afternoon. I’d been told to wait, so I waited until I heard boots thumping up the stairs. Another crewcut, older and thinner, came into view. When he stopped mid-step a boy, with a slumped spine and coke bottle glasses, smacked into his back.

“What are you doing here? This area is for section eights. Are you a section eight?” 

I had no idea what he meant. “They put me in an all-male company and asked me to wait here.”

Too disciplined to roll his eyes, crewcut gave me a look before turning to his charge. “Stay here. Don’t bother each other.”

No one bothered us for hours. We stared at each other. My stomach rumbled but no way was I going to leave when I’d been told to stay.

Maybe they’d made a mistake and were about to send me home. 

Instead, a young man with ruddy cheeks peeked his head into the barracks and looked my way. “Come with me.”

I grabbed my things and we stepped into the blustery winter chill where clouds sat full and wet on the pavement. We crossed the empty gray quad in silence then entered a lively, warm room full of color and sound. Sheet music fluttered on stands as instruments were tuned.

The Band Director waved at me from the podium. “Get an instrument and sit there.”

I did as instruct. Positioning myself beside real saxophone players. 

The band started up as I tried to overcome my lack of skill.

The director winced. Waived the band to silence and looked at me. “You. Don’t play.”

Arms wide, he struck up the band. Listened to the melodies, then once again silenced them.

“You.” The baton swung my way. “Never play again.”

22 Replies to “Symphony in Dress Blues”

      1. I have my copy of Love of Rain, Priti. The cadence of your voice is lovely and I look forward to reading more. Congratulations!

      1. So sorry, Priti – I’ve found a few comments in spam. Now if I can remember to look more often. Thank you for your kind comment!

  1. You had gumption! You stayed! Bravo! 👏🏻
    I must admit, I laughed at the music master’s order: don’t play!
    Thank you for regaling us with your adventure at your first boot camp.

  2. This is too great! I spent a few nights at Treasure Island after it was recently decomissioned but still in naval posession. (google it) It was so amazing to be there. So much was similar to your story. I was alone in a large officers barraks. The island was mostly unpeopled.

  3. It’s like a little slice out of time. I spent a few months there when our ship was dry docked at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. How fun you’ve been there too. Did you know Treasure Island was built in the thirties for a world’s fair?

  4. Beautiful writing. How nice to have a belly laugh at the end. (If you don’t feel the sadness too deeply!)

  5. Thank You for checking out my Whereisotis blog. I lol when I read about you being asked not to play. I was in the same situation in choir. I really enjoyed your writing. I hope to be in your caliber someday.

    1. Your blog is so funny and wonderful. I love Otis. And btw when they sent me away from choir they asked if I could play an instrument. Sheesh!

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