Thursday, January 9, 2014


It was the summer job that wasn't.

When I was 17, my best friend, Stuart, and I decided that for a summer job, we would join the militia, where we would learn valuable skills, such as discipline, and we'd also get in shape, so as to get the attention of the ladies.

And, we'd learn how to kill.

(I used to tell people that when I grew up, I was going to be an assassin: the militia was my gateway.)

Stu joined the Cameron Highlanders and a couple of months later, I joined him. Sadly, because we didn't enlist at the same time, we were placed in different groups. We would have to learn how to kill, separately.

In following Stuart, however, I learned some of the rules of the military ahead of my group, because Stuart went to the drill hall on one night early in the week and I would go on another, a couple of days later, and Stu would tell me what he learned.

It was almost like getting cheat sheets to an exam from a buddy who had already written it.

Because we were with the Cameron Highlanders, our company followed Scottish military traditions, including the wearing of kilts. We would wear a traditional green shirt of the Canadian Army, but instead of slacks, a tartan kilt and Tam o' Shanter with Saint Christopher distinguished us from the company that shared space in the drill hall, the Governor General's Foot Guards.

Anybody who knows anything about Scottish tradition knows that a Scotsman wears nothing under his kilt. I knew this, but Stuart also taught me that if anyone was suspected of wearing undergarments, he could be challenged.

A challenge meant that the accused must raise his kilt up high, thereby revealling whether he was regimental or not. If he wasn't, if he wore anything under his kilt, he must buy everyone in attendance a round of beer in the mess hall. However, if the accused raises his kilt and it is discovered that he is, in fact, regimental, the challenger had to buy the round of beer.

Whenever I was in my kilt, I was regimental. Those suckers are thick, and hot, and you don't want your boys overheating.

One weekend at the drill hall, my group lined up for inspection, where our commanding officer made sure our tams sat properly on our heads, our boots shone, and that our shirts were tucked properly into our kilts, and didn't bunch up at the waist. Our commander taught us that if we needed to tuck our shirts in, the best way to do it was to reach under the kilt and tug the bottom of the shirt down.

I remember this, because we had a few women in our group, and whenever we had to tuck in our shirts, the women would lean so they could try to catch a glimpse at what else may hang underneath.

The women, however, were allowed underwear with their kilts and could never be challenged.

On our lunch break, we all went to the mess hall to eat and have a beer. Even though we were under-aged, we were allowed to purchase beer in the mess hall: when we were receiving a promotion, we were allowed, and even encouraged, to get shit-faced.

I ate my sandwich and sipped my bottle of Blue at a sofa, sitting next to the newest recruit to the group. William Bennett was tall and skinny, with dark hair and a freckled face, and was not the sharpest took in the chest. Our Master Corporal was always chewing him out for some misdeed, and enjoyed making him do pushups in the parade square.

Bennett sat on the sofa with his feet planted on the coffee table, his knees far apart. It was an unsightly position to be sitting in, and our Master Corporal came up to admonish Bennett, when, instead, he yelled, "Private Bennett, I challenge you!"

Bennett had no idea what our commanding officer meant, but thought it had to do with his feet on the table, and so he moved them onto the floor. But that didn't stop the Master Corporal.

"No, you stupid shit, I challenge you."

The ladies gathered around. The other men laughed, knowing what was to come. I, having been warned by Stuart, also knew that I had a free beer coming to me, and so I joined in the laughter.

And that got the Master Corporal's attention. "You too, Brown. You're probably just like him. I challenge you, too."

"Master Corporal, with all due respect, no. I assure you, I'm regimental."

Bennett told the Master Corporal that he didn't know what he was being asked, and was met with, "Like this," and with a flaunting raising of his own kilt, our commanding officer showed all who looked that he was absolutely regimental. "Show us what's under your kilt, Private Bennett. If you're not swinging like I am, you owe everyone in the mess a beer."

Reluctantly, Bennett's kilt went up, revealling not only underwear but a pair of gym shorts.

"Now you, Private Brown."

I received two free bottles of Blue during that lunch break.

My time with the Cameron Highlanders would be short-lived. I enlisted at the beginning of June, but by the end of the month, I was gone. Just a few, short days before school was out for the summer, I broke my leg, playing soccer. The doctor ordered me in a full-length cast for 12 weeks.

The evening before my accident, I had learned how to field-strip an assault rifle. I was the fastest at it in my group: in drills, we would lie on the ground with our weapon, at one end of the hall, on the far end from another soldier with a similar rifle. When our Master Corporal blew a whistle, we had to fully dismantle our weapon and then run towards our opposite partner, whose weapon would be also dismantled by then.

We then had to reassemble our partner's weapon as fast as we could and test the weapon by firing it (no bullets) at the partner. We stood up when we heard the firing pin click.

I was the first to my feet. My career as an assassin was taking shape.

Until the following day, when I broke my leg and had to quit the Cameron Highlanders.

Stuart had a great summer: he fired a machine gun. He threw grenades. And he was never challenged, though he would have passed, had he been called upon to prove himself.

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