Now that I’m on the lane, I can’t seem to get off. Or maybe I like being on it.
Yogi said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Sometimes, though, I’ve looked for a fork and couldn’t find one. Life was just a single path stretching out endlessly in front of me. And I didn’t like where it was taking me. But there was no fork. So how about that, Mr. Yogi? What’s a fellow to do then, eh?
After boot camp, the Navy sent me to six months of ET (electronics technician) schooling. Then I reported to my first ship, a destroyer, a tin can, we called it. The first time we went to sea, I got seasick. Significantly. Even though the ocean was baby butt smooth. My LPO (leading petty officer, boss if you prefer) was disgusted. As an electronics technician, I was as useful as a mammary appliance on a male pig, he told me. He sent me to compartment cleaning duty. Compartment cleaning duty was for three months. Junior sailors were required to perform the necessary menial tasks for three months out of a year. Nine months you could work getting experience in your specialty. I finished my three months, returned to my shop, and handed my LPO a request chit. I wanted to take the test to be considered for a Navy college scholarship program. “Disapproved,” my LPO said. “Report to the mess decks.” Mess decks, KP in a Beetle Bailey cartoon. KP wasn’t funny, though, especially not right after compartment cleaning. My LPO was telling me I was not cut out to be in his navy. Even though, now, I only got sick when the sea was rough, I determined I would not stay beyond my obligated service, whether I was cut out for it or not.
A week into the mess cooking stint, my division officer, a rosy cheeked ensign, called me in to discuss my future in the Navy. My entry-into-the-navy test scores, as well as those at ET school had been good. I should think about applying for advanced technical training, he suggested. I said I intended leaving the service. He kept talking to me. Was I getting along with my shipmates? Was seasickness still a problem for me? Did I get along okay with my LPO? That one puckered my cheek muscles so tight I might have folded a crease into the top of the folding metal chair I sat on. How do you answer a question like that? If I said I was having trouble, the LPO would know. He would get even. While I was trying to decide how big a sin a lie would be, the ensign said, “Out with it, sailor.” I told him about my disapproved chit. “Balderdash,” he said. “You’re taking the test,” he said.
Which I did, and I passed, and I went to Purdue, and I became an ensign, too, and a division officer. Everything I needed to learn to do that job, I figured, I learned from a grizzled crusty, ex merchant mariner, boatswain mate chief petty officer and a rosy cheeked ensign. And Yogi Berra. It’s just that sometimes you need a little help to see forks in the road. And sometimes you see that even low life forms are capable of very noble behavior.