Thursday, July 09, 2009

Samurai Cowboy

This story reminded me of a roommate of mine from my Air Force days. Scary as it is for me to realize, I first enlisted over 20 years ago. Yikes. Anyhow, when I was stationed in Okinawa, I was in one of the newer dorms. The positive thing about this was that our rooms were larger than the ones in the older dorms, and each room had its own bathroom. The negative thing was that we had to share the rooms with someone else if you were below a certain rank...and being a newly enlisted E-3, I definitely was below that rank.

The first roommate I had in Okinawa was sort of an odd guy named James. He was a former military brat, and when his father was in the military, he'd lived in Korea for a while. As a result of that, he was really into oriental culture...specifically, samurai culture. He was a sword nut. I know swords are still made in Japan, but they fortunately weren't for sale at any of the shops near base. (An interesting fact: after World War II, during the occupation of Japan, many samurai swords were confiscated to prevent them being used as weapons against the occupying soldiers. So, the United States actually has more antique samurai swords here than Japan does. Something to keep in mind when shopping at pawn shops...that crappy old oriental sword in the corner may actually be quite valuable. Also, there are countries in that part of the world where sharpenable knives and swords are readily available for sale...the Phillipines comes to mind. But I digress.)

Getting back to James...being the samurai aficionado he was, he had bought a replica sword set made of anodized aluminum. Those sets were pretty to look at, and fairly safe as well, since the blades were impossible to sharpen. (Aluminum is a soft metal.) He used to practice swordfighting moves with them in the room sometimes at night. This never really freaked me out or anything because I figured he was basically harmless.

James had several issues going on, as it turned out...there was some kind of trouble with his military job, among other things. I'm not sure exactly what the job trouble was, but I know he'd been counseled more than once about it. I think he also may have had an issue with alcohol abuse, or at least binge drinking, which is sadly all too common in the military. He wasn't 21 yet but in Okinawa, if you had a military ID you could buy liquor. I recall one time a gal I worked with told me he had written her a love letter and ended it saying, "If you decide you want me, I'll be passed out on the hill behind the dorm." I mean, what woman WOULDN'T want him after reading that line?

James was also a slob, which considering he made it through Air Force basic training is kind of amazing, since they are VERY big on cleanliness there (trust me on that.) Post-basic active duty inspections weren't usually hardcore or anything...we were in the Air Force, not the Marines...but they still expected you to have your room in order, dusted, vacuumed, etc. once a month or so. When I first moved in James told me he didn't do that much cleaning since the room basically "cleaned itself." Not sure where he got THAT from, but I got to the point where when I was getting ready for inspection, I'd just tell him to leave, since he was a bigger hindrance than a help in getting things ready.

Anyhow, I finally got fed up when James didn't change his sheets for several weeks (or months, possibly; I'm not really sure and I don't want to know) so I got moved to a different room. My new roommate was a black guy from New York City, and although we had very different personalities and interests, we got along a lot better. (Plus he wasn't a slob, and we worked opposite shifts.) My dorm manager there, an NCO, understood completely my reason for wanting to move, and I think James eventually was moved to a room with another person who had trouble with cleaning. I guess the theory was that if you put two slobs together, they'd be forced to improve. However, it didn't work out that way.

Eventually, James got in an argument with his new roommate (who was in the same job as me) over some issue. I think they may have failed another room inspection, although I'm not sure exactly what the argument was about. I do know that James decided the appropriate response was to attack his new roommate with his aluminum replica sword. This didn't work out too well for James, as his new roommate proceeded to grab the sword and bend it in half over his knee. I think a next-door neighbor called someone from the office at this point and the fight stopped before anyone got hurt. This incident was evidently the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of James's military career, and he was giving his walking papers from the Air Force. In a summary of disciplinary actions within our squadron that was posted a month or two later, we saw "ASSAULT WITH A SWORD" listed as one of the infractions. Everyone I worked with thought that was kind of funny.

I sometimes wonder what happened to James. I hope his dismissal from the military was a wake-up call for him, and that he cleaned up his act and went to college or something and is now doing well. But as we were never very close, I didn't get any contact information for him before he left. Maybe I'll look him up on Facebook sometime, but probably not.


Marvo said...

I'm leery of any adult who own swords and plays with them alone, real or fake. Actually, I think I'd be friends with them, so that they won't attack me.

Chuck said...

@Marvo - I wasn't too worried about him attacking me, since I was much larger than him. I might have felt differently had they been real swords.

Heather Meadows said...

"If you decide you want me, I'll be passed out on the hill behind the dorm." LOL!!!

What an interesting guy! He'd make a good character for a story. I hope he found direction in life eventually.

My brother likes swords. He has a couple of replica swords and one sword that probably could be sharpened into a dangerous weapon. It was this sword that he was playfully tossing up into the air and catching when he missed, and it fell straight down and partially severed one of his toes.

Mike said...

Loved the story Chuck. I would like to see you write some more like that, including some old airline stories.

Chuck said...

Heather - Yikes! Hope his toe is ok now.

Mike - I'll keep that in mind. I still need to do another airline chronicles chapter, so keep an eye out for it.

Suldog said...

Holy... Attacked him with the sword? Even a non-sharpened sword is fairly deadly. Yikes!

Chuck said...

Suldog - Yup, the attack did happen, but there was no damage done other than to the sword and James's military career.