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North

My after-graduation leave came and went like a stranger’s face in a window, and a month later I was flying to the north to receive my assignment, inspired, impeccably-trained, and happier than is otherwise advisable.

“Where do you want to go...” someone from the personnel division is asking the new lieutenant in front of me. “Rosta village or Port Vladimir?”

Not up on his current naval geography, the lieutenant picks Port Vladimir only to be whisked off to a place where three dilapidated wooden buildings - the whole of civilization’s defense against the elements - are fighting an uphill battle for respect.

What a sucker!

But by the time my turn came around no immediate openings were available. Not that the Northern Fleet doesn’t need a new lieutenant; of course it does - just not as eagerly as his self-esteem would have him believe.

After a two-week ordeal, I was finally sent to a special chemical defense division nicknamed “ChemDiz.” Back then if a wayward sailor was lucky enough to avoid the brig, then he would serve in ChemDiz, a place infested with a wide array of miscellaneously afflicted souls: one-eyed drunks, two-headed vandals, three-fingered thieves, liars, pimps, triggermen, and enough social outcasts and misfits to populate any man’s navy.

“Don’t worry, lieutenant,” they told me. “We don’t hurt children.”

And I didn’t worry - they kept their word. Although in between keeping their word they did hang the Zampolit’s son on a fence. Strapped him up by his belt loops. For two hours the six-year-old boy just hung there and cried...

...Fifteen duties a month. Twenty-four on, twenty-four off.

“What’s the matter, lieutenant? On duty again? Well, just stick it out - we’ve all been in your place. We’ve all gone through it.”

...Crowded quarters and bunks, and slimy foul-smelling heads....

After a month of this, I felt like a bittern, a bird that bears a striking resemblance to military personnel: at the slightest sign of danger it’ll freeze in its tracks, standing at perfect attention; but once it feels trapped, it screams out like a wounded bull.

And I screamed out. Rather, my impeccably-trained soul screamed out at the injustice. It screamed out all day and all night. It screamed and screamed until finally the idea of nuclear submarines had taken firm root in my hierarchy of values.

But when I shared my idea with the brass, they seemed to be taken aback by my disillusionment with the status quo. They referred to my condition as “playing romantic games” and were quite explicit as to where I should go to play these types of games in the future. Then they declared that for me to receive permission to transfer to the sub division (“and it ain’t easy, my boy, it ain’t easy at all”) I would have to spend the rest of my waking hours eating shit: (“for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”)

From that day on, I ceased to serve the navy - and began to eat shit. And I did so for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And in those rare moments when I wasn’t eating shit, I moved cement from one place to another and dumped it into different holes.

It should be mentioned that in ChemDiz there most certainly was enough shit for the eating. An amazing amount of it. Acres and Acres. Although, in all fairness, I can’t claim to be the first to engage in this activity; in fact, quite a bit of it had been consumed by others before me.

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