By lex, on December 16th, 2003
Son number one’s girlfriend asked me what crazy things had happened…
… in the hallowed halls of the US Naval Academy. The man has an application package in, and the GF, as pointed out here , has a point of view something leftward of the norm, even here in SoCal. I admire her for making the effort to try to understand, to know more – she cares about the boy, and that’s plenty good enough for me.
Anyway, the craziest thing I could think of was an enormous food fight in the wardroom my plebe year. It was the week preceding the Army-Navy football game, and much of the imposed rigor of the plebe system was suppressed during that timeframe in favor of school spirit. It was well and truly said that a 1-11 record could be considered a winning season, so long as the “1″ on the win side meant we’d beaten Army.
It’s worth pointing out that the entire student body eats at once. Four thousand healthy young men and women sat down at precisely the same moment, and were served within moments of each other. It was an operatic ballet I only dimly appreciated at the time.
Our seniors had goaded us on – they’d talked about an epic food fight they’d been in back when they were plebes. The gauntlet was thrown. We owed it to the school!
The meal that night, as I recall, was spaghetti and pizza – I know for a fact that a fruit bowl was at every table for dessert. At some point in the evening, during supper, the grapes began to fly from table to table – mere skirmishing. As this act of what passed for rebelliousness was not instantly and brutally put down, a minor escalation followed. The head midshipman, the brigade commander, got up on the central podium of the T-shaped dining facility and mumbled something ambiguous into the mike. There was a pause, as these almost incoherent words were weighed for effect – and then the food began to fly again, somewhat tentatively.
Now the academy supply officer took his place at the podium – what he said I cannot testify to precisely, but what the brigade apparently heard was, “will all the civilians please leave the mess, and let the midshipmen have their fun?” He would later vehemently deny this formulation, but that is what we heard. Never have I observed so immediate and electrifying a response. A veritable tidal wave of food took wings, in concentric and expanding circles from the podium. In moments, the very air was thick with pizza slices,spaghetti strands, bowls of salad dressing. A portly professor of math, an invited guest of the head table, was seen scurrying down the base of the “T,” waddling somewhat under the burden of unkind years and over-indulgence, his table napkin still tucked securely into his waistband.
I was on the “team tables,” reserved for athletes and a sanctuary from the rigors of plebe discipline. Across the hall was the baseball table, where our relief pitcher (submarine thrower) spotted the “racing” math prof, and came to his own conclusions. Apparently, the only thing for it was to hurl an orange (side-arm style) at the prof as fast as physics would allow. For my own part, I was in fear for the poor man’s health, but fortunately, he trod upon the uncertain purchase of a pizza slice, losing his balance in the process, and going down hard on the deck. The orange sailed harmlessly through the space his skull would have otherwise occupied, and I was spared the burden of testifying at a manslaughter trial. A broken window was the only result.
I saw a bowl of salad dressing arcing its way through the haze right at my face, the dressing still miraculously contained inside, and ducked under the table. On the way down, I observed one of my teammates drinking his coffee with sublime dignity on his ebon face, never moving and never getting hit. To this day I can’t understand how he missed getting smeared. Everything was everywhere.
The din was enormous, and the evening meal, having absented itself without leave forever from the tables, was recycled from the deck to the air and back again. Someone was hollering something unintelligible over the announcing system, and the Officer of the Deck was running up and down the passageways in his service dress blues, white gloves and hat, and with his sword rattling at his side yelling, “Nobody move, everyone out of the hall!” at the top of his lungs.
We made our exit, and headed back to our dorms. The word came down that we were to sit outside our rooms in the passageway until a suitable punishment could be decided for all 4000 of us.
Our penance ended up being that we would have to return to the mess, and clean up the mess. Twenty-five volunteers from each company were to be sent down, selected at random, to replace the now rebellious mess specialists – they would have no part in cleaning up.
One hundred men to a company, and twenty-five plebes. Guess who went down to clean up?
But it was fun, while it lasted.