A SUDDEN MASSIVE INCREASE IN POPULARITY!!!

This tale isn’t music-related…

other than the fact that it will become a song in the near future.

How does a Brooklyn-raised, newly tech-trained, very recent arrival at an Air Force base in the South suddenly become a highly-regarded, much ballyhooed local celebrity? How does it come to pass that he suddenly gets invited to all the biggest and best parties, and winds up with the coolest possible roommate in the dorms? How does he go from unknown outcast to The Man?

I owe it all to Iran, actually.

It all started when the U. S. tried a rescue mission in Iran in April of 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis…the Jimmy Carter years. Some US helicopters crashed in the desert, people died, big black eye for Uncle Sam.

An Air Force Cheif Master Sergeant involved with that mission was eventually re-assigned to our little Air Force base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. We were kind of a chump base, flying relatively obsolete F-4 fighters. They were soon to be relagated to the Air National Guard, and shortly thereafter, used as target drones. This re-assignment was a big downgrade in prestige for him and, as the story was told to me, somewhat of a punishment.

This guy was a mover and shaker, a take-no-prisoners alpha male who rose to a position that most enlisted folks could only dream of, only to have his career blemished by a disaster that was probably not his fault in any way. He arrived at this little airbase only a few months before I did and he was not at all pleased to be there. Consequently he did whatever he could to make everybody’s life as miserable as possible.

One other thing I was told about this Cheif Master Sergeant is that he was referred to among the rank-and-file as “Da Creef” because he had an obvious and very unfortunate speech impediment. They told me he sounded almost exactly like the Mushmouth character from the Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids cartoon. I used to watch it all the time! Oddly enough, he sang Soul and R-n-B music as a hobby and when he appeared onstage in a base talent show before my time there, he apparently sang with perfect diction and pronunciation. So it goes…

Well, when such a flaw is revealed prior to meeting someone for the first time – especially when that someone is an authority figure hell-bent on torturing those in his charge with needless and vindictive military nonsense (like daily pre-shift uniform inspections for us flight-line mecahnics who routinely were covered in sweat, hydraulic fluid and jet fuel) – that first meeting is apt to be fraught with peril.

As you might expect, my first face-to-face meeting with Da Creef was at just such an inspection. I had been there maybe a week or two. It was probably October and still 95 degrees with 95% humidity. There were three ranks of us lined up and I was in the middle of the middle rank, at attention, awaiting intense and hostile scrutiny.

While I waited, Da Creef was engaged in a level of haranguing, humiliation and debasement over uniform issues that nobody present had experienced since boot camp. Nobody was spared, it was nasty.

Finally, it was my turn. I really hadn’t been out on the flight line all that much, being so new and all, and my uniform was likely the most presentable among all assembled. As with everyone else, he looked me up and down with a keen and spiteful eye for detail. He found nothing! But as he was about to move on, he stopped, looked again and said,

“Whey yo dee-o doh boot-at??!!”

I wasn’t sure quite what I was hearing, but I translated it as a question regarding the place from which I had stolen the boots I was wearing. Namely “Where did you steal those boots at?” I couldn’t fathom why he would ask that, as it was obvious that all of us had gotten our boots from the U. S. Air Force. Why would he think I had stolen them? I was confused, but knowing his reputation, and being so recently graduated from boot camp, I barked back in classic boot camp fashion,

“I did NOT steal, these boots, Sir! They were issue to me in Basic Training, Sir!”

There was a noticeable stirring from those nearby – all still at attention. This was most un-at-attention-like, but I had bigger problems, so I ignored it.

Da Creef sort of expanded, or inflated a bit. Eyes larger, and more loudly he repeated,

“I THAY WHEY YO DEE-O DOH BOOT-AT??!!!!!”

I just didn’t know what in the hell was going on. So I repeated the answer, with an appropriate increase in bark factor. I was desperate, I guess.

“I did NOT steal, these boots, SIR! They were issue to me in Basic Training, SIR!”

Now the noticeable stirring around me was more widespread (as both he and I had gotten louder), and contained a definite element of barely stifled laughter. I was at a loss. How could this be happening? What was happening? Someone was gonna get busted, and not just me, either. Or was this some kind of practical joke they play on new guys? I was sweating bullets by now. And he repeated yet again,

“I THAY WHEY YO DEE-O DOH BOOT-AT??!!!!!”

This time, I finally caught on. He was asking me where my steel-toed boots were at. When a flight-line mechanic finishes tech school and arrives at their first Air Force base to work on real planes, they are issued a new pair of boots. You can’t wear your broken-in, comfortable basic training boots on the flight line, no matter how shiny they may be. There is unspeakable and ever-present toe danger lurking everywhere on the flight line! But my steel-toe boots were so new that they gave me debilitating blisiters so bad that I couldn’t walk. Since I was too new to spend much time on the actual flight line anyway, I had thrown toe-caution to the breeze that day and had worn my very shiny non-steel-toed basic training-issued boots.

Realizing my misunderstanding and suddenly remembering its relationship to the unfortunate speech impediment, I almost laughed out loud myself. But, such was my relief at no longer feeling like an accused boot thief that I replied with a relieved smile,

“Ohhhhh! They gave me really bad blisters and I couldn’t walk, so I had to wear these.”

Silence from Da Creef. Then I remembered expected decorum and tacked on,

“SIR!!!”

He actually looked relieved too, kind of. He just said,

“You whey yo dee-o-doh boot.”

And he moved on. We never met face-to-face or spoke again.

After the inspection was over and we were dismissed to swelter in the mosquitos and the hydraulic fluid, I was threatend with brutal beatings by some for getting them so close to laughing out loud while standing at attention during an inspection, but from most I was lauded and offered kudos for having “brass ones” and pulling off the funniest most insubordinate thing they had ever seen. Even my own direct supervisor and his sergeants were beaming at me with pride and admiration

Not only that, but there was never another pre-shift uniform inspection after that day.

Try as I might, I was never able to convince anyone that I simply mis-heard Da Creef and it was all just an innocent misunderstanding.

And THAT is how a Brooklyn-raised, newly tech-trained, very recent arrival at an Air Force base in the South suddenly become a highly-regarded, much ballyhooed local celebrity. That very night I attended a keg party off-base, and within a week had a pot-dealer roommate in the baracks. The worm had turned!

So, thank you Ayatollah, wherever you are.

-Tom