THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT from my forthcoming book with the working title, With a Good Heart: Kindness Afoot From LA to Brooklyn. At this point in my 2018 walk across America, I am 2500 miles in and weeks away from completion. I’ve grown used to heat and solitude, and for most of each day I’m lost in memories and contemplation. On this particular day, the 4th of July, I’m vividly recalling a past I hadn’t thought about in years.
The Fourth of July was the day I headed off to Basic Training in 1990 and the day I honorably discharged in 1994. On the same date in 1991, I was based in Darmstadt, Germany, worried that at some point my unit would deploy to the desert. But for this singular day, no soldiers on the kaserne were concerned with war. We all had the day off, and every company organized a barbecue feast that made the post resemble a giant hometown neighborhood. We were all decked out in suitable civvies for the summer day. Men went shirtless, women wore bikini tops, and everyone momentarily disregarding rank and status. Captain Jolly, normally straight laced and heavy handed, didn’t look quite as badass in his Cape Cod tank top.
On the parade field in the center of Kelly Barracks, my buddies and I pre-partied the day’s culminating dinner. We passed around someone’s half bottle of Wild Turkey until it was empty. I smoked my first joint, hash actually, while sitting beneath the flagpole. Then we drank warm racks of Darmstadter Pils as midday came and went.
At some point someone changed out Metallica’s Master of Puppets CD for Wilson Phillips’ self titled debut. The opening song, “Hold On,” shifted the mood, and within minutes we all were laid out on our sunbathing towels, leaning up occasionally for a sip from our tall bottles. For hours we played the album on loop. By the third time through we all were drunk, dancing badly and singing along to the lyrics. “I know this pain. Why do you lock yourself up in these chains? No one can change your life except for you. Don’t ever let anyone step all over you.”
I walk in a fog of nostalgia and sing this song. Relive this memory. Then I pay ten bucks to download the record on iTunes and sing along with it all the way into Buchanan, Virginia where a sign outside a bank says it’s 98˚. Purgatory Mountain looms in the distance. I blame the heat for my fit of tears. But I let the feelings flow freely as I accompany Carnie, Wendy, Chynna, and all my skinny Army buddies from those days in the early 90s. I can see all their faces so goddamned clearly. Perryman and Gose and Sessoms and Markel. Cook and Featherly and Noel and Stilgenbauer. Even after nearly 30 years, I still remember all the words.