from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #27: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Unless It Can Get You Out of the Army, Part II

with 4 comments

The day I met PFC Ballerino was also my first day at my permanent station, my first day at Headquarters Company. Two of my “fathers” assigned to the Headquarters Battalion personnel office were taking me to the base dry cleaners, an ancient Korean man stooped over a sewing machine in a concrete box of a building. A gray man in a little gray box. It was from that old pile of ashes that I was to get the base and unit insignia stitched onto the nakedness of the uniforms I received in basic.

My “fathers” walked side by side and I walked behind and on the left, keeping in step, arms swinging at 45 degrees, normal march. Right, left, right, left. We passed by the parade ground on our left and the Class IV Yard on our right, turning left behind the Security Company barracks to the crook in the road where the dry cleaners sat quiet and lonesome across from the expanse of the Motor Pool.


The cry came from a slight wisp of a boy in wire-rimmed glasses, his PT uniform looking like a potato sack draped over some tree branches. He stood in front of door of the dry cleaners, spare uniforms draped over his left arm and his right at salute.

“Holden,” Corporal Park addressed me.
“Private Holden Beck!”
“This is PFC Jeong. He’s your superior.”

PFC Jeong didn’t return my salute. Instead, he walked up to me and extended his hand. This guy has got to be fucking with me. This little skinny fuck has got to be setting me up for my first bout of “education” as a member of the HHC. Five weeks of hell in basic and a week of staring at the walls in the Replenishment Company, and an hour into my first day at my permanent station and they were already fucking with me. Basic taught me that delaying the inevitable was pouring fuel on the fire so I sighed and stuck out my hand at arm’s length and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

A very limp hand, a hand as firm as kelp washed up on the shore, took mine and shook it with the vigor of a two year-old.

“Private Beck (“Private Holden Beck!” “That’s enough, Beck.” “Yes, sir!”) is from the States. He’s our American.”
“Yes, sir!”
“Where are you from?”
“Seattle, sir!”

He told me he had been studying abroad in New York before he came back to fulfill his military obligation. “Uh… yes, sir!” He went on but my auditory senses shut off and I started thinking to myself, This guy looks Hispanic. No, he looks like that guy from that one Seinfeld episode, the one where the gang can’t figure out what race Elaine’s boyfriend is. That’s who he looks like. But skinny as fuck. While I was marveling how the longer I was in the Army the more I found certain Koreans that looked like other races, he finished up his conversation, saluted to my “fathers” and then went on his way.

A few days later I had my bewildering enter-interview with Captain Jin, that bloated, ruddy gasbag—“What do you think of the gays, soldier?!”—and a few days after that, a couple of sergeants dropped by the squad room in which I waited on standby (more staring at lockers at attention) to pester me.

“Hey, Beck.”
“Private Holden Beck!”
“Did you meet the gay yet?” they snickered.
“No, sir!”
“Ballerino. You didn’t meet him yet?”
“No, sir!”
“You will. You will.”

I was washing the rags for our nightly cleaning session in the sink room later when PFC Jeong started washing rags at the sink next to mine.

“How’s everything going?”
“Good, sir!”
“Alright. Keep up the good work.”
“Yes, sir!”

He left and a corporal from the fifth squad that had been shaving at the sink behind me walked up to my sink. Fuck me. Can’t these motherfuckers leave me alone?

“Hey, Beck.”
“Private Holden Beck!”
“Do you know that was?”
“PFC Jeong, sir!”
“No, no. That was Ballerino.”
“Uh… yes, sir!”
“Really. He was studying ballet in America. He’s gay.”
“I understand, sir!”

PFC Jeong was Ballerino. PFC Jeong was our gay. People in the company talked about him a lot when he wasn’t around. He wasn’t allowed to take showers with the rest of the company. He wasn’t allowed to work so he spent his days sitting around the squad room, alone. He had a crush on Andy. When it was Andy’s birthday, he told Andy to hold out his hand and close his eyes. He put the present in Andy’s hand and let him hands linger over Andy’s. Andy had been the only person who talked to him but they didn’t talk after that. Nobody talked to him anymore. He might be lying. He hadn’t given off gay vibes before he left for his 100th day leave. He’s just pretending so he can get discharged early. He says that he met Ha Ri-su, that famous transgender he-she that’s always on the television.

I felt bad for the kid. He was a nice guy. He never picked on me, which was something of a company-wide pastime. I thought maybe it was because he understood. I was an outsider and some people picked on me because it was fun and some people picked on me because I was different and some people picked on me because they were bored and they were downright cruel jackasses. He knew what it was like to be the target of nastiness and alienation for something that arguably he had no control over.

I didn’t see him much because it was like he was quarantined. Homosexuality was a disease and they didn’t want it to spread. Besides, I was worked to the bone as a private, clean this and dig up that and sweep this and refill that. I didn’t have the leisure to feel sorry for anybody else. A couple of months later, I jumped on my first chance at escape and got on a plane to Afghanistan, leaving the assholes and poor PFC Ballerino in the HHC behind.

One month in pre-deployment training, six months in Bagram, and one month leave later, I returned to the HHC a corporal. Things would be better—I was a corporal, a tormentor, no longer a tormentee—but it’s hard to separate the place from the memories. I was jumpy my first day back at the HHC. I kept expecting one of my former tormentors to barge into the squad room and there I would be, reverted back into the lowly private I was when I left.

The Child, the two-go of my new squad, came back from HQ and greeted me.

“Beck, you’re back.”
“Yes, sir.” As a corporal, I wasn’t subject to protocol like I had as a private. All the same, I was wary.
“How was it?”
“It was hot, sir.”
“Did you hear?”
“Did I hear what, sir?”
“Captain Jin’s getting promoted.” Hell, yes. His promotion meant that he was leaving. While another asshole would probably fill the gap, it was incredibly hard to imagine anyone as bad as Jin. Besides, the new one, whoever he was, didn’t have it out for me, didn’t want to send me to military prison.
“Ballerino’s gone, too.”

From what the Child told me, PFC Ballerino had gotten his discharge shortly after I left for Afghanistan. He had to run through a battery of psychological evaluations with the HQ shrink, who judged that he wasn’t lying about his sexual orientation just to get out of the Army and that he should be prematurely discharged.

PFC Ballerino had lived a hard life, a lot harder than the rest of us, but now he was free and the rest of us still had to wait out our time. There was still speculation about the veracity of his claims. We were left wondering if he really had just been suppressing his nature in order to adapt to company life before his 100th day leave or if he had remembered what it was like to be free during his leave and devised an ingenious plan to ETS early. Maybe he really was gay or maybe he was some kind of devious super-genius. Of course, an integral part of that kind of plan was that it had to be kept a secret and so no one will ever know the truth.

Don’t ask, don’t tell, unless it can get you out of the Army.


4 Responses

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  1. I love your transitions and quality. I have been producing for Ghost Writers for a while now, and they pay me very well to write blog posts like this, or content articles. I clear $100-$200 on a poor morning.
    Judging by your ability with the written word, you may enjoy doing the same.
    It wouldnt hurt to check them out.

    Writers Wanted

    February 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    • Your comment has a very distinct spam/phishing quality but I appreciate the compliment all the same.


      February 11, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  2. your good


    February 20, 2011 at 5:11 am

  3. Don’t know if the above comment is spam as well, but I’ll take any compliment (sincerity is in the ears of the hearer). Don’t even care about grammar when it’s a compliment. Some of the best writers shit all over established grammar rules.


    February 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

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