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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2000

Changing to a shy and retiring life

Twenty-six days and counting.

That's how long I have until my retirement.

I enter this phase of my life with mixed emotions. It's wonderful to know I won't be working anymore; it's a little terrifying to know that I won't be working anymore.

It's going to be a very eerie feeling, not working.

I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't work. It all started when I was about 9 or 10 years old and was shining shoes late at night in bars on Cleveland's east side.

My buddy and I did it late at night because we only had one can of polish. It was black, and we used it for everyone no matter what the color of his shoes. It worked out fine because our customers were usually drunk by that time. They also tipped pretty well.

My problem is figuring out what it will be like. You see, I have never had any experience in this particular line.

After all, for the past few years I had settled into a regimented way of life - not particularly pleasant, but predictable and secure.

That particular time in my life had a moment of great angst. Not mine, but that of my commanding officer. I have to admit, I got a perverse pleasure out of it.

At the time I was a corporal looking with great anticipation to returning to civilian life.

I had only a few weeks to go, and that meant I was to get the obligatory ``shipping over'' lecture from my CO.

This was not an event looked forward to with eagerness by either of us.

I never cared a great deal for officers, and, in most cases, the feeling was mutual. This was particularly true of my captain. We had had several run-ins in the past and I considered him an officious jerk, and he considered me a drinking, carousing, disrespectful, horrendous example of a proper Marine. I considered myself spirited.

He was the son of a general and went strictly by the book, even if conditions made such rules ridiculous. I never cared a great deal for the book and that annoyed him no end.

That's why I was a little surprised the day he called me into his office to try to persuade me to stay in the Corps. I know he didn't want me in his beloved Corps any more than I wanted to stay in, but the book called for him to do this and he was a follower of the book.

It was short and not so sweet.

``Did you ever think of staying in the Marine Corps?'' he asked with a false smile.

``Oh, once or twice, but I laid down until the feeling went away,'' I quipped.

He sighed, but plunged on. ``You know, you could do worse than the service,'' he offered.

``Oh, and where would that be?'' I asked, puzzled.

His face reddened, but he tried again, teeth grinning, "Well, you get three square meals a day and a bed to sleep in each night."

``I could get that at Ohio State Prison,'' I answered.

He totally lost it.

``YES!” he screamed waggling a portentous finger in my face. ``AND THAT'S JUST WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO WIND UP! Now get the hell out of here!''

I beat a hasty retreat and he never mentioned re-enlisting again.

I wonder if this retirement will produce anything like that.

I doubt it. The Blade doesn't give shipping-over lectures.

Tom Ensign is a Blade columnist. E-mail him at tensign@toledoblade.com.



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