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"In the Army" by Kenneth Weene





Kenneth Weene’s story “In the Army” has the calm, matter-of-fact strangeness of the Beat Generation. The Captain appears and disappears and what happens to him is not as important as how he reacts to it. The cast of characters who exist as sounding boards to his lovely and slightly sad personality (in that larger-than-life sort of way) come alive in his presence. Portrayed cleanly and briefly, the Captain saunters through, a character to behold.

Send in your beautiful people, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free: Enjoy.

—Lyle Rosdahl

“In the Army” by Kenneth Weene

“I served. I saw combat.” That was as much as Captain would tell us.

Stiff and tall, it was hard to guess his age. “Old enough to know better,” he’d told us, “but I’ve marched more miles than you might figure.”

What had been his rank? We didn’t know. He was Captain because he was always inspecting and taking charge. “Too much foam on those beers,” he’d announce when Sal wasn’t careful to let the brew flow down the side of the glasses. “Rack those balls better,” he’d instruct Jonny, who’d look up and smile indifferently.

Captain would show up day after day for a time and then disappear. “Where you been?” one of us might ask after a long absence.

“In the Army.” Which made no sense until we understood that he was bouncing in and out of the V.A. Captain was one of those patients who wouldn’t stay on their meds. When he wasn’t locked on the psych ward, he hung out at The Dew Drop.

No need to work, his benefits were enough. He apparently had and needed little. Yet, what he wore was always neat and carefully ironed. It was simply a part of his military way.

Not needing a job didn’t stop Captain from taking an active interest in the world of work. He’d stop to inspect and instruct wherever he could: pointing out smudges on windows and unpainted spots, stopping delivery men with instructions, “Those boxes should be arranged with the biggest on the bottom, not just jumbled like that.” His pseudo-expertise knew no bounds.

He particularly enjoyed superintending landscapers. “Cut that back a little.” “You left some clippings.” “Some of these weeds need more spray.” So many little things to correct.

One day Riley, who was working a recycling truck, ran into him.

Captain was busily organizing a crew from Hanson’s Nursery. They were working a condo community over on Foster, one of those that keep upgrading their grounds. The men, most of whom, probably not even understanding his English, good-naturedly ignored Captain. Their crew boss was doing what low-level managers often do, taking a nap.

The supervisor came by; saw Captain telling the men what to do and the men working away. “You’re doing a good job,” he said and patted Captain on the back.

Captain saluted, which tickled the supervisor. He would have said more, but he noticed the crew boss sleeping. “What the hell?” he exploded.

Two minutes later the sleeper had been fired and Captain hired. “You stop by the office this afternoon and fill out the forms,” the supervisor instructed.

Captain snapped to attention and again saluted, “Yes, sir.”

“Yes, sir,” the supervisor muttered as he took off for the next job site.

The men stood around staring at Captain. He stared back.

“Hey, Boss, what you want us do?” one of the workers asked.

Captain’s eyes went vacant. He shrugged and wandered off. Couple days later he was back in the Army.

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