After the Army issued me a top secret clearance, Captain Tsapralis, head of communications security for 1st of the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion, signed the paperwork to arrange for an additional $300 to be added to my monthly pay-check. Anyone fortunate enough to be assigned to the ‘commo vault’ at 1st of the 32nd was given money to purchase their meals, and unlike other soldiers, I was not required to eat at the Army’s mess hall.
According to Cpt. Tspralis, a communications security custodian was always on the road and away from base during meal hours. The supplemental pay made it possible for me to buy my own meals while we were out on the Autobahn, burning rubber all over Germany, picking up electronic encryption codes that ran our radios and needed to be updated every Friday.
Prior to the raise in pay, I, along with all the other non-married, non-commissioned soldiers who lived in the barracks, was issued a meal card which guaranteed three meals a day at the mess hall on base.
I was required to turn in my meal card when the stipend kicked in. Mess hall guards did not ask to see meal cards. We simply called out our numbers while waiting for our three squares a day.
“R7659962473,” I shouted shamelessly three times a day and ate at the expense of Uncle Sam and still got the extra $300 each month. The military’s stance against homosexuality really pissed me off, and somehow, getting over on Uncle Sam with free meals was retaliation against a nation that did not practice what it preached in regard to freedom.
Cpt. Tspralis was was the most grounded commissioned officer I’ve ever met in the military. Nothing was complicated with Cpt. Tspralis and he never raised his voice. He did not have a big ego and never made enlisted soldiers feel like second-class citizens. I appreciated the raise he got for me and I took my job as his right hand and eye very seriously.
The captain once confronted me about the rumors regarding my sexuality that floated around the barracks like my seeming endless supply of laundry detergent and snack food that guys in the barracks always wanted to “borrow”. I was like a mother to the men and few women who lived in the barracks. They could care less that I was gay. I always had everything they needed to make life easier– like it was back at home, with our real moms.
“Specialist Taylor, do you have any laundry detergent?” The guys often begged. I felt sorry for them. They spent all their extra cash on booze. When they ran out of things like soap, shaving cream, shoe polish or coffee, I handed them what they wanted as I stood in my private barracks room in fuzzy house slippers, secretly wishing they’d come in and get more comfortable. They wouldn’t though. They kept their distance. No one in the military wanted to be caught associating with a suspected homosexual.
“What are you talking about Cpt. T?” I asked with a big smile on my face, after he confronted me.
“Taylor. You are very bright. Do you know that?”
“Thank you sir,” I said. “We have an inspection next Wednesday. Can we get back to work?”
“I want to let you know that I personally am against that military policy.” He said, although the fact was, his opinion meant nothing to a nation that hated gays so much.
We were rarely away from base during chow hours. In fact, we were rarely away from the vault at all. We made the run for new codes on Friday and ate at Burger King. Once a month we traveled to division headquarters to obtain a month’s worth of radio encryption codes and turn in our logs which indicated that we had properly destroyed the previous month’s radio scrambling secrets. Other than that, there was nothing more to do in that vault, but think, and wish somehow that the rest of the world was gay too.
Those days were sometimes very long and boring, despite the company of the captain and his trainee replacement, 1st Lt. Bottomley.
I headed out to lunch for hours on end while the other two officers in the vault sat and read big thick books. I couldn’t stand reading down there when both of them were around– especially Lt. Bottomley. She constantly interrupted the absolute silence of the underground room with chuckles or moans caused by the things she was reading in her books. I couldn’t stand it sometimes, especially when I was locked deep within the trance that written words sometimes do to one’s cognitive reality.
One of my favorite places to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner was at a restaurant on base run by the Armed Forces Exchange Service. The joint was known as the ‘Burger Bar’. It was a total rip off of McDonald’s and Burger King, and run by German civilians.
The Burger Bar had one of the world’s first video juke boxes. It played popular music videos for a mere quarter. Songs like Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’ and George Michael’s ‘Monkey” played in rotation at the popular off- hours hangout. I felt that being seen all the time in the Burger Bar would put to rest any suspicion that I was robbing Uncle Sam blind by eating for free in the mess hall all the time.
The men drank beer and ate pizza and I waited for them.
I sat in the far stall in the bathroom of the Burger Bar, down along the wall, next to the opaque glass window. I waited in the stall with the big hole drilled with a key or other sharp object, between the toilet partitions. I waited like a Russian spy conducting reconnaissance.
Some of the soldiers who I spied upon, I grew tired of, like one gets sick of wearing the same uniform day after day. Their denial was as redundant as communism, but overall, I was becoming an addict for the danger of getting caught, and kicked out of the Army altogether. I savored the taste of every last soldier who fed me threw the ‘glory hole’ found right on base. There were moments when I’d just laugh thinking about the fact that there were “no gays in the military.” Someone had to bring this all to light, I thought. But how? There were at least a hundred men I got to know over the year and a half I spent with 1st of the 32nd. Some of them I loved, some of them were a bore and some made me spit.
I wasn’t the only Army cocksucker who felt safe and at home in the fox hole at the end of a row of toilets in the Burger Bar bathroom. It was a real whore war sometimes trying to gain control of that last bunker, the one next to the window. There were lots bottoms feeders who tried to maintain control of the coveted spot, and would sometimes spend an entire evening in that precious stall.
We all wore uniforms and mine had unique patterns in the camouflaged fabric along the breast pocket where the name “Taylor” was advertised shamelessly.
My name was never hidden from those who came down my way, even thought very few actually looked through the hole to see who was on the other side. I often wondered what I’d do if ever Cpt. Tspralis ever stopped by for some head. I’d have to call him out on it, I thought.
Most of my fellow soldiers put their hands over their hearts and name tags as I blew them, but I knew who they were. One does not have to read a name tag to see inside someone. Each one had a different taste to it. Like a soldier with extra cash, thanks to a raise in Army pay, I did my part protecting this country, and I got plenty of free meals out of the years I spent serving 1st of the 32nd.
When the ban was finally dropped on gays in the military, nearly 20 years later, I realized that I am an American hero!