I always tell people that I was broken by military service. It is tongue-in-cheek. My service was easy and I never had to go anywhere really dangerous. The worst thing I ever did on active duty was crawl under a suspended floor, 70 feet under Montana, don an elbow-length rubber glove and reach into 18 inches of raw sewage, staring at the lip of the glove on my arm the entire time, careful to keep the sewage from spilling into the glove, in an attempt to trip a flush valve on the sewer outlet. Obviously this required my face to be right up close to said raw sewage. The guy whose job this would have been otherwise, was too fat to crawl under the floor, so he stood by and watched as I did his job for him.
Then there was that time where I worked 15 hour days for 6 months or so. That was edifying. It put all of the other long days in my life in perspective. Hello office couch, I think I’ll sleep on you for lunch. Close the door and just check out for half an hour.
If you want to exercise, you’ll need to get up before 4am because God knows when you’re getting off work. That value is not well defined. If you want to be guaranteed of time that is not dedicated to work, you have to get up early enough to take that time for yourself. If you think you’re going to do anything after work, the Universe will conspire to create a fresh catastrophe and you’ll not see your pillow till after the sun falls behind the horizon.
So, I get up very early.
15 minutes early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable. When the person you are meeting cannot only view you with displeasure, distaste and unfavorably, but genuinely cause you pain and suffering, one tends to show up early enough to be at their whim, rather than keeping that person waiting. One does not keep a superior officer waiting. That would be poor form and deleterious to one’s wellbeing.
This has been somewhat challenging to adapt to a civilian environment. Late is common amongst civilians. I’m guilty of it, too. I still try to arrive 15 minutes early for appointments and meetings, whenever I’m able, but I find this often means that I’m waiting for 20–25 minutes, rather than getting in on time or early. Sometimes that is annoying. In the hustle and bustle sprint of modern society, you’d think we’d value each other’s time more dearly. But I think at the same time we’ve gotten busier, we’ve also grown inconsiderate of each other and the struggles inherent in the days and lives of those around us.
So, I show up early.
There are no second first impressions. The least you can do is be put together. If you are a fat slob, you will be perceived as a fat slob and lazy. That is the position from which you will begin any interactions with other people. If your uniform looks like crap, the person you are dealing with and those you work around, will already have that as their baseline from which to judge and gauge the balance of your merits. Starting from a position of weakness, even if it is something as simple and mundane as wrinkles in your shirt, can be the difference in some settings and circumstances.
In uniform, these ideas were easy to define. Is your uniform pressed? Is it crisp? Are there wrinkles? Are you clean shaven? Facial hair took me years to work out in my mind. I literally could not grow facial hair — not because I couldn’t grow facial hair, but because I’d been clean-shaven, every single day of the year, for years on end, and had grown to view it as expected and mandatory. I believed that, if I had facial hair it would reflect poorly upon me and that I would suffer difficulties and repercussions as a result. Seriously. This was a conversation I had with myself. Now, I’ve had a beard for years. Now, I’m a dirty hipster.
But my hair is still in a high and tight. Zeroes on the sides and back, and less than a finger-depth on top. I’m magnificently picky about who I’ll let cut my hair. Neurotic. Diagnosable. Utterly insane. If you call yourself a barber and don’t finish with a straight razor, I’ll not be returning. If I’m letting you touch my hair, it means that you are very good at your chosen craft. I could shave my beard and be immediately well within military regulations. Hell, I’d be ready for basic training. I have shitty, white-trash hair and it looks terrible when there is any of it, so I’ve decided it looks best when it is military short. People probably think I’m some hard-liner, survivalist, right-wing nutjob.
I have a thing for polishing boots. When it was required of me, my boots were always immaculate. Reflective. I kept a mirror-sheen on my service boots at all times. They received polish at least weekly, if not a quick touch-up several times per week. Then, the Air Force switched to these fucked-up, green suede things. Who in the name of God decided that was a good idea? Suede is ruined the first time it gets dirty. And green. What. The. Hell. Green suede service boots. Whoever made that call on the uniform board should be taken out and shot behind the woodshed. Green suede. Barf.
When I separated from the Air Force, I realized that polishing boots was this definable, controllable OCD homage that calmed and focused me. I missed it. Everyone in their right minds hates polishing boots. I’ve never claimed to be in my right mind. I missed polishing boots. What is wrong with me? OCD, clearly. So, I picked up some Red Wing Beckmann. I think they were $300 boots? Perhaps more. And I made them very pretty. I got the dark cherry color and had to use oxblood polish because it was the closest I could come to the original color. That pair took a great deal of break-in. Full-grain leather, they were stiff as hell and destroyed my feet for a while. I remember filling them with hot water for 20 minutes and then wearing them till dry to finally break in the leather. Now, they are some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. But it took a lot of pain and suffering. The leather is very well polished at all times.
I count toothpicks. I must count toothpicks.
Then, several years later, I decided to pick up some Dr. Marten’s. The classic version, that most people have, are the 6 eye (or is it 8?) and have been made in Asia for some years now. I said, “screw that”, and opted for the version that was still made in England. Of course that decision came at a premium. Interestingly, the taller, 10-eye boots were on sale, so my Doc’s are actually the tall boot. Red. Bright red glass. Again, thick leather chews your feet up for a little while, and these were no different. Once broken in, though, I think my Doc’s are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. Air Ware and such.
I’m still completely insane about keeping both of these pairs of boots glistening. It calms me. I don’t even know if it is about how they look, so much as the moments of Zen I derive from just sitting, focused on a simple, repetitive task.
Obviously I’m on the spectrum.
I’ve been broken by military service.
Now, I decided that I needed a new project, so I threw some money at the Wolverine Boot Company. You know Red Wing and Wolverine for their work boots, probably. But each company has something of a heritage line (I think Wolverine actually calls it the Heritage Line) that reaches back in time to when you could work in a factory all day, throw some quick polish on your shoes and wear the same pair out to a nice restaurant that night. So, the Wolverine 1000 Mile Evans boots. And more polish. A lot more polish.
But I’m so calm. I’ve been drowning under school, work and life, but I can sit down and completely turn off the world while making small circles with a rag, a can of wax and some leather.
I count toothpicks.
I’m on the spectrum.
I was broken by military service.
I’m the guy who cannot wear anything other than a high and tight. I’m the guy with the ridiculously shiny, leather boots.
But I’m so Zen.
I am the calm little center of the world.