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Have You Smoked Any Marijuana?

A long time ago I woke up one morning and walked down to the military recruiter’s station and joined the Air Force. It was a well thought out and well executed plan of how I wanted my future life to go. To recap, it went something like this. On Tuesday I got in an argument with my boss at the factory that I’d been working at for the few months since high school graduation. On Tuesday night I partied with my friends. It was 1978 and I was eighteen years old and the legal drinking age was eighteen in those days. On Wednesday I didn’t go to work. On Wednesday night I partied again with my friends. On Thursday, on a freezing cold, ice and snow covered February morning in Bangor, Maine I climbed out of bed, got dressed and put my winter coat on and walked a mile or so to the recruiters station. I had been seriously considering this option for at least a day, perhaps two… and serious may be a bit of an overstatement.

When I walked into the building the Marines recruiter had someone sitting in his office, probably signing his life away. The Army door was closed and the office was empty. And as fate would have it, the Air Force guy came out and said, “Good morning. How can I help you today?” It was all a bit of a blur after that. Lots of forms and questions and some videos to watch and then more forms and more questions. Most of it was just stuff like did I have a high school diploma and what was my address and did I have a criminal record and stuff like that. FYI, I did not have a criminal record and I did have a diploma. But there was one question and answer that still makes me grin after all these years. Keep in mind that I had long curly hair and I was wearing torn jeans and a heavy corduroy coat with a fur collar. My eyes were probably bloodshot and it’s possible that I smelled like pot. It was the 1970’s and life was a bit like That 70’s Show.

“Have you smoked any marijuana in the past six months?” the recruiter asked. Silence fell over the room. It was clear, even to me, that he was waiting to see what my answer was going to be, as if the whole enlistment process was dependent on my response. With the correct answer I’d be going into the Air Force. And with the wrong answer, I’d be getting new crappy job to replace my old crappy job. We both sat and looked at each other for a few seconds while I tried to decide what to say and he hoped that I stretched the truth just a bit. If he had said hours instead of months it would have been easier to answer more accurately. After a few more seconds I cautiously spoke.

“No?” I replied, as much a question as an answer, and waited to see if he was going to challenge what I said.

“Good answer,” he said with a wave of relief swept over the room and he wrote something down on the form and continued filling in other information as if the entire thing hadn’t just almost fallen apart.

That single answer, that single word, changed the course of my life. Instead of staying in my hometown for the rest of my life, I lived in Texas and Alabama and North Carolina and Florida and Italy and Germany. And since we were so accustomed to traveling, we have lived in Anguilla, St Kitts and Grand Cayman, and several other places in the US after I retired from the Air Force.

Call it dumb luck or divine intervention or whatever you want, but that little argument at work and me being too stubborn to give in, and the Marines being busy and Army being closed, and finally, the Air Force guy getting me signed up that day probably saved my life. In the very least it made it a hell of a lot more interesting.

To think that one little answer, that one little word, changed the course of my life. Something to ponder isn’t it?

Delinquent me, circa 1976

TSgt Brian Simpson, circa 1993 (Now USAF Retired)


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