Posted By POSCA
When he was a young and still optimistic instructor at the Air Force Academy, Posca had an experience that forever impressed him with the depth of the discipline instilled in Air Force Cadets. To this day it is a lesson he cannot forget, and it has left him with an admiration for cadets undiluted by the many intervening years.
For reasons that will soon become clear, we will refer to the central figure of this story as “Joe.” He and Posca were both captains and teaching the same course at the Academy (to further protect Joe’s identity, the name of the course will here remain confidential). Now, it just so happened that Joe had something of an oral fixation—he smoked a pipe and enjoyed snacking on whatever might be to hand. (I suspect he was bottle fed.) On one particular morning he walked into my office and said, “Hey, Posca, you got anything to eat? I’m real hungry.”
Posca had just moved into his new digs and remembered finding a sealed foil bag of prunes in the whiskey cabinet of his desk (it may have been a pound of prunes). So in the spirit of collegiality, he gave Joe the bag -with the admonition, “Look, you can have these, but I have no idea where they came from or how old they are.” Joe seemed pleased with the offering and wandered off to his office or wherever he had chosen to nosh the prunes.
Around noon, department faculty were called to a routine meeting to discuss whatever new and exciting things the Chairman wanted to impart to us, and during the course of this meeting I noticed that Joe was squirming in his chair. His back-and-forth, front-and-back motions were fairly overt, so I whispered to him, “What’s wrong with you?”
“I ate the whole bag of prunes.” To make matters worse, Joe and I had to teach the very next period, and I had visions of him becoming ill and leaving Posca to teach both sections. I started thinking about a classroom big enough for the job.
Now, to understand what happened next, you need to know that Joe and I taught in side-by-side classrooms on the fourth floor of Fairchild Hall—the academic instruction building at the Academy. The normal cadet classrooms have no windows and a single door for ingress/egress. Immediately across the hall from our classrooms was a large restroom for male cadets; it was completely lined with marble slabs on the walls and the stall dividers were of the same material. It had the feel of a mausoleum, and this particular restroom had a broken pneumatic arm on the door, so that the door was pretty much half open all the time.
Joe and I entered our classrooms, the section leaders called our respective classes to attention, and we then proceeded with the business of the day. In my case, I gave the cadets a quick quiz to see whether any of them had gotten to the day’s reading. Graded exercises are never proctored at the Academy (as a matter of honor), so I left the room while my cadets were chewing on the quiz. This gave me a chance to monitor Joe, who was in full swing with his lecture. He was something of a showman—firing a starter’s pistol, throwing erasers, and so on. All of a sudden, Joe said to his class, “I’ll be right back,” and went flying out of his classroom and into the cavernous men’s room. He left the room so fast that he had no idea he had flown past me; he was clearly on a mission from God.
Now, decorum prevents a truly accurate description of what happened next, but let us just say that Joe’s prunes had come home to roost. The sounds coming from the men’s room could have been mistaken for a reenactment of the Battle of Borodino, and every sound that Joe managed to produce was echoed and reechoed by the marble slabs lining the place and then broadcast through the half-opened door.
I was laughing so hard that I pushed my face into a wall to try to muffle myself (but loud enough so my cadets knew it was someone else in that bathroom). Tears were gushing down my face, and I started to believe I would split a gut. The cadets in both rooms were howling—even screaming—with delight. Apparently, nothing tickles a cadet more than the sound of an instructor in obvious, extended, self-punishing distress. This went on for a couple of minutes—Joe moved from Borodino to Iwo Jima and then on to Gettysburg. Posca was near death at least twice; he even started to send up prayers.
But then it happened, almost a miracle really. The instant—and I mean the instant—Joe flushed the toilet, both cadet classrooms went absolutely quiet. There was not a guffaw, a titter, a giggle, a howl, or chuckle. Perfect silence in place of what had been a laugh-riot. Joe re-entered his classroom and the lesson proceeded as though nothing had happened. Just another day.
So help me God it is all true, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was sheer discipline on display. Instantaneous control of otherwise uncontrollable laughter.