Poor Charlie (Part Two)
Lafayette, Jerry is Here
Another very short story about Charlie Thomas by
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Copyright October 17, 2012, all rights reserved
My name is Charlie Thomas. I am an insurance adjuster, or at least I was, before I was hornswoggled into the French Military; more about that later.
I am also someone who suffers from a multiple personality disorder. Because many of my various personalities seem to care nary a wit for my personal finances, and also due to the fact that some of them seem to be dumb as fence posts when it comes to managing their, excuse me, my financial expenditures, I was forced to institute various necessary security procedures to protect myself from their whims and/or spending sprees.
First, I was able to put the kibosh on their forays into the international travel industry, i.e. all their surprise and unscheduled pleasure trips abroad. I did this by cutting all my credit cards in half, then by paying them off one by one; and then cancelling their accounts. I don’t mind telling you, that feat took a bit of doing, but somehow I accomplished that, seemingly overwhelming task. Second, I had for a time, also succeeded in cutting them off from my cash as well, by frequently changing my pin numbers on my bank accounts and employing a little trick when I entered pin numbers into ATM machines. When doing so, I would close my eyes. They all can see through my eyes; but they can’t read my mind. At least, I don’t think any of them can. But Rodney, one of my more troublesome personalities was very cunning. Not exactly smart mind you, but just smart enough to get me and the rest of us, meaning my other personalities, into a whole bunch of trouble.
Unfortunately, Rodney knew where the nearest pawn shop was and I own a Rolex watch. Or I should say, I “owned” a Rolex watch. It was a gift from my mother. Its retail value brand new was approximately $5,000.00. Rodney pawned it for $200.00 and neglected to inform me that it needed to be redeemed. I understand that Luis, another one of my personalities, wanted to warn me about what Rodney had done, but Rodney pleaded with him not to and promised to redeem the watch, once he earned enough money, from various poker games to pay off the loan. Luis, not exactly the sharpest tool in the drawer either, believed him. Nevertheless, if Rodney didn’t eventually pony up, Luis intended to rat him out. Unfortunately, Luis didn’t know that the redemption date on the loan expired after only a 100 days. I would have noticed the absence of the watch myself, except I never wore it. I kept it safe, I thought, tucked away in my sock drawer. I now keep all my smaller valuables in a safe deposit box at the bank. To get into that box requires not only my identification but also my signature. None of my other selves are good at forging my signature. Rodney especially, as he is left handed and I’m a righty. Unfortunately, the horse had already left the barn regarding my watch.
Also unfortunately, Rodney knew where the nearest loan shark conducted his business. And that gentleman was kind enough to make frequent loans to Rodney to pay off his various gambling debts, even when he had nothing left to use for collateral, except for my knee caps.
“Houston we have a problem”. This is what the note read, stuck to my refrigerator one morning just before I left to go to work. It was from Jerry, another one of my many selves. He always says that when, well, when we have problem. The note continued on from there, “Rodney, has really screwed the pooch this time. Two different types of men are coming to collect us. And neither type is good. One bunch consists of two goons hired by Rodney’s loan shark. He’s run up quite a tab with them. So big he can’t hope to pay it back. The other two are these mysterious guys he met, while visiting the French consulate in Los Angeles. Rodney’s solution to avoid the first group is to evade them by leaving with those two men he met at consulate. You see he has negotiated a deal with them. They will pay for our air fair to Marseilles and in return for this consideration, we will enlist in the French Foreign Legion. Nothing is signed yet, only a handshake. Personally, I would rather go with them than wait for the goons to come. Otherwise, I think we need to head for Mexico until things simmer down. We might have to depend on Luis to conduct business for us there, since he’s the only one who speaks Spanish.
Charlie, I sure hope you read this note in time. Signed Jerry.”
Just then there was a knock on the kitchen door and I saw two well dressed men standing outside, through the class panel in the center of the door. Then I blacked out. Rodney mutinied and took over the situation.
When I became cognizant again, two weeks later, I found myself at the Légion étrangère,L.E.I., Aubagne Fort Training Center, France, approximately 17 km from Marseilles. I was sitting at a long table, in a large class room, with perhaps 60 other men; some of which with rather rough looking exteriors. You know the kind that look as if they were no strangers to the inside of a jail cell. But most were just kids. Then a very erudite looking gentleman dressed in fatigues, like the rest of us, entered the room and approached the front. At first he spoke to everyone in French and then…
“Welcome gentleman, I am now going to address some of you in English, because I understand one of you is actually from the US and three of you are ex-royal marines from the UK, and not yet conversant in French. Do not worry about this. I am Sergeant Mc Shane and I will have you all operable in the French language in no time at all, and I fully expect you will all obtain fluency within three, to four, very short years; well those that don’t muster out first, at any rate. For now however, your target is to learn 500 words by your fourth month in training. If you pass your training, you’ll be allowed to wear your képi blancs”. He was referring the "Képi Blanc"(the white cap with the black visor) the famous head gear, legionnaires wear to signify they have earned to right to call themselves legionnaires. He then broadly smiled and said, “Welcome to my classroom.”
Then over the loud speaker, I heard for the first time in my life “Le Boudin”. Unfortunately, I would be hearing this little tune off and on for the next five years. It’s what the Legion marches to. The Legion loves to parade its legionnaires, especially down the Champs Élysées during military reviews, in front of the President of France. But they do so slowly. Only 88 steps per minute, instead of the requisite 120 steps, employed by the rest of the French military. Why? I suppose simply because they can. They love slow down military parades. I guess it’s their little revenge on French people for forcing all these square pegs into round holes. It’s their way of saying to the Country of France, “You wanted a legion of foreigners? Of criminals? Of riffraff and ne’er-do-wells? Well, here we are. Now pardon us, while we take our own sweet time, walking down the road”. And French love them for it.
That being said, the “March or Die” mystic, fostered in popular culture, that of a band, comprised only of misfits and rakes, being forced to become elite soldiers, is of course is a bit of a pose. Then again, behind every stereotype there is always some truth to be found. Nevertheless, most of them are decent enough fellows, just trying to make their way in a military setting. Then of course there is me. I don’t fall into any category. For the most part, whenever possible, the Legion does try to weed out the fugitive drug dealers and murders, but tend to look the other way when recruiting other persons of interest. Obviously, they don’t spend a lot of time doing background checks. And by the way, not all of them are foreigners. Believe it or not, some are actually French citizens. Officially, no one who is a citizen of France is supposed to be in the Legion. However, if they think someone is a good candidate, the Legion will look the other way. Nevertheless, they will require them to assume new identities and nationalities. That’s why I suspect “Mc Shane” is not the good sergeant’s real last name. He looks and sounds too French to me. He is supposed to be Canadian. In regards to the new nationalities that they are to assume, they usually choose, Belgian, Swiss, or Canadian in an effort to explain their ability to speak the French language, without a foreign accent. It should now be pointed out that these guys, already knowing the language, have a tremendous leg up on everyone else; especially during training. Not exactly what you might call a level playing field. Not to nit pick, but these guys aren’t supposed to be in the FFL in the first place; according to the rules. There is something called the Regular French Army. So much for French fair play, especially during promotion time.
After my entry into the Legion, Rodney would never again resurface. I guess he decided he had caused me enough trouble. Either that or he did not relish the idea at being yelled at in French for the next five years. Evidently, he went into hiding, somewhere deep within my recesses of my subconscious, or ceased to exist as a personality altogether. They’ll do that sometimes, when the going gets too tough. Fortunately, not being conscious most of the time, I’m not privy to all the harsh treatment and training one receives here at the training center. I continue to go blank all the time. Evidently, as a kindness to me, Jerry took command of my new military career as soon as Rodney abandoned it. He seems to have taken to the military life like a duck to water. I understand he has become quite the star in Sergeant Mc Shane’s French Language class and now can speak French with great fluidity. I, on the other hand, am still quite monolingual; barely knowing a single word in that language. Occasionally, Jerry will allow me to come out of my stupor just to see what’s going on. But then he has to put me right back on the shelf, because I really don’t know how to conduct myself in a military environment; especially one like this.
Sometime after I completed my initial training, excuse me, after Jerry completed my initial training, I peered into a hotel lobby mirror one morning. I looked quite sharp in my uniform and my “képi blanc”. But then an officer entered the lobby and seemed to recognize me and Jerry had to take over immediately. I think it only fair to point out, that for the first time in my life, thanks to Jerry, I’m actually able to travel and remember afterwards the sights that I have seen. Jerry, whenever he is on leave from the fort, kindly allows me to have personal time off; giving me the opportunity to explore the French country side. Before, it was only the other selves that selfishly got to travel and to go places, while I remained in a kind of limbo. Now finally, one of my personalities, Jerry, has come to the realization of the inherent unfairness of this. Not only do I get to go places and see things for myself, I get to spend someone else’s money while doing it; with his permission of course. Jerry’s the bread winner now; i.e. his military pay. Naturally, from a distance he watches every move I make and how much money I spend. It is after all only a private’s (legionnaire 2e classe) pay. Nevertheless, I return his various kindnesses to me by keeping out of trouble. He has his reputation to maintain. Don’t want to ruin his chances to make lance corporal, or whatever the French equivalent of that rank is; please keep it in mind, I'm still a civilian. And in return, he keeps all the other persons within me at bay; those looking for a chance to hog all the fun. Now that Jerry is in the driver’s seat, he is able to do what I never could. Maintain control. All I get to experience is a vacation, and Jerry gets to do all the hard stuff. I finally have fun in my life.
One afternoon however, I got a rather worrisome note from him. “Charlie, I’m going to have to cut back somewhat on your free time. We’re being shipped out to Afghanistan in two days. I’ll let you get out and about from time to time to look around, but only when I think it’s safe. Sorry buddy, but orders are orders. Jerry”.
Afghanistan? That doesn’t sound like fun.
(Author’s note: For other Poor Charlie Stories, please click the links on the upper left hand portions of the screen)
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