“Who made these loaves?” I looked up and saw what I thought was a charming smile. The smile turned out to be a diabolical smirk.
After wasting a year of college, September of 1980, I left home and the part-time after-school job, I had held since my junior year of high school. My job consisted of cleaning toilets, mopping floors, and any menial job assigned to me. I needed a change. So, I enlisted in the US Navy.
My recruiter gave his well-crafted sales pitch: “You will train in the most advanced schools for electronics, travel on the most advanced ships in the world, and see the world at the expense of Uncle Sam and Aunty Taxpayer.”
Sold on the pitch, I filled out the mountain of paperwork and forms. I became a member of the world’s most powerful navy. My recruiter left out the juicy part where I would spend much of my time cleaning toilets, swabbing decks, and doing whatever they tell you.
As part of our recruit training regimen, the masters of our universe scheduled the fifth week of boot camp for “Service Week.” Instead of marching all over the base, drilling, attending indoctrination classes, cleaning toilets, and swabbing decks, they gave us a break to work twelve to fourteen hour days serving. Serving meant ninety percent of your company went to a hot steamy galley to serve Navy chow. Or, in my case, a freezing butcher shop.
The Petty Officer Third Class in charge of the butcher shop, a Mess Specialist Third Class (fancy title for a navy cook) had seven years in and many sea stories to tell. Awed by his shipboard experience, we revered this old salt.
Counterproductive to the Navy’s indoctrination, the third class developed a “Navy sucks” attitude that came through LOUD and CLEAR. Unlike most everyone else above the rank of E-3, he did not push the kool-aid. He told us exactly how he saw it. He hated the U.S. Navy.
The Navy frocked him to Petty Officer First Class. Before he started getting paid, the Navy demoted him down Petty Officer Third Class. During a random drug search, the dog sniffed out a joint in his car. A shipmate riding in his car had marijuana in his possession. The Petty officer third class claimed he was unaware of the drugs. The bust shipwrecked his career aspirations. He became bitter.
The order came, make enough meatloaf to feed eight-thousand eighteen and nineteen-year-old recruits. The Petty Officer assigned me to make the loaves. I guess my artistic nature shined. With hand gestures, he gave me approximate instructions on how big he wanted the life-sustaining meatloaves.
I crafted a tray then showed him my results. He nodded his approval. After checking the culinary progress of all of us blue Oompa Loompas in the shop, the Third Class disappeared for an extended smoke and coke break. Happily, I returned to my artistic endeavor molding and shaping each loaf with the care of a master potter.
During the afternoon, someone yelled, “Attention on deck.” My greasy hands flew to my side, and I snapped to attention.
A US Navy Senior Chief graced us with his presence. The deity like visitor wore khakis and a garrison cap. His uniform set him apart from lower ranked enlisted sailors. He outranked us recruits by seven pay grades.
He replied, “At ease.” In a matter of seconds, his lion-like eyes scanned the Butcher shop. He found what he was looking for — a recruit to exploit for his sadistic pleasures.
The Senior Chief looked in my direction. I made a fundamental mistake — eye contact. While studying my masterpiece, he paused. I saw the smile slowly forming on his face. He strutted over.
“Who made these loaves?”
Naive, I misread his intentions. With pride rising in my heart, I said, “I did, Sir!”
The smile instantly transformed into a grimace, “Who the hell told you to make these loaves this BIG?” A praying man, he called on God and Jesus to curse the loaves. Nervously I glanced around to see the shock on all of my fellow recruits faces. My death was slow and painful.
Slowly my ego leaked all over the floor. My proud moment of achievement destroyed. Deflated, humiliated in front of my peers, I stuttered out, “Ss-sir, I checked with the Petty Officer, and he approved.”
Through his gritted teeth, “Make ALL of these over. These loaves are TOO big!”
I looked over at the wall lined with several bread carts stacked with trays of meatloaf ready for the ovens. Many of the loaves were already baking.
To the US Navy, meatloaf size does matter.
The Mess Specialist (E-4) walked in the middle of the Senior Chief’s verbal assault on one of his recruits. The Senior Chief turned to him, “Did you tell this recruit to make the loaves this big?”
The Senior chief’s rank did not phase him. Before I knew it, they were in each other face arguing over the regulation size for navy meatloaf.
Getting nowhere with the Petty Officer, the Senior Chief marched over to the location of the recipe cards and pulled the “Official Navy Regulation” recipe card for meatloaf out of the deck.
Jaws hanging open, we watched in shock as these two senior enlisted men argued for what seemed like several minutes. Gradually they cooled down and found a compromise. The prepared loaves would go to the ovens as is. But to save face, the Senior Chief demanded that ALL new meatloaves must meet regulation weight and size.
I recovered from that embarrassing experience to experience many others throughout my time in service and after.
I have picked up a few practical lessons that have helped me grow through difficult times like this.
Let go, Laugh, Love, and Live.
When someone mistreats you, it is natural to feel bad. The problem is that we hold onto the hurt feelings long after the experience is over. The pain eats away at us. Let go. Forgive. Even if the offender never seeks forgiveness. Forgive for your well-being.
After Service Week, I never saw that Senior Chief again. Why should I allow his memory to affect my present well-being?
When life’s sucky moments happen, it is hard to find the humor. In time, we can laugh at many of our uncomfortable circumstances. Laughter is medicine. In hindsight, I find it funny that two grown men argued over the size of a meatloaf.
Learn to love yourself. If you Love yourself, then other’s opinions don’t matter to your self-image. I know that is easier said than done. But it is essential for your well-being. We live once. Make it your best life.
Live not in the past where all the pain resides; Live not in the future where the pain projects. Live in the present where peace abides.
I ate the meatloaf and never noticed any taste difference between the large or small loaves.