Showing Your Stripes
By Jim Blanchet
Twelve empty beer bottles sat on top of the little bar table when Tracy offered her iPhone to our crotchety old waitress and asked if she would mind taking our picture. I walked into that trashy, little bar looking for a place to kill an hour before catching up with some high school buddies, and Tracy came as a complete surprise.
Just because a girl who you just met wants photographic proof of your existence, there are no guarantees that she will sleep with you. However, if you walk into a bar wearing your dress white uniform, and she is all over you from the second she shakes your hand, a picture means your odds are improving.
To say it was a slow night in that bar would be like saying Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans with water damage. Barstools outnumbered customers at least ten to one, and the waitress had no excuse not to oblige Tracy’s picture request. As soon as that tired woman put her tray down to take the phone, I stood up and moved to a chair on the opposite side of Tracy. When my new friend giggled and asked me why I switched, I told her that my left was my good side.
Some people really do have a good and a bad side when they appear in photos, and I know girls that would never let you snap their picture without first cocking their neck to one side to make their hair fall just the right way. That sort of thing never applied to me, and my mother is definitely the only person who would describe me as photogenic. When I joined the navy three years ago, though, my left side immediately overtook my right in the best side competition.
The placement of insignia on navy uniforms provided the deciding factor in the contest of left versus right. As long as your IQ is slightly above a bag of doorknobs, you make Seaman Apprentice right after finishing boot camp. As soon as you achieve that rank, you start wearing an insignia patch on your left shoulder. When you make Petty Officer, your patch gets a crow and a chevron. If you make it to Chief Petty Officer, you get a rocker on top of your crow. If you stand out enough to make Senior Chief or Master Chief, they start adding stars to your patch.
I never planned to stay on active duty long enough to start getting rockers and stars, but I was proud getting a crow in three years. Despite my pride, I didn’t brag about my rank to Tracy. She probably didn’t care anyway. I could tell by the look she gave me when I walked in that place, the uniform was all that mattered to her. I think she asked how long I had been in the navy before even asking my name.
Tracy played the part of an innocent girl, but she came on strong and I liked my chances of getting her into bed. When she told me she never talked to random guys at bars, I knew she was saying it to reassure herself more than to warn me. She claimed to be a good girl but acted like she took guys home on a semi regular basis. That’s why my rank had to be in the picture.
In San Diego, where I’m stationed, navy guys are so common that using your uniform to get girls is as cliché as it gets. But when I come home to Philadelphia, I’m a novelty. If I was just another guy she went home with after drinking too much, that photo would probably be deleted the next day, purely out of shame.
Tracy made sure the photo was a keeper before she let the waitress return to whatever she does to make waitressing interesting. I got a look at it, too, and it was a good one. I bet that picture of us is still on her iPhone today. I would even be willing to bet that she made her background photo the next day.
By getting my left shoulder in that picture, I transformed myself from “just some guy I hooked up with when I was wasted” to “this super cool navy guy who I hooked up with!” If that’s not a victory for democracy, I don’t know what is.
For the first three years I wore that uniform, I felt uncomfortable when a stranger approached me, offered a handshake and said, “Thank you for your service. After my time with Tracy, I never felt weird about responding again. From that night on, when someone offered me thanks, I thought of that photo on Tracy’s phone and answer, “You’re very, very welcome.”
Jim Blanchet is a freelance writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and satire from Philadelphia, PA. After earning his BA from Tulane University in New Orleans, Jim received a commission as a Naval Officer and served on Active Duty until 2012. Jim’s military experience and atypical path to writing grant him a unique perspective, which he gladly shares through his work. Aside from being a regular contributor to WINK, he is a staff writer for Fictionade Magazine and has also been published in Smashed Cat Magazine, FictionBrigade and featured on weeklyartist.com.