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The Recruiters in the Mall! by John Nelson


It was 1986 and I was 19 years old. My name is John. I had just graduated from high school the previous year. I was in a strange in between period in life. I was a teenager, and a man too. I was not able to support myself and still living at home. It was a difficult period.

I worked a night job as a janitor and went to college part time during the day. I lived with my mom, brother and new stepdad. I got along ok with my stepdad. I knew my mother wanted space to be alone with her new husband. I could feel her coldness toward my brother, who was still in high school, and I. I tired to stay away from home whenever possible. I was 19 and old enough to leave the nest.

One Friday morning I was walking through a local mall killing up the morning time. I had no Friday classes at college and didn't have to work until night. I'd eat, walk and people watch. The mall was quiet. Mostly young mothers with there very young children. Suddenly I saw two young Army recruiters up ahead as I was walking. I didn't want to talk to them and quickly went to the other side. Too late they seen me! I was likely one of the few 18 to 20 year old male victims they'd get that morning. No way was I going to the Army!

"Hey, you!" one sharp dressed recruiter yelled.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Come over hear man," one of them said.

"OK," I nervously responded.

"Can we just talk to you a few minutes?" they asked.

"I guess so," I said.

They asked me a couple of questions. I noticed their uniforms and flattops. They had light green uniforms and caps on as I remember. A few little stripes and stuff too. They were most eager to get my phone number, address and a bit of other information. I thought about giving them fake numbers, but didn't. I noticed them looking at my messy brown mop of hair and sloppy clothes. After 5 or 10 minutes of talking the said good bye. They mentioned in a few days someone from their recruitment office would call me.

I walked away with a funny feeling. How could I avoid this now? Someone in my family might answer our home phone and it could be recruiters. Maybe they won't call? No, they'll call!

That night at work I told myself, no army, no shaved head, and no boot camp. I was in good shape so boot camp might not be too hard. I just didn't want to be bald! It was 1986 and it wasn't so common a thing like now. It was a real tramatic thing to be shaved zero then.

That weekend I looked in the mirror at my hair. I lifted my bangs to see my forehead. I lifted the hair away from both ears. Maybe I could face being bald? I had feared being drafted, even though there was no draft in 1986. The shaved head scared me then. Being yielded at, and drills ?? Well I wasn't so sure.

That very next Monday morning my mother answered the phone, it was for me she yelled. The recruiting office had called. I nervously picked up the phone. He asked me if he could come by and pick me up to go to the recruitment office for an interview sometime that day. There was also a test too. I said around 2:00 was fine. What had I done. I explained to my mom I was just going to listen to what they had to say.

I put on my best clothes and dress shoes, no tie. Sure enough at 2:00 the doorbell rang. A sharp dressed Army recruiter stood on my porch. I drove off with him in his government car. That's when it hit me. Here I was in a recruiter's car heading for an interview and all. How did it get this far!

"How are you doing today," he asked.

"Oh fine," I replied.

"I have to work tonight at 5:00," I told him.

"Don't worry we'll be done by then," he said.

We drove about ten minutes to the recruitment office. This guy was around my age, maybe 21. Very nice and made me feel at ease. We got to the office. A lot of desks and a few other recruiters. One kid just walked in with a fresh crew cut and his recruiter. I couldn't help but notice that. They were talking about how his hair felt now.

I was given a test. He said I scored well. I still had no intention of sighing up for the Army though. Then came the interview and all the Army's benefits. The 4 year plan and college money. I felt wanted now. This guy was a smooth talker. He was good at hooking people in. Lots of flattering and all. He asked me a ton of questions. Before I new it I was signing up. Being 19 I was able to do this on my own. I could feel my legs shaking.

Then came the haircut at the barber down the street. He explained that he'd drive me to get a crew cut and we'd come back to meet his boss. The other kid had done it too. That's what I saw when I came in! He explained I would look more presentable then. I didn't realize it was like this. I did know at boot camp I'd be 100% bald though.

I had filled out many papers and now we left in the government car to go to the barbers now. This guy I'd only met hours before was now in charge of me. I sat in the barber chair and he said a military flattop. The barber quickly complied.

The buzzing started. Hair falling all around me. I could see my face, forehead and ears. I could feel those clippers digging in. The barber folding down my ears and trimming hair down to the bone. I was nervous, but relieved in a way too. I was clipper short! There was hair still on top. Just a less than an inch. I stared in the mirror and now knew that hair would never be aloud to grow back. I'd have to be shaved again and again. This was a man I was looking at now, not a teen. I barely recognized myself!

I was driven back to the recruitment office to meet the big boss. Then driven home. My mom was shocked. At first she said we should try to get me out of this. The more I talked and convinced her the more she knew this was the perfect answer for me. She knew I'd stay out of trouble now. I had a direction and a new place to live. In two weeks or so I was shipped off to boot camp.





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