The Best Welcome Home…EVER!
By Jack Mandaville
The guys I served in the Marine Corps with—like so many who have served this past decade—spent the majority of their enlistments at war, training themselves for war, or training others for war. No joke, friends… that tempo of living will wear down your sanity.
After three years of this activity we finally found a bit of reprieve. We had officially become short timers—meaning our contractual obligations to the Marine Corps was nearing its end. But just because our time was almost over, didn’t mean the war was. So as we hunkered down to enjoy our remaining days in the whirlpool of an alcohol-induced blur, the rest of our battalion left for yet another deployment… without us, of course.
We’re talkin’ about four dozen or so Marines (who are jaded as shit) all having an entire battalion’s barracks to themselves. We became crazier than a horde of emotionally-wrecked sluts competing for a washed-up musician on a VH1 reality show. Pure chaos. Er’body in da camp was gettin’ tipsy… every single night… for seven months straight. And one of our main ringleaders in this madness was, you guessed it, Ski.
Right before most of us were ready to officially end our active-duty service, the battalion was scheduled to come back to the States—signifying the end of our depraved half-year of partying. The brass was coming back and we had to shape up. It sucked, but we were almost out of there anyhow. While most of us took it for what it was, this kind of news was downright upsetting for Ski.
The night our battalion came back was like any other deployment homecoming. Hundreds of families packed into our tiny camp and anxiously awaited the reunion with their loved ones. Mixed amongst the families was our group of short timers—also waiting to be reunited with some of our brothers who had spent the last seven months overseas.
And then Ski showed up. He was completely shit-housed, had a rich cache of beers protruding from his cargo pockets, and had his guitar slung around his back.
(I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Ski is an exceptional musician. The guy masters any instrument he touches and has an angelic voice.)
When he made his way into the waiting crowd, the buses carrying our Marines were still miles away and—sensing that the family members were growing impatient—Ski felt the best thing he could do was serenade the cluster with some soothing lyrics and sweet melody:
“My name is Ski
And I’m here-to-say,
Your little boy is comin’ home today!”
Slight chuckles began to come from the crowd.
Step 1: See the train wreck coming
These people had no idea what they were doing by feeding into Ski’s inflated ego. I was just making my way to the crowd when I saw him out there. Every Marine in our company knew that his little free recital for the dependants was about to get a lot worse.
Seizing on the attention given to him, Ski one-upped himself:
“Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…
Your son has only
Been gone less a yeeear
Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…
It’s not the end of the world
So why are you here?”
That’s when the whole dynamic of the laughter began to change. People didn’t know what to think. Some went silent, others continued to mildly chuckle, and a few were foolish enough to erupt into laughter.
“Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes…
How do you measure, measure one tooour?
In Red Bull and maaasturbation?
In clicks and laughter and chaaai?
HOW ABOUT, LOOO—”
“Alright, Marine, that’s enough,” came a voice from the back.
It was a uniformed Gunny who was in charge of wrangling the families. He was watching this spectacle unfold and decided Ski needed to stop his crooning. Ski relented… briefly.
Being that our battalion’s handle was “Highlander,” it had become a long tradition to have a bagpiper play classic Scottish songs for families as they waited during these welcome home ceremonies.
An old man dressed in a kilt and other garnishes struck up his instrument and began marching down the main road that led up to our battalion’s armory. This meant that the buses carrying the Marines were nearing. He was leading the way.
As he marched down the street, the sweet sound of “Scotland the Brave” blared from the bagpipes. Wives and mothers started to dance with gaiety, children began to jump for joy, and even the men folk were openly releasing pent-up emotions. Sweet, sweet homecoming.
And then, like a wolf on the hunt, Ski jumped from the bushes and found himself marching right next to the bagpiper. He grabbed the guitar hanging from his back and began to participate.
“Here come the buuuses
Here they come
Deployment is done!”
Laughter immediately erupted from the crowd. Ski was whirling around the bagpipe man like a coked out drum major doing his best Chuck Berry impersonation.
The bagpipe man was not pleased. He had spent years as the deployment homecoming guy. His act was so ingrained in the battalion’s tradition that he had his own authentic Scottish outfit and all. Now this drunken Marine in flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a rugby jersey was encroaching on his performance. Seeing that Ski was stealing his limelight, the bagpipe man used all of his lung capacity and began to take the song to its highest decibel level.
Ski never backs down from a challenge, even when the odds are stacked against him. What did he do? He cranked that shit up, of course.
“THEY’RE ONLY SECONDS AWAY!
JUST SECONDS AWAY!
YOUR LITTLE BOY!
IS A COMIN’ HOME TODAY!”
Bagpiper: “Get outta here, kid!”
Ski: “You wanna go, old man?!”
Bagpiper: “You think this is a joke?!”
Ski: “I’m not the one wearin’ a fuckin’ skirt!”
It was the buses. They were arriving. Ski and Bagpipe Man jumped out of the way as the vehicles carrying over seven hundred Marines made their way up the road. The mob erupted into fanatical cheering. Flags were waving, welcome home signs were held up high in the air, and people screamed at the top of their lungs as every vehicle passed the crowd. Ski retired to the back of the masses… temporarily.
“Attention, families!” Belted the PR Gunny. “I must inform you that it may be a while before your Marine comes to greet you! They are turning in their weapons and gear right now! Please stay on the curb and off the road as we expedite this process!”
Ski found his opening:
Everybody listen up,
We MUST exp-eee-dite!”
The Gunny was not pleased. He had one of those Am I gonna have to slap a bitch? looks on his face. But there was nothing he could do. Ski was already a crowd favorite. Yelling at Ski in front of all those people would have been a bad PR move for the Marine Corps—and if there’s one thing the Marine Corps studies more than combat, it’s PR. The crowd, once again, broke out into laughter as Ski sang with everything he had.
A half-hour went by before the Marines were ready to march down and be let loose to see their families. Ski kept everybody entertained in the interim. Then…they came. A loud cheer once again erupted—even louder than before—when the Marines marched down the long hill.
The battalion commander dismissed the Marines and the next thing you know there’s a mass charge of people looking for their loved ones. Ski sprinted into the melee with little regard for his own safety. There was still singin’ and strummin’ to be done.
He located a young lieutenant and his wife who were embracing.
“YOU’RE KISSIN’ HIS FACE!
YOU’RE KISSIN’ HIS FACE
GET HIM BACK HOME
AND HAVE SEX ALL OVER THE PLACE!”
From there, he jumped over to a first sergeant who was embracing his two children.
GO TO THE FRIDGE
AND GET DADDY A BEER!”
Not every Marine had loved ones waiting for them, though. Some just walked alone to the barracks. Ski didn’t care… Ski didn’t give a shit.
“IIIIIIII AIN’T GOT NOBOOODY!
NOOOBODY, CARES FOOOR ME!
NOOOBODY, CARES FOOOR ME!
IIIIIIII’M SO SAD AND LOOONELY!
It was at this point that I started to hear some of the returning Marines begin to talk—Marines with oak leafs and rockers. They were saying things about Ski, things like “Shut him up,” “NJP,” and “Unbecoming.” The families may have found Ski amusing, but these gentlemen did not.
Step 2: Kill him with kindness
I ran over to Ski while he was in the middle of a drunken solo.
“And the man in the back said ‘everyone attack’
And it turned into the ballroom blitz,
And the girl in the corner said ‘boy I wanna warn ya—”
Jack: (Placing my hands over his guitar.) “Ski! Ski! Stop, man.”
Ski: “Jack, how dare you place your soiled hands on my royal cord apparatus. Cease this tomfoolery at once and allow me to recommence or I shall have you hanging from the rafters.”
This was not good. His drunkenness was evolving. I’d known Ski for two and a half years at this point, and I could pinpoint his levels of intoxication based off his parlance. Massachusetts Meathead is stage one—that’s a fairly normal drunken state for Ski. He had now entered into stage two: Oversensitive Shakespearian Meathead.
Jack: “No, man, I don’t think you understand. The battalion XO looks pissed and I think he’s going to burn you. Just go wait in your room for a while.”
Ski: “Then I shall retire. Fear for me not, dear friend, for my luscious harmonies shall be avenged. The vile creatures that be shant stop me in my quest for serenity.”
Jack: “Please, just stay in your room.”
He stumbled on down to his room about fifty yards away from the gathering area. I thought it was all over with. I was stupid. This is Ski we’re talking about. He never stops, especially when people are trying to get him to stop.
A few minutes after Ski got to his room, I ran into an old friend who just got back with the battalion.
“Yeah, man, I was commanding the CO’s vehicle for most of the deployment,” he said to me in the middle of our discussion. “It was pretty fuckin’ sweet. When we assaulted Arupa, I got to command—Sweet Jesus, is that Ski?!”
OH, GOD! I thought to myself as soon as he said that.
Step 3: Intend to ride it out
I slowly turned around to see Ski exiting his room, guitar in hand, and drunk as all hell. He had entered into stage three of Ski drunkenness.
You may be asking yourself, “How does the narrator know that Ski was in stage three just by looking at him?” I’ll tell you why. Because the motherfucker was wearing a goddamn lucha libre mask. Stage three of Ski drunkenness: El Borracho Diablo.
Ski: “GIDDY-UP, MUCHACHOS!” “LET US LA BAMBA!”
Yeah, the motherfucker was about to do some Ritchie Valens. The only problem was his motor skills were so shot at this point that the strumming of his guitar sounded like it was coming from a toddler with cerebral palsy. But he didn’t notice, nor did he care. He commenced with the lyrics:
“Para bailar La Bamba
Pa… La Bambas
Pa La Bambas
… Yo no soy
I’m the capitan
I’m the capitan
It was pure gibberish. He continued:
“Yo no soy marinero,
I’m the capitan—
My shit is bananas
My shit is bananas
A few of us rushed over to Ski in an attempt to shuttle him out of sight. There was good news and there was bad news. The good news was that the majority of higher-ups had already left the area at this point. The bad news was that Ski’s theatrics were in Energizer Bunny mode, so it was going to take a lot to stop him.
“Hey, man, calm down,” I said as I approached him in the same manner as you would a starving pitbull.
“I AIN’T NO HOLLA BACK GIRL!
I AIN’T NO HOLLA BACK GIRL!”
We had him surrounded. A slow and steady approach was the best thing we could do. He could snap at any moment.
“Ski… Ski… give us the guitar, bro,” I said in a peaceful tone.
As we got to within feet of him, one of the Marines leapt and snatched the guitar out of his arms. The rest of us went to grab Ski, knowing that he might try and fight back. It took the strength of three grown men to drive him into his room, but we got it done.
Ski was completely shithoused at this point. He had nothing left in him. He just lay in rack, knowing that his grand performance was over.
A few of us decided to stay in there and wait on him to fall asleep. About an hour into his much needed rest, as he was puking over the side of his bed and twitching in and out of consciousness (still wearing his lucha libre mask), it dawned on me that Ski had lived a dream that few aspiring musicians would ever know. Most artists will spend the majority of their shitty careers playing in half-empty bars to people that don’t care. On that night, in our little camp, Ski exemplified Rock’n’Roll in every avenue. He had managed to hook a large crowd and keep them wanting more. His gigantic ego pushed other artists to the side as he rose to the top. He pissed off the establishment, but never wavered. He was a showman in every sense. He adapted and changed his act in order to stay relevant to the masses and, finally, he hit rock bottom.
Like the late, great Freddy Mercury said: “I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend.”