Basic Training:
How to Make Your Bed

I. Van Laningham

Have a terrible hangover.  Light a cigarette; bogart it.  Rip all the old bedclothes off your lower bunk.  Throw them on the floor.  Remember that you don't have new sheets today.  Shake the sheets off and dump them on the upper bunk.  The smoke gets in your eyes; park it on the metal frame of the upper bunk.  Forget you put it there.  Remember you have to pee, trying to get rid of all the beer you drank last night.  Come back to find your cigarette has fallen down onto your bare mattress, burned its way in and is smoldering merrily away.  Thin tendrils of evil-smelling smoke issue from the quarter-sized hole.

Grab a butt bucket from the nearest support column.  Pour enough of the dark mucky liquid down the hole to put it out; this should be about a half-gallon.  This leaves a gritty layer of butts and ash the consistency of rancid peanut butter in the bottom of the bucket.  Dump the gunk out in the dumpster.  Bring the bucket (actually a five-pound coffee-can painted fire-hazard red) back in and fill it with water in the crapper.  Return the bucket to its post.

Red butt cans fastened to posts in a hooch in Vũng Tàu

Poke the area around the hole, discover that the whole mattress is soggy.  Realize that there is no possible way for the mattress to dry by the time you need to sleep on it that night.  Look around.  Find an untaken upper bunk on the other side of the room.  Trade your mattress for that one; discover that the water has added at least twenty pounds to the weight of the mattress.  Remember to put the cigarette entrance hole down.  Put the new mattress on your bunk.

Put your shaken-off sheet on the new mattress; make your best hospital corners and pull the sheet tight.  Do it again for the top sheet.  Undo the top sheet's head end hospital corners; you have to leave a place for you to get in.  Pull both lower and upper sheets really, really tight this time.  Put your pillow on the bunk, after dusting off the cigarette ashes that got on there somehow in the last twenty minutes.  Follow with the OD green wool blanket, which you have luckily managed to keep dry.  Do your best hospital corners again, remembering to only do the foot this time.  Go over the whole bunk, pulling everything so tight you think you're giving the bed a wedgie.

Take out a dime—all you have left from your binge last night—and see if it bounces when you drop it on the bed.  If not, keep pulling things tighter and tighter.  When you can finally get the goddam dime to bounce, you're done.

Go outside to smoke your celebratory cigarette.

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