Until gays became a big story in our media, I'd forgotten about
Melvyn Schuyler and what happened to him in basic training. It was on a Sunday
night, late, the men straggling back to camp after our first week-end passes.
Dawkins, the barracks bully, was telling about the girl he'd picked up in a
bar. "You should have seen her tits, out to here." He extended his hands like a
fisherman describing the size of his catch.
"She was hot, huh?" said Hebert, Dawkins' chief hanger-on.
"Hot? Man, she was on fire. I grabbed the bitch and pulled her
outside. Then I pushed her up against the fucking wall and had her right then."
"Up against the fucking wall," echoed Hebert, then he gave his
sickening laugh. "Hee hee hee. Hee, hee hee."
I tried to tune Dawkins out as I prepared to climb into my bunk.
Dawkins turned his bulbous eyes like headlights on me and said, "Hey, Arnold,
where's your friend Melvyn? I bet he was screwing around all weekend. With his
boy friend. Fucking faggot."
I suppose every basic training outfit had its patsy and Melvyn
Schuyler was ours. He was tall and skinny and completely uncoordinated. He was
hopeless in close-order drill, couldn't keep up in marches and had no idea how
to clean his rifle. What made it worse for him, as far as guys like Dawkins
were concerned, he'd gone to college, Columbia in New York, and kept a bunch of
books in his foot locker. I'd also gone to college, not a prestigious one like
Columbia, and so Schuyler and I had kind of drifted together. I was his only
friend in the barracks, if he had any.
"He's not a faggot," I said automatically, although I wasn't
really sure. Schuyler didn't exactly swish but he had a few mannerisms, like
putting one hand on his hip, which struck me as effeminate. He'd also mentioned
going to a couple of bars in Greenwich Village which I'd heard were queer
Just then, Schuyler came in. "Hey, here's Melvyn," said Dawkins.
"We were worried about you. Thought you might have gone AWOL shacking up with
your boy friend." Schuyler looked at me. "It's great to be back among the
cretins," he said.
"What's a cretin?" demanded Dawkins.
"Never mind," said Schuyler.
The lights went out and the sergeant's voice blared from his
room at the end of the barracks, "All right, get your asses into the sack."
I climbed into my bunk and in a few minutes was asleep. It must
have been an hour or so later that I felt someone shaking me. "What's the
matter?" I asked.
"Come on. We're giving Schuyler a GI shower. Hee hee hee." It
I jumped up and ran into the showers where it looked as if
everyone in the barracks was clustered around, yelling and jeering. I pushed my
way through and saw Dawkins and a couple of other guys holding Schuyler, who
was bare-ass naked and covered with lather, his arms tied behind his back and a
crude gag in his mouth, while others scrubbed at him with latrine brushes. The
sergeant was nowhere to be seen.
"Cut it out," I yelled. Heads swiveled around to look at me.
"Why?" said Dawkins. "Are you a fucking faggot, too?"
"No," I said.
"Okay," said Dawkins. "Then if you're one of us, here." He
handed me one of the latrine brushes. I heard Hebert laughing, "Hee, hee, hee."
The next morning Schuyler fell out with the platoon and marched
to the firing ranges with us. When we got back, I asked him how he was. He
looked at me for a minute and said, "Okay," then turned away. He never spoke to
* * *
About a year after, I heard that Dawkins had been killed in
Vietnam. A long time after, maybe nine or ten years, I came across a book in
the library, some kind of scholarly work, by a Professor Schuyler of Columbia
University. The picture on the back cover showed a tall, skinny guy and the
caption said he was married with two children. It might or might not have been
Melvyn. If it was, he'd grown a beard.
I don't know if Melvyn Schuyler was gay and it was a long time
ago but I'd bet that he still remembers that night in the barracks. I said that
I'd forgotten about it myself but that's not really true. I just don't think
about it. Don't ask, don't tell.
* * *