When you have an adult daughter and son, as my husband and I do, you quickly become aware of your own waning attractiveness. I’m kind of used to it. Walking with my beautiful daughter for the past few years is like being invisible. When heads turn, they’re not swiveling in my direction, believe me.
This week, my husband went running with our son on our local hike and bike trail. “You should have seen it,” he reported afterwards. “All these cute girls ogling him. Nobody even noticed me.” I welcomed him to our little middle-aged club.
But today was even stranger, more eye-opening, in a different way. Our son and I went to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. A military car was in the parking lot. The minute we approached the restaurant, a young man in camouflage and a beret came up to us. He didn’t speak to me, didn’t even notice me. He was greeting, then talking to our 22-year-old son.
“Have you ever considered joining the military?” he asked him. “Have you ever thought about serving your country?”
Our son shook his head politely saying no, he already had a job (one of those polite white lies; too bad it’s not true). The guy in camouflage wished him well, then retreated, looking for other likely prospects.
We talked about it after we sat down. There was something haunting about it — this sweet-looking, polite, perfectly affable guy trying to recruit young people into the military. I can’t believe that was an easy job in our middle-class, well-educated neighborhood, where the politics run liberal and the Bush war is deeply unpopular.
Our son asked whether I supported some of the authorities at Berkeley, which wanted to banish military recruiters from the UC campus. I don’t know. Yes, no, maybe. The trouble is, Berkeley’s too much like our own neighborhood — a place that’s relatively safe and immune from the military signing bonuses being offered these days. Without a draft, so many of us are personally untouched by this bloody, endless conflict. It’s being fought by the kids with fewer prospects, fewer options in life.
Like, say, the military recruiter we’d just seen. I’d read enough to know these recruiters operate under tremendous stress, trying to lure new soldiers into the ranks. Who wanted to sign up when there was too good a chance it would be a one-way ticket to the Middle East? Unless you didn’t have anything better to do.
Four years ago, one of our son’s friends had given a military recruiter our son’s name and number, claiming he was quite interested in signing up. Those calls had been funny to us, and we’d joked about them for a long time. What a riot, giving our son’s name.
We should, our son and I joked today, give this friend’s name and phone number to the recruiter still in the parking lot.
Except it wouldn’t have been funny. Not any more. There was just a nice guy in camouflage, standing in a hot parking lot, trying to recruit kids to a war that’s taking lives, devastating lives and families, all for nothing.
It had stopped being funny a long time ago. It wasn’t the recruiter who was at fault; he was simply a tiny part of an obscene machine. Blame lay elsewhere — with people named Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice and so on. I hope they someday face the responsibility for the bloody mistakes they’ve made that have destroyed so many lives.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)