Thin walls have a burden to hold in the sights and sounds of those inside their confines. They never did their job worth two shits when I was growing up. Between the ages of thirteen and what felt like forty, I lived in Plattsburgh, New York – a small town in upstate New York nestled on the shores of Lake Champlain close to Vermont and nowhere. Plattsburgh Air Force Base found refugee in the beautiful and serene landscape with a dozen intercontinental nuclear missile silos scattered about the landscape. As young teenagers, my friends and I wondered if the silos were actually as cold and empty as we were told by the adults. I do know the concrete bunkers held secrets tighter than the fragile walls of the quarters where we all lived at Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
My father was stationed at PAFB in the Air Force during the end of the era of the Strategic Air Command. Responsible for the land-based intercontinental nuclear arsenal, SAC was the enduring phallic symbol of war never fought with a set of brass balls in a sac of kevlar. There was plenty of testosterone to go around, and nowhere to exercise it. My father did not work in a silo guarding over a set of codes. Rather, he sat in an office and handled paper for the assignments, promotions, and separations of his fellow Airmen on base. Not nearly as spicy as guarding over a blinking red button, but processing paperwork has its perks. For one, my father did not beat the shit out of me. For another, he was not in harm’s way. It was a win win. Sadly, not every military brat was as lucky as me.
I moved from Springdale, Arkansas to PAFB in 1987 during the decline of glam metal – voices were high and leather pants were tight. Def Leppard’s Hysteria album dropped shortly after arriving on base as did U2’s Joshua Tree album. With or Without You and Love Bites equally shared and fueled my young teenage angst. I still find comfort on U2’s One Tree Hill, and Def Leppard still ignites my Rocket. I never could sing high or wear my leather pants tight, but damn, my high and tight haircut was the bee’s knees.
On the south side of base was a large swath of trees stretching as far as my imagination would allow. The South Side Trails held many paths for me – none of them good, yet all necessary. I learned to smoke cheap Doral cigarettes, drink cheap wine, and enjoy the fine essays written in Playboy. I learned what made a true friend and what did not. I learned I was alone with others in this world and it was a fucked up place. The South Side Trails was the place within the place that I grew up. Not that I knew my head from my ass, but I woke up while my father was stationed at PAFB. I was able to see the world was not all Ho Hos and Sno Balls.
As I mentioned, the walls were thin. For my house, it was of no issue. My father did not beat me or my mother, and my brother and sister were out of the house. My parents did not talk much to each other or me. Before you assume I found this to be a problem, I did not. It was just the way it was. My neighbors, friends, and my friends’ neighbors were not so lucky. The walls of their quarters did not contain the domestic violence, the alcoholism, the porn addiction, the hate, the vocal emptiness, and the gross abuse. There was a reason we all hung out at the South Side Trails – no one got hit, raped, or cursed out because they forgot to replace the lid of the trach can or rinse the sink after doing the dishes.
Recently, I have been wanting to connect in a meaningful way with my childhood domiciles. I started with PAFB because it was the most impactful. I found a treasure trove of photos online that brought a flood of emotions back. Those walls did not contain the human sensations – no matter how gross – back then or now. I am thankful for my awakening at PAFB that led to years of angst because peace has come. I reminisce about the outings of my friends and me at the South Side Trails and I know I took the right path.