The following moustache story and all references to it were trimmed from the final IF YOU AIN'T A PILOT manuscript. While pathetically true, as I did grow a moustache as a T-38 student for the purposes outlined in the scene, including these details in the story slowed down the action and stretched out the book.
That said, the scenes are fun, and the jokes within the moustache scenes are presented as nothing more than jokes. Once you read them, you'll understand what I mean.
Since Doley and I had neither belts nor suspenders to wear with our jeans, we decided that rather than go to the O-Club at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where we might encounter a guy like Smudgie, we’d go to a bar outside the base. The mustached enlisted guy at the desk of the Visiting Officers’ Quarters gave us the name of a bar he said was pretty good, and we called a cab to come get us.
We had some work to do at the bar. Now that we’d both been FAR’ed, we needed to figure out if we had any chance of getting out of Columbus or if we were doomed to be FAIPs.
“Faw guys will get protected,” Doley said. “Mark Jellicot and Valsalva ah automatically the top two.”
At the mention of Val’s nickname, we both executed a mock-Valsalva maneuver, plugging our noses and fake blowing out our ears.
“Then, you’ve got Kurt and Golden Hands,” Doley added. Both guys had all “Excellents” on their check rides, and Brendan had aced nearly every academic test we’d taken. “That’s faw.”
“What about guys in the other section?” I asked. “I think at least one guy other than Valsalva has all ‘Excellents.’”
We both mock-Valsalva’ed again at the mention of Val’s nickname.
“That’s five, then,” Doley said. “That’s maw than the top ten p’cent.”
“So, then how many FAIPs? Twelve?” I asked.
“At least twelve,” Doley figured.
“Let’s assume half of the FAIPs will come from Eagle, and the other half will come from our sister section. That means six guys from our section will be FAIPs,” I said.
We named everyone who’d been given a FAR rating that we didn’t think would be protected.
“We’re screwed,” Doley concluded. “How could they not want us back?” Then, he added, “I just hope I get a T-38 and not a T-37.”
“But what if they didn’t want us to be FAIPs?” I asked. “What if they thought we might not make good instructors? What would happen?”
“If we didn’t get picked to be IPs, we’d get the scum-fightahs,” Doley speculated. “Maybe we’d get an F-4 or an F-111.”
“You don’t think I have any shot at a C-141 to Charleston, do you?” I asked.
“Not a chance,” Doley said.
I didn’t want to believe that there wasn’t a chance that I could be a cargo jet pilot, stationed at a base near a beach. I didn’t want to believe that I had no control over my own destiny. I didn’t want to believe that I’d come this far only to be FAR’ed and subsequently FAIP’ed. I wanted to be able to have a say in my next assignment, assuming I passed my last check ride.
When Doley got up to buy our third or fourth round of beers, I thought about the different possible outcomes on Assignment Night. Even if I passed my last check ride with the greatest score in the history of UPT, I couldn’t score high enough to be protected and be ensured of getting my first choice of a cargo jet to Charleston.
“Doley, we’re almost pilots,” I stated the obvious upon Doley’s return to the table with our next round of drinks. “In this particular bar in Podunk, Ohio, why do you think it is that we ain’t shit?”
“Ray, what ah you talking about?” Doley answered. “We ah too shit.”
“Doley, c’mon,” I replied. “In this bar… in this town… we ain’t shit, and it’s not because we ain’t pilots.” We really hadn’t tried to speak with anyone other than each other, but no one had spoken to us or even acknowledged our existence.
“Is it because our hair is short in the back and not down to our collars, or is it because we don’t have cheesy mustaches, like most of the guys in here?”
“It might be because we don’t have belts,” Doley offered.
“True! How can you display a giant belt buckle, if you’re not wearing a belt?!” I observed. Maybe Smudgie was right, after all.
“And because we don’t have belts or long hair in the back or cheesy mustaches, we ain’t shit,” I continued my line of thought. “And because we ain’t shit, we ain’t wanted… just like in downtown Columbus, Mississippi.”
“I don’t get what ya’ getting at,” Doley said. “What’s ya’ point?”
“Basically, Doley, what it boils down to pure and simple is the bottom line on the thing. ‘What if Columbus Air Force Base didn’t want us?’” I asked. “What if, even though we were FAR’ed, the IPs at Columbus didn’t want us to be FAIPs?”
“If the IPs didn’t want us, then I guess we might get out of Columbus,” Doley answered.
“Exactly!” I said.
“So how do you make the IPs at Columbus not want you?” Doley asked, trying to follow my logic.
“Well, we’d need to create the impression that we aren’t the kind of people they’d like to hang around with… like we ain’t shit,” I said.
“Like not being a pilot?” Doley asked, now more than a little confused. “Ray, I’d rather be an instructuh than not be a pilot. I don’t get where ya’ going with this.”
“Doley, in a bar full of long hair, cheesy mustaches, and big belt buckles, we’re shunned because we’re out of place. No one wants to have anything to do with us,” I said. “On a flight line of short hair and no mustaches, what would make us out of place so that no one would want anything to do with us?”
“Well, we can’t have long hair,” Doley eliminated that option right away.
“Exactly,” I said, acknowledging his correct answer. “So what does that leave?”
“Mustaches?” he concluded.
“Mustaches!” I confirmed. “If we grow mustaches, the instructors won’t want us around, because we’ll be a bad influence on student pilots, because the students would want to grow mustaches.”
Doley flipped me his Wha’-Chu-Talkin’-Bout-Willis face.
“Doley, I’m growing a mustache!” I said. “Are you in?”
“Yeah, right,” Doley said, rolling his eyes. Then, he chugged down the rest of his beer.
Back in Eagle after our weekend cross-country missions, my half-a-week-old mustache was already having the desired effect.
“Lieutenant Wright, did you forget to wash your mouth this morning?” Lieutenant Bozeman asked.
“Lieutenant Wright, if you’d like to use my grease pencil to darken in your mustache, you’re welcome to do so,” Lieutenant Baiber offered.
“Lieutenant Wright, make sure that growth on your lip stays within regulations,” Major Carrington ordered.
It was a terrible mustache, made even more embarrassing because the hair in between my two eyebrows was thicker and denser than the hair on my top lip. Even the enlisted guys goofed on me. But I didn’t care. I was fine to let it grow. Of all the people on the base that I saw every day, only one guy supported my new facial hair, Saeed, my friend and classmate from Kuwait.
“Crazy Man, you are growing mustache!” Saeed said excitedly, sitting down in Brendan’s seat next to me at Lieutenant Baiber’s desk and stroking his own mustache as he did. “It is sign of manhood. Good mustache means you are not boy. You are man.” “Well, Saeed, in that case I can only hope that my manhood will be as big and as thick as your manhood,” I said, covering a laugh by reaching up and caressing my top lip with both my thumb and index finger this time.
“Yes, that would be good,” Saeed agreed. “You know in my country, there is saying…”
“Let me guess...” I interrupted. “‘If you ain’t a pilot, you ain’t Shiite!’”
“Shut up, you stupid!” Saeed immediately shot back. “You are stupid. Do not make joke about Islam, you stupid. I am talking about manhood. You say stupid, stupid thing, you stupid.”
“Saeed, I’m sorry,” I apologized. “You’re right. That was stupid. It was a stupid joke, but it wasn’t a joke about Islam. It was a joke about attitudes. I’m sorry.”
“Shut up, Crazy Man,” he ordered. I knew we were okay again when he called me Crazy Man instead of stupid. “In my country, saying is ‘If I am lying, I will cut off my mustache.’ It means that mustache is most important thing that man has. It is like honor.”
On that thought, we both sat back in our seats at Lieutenant Baiber’s desk and appreciated our manhood as none of our mustache-less classmates or instructors could possibly understand. After a few good strokes of our mustaches, Saeed got up to go back to his own desk and prepare for his next ride. I was on the schedule to take over as the Duty Dog.
Of all the duties required of the Duty Dog, logging in the flight times and grades, answering the Eagle flight phone, calling the room to attention when a senior officer entered or exited, the most important duty was ensuring that music played over the intercom when aircrews were not briefing or debriefing their rides. Sometimes, before I turned on the radio, I’d challenge my classmates in the flight room to guess what song would be playing. If the SOF had selected the all-hit radio station, everyone pretty much had a 1-in-10 chance of guessing the right song at any particular moment in time.
I wouldn’t have guessed Bon Jovi, but I liked the song, and I thought I’d try my hand at singing a Doley-like parody for the rest of the class even though I only had one line.
There’s nowhere to run
No one can save me
The damage is done
(This was the part I was waiting for...)
“Got a mustache ‘cause you’re from Kuwait,” I sang with the radio.
From halfway across the room with no prior notice, Doley instantly added the next line…
“But you give Islam a bad name.”
Wouldn’t you know it? I had just made my line up on-the-spot, and Doley topped it in half-a-second.
Saeed jumped up from his seat. “Shut up!” he yelled. “Shut up! You are stupid, and you shut up!”
Feeling almost as badly as when I’d shown Malia’s birthing video, I flicked off the intercom and cut the music after Saeed bolted out of the room. But Doley just kept on singing more lines to his new Bon Jovi parody.
A mustached smile is what you sell
As you learn to fly with the Great Infidel
The fastest cahs pahked in your drives
When you graduate you will get two more wives
The entire Eagle flight room roared with laughter. Two instructors hit the floor, laughing so hard that they’d lost all bodily control. One was Kenny’s IP, Lieutenant Furmon, who lay helplessly on his side, curled up into a fetal-like ball, laughing and trying to catch his breath. I think the other IP on the ground was Lieutenant Bozeman, but before I could make a positive identification, Major Carrington emerged in the doorway of the IP briefing room, drawn out by the noise in the main room of Eagle. Judging by the look on his clean-shaven face, we’d gotten his Irish up.