My teacher, Miss Kierkendall, posed this very question to us in the days prior to the job shadow. Most of the little people in my class warbled on about police work, the solitary (but adventurous) life of the roving cowpoke, or service to some future community in the uniform of a nurse's aide. My best friend, Charles, had his sights a bit higher.
"I want to be an army tank."
The girls in the class found this ambition beneath contempt. A series of interviews after the fact revealed their interests lay closer to civilian mechanism--one of them wanted to be a Barbie Dream Corvette. While most of the guys (and Miss Kierkendall) thought this career was tailor made for Charles, I was disappointed. I am now, and have always been, a realist. It is possible for a boy to grow up and become a Policeman. I have a cousin who is a ranch hand in wyoming. I can picture members of my class becoming nurse's aides. But an army tank? Come on. I tried to talk him out of it.
"Why an army tank?" Charles didn't seem to realize that less than 1 % of all little boys attempting to become army tanks ever succeed. The training is that strenuous. Most people, Charles included, thought that you just signed up, learned how carry 60 tons of depleted uranium reactive armor, 500 kilos of ammunition and supplies, a crew consisting of a Commander, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator/Hull Machine Gunner, and Driver, and the generals pipe right up with a "Hey Ho, little boy. Come here and get your turret. How are those treads treating you?" How naive. Sad, and naive.
He thought for a minute and looked into the distance, presumably accessing some stock footage of a Panzer being shuttled down the narrow streets of some French town.
|Setting: Narrow street of French Town. A Panzer rumbles past.|
The great beast pauses, leering, and belches a knot of hot metal into the wall of a church. The wall, which had been covered in a fresco depicting Christian converts as fruit, freshly budded on the vine of the Word, becomes a stone mouth with ragged lips and splintered teeth. Vomiting shattered rock with every refrain, the wall weeps a bloody hymn whose first two verses are The pain of war and The despair of a nation forced to kneel.
Charles smiled. "Nothing can stop an army tank."
In the days following this exchange, I had trouble sleeping. (This might seem to indicate trouble in the nights following the exchange, but I was, and am, a big napper.) Something about the image of my friend as a tank, combined with my earlier tour of the BabyFactory, was bothering me. It took me over a month to figure it out.
I kept wondering about Charles' conclusion about his future as an element of military hardware--"Nothing can stop an army tank.". Despite my gut feeling that my pal had overextended himself, I had to concede the point. I relaxed for a little while, closed my eyes and searched for the connection between my friends destructive ambitions and the rows of eugenic party favors at the factory. Then, just like in all the books I'd read and shows I'd seen where someone is trying to figure something out, it hit me. The answers to the babies' various riddles and my friend's beatific visions of orchestral, apocalyptic bloodshed coalesced into a single thought. An epiphany. An oven-fired, ceramic realization. Even if Charles did not become an army tank, he would still have a chance to undergo the training. Whether or not he was assigned a set of treads was not important. What mattered were the skills he could develop during the training. Knowing how to be an army tank is more important than actually becoming an army tank.
In the more general contexts of career, one's role in society, and adulthood, the realization became a single aspect of a grand theory. I replaced Miss Kierkendall's question with my own. "What will you be when you grow up?" This was a question for simpleton's and innocents, and I was neither of these. My question had teeth. "What will I pretend not to be, when I grow up?" Just like a boy who can be a tank and chooses to remain a boy, I could pretend not to be anything I wanted. I could choose any career, train dilligently, and spend a lifetime feigning ignorance.