I saw two words and knew I'd have to change. 

Before the Internet, the easiest way to communicate with a large group of students at my college was posting something on a bulletin board. Nearly every academic building had at least one and people thumb-tacked scholarship information, notices of book sales, solicitations for campus organizations. Most boards were cluttered, their offerings as forgettable as highway billboards. 

One board was different. It was in the old observatory and was used exclusively by the Naval ROTC unit. If someone wanted others to know the time and place of a meeting or needed 20 people to serve at a weekend event, the best way to get the desired result was to post a notice or sign-up sheet on the board. It wasn't as futile as it sounds. Unit members were required to read the bulletin board daily and those who didn't get the memo might find themselves explaining their failure to a Marine colonel. No one was required to volunteer for things that were truly voluntary, but midshipmen tend to be an ambitious lot, eager to distinguish themselves and it wasn't hard to get bodies for a task. 

As a young officer on my first ship, some job I no longer remember came up and every division was supposed to provide a couple of people for it. I had a democratic streak and remembered the bulletin board from ROTC. So I posted a volunteer sheet in one of my spaces and checked it a few hours later. 

Someone had written on it in black grease penciled capital letters: FUCK YOU.

"OK," I thought. "OK. I'm going to need a different style of leadership."


Birmingham, AL

After years away from newspaper reporting, I'm trying to write again for money somehow. I'm 40 minutes into that effort, even though I did this for free.

Thomas ScalesComment