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The Texas Observer APRIL 1, 1966A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c The Night Talk at Gary San Marcos The first time I saw Camp Gary, Texas, was on a rainy day in winter, and all of the sunshine and paint since then cannot, for me, eradicate the image of clapboard barracks gently rotting in a vast, deid tract of mud and weeds. There is, nothing cheerful about the place, except the hope which some of its current inmates, members of the Job Corps, manage to generate. The buildings are painted now and the Corpsmen have tended the grass and have eliminated the grease blotches, but the impersonality of wartime remains, as well as the spectre of the real battles in which some of these boys will have to go out with rifles and get shot at and, some of them, killed. The military recruiters visit campus every week now. The second time I saw Camp Gary, it had its new name, Gary Job Corps Training Center. I slouched in wearing a grubby shirt and a pair of jeans which I had pulled out of the rag bag. With my hair greased back into disreputable ducktails, I was trying to pull a journalistic trick, posing, for the wire service which employed me then, as a 19-year-old high school dropout. I succeeded in fooling my teachers, but not all of my barracks-mates, because I did not know how to adopt the special pride which the poor maintain. What a warm and inviting trap, the Poor Question. It lets a politician play Wenceslas and, in the case of Camp Gary’s 2,447 enrollees, provides the pop journalist with a matchless lode of sob stories. My roommate during this charade was a gaunt Philadelphian two years my junior who has been rejected by the Air Force because of asthma. He had a child, but no wife. His father was gone. His mother was sick. His brother was a cripple. Carl came to Gary equipped with two knives, which I guess he never used, except maybe on string. He had a heart so good that I fooled him, and he had the stuff to stay in Gary for the better part of a year, learning, but not graduating. Last month I was at Gary for the third time and I asked about Carl, but no one really remembered, and they sent me to an office with floures-, cent lights where a pretty girl punched a button on a big machine and a card turned up which showed that he had left at the first of January. A resident bureaucrat cut short my questioning, informing me that Carl’s file had joined those of the other two-time dropouts in Washington and was now the confidential property of the federal government. I do not know if Carl and the federal government parted friends, but I admire his investment of nine months on the treeless plain and cheerfully report that there are many, many others who stay and try, the best they know how. Time does not have the ordinary meaning for the trainees. Isolated from home and the terrible problems of their families, they can reflect, or choose not to. The time for sleeping is too short because the day starts early. Then comes the classwork. For half the boys it starts with the remedial or general education courses in which, without using grades or tests which could become trials, a patient cadre of men attempt to give their charges the most basic of skills: enough reading to keep a job, enough writing to prepare a grammatical letter to a prospective employer, enough arithmetic to do the taxes or to ‘make out a simple budget. The classes are handled military-style, with a ten-minute smoke break for each hour of instruction. The vocational classes are punctuated with these breaks, too, but the teachers are rougher and more matter-of-fact, and although no one fails at Gary, all are “evaluated,” and slow progress means make-up training for a boy. For some of the trainees the Gary days are long, and for most the Gary nights are longer. The company streets beside the converted bachelor officers’ quarters where the trainees live are dark, and Texas wind from one direction or other kicks up dust through them. From a thousand lighted windows, the transistor radios sing into the night: hillbilly plaints, thumping soul music, the Tabasco music from the Spanish-language stations in San Antonio. Some of the boys bowl, some play basketball, some go to the movies, or write letters, and a few lie on their bunks and think or, smoking and playing cards, talk to their barracks-mates about what has happened to each other before, asking and answering cautiously until they sense that they have reached the limit. What I could tell them would have had to be a lie, so I said nothing. Anyone who has not tasted poverty would be surprised at the spirit and the independence which remain. For myself, I was then and am now disturbed by the idea of shipping the young outcasts of the system to a dusty tract in the middle of Texas, giving them uniforms, and asking them to join the rest of us, although in the ordinary work. As it was not so much a year ago, when I lived at Gary a few days, the war is part of the barracks talk now, and such conversations are not on political theory or on techniques of pacification and victory but on the ‘boys’ chances of living through it and achieving a victory in their own lives, to pay the way for their families,. and to have some of the things they hear advertised on their transistor radios. As the draft reaches downward in terms of age, all of the Corpsmen who are healthy can expect, in a short time, to exchange the blue Job Corps uniforms for militaisy uniforms, and this irony is not lost on them. Despite the wordage the Job Corps’ publicists have generated, the program is not large. The budget Congress considers now contains enough money to extend the program to 45,000 young men and women, and when this is compared with the military population of a Fort Hood or Fort Sam Houston, the effort seems inadequate For these boys, there were the battles at home: against schools which seemed to so many of them detention points for punishment at the hands of those exercising authority as a whim; against their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, in long arguments begun, maintained as years of poverty destroyed their families and whatever hopes they had; against simple enemies like hunger and sickness. Now, the real war looms, the one that can kill quickly, and the young troops of the War on Poverty must fight this one, too. But it is, it seems to me, a good and hopeful thing that the boys of Camp Gary are immune to most forms of despair. To