Sondheim Flip-Flops … 19, Pumped for Combat

Stephen Sondheim sure is selfish when it comes to taking a stand in municipal politics. In December 1993, Mr. Sondheim spoke out against the expansion of the Box Tree restaurant and a residential building in Turtle Bay. “We are terribly worried that this major restaurant expansion will inundate us with increased noise, odors, garbage, rodents, mechanical exhaust and crowds of people,” Mr. Sondheim said at the time.

Cut to 1998. Mr. Sondheim had no problem telling the City Planning Commission that he supports the zoning proposal to expand buildings in the theater district. The plan would allow theater owners to sell their “air rights”; as a result, midtown buildings could increase in size by 20 to 44 percent. “The zoning proposal is vital to the health of serious theater,” Mr. Sondheim told the board.

“He’s a very caring, responsible citizen, and he probably was just focusing on the benefits to the theater industry and not the burdens on the larger population,” said Lola Finkelstein, chairman of midtown’s Community Board 5.

So come on, Mr. Sondheim. You’re the tops. We sing you in the shower. But don’t help the tycoons make New York harsher than it is. It’s enough to make a gal scream.

19, Pumped for Combat

Pvt. Ronald Kaiser, a 19-year-old National Guard soldier in a green uniform, was waiting in La Guardia Airport for his 11:50 P.M. flight to Lebanon, N.H. Four months of basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., had turned him into a killing machine, but there he was, among all the sad sacks with their paperbacks and carry-on bags.

“Have you ever been Maced?” he said, by way of explaining his time in basic training. “There’s a gas called C.S. gas, which the drill sergeants will throw at you when you’re out in the field–they’ll booby-trap your rucksack! It burns your face and eyes and lungs. They get a little zealous sometimes, make us do pushups and situps in the gas without our masks on and people are getting sick.”

He said he finished first in his class, and now he was looking forward to taking it easy for a while in his hometown–a little drinking, some basketball, some Dungeons and Dragons, and working as manager of Max’s Pizza. He looked pumped despite having left his wallet on his previous flight.

“I’m used to only getting four hours of sleep. I took a test–you have to do 82 pushups in two minutes, 95 situps in two minutes, and run a two-mile in under 12 minutes, and out of 300, I got a 320.”

“Did anyone blow it in basic?”

“We had a guy who was kind of messed up in the first place. The drill sergeants called him horseshoe head. He had this big scar, and he was kind of shaky to begin with, but the drill sergeants would always jump on him because he would always crack under pressure. One day he forgot to wear underwear.”

“Anyone get hurt?”

“Some girl got her spine severed with a bayonet, got paralyzed. Some girl fell off a 50-foot tower and broke her back. One morning we were marching to chow, and there was some guy doing jumping jacks nude on top of a tank.”

“Would you like to be in battle now?”

“Yes. I fantasize about being in combat. I fantasize about, you know, armed gunmen coming into the airport, and I try to imagine what I’d do. They teach you a lot of hand-to-hand combat. Your alertness level goes way up. I can say that, but I left my stupid wallet on the plane.”

“What’s a perfect scenario for you in combat?”

“I’d love to see an onrush of infantry coming at me and take out a grenade. I don’t want to go kill people, but I’d love to defend my country. I’d love to actually be down and take some shots with my M-16, ’cause that’s what we’re trained to do. Just get down on top of that sandhill and kind of aim and fire at something live.”

“What’s that scar?”

“I got in a fight last night. We have a name for people who really like to screw over their buddies. Blue falcons. This kid was a total blue falcon. An idiot. This kid just got on my nerves. Last night I was in a good mood and he said, ‘You know, Kaiser, you’re a faggot,’ and I was, like, laughing and I said, ‘Reynolds, shut up.’ And he said, ‘What are you gonna do, kick my ass?’ And I’m like, ‘You got it’. So I turned around. He came at me, tried to grab me, and I hit his arms away and grabbed him by the shirt, and I slammed him between the door and the wall, then I threw him into another wall, and he got me in a headlock and he tried to punch me and his watch hit me on the side of my face, and I picked him up around the waist, and I tripped him with my foot and I threw him across the hall, and I slammed his forehead into a brick wall, and he just went out. He was cold. He had an impression on his forehead of, like, bricks.”

“Could you have killed him?”

“I’m sure I could have broken his neck–they teach us how to. Put your arms around his neck really tight, and then you throw your feet out backwards, and they land first. Your elbows hit first, and they’re in your elbows.”

“Anything bothering you?”

“Actually, yes. I think about six years ago they started integrating females in basic training. Not to sound, like, sexist, but females were kind of a problem in basic. We had to march back 12 miles once with a rucksack, and females would just stop and lay there and wouldn’t get up. So I ended up carrying three rucksacks for the last two miles. They weighed 45 pounds apiece.”

There was a boarding call for his flight.

“In a way, I’d really like to go to war,” said Private Kaiser. “I’m a big fan of medieval history and it’s an honor thing. Like, I’d rather get shot and killed than rot and die when I’m 70 years old with all these machines hooked up to me.”