I was holding the results from the squadron inspection of my dorm room at Kadena Air Base. The First Sergeant usually inspected our dorms about twice or three times a month, based on a mixture of schedule and whim. Inspections were usually done while we were at work – which meant that we Airmen would always leave our rooms inspection ready.
Gecko on door – 1 demerit
Kadena is located on the Japanese tropical island of Okinawa. Okinawa is known throughout the Far East for producing pineapple and sugar cane. If you live there, you know Okinawa also produces geckos in abundance. It is considered good luck to have them in your home. Cockroaches are prevalent on Okinawa too, but a home with a gecko or two in it has no cockroaches. Plus geckos are very clean. With everything going for them, it’s easy to get used to the occasional high-pitched mating call from inside your home.
The dorms for our squadron on Kadena had been built to satisfy certain ancient minimum space requirements for two Airmen sharing a dorm room. But they were old dorms, and someone much higher in the military bureaucracy had decided that a 10 x 10 room was not large enough to house two people at once – even if our rooms did have 12-foot ceilings.
So after several Air Force assignments, I was finally assigned to a base where I was given a dorm room that I didn’t have to share, and for the first time I was able to keep it spotless enough to gain no demerits; at least for my first three months in attendance.
But now I had a demerit, and I was confused about why!
With geckos being so prevalent, I was fairly astounded that my First Sergeant (or First Shirt, as we call that position in the Air Force) would demerit me for having one wander onto my door.
Still holding the piece of paper my First Shirt had left, I looked over my door carefully – perhaps I’d read it wrong? I opened the door and stepped into the hallway to look it over again – no change there either. The door was dark brown with a lighter brown paint on the wood trim of the doorframe. The entire thing was set into the cinderblock walls that make our dorm – the cinderblock made the dorms look somewhat like jails, but we were allowed to paint our rooms to suit ourselves, so it wasn’t too bad.
Paul, who lived next to me, stepped out of his room at that point to compare inspections with me. He had received a perfect inspection. I pointed out my demerit to him, and he joined me to look at the door. He also couldn’t understand why our First Shirt had decided to ding me on wandering fauna.
Paul’s only words of wisdom were, “What a bummer.”
I was puzzled, but not worried. There was really no punishment in a room demerit unless you gained more than 4 demerits in an inspection. It was Friday evening and I had other things to do. I shrugged, tossed the paper, and forgot it.
Two weeks later, we had another inspection. The First Shirt left the results of my inspection in my room.
Gecko on doorframe – 1 demerit
Uncorrected from previous inspection – 1 demerit
TWO demerits! Now I was worried! If I didn’t correct this problem I would soon be saddled with ‘additional duties’ – a euphemism for a punishment that usually involved cleaning or painting something during normally free time.
I looked at my door again, both inside and outside, but nothing had changed that I could see. And I still couldn’t help but wonder about wandering geckos. Maybe I needed a gecko trap in my room?
I glanced at the paper again and this time noticed the added word, “doorframe”. Huh. What did that mean?
I opened my door again, and then positioned myself about a foot away from the frame. Starting from the floor I carefully inspected it – up, over the top of the door, and then down again.
And on the frame, just above the lower hinge of the door, I found him. A gecko. And I immediately realized what had happened.
Sometime in the years before I took residence in my dorm room, some Airman had walked out and shut the door. This poor gecko had apparently been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was placed between the edge of the door and the jam, which fitted very tightly. The shutting door had squished him flat into the jam.
For some reason he wasn’t discovered. Perhaps the room was unoccupied for a while, or perhaps it was just that no one had noticed. Mr. Gecko had dried in his final position, flat as a dried flower between the pages of a dictionary.
But that wasn’t the whole story.
At some point, probably when the whole dorm had been renovated 2 years before I arrived, some Airman had found the gecko while helping out with the renovation. I deduced this Airman’s job probably involved paint. How did I know? Because he’d painted right over the top of the gecko!
I have no idea why. Maybe he thought it was funny, maybe he wasn’t happy with an ‘additional duty’ assigned as punishment. Personally, I like to believe that he was on a roll and too busy to jump up and find a scraper to remove the gecko. It was easier to just ‘paint over’ the problem than to fix it.
And the gecko had stayed hidden – only his outline could be vaguely seen under the paint. The only reason why my First Shirt had caught it was because paint doesn’t stick to gecko very well, it had flaked off of his head and one arm, exposing him to my Shirt’s eagle eyes.
I was so surprised at my find that I could only sit back on the floor, in the doorway, and laugh until tears came. This was the height of ridiculous!
I made a quick trip to Base Civil Engineering to get some paint, a scraper, and a brush. I brought along a fleck of paint so that they could match it for me.
After amusing the Airman at Base CE with the story of the gecko, he advised me that he wasn’t able to match the paint exactly due to the age of the paint. To make it match correctly, I would have to paint the entire doorframe. He gave me enough paint to do the job, and also on a hunch supplied me with sand paper, a wood chisel and wood putty. He then gave me some tips on how to handle the job.
Back at my room, I wasn’t able to get a good angle to scrape off the entire gecko from my door. I could see that I wouldn’t be able to paint the entire frame without removing my door – so following the advice of the CE Airman; I got Paul to assist me in removing my door from its hinges.
Wood rot had started in under the body of the gecko – scraping him out with a paint scraper wasn’t enough. I used the wood chisel to dig Mr. Gecko out and then filled it all in with putty. I then went to work chipping off the paint from the rest of the frame to prepare it for painting.
After I finished the rest of the door, the putty was dry enough to sand flat. A few hours later it was dry enough to paint. By midnight, the paint was dry enough to hang my door again. Saturday I returned my materials – having shot my Friday and part of Saturday working instead of having fun.
Isn’t it true in life that if you try to cover over a problem, you end up making it worse? If you ignore it nothing is fixed, while underneath the problem that you’re ignoring things fester and rot away.
Engineers like to talk about putting ‘Band-Aids’ on a problem – that’s a fairly decent analogy. But for me, when I see a problem that has been buried and then ignored, I think of that gecko with the paint flaking away.
I’ve encountered quite a lot of these sorts of problems lately, both professionally and personally. What really gets me is that a couple are problems that I’ve painted over myself – perhaps without fully realizing I was doing so.
It’s never easy to take care of something that has been covered over. But sometimes, to do things right, you have to scrape out the gecko and repaint.