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Revisit: The day I lost my marbles . . .

I originally posted this story in July of 2010. I came across it while browsing today and enjoyed it so much that I decided to share it with the multitudes of people that overlooked it. I know they overlooked it because it garnered only one comment and that was from a lovely lady that lives in Montgomery, and she probably felt compelled to comment because she is my niece and I am the only surviving uncle from her mother’s side of the family. Actually, if I were a female I would be the only surviving aunt from her mother’s family—yep, of the original seven children I am the last one standing, and yes, I’m a bit lonely!

This is an intriguing—albeit rather sad—tale of one small boy’s attempt to establish and cement friendship and perhaps help to promote cordiality between races in the deep South at a time long before the marches between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and long before civil rights legislation was passed by Congress. Well, alright, I confess that I was also trying to add to my collection of marbles and because of my politically incorrect older sister I failed miserably, and instead found my collection reduced by a significant number, including some of my favorite pieces. Bummer!

The day I lost my marbles

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi on the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marbles out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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A letter to Janie in heaven . . .

Dear Janie,

Yesterday was the eighth day of January 2010, a supremely significant Saturday (ah, that alliteration—I cannot resist it). The entire world knows at least one reason why yesterday was significant. Elvis Presley was born on that day in 1944. Had the rock-and-roll star stuck to singing (more alliteration) and kept his distance from fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches he could have celebrated his seventy-sixth birthday yesterday—some say that drugs contributed to his early demise.

Yesterday Debra, our elder daughter—I use the phrase elder daughter because it carries far less emotion than older daughter—celebrated her fifty-seventh birthday. She and our granddaughter and their friend Sandy whiled the day away shopping in Austin at Sam Moon’s mercantile for Chinese-made items, primarily jewelry, and enjoyed a birthday lunch—probably at a McDonald’s outlet—no, not really—I’m certain that they went to a five-star restaurant, assuming that Austin has such.

I called Debbie on her cell phone and submitted her to the birthday song—I’m unsure whether she has recovered from that cacophony of sound. She has breezed past the half-century mark in age and added seven years, and she could easily pass for thirty—alright, she could definitely pass for thirty-five. I believe that her satisfaction with her work in one of San Antonio’s school districts is helping her stay young—that and her plethora—call it a gaggle—of close friends.

I believe that most of the credit for her youthful look can be attributed to the genes bequeathed by her mother, a lady that has always appeared far younger than her years. I would like to believe that I contributed to that youthful look, but I’m honest enough to give full credit to her mother for that.

Janie, if you’ll take a quick look at a certain spot in a certain section of Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery you’ll see a brilliantly white marble marker, newly erected, with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers placed in front of it. The marker is etched with all the pertinent information required by military regulations, and the words Cry not for me, I wait for thee.

I have been unable to comply with the CRY NOT FOR ME admonition, but your statement that I WAIT FOR THEE has stood me in good stead and kept me from unraveling completely. That phrase is in the forefront of the multitude of reasons why I love you, and in the words of Emily Dickinson in her timeless poem, I shall but love you better after death.

The beauty of the flowers will last for several days in the cool weather of this December, but with the summer sun I’ll need to replenish them far more frequently, but I don’t mind—they are from our local HEB market—this is perhaps one of the best bargains that can be found in one of the finest markets in our city—nay, one of the finest in our nation.

Sweetheart, I’ll close for now. I have a photo of your marker taken by my new Sprint 4G phone, but I haven’t figured out how to get it from the phone to my computer. When I do I’ll add it to this letter.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

Postscript: The marker photo was added today, January 10, 2011.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2011 in death, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Most of the body is in the U.S. . . .

I’ve written about performing Customs duties on the Mexican border, but I have not gone into the specifics of individual actions. The work was very exciting and educational to me, especially in the early days of my Customs career, and I’ve decided to share some of those events with my viewers, and trust me, the posts will be considerably briefer than I am accustomed to writing—and as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!

On a busy winter day at the Port of Progreso in South Texas, a man died on the inbound sidewalk in the middle of the bridge, the victim of a massive heart attack. There was only one bridge in those years (the seventies), with only one vehicle lane in each direction. There have been lots of changes since then. The image at right shows the old bridge. Click here to see the old and the new.

It was late in the afternoon on a wintry Saturday. Traffic was fairly light outbound to Mexico, but the line of vehicles inbound stretched across the bridge, through the city of Las Flores, Mexico and a mile or so farther in, according to inbound travelers. Millions of winter visitors—snow birds—were in the Rio Grande Valley, and they and locals were returning from Mexico after shopping and visiting friends and relatives. Saturdays were always busy, but this one appeared to be a record breaker.

I was working vehicle traffic at the primary inspection point, and a lady driver told me there was a man lying on the bridge near the international marker. She said she believed he was dead. She told me that he was lying on his back and his eyes were open and he was not moving. When I was relieved from my duties I walked out to the center of the bridge to see for myself.

The man, an Anglo that appeared to be well past middle age, was lying just as the woman had said. He was dressed casually, as most winter tourists are dressed, and was lying near the international marker. His eyes were open and his face had begun to darken from the lack of blood and oxygen. I could not detect a pulse in his carotid artery.

I returned to the Customhouse and told the supervisor, who in turn called the police in Weslaco some ten miles away, the closest place that could send an ambulance and medical technicians. He told them of my findings, and they asked whether the body was lying in Mexico or on the United States side of the international marker. I told the supervisor that he was lying across the line, partially in the U.S. and partially in Mexico.

Several hours passed before an ambulance arrived from Weslaco. It seems that officials in that city had called federal officials on the Mexican side of the bridge to determine which country was responsible for the dead man. The Mexicans said that they had viewed the body and they agreed that the body was lying on the international boundary, but they argued that more of the body was in the United States than in Mexico. They therefore declined any responsibility, and eventually medics and police from Weslaco arrived, stopped traffic on the bridge, recovered the body and things at the Port of Progreso returned to normal.

That was just one incident that occurred on one day in the six years that I worked at the Progreso bridge. A work shift rarely passed without at least one untoward event taking place. The image at right shows the new four-lane bridge with its covered walkways, completed in 2003. I began my Customs career at Progreso in 1971 and transferred six years later in 1977 to a supervisory position at the Port of Roma, almost 80 miles upstream on the Rio Grande River. In future posts I will detail some of the incidents that transpired at that port also, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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The day I lost my marbles . . .

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi, at the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marble out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South & an American Pitbull in church . . . . (via The King of Texas)

This should have been the latest posting, the first to appear on my blog, but somehow the date placed it far back in my postings. I’m reposting it to bring it to the forefront for viewing.

19th Street South & an American Pitbull in church . . . . This posting is based purely on a description of an incident in which a dog named Buster—my dog, a full grown sixty–pound American Pit Bull Terrier, a dog sporting a bobbed tail and surgically pointed ears, the marks of a fighting dog—caused worshipers to end a Saturday night gathering earlier than usual. Buster was christened at birth by the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, his first master, named him Buster in memory of his bo … Read More

via The King of Texas

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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19th Street South & an American Pitbull in church . . . .

This posting is based purely on a description of an incident in which a dog named Buster—my dog, a full grown sixty–pound American Pit Bull Terrier, a dog sporting a bobbed tail and surgically pointed ears, the marks of a fighting dog—caused worshipers to end a Saturday night gathering earlier than usual. Buster was christened at birth by the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, his first master, named him Buster in memory of his boyhood pet.

I was not there—my mother and my sister described the incident to me in considerable detail on the same night that it took place. I hasten to add that my sister was given to extreme exaggeration in her story-telling, and in such instances my mother would confirm the story as told by my sister, purely to avoid confrontation with her. This posting therefore, should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

When we lived on 19th Street South there was a small church down the street from our house, just across the Big Ditch—I have capitalized Big Ditch because it figured so prominently in my life while we lived on that street, and it is definitely a subject for a future posting—stay tuned!

I don’t remember the name or the denomination of the church, but I do remember my mother and my older sisters occasionally strolling down to the church in the evening, usually on Saturday nights. I am hesitant to use the term holy rollers, but in my memory that would describe the assembly. On summer Saturday nights in the absence of air conditioning, the doors and windows of the church were left wide open to provide relief from the summer heat. The sounds that I remember coming from the church reinforce that memory—no, I wasn’t invited but I sometimes sneaked down the street and listened and watched through the open door of the church.

Holy Roller as defined by Wikipedia:

Holy Roller is a term in American English used to describe Pentecostal Christian churchgoers. The term is commonly used derisively, as if to describe people literally rolling on the floor or speaking in tongues in an uncontrolled manner. For this usage, the Oxford English Dictionary Charles G. Leland, in which he says “When the Holy Spirit seized them..the Holy Rollers..rolled over and over on the floor.” It is generally considered pejorative, but some have reclaimed it as a badge of honor, e.g. William Branham’s statement “And what the world calls today holy-roller, that’s the way I worship Jesus Christ.” Similar disparaging terms directed at outspoken Christians include Jesus freaks and Bible bashers. The name Shakers was created as a portmanteau of shaking Quakers. Gospel singer Andrae Crouch stated, “They call us holy rollers, and what they say is true. But if they knew what we were rollin’ about, they’d be rollin’ too.”

Now fast forward some eight years later to a time when I lived for several months with my mother and my youngest sister on Seventh Avenue South—yep, I intend to devote some time and effort to pulling aside the curtain of time and revealing some interesting facts about life on Seventh Avenue South, life in a small three-room house just fifty feet from railroad tracks, a house with running water and electricity but no bathroom. Strategically placed several yards behind the house was a small tin-roofed two-hole wooden privy that served quite well for toilet purposes.

Our sojourn in that house, immediately adjacent to an active railroad lasted several months, an interim period during one of various times that we were separated from our stepfather and on our own, living life as best we could with the resources we had—spare resources, indeed!

Buster was my dog, a left-over from the time I lived with my brother in Maryland—yep, that is also a future posting—is there no end to this?!! Buster spent his early years as my brother’s dog, but was inherited by me when my brother returned to military service with the United States army. Click here to learn how Buster fared during my service as an indentured servant on an Alabama farm.

Now on to Buster’s breakup of a Saturday night worship service. On a special summer Saturday evening my mother and my sister walked several blocks to the church on Nineteenth StreetSouth to join the assembled worshipers—well, they really went to observe—and Buster, as always when anyone left the house, walked with them. He was a well-trained and obedient animal and stayed outside the church as ordered. However, he could see much of the activities and could hear the sounds, and at a moment when the sounds of the worshipers reached a crescendo he broke and charged through the open door and down the aisle to the altar where those that had been entered by the spirit were demonstrating the spirit’s presence, both physically and vocally. Apparently some of the sounds consisted of keening, high-pitched tones that aroused the bulldog to action—he joined the group gathered near the altar, howling mightily in tune with the worshipers, and pandemonium ensued.

Hey, I’m not making this up—I’m relating the incident strictly as I remember it from the tale told to me by my mother and my sister, with no embellishments other than those that may have been added by my sister—I wasn’t there so I can’t vouch for its truthfulness. I do believe, however, that the basic facts are true. My mother tended to go along with my sister’s embellishments, but she was not prone to supporting details that were obviously untrue.

The way my sister told it, some worshipers abandoned the church through the two open doors. Others climbed up on benches and crawled under benches, and still others exited through open windows leaving the bulldog at the altar, still howling. He made no effort to attack anyone. There was no biting or attempts to bite, but his presence and his howling was enough to empty the church.

After my sister calmed the dog and the congregation returned with its sanity restored—not all returned, but some did—the pastor politely but forcefully asked my mother if she planned to return for future services and if so, to please refrain from bringing the bulldog. I have no recollection of my mother or my sister or my bulldog attending later assemblies of worshipers.

So there—I’ve related the incident as told to me, succinctly and completely as possible—in fine (that’s Latin for at the end), that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I joined the U.S. Air Force . . .

The immediate reason I joined the U.S. Air Force rather than the Army was because the U.S. Army recruiting office in my town had reached its quota for March, 1949. The Army recruiting sergeant said his quota was filled for the month, so he offered me a position in the Air Force—yes, Virginia, the armed forces had fixed quotas in those days.

There were openings in the U.S. Navy for March, but that service held no attractions for me. I’m not a strong swimmer, and I also feared that the Navy’s uniform whites with the thirteen trouser buttons might be a bit unwieldy. I know, I know—I can swim far better than I can fly, but I joined the Air Force anyway—I liked the khaki uniforms and the Air Force was immediately available. Added to that was the fact that I needed to get out of town quickly.

The events leading up to my enlistment in the active duty military were numerous and varied. Some of those events were pleasant, but others were harrowing. I was enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard at the time, purely in order to get the $10 per month I was paid for training on one Saturday of each month—big money! I lied about my age in order to join—either the Guard recruiter believed me or really didn’t care whether I was old enough to join. I also lied about my age in order to join the Air Force—click here for a brief autobiographical dissertation that includes my underage enlistment. It’s a long read but I can unblushingly assure you, with no hint of personal bias or prejudice, that the read is worth your time and effort.

Now on to the real reason I joined the U.S. Air Force:

Picture this: A billiard hall on the second floor of a building that also housed a market, located a five-minute walk from the city’s combination high school and junior high school. The pool room was a favorite with young men and boys, particularly at noon during school hours, in the evenings (it closed at six pm), and on Saturdays. The proprietor served no alcoholic beverages and had strict rules for conduct in his establishment. Our local police officers came in occasionally for a free Coke and hot dog, and military recruiters made frequent visits to the pool room to discuss the benefits of military enlistments. Many students, including my mother’s youngest son, spend their lunch hour there every day during school terms—shooting pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cokes.

Special notes: A hot dog with all the trimmings cost a whopping ten cents, and the Mae West-shaped Coke was five cents, with no sales tax involved. Pool games cost ten cents each, paid by the players before the balls were racked by a rack boy. Most games were Eight Ball, played between two players and the loser paid for the rack before the next game began. One only needed to approach a table with two shooters and say, “I’ll play the winner.”

And so it was—the loser paid for the new rack, and the next shooter took on the winner. That process was normally honored, and if any shooter balked at giving up the table, the proprietor was called into action to arbitrate—the loser always lost in the arbitration. At least in theory, a proficient shooter could hold sway over a table for the full hour and never have to pay for a game.

I was a proficient shooter. On many school days I arrived at the poolroom with twenty-five cents, no more and no less. I bought a coke and a hot dog with fifteen cents and pocketed the other dime in the somewhat unlikely chance that I lost a game—it happened, of course, but not very often. If I still had the dime when it was time to return to school, I picked up a second hot dog and coke and finished them off on the way back to school. Ah, those were the days!

My encounter with the Army recruiter took place as I was shooting pool with two friends—the three of us were high-school dropouts, and the recruiter painted such a rosy picture of life in the Army that two of us accepted his invitation to appear at his office the following Monday for testing.

The third person at the pool table was physically unfit for military service—while sound in mind and body in most respects, his back was severely hunched, or humped—I’m unsure of the proper term to use. His deformity was so severe that he resembled a fiddler crab in his forward progress—he wore a sports jacket year-round, regardless of the weather. Before feeling too much pity, one needs to know that he was very much favored by the girls—we were never told what made him so attractive but we had our suspicions, and it sure wasn’t his intellect, his good looks or his conversational charm!

With all necessary apologies to our soldiers, both active duty and veterans, whether discharged or retired, I must state that the U.S. Army’s written test was ridiculously easy for me, but my friend made such a low score that the recruiting sergeant suggested that he not bother asking for a retest—statistics showed that he would never be able to pass the test, no matter how many times he tried. I have long harbored a suspicion that he deliberately failed the exam, but at this late date it is a matter of no importance—at that time he was out and I was in, and that’s all that counted.

Aside from the fact that I was at loose ends, bobbing about on a sea of endless days and nights with no particular feelings or expectations concerning the future, I admit that I was involved in some activities that did not bode well for my future. I passed the written exam and the physical, and I accepted the Army recruiter’s offer of allowing me to enlist in the Air Force rather than waiting for the following month to go into the U.S. Army. Mine was a wise choice, and I have never looked back—well, perhaps a few times during my 15 months in Korea at the height of the Korean War. In my looking back, I am thankful that I did not enlist in the army—had I waited another month I would probably have been in Korea anyway, but fighting on the front lines instead of maintaining aircraft in the rear echelon of troops in country.

I managed to hang on to my sanity through 13 weeks of basic training—click here for some thoughts on that period. Following graduation from basic training, I was treated to a two-week excursion on a U.S. Army troop ship bound for Japan, all expenses paid. I was fine until the third day out, but on that day I was so seasick I seriously considered jumping ship, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, being fully aware of my swimming capabilities and the lack thereof, I turned myself inside out over a 24-hour period and survived my bout with seasickness—a monumental turnaround, especially considering the quality of food served by the Army cooks.

 

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