My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I gotta go...

It was bloody hot that day I pulled into Shoney's parking lot.  As I turned off the engine and opened the door the cool inside air was sucked from the car and the heat of the sun, at twelve o'clock in a cloudless sky, bore down oppressively.  Sweat was immediate.  The tar in the parking lot sank beneath my weight.  It was an oven.  I motioned for my son to hurry along.  I pulled open the front door of Shoney's.  A rush of cool air hit my reddened face.
"Oh, does that feel good," I said to my son who followed me in.
"It's so hot," he said.  "Could I get one of those big slushy drinks?"
"Yes, you can, but first we have to locate my date."
"Date?  You didn't say anything about a date."
"Yeah, I know.  Just a figure of speech.  I told your aunt's next door neighbor we could meet here for coffee and some lunch.  She said she would bring her little girl along.  So you'll have company."
"Oh no.  Not some old girl."
"It'll be OK.  Just for a half hour or so."
"Yeah, I remember the last time you took Kyndall and me to some girl's house for just a half hour or so.  You said it would be OK then because she had kids our age."  He rolled his eyes as he said it.
"Yeah.  Yeah."
He was right.  I'd dragged them both over to an old flame's house to see her and see how my kids got along with hers.  It was a disaster.  Her kids were on their home turf.  They resented my two right away.  Their mother had told them to be nice to mine and to play in their rooms for a while.  In about ten minutes mine came back to where I was and sat beside me.
"What's up?" I asked.
"They were ignoring us like we weren't there.  They wouldn't play or share."
We were going to have lunch which my friend was in the process of bringing to the table.
"There we go," she said putting the plates on the table.  Then she noticed my two were sitting beside me looking bored.
"Oh, didn't you want to play?" she asked them.
"No ma'am.  We got hungry," said my daughter.  She always tried to mollify.
I clapped my hand over my son's mouth as he began to tell the true reason.
"Mmmph, mmph," came his mumble beneath my hand.
"Well, let's eat then," I said.  My face for my son was stern as I slowly released his mouth.  He looked miffed but kept his tongue. He has always been one to tell it like it like it is but I caught him in time.  He would spout off at me later I knew.
As we ate I watched her children who were very silent.  When they did talk it was to each other completely ignoring Derek and Kyndall. I crunched on chips thinking what a bad idea this had been.  My kids were miserable.  Her kids were miserable.  I was smoldering.  My kids were being ignored because I wanted to rekindle an old flame.  Needless to say, I never called her again.  Her kids could have her all to themselves.  My kids never missed going back there.
"Oh, there she is," I said touching his shoulder and guiding him down the aisle toward the red upholstered booth.
She was facing the door.  Her daughter was beside her on the inside.  I waved walking in her direction.  Her hand came up and dropped quickly back to the tabletop.
"Hi," she said.  "I tried to call you."
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah, I..."
She doubled over as she began to speak.
"Are you alright?" I asked.  She appeared to be in some distress.
"UH...I...Gotta go!!" she blurted out as she took her daughter's hand.  She slid out of the booth, daughter in tow and ran out of Shoney's.  It was so fast I was still standing as all good Southern gentlemen do when a lady stands, or shouts DIARRHEA!  and runs past.
I looked at Derek.  He looked at me and burst out laughing.
I signaled the waitress who brought over menus. As I pulled Derek up from beneath the table where he slid while laughing so hard, she placed two before us.  Every head in the place was turned to see the two left behind by the woman and daughter.  I smiled sheepishly as Derek began to calm down.
I handed him a menu and a jab.
"Well, son, what'll you have.  We might as well eat since we are here for lunch."
He had calmed down enough to read the menu.
"I'll have a burger, fries and a big coke, er, do you have slushies?"
The waitress said no but they did have ice cold cokes.
"OK, ice cold coke.  The big one."
She turned to me.
"I'll have the same except with coffee and no coke."
She wrote it up then walked off.
"You can really pick 'em, dad," said my son who was grinning at me.
"Yeah, I guess I can."
"I got diarrhea," he said in another fit of laughter.  "Best excuse to get away I ever heard for breaking a date. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
"OK. OK. Let it go"
"Do you suppose she just thought that one up on the spur of the moment?" he asked.  "She couldn't have run any faster after seeing you."
"She's seen me before,"  I said.
"You gotta admit that's the fastest you've ever been dumped," he said cackling some more.
"I think I've heard enough now."  Yeah, that's the fastest and the most unique excuse I'd ever been told.  I doubted it could be beat.
We ate our lunch silently.  Derek choked on his coke a couple of times while laughing.
I kind of avoided my aunt's house for a long time afterward.  It was an unusual date but there were newer dating adventures to come in the computer dating scene.  But those are in the another story category.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Merita makes a good cinnamon bun...

"You can stay with your daddy while I shop," said my mother.  She was leading me by the hand as she stepped off the bus.  I jumped from the bottom step to the curb holding her hand tightly.
"Daddy's at work," I piped back. The bus driver waved and pulled the door shut.
"Yes, I know," she said, "but he won't mind.  It'll be lunch time soon.  You two can eat the lunch I packed.  I won't be long."
We started across the street from Edwards five and dime.  The street changed names, as we got to the curb, from Morris St to Mary St.
"Look!  There's the place we ate lunch last time with daddy," I said pointing at the cafe two doors down on King St.
"Yes, it is.  You have a good memory."
Yes I did.  Who wouldn't remember that place? We walked in with dad and the lady behind the counter smiled and said hello to us.  We sat at one of the tables just across from the counter.  She came out with a pad in her hand.  As I was climbing into my wooden chair she stopped beside me offering her hand to help.
"No thank you," I said.  "I can do it myself."  It was an effort but I was able to climb and right myself to the table.  "There.'
"Who is this handsome boy?" she asked my dad.  "He's one for doing things himself, ain't he?"
"This is my son, Mary, and this is my wife, Helen," he said pointing to each of us.
"Hello, nice to meet you both.  He's a fine looking fellow, Al," she said looking at me holding a menu as if I could read.
Dad's smile brightened my day as he looked at me nodding.
"Yes, he's a good boy alright."
"What'll you have.  The lunch special?"  She took the pencil from behind her ear and held it poised over the pad.
Dad ordered for us all.  She nodded filling up the page.
"Would you like some Cocola, Rickey?"  She looked at me smiling.
"No ma'am.  Cuppa tea please."
"The regular little Englishman," she said grinning over me.
"He'll have a coke, Mary."
She nodded and walked behind the counter.
"But we always have tea with our meals," I said to dad.
"Not in restaurants, son.  No restaurant in America makes tea you can drink.  It just doesn't taste right.  Coffee is the hot drink of choice here.  There's no way it can be messed up."
"Oh," I said.  "We have to go to England for a good cuppa tea?"
"Yes we do, son."
"Can we go now?  I want a good cuppa tea."
"It's too long a trip.  We'd never make it for me to get back to work."
"Alright, I'll drink the coke."
Mary brought our lunch. She sat mine near the edge of the table so I could reach it.  The glass was so large I had to hold it with two hands.  My dad squirmed a bit each time I grabbed it.  My mother smiled at him seeing his unease.
"He's alright, dear," she'd say.  "He's been holding on to glasses larger than that without spilling anything.  Just enjoy your meal."  She bit into her sandwich.  She smiled as she ate watching my dad's tiny grimaces.
When I finished eating Mary came over.
"Big appetite for a small man.  even so, I bet you have room for butterscotch pudding."
She looked at me.  I looked at my dad. He smiled and nodded.  I smiled  wide in answer to her question.
"Alright, be right back."
"What's butterscotch  pudding?" I asked dad.
"Oh, you'll like it.  Wait and see."
She came out holding a glass goblet filled with a golden glob of swirl.  She placed it in front of me and handed me a spoon.
"There you go little man.  Dig in."
I took the spoon and grabbed the stem with my other hand.  I looked at my parents who were smiling back at me.  I dipped the spoon into the pudding.  The smell was new to me and intoxicating.
I tasted it.  The flavor flooded my tongue.  It wasn't vanilla, nor chocolate, the two flavors most familiar to me.  Though I couldn't describe it I could thoroughly enjoy it.  I dug my spoon deep and opened wide to accept a huge portion.  It was even better than the first bite.    When I finished I ran my finger around the goblet to gather the rest clinging to the side.  When I had finished licking my fingers my mother took her napkin, dipped it into her water and cleaned my sticky hands.
"MM, that was good.  Can I have more?"  My eager face made my dad smile again.
"That's enough for one day, my boy.  We'll get some more next time we come."
"That better be soon," said Mary who was standing beside me smiling down.  "It was a pleasure seeing you enjoy that so much.  And your check, Al.  Bring your family in any time."
"Thank you," he said taking the check.  He handed her two dollars as he rose from his seat.  "Keep the change, Mary.  See you soon."
"Thanks.  Be sure and bring that cute fella in again now."
"Thank you, dad.  That was really good."  We walked out into the sunlight.  He returned to work, we returned home.
"Do you think dad will come up here and I can get butterscotch pudding again?" I was jumping cracks in the sidewalk.
"I don't know.  He may be too busy to walk that far."
"I hope we do.  That was good."
Mom began to slow down as we approached the loading docks at Armour Star.  Dad worked here in the meat distribution center.  It sat across the street from the main national rival, Swift's meat packing plant.
A truck was backing into the bay so we stopped waiting for the sidewalk to be clear enough to continue.  The truck stopped and we walked a little farther to the entrance.  Dad saw us as we entered and came over.
"Hello, dear," he said to my mother kissing her cheek.
"I brought Rickey so he could have lunch with you while I pick up a few things." He said that would be alright.  She left by the door we had entered.
"I'll be right with you, son.  Stand over there until I'm finished."
"Yes sir."  I walked over to the door he had pointed out.
When he had signed a piece of paper on a clipboard held by the driver, he came over.
"Alright then.  Are you hungry?"
"Yes sir.  Can we go to see Mary and get some of that pudding?"
"Sorry, son.  I don't have time today.  Come with me and I'll give you something else you'll enjoy."
I followed him into a narrow room.  There was a board used for a bench in front of metal lockers.  He walked over to one and took the lock off.  inside he reached for a paper bag.  He sat down with the bench between his knees placing the bag in front of him. I climbed onto the wooden bench and straddled it like my dad but my feet swung free above the floor.
He opened the bag and pulled out a thermos.  Then he rose and pulled out a flat cellophane wrapped package.  Under the wrapping sat icing covered cinnamon buns.  He split the wrap and pulled out one of the buns ripping it out in such a way that five more lay in the package.  He tore another off and took a bite.  I copied him.  The icing was sweet and the bread was full of cinnamon and raisons.  A smile spread across my face as I chewed the sweet cinnamon bun.
"Mm, this is good," I said spitting bits onto the board.
"It is, isn't it.  Here, take this to wash it down."  He handed me the cap from the thermos then poured a steaming hot liquid into it.
I sipped it.
"It's tea!"
"Yes it is.  A proper cup of English tea made at home and brought here in my thermos."
"It's really good with this bun."
"Yes, it is.  Don't tell your mother I didn't eat the sandwich.  I'm going to have to tell her I don't like tomato sandwiches one  day."
"Why don't you like them?'
"I'll tell you, son.  When I first came home from the Navy I found out your mother knew nothing about cooking.  She fixed tomato sandwiches for two weeks.  I couldn't even go into the garden to pick a tomato after that.  And I haven't been ale to eat a sandwich made of them since.  I just have to tell her I guess.  I don't want to hurt her feelings, though.  So let's keep it between ourselves.  Alright?"
'Yes sir," I said cramming more Merita cinnamon bun into my mouth.  I sipped some tea at the same time and the sweetness swam through my mouth.
We polished off the entire tray of buns and our tea at about the time my mother came back for me.
Dad gave me a kiss then he gave my mother a lingering kiss.  He said goodbye to us.  His hand patted my head.  I looked up.  He winked and said, "Remember."
My mother took my hand.  We walked out, turned left and walked back to Edwards and the bus stop.
"Did you enjoy your lunch?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am.  Dad brought a proper cuppa tea from home in a thermos.  We didn't have time to go to Mary's.  I like eating lunch with daddy."  I struggled to keep dad's secret and I won.
"Maybe you can do it again soon."
We walked up Mary St. On the other side of King St was the bus stop.  We waited until it arrived.  It took us to another one which was a couple of streets over from our place.  We walked home and into the land of memory.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Write your congressman...

"I hate it," I said.
"You just need to take one day at the time," said my dad.  He was half way across the continent in Charleston.  I was in San Antonio wallowing in self pity.  It was my third week in boot camp and I was gigged in over the weekend.  The "captain" had given me my slip showing enough demerits to keep me barrack's bound through Saturday and Sunday.  I'd tried to explain that my shoes being scuffed was due to some clod running across them in his hurry to formation.  I had them shining brilliantly only to have the sole of his chuckas grind into them in his haste.  He didn't care, so I sat on the pone moaning to my dad about the unfairness of life in basic training.
"There's three more weeks.  I guess I can do that," was my answer.
"Of course you can," said my dad.  "When you look back in six weeks it will seem like it didn't happen at all.  Other than being confined to barracks, how is it?"
"It's not so hard.  Lots of marching.  Lots of studies about the history of the Air Force and military bearing.  It's the PT that is most difficult for me.  They want us to run a mile in under six minutes.  In combat boots.  I usually save my energy for that running.  The TI has questioned me about the calisthenics asking why I only do the minimum required.  I told him I wasn't concerned about the things I knew I could do it was the running that worried me.  He just shakes his head."
"Well, sounds like you have it under control."
"I guess.  I miss all of you.  And home.  How's Myra?"
"We're all fine.  Myra's eager for you to return."
"It might be a while," I said.
"Oh?  Why's that?"  asked dad.
"I was called into the Captain's office today.  I was told that there was a position open in Officer's Training School.  Since I had a college degree he was offering it to me."
"That's good.  Are you going to take it?"
"Well, I did become a naturalized citizen so that I could if the opportunity arose."
"Well, then," said my dad.  "You should say yes."
"I did.  That's why I may not be home after basic.  There is a spot open in the next class.  I will have to stay on base in a section called OT Hold.  It'll be through June including the class."
"That's alright, son.  You do the best you can do while you are there.  The wait will be worth it to you and to Myra."
"I know you are right.  If I get in."
"I don't think there will be a problem with your getting in.  you just do your best."
"Yes sir.  I will.  Have you seen any cars on the market for a newly graduated officer?"  I asked every time I called.
"I'm still looking," he said.  "I'll have something for you when you get out."
"Remember to use the $300 I left you for a down payment."  I had saved all my paychecks earned at Charleston Rubber Company during my last summer home.
"I have it.  You better give Myra a call before the night's over."  His reminder was well taken.  We said our goodbyes.  I turned the phone over to the next guy in line and trudged back to the barracks for the night.
The next three weeks flew by.  I had received orders to attend OTS.  My next few months were filled with a job in the discharge section.  I stamped the paperwork of all the newly entered airmen who, for one reason or another, received  their discharge papers.  These were usually youngsters who were not considered fit for duty in the USAF.  They were happy as larks to get their papers releasing them for active duty in the Air Force.  I don't know how much they smiled when they received their letters of greetings from the President welcoming them into the Army.  The Army was willing to take anyone who fogged a mirror when it was held beneath their noses.  I'm sure they regretted the antics they pulled to get out of the Air Force on that day.
My time in OTS was a twelve week stretch.  More basic training, more PT upon which was added lessons to teach us how to behave as officers.  At the end of twelve weeks we tossed our caps in the air at graduation.  After sifting through all the hats on the ground for an hour or so I found mine and ran to the barracks to ready myself for my trip home.
The flight to Charleston was uneventful as I smoked my cigars in flight accompanied by the mini-bottles of scotch.  At the airport I was met by my parents.
Dad had a smile on his face as he greeted me.  It seemed to be more than just a smile of greeting.  I'd asked each time I called about a car, had he found one.  His answer had always been evasive.  I just figured he hadn't found anything but was still checking the ads.
"Boy am I glad to be home," I said.
"We're glad you're back," my parents said.
Dad drove letting my mother talk.  We joked about my time in "prison" and how I was eager to get my orders and begin the next four years.
"Did your pay increase as an officer?" asked my mother.
She looked over the front seat at me.  She had a big smile on her face as well.
"Yes," I said.  "Much more than the $90 a month of the enlisted man.  It's almost two-hundred dollars a month. Over twice as much."
"That's good," said dad.  "You might need it."  He was looking at me in the rear view.  I noticed his grin.
The trip home from the airport was full of breezy talk about Charleston.
As we drew near home dad asked me, "How about close your eyes for a minute or two until we park."
"OK," I said.  It was a puzzling request but I did it.
He turned into the drive, stopped and cut the engine off.
"Alright.  You can open them," I heard him say.
When I did I looked around and to my left on the lawn was a 1969 MGB, British Racing Green.
"Uh...," I was speechless.
"I found it a couple of days ago.  The ad in the paper said an officer had just bought it when his orders came for overseas.  He had it shipped to the states but couldn't keep it since he would be gone for a while.  It was at a good price and I thought you would like it."
"LIKE IT!  I love it," I yelled jumping out of the car.  I ran my hand along the fender and up over the windscreen onto the canvas top. "It's beautiful!"
"I thought you would like it.  Here,"  he said, offering me keys.  "After you are settled you should take it out."
"I'm settled," I said.  I opened the door and sank into the seat.  I was about four inches above ground sitting in the soft seats covered in lamb skin.  The hood stretched before me in its lush green.  I pressed the clutch and wiggled the short gear into neutral.  When I turned the key the engine throbbed into life.
"She has a four piston engine with dual carbs and runs nice.  Quite a bit of pick up for such a small engine. And the payment is only $89.89 a month.  Good thing you get an officer's pay now, isn't it?"
I looked at my dad who was smiling his broad grin of satisfaction at seeing the thrill of ownership in my face.
"Oh yeah," I said. "It sure is. She's a beaut, dad.  Thank you so much."
"I know you said you wanted a Gremlin but when I saw this I decided that you'd be more pleased with it."
Running my hand over the rich leather on the passenger side I responded, "Oh yeah, so much better.  My first car.  An MGB.  I couldn't be happier.  Thank you so much, dad."
"You're welcome, son.  I'm glad you like it."  He was beaming.  His grin was the happiest I'd ever seen him.  My grin matched his.
"Well, go on, then.  Take it for a run. We'll get your things inside."
"Thanks again, dad.  I have to show Myra."  I zipped out of the drive and wheeled it forward hitting the gas pedal.  I waved out the window as I sped off leaving the MG roar in the air.
It was so many years later that I learned my dad had written L. Mendell Rivers about me.  He was our congressman who was Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.   He'd written a long letter explaining to him that I was an only child who was the last to carry on the family name.  He explained that I had become a naturalized citizen who wanted to serve this country in my best capacity which he knew would be as an officer utilizing the college degree obtained before joining.  The captain had mentioned that day that he had been sent a letter from a congressman from SC about me and my desire to serve as an officer.  I didn't know what he was talking about at the time but said nothing since I just wanted the chance.  I never received orders to Viet Nam either.  My dad's letter was a persuasive one for my welfare.  He worked behind the scenes without telling me.  It was his way.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Three-score-ten minus four...

Sitting and pondering.  Life is so short when you look back. With my three score and ten coming up in four years the time to look forward is gone and there is only looking backward at a life flown so fast.  When I was young it was not a contemplation that came up often.   The future was ahead in endless years.  I could do whatever I wished.  But time has a way of entangling the feet causing one to fall directly into the wall that separates here from there.  It approaches making itself known by those around you who have disappeared and those who are slowing to avoid the head on collision.
Taking stock, I wonder of what significance was this life?  Whom have I helped?  Whom have I ignored/?  Did I feed the hungry?  Did I provide water to the thirsty?  Or did I simply allow the years to spill through my fingers like sand without providing anyone with relief?
Are there accomplishments?  I worked.  I earned a living.  I allowed my son to raise himself.  I contributed as much as I could to my daughter's journey into adulthood.  Did my time at my job offer any improvement to the  hospital or profession?  I can think of nothing.  I fought being in my profession the entire time.  I never gave myself to it.  All I can say about it is it provided a good living for me and mine.  But I never allowed it in.  There was always a wall between that and me.  It wasn't me and I wasn't it.  There are some who are quite happy to allow themselves to be their profession.  I wasn't one of them.
The Air Force was my first step into the world.  My only comment for four years was "Who do I have to kill to get out of this mess?"  I never gave into it either.  It was a rite of passage that everyone my age, at that time, had to pass through.  It had to be borne in order to get on with one's life.
The next rite of passage was marriage.  I never gave into that either.  As I look back I see that I never properly engaged my life with any of the life affirming activities I had to go through as "rites."
So that's why I ponder, now, with four years left in my three-score-ten.  There is tomorrow, the good Lord willing.  Perhaps it will become evident then.
 I'm adrift.  The ocean is vast.  My vessel is small, insignificant, and quite vulnerable.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I see by your beret that you're from Paris...

The year was 1963.  We were young and naive.  We were full of wild oats.  We celebrated the moment and we were bad.  Yeah, right.  Our lives revolved around girls, cars and booze, though not necessarily in that order.  A car to drive along with freedom of time and space led to many a night of drunken revelry.  This one was no different.
It was quiet on the back streets of Charleston at one in the morning in those days. Our town was a backwater village of quiet Southern simplicity.  A time of order that would be shattered in the years to come.  Now?  Only we shattered the calm as we whipped around the corner on two wheels, tires crying out in squeals of agony accompanied by laughter from  the four occupants bouncing in our seats.  The car had slammed back onto four wheels only to jump again when I hit a garbage can lid lying in the street.
"Watch out, dipstick!  How you expect me to drink outta the bottle if you keep whipping around corners and hittin' bumps where ever you see 'em?"
"Sorry.  Didn't see the lid. You finished with that bottle?"  I asked reaching into the back seat.
"Hell no.  I ain't even started."  I could see J... lifting the pint to his lips in the rear view.
"Well save me some!  I bought the damn stuff!"  Clyde had shown me around town one Saturday afternoon.  All the shops that sold a bottle under the counter were on his route.  Some of the shops were in areas I'd have been scared to enter.  He felt no such fear.  Why should he?  He knew everyone by their first name.  The place I frequented was on Wentworth.  It was a news stand.  Clyde usually parked in front and I ran in to purchase the Calverts Extra for the two of us.  The guy behind the counter was always amenable to my money and Clyde's wave from the curb.  I often went there without him as I had the previous evening to get us this pint that J... was hogging in the back seat.
"So what if you bought it?" J... yelled back at me.  "Your're drivin'.  You don't need it."
"I can always stop the car and you can walk."  I knew that was the wrong thing to say but it just popped out.  J... lowered the bottle, looked directly into my eyes in the rear view and said, "Yeah?  you gonna make me?"  He smiled knowing the answer.
I had slowed down to make my threat more valid but seeing his smile and movement toward the front I threw it into second and hit the accelerator.  The momentum slammed him back into the seat.
"Yeah, I thought so," he said after which he took a long pull of the bottle.  I watched the amber liquid lower in the upturned bottle.  He stopped with a choke and cough covering his mouth and shoving the bottle into his neighbor's hand.
"Smooooth," he coughed.
"Come on guys hand it here.  I should get a slug."
"Yeah we know," said G...
"You bought it!" they said in unison.
From G.... it went to I... and then to me.  I eyed it as it was placed in my hand. It was enough to give me a buzz.  Upending it my eyes closed with the burn in my throat.
"Watch out!"
I opened my eyes.  I hit the brake.  The car squealed to a stop in the center of the deserted street.
'What?  What is it?"
"There!  That fellow needs help."
"Come on!  Let's go help him!" The doors squeaked open but G... said, "Wait."
We all looked at the intersection as we leaned on the doors half in and half out of the car.  There under the street lamp in front of the wall that shown the girl sitting on the crescent moon advertising Miller Beer was one soldier surrounded by six burly miscreants.  He was in a crouch watching them carefully as they closed in on him.  His head moved from side to side as his body became a coiled spring.  The circle of toughs moved slowly in his direction.  One of them finally jumped at the soldier swinging his fist.  We were  rooted to the spot spellbound by the activity before us.
The soldier moved swiftly to the side and threw his fist with accurate speed.  The crack of nose cartilage was like a firecracker.  The attacker staggered back his hands over his face.  The blood poured freely.
Two at his back stepped  forward, their curses echoing off the Miller girl.  The soldier's foot flashed around in an arc cracking their heads, laying them out.  Their heads bounced on the pavement with loud reports and they crumpled on the asphalt.
We were speechless with amazement.
Three of the attackers were left.  They looked at each other and charged.
The soldier popped the one on his left with the flat plane of five fingers to the windpipe.  He backhanded the one to his right startling him and kicked high into the third's groin which sent him tumbling into the street clutching his groin.  Four of them lay in agony.  The two standing took off sprinting down the dark street.
It had taken a minute, a minute and a half.
We jumped out of the car and raced over to him.  Like a wire recoiling he returned to his stance as he saw us approach.  He shouted at us, "Come on you bastards! Come join your friends.  I can take you all on and take your car there before you know what hit you."
'Whoa, man.  We're not with them.  We thought you needed help."
"Hell no, I don't need your help.  I'm a Green Beret.  I'm a trained killer.  Why would I need your pansy ass help?"
We stood a ways back.  He was drunk.  Very drunk, but poised to unleash his training.  It was apparent he didn't believe us.
"It's OK, really.  Maybe we could give you a ride?
'Yeah," he said rising to his full height.  He was about 5'9".  His was a solid frame with a heavy chest and a slim waist.  His arms were the result of much work with weights.  He could have lifted me over his head I'm certain.  His sleeves carried sergeant stripes.  His tailored uniform was unpressed with his shirt tail half in and half out.  He staggered as he took a step.  As he gathered himself together, his foot lashed out connecting with the ribs of a moaning attacker.  The man rolled into the gutter then lay silent.
"Sonofabitch," he mumbled.  He began to search the ground with his eyes.
"Whatcha lookin' for?" I asked.
"My beret..  My green beret.  I gotta find it," he mumbled as he stumbled around eyes to the ground.
"What does it look like?" I asked.  "You from Paris, France?"
"Hell no, I ain't from Paris.  Ain't you seen an army uniform before?  Uncle Sam's finest,"  he continued to mumble.  "It's a green beret.  My headgear.  Part of my uniform."
"Come on guys.  Let's help him find his beret."
We mulled around the area looking for a green beret even though we had no idea what it was.
"Is this it?"  I asked, holding up a dirty cap.
"No, that's not a beret.  There.  That's it over there."  He was pointing to a pile of green cloth that was matted up against the wall.  The girl sitting on the crescent moon holding a green bottle of beer looked down on us as we collected the bit of cloth and gave it to him.
"Thanks," he said beating it against his trouser leg.  He brushed it off and stood up squaring his shoulders.  He placed it on his head in a manner that reminded me of Napoleon crowning himself at his own coronation.  Then he set it at an angle.
"Alright.  Let's go."  He marched off toward the car.  His attackers had quietly removed themselves from the scene while we had searched for the beret.
"You hungry?"  I asked.
"Hell yeah, I'm hungry!  There some place to get some chow?"  he looked at us quizzically.  "I ain't found much in this town after midnight."
"Patio's always open," said G... as we piled into the car.
"You guys are alright,"  said the soldier as he took possession of the front seat.  J..., G... and I... wedged into the back seat.
As I took off I decided to ask, "I know this is a stupid question, but what's a green beret?"  That beret looked stupid to me.  I wondered why all the fuss.
He looked at me with total disbelief.
"The Green Beret is the best of the best.  He's trained to live off the land behind enemy territory.  He's trained to kill and destroy the enemy.  He's trained to to make those gook bastards piss their pants at the mere whisper of the words, Green Beret.  You think Marines are tough?  They are pansy asses compared to me and my brothers.  We are the army's best, bar none.
"I could kill you with the flick of my wrist, pop the door handle and throw you out before your next breath.  I'm the best."
I slid as close to the door as I could.  I looked at him.  He was sitting bolt upright, ramrod straight with eyes to the front.  He was tightly wound and I didn't want to do anything to unwind him.  But I did have a tendency to ask stupid questions.
"Have you killed anyone?" I stammered.
"Stupid question," he said staring forward.  "Where's this grub you promised?"
We continued on in silence.  One of my buddies offered him the bottle.
"Care for a drink," he asked.
"Thanks," said the soldier.  He took it, downed the remainder then tossed the bottle out the window.  It shattered on the pavement behind us.  I punched the gas.
The Patio was a little ways up the street when I said, "There up ahead.  The Patio and hamburgers the size of 45 records."
We began to breathe easier knowing we could unload this guy..  He was beginning to make me nervous.
I pulled up to the back door and stopped.  We all climbed out.  There weren't many customers inside this time of the morning but those who were there looked up to take in the uniform.  There were some who smiled a bit when they saw the beret on the soldier's head.  They were obviously as ignorant as I was.
The soldier took off his beret and folded it through his belt flashing a look of drunken anger at the smirkers.
"Got a problem over there, junior?" he asked looking at a high schooler sitting in the corner.
The guy's smile disappeared into a face filled with fear.  He muttered no and turned to his friend.
"Stupid bastard," the soldier said as he sat.
"How's about a hamburger and some fries over here for our friend," J... yelled at the waitress.  She nodded and turned to the cook who tossed a patty on the grill.  "And a beer," J... added.
We sat in silence as the sound of sizzling hamburger blended with the music from the jukebox.
Finally, G... asked,  "where are you stationed?"
"I been in Nam."
"Nam?  Where's Nam?" I asked.
"Viet Nam!  You fellas are the dumbest bunch I've ever run across.  I been over there fighting a war and you dumb shits done't even know where it is.  You don't appreciate shit."
He started to rise.  The anger was turning his face red."
"Whoa, soldier."  It was the owner coming over to the table.He was always there at the first sign of trouble.
"It's alright, friend.  I brought you a beer.  Maybe you could tell me about your tour of duty.  I was in the last one.  And Korea.  I can sympathize.  You're absolutely right about these dipshits.  They don't know the first thing about soldiering.  They don't appreciate your sacrifice because they're too busy drinkin' and lookin' for girls.  Teenagers still in school are only good for two things, eatin' and shittin'.   But me?  I want to hear all you got to tell.  That burger and beer are on me."
"Thank you, friend,"  said the soldier.  His  fists slowly unclinched, a smile crept onto his face and he relaxed in his seat taking the beer.
The waitress brought his food.  The owner took it and moved to the table in the corner.  The soldier followed.  They began to swap war stories over table.  The beer continued to flow as the owner waved the waitress over periodically.
We ordered cokes all around as we began to swap our own stories of female conquests and how drunk we'd been at the last school dance.  Not once did Viet Nam  come up in our conversation because we never watched the news that much.  Last time we'd been glued to the TV set over news was the during of mourning days following the assassination of President Kennedy.  News sucked.  It was always bad and we had no use for it.  The world was just opening up to us. We knew we were going to take it by storm when our chance came.  This high school crap was the only thing holding us back.  One more year and we'd be outta there and into the real world.  We wouldn't be taking orders from anyone.  We'd find a job we liked never to buckle down.  We'd be free.
The reverie at our table came to a sudden halt as a piercing scream came from the corner.  We all stopped and turned.  The owner motioned for us to sit down and butt out.  We did.  The stillness was broken by sobs.  They were coming from the corner.
"Oh God!  I can't tell you the things I've done.  The things they've done.  It's horrible.  Yes, I'm the best and I've proved it over and over.  The last one...the last one...the kids....the kids..."  The sentence broke off into heart wrenching sobs.  "The kids..." his voice trailed off.
"What's he talking about?" one of us asked.
The soldier jumped up, his chair skidded into the wall.  His face was wet with tears.  He was set to come for us.  The owner restrained by grabbing his forearm.
"You stupid bastards will know soon enough!  You wait!  Never heard of Viet Nam?  You will.  You will."  His voice trailed off into sobs.  The owner put his arm around him and looked at us.  The sadness in his eyes spoke of things he had witnessed during his time in the army.
"Come on, son," said the owner.  "Pull yourself together now."
"You don't understand.  I've been over there a full tour.  I'm here on leave.  It's over tonight.  I'm shipping back for a second tour.  I...I don't want to go back.  I can't go back.  I'm afraid I'll never see the states again.  It's too much.  I can't go back..."  His eyes pleaded with the owner.  His hands gripped the owner's arms.
"Please...," he whispered.
"Alright, son.   Alright.  Here.  Have another beer.  Try to get hold of yourself.  You have to do what you have to do.  I did.  I hated it.  I never wanted to go.  But there are times when we have to do what is right..."
"No!  You don't understand.  This isn't like your war.  This is different.  Totally different."
"War is war, son.  We men have to carry our load.  We have to do our duty.  Come on now.  Maybe you could use some coffee.  I'll drive you back to the base myself.  It'll be alright."  The owner helped him back into his chair while signalling the waitress to bring coffee.
The soldier stared at the beer in his hand, then slid it away.
"Yeah, coffee.  That'll make it right.  I know.  I have to go.  I don't have a choice.  You're right.  It'll be fine."
His eyes were empty.  It was as if he turned to a copse in front of us.  His eyes became flat and lifeless, staring straight ahead.  He lifted the coffee cup to his lips and sipped.  He was no longer with us but back in the jungles we knew nothing of.  He remained docile while he drank his coffee.  When he'd finished, he stood pulling the beret from his belt.  Once again he crowned himself, then pulled it to one side as he stood straight with pride. The Green Beret looked at the owner.  He recovered his composure.  His eyes remained haunted, however.  He shuffled along side the owner who led him to his car.  He opened the door to the passenger side.  The soldier sat.  The owner, sadness in his eyes, backed up , turned and left the parking lot.
We all looked at each other as if to say, 'What the hell was that all about?" but no one did.
The night was almost over.  The sun had begun to spill its light in the east.  The new day was dawning.  A new awareness would soon creep into our lives.  The times of high school with all its hardships and pleasures would come to an end in a year.  Our lives would be impacted by that unknown country in the east just as the soldier had told us.  He was whisked out of our lives to a fate unknown.  I hope he returned from his second tour safely.  We never saw him again.  We never spoke of him again.  But that night has always remained with me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Eh? Californy ye say?

It was 1963.  I was seventeen and a Junior, finally, at James Island High School.  One more year, we all told ourselves, and we could blow this taco stand.  Being almost grown was heady stuff.  I was full of myself like every other teenage boy.  The songs on the radio were our anthems.  They changed every day.  The Beach Boys were the rage.
 "Wish they all could be California girls!"
California girls.  They were the ideal, the elevens in a range of one to ten, the brass ring, the pot of gold, or so we were told and eagerly believed the Beach Boys as they blasted from our radios.
The new school year was beginning.  New students were arriving.  Most of us had been through grammar school and beyond into High school.  Our community was practically a family.  We had been through it all together--six years at Riverland Terrace School  then onward to James Island High.  We all knew each other, so new students were always of interest.  One of these new students was a girl from California.  Once again the Beach Boys song came to mind when I was told that.
"Yeah, she's from California." I heard this on the breezeway as I walked to home room.  My ears perked up.
"California?" I asked stopping to catch the gossip.
"Yeah. Her family moved here in July.  She is starting today."
"Have you seen her?"
"No, not yet.  Only know she moved from California."
"Hot dog!" I yelled.  Everyone stopped to look our way.  I looked at the ground and walked on.
'A California girl' is all I could think as I turned into homeroom.
"Did you hear?" asked my friend.
"The girl from California?  Yeah, I heard."
"Look!  That's her walking along the breezeway now!"
All the boys ran to the window pointing.
I slipped out and quickly walked in her direction.
"Hi,  My name's Rickey.  What's yours?"  She was cute.  "Can I help you find your homeroom?"
She was quiet and took a moment to answer. Stopping, she looked though her books. Findin what she was looking for, she shyly held it in front of me.
"I'm L...  This is where I was told to go."  My home room was written there.
"No problem.  That's my home room too. Can I carry your books?"
She smiled, then held her books out to me.  "Thank you," she said
I noticed a small diamond ring on her left hand.
"Is that an engagement ring?"  I asked trying to hide my disappointment.
"Uh, yeah.  My fiance is still in California."
"Oh."  I said.  "  Instantly The Safaris tune Wipeout played through my mind.  The laugh was aimed at me.
We made small talk as we continued to home room.  The sparkle of such a tiny diamond blinded me and I resigned myself to missing out on a California girl.
Our friendship grew over the next few weeks.  We met on the breezeway most mornings.  I carried her books.  We talked of school and music mostly.  One day as we met she handed me her books.  That blinding light from her left hand was missing.  She held it out longer than necessary to hand me her books.  It didn't register with my innocent mind.
"Yeah," I said taking her books.
She wiggled her fingers at me.  Still not understanding, I continued to wait for her to explain.
"Don't you see?"
"See what?"  I asked, not being the brightest teenager.
"My ring.  I took it off. I'm not engaged any more."
"Huh?"  Still no ding! ding! ding! in my vacant mind.
"I wrote my EX-fiance.  I'm not engaged anymore."
"I'm free to date."  Her exasperated tone was detectable at this time.
"OH!  Hey!  That's great!"  The light finally came on.  "So we can go out now.  On a date?"
"Yes.  I've been wondering how long it would be for you to notice."
"How long have you not been engaged?"
"A week.  I thought you would have realized it."
"Gosh, I didn't.  Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"  I emphasized each stupid with a smack to the forehead with her books.
"So, we can date now!" I stated.
"Yes!  How many times do I have to say it?"  I'm sure she wondered how she could want to date such a dense boy.
"Well, how about Friday?" I asked.
"OK.  That sounds good," she said with a bright California smile.
I picked her up Friday evening in the Tan Can, my affectionate name for my mother's Corvair.
"We're gonna pick up R... and his girl.  Hope that's alright with you."
It was.  We picked them up and headed for the newest teen hangout.  Hardee's and the ten cent hamburger.
It was the first of many dates.  The world was flush with wonder. The future was wide open and rosy.
A few months into the school year I was stopped on the breezeway on my way to class.
"Hey Rickey.  The man wants to see you."
"What's it about?  My shirt tail being out again?
"No, I don't think so.  There's someone in the office says he wants to talk to you."
"A visitor?  Who'd be visiting me?"  I turned around and walked to the principal's office.  Mr. Kizer was standing at the door.
"Uh, Ricky, have you been seeing L..?"
"Yes sir. Why do you ask?"
"Well, there's someone in my office requesting to see you.  Says he's L...'s fiance.  He's hitch-hiked from California to see you.  Were you aware she was engaged?"
"She was, but she ended it a couple of months ago.  Even sent him his ring back."
"Hmmm.  Come on in then.  I'll introduce you."
"Alright," I responded.
He was sitting in a chair in front of Mr. Kizer's desk.  His fingers were tapping on the arm rest of his chair.  He rose as we entered.
"So you're Rickey," he said.  Looking me over, he continued. "I'm glad to meet you face to face."
"Yes." I extended my hand which he ignored.
"I can't discuss my business with you here.  Is there a place we can meet after school?"  He smiled.
I shrugged my shoulders saying, "We could meet in the Terrace at a place called five points after 3:30 in front of Eddie's."  I gave him directions.  He wrote them down.
"After 3:30 then.  I'll be waiting.  I've come a long way to see you and L...."
He walked out the door.  I began to follow him but Mr. Kizer grabbed my arm.
"Wait here, Rickey.  I need to talk to you."  He walked out to escort the man off school property.  When he returned he motioned to the chair.  I remained standing.
"What is it, sir?" I asked.
"Are you going to meet him after school?"
"Yes sir.  I told him I would.  No choice."
"You can't.  I forbid it."
"You can't forbid me.  I gave my word."  Forbid me? I thought.  Who are you to forbid me?
"I think he means you harm.  He hitch-hiked across country from California over the last month. I don't think he wants to congratulate you and wish you well."
"I'll find out what he wants after school."
"I can't let you do that."
"You don't have any say so."
He pointed to the chair saying, "You sit while I call your parents.  They have to know about this."
"Mr. Kizer, they are at work.  I don't want to disturb them."
"You really don't...  Alright.  Where does your dad work?  I believe I need to contact him."
I sat.  I gave him the number.  He dialed it.  The conversation lasted a while.  His eyes kept darting over to me.  Finally, he handed the phone to me.
"Here.  your dad wants to speak with you.."  He smiled victoriously.
I took the phone and said hello to dad.
"Is everything alright, son."
"Yes sir."
"You remember everything I taught you?"
"Yes sir."
"Be careful."
"I will."
"Alright.  Remember and watch yourself.  See you tonight."
"Thanks dad.  Bye." I handed the phone back.
"What did he say?" asked the principal as he took the phone and laid it in its cradle.  He was still smiling.
"Be careful."  I turned and walked out.  His smile had faded.
I went to class and stared out the window for the rest of the hour.  During that time I saw L... walking toward the office with a friend who had her arm around her. She appeared to be crying.  This class was a study hall so I got up and hurried along the breezeway to catch up to L...  She was taken behind closed doors in  the office.  I wasn't able to see her.  The secretary told me to return to class.
For the next couple of hours I wondered what was going on.  She was till in the office when lunch began.  My friends had heard something was up.  They came over to ask.  I explained everything I knew.  One of L...'s friends came over when she saw us.
"Rickey, are you alright?"  she asked.
"Yeah.  Why?"
"You're not worried?"
"About what?  L...'s old boyfriend?  He just wants to talk."
"You really are dumb aren't you?  Didn't L... tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"She got a letter from him after she sent the ring back."
"She never told me anything about a letter."
She sighed.  "She probably didn't want to worry you, then.  She didn't think he'd come."
Puzzled I asked, "Would you please tell me what is going on?  She never said a thing."
"Linda got a letter from him saying he was coming to South Carolina to kill you and, then, her.  She never told you that?"
"No." It seemed the situation had become a little more serious.  No wonder Mr. Kizer was so concerned and felt it necessary to call my dad while I was there.
The girl shook me and said,  "Will you still go?"
Stupidly, I answered, "I gave my word.  I don't have a choice."
My friends looked at me, turned and walked in all directions.  I felt utterly deserted as I stood outside under the shelter of the breezeway thinking about 3:30.
I was called into the office, again, around two.  L... was there with her mother.  They had both been crying.
"Rickey, I'm so sorry," L... said between sobs.  "I never wanted you to get hurt."
Her mother looked at me with concerned eyes.  She said, "Rickey, don't go near him.  He's a little crazy."
"I don't have a choice, now," I repeated.
"Go back to class,"  said Mr. Kyzer.
It was three when the bell rang to end the day.  I picked up my books and walked out the back door.  I turned toward the bus in a daze knowing I had to meet a nut job at five points in half an hour.  I didn't notice the guys running past me until one of them knocked  my books out of my hand.  I bent over to pick them up.  Fragments of conversation began to pelt my ears.
"Hey!  We gotta meet at five points!"  Someone yelled.
"Why?"  another voice quizzed.
"J... said Rickey needs help!"
"Yeah, he's got the football team piling into his car.  Grab a stick or something.  We're all gonna beat up some guy who's come to kill Rickey and his girl friend!"
"The football team?"
The yelling to and fro continued as I walked slowly to the bus.
"Who is J...  helping?"
"Rickey!  He's in trouble."
"Who's Rickey?"
"Who cares who he is.  We're gonna stomp somebody's ass!"
The yelling and running to cars continued as I made my way to the bus.
An old battered grey Ford slammed on brakes in front of me.  The cloud of dust was settling when I realized it was J..., the James Island Rams quarterback.  We'd known each other through eleven years of school.
"Ricky!  Get in! We're going to take you to the Terrace to meet this guy with you!"  J... had been passing the word throughout the day about my plight.  He had guys piled in cars all over the school grounds.  They were whistling and beating the sides of the cars yelling to get the show on the road.
I jumped in the front seat, dumping my books beside me.  All of a sudden I felt very comfortable as J... ripped up a column of dirt behind swerving along the exit.  There were seven cars pulling in behind us with heads poked out of windows hooting an hollering all along the way.
We arrived at five points a few minutes before 3:30.  There was no one to be seen.  We walked over to Eddie's bar and grill.  It was overrun with high school students looking for a fight.  He wasn't there.
I walked over to the Amoco Station across the street to ask Lyde, a friend of Clyde's, if he had seen the fellow.  I described the man and the situation.  The answer was no, but he offered his help if it was needed.  I thanked him and walked back outside.  Just as I did a Police car came to a halt in front of me.
"Is your name Rickey?" the officer at  the wheel asked.  When I said yes, he told me to get in.  I saw everyone gathering outside Eddie's watching me get into the Police car.  As the officer left the Amoco station, I watched everyone run to their cars .  They pulled out to follow.
We arrived at the police building which had once been a part of the old Citadel.  I was led into the main lobby which was open to the street.  I was told to take a seat.  I sat facing the open door.  Every two minutes I saw one of the cars in the caravan pass by the door.  The guys in side were waving and giving a thumbs up sign.
"Rickey?" Startled, I looked up at the desk Sergeant.
"Son, are you aware of how much danger you were in?"
"No sir.  What do you mean?"
"This young lady,"  he pointed at L..., "and her mother informed us of the situation concerning her fiance from  California.  They told us he threatened to kill both of you."
"I wasn't told about that," I said looking at L....  She looked away with tears in her eyes.
The Sergeant looked at L... with a frown and said, "Well, we were told.  We have to take such threats seriously.  We have him in a holding cell now.  We will release him in a couple of days with  warning to stay away from you two.  We will also suggest that he return to California instead of sticking around here. L...'s mother had us pick you up because she was worried about you.  She wanted you to understand this whole situation. We're sorry you both had to go through all of this but it will be alright now.  You are free to go."
L...'s mother came over to apologize for everything.  I thanked her and walked over to L... and held her close.  She was all cried out at this point.  Her mother touched her arm, letting her know it was time to go.  They walked through the door.
I ambled over to leave when another car in the caravan passed by.
"Friends of yours?" asked the Sergeant who was drinking coffee in the doorway.
"Yeah," I said with a big grin.
"You're a lucky fellow.  Keep out of trouble.  All of you," he said with emphasis.  He smiled and returned to his desk.
The old grey Ford stopped in front of the door.  I walked down the steps.
"Everything alright?" J... asked.
"Yeah, everything is alright."  My smile was wide.
"Well, hell, hop in.  We could use a drink."
I got in.  J... drove back to the Terrace and into a solid memory.