- In 1963 I returned to the US after four and a half years in Germany. I was assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I lived in the barracks and one of my new friends was Hank, a draftee from New Jersey. Hank was from a fairly well-to-do family, was quite refined compared to the rest of us, and very well educated ("Sixteen years of Jesuit education, right through Fordham," he once told me).
We hit it off right away, shared books, went out for the occasional drink, etc. Then . . . we both got Dear John letters on the same day. Naturally, we exchanged some stories about our former intendeds, and he told me by far the funniest of those stories.
(She's going to have to have a name or the telling of this story will become cumbersome, so we'll call her Jessie.)
Jessie was a model in New York and Hank had chased her for quite some time. She turned down every invitation for a year or so, then accepted an offer for a Friday night dinner. He learned that she liked Chinese food and made a reservation at what he described as the "finest Chinese restaurant in New York," as he wanted very much to impress her.
The story he told began with their arrival at the restaurant. They were seated in short order and were approached by a Chinese waiter, who, bowing and smiling, assured them that they had only to ask and all that was in his power to provide was theirs to enjoy. They began with drinks. Things went swimmingly, and they ordered another round of drinks and asked for menus.
Jessie's choice was boned duck. Hank selected "just the right wine" and based his order on compatibility with that. As they finished their drinks the wine arrived, and was perfect. The waiter professed ecstasy at having pleased them, and a few moments later arrived with their dinners. Assured that they desired nothing further, he left Hank and Jessie to their dining.
There were oohs and ahhs concerning the elegance of the appearance of the dishes and they began to eat.
Alas! Jessie cut into the duck to find that it had not been boned. She informed Hank. He smiled, assured her there was no problem, and signaled the waiter, who arrived at the speed of light, smiling and wondering aloud what he could do to make their lives still more pleasant.
Hank: "The lady ordered boned duck, and this duck has not been boned. Would you take it back to the kitchen and have it boned, please?"
Waiter, eyes widening: "Bone a duck? You know how many bones in one duck? You wanna boned duck you bone it yourself!"
And he stomped off.
Hank told me he just wanted to put his napkin over his head and sit there until everyone else was gone.
- Hank fell in with a gay crowd. When I left Fort Sam he was either gay or bi, but I really don't know which. I had several gay friends in the bridge crowd and introduced them to Hank, and soon he was moving in several gay sets simultaneously and gleefully telling me the occasional anecdote.
One I recall involved the first time he went to a gay and lesbian club, The Country (just outside or on the fringes of San Antonio, I believe). This was in 1963 or 1964, remember, and the overwhelming majority of homosexuals concealed their fondness for same sex partners. Neither the public nor the law was particularly forgiving regarding homosexuality, and above all, the military was not.
It was a weekend afternoon and Hank and several friends were in attendance, Hank for the first time. It was semi-crowded, music was playing, and guys were slow dancing with guys while women were doing the same with women.
Some signal was given, unheard and unseen by Hank, and so smoothly it could have been choreographed a mass exchange of partners occurred and all dancing couples consisted of one man and one woman. Seconds later, police officers entered the club. They walked around, nodded to the bartender, and left. As their cruiser left the parking lot another signal triggered the change back to the original dancing couples.
- In 1964 I bought my first car from Hank. It was a 1960 Fiat with something over a hundred thousand miles on it. I paid three hundred dollars for it and it ran like a charm, getting forty miles per gallon during the year or year and a half that I had it before trading it in for a 1966 Fiat Spider convertible with five forward gears on the floor.
This is a little off the "Hank" subject, but now's the time to say the little bit I have to say about that car.
I was by then stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas. I drove my new car from the dealership to an office at a gate which was an entrance to the post. I went in and got my post sticker, got back in the car, and could not figure out how to put it in reverse. Embarrassingly, I had to call the dealer to find out how to back up.
The car had five forward gears which the salesman had taught me, but we must not have gotten around to reverse. The Fiat I had traded in was a stick shift, but on the column, and I had never driven a floor shift. Many of you probably have not (and now never will) but for those of you who have driven floor shifts, reverse was right where you'd expect it to be. The reason I couldn't find it was that you had to push the shift into the floor to get there.
This car also got forty miles a gallon, an important consideration when you were a low ranking enlisted man in the Army. However, although it looked sporty it had no guts at all. Many is the time that car and I climbed a hill or a small mountain in first and second gears.