Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fort Huachuca Annoyances


    It was very late, perhaps 2:30 in the morning, and I was driving to the barracks. I had entered the post at Huachuca City and had several miles of desert to cross. In the middle of it there was an intersection with stop signs, possibly a four-way stop, but I don't remember. In any case, this really was desert, and you could see a lit match from a mile away. There were no headlights anywhere in sight, and my stop at the intersection was a "Hollywood stop," a matter of slowing down to two or three miles per hour and rolling through the intersection, then accelerating without ever coming to a complete stop.

    Incredibly, astonishingly, a Military Police cruiser lit me up as soon as I crossed the intersection. At this hour? In the middle of the Goddamn desert?

    I stopped the car, grabbed my registration, and got out, fishing for my license. A brandy new Second Lieutenant with a mile long flashlight got out of the cruiser and swaggered - actually swaggered - toward me as if he were John Wayne.

    Lieutenant: "Where'dja getcher license, Hollywood?"

    Donnie: "No sir. Is that where you get your dialogue?"

    Behind him two enlisted MPs exited the cruiser, one of them holding his palms outward as if to say, "Sorry. We tried to talk him out of it."

    Lieutenant: "Don't get smart with me, Sergeant."

    Donnie: "Lieutenant, let's do a deal. You treat me with respect and I'll treat you with respect."

    I was a Staff Sergeant with nearly ten years of service, my previous assignment having been Vietnam, and I was not going to take that crap from any 21 year old whose total experience consisted of ninety days in an Officer Candidate School, and especially not from one whose idea of military heroics was hiding behind desert brush at 2:30 in the morning to catch someone blowing off a stop sign, and then trying to bully him.

    He wrote me up in silence and we parted. I got a demerit on my post driving record, which was of no consequence as I was only weeks away from leaving the Army.


    I had about eight months left in the Army and wanted to buy a new car. I went to the post Credit Union, informed them that I intended to leave the Army soon, and asked if that would create a problem regarding an automobile loan. I was told that it would not as long as my payment record was good at the time of my discharge.

    I bought the car, financing it through that credit union and left the Army eight months later, as announced. First however, there was the matter of clearance. Standard then (and perhaps now) was for someone being reassigned to another organization or being discharged to be given a set of "clearance papers" along with copies of the orders transferring or discharging the member at some point in the near future. These clearance papers consisted of the identification of various departments, sections, etc., which might have a vested interest in knowing that the member was leaving, such as Supply, Medical Records, yada yada yada, and yes, the post Credit Union.

    As an NCO I could initial most of these myself, simply representing that I had cleared the various areas. Several, however, were more sensitive, and had to be initialed by someone in each area. One of these was the Credit Union. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Credit Union to be greeted by hostility and threats from two people, a clerk of some kind and a brand new Credit Union Manager. What did I think I was doing, getting out of the Army while owing them money? We can prevent your discharge until you pay this loan off. (There's a bluff if ever there was one.)

    I found the woman I had talked to and asked her to join the conversation. I asked her if she recalled telling me that as long as I had made my payments I would have no problem with the Credit Union regarding being discharged during the period of my loan. She did, and what's more she said that she told me that because it is the Credit Union's policy. That deflated my two antagonists and I was on my way after giving them the address of my intended new residence.

    But this really rankled, and for several months I made no payments, waiting for the first correspondence from this manager/moron. It came, and in keeping with his style it contained more threats - they would "keep track of me," they would "harrass (sic) me," etc.

    I replied, reminding him of his previous attempt to bully me and of the Credit Union's commitment that my impending discharge would have no effect on my loan, would create no problem. I requested (umm, well, to be fair, perhaps I demanded) an explanation.

    Several weeks went by and I received a letter from his boss, saying that I had made my point, that he regretted any inconvenience, and that he would be grateful if I were to make my monthly payments.

    And I did, beginning with a lump sum for the several months that I had skipped.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's a Small Army

I was a payroll clerk in the Army's Personnel Office in Grafenwoehr, Germany. "My" area, the payroll area, was the smaller of two connected, large, open office areas, the other containing the Personnel Officer, NCOIC, and several personnel clerks.

I heard the door to the Personnel Office open, and looked over. It was winter, and the new arrival was wearing a parka. From the back, very little of him could be seen. I did hear the Personnel Officer ask him, "Who are you?" His reply was, "I'm your new Sergeant Major."

Someone had led him astray, whether intentionally or unintentionally I do not know. The post had a perfectly good Sergeant Major who had no plans or orders to relinquish the position. The new arrival was, in fact, to become the First Sergeant of a company in Hohenfels, Germany, an isolated part of the Seventh Army Training Center.

He was processed by the NCOIC and brought in to payroll. We were introduced - he was First Sergeant Sam Donley - and I took possession of his payroll records, cleared up a couple of items, and that was it.

Perhaps a year later a figure in a parka (this is key because there were no insignia and there was no name tag) appeared in my office saying he had a couple of questions about "my pay."

"Sure thing. And you are . . . ?"

"Why wouldn't you know who I am?"

"Let's turn it around. Why would I? I have the payroll records for more than 500 people. I have met perhaps 100 of them more than once, and many of them I've never met at all."

This seemed to placate him, he reintroduced himself, and we resolved whatever issues were bothering him.

Fast forward to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, five years later. Two companies' "Orderly Rooms" (basically company headquarters, usually containing the Company Commander, First Sergeant, and Company Clerk) shared a building. I was assigned to one of the companies and the First Sergeant of the other was - yup - Sam Donley. I had hardly known him, had only met him the two times described above, and had talked to him on the phone a couple of times about payroll issues regarding soldiers in his company in Hohenfels, but we figured to be in close proximity to each other for perhaps the next year and a half, and it seemed to me that the appropriate thing to do was to stop in and say hello.

I did. He was sitting at his desk and I introduced myself as "your payroll clerk in Grafenwoehr when you were in Hohenfels. Just thought I'd say hello." Although I doubt that he actually remembered me, he smiled, stood up, walked over to me, shook my hand and said, "Oh, yes. How are you?"

We chatted for a couple of minutes and my impression that he was somewhat pedantic was reinforced when we were interrupted by a Sergeant First Class for whom Sam had some instructions. When he finished issuing them the SFC began speaking: "In other words, you want me . . . " - "What's wrong with my words?"

Something made Sam ask me if I played duplicate bridge, and he was very pleased to learn that I did. There was a weekly session held at the Sambo's in Sierra Vista, right outside the post. It was sanctioned by the North American Bridge League and I think I recall learning that Sam had started it. I agreed to show up at the next one, we shook hands, and I exited.

Sam and I became friends, not particularly intimate friends, but at least friendly. We were probably the two best players at the weekly event and we usually won when we played together. But we weren't partners very often, as the attendance was fairly small and we made ourselves available as partners to others in order to encourage attendence.

I guess I'm rambling here, as I don't have any point to make or any particular exit line. Sam popped into my head and I thought I'd write about him. Two more related thoughts:
  • This was the first time I had made myself available as a partner to players who were consistently weaker than I, and I learned a lot. One incident springs to mind - I was playing with an Army Captain who was very unsure of himself regarding bridge. In fact, we were partnered as the result of his wife asking me to play with him because she felt that a good result would make him more liable to attend the event frequently.

    Early on, he opened a hand's bidding with "One heart." I had great heart support and a wildly distributional hand. I jumped to six hearts and he was visibly shaken. He played the hand as if he were walking the plank and went down one in an ice cold contract. Nearly everyone else bid and made six hearts with the hand. But this was not his fault - it was due to my inexperience. What I should have done was drag him through a series of forcing bids. In other circumstances the sequence of bids would make no sense but in this case it would have given him time to realize that he was going to be playing in a slam contract, however reluctantly. Given that time to adjust, he would probably not have blundered due to a case of nerves.

  • The weekly bridge reinforced my decision to leave the Army. I was about a year and a half away from discharge and had been a GI more than eight years. It wouldn't have been a bad life for me except that there were so many rules regarding personal behavior. I chafed under being told what time to get up, what time to go to bed, what to wear, where I was and was not allowed to go, and - most particularly - with whom I might and might not socialize.

    Some of the players at the weekly event were commissioned officers and/or their wives, and I came to know and like some of them. However, this was the only occasion on which I could socialize with them, as I was enlisted, not commissioned. I understood and agreed with the logic behind this, but it still annoyed me.

    In the event, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant perhaps a year before my enlistment was up, but I did follow through with my determination to reenter civilian life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Am I Really Gonna Eat That?

It was 1966 and I was with my (Army) outfit, briefly in the Philippines, at Subic Bay to be more precise. Those of you who were there before the U.S. departed will remember Olongapo fondly. Yes you do, you know you do. For the rest of you, Olongapo was right outside the naval base. When you left the base you were greeted by a thoroughfare that went bar, hotel, bar, hotel, on both sides for perhaps a half or three quarters of a mile. Then the street forked left and right, and both of those streets looked pretty much the same. At least, this is how I remember it.

You could ride anywhere on a jitney - an open air vehicle with bench seats running front to back and seating eight or ten people - for a quarter. You'd just hail it, hop in, give up your quarter, and wait through the stops for other passengers until you were wherever it was you wanted to be.

I was downtown with my best friend, Al, and at some point we wound up in the Orchid Bar. It was early evening and things were still a little slow, but that would change. We made friends with the band, an all male Filipino group, mostly Beach Boys imitators. There's little chance I'll ever remember the name of the band with any certainty (The Cobras?), but the members were Vic, Buen, Bert, Boy, and Angie (their real names). I believe I have a photo around here somewhere, showing the band, Al, me, and possibly some girls. If there are girls in the picture, they would be bar girls who worked there and just hopped into the scene on their own.

There was a curfew for the U.S. military, midnight I think but I'm not certain. If you were on the streets after that the Shore Patrol would haul you back to the base and you would be written up. Punishment, or lack of it, would depend on your Commanding Officer. Sometime before the curfew Al and I paired up with two girls who shared a house. We took them to dinner, then a little bar hopping, then home.

In the morning they fed us "breakfast." The four of us sat around a table where the girls placed four beers (San Miguel) and four bowls of cold rice. I'm not sure exactly what was in the rice, but one of the ingredients was small, white, and moving!

There's no way I'm going to eat this. I stalled by taking a sip of my beer. The girls began eating and I looked at Al, who looked alternately at his bowl and at me. I mean how do you deal with this? You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but still . . . .

Then I saw Al shrug and start eating. Oh, great. Well, to cut to the chase, peer pressure is a powerful force and three people were eating. I ate mine. All of it. Making sure the moving protein went into my mouth with something else and not alone. And taking a swig of beer after every mouthful of food.

I have my suspicions but I don't really know what I ate, and for a long time I definitely didn't want to know, but that was more than forty years ago and I suppose it wouldn't bother me much to learn now.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Fight

In 1985, my friend Jeff and I decided to go to Las Vegas for the Marvin Hagler - Tommy Hearns fight. Tickets were $600, and well in advance I called Caesars Palace and reserved two of them.

A couple of weeks before the fight, the results of some lab tests came back and Jeff's doctor told Jeff he had leukemia and only a short time to live. Jeff and all around him were devastated, and Jeff was in no emotional state to go to the fight.

I thought about the extra ticket and called my father. He had been a fight fan for more than fifty years, this could be the fight of the century, and Hagler was from my father's home town, Brockton, Massachusetts. My father lived in New Hampshire and I in the Chicago area.

I explained to him about the extra ticket and told him I could think of no better use for it than to take him to the fight. "I'll fly you first class to Las Vegas and back. Call it your birthday present."

"I don't think so Donnie. I'm not much for traveling any more." I was flabbergasted. I knew he had never seen a fight this big in person and that he thought Hagler walked on water. But I couldn't talk him into it, and he suggested that I call my brother Billy.

I did, but he wasn't home. A moment or two later the phone rang, and it was my father saying he had changed his mind. (Good thing Billy wasn't home, huh?)

In the event, he flew from Boston to Dallas and thence to Las Vegas. I picked him up at the airport and we took a cab to the Flamingo - I had waited too long and even the Chicago Caesars office could do nothing for me in the way of rooms at Caesars.

Dad had never been to Las Vegas and I showed him around. My gambling made him nervous and he only watched a few minutes of it. He found "his" game at the slot machines, and won several hundred dollars during the trip.

So . . . on the big day we walked over to Caesars Palace for the fight, or actually for the preliminaries, which were unremarkable. The seats were about half full when we got there and we had no trouble finding ours. People trickled in during the prelims, and soon the place was jammed. From time to time someone "special" would arrive and the announcer would inform us of it: Robert Goulet and Olivia Newton-John came as a couple, I believe; Jose Suleiman, the head of the World Boxing Council, arrived and was roundly booed; John and Bo Derek arrived (Bo Derek never did anything for me in her movies, dressed or undressed, but in person she was the loveliest creature I had ever seen); and by far the biggest ovation was for Muhammad Ali when he arrived. Lots of people were introduced in the ring, eventually including the referee, Richard Steele, and the fighters.

I was astonished by the money being bet around us. People who were strangers to each other were making five and ten thousand dollar bets and giving the money to third party strangers to hold. My impression was that the Detroit (Hearns) contingent outnumbered the Hagler contingent. Personally, I thought it was about an even matchup. Dad was utterly confident about Hagler's chances, but it was difficult for me to guess how much of that was due to Hagler being my father's home town boy.

The fight got underway and the pace was furious from the opening bell. Neither was attempting to box. Each was set on creaming the other, with Hagler, the shorter man, determined to get his head on Hearns' chest and make it a street fight. Hearns hit Hagler with a tremendous right. It stopped Hagler only for a second and then he moved toward Hearns again, throwing punches. Hearns had thrown and landed his very best shot and it hadn't been enough. We were less than halfway through the first round and only Hearns' die-hard fans still thought he would win. But the excitement certainly was not over. They continued fighting at a frenzied pace until the bell.

The second round was almost as intense as the first, and in the third round Steele stopped the fight for a moment to have the doctor look at a pretty good cut on Hagler's forehead, probably caused by that Hearns right in the first round. My father muttered something to the effect that he wouldn't be able to stand it if the fight were stopped for a cut.

The fight continued and Hagler knocked Hearns out in that third round. Later, the first round was voted the best first round of the century by sportswriters.

We flew back together as far as Chicago and the plane and my dad continued to Boston. He later made and framed a collage consisting of magazine pictures, newspaper articles, and his plane ticket and fight ticket, with a typewritten note about his "birthday present." He's gone now, and I have the collage and eventually I will get around to adding my fight ticket to it.

Oh, and Jeff did not have leukemia. His lab results and someone else's had somehow been mixed up. Sheesh.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

GI's and German Women

Okay, now I can imagine stepping on some toes with this one, so I want to be crystal clear about this: I am not trashing Germany or German women. I spent four and a half years in Germany, and loved it. I've had several German girlfriends - in Germany - and was even engaged to one. And my best friend in Germany married a German girl nearly forty-five years ago and they are still happily married.

This post is about certain types of soldiers I knew, and their attraction to a particular subset of German women - women who wanted to marry an American for whatever material benefits might come of it. Many German women have married American soldiers, have raised families with them, and have maintained good and lasting marriages. This post is not about them.

Okay? Okay.

Although I have known a few, I'll list only a couple of the GI's I knew who married German women for the wrong reasons. The primary reason in both cases - this is going to be difficult to believe for those of you who have not been in the military and stationed overseas - was to get out of the barracks. Yes. It. Was.

And they are not the only ones to have felt that way. I knew others who often said that if they could find the "right" woman they would get married to get out of the barracks. Either they had criteria at least slightly more stringent or they just got lucky, for they did not marry while I knew them.

This is pretty shallow, right? You prefer "stupid?" Okay, this is pretty stupid, right? So why did (does?) it happen?

Well, the first thing you have to know is that for the most part these were young GI's, say ages eighteen to twenty-two. In many cases this was the first time they had left home for any significant period of time and the first time they had not been subjected daily to the guidance of parents. They were all (in my experience) volunteers, not draftees. I don't know what they thought life in the Army was going to be like, but suspect that the thought of discipline was no part of their daydreams. If they enlisted in order to be "on their own," well, they weren't. They were no longer subject to parental discipline but they were not one hundred percent free, either.

Objectively, barracks life in the two companies I experienced in Germany was not at all bad, but there were definite rules. There was a time by which you had to be out of bed, six days a week. There was a time you had to be in bed, seven days a week, unless you were on some kind of authorized absence. Beds had to be made, rooms kept clean and neat, floors waxed and buffed, rooms inspected - in one case daily, in another case weekly - and rooms, personal gear, and field gear inspected monthly. You might be in a four or six man room, possibly with one or more people you didn't care for, but a minimum of courtesy made this a trivial matter.

But there were a small number of soldiers on whom this life positively grated, and a few were determined to avoid it at all costs. For an enlisted man there were only three non-criminal alternatives:
  1. Serve your time and get out of the Army. Alas, this did not solve the problem for the time you still had to serve.

  2. Earn enough promotions so that you were entitled to a private room. This was very difficult to do in one hitch of three years, and would solve the problem only at the very end of its duration.

  3. Get married, thus earning authorization to move out of the barracks and in with your new wife.
As you already know, this post is about those who chose option 3.

The pool of women willing to marry such misfits was generally limited to women who worked in bars not too far from American posts. They worked there largely because it gave them access to the kind of man they were looking for. That was not true for all women who worked in these bars, but we're honing in on the ones for whom it was true.
  • The first case was actually a second enlistment GI, a not very well educated country boy who was on his first foreign tour. He openly bragged that he was going to find a woman and marry her and not have to live in the barracks any longer. He found one in a little town called Schlicht, quickly put a ring on her finger and even more quickly reached the point where he should have regretted it, but didn't. He was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and would smile ruefully about catching her in bed with another man the night before their wedding, and asking her, "Now, Honey, you're not going to do this any more after we get married, right?"

    Soon after he got married and moved off post I lost track of him, as I transferred from Vilseck to Grafenwoehr.

    But, still in Grafenwoehr a couple of years later, I ran into him again. He had rotated back to the US, spent a year or so there, and was back in Germany. The first thing he said to me was, "Have you saw my wife?" He then explained that after she got her first Army allotment check - at that time it was mandatory for enlisted men to send various amounts of money to their spouses unless they were living in government housing - she abandoned him, sent the Army a change of address, and simply kept receiving and cashing the allotment checks, the only reason she had married him in the first place. Ironically, the Army would not provide him with her address.

  • The second case was a young man, perhaps 21 - a critical age, because if you were under 21 the Army required parental approval prior to your marriage. He too bragged that he would find a girl and "get out of the barracks." He found one, proposed and was accepted, bought rings and had them fitted, but before they married he too caught her cheating. He managed to get the engagement ring back, kept the set, and went looking for a girl with the same ring size!

    He found one within a couple of weeks and married her. I have no idea how it worked out as my tour of Germany came to an end soon thereafter. Anything can happen, but I am rather skeptical about his long term happiness with her.
I do not provide these as examples of a large problem -it wasn't. Nor do I have solutions for the small problem it actually was. I suspect there are no solutions that are not unjustifiably burdensome on those who are "real" adults and wish to marry for more conventional reasons. I posted this because I thought it was interesting and because I'd bet a lot of money that many of you never dreamed that people could be so irrational for such a reason.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Paternal Forebears

My grandmother, Flora, and great-aunt, Bertha (real names - they're long gone, bless them both) were sisters, born in the 1890s with totally different personalities. My paternal grandfather was nineteen years older than my grandmother, and died in the 1950s. The two sisters moved in together.

My grandmother was a devout and strict Methodist. My father told me that when he was thirteen or so he arrived home from school one day with lipstick on his white collar (boys wore white shirts and ties to school). After questioning my father my grandmother was horrified, not because he had kissed a girl but because she was Catholic.

I recall that she once told my father and me a story from her youth which required the use of the word "petticoats." When she said it she blushed, and when she finished the anecdote she said, "Now isn't that a story to tell two gentlemen!"

Aunt Bertha was a character, what they used to call "a card," as well as what they used to call "an old maid." She loved to tell jokes. Occasionally they bordered on the risqué, and one wondered whether she really understood her own stories.

She was adventurous: when she was in her late seventies she got her ears pierced and she was past her eightieth birthday when she went up in the Goodyear blimp.

All my life she was hard of hearing, and by the time she was eighty she was nearly deaf as a haddock. Her hearing aid was of some use but not anything approaching adequate. I remember driving her from New Hampshire to Brockton, Massachusetts after a Christmas dinner at my father's house. I had the radio on, set to some oldies station, and a 1950's rock song, Rock-In Robin, was playing. She began tapping her foot, then tapping a hand on the dashboard. When the song finished she turned to me, smiling, and said, "I love the Christmas music, Donnie."

When Flora and Bertha moved in together, they took in a nephew, the family's black sheep, Strafford, for a while. The women loved to play Scrabble, and occasionally roped Strafford into a game. After he moved out, my father discovered that Strafford had lightly scratched the backs of the more valuable tiles so that he could pick them out of a bag, sight unseen.

Strafford became a bookie and made out alright until he got busted. His telephone was taken away (the death knell for a bookie) and he moved to Miami, Florida with a quarter of a million dollars in savings. He fell in with some bad boys who got him to invest his money in a laundromat chain which laundered nothing but money, and he never got a dime of it back. The last we knew of him he was in his seventies and a hotel doorman.

At my instigation and after he retired, my father began tracing his family as far back as he could. One interesting ancestor was a 1700's New Hampshire sea captain who spent a day in the stocks - on his return from months at sea he had been greeted by his wife on the front porch of their house, and he had kissed her in public view.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Poker Cheating

While stationed in Corpus Christi, I got into a more or less regular barracks game, dollar ante, five dollar limit seven card stud. This is not a great game, but it's what there was at the time. When we went to Vietnam it would evolve into a pot limit game.

The very first time I played in this game I noticed something peculiar. It seemed to me that one pattern occurred much too often: the same two players would start raising and reraising each other, five dollars at a time, and frequently everyone else would drop. I thought it likely that they were "wired," and planning to split their winnings after the game. Well, it was good information. It seemed to me that if it was true and they were regulars, then everyone else must know it too.

Finally there came a hand when my two hole cards and my first up card were all queens. There was one bet by someone, called around. On the next four cards these clowns went into their act, betting and raising twenty dollars between them each time. Everyone folded but me, and I had hit a full house on the fifth card.

Now I was playing on two levels - maximize the profits, but give them a chance to fold. Even these idiots would know that everyone would figure them out if they had to show two nothing hands after all that betting. Of course everyone had already figured them out and wanted things to continue, but they weren't smart enough to know that.

Seventh card action went bet, raise, and reraise by the two of them, and I raised for the third and final time. They both jumped at the chance to fold. A nice pot for that size game, a little over $250.00.

When the game ended and most of the players had left, I got one of the other regulars aside and asked, "How long have they been doing that?" It turned out that one of them was a first timer in the game, and the other routinely recruited an outsider to cheat with him. Unfortunately for him, it never paid off, and he was simply a source of profit for the game's regulars. Naturally, when the game started, the regulars wondered which of us two first timers was the cheat.

As a footnote, during our time in Vietnam the "regular" cheater disappeared. He was carried as AWOL for thirty days, then as a deserter. He wasn't killed in action as we had seen no action at all. I suppose it was marginally possible for him to be taken prisoner somehow, perhaps in an off-limits village, but "deserter" was his official status. Certainly, he was the only guy in the outfit that I would consider clueless enough to desert in Vietnam.

I've never learned what happened to him. Every couple of years I google his name, "first, middle initial, last," "first, last" and "last, first," but have never found anything. I've been to The Wall, and he's not there either.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Peculiar Salute

In my outfit in Vietnam there was a young black soldier, a left-hander nicknamed "Dimp" for his dimples. Dimp had an easy-going sense of humor, liked to tease, and didn't mind being teased. His dimples were never more prominent than when he teased someone, sunk the hook, and waited for his victim to realize he'd been had.

Dimp was one of several who taught me the card game "Coon Can," a game played predominantly, but not entirely, by blacks, at least in our company. Coon Can is a two-player game, a member of the Gin Rummy family and was usually played for small stakes. After one such session, Dimp asked me, "Hey, Donnie, do you know why they call this game 'Coon Can?'"

"No, why?"

"Because some coons can and some coons can't."

I looked up and there were dimples everywhere.

Several months after our tour in Vietnam began, Dimp, a Private First Class (E-3) became eligible for promotion to Specialist Fourth Class (E-4). Such promotions were allocated from on high, and candidates appeared (individually) before a "board" of several interviewers, typically the batallion's two Company Commanders and the Batallion Sergeant Major. For weeks in advance of his appearance before the board, Dimp's friends schooled him, making him memorize the General Orders - again (we'd all had to learn them in basic training) and asking him anything we could think of that he might be asked by the board. If he showed the least hesitation on a subject we would give him all the information we could so that he would understand why something was the correct answer, making it easier for him to remember.

The big day arrived and we all held our breath. Dimp was nervous, but not unusually so. Finally, he was called to appear before the board. He was gone for a "normal" amount of time, and returned looking glum.

"How'd it go, Dimp?" "Think you made it, Dimp?" "Miss any questions, Dimp?"

Dimp had known the correct answer to every question put to him, but . . . when he reported to the board, he saluted with his left hand due to his nervousness. As it turned out this was enough to tip the balance, and one of his competitors was promoted. Dimp would have to wait a month for another chance.

By the following day he was smiling again, even at the teasing he was getting over saluting left-handed. We didn't let up on the questions and answers, and I am happy to say that he was promoted next time around.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Preempted Trips

I suppose we all get into ruts, doing things that we like over and over, and my father once told me, "You overdo everything you like." (It's still true.) But Dee Dee was the queen of that.

She and my father had formed a mutual admiration society (her favorite phrase regarding him was "He's so cute!"). He moonlighted at a steak house and cocktail lounge, playing a Hammond electric organ in the lounge. He was a ham and is probably the source of my penchant for entertaining people.

One night following our post-work Chinese dinner, I took Dee to the steak house. We entered the lounge and I introduced Dee to my father. They bonded instantly. As a result, Dee and I spent at least nine out of ten Friday nights going to the restaurant and the lounge. She just didn't want to do anything else.

Now I loved my dad, and I enjoyed these Fridays, but really, there had to be something else in the world that we would enjoy doing. Once in a great while I could talk her into going to a movie, but that was about it, and on those occasions, even when she enjoyed the movie, she clearly regretted not seing my dad.

We did spend a long weekend in Quebec City, and that was fun. I began to think of other places she might enjoy.

Donnie: "Dee, you've never been to Disneyworld, have you?"

Dee: "No."

Donnie: "We should take a short vacation and go there."

Dee: "We could do that."

Several weeks later she went to Disneyworld with girlfriends. Sigh.

Down the road a bit . . .

Donnie: "Dee, have you ever been to Las Vegas?"

Dee: "No."

Donnie: "We should take a vacation and go there."

Dee: "Okay."

Yup. Soon after she went to Las Vegas with girlfriends.

I found this depressing. I never understood it and she could never explain it. Writing this now, more than thirty years later, I find myself actually getting angry about it. I gotta get a grip.


  • The first movie I took her to see, The Sound of Music, became her all-time favorite. Later this movie was to demonstrate that she had my number.

    She and I broke up and reconciled several times over the years. On a Sunday morning during one of the separation periods, I happened to notice that The Sound of Music was going to be on TV that afternoon. I grabbed the phone and dialed her number, knowing she'd want to see it. She still lived with her parents, and her brother answered the phone. We chatted for a minute or two and then I asked him if Dee was home.

    "No, she's out shopping with my mom. She said you'd be calling, though."


    "Yeah, something about a movie on TV."

  • I took her to see The Bad News Bears (in 1976, the first time around for this title). Their baseball team was competing for a chance to go to Japan. When the Bears won in a cliff-hanger, the movie ended. As we left the theater . . .

    Dee: "Phew. I was afraid they wouldn't win."

    Donnie: "Naw, there was no chance they wouldn't win."

    Dee: "Yes there was. Why do you say that?"

    Donnie: "Because otherwise they wouldn't be able to make The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.."

    Dee, shrilly: "You don't know that! You don't know that they'll make a movie like that."

    A year or two later I noted in a newspaper that The Bad News Bears Go to Japan was about to be released. It was a work day and I called her at her office. She answered. All I got to say was "Good morning." Then I heard, "I know. I saw the ad on TV."