Old Mack’s Tales

May 16, 2014

A Windfall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 8:36 pm
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I was prowling through my wallet for the double sawbuck I had stashed in the secret compartment–my Mad Money, so to speak–and that’s how I discovered that my St. Pete Library Card had expired.  After locating the Twenty, I made a pit stop for a breakfast burrito at a shop on Ninth Avenue North.  While munching–I seldom skip breakfast, so by 11:00 AM I was about to faint and the tasteless burrito revived me enough to realize that the library was just up the street.  So I whipped in to renew my card.  I browsed the shelves of the Library’s discarded books and found “Who Shot The Water Buffalo,” a novel by Ken Babbs.  The price was one dollar–and so was the renewal fee for the new library card–so I came home and spent the afternoon reading.

The title is ambiguous.  In Army and Marine Corps jargon a portable water tank (towed) is called a <i>Water Buffalo.</I>  Most of the novel is set in  South Vietnam during the 1961-1962 period when American soldiers merely <u>advised</u> the South Vietnamese troops and hauled them around in American helicopters piloted by men like Ken Babbs.

You know Ken Babbs, of course.  You have read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, of course, about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters’ bus trip in Further.  What you may not know is that Kesey and Babbs and others, such as Larry McMurtry and Robert Stone were classmates in a graduate writing course at Stanford taught by Wallace Stegner.  Well, I knew that.  And yet I was surprised by Babbs’ unique style and voice–frankly, one of the main characters, Cochran, is a dead ringer for Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs’ old pal.  Babbs was one of the original “Merry Pranksters.”

Beyond all that, Ken Babbs and Old Mack have in common their service in the U.S. Marine Corps, and their training in the Naval Aviation Flight Program.  Cochran and the novel’s narrator both opt for helicopter pilot training instead of jet fighters because they knew they would never comply with orders to drop a Weapon of Mass Destruction.  Thus they wound up flying helicopters in Vietnam a couple of years before the United States committed to the 10-year war in Vietnam.  Old Mack didn’t crack a smile at passages other readers might find funny; the bizarre antics and attitudes of the Babbs’ main characters reminded him of the ROTC, Naval Academy, and other college graduates with whom he served.  Dubya would have fit in perfectly, but the book was written during the 1960s and only published in 2011.  The original manuscript was lost for fifty years and mysteriously found and published.

May 1, 2014

“I REMEMBER KOREA”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 3:28 pm
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I REMEMBER KOREA

I was almost ready to pitch my baseball cap with that logo embroidered on it into the trash when the widow of an old comrade phoned to inform me that my friend had died.  Robert died in Redding, California on the 10th of April.  I would have flown out to console her and to attend Bob’s funeral, if I’d had the money for air fare.  But I didn’t have it, so I had to settle for an exchange of emails with Betty and their son, Steve.  Maybe a condolence card by Hallmark would have been more appropriate, but I found none that expressed how I felt about the loss of yet another friend.  So I’ll continue wearing this beat-up cap and, if asked what the phrase means, I’ll say that I’m mourning the loss of a buddy who fought beside me during the Korean War. 

March 4, 2014

DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF UNPAID ADS

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 5:24 pm

I AM SHUTTING DOWN THIS BLOG.

LOOK FOR RON MCKINNEY AKA OLD MACK IN YOUR BOOKSTORES.

September 15, 2013

Flying Work: Pipeline Aerial Patrolling

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 12:04 am
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Flying to OK City for a chat with the FAA.

 

I landed the Cessna 172 patrol plane in Springfield, MO, to pay my sister a brief visit. I called her from the phone at the car rental desk. Sis gave me directions to her place. But the clerk refused to rent a car to me, because I had no personal credit cards and they wouldn’t accept cash. Sis recently managed a regional office for Hertz, so she wasn’t surprised when I called her back. By the time she got to the airport, I had serviced the plane. She talked about her recent divorce as we walked from the terminal out to the plane. Everything she said was news to me; we hadn’t been in touch for two years. The most interesting tidbit was that she was sharing a mobile home with an old girlfriend from their high school days.

“How did you know I was here?” She asked.

“I used to trace skips, remember? Mom gave me your unlisted number. I had to check the area code. She didn’t know you were in Springfield. She thought you were still in Atlanta. Why the secrecy?”

“I got tired of my ex calling me in the middle of the night. You know me. I always fall for the crazy ones. Jerks who don’t know when it’s over and keep hanging around. Tell me about your wife. Mom said she was very young.”

“I don’t have time. Give me your address and I’ll write.” We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and promised to keep in touch.

We stood on the concrete apron looking at the Cessna 172 with its downward curving “Ace Deemer” wingtips. She scowled at me and asked: “Do they really work?”

“Just a bit. Most pilots wouldn’t notice, unless they were trying to land on a dike in the swamps south of New Orleans, Sis.”

Sis had a lot of stick time in a former boyfriend’s Boeing Stearman. I knew she could have landed it on that dike, but being unable to fishtail that old tail dragger to see over the engine cowling, she would have made mincemeat of those cattle crossing that dike. I didn’t mention that; she would have kept me there all afternoon arguing. I had no time for that; I had to get to Tulsa before dark.

You have an address for us now, Sis. So write once in a while, okay?”

“Sure,” she said skeptically. “If you’re still in Hammond when Christmas rolls around, I’ll send a card with pictures of my kids. But I know you, Brother.”

Sis waived as I taxied past the terminal towards the duty runway. I gave her a thumbs up and pushed in the throttle.

The Explorer’s right of way lies between thick pine forests of the Ozarks. The low angle of the sun ahead causes the needles of the trees to shimmer; it’s hard on the eyes. The line crosses hills and valleys monotonously. The wide, cleared strip below was mainly red clay with a scattering of pine seedlings along its edges. Flying above it at 100 feet, following the terrain, I could see the ruts made by the Jeeps and trucks of service crews. I didn’t envy them their job, even though I knew their salaries made mine look puny.

Passing over the mile markers I check marked them on my strip map and made symbols in places where erosion had uncovered stretches of the pipeline. Thus far only one major incident had been noted.

Back up the line I’d discovered a hillbilly on a backhoe digging a hole to bury his dead horse. I bombed him with a sandbag containing a message he couldn’t read—it told him he was about to break the pipe and create a gusher of gasoline. He hadn’t looked up, but he had stopped digging. I dropped the same message to his wife, who was hanging laundry on her clothesline; she read it and ran to stop her husband in the nick of time. The light bulb on the Joplin rectifier was out; I reported it by radio to their line crew.

I was approaching the city of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. There the pipeline runs right through the heart of town. When I got there a crew from the sewer department was digging a hole in the street directly over the pipeline. I circled overhead, dropped my baggy with the warning, saw a worker pick it up and dart over to the backhoe operator waiving the crimson streamer attached to the sandbag. I made one more circuit over the main drag at an elevation of 300 feet, saw the operator reading the message and then took up a heading for Tulsa.

I landed in Tulsa to refuel before heading to Texas. The tower operator radioed me that the Federal Aviation Agency had requested the pleasure of my company in their offices on the Oklahoma City airport. “ASAP” said the guy on the radio, “You’ve been cited for a violation by a cop in Broken Arrow.” Delivering bad news must have made the guy’s day, for he was laughing when I Wilco’d his message.

I landed in OK City too late. The FAA offices were closed. I was down to a few bucks and change by then. I was buying gas for the plane on the boss’ Shell credit card. I couldn’t afford a motel room, so I shoved the seat as far aft as it would go, used my leather flight jacket for a pillow and slept soundly until 0900 the next morning.

It took a while to update my flight logbook and slip it into the plastic bag with the aircraft and engine logs, and our pipeline patrol waiver. It took the official less time to check my paperwork and deep six the cop’s citation. Meanwhile I helped myself to two cups of FAA coffee, drank one and put a lid on the other to take with me.

After taking off, I calculated the amount of time and gas I’d waste by flying south on route 81 the 74 miles to my birthplace of Marlow. I climbed to 3400 feet in clear, cool air and headed south west.

The aerial view of Marlow was a major disappointment. Trees had grown up and their foliage hid most of the buildings. I could make out the intersection of Main and Broadway, and see the railroad tracks running north and south between First Street and Railroad Avenue. But I could see neither Papa Calhoun’s little house nor the building in which Sis had been born. Grandpa Frank Jennings’ old place had been subdivided. I circled the town once and headed for Tulsa feeling like I’d just dropped a paycheck on a craps table.

I picked up my line out of the refinery in Tulsa and turned south. It was getting too dark to see the pipeline by the time I reached Bonham,Texas. I landed, parked the plane and tied it down to the pad-eyes on the apron. My gut was growling and kicking up acid. I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I felt pretty glum as I walked to the unoccupied shack normally manned by the FBO. On the outer wall of the shack there was a bulletin board on which businessmen had thumb tacked their business cards. One card had been placed there by an AOPA member who was also the banker in that town. I pulled his card off the board, walked to the pay phone and called him at his home number.

Carl answered the phone. I asked if there was anyplace in town to cash on an out of state check. After telling him my situation and who I worked for, Carl said: “Stay right there. I’ll drive out and pick you up.”

Less than ten minutes later Carl drove up in his new Sedan De Ville. “It’s Thanksgiving day, Mack. How’d you like to have supper with me and my family?” That was the easiest decision I’d made in months. I got in his car and hoped my scroungy flight suit didn’t mess up the tan leather seats.

While Carl’s wife and daughter set the table, I used their phone to call the boss in Dickson City, Texas to tell him I wouldn’t arrive until the following evening. Then I called Chris and told her where I was and apologized for not making it home for Thanksgiving. She was more than a bit miffed. To rub it in, she mentioned that she’d scored a lid of grass and was going to party with our next door neighbors—college kids. “I’ll expect you when I see you,” she said, slamming the phone in its cradle.

Carl’s wife laid out a spread fit for a king. Spiral sliced ham glazed with pineapple and pricked with cloves graced a platter in front of Carl at the head of the table. Their 30 year old daughter Amy carried in the roasted turkey. Although there were only six at their table, the bounty could have fed twenty. In his prayer of thanks, Carl prayed for a safe flight for me.

After supper Carl and I went into his library with our cognac in snifter glasses. We smoked cigars while he took fifty dollars cash out of a desk drawer and exchanged it for my check.

The next morning Carl’s sixteen year old son, Robert, drove me to the airport while his parents were sleeping in. Robert unlocked the flying club’s gas pumps and topped off my tanks. He refused to take my credit card, saying: “That doohickey for credit cards is locked up in the shack.” When he was finished filling my tanks, Robert led me to a T-hangar to show me the family’s new Beechcraft Baron twin.

“I got my Private Pilot’s Certificate last month. Dad’s going to check me out in this beauty next week. When I graduate from high school I’m going down to Florida to the Embry Riddle flight school and get my Airline Transport Pilot’s rating.” I don’t believe I’ve met another young man as proud of his accomplishments or his goals. He reminded me of Milton Ruberg’s son, the one who died of bone cancer a few years back. I wished him luck and shook his hand.

My dad will probably tear up that check you gave him,” Robert said. “We all enjoyed your company. Stop by and say hello when you come this way again.”

Stevens had my paycheck ready for me when I landed in his soggy grass field south of Houston. I moved my gear from the plane I’d been flying for a month and left in a C-172 which had a fresh major overhaul.

Christine put on a show of mock anger when she picked me up at the Hammond, Louisiana airport. After dropping me off at our apartment, charging me to watch the baby, she went on a shopping spree. She returned loaded with goodies and was feeling high and forgiving. “You missed a great party,” she said. I didn’t say a word about Bonham.

~ end~

September 8, 2013

The Battle Invades My Sleep

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 3:30 am
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The Battle Invades My Sleep

By OldMack  08/11/2012 08:48

Previously published on Craigslist.org\lit and writing forum

The Battle Invades My Sleep

Sixty Anniversaries laid end to end stretch from that damned hill to my bed. Ghosts span that bridge of time who died on that ridge so long ago and so young. Time has leeched the color from their faces, from the sky and ground; the azure and ocher and crimson are gray as the bottoms of nimbus clouds now overhead. Those few days of August, twenty-one thousand nine hundred days in the past, caught up with me again while I tried to nap. As always I try to infuse those days and hours and deaths with meaning and, as always, there is none; they are simply bad days in August, mere tropical storms of the past.

April 8, 2013

A Friend’s Weekend Visit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 12:30 am
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RANDY’S WEEKEND VISIT.

The man who inspired the doggerel verse below has been my friend for forty-nine years.  Last Friday, April 5th, he and his lady arrived at last, parked his huge, white Toyota pickup truck in our driveway and made themselves at home.

Randall looked slim and fit, as I expected, for he’s been hiking the hills of New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho most of the past year.  But I was startled by his shock of thick hair which has turned snow white since I last visited him in Naples, Florida three years ago.

After our back-slapping abrazo, Randall turned to his lady and introduced her as Zia.  Chris and Zia embraced and kissed; Zia shook my hand and gave me a thin smile.

“I love that shirt,” Zia said.

“This is one of my new Plane Shirts.  My daughter, Kathleen, makes them for me.  Kathleen is a flight instructor at the Westwind School of Aeronautics out in Phoenix; in her spare time she makes “Plane Clothes” and sells them at airport gift shops and on eBay.  Randy has known her since she was in kindergarten.”

Randy added: “I haven’t seen Kathleen since her mother had that restaurant in Eastern Oregon. . .”

“The Wooden Nickel,” I interjected.  That’s where Chris first met Millie.  Pure serendipity.  We stopped at the Wooden Nickel after a long night of driving up through the wilds of Nevada and there were my daughters behind the counter, Kathleen and Colleen were shocked to see me, and Lisa was at the range in the kitchen grilling burgers.  Millie came out, took Chris by the hand and with a jug of wine they disappeared.  While they were gone the girls had me in the scullery washing dishes.”

Randy gave Chris a quizzical look.  “I didn’t know you had met Millie.”

“Oh yes.  It was instant recognition; we knew we had the same cross to bear.”  Chris said, tugging my sleeve.  “Let me show Randy and Zia our guest room before you start another long-winded story.”

Last Thursday Chris and Allison went to Publix Market.  They came home with a bagful of Poblano Chilies, the fattest I’ve ever seen.  I was doubtful that they would serve for Randy to make his famous Chili Rellenos.

sm-Poblano_Pepper

The luscious Poblano Chili Pepper (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The first step in the process of preparing the Poblano is to roast it over an open flame to char its skin.  We took the chilies and a wet towel out to my camper van in the back yard.

The van hasn’t been opened since I quit trying to restore it more than a year ago.  We had to remove the passenger seat and set it on the porch of the shop, and then shuffle the gear out of my boat, before Randy could get to the propane gas range to roast the chilies.

I turned on the gas valve while Randy spread the damp towel on the drop-leaf table and skewered the first pepper with a long-tined bar-b-Que fork.  I handed him a box of wooden matches and he lit the burner.  Both of us were surprised when that blue ring of flame lit up.  Randy patiently rotated the pepper in the flame, blackening its skin and then laying it to steam between folds of the wet towel.  As he worked on the peppers, Randy quizzed me about the design and construction of my boat; I was happy to tell him in detail how I dreamed up the boat during a long passage through the heart of Texas in our old house truck and then made a pair of I-Beam saw horses and laid the keel across them.

“I intended to make it light, a car-topper.  But recalling the chop in San Francisco Bay, when the westerly winds whip up the water as the tide is ebbing, I beefed it up.  I used three laminations for the sides of the hull and five on the bottom.  As an afterthought I skinned the boat in Dynel cloth saturated with Epoxy.  So that made it as heavy as a fiberglass boat; it would take a crane to stack it on top of a car or truck like you canoe; Randy asked what it weighed and I guessed eight hundred to a thousand pounds.

We carried the roasted chilies into the kitchen and Randy began to peel them.

“Do you have any enchilada sauce?” he asked.  I didn’t.

“Let’s let these cool and go to the store.  We’ll need more cheese than you have on hand, another dozen eggs, and the enchilada sauce.”

We split up in the store; Randy had to make a head call.  I picked up the extra block of aged cheddar, a block of Pepper Jack, and a quart of sour cream.  When I met him in the aisle where enchilada sauce is kept, Randy also had a block of cheddar.  “Let’s get both,” I said, “I’ll use the cheese left over to go on burritos.”

Meanwhile, Chris and Zia were getting acquainted, telling each other about their years of hitch-hiking alone around the country in their “hippie” days.  I had noticed earlier how down to earth Zia seemed, casually dressed and warm, open demeanor.  Chris had downloaded the DVD movie “The Life of PI,” and assumed the reclining position on the sofa and Zia was supine on our love seat, engrossed in the movie.

I stood in the kitchen watching Randy make the Chili Rellenos, from removing the skin and seeds from the peppers, slicing them in half, inserting the sticks of cheddar and folding them over.  And then he separated yokes from white, whipped the whites to peaks and then added the yokes and beat the batter some more while the skillet heated on the range.  He poured batter in two skillets, added a stuffed pepper to each and then poured more of the frothy eggs over them.  He cooked them first on one side to a golden brown and then flipped them and cooked the other side.  I had cleared out the oven and placed a large baking sheet at his disposal.  Quickly, it seemed, Randy had loaded the baking sheet with six chili rellenos each about five inches in diameter.  He had set the oven to pre-heat to 350 degrees.  I told him to turn it down to three hundred on the dial as that would control the temperature at 350.

Randy opened a couple green bottles of Yuengling Traditional Lager, reputedly Americas oldest brew.  I would have preferred Corona Light, but the Yuengling tasted fine and I felt the alcohol affecting me before I’d half finished my bottle.

I’m normally loquacious, but after a bottle of strong beer there’s no shutting me up.  With less than half a bottle working with my pills, I began to quiz Randy about his family.  One of his daughters, the eldest, Allyson, lives in Brandon, just south of us, whom Randy plans to visit when he leaves here.  Although he’s been divorced for almost a decade,  he has maintained the house and acreage he inherited from his dad, but he recently sold out.

“I sold everything, the house, my boat, the whole ball of wax,” he said, “and went on my walk about.”

 

Since returning from his isolated sojourn in Ketchum, Idaho, Randy has been staying with his elder sister, Penny, in Naples and has resumed his psychological counseling business.

“It’s amazing how rapidly my former clientele returned and brought in a lot of new business.  My work schedule is already busier than I like it to be.”

Before obtaining his Masters degree and getting his counseling license, Randy had worked for Outward Bound Schools for twenty years.  One can imagine how being chained to an office must gall him.  And yet he does it.  I imagine many of his clients are troubled youngsters; Randy was one himself, prior to going to work as an instructor for Outward Bound in the Pacific Northwest.  Becoming responsible for the lives of his students mellowed Randy, or so it seemed to me.  Some day I hope to engage him on the subject more fully.

We dined at our kitchen table.  In addition to the Chili Rellenos I served a large bowl of my home-made chilli con carne and a bowl of white steamed rice.  The dinner was a success. (two of the chili rellenos were saved and I ate them both for breakfast at 0400 on Sunday morning).

Before leaving we discussed my boat, which Randy and Zia would like to have; I had shown them all of the work the boat needed in the way of cosmetic care and told them to contact our Allison, who has title to the boat.  I phoned A.J. and gave her a heads up.  I’d like to see the boat go to Randy, who will use it before it decays into a pile of powdered plastic and slivers; it’s been eight full years since the boat was last sailed and my sailing days are over.

Chris and I are both still in a trance, not quite able to believe our weekend was real; it seems more like a happy dream.

~~End~~

 

March 25, 2013

FLYING

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 12:08 am

FLYING

Crossing the street was nothing new; I crossed it many times every day to play in those vacant lots opposite our house.  One of the other boys had brought the packing crate in which something very large had been shipped from back east to a store in San Diego; the crate, was made of thin plywood stapled to long, narrow boards.  The empty box wasn’t too heavy; four of us lugged it from the sidewalk to the center of the vast vacant lot where we installed it in the midst of beaten-down weeds and declared it our Club House, No Girls Allowed.  I had been crossing the street to play in the club house when it happened.

I remember dropping something which lodged in the groove between one of the streetcar tracks and the pavement.  That’s about all I remembered when I first woke up in the County Hospital.  I recognized the place.  It hadn’t been so long since I got over the sickness called scarlet fever and diptheria.  In addition to being bruised and sore all over I was humiliated and angry when I found myself in a bed enclosed all round by metal bars like a baby’s crib.

It was later, after the hospital was done with me, that my mother told me that I’d been struck by a car.  People talk about kids being run over by cars; apparently the car hadn’t actually run over me.  Mother said she saw the whole thing and that when hit by the car I’d flown into the air, sailed over the roof of the car, and landed in the street behind it, where I just lay.  Mother thought I was dead, she said, but she didn’t see any blood and then I groaned and moved a hand or a leg or something, so she scooped me up and put me into the back seat of the car which had hit me and she told the driver how to get to the County Hospital.

When mother and the driver came to get me out of the hospital and take me home, I sat on the back seat beside a stack of gift-wrapped packages.  While I’d been stuck in that baby’s crib, being told to HUSH by every nurse who came by, mother and the driver had become good friends and they had gone shopping together at Ward’s toy department and bought presents for me.

I thought their presents were neat.  The Gene Autry cap pistol and real leather holster were great, even though caps were hard to get and firing them irritated our neighbors.

For some time after the incident I dreamed of flying.  I would fly from the street in front of our house, soar over the vacant lots and our club house and sail right over the city and out over the bay to the Naval Air Station on North Island and land in the midst of fighters and sea planes as gracefully as a gull.  Flying home again I’d circle over Balboa Park to make the caged Condors envious and then land in my bed.

January 24, 2013

A Meditation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:13 pm

 

“From solitude in the womb, we emerge into solitude among our Fellows, and return again to solitude within the Grave. We pass our lives in the attempt to mitigate that solitude . . . .”

From Aldous Huxley’s After Many A Summer Dies The Swan via Goodreads and Rodger Jacobs’ Silver Lake Adjacent blog.

January 17, 2013

FORGETTING

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 7:44 pm

Forgetting

 

Forgetting The Score

Is bad enough,

Forgetting the name of the game

Is worse.

 

In this season on Sundays

Unlike other days of the week

The wife and I share the same room with the telly

Watching two goups maul each other

 

How do you tell them apart?

Their uniforms are different, dear.

But they both have stylized raptors on their headgear

And look, they have their bloody hands all over the ball.

 

I’ve forgotten the score and which team won,

But that doesn’t matter, does it?

It was the way they played the game,

Despite the pain it must have cost.

 

I’ve forgotten the pain I’ve inflicted too,

While knowing there must have been plenty.

I only dimly recall a few of the brawls,

When I gave as good as I got.

 

I remember when I and my wife were slim,

She wore long jersey gowns with paisley prints

Which clung to her like a second skin and turned me on

Knowing she was naked under it.

 

We’ve aged together and the first thing we ask each other is:

What day is this?  It’s Sunday, shall we watch the game?

Which game are they playing today?

I believe it’s the world series of football, or something like that.

December 20, 2012

Home From The Hills

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 11:49 am
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Home From the Hills.

By Ron McKinney December 20, 2012

Tomorrow will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the day that MSTS troop ship, the General John Pope raised the Farallone Islands off the starboard bow.  A hundred or so troops, soldiers and marines, rushed to the farthest point forward on the weather deck to see San Francisco rise on the horizon.  We were elbowing and shoving each other  out of the way.  An old Army First Sergeant who had been teaching me to whittle gave a young Staff Sergeant the evil eye and said “Give this Marine some space, Soldier.  Frisco is the lad’s home town.”

The ship changed course a few degrees to port and the waves breaking against the cliffs below the Cliff House were brilliant white against the umber face of the rocks.  I could see George Washington High, where I’d completed Tenth Grade.  Some unpleasant memories tried to surface, but then the troops on deck sent up a cheer and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view.  It was my first sight of the bridge from the sea and it is truly spectacular.  As the ship began to sail under the bridge, I’d have bet  the forward mast would hit the damned thing; the deck of the bridge appeared to be that close.  Of course it didn’t hit it, and the ship docked at the Army pier at Fort Mason, put out her gangway and five thousand soldiers shuffled off.

And then the ship sailed past Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf and finally docked at Treasure Island, where the Marines and Sailors disembarked.

What followed was very embarrassing.  During the crossing someone had stolen my sea bag.  The bag contained all of my uniforms save the dirty dungarees I’d been wearing for the past twenty days; even though I’d scrubbed them many times, soot from the pots in the galley was ground into them and they were mottled and would have made good camouflage gear.  I was ordered to wait until all the troops were ashore and then I had to search all of the compartments, accompanied by the Officer of the Deck, trying to find the sea bag.  It wasn’t there, so I was finally given permission to disembark.

There was a crowd still waiting on the dock as I came down the gangway.  Prominent, because of the sign she was waving stood my sister, her two-year-old daughter, and several of her friends.  I had time for only a quick “hello,” and then I had to run to the supply building for processing.  I told Laura not to wait as processing might take all day.

I was issued a complete set of uniforms, shoes and new boots.  I dashed into a barrack building and got out of my filthy utility uniform, took a shower and put on Greens; I looked like a raw recruit as I went back for orders to my next duty station, for leave papers and for an I.D. card.  The clerk making the I.D. card said: “Jeezus, Mack.  You won’t even be able to buy a drink to celebrate surviving the war.”  With that he grinned and winked and made a second card with a date of birth which made me twenty-one plus three months.  “Don’t flash that damned thing around here, Mack.”

By noon I was in a Yellow cab crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge into the City.  We turned up Powell Street and followed a cable car past Union Square, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and turned right on Bush Street.  At number 636 I got out, shouldered my sea bag and buzzed my sister’s apartment.  She wanted to know about the war.  I wanted a drink.

“I’m going across the street to that cocktail bar,” I said.

“You’re too young to buy a drink.  The bartender will card you.”

“That’s okay,” I said, whipping out my extra I.D. card, which she examined closely.

“How’d you get that?”

“The office clown saw me come by in my dungarees and realized I was a real combat veteran and he took pity on me.  That’s an authentic card, Sis.”

I borrowed a pair of my brother-in-law’s slacks and a sport shirt and went across to the bar.   I ordered bourbon and water.  The bartender poured it with shaking hands.  He did not ask to see my I.D. card.

“You missed all the excitement,” he said.

“What did I miss?”

“The cops just left with the guy who tried to rob me.”  The bartender pointed to a bullet hole in the top of the bar two stools from where I sat.

“Guy came in, waived his revolver and told everyone to go into the storage room.  Then Bam! His gun went off.  I opened the till, and scooted into the storeroom.  So while the guy is grabbing the money, we all jumped down from the loading dock and split.  I found the beat cop up near Powell Street and told him about the robber.  So the cop walks in with his pistol drawn and there’s the robber sitting on a stool helping himself to a shot of whiskey.  The cop cuffed him and frog marched him out to the curb where he called for the Paddy Wagon.”  He wiped the bar with a flourish.

“You from around here?” the bartender asked.

“My folks live across the street.  But I just got off a troop ship from Korea less than an hour ago.  This is my first drink in the U.S.A.”

“What outfit were you with?”

“First Marines,” I said.

“Drinks are on the house, Mack.  You ready for another?”

“I’ll have one more and then I’ve got to scoot.  Today is my mother’s birthday.”

“Are you Ruth Cone’s son?  She comes in every evening after work with her husband, Jim.  Talks about you all the time.  You got wounded, right?” I nodded.

“Ruth brought in a Time Magazine, had a picture of your outfit and a story about Bunker Hill.  She pointed you out and there you were, with a big white battle dressing on your arm.  Did it heal up okay?”

“Healed up and didn’t even leave  scars.  I went back on the line that same night, but with a different outfit.  But tell me something about Ruth’s husband; they just got married a month before I enlisted and he was in the hospital with T.B.”

“Jim’s a prince of a guy.  Works in the Orchid Room at the St. Francis Hotel.”

“What’s Ruth doing?”

“She’s working two jobs.  Breakfast shift at the Continental Hotel and afternoon shift at Blum’s, down on Stockton Street.  She’ll be in for her birthday drink this evening.”

“Speaking of which, I’d better get out of here.  She doesn’t know I drink and she might raise hell with me if she finds me here.”

The bartender laughed.  “She might at that,” he said. “Welcome home, Mack.”

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