Old Mack’s Tales

August 12, 2011

The Best Advice I Ever Gave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:53 am

The Best Advice I Ever Gave Anyone

Stanley and I were sharing a large double in the Holiday Inn in Eugene, Oregon. It was D-Day, June 6th, but in 1967. At breakfast in the dining room Stan mentioned that on D-Day, 1944 he’d been manning one of the waist guns on a B-17 which was part of the air armada of thousands of bombers sent to make yet another daylight attack on Germany. Stan and I were close enough friends to share our war stories with each other, if no one else.

When Stan raised his blond eyebrows his forehead and most of his bald head became a washboard of wrinkled skin.  His broad smile in that round face was disarming, and his speech precise and calculated to impart the least and most positive information about the product he was selling; he tended to ask leading questions to which the only answer was yes.  And Stanley tried to avoid all negativity, especially the front-page news about the war in Vietnam, because he was easily depressed, despite his apparent sunny disposition.  I called Stan “my sunshine pump,” and that always made him laugh.  Stan had driven us down to Eugene from Portland in his new Cadillac Eldorado.  At breakfast Stanley was wearing a brown, silk sharkskin suit with a white shirt and yellow silk necktie.  His brown Price chukka boots were always highly polished.  At fifty, he was slightly overweight, but his height and finely tailored clothing concealed his thin layer of blubber; he simply looked huge and confident, even when he was dubious about his product.

We were in town to sell stock in a new corporation. Shortly after returning to our room from breakfast, and before we started making phone calls, lining up appointments with people to whom we’d pitch our stock, Stan turned on the TV, tuned one of the three news channels and watched the start of the Six-Day-War. Israel had already bombed the crap out of Egypt and its tanks were rumbling through Gaza by then. He looked away from the TV at me, as if I were some kind of oracle.

I kept my mouth shut for a change. Stan picked up the telephone handset, scowled and mumbled: “What do you think General Dynamics’ stock will do? Up, down or sideways, Mack?” Stan cradled the handset and plopped on his bed. “I’ve got a bad feeling in the pit of my gut, Mack.”

“It wasn’t the breakfast, Stan. We both ate the same stuff. You’re probably just anxious about the Market, sweating a margin call. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom fell out of General Dynamics’ stock today, Stanley. Those who play the New York exchange short defense contractors’ stocks when there’s any hint of another war. They are already on edge about our war in Vietnam. Contrary to what the people say, investors don’t want another war any more than the Peaceniks do.”

Stan Kelley excused himself and stepped into our bathroom and slammed the door. I heard his belt buckle hit the tile floor. I figured anxiety had loosened his bowels. I left the room and went into the package store next door. It took a while to decide what I wanted to drink; it was still early in the morning, but I knew both of us would want something. Finally, I settled for a fifth of Stoli, picked up a bucket of cubes at the ice machine and returned to our room. Stan was still on the crapper. He was loudly cussing the ventilator fan, which apparently wasn’t working, leaving him trapped on the can with the foul smell of his own waste.

I stuck the bottle of vodka into the ice bucket and then unwrapped a pair of glasses. I heard the toilet flush several times before the door opened and Stan walked into the room buckling his belt. He saw me cutting the seal on the bottle. He smiled like he’d just taken an order for ten thousand shares of the intra-state issue we were peddling. “Mack, you read my mind again.”

After a few shots, Stanley said: “Hold down the fort, Mack. I’m going to that massage parlor up the road and get my ashes hauled. I hate to leave you here without a car, but it won’t take long.” With that Stan pulled out his money clip, peeled off a C-Note and handed it to me. “Take a cab if you have to go anywhere.”

I went to the lobby and picked up the NY Times, the Portland Oregonian and the San Francisco Examiner and a bottle of Schweppes Tonic Water and carried them back to the room. I built a vodka tonic and sat at the desk reading the papers.

An item caught my eye. Gold, which theretofore wasn’t a traded commodity—except for stocks in the mining companies, was about to be set free. As a metal, the stuff was only available for jewelers and manufacturers to buy; if people wanted gold they had to buy jewelry. At the time, the price was pegged by the government at  thirty-five bucks an ounce. For a moment or two I wished I had enough cash to invest in gold, but every dime I had—other than the commissions Stanley owed me—was tied up in real estate, not exactly liquid assets (I was in fact selling securities with Stanley because my brokerage was doing too little business to pay the bills, and I had too many bills). So I filed that bit of news and tried to forget it.

I continued to read the papers. There was a good map of the Middle East in one of them covering Syria, Israel, Gaza and Egypt including the Sinai Peninsula all the way to its tip. I studied that map, for an hour or more, remembering what I’d seen of the terrain when I was on the ground in the area back in 1961. Half drunk by then, I began to think like a fucking General, an Israeli general with an eye patch, and to plan my attacks on Egypt.

At the time, Israeli ships were not allowed to transit the Suez Canal; their imported oil had to come through the Straits of Tirane, or go all the way around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Mediterranean. So I surmised that the port of Aqaba—my access to the Straits of Tirane–which Egypt’s Nasser had threatened to blockade–would be a likely place to send a bunch of my tanks and troops to safeguard the Sinai Peninsula’s tip and the port. Meanwhile, I’d mop up the Egyptians in the Sinai Desert, Gaza and move to the Canal while my aircraft bombed the shit out of the Egyptian tanks and troops and knock the crap out of Cairo. I’d call in my special forces, drop parachutists across the Canal to cut off a possible Egyptian retreat, and send my amphibious troops in rubber boats across to knock out a couple of Nasser’s air bases. Playing the role is much easier than fighting in the desert, easier than dive-bombing cities or tanks. By the time Stan got back from having his massage and getting a blow job, I had already won my imaginary Israeli-Syrian-Jordanian-Egyptian War. And I was a hero in my own mind, and half swacked to boot.

So when we went to dinner that evening, instead of making cold calls to pitch our stock, I began to reiterate my war plan to Stan the Man. God damn! I was fucking eloquent, sounded like Walter Winchell dishing dirt on celebs in San Francisco. I drew a rough map on the table cloth with my ball pen, laid in arrows showing the Israeli attacks, the Egyptian counter attacks, and the whole ball of wax. Stan wasn’t surprised, as one might think he would be. He knew I’d once been an Intelligence Officer; he also believed I had some kind of second sight.

While I held him captive at the dining table, I said: “Stan, put in a sell order for your holding in General Dynamics and buy all the gold you can get your hands on. GD is going to tank and gold is going to soar like an F-111 TFX in after-burner mode!”

Stanley followed my drunken advice and made a fortune. Years later I visited Stan in his home in Oswego, from the road his stockade fence of vertical timbers sunk in the earth reminded me of a fort in Indian country back in the 19th century. I went to the door and there Stan met me, cautiously, holding a .357 magnum revolver in one hand as he ushered me in. Stanley had made so much dough on his investments he’d become cautious as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. “Excuse the gun,” Stan said. He explained that he wasn’t paranoid; someone had recently shot out his front windows with a shotgun . . . but that’s another story.
the End


1 Comment »

  1. Good piece Mack. I hadn’t heard the long tail cats and rocking chairs line since my Grandpa was around, made me think of him.

    “I heard his belt buckle hit the tile floor,” resonated with me Mack. We all know that sound, and what it means behind that closed bathroom door.

    Comment by train-whistle — August 12, 2011 @ 5:25 am | Reply

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