I Get a Kick out of Hugh! … and you … and you!


Tex Antoine was TV’s most famous and influential weatherman. From early in the Fifties, he’d established his presence in New York . He had devised a presentation which utilized his considerable talent at character-sketching and for the first 20 years of his weather career built his weather-casts around his creation, Uncle Wethbee. By the time he had to abandon legally entangled Uncle Wethbee to join the Eyewitness New Team on WABC-TV New York, he was had more public awareness and audience pull, not only than any weatherman but more than any commentator on the evening news. (At his wake, two years before this story began, Bill Beutel, told me that Tex was credited with raising the income levels of all who those worked on news teams on TV).  He had died in disgrace. He had died out of a job. He had died because he had made a stupid blunder while ad-libbing a joke following a tragic story about a child’s rape on the news broadcast preceding his weather report.

Some say he had a heart attack. Others say he made a heart attack.

Tex had been a friend and working partner on many commercials with me.

But this story is really not about Tex. It’s about Me and Marie Merren and a guy who fought Muhammad Ali.

Marie was blond, vivacious, wild and spirited and, in random
order, my assistant, my son’s governess, my live-in help, my buddy, my
confidant, my roommate, my sex stimulant and my fantasy. Marie was
thirty years my junior, and had been living in and around our spacious
penthouse office-home for a half-dozen years. But, on this story’s day, she was to celebrate her last day in my employ.

Marie had been offered a better, and I’m sure less harassing,  job to join the record promotion company, EMCI. She and I decided we should both take her last afternoon off while I took her to a “nice” lunch and a “few” congratulatory
drinks.

No harm in that, right? Hah!

The drinks began at Alo Alo, an “in” bar and bistro at 63rd and
3rd, (Later, The Manhattan Club) just a few blocks from home and office.
We had a great time and some great Black Russians and we were both being very witty, a little sexy and very pleasant to all around us.

But, a little after four (p.m. and Black Russians), I suggested we go to Bruno’s, her old hang out which was on 58th Street, the very block where we lived and worked together all these years. It was at Bruno’s that Marie had met David Calandra, a glamorous, robust young man who, with his father, Mike, worked with a very flamboyant Greek character named John Galanis. Later, Marie and I would discover, from an extensive article in Forbes, that John Galanis had access
to endless wealth, except that it wasn’t his. He was indicted, tried and convicted of conning victims out of upwards of $300 million through elaborate tax shelter schemes. Last I heard, Mr. Galanis had pleaded guilty and had been sentenced to 27 years in Federal penitentiary.

To the date of this publishing, we still do not know what happened to boyfriend David or his father Mike Callandra. Marie and David had been almost instant lovers, and he had showered her not only with attention and roses but with $500 dresses from Saks and other sweet things. The pace had been fast and fun with money pouring out of every spigot. Then, suddenly, David seemed distant, detached. Knowing she was burning inside to find out what happened, I thought (remember this was after four) it would be a good idea to hit the hangout and see if we could uncover some truths. Then, at Bruno’s, while enjoying my fifth Black Russian (“light on the Kalua”), two dramatic looking gentlemen joined us at the empty bar.

Their ages were about thirty years apart, but both had almost identical
shocking white hair. The younger man, about forty, was a “picture of
health” type, lean, ruddy cheeked and about six foot-two. His shorter
and older companion also appeared in good shape, but his bearing and
his eyes were somewhat pained. or some reason, we started talking, casually and with no particular purpose. It came out that the younger man had “once fought
Muhammad Ali”. I suppose my response was a bit abrasive, “What’d you
use, a Howitzer?” Secretly, I resented this “honky” giving me such a
bullshit line about my man, Ali. (This happens when you are white but have an
integrated marriage, you get convert-itis, extra sensitive about any hint of
disrespect for your new brotherhood.). Later, the younger man whose name turned out to be Hugh, started explaining bitterly that his companion who was one of history’s “great voices” had just been let go from CBS after thirty years as a network announcer. I sympathized with this tragic course of events and along the way allowed as how it struck me that this was the same thing that had happened to my own friend, Tex Antoine.

The response was as sudden as it was unexpected. The young man
shouted: “How dare you compare, my father, to that garbage, to that
filth!” The argument began to heat up. Obviously, I had to “explain” to them first that Tex was not garbage, and that, second, if
there was any garbage in the world of radio and TV, it was these
“brainless assholes” who with cupped hand over ear, would recite such
inanities as, “Tune in tomorrow over these same stations”, and get paid
for it.

(About this time, Marie had found Mike Calandra, David’s
father, and he suggested, in face of the raised voices, that they go to the street corner for a pack of cigarettes.)

In rather short order, the enraged “son” began to fume, then
made a grab for me which ripped my shirt. Being Irish of heart and
heritage, and it now being after five (p.m. and Black Russians), I immediately responded with a, “So it’s to be shirt ripping, is it?”, and grabbed the tall, healthy young man’s shirt, pulled it towards me and ripped it clear to his naval. Unfortunately, the lunging move by my unstable body also knocked the older man
off his stool and unto Bruno’s floor.

Before my antagonist could respond, the entire nearby staff of Bruno’s moving as one, grabbed the two of us with the old announcer stumbling behind and forced us out of the doorway, locking the door behind. In the cold and darkening evening, I came immediately to sense and reason and was just starting to say, “How silly we are to be fighting …” But before I could get out “silly” There was a heel of a shoe with a right foot backing it, having just completed a 360 degree spin, landing sharply on my forehead, just above my right temple at what I would estimate to be at about 120 mph.

Self Portrait post-event photographed outside Bruno’s.

The force spun me off my feet and off the sidewalk and into 58th Street’s heavy traffic to the Queensboro Bridge. Fortunately, before I’d hit the pavement, the fender of a taxi trying to “make the light”  hit my left shoulder and knocked me back unto the sidewalk. Being Irish, I never lost consciousness but, being not all that Irish, I increased my resolve to become “friends”.

I gathered myself instantly to my feet, brushed the blood from my eyes
and tried to act casual (as casually as one can while facing a man who
has gathered his fists up tight to his chest, knuckles sharply extended, and is hissing through his clenched teeth like some six foot-two viper). I said, “Hey this is silly!”. At the same time, the older man looked at me with some distress and addressed his young companion with some admonition, “Why’d you do that, Hugh? He’s a nice man!”

In my mind, I wanted only one thing, to be able to find these guys again. I took out my wallet and pulled out a card offering it to the older man, saying, “Hey, bygones are bygones, let’s have lunch.” He said, “Of course. I’ll pay.” He started to reach inside his coat for his own card. But, the younger (and in this case, wiser) man grabbed his senior’s arm and said, “Shut up! Let’s get the hell out of here”. He half carried the older man as he dragged him running down 58th Street and rounded the corner at 2nd Avenue and disappeared.

The egg on my temple looked like it had been laid by a menstruating ostrich. Blood streamed down my face. But, I felt more angered and stimulated to do something than hurt. My apartment was but a half block away. I hurried to it, passing the startled doorman with nary a “Hi” and rode up to my apartment. I picked up my Minolta camera, loaded a roll of 1000 Asa Kodak and went back to the darkening street. I walked to the front of Bruno’s and, keeping the camera an arm’s length in front of me, but facing me, I took a dozen pictures of my face from different angles and with a variety of expressions. The manager of Bruno’s came out to protest my shooting with his bar in the background. Instead of complying, I grabbed him by the arm and insisted he come with me to my apartment and see “who the hell I am.”

We retraced my steps. We took the elevator upstairs. At the time, I had the entire top floor of the Picasso Apartments and the halls were filled with pictures of friends and the famous. I showed him pics with Rocky Graziano, and with some serious acquaintances of Rocky Graziano with little messages to me. I showed him Jersey Joe Walcott and Smokin’ Joe Frazier and Carlos Ortiz and hoped he got the message. He seemed impressed but he left without comment. As he was getting on the elevator to go down, my wife, just arriving home, stepped off with Kareem, my youngest son.

She took one look at me and said, “If I’d known I was going to marry a Street Nigger, I would have married one who could kick ass!”

Christian always had a way with words.

Then, my older son, John, happened to arrive and did the right thing; he took me to the 17th Precinct, and then, after filing a complaint, accompanied me in a police ambulance to Bellevue Hospital.

That night at Bellevue, I discovered the concussion was mild and, that two neck vertebrae were only slightly displaced. I was assured that after just a couple of weeks that my cheeks, throat and eyes, after growing from yellow and red to purple, would eventually absorb the blood and body fluids and my color would return to “skin tone”.

Deep down, I wanted to fund a hit on the overgrown Karate Kid or to, at a minimum, detach his balls. But, although I hired famed detective Frank Serpico’s brother, Ralph (an FBI agent), to hunt the pair down like dogs, they disappeared without a smell.

The moral of this story. Don’t aggravate anyone who says he fought Muhammad Ali.

The moral of this story. Stay out of Bruno’s.

The moral of this story. If your secretary is leaving, simply say, “Goodbye!”

The moral of this story: Don’t stand up for the dead. That way, one of you will stay alive.

You like fight stories? OK, here’s another. About 4 decades before my rather ineffective defense of Tex Antoine and myself, I had another “overmatched” encounter. It occurred on the beach, Jacob  Riis Park on the edge of The Rockaways, but not in the sun. It was at 10PM on a hot July night. At the time, I was Chief Lifeguard of this New York City beach (See photo of a more muscular me at far left of my crew).

Half the 1948 Jacob Riis Park lifeguard crew. Jack Byrne, Chief, standing far left.

That evening, I had stayed at the beach with my girl friend, St. Luke’s Hospital nurse, Suzie Floater. We frequently enjoyed sex after work and after dark and used various locations at Jacob Riis Park for our pleasures (the bathhouse, men’s bathroom, first aid room, sand, etc.). A slow after-stroll down the boardwalk, on the way to the Bus Stop, had become a tradition. This particular stroll proved not to be as pleasant as usual.

As we neared the path to the Bus Stop, a posse of four men approached us. They looked rather strange, two were apparently in their late teens-early twenties but two were late twenties or early thirties. All four were carrying make-shift clubs apparently manufactured by breaking off chair legs at the Howard Johnson open air restaurant further up the boardwalk. By the time they were within twenty feet of us, one of the youngsters called out. “HEY! Ya seen any Beach Parties?” I had, but I thought better of mentioning that to them. I answered, “NO, sorry!”  They were now within ten feet and he snarled at me and responded, “Why? Were you too busy fucking?”

The truthful answer would have been, “Yes,” and leave it at that. But, I was on My Boardwalk at My Beach and I Said, “Watch your fucking mouth, kid.”

He answered angrily. “I’m no kid, I was in the Marine Corps”. Well, so was I, so I replied wisely, “Sure, they let you out on a Section 8″! That meant he was a “psycho”.

He replied, “We’ll kick your ass!” Then,  one of the two older men said. “Hey, we know you’re the Chief Lifeguard here. We’re not fighting you.”  And, the two of them started to walk away. But, the two young guys moved toward me and the aggressive one said. “We don’t need any help.”

I said. “Oh, in that case, here!’ I butted him with my forehead across the bridge of his nose knocking him down and then  spun around and smashed my strong right fist into his friend’s face which (I couldn’t believe it) caused him to stagger back to the boardwalk railing and fall over it to the sand below. Still aggressive, I turned back to the butted boy and kicked him squarely on his right temple.

As I did, the two older (and bigger) men raced back to the melee and grabbed my arms and hair trying to stop my attack. But, the buttee was not down anymore. He had landed next to a brand new two-by-four which had been left by carpenters repairing the boardwalk, and had picked it up and started swinging wildly, but quite effectively,  at me, all the time shouting, “Kick a guy when he’s down, you dirty bastard!!!… Kick a guy when he’s down, you dirty bastard!!!”

I was too busy warding off 2×4 blows with my arms (and my body and my head) to explain to him that four guys against one is not exactly clean fighting.

Within five minutes it was over, not because he was through, but the older (and wiser) men released me and pulled him off his batting practice and said, “Enough, let’s get the hell out of here.” Dragging the reluctant angry one with them, the mysterious posse headed away jogging into the distance.

At least,  I was with a nurse. Suzie said, “Are you all right?” I said, “I’ll live.” But, I wasn’t so sure. We decided to complete our trip to the Bus Stop and have me checked out at her hospital, Saint Luke’s, an hour’s bus and subway ride away.

However, I was not all right and, as the bus approached us, its glaring lights began to spin and so did I and suddenly, I was sitting on the pavement. The bus pulled up, the driver jumped out and immediately went to an emergency phone next to the waiting area. By the time I was up and seated on the bench, a police car arrived and the cop helped me into the back of his car and instructed Suzie to sit next to him up front. Then, he raced, siren blasting, to Rockaway Beach Hospital just a few miles away. He had recognized me and was concerned for me but I sensed he seemed more concerned with how he could impress Suzie and perhaps also spend some time on the beach with her some night.

However, Rockaway Beach Hospital, was more like a home for the aged, than a place for repairing serious street damage. They put heated blankets on me and asked if I was hot. “No”, I answered, “I’m fine.” The Doctor said, “No you are not! You’re in shock or else you’d feel hot as hell in these blankets.”

Seemed strange later, but they decided I needed to access facilities more complex and complete than their own and we all decided (since Suzie worked there) that I should go to Saint Luke’s Hospital in upper Manhattan.

The kindly policeman, still learing at Suzie, said he would drive us to the subway station at Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn which was where the Green Bus Line usually picked up and dropped off the city’s Jacob Riis Beach crowd. They gave me a blanket to help reduce the chill of the shock and I sat in the back wrapped up as the over-friendly cop chattered with Suzie (who was appreciating his macho charm) as we headed back towards the Marine Parkway Bridge. But, as his luck would have it, there was a small explosion and smoke started to pour out from under the hood. We exited immediately, me wrapped in my hospital blanket. He quickly doused the smoldering with the police car’s emergency fire extinguisher. But, he could no longer drive the vehicle. He called for service but felt it important that we get on to our hospital destination, so he stood on the highway, flagged down the first large sedan which carried a somewhat elderly couple, and asked if they were headed to Brooklyn and when they nodded yes, he asked that they help in this emergency and drive us to the Flatbush Avenue/Avenue U station of the IRT.

They, looking like they’d rather say, “NO WAY”, said “Yes, of course” and Suzie and I hopped in the back, she looking somewhat wistfully at the man in blue as we left.

Not a word was said between the four in the car until the “Thank You’s” and “Good Luck”s as we got out at the Subway entrance. I left the blanket for them, not so much out of gratitude as to not look like a homeless person on the subway. They looked a bit shocked when I did. So did Suzie. I hadn’t been to a mirror and did not realize the amount of blood I had lost and how much of it was absorbed by my blazer and shirt and pants, not to mention my head and my face and my hands.

My forehead was cut and bruised and so were the knuckles on my right hand. I blamed my self for that. But, the Section 8, could take credit for the growing-by-the-minute welts on each side of my head forcing my ears to stick straight out and the fatness of my upper lip where a tooth or two had pushed through. The train originates at Avenue U so that it’s crowd grew slowly as we serviced each station.. It was incredible how much the area where we were seated was free and clear of people even after a half an hour, when there was standing-room-only elsewhere,  because nobody wanted to sit near someone bleeding rather profusely and likely to throw up or die at any moment.

Yet, I still had no idea of what was going on inside my clothes.

Suzie and I limped off the train at 110th Street and Amsterdam and walked (staggered) the three blocks to Saint Luke’s. We were greeted as though celebrities since everyone knew Suzie and most everyone knew she had this hot Chief Lifeguard as a playmate.

In no time at all, I had full disclosure. Just above each hip were yellow swelling the size of Idaho potatoes. There was another on my left arm and one just above the left knee. X-rays revealed a fracture of my left forearm and, worse,  a dislocation of my right elbow. Of course, there was an assortment of other bruises around the ribs, back and legs. But, I still had all my teeth and the dislocation was snapped back into position with nary a scream of pain. The fracture was covered with a splint held by strong adhesive wrapping. There was nothing but sympathy they could give for the welts behind the ears and just three stitches closed the small tear on my lip. Then, seeing as how I was practically “family” being Suzie’s “guy”, an intern went back to his quarters and returned with a shirt to replace my reddened one. The pants were dark as was the dried blood and the blazer would be carried in a shopping bag with my shirt so I would be less conspicuous leaving than I was when arriving at Saint Luke’s.

I was just 20 years old at the time and still lived at home at 1144 Bergen Street in Brooklyn. When I staggered in about 1am, my father was still up doing the NY Times crossword. His greeting? “I thought I taught you to fight!!” I told him, I’d done what he said, butted the first, knocked the second over a rail and kicked the first in the head. He nodded approvingly and asked, “So”?. “There were two other guys and a 2 x 4″, I replied. He said in a way reflecting wisdom gained but not passed on, “Sometimes, it is best not to fight.” Then he put down the puzzle and went to our ancient ice box in the kitchen and chipped off some chunks that would  help reduce swelling.

There was one rewarding outcome of this encounter. A different encounter. Unknown to Suzie, I had grown very attracted to a zovtik blond jewish lady, named Ruth, who came frequently to sun at Riis. But, she was somewhat older, (about 6 years) and had two sons, 11 and 9, and a non-active husband who I had met only once. She also had fabulous clothes and a brand new Buick convertible and a rather substantial attraction to me. In fact, more than once she had picked me up at my apartment and drove me to my job.  Much to my parents shock and concern.

On the second day of my home recovery, Ruth, having heard of what happened to the Chief, came to visit me and I was “Home Alone”. Her heart nearly broke seeing my formerly attractive body all yellow, blue, purple and puffed. You could see she felt she had to do something to help. Then, she said, “I know what will help you” and slipped out of her top, dropped her skirt and everything else including her inhibitions and climbed into the narrow quarters of my single bed.

She was right. When all was said and done and all that was done was done, I felt terrific. It was our first and my best and I couldn’t feel more manly or more satisfied.

Within two days I was back on the beach.

Things had changed, our New York City police associates, who had a station housing six of them on the boardwalk, had taken things into their own hands and, at their own expense, had outfitted every lifeguard with a billy in the event these people, or their ilk, showed up at Jacob Riis ever again. I was pleased that everybody cared. Especially since I wanted to hunt down the miscreants.

In Brooklyn, with a couple of million people, word gets around.

One day, about a week later, a young boy or perhaps 14, came to me on the beach and said he was ordered to be an intermediary. The orders came from “friends” of my attack pack. He was to ask me to agree to leave the fabulous 4 alone and put out orders to that effect. They were regulars and addicted to Riis Park but realized their persona was not grata on any square foot of the mile-long beach. He said if he was not successful, they were going to give him some of what had been given me, perhaps more.

I saw opportunity here. I told him, “I understand, I would not want anything to happen to you. And, it’s all behind me anyhow. Just give me their names so I can tell my people who to leave alone.”

He looked relieved. “I only know two of their first names: Antonio and Jimmy. I don’t know their last.”

I shook his trembling hand and said, “tell Antonio and Jimmy and the others, they are free to some to Riis at anytime, but they owe me, we can have a couple of beers at Howard Johnson’s and drink to letting bygones be bygones.”

“Wow! You’re some guy”, he said, “I gotta go.” He trotted off towards the Bus Stop where I fainted two weeks before.

I smiled and ordered a crew meeting at 6pm where I instructed all guards to include their NYPD billy in their daily uniform as I was hoping for some visitors in the near future.

That day never came. Apparently, Antonio and Jimmy, didn’t believe what their messenger reported to them. I wished I had thought of some more believable story of why they should let their guard down while we kept our guards up.

Had enough of the shedding of  Jack Byrne’s blood? No? Then, here’s one more from off the beating path, but on the beaten path. We’re talking five years later and there was a war on. In Korea.

Since my 1945 service as a marine in WWII had lasted less than two quarters, thanks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and considering that the conflict between North and South Korea was rapidly growing,  I was expecting to serve my country again. This time, now having completed four years at Columbia College, I wanted to be positioned in a more intellectually challenging military activity. I joined the Army Military Intelligence Reserve on August 22nd, 1950.  Until then, no Army reserve units had been called up in New York. But, lo and behold, the 338th MI Reserve was activated on September 11th, 1950, just 20 days later. We were the first. There’s a lot more story for elsewhere but here we are talking about shedding blood. The 338th MI Company was shipped to Fort George Meade, Maryland, for training. The company was anything but “military” in profile. Our best language specialist numbered 254 separate languages and dialects in his word quiver. Our Eastern Europe group, as a Ukrainian chorus, sang daily at dinner for their brethren. Our Sino-Japanese fellows sat all day Sunday on the barracks floor sipping tea and  talking Tokyo trash. I, a measly enlisted man, conducted three-days a week Officer Call lectures on sensitive global areas, like Tibet.

For a year after being called to active duty, excepting a 10-week course in Order of Battle at Fort Riley in Kansas  and 4 weeks of maneuvers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Meade had been my home and I had developed some nice relationships there. But, I wasn’t loved by all, especially by the officers I lectured to (and did not show proper respect) and by my immediate commanding officer (who I considered less than effective at his assignment). So, when a call came to MI for an immediate replacement at the front in Korea, I was the chosen one. In fact, the four-week maneuvers in Fort Bragg, became three as I was sent home packing in advance of packing for my longer journey.

Now, to understand the rest of this story, the 338th MI company, was not the dominant occupant of Fort Meade. In fact, on one side of us were  fresh enlistees, comprising new blood for the 2nd airborne. They felt very macho, indeed, and ready for war even without an enemy. On the other side of the 338th, an Engineer Batallion was camped. They were reservists, virtually all of whom had served in WWII, had families with 2 or 3 “Baby Boomers” and were less than happy to be going to another war, especially one that they did not understand. This combination of oil and water did not mix well and there were a number of incidents off post where gung-ho paratroopers challenged the patriotism or the balls of the older engineers who usually backed down before the crowd at the bar or dance hall providing the stage for these embarrassments.

Finally, after having had it up-to-there a number of times, the engineers had it up to “HERE!” On the day before I arrived back from Fort Bragg, at midnight, five engineers commandeered an M46 Tank  with an M3A1 90mm gun apparently fully loaded with 70 rounds and probably with two or three .30 cal machine guns, then drove the three miles or less from their quarters to the barracks of the 2nd paratroops battalion and using a very LOUD loudspeaker ordered all those bedded down within to ”Fall Out in 30 seconds” or their barracks would be destroyed. Apparently, the engineers were emboldened to make this move since the 2nd was scheduled to ship out three days later and would have little time for retribution.  The entire assemblage was required to recite, “Engineers are real men, paratroops are ass holes.” Within twenty minutes, the whole incident was over without a shot being fired.

When I arrived at 338th MI headquarters the next day and was greeted by the few enlisted men and one officer “holding the fort”, they sympathized with me being the one selected for Korea but were happy to describe the event of the night before to help soothe whatever pain I might have felt in leaving (nobody liked those hyper-active paratrooper wannabes.)

After unpacking my duffel bag, I went to the barracks phone and called Wilma Near (who was not very far). Wilma was an attractive, free spirited, intellectually (and otherwise) stimulating woman civilian military employee, I dated on the post. She had introduced me to some heavy concepts with books by P.D. Ouspensky (Tertium Organum and New Model of the Universe).  She had also introduced me to Vodka and Grapefruit juice which we consumed with “Gusto” with other friends at the Civilian Club on the base.  We made a date to meet at the club, and she would bring the Gusto, a bottle of each. I would bring my newly heroic self on the way to the front in Korea.

Between our barracks and the Civilian Club, there was a short cut through the woods that extended from beyond the engineers barracks south of us to past the paratroopers barracks to our north. It was a narrow path beaten down through a rather scrubby pine forest.

I entered the path and had walked less than a quarter of a mile when four soldiers, wearing paratrooper lariats, walked towards me, then paired off to each side so I could pass on through them, I started to say, “Thanks guys!” but could not get it out because my jaw was suddenly out-of-place thanks to a brass-knuckles wearing fist making contact first.  More blows showered down upon me as I slid to my back trying to get my boot into some face deep enough to leave a recognizable impression. But, the quartet finished first and left me, rushing back down the path  with one saying, as he departed, ”Don’t fuck with  the paratroopers, you old shithead!”

I was stunned, staggered and only 23. I wasn’t old enough to be one of those war-weary engineers. True, I always had pride in that I appeared older than my age. It made things happen,  like with Wilma Near. Who was not very far away, waiting for me at the Civilian Club. When I staggered out of the woods and up to the club entrance, I was stopped by MPs wondering what had happened to me. I tried to explain but I couldn’t be understood. My bloody jaw was so dislocated that I couldn’t form real words. Wilma was there gawking at my mess with a number of other curiosity seekers. She was sympathetic and kept saying “Poor man. Poor man.” while I kept signalling to her and shouting out “WMMMAAAAAA SHISHEE!  WILMAAAAA SHISHEE!” (trns. Wilma, it’s me!)

It took a few moments before she realized something, took a closer look,  and shouted, “Oh My God, you’re Jack! What the fuck happened?”

I couldn’t tell her but she stuck with me through the MP jeep ride to the base hospital where the resident dentist (no doctor on duty) stuck his powerful thumbs into my mouth and pushed hard. To a sound equivalent to a tree limb cracking, my jaw snapped back into place. It was swollen but talkable.

At last, I could give my incident report to the MPs who wondered aloud if it related to The Incident at the Airborne barracks the night before and opined that I was probably a case of mistaken identity. In sympathy for my plight and my appearance, they drove me back to the 338th Barracks where I washed my head and changed my shirts and then drove Wilma and I to our original destination: The Civilian Club. Wilma still had “Gusto” held close to her body and ready to join us. These were amongst the most appreciated drinks of my life, regardless of the frequent trickling out of my slackened jaw.

But, I learned two things that night.

1. I was a first. In forty years of existence,  Fort George Meade had never had a mugging on the post. There’s a certain pride in being “the only one” of anything.

2. Even though your jaw has been dislocated, you can still enjoy eating pussy … with  Gusto.

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