Making Friends

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In October 1956 I stumbled out of a Missouri corn field and enlisted in the Air Force. Unforeseen events occurred immediately.

Our physical examinations were conducted by an MD, an attractive young woman. We were naked and embarrassed beyond words. One-by-one we marched to her table and waited while she examined us. One poor soul had a gigantic erection. It was purple, matching his complexion. “Do you always go around like that?” she asked. His response was a grunting sound. After a brief pause she smacked it with her pencil and it went limp. I don’t recall ever seeing him again.

Those of us who passed the tests assembled at Kansas City’s Union Station where we were sworn in. After issuing our service numbers the sergeant-in-charge turned us loose for about four hours, with a stern warning. DO NOT MISS YOUR TRAIN.

I didn’t know my way around Kansas City, but a new acquaintance, a stocky fellow in our group, said he did, so the two of us headed to the Missouri River bottoms to see if we could find a place that would sell us beer. One of the places we visited had a small pool table with bumpers pegs strategically located on the green. I’d never seen anything like it. I assumed my partner hadn’t either, the way he began asking questions – how it was played, how to keep score. An older guy, maybe 35 – one of several loitering about, started explaining how it worked and then challenged him to a game. Something was afoot, so I turned down my invitation.

My friend won a couple and lost a few. Pretty soon he was challenged to betting a quarter on each game. The onlookers now took an interest, placing side bets. The bidding went back and forth with time and the pot eventually grew to about fifty bucks, all hinging on the fate of the last three balls.

My friend cleaned the guy’s plow, as it were, and then grabbed all the money, even the side bets. I had no experience in such things, but I was a quick learner. We managed to slip past them and into the street, and beat-feet toward the train depot while three or four angry men were hard on our heels. Fortunately, we were younger and a bit faster.

Upon arrival, we melted into a throng of fellow travelers and stayed lost until our train was called.

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