Black

In the summer of 1957, while stationed at Biloxi, Mississippi four of us often went to town together. One of us was a tall black man from Houston. He redefined the word black. On Saturday, after inspection, we all headed for town. A city bus came through the base. At the gate black people had to move go the four rear seats. He didn’t like doing that, so we all got off there.

The guy from Houston always wore yellow shorts, yellow shirt, yellow cap, yellow knee-high stockings, and black shoes.

His personality was just as colorful as his outfit. And we liked him.

Zeke 8

Arrangements were made that Mr. Banner, Sally’s attorney, would arrive the following morning to draw up the papers and oversee an inventory. Zeke was admiring the Texas morning when an old Dodge pickup turned off the highway.

“I think you might have a visitor, Sally.”

She joined Zeke while drying her hands on her apron.

“That’s Mr. Banner.”

“I expecting him to arrive in a big Lincoln.”

“Dan asked him about that old pickup when we first started this business,” Sally explained. “He said he was finished impressing people.”

After rolling to a stop, he climbed out and fetched his cane and then headed inside.

“Morning Sally,” he drawled, reaching out to shake. “You must be Zeke,” he said grabbing Zeke’s hand. “I have two young men coming. I’m expecting them any moment,” he added, directing his statement to Sally.

“That must be them now,” she exclaimed, her eyes focused on a red convertible turning off the highway.

Mr. Banner sat up shop on the yellow Formica table, then issued preprinted forms along with detailed verbal instructions. And then everything was set into motion. By noon the inventory was finished and an asking price was established. Mr. Banner had already touched bases with the prospective buyer.

“These buyers wouldn’t share their plans with me. But I did some snooping and learned they use helicopters rather than fixed-wing aircraft. I suspect they won’t offer a fair price for these airplanes, so with your permission I have a second listing that excludes the planes and spare parts, just in case.

“What will I do with the Stearman?”

“That‘s a bargaining tool, my dear,” he said, smiling. “I’ll be in touch,” he added and then headed back to town.

Zeke continued on his inspection. Replacing a worn control cable took more time than he had figured. The shadows were lengthening by the time he was finished. Since it was late, she was preparing supper for him before heading back to the motel. He was closing the hangar doors when he noticed a bank of clouds moving in from the west. They were round and puffy. Orange lightning was playing through them, first lighting one, then another, in no special order. They reminded Zeke of gigantic Christmas balls.

“I don’t like the looks of that storm,” he told Sally when she came to fetch him for supper.

“I don’t either.”

He followed her to the yellow Formica table. After serving up two plates she turned on a white Arvin AM radio, a classic 5-tube superhetrodyne receiver that reached back into the years of Zeke‘s youth. After the filaments had warmed a local station issued a tornado watch advisory extending until 2 AM.

“What do you generally do when this sort of thing comes up? Do you have a shelter you go to?” he asked.

“No, I don’t have a shelter. I just stay here and stick it out. So far they’ve all missed me. I always keep a spare water jug, a propane camp stove, and a lantern in case the power goes out.”

“Dan wouldn’t want you being alone. I’ll stay here with you.”

She didn’t object. Instead, she fetched a fold-up cot from a storage closet and set it out for Zeke. And then they waited. In an hour the wall-to-wall static rendered the AM radio useless, so they turned it off and resumed waiting.

Eventually, the wind freshened and horizontal rain drops the size of quarters pelted the metal hanger like machine gun fire. Thunder made the Texas prairie sound like a giant bowling alley, rattling Sally’s dishes and cupboard doors.

In the midst of it they thought they heard the storm warning system sounding six miles away. Then lightning became continuous. Wind rattled the doors while testing every rivet and bolt holding the hangar together.

The severity of the storm lasted only twenty minutes or so before tapering off. Within the hour it was over, the only remainder being the sound of the storm growling its way in a northeasterly direction.

When he awoke the following morning he shoved a hangar door open and watched dawn usher in a new day.

Zeke 07

Sally took Zeke up on his offer for breakfast at the all-night café. As she got out from behind the wheel and started toward the entryway he noticed she had changed more attractive clothing. As he followed her to a booth he caught a whiff of her perfume. After they were seated he realized she had added a touch of eyeliner pale lipstick. A vast change from how he’d found her the day before. Again, however, he reminded himself he’d swung by to give her a hand, not stand around ogling.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked after the waitress had brought menus and coffee.

“We need to jump on that other inspection. If we don’t find any major problems we can knock it out before evening.”

“I thought about your suggestion of selling out.”

“And?“

“It’s worth exploring,“ she said.

“Do you have any possible interest?” he asked.

“Maybe. I’d forgotten about a visitor a couple of months back. A corporation that sent an attorney by. I wasn’t much interested in talking to him, so we never got around to offers or much of anything, for that matter. I dug through my desk last night and found his card. I thought I might call and see if there’s still any interest. What do you think?”

The waitress brought their breakfasts and warmed their coffee. Zeke waited until she headed back for the kitchen before he responded. “It doesn’t cost anything to see if there’s any interest.”

“What should I say?”

“Just ask if his client is still interested. Do you have an attorney?”
“Yes. He’s represented me a few times when farmers claimed the wind had carried my chemicals onto their property.”

“Then he understands the crop-dusting business?” Zeke asked.

“To some extent. At least from the legal aspect.“

“Would he represent you reach an agreement with this corporation?”

“I think so …I‘m sure he would.”

They both finished their meals in silence and enjoyed two more coffee refills before heading back to the hangar.

Zeke set in on the second aircraft inspection while Sally spent some time exploring the possibility of selling the business.

They were having lunch when the corporation attorney arrived. Sally started to leave her meal, but Zeke suggested she should let him wait. “Don’t appear as eager as you feel.”

“Is there a place we can talk privately?“ the attorney asked.

“It’s okay to say what you need to say right here. I won’t be committing to anything today. I have an attorney who will be handling the details. I was just making certain your client is still interested,“ she said.

“Well, the corporation is interested. Of course, we need to establish what’s for sale – land, aircraft, vehicles, and equipment, or only a portion.” he replied.

“My attorney will be contacting you,” Sally said.

“There’s been some rumors of foreclosure. Allowing that to happen would only complicate matters. That’s why I’m here today.”

“I’m sure the rumors are running, but there is still time. My attorney will contact you as soon as we are prepared to negotiate.”

The corporate attorney was slow to leave, but he finally handed her a second card and then headed back to town.

“Zeke, my attorney will be here this afternoon to start an inventory. Can you handle the entire inspection by yourself?”

“I’m on it.”

 

Zeke 06

As Sally dropped him off at the motel she mentioned an all-night café nearby if he was so inclined. His plan was to go directly to bed, but after a shower and changing into the only extra clothes he’d brought in his AWOL bag he stepped out the door of his room to take stock of the area. As she’d stated, a 24 hour café was only a block away and promptly set off in that direction.

With the dinner hour past he was the only customer and waitress bearing his menu appeared exhausted.

“Rough crowd tonight?” he asked, gazing at the offering she‘d handed him.

“It usually is,” she replied, struggling to present a smile.

He, too, was exhausted after the late night plane ride to Dallas and then the westbound Greyhound at 0300 hours. So he let the conversation go and ordered a hamburger, fries, and coffee. Upon returning to his room and fell asleep.

Old habits are difficult to break. He was up at the first glint of dawn. After dressing, he set out for the café again. Pleased to find a booth at an east window, he ordered coffee and waited for the Texas sun to make it’s astounding appearance. He hadn’t been there long before a tall, young fellow wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson pushed through the door and chose a stool at the counter.

“So how’s trucking driving school going?” the redhead sat a steaming cup coffee in front of him.

“So so. They haven’t been able to teach me anything I didn’t already know. This whole CDL business is a crock,” he said. She walked away, but he kept on talking, pointing out weaknesses he’d noticed in his driving instructor. She made no comment – didn’t even look up – just kept on with her busy work, filling salt and pepper shakers and napkin dispensers.

An older man, perhaps in his forties, entered, nodded as he passed Zeke and then occupied the booth next to Zeke‘s. He was dressed in gray slacks with an extremely sharp crease, shirt and tie and a zip up sports jacket. He ordered coffee and a glazed donut.

He was about to take a bite of his donut when another man dressed in a similar fashion pushed through the door “Good morning, Steve. Where are you off to today?”

“Los Angeles.”

“That’s a good place to be from.”

“True enough, but I won’t be there long.”

“How long will it take, do you think?” Steve’s friend asked.

“Oh,” he said, pushing up his sleeve and glancing at his watch. “Maybe noon. Depends on the traffic. You know how that goes.”

“Noon!” shouted the cowboy truck driver. “Hell, it’s fifteen hundred miles to Los Angeles.”

“You’re right. What was I thinking,” said Steve, dropping a five-dollar bill and sliding out of the booth.

“Did you know that fellow is flying a Lear jet to Los Angeles?” the waitress asked the truck driver.

“No! I bet he thinks I’m an idiot.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” the waitress replied, heaving a visible sigh.

Steve’s friend smiled at me.

The truck driver paid for coffee and left without a another word.

Zeke was about to go into his room when Sally rolled to a stop. “Have you had breakfast?” she shouted through the open pickup window.

“Good morning, Sally. No I haven’t. I was waiting. Let’s drive up to the café and I buy breakfast while we plan today’s work schedule,” he suggested.

Patches Finds A Good Home

Nearly a month has passed since I found that young pup hiding beneath a training room at the firehouse. I brought her home, knowing we could not provide a permanent place for her. Ours was a stopgap measure to prevent her from losing her life out on the US highway.

We contacted the local veterinary hospital, but they couldn’t help. Neither could the animal shelter because they are fighting Parvo – a serious dog disease – and unable to take anymore homeless animals.

This morning we came to grips with our dire situation. About 9 o’clock we took her to Walmart where I taped a sign on the windshield that read: PATCHES NEEDS A HOME.

Usually, the Walmart parking lot is filled to capacity on any given Friday morning. But not this morning. We parked close to the food entrance and waited. A half-hour passed before that magic moment arrived. A young couple needed a young dog to help his widower father through his long, lonesome days.

We,will miss Patches, but we are comforted knowing she is serving a greater need than ours.

Yank

Upon starting this project I thought I could bring out some high points, but I soon discovered someone had already done that. There was nothing left for me to do unless I wanted to copy it word-for-word. So, instead I’m passing along the last page.

The scribbled names of American soldiers are big and black on the walls of the fortress of Verdun. One of them says;

Austin White – Chicago Ill. 1918

Austin White – Chicago Ill. 1945

This is the last time

I want to sign my name here.

Yank

Several years ago I found Yank on the sale table at Barnes & Noble.. It was priced at a dollar. Having no knowledge of bar codes, I don’t know how deep that discount is.

Yank is a compilation of the Yank Magazine which began publication by GIs for GIs in May 1942. It cost a nickel or Two dollars per year. However, if you had neither that was okay.

I was too young to participate in World War II, though I distinctly recall four of my uncles responding to their call to arms. But I don’t recall anyone mentioning Yank Magazine. Yet I realized what it was. The book is has a copyright of 1991, 46 years after the end of the war.

It’s dedicated to KILROY and the 14,216,097 dogfaces, swabbies, leathernecks, airhogs, crate pushers, and Seabees who fought beside him.

KILLROY was a ship rivet inspector.

I have a few other projects I‘m pushing along, so this will be a slow read. On no particular schedule I’ll add posts, summations of what I’ve grasped from these 350 pages of text and cartoons.

The Dirty Cup

Poindexter had played with the girls too long. That resulted in his having to ride his Indian all night, cutting an eastbound path along US 78 like he’s stolen it. In spite of his effort five hundred miles still lay ahead and he was only hours short of being AWOL.

Exhausted, the morning sun had just peeked over the horizon. His blinking became a conscious effort. He mustered every ounce of his strength in order to keep his eyes from slamming shut and staying closed.

Ahead, on the right hand side he spotted a Chevron sign and beneath it a red neon flashing the word CAFE. Rolling the throttle grip back, he let his machine decelerate and when he reached the drive he wheeled to the pump closest to the service station office and cut the engine. Inside, behind the café counter stood a middle-aged man with bushy hair, a gray beard and wearing a towel that served as a makeshift apron.

Poin, as he friends called him, stayed on his Indian and waited. But the man behind the counter made no move toward the door. Poin dismounted, Without removing his leather gloves, he pushed the door open

“Is this self-service, or what?” he asked.

“Ain’t got no gas.”

Something in the man’s manner told him it wasn’t true. Poin was in no mood for games, so he let his urge to use his drill instructor voice pass. Instead, he stepped through and perched on a stool.

“Since I’ve gone to trouble to stop here, fix me a plate of ham and eggs over medium, grits, and toast.”

“Ain’t got the grill turned on yet.”

“The sign says you do,” growled Poin.

“Well, it ain’t.”

“You got any coffee?”

“I got coffee.” Returning from the kitchen he sat the heavy white mug on the counter. “Cream?”

“This coffee’s cold. Hell, the cup’s dirty. What the hell, you got something against marines?”

“I don’t like service people. You’re all a bunch of hired killers.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I’m a marine.”

“Why are you telling me that?”

“Because I want you to remember who beat the crap out of this on this sunny Alabama morning,” Poin barked, using his drill instructor voice. Then he vaulted the counter and split the cook’s lip open with a heavy white mug. The next swing broke two teeth off at the gum.

Poin vaulted back over the counter. In one quick motion he had the Indian running. Knowing the man would send the police after him as soon as he could talk, he sped east, and then headed north. He stopped for gas and a Coke an hour north of US 78.

He wasn’t sleepy anymore. Good thing, because he’d wasted a lot of time with that bozo with the dirty cup.

Now he had one more reason to dislike service people.

Hawking’s New Pill

There was a time when I considered the words uttered by Stephen Hawking worth considering. However, about a year ago he made a bold statement that turned me off.

“Christians are afraid of the dark,” he said.

In my opinion no one is entitled to belittle another person’s faith. Not even, him.

Zeke 05

“I asked my brother, Jed, if he knew of any crop dusting activity in North Dakota. He said he didn’t,” said Zeke after she’d returned and they carried the things into the hangar.

“You sure can’t say that about here,” Sally replied. “Everybody and his uncle is bidding for work here.”

“All the more reason to get out before you are forced into upgrading. I don’t know how many acres it takes to support a crop duster.”

“A lot. You’ve done a lot of this maintainer work, haven‘t you? What was the toughest job?”

“Repairing damage from a lightning strike,” Zeke replied without hesitation

“Oh?”

“When I first enlisted, the air force sent me to school on airborne navigation systems and then assigned to the A&E Squadron with the 72nd Bomb Wing in Puerto Rico. I hadn’t seen any of the systems I found on the bombers and tankers. I played catch up for a few months.

“Our wing commander, a brigadier general, attended an Eighth Air Force Commander’s Call at a Massachusetts air base. I don‘t know how often he made the trip, but when he went he always used a base flight aircraft, one of the two 1942 C-54s. One night, while returning from Commander’s Call they flew into a severe storm somewhere over the Atlantic and took a lightning strike.

“It fried everything that required electrical power – generators, batteries, lights, navigation and communications systems. They were in the dark and alone. Fortunately, the navigator knew how to navigate with out all the bells and whistles. Using only a watch whiskey compass, flashlight, sextant, and of course the Celestial Navigation Book….”

“What’s a Celestial Navigation Book?“ Sally interrupted.

“Oh, that’s an old book published in England that lists the exact positions of certain stars used to navigate by at certain given times. With that book, a watch, and a sextant a navigator can calculate a present position, called a waypoint and from that lay in a course.“

“Oh.”

He suspected she didn‘t know what he was talking about, but that was okay. It wasn’t important, so he carried on with his story.

“The navigator laid a course straight to Ramey AFB on the west end of the Puerto Rico. They had to pump the gears down by hand. Having no landing lights they had to buzz the tower so they would turn on the runway lights. Probably scared the crap of the guys in the tower,” he said, smiling.

“I guess.”

“The following morning the general came to our shop with verbal orders that he wanted a man assigned to base flight to fix that airplane. I’d been to school on APS-42 search radar system way back when, so I was sent to do the job.

“I found the wiring harnesses damaged beyond repair. Had the decision been mine, I would have thrown the plane away, but that wasn‘t an option. At that point I was in way over my head. I’d never done anything that extensive in my life.

“I was able to order wiring harnesses salvaged from the air force bone yard in Arizona. I then installed serviceable components – receiver/transmitter, antennas. That stuff was hard to get. Even with a general’s pull it took seven weeks before we could put that C-54 back in the air.”

“Did you get a promotion because of that?”

“Of course not.”

By evening we had finished one aircraft. As Sally drove Zeke to a motel for the night he explained that the industry was using the old biplanes anymore. They were changing over to Air Tractors and helicopters. “It’s only a matter of time before they force to upgrade or get out.”

She nodded and then swung into a motel with a vacancy sign.