Some Yardbirds Can Fly Backward
Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto
never saw such crap games and drinking and hullabaloo as went on in
that bar day and night by soldiers celebrating their upcoming separation
after years in the army spent in every type of job from cleaning latrines
to front line action, from Berlin to Tokyo. His key long-time buddies
surrounded Tech/Sgt. Kelly under the clouds of fetid tobacco smoke thickly
hanging over their table in a greenish-yellow light as it did over a
dozen other crowded tables. Kelly's good-natured, breadloaf face and
moony eyes yawed over the sea of gray.
wait for it to happen," Kelly purred, pretty well loaded. When Kelly
drank his brain did not become gripped by anger or hostility or violence
but by Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers in which Kelly
now felt entitled to live subscription free. "I been waitin' for this
like forever," he mumbled for the hundred and twenty-fifth time. "Nobody
ever saw anything like my Adelaide, and she's holed up in our little
house that's sittin' on our little lawn, ready to jump into her little
nightgown just for me!" They shouted approval, banged the table, swilled
more beer, and demanded he keep in touch. Sgt. Smitty, lean and lank,
and Cpl. Bucky, a beer barrel, both regular army, were staying with
the remnants of the regiment here at Fort Dix. the separation base in
New Jersey. Private first class. Kugle, a refugee, had signed on for
another two years, and the Quaker, a private, still had some time before
he could leave and get on the GI Bill. I knew them all.
had miraculously kept his bunch together and had run the company in
his famous offhanded manner throughout the war. It was a service and
supply outfit well behind the lines. Eddie Kugle, built like a pumpkin,
was the only one to have fired his rifle. He spotted a stray, frightened
German aiming a potshot at Kelly when Kugle hit him, the German, not
Kelly, right in the ass, after which Kugle was famous as the guy who
left our enemies behind.
millions desperate to go home and the army desperate to put a lock on
the service units that could organize the paper work for their release,
their shots, their transport, their documents, Kelly's view of that
massive job was not singular. "Never want to see this goddam army again.
I am going to sit down on my fat can and take the longest damn break
you ever saw. I am going to forget you bums and all this horseradish."
He rarely used outright slang, but nobody could mistake his meaning.
"I've had all the horseradish I can take from this army. I will go
out of my mind if I have to hang around with you muckin' idiots another
day. And I know you will be just as glad to be rid of this bucket full
of Dungeness crab once and for all!"
loudly protested that, but he went on more sadly. "Listen, you guys,"
he half whispered, "I pity you. Every one of you in this place, in this
snafu army, this snafu crew of all time - " His eyes slowly filled as
he hazily looked at each one. "Years in barracks, in tents, in the mud,
what horseradish. Life was one long bull session, that's all we had...
Hey! You! Guys! I'm going to see my Adelaide! My kids!" He stood up,
raising his glass, picturing them in a Saturday Evening Post cover,
the kids waving little flags, the table behind them stacked with a sumptuous
Thanksgiving dinner, Adelaide in an apron having just cooked it and
ready to put his slippers on him as he sat in an easy chair holding
gon' do the first theng ya git home,?" quipped Smitty, leering at him.
"Tell ya the second thing I'm gonna do," Kelly grinned.
"I'm gonna make friends with my kids who don't know me. Then I'm gonna
enjoy some of Addie's fancy cookin'. And I'm gonna stay in that sack
until they dredge me out."
Cpl. Bucky emitted a huge burp as if to second that.
"You've got to keep in touch with us, Sarge - " Quaker
"I ain't a writer, y'know, Quaker. But you guys come
around. Michigan ain't that far. You and I still got a lot of talkin'
to do, Quaker." They'd be up all hours in the middle of the war discussing
why men kill and Kelly wasn't satisfied he had even an approach to the
answer yet. The whole bunch of them would stay up gabbing about everything
and anything. Kelly always claimed he still had the simple soul of a
yardbird, same as when he first flew in, and it was probably that that
kept him so close to his men. Yardbirds were the lowliest privates sent
to do the most menial jobs.
Kelly finished getting ready for bed he came out of his noncom room
in the barracks and they sat around shooting the breeze on his last
night in camp until they fell asleep in their cots one by one including
Eddie Kugle who usually could yap forever. Then Kelly stole back into
his quarters and said his prayers. "Why don't you get out, too, Eddie?"
were the last words Kelly said to him. "Where the hell am I going to
go?" Kugle asked in his Polish accent. "All I got left is my escaped
grandmother and she's so gone she doesn't know me anymore. But it's
sure gonna be a horse of another color around here without you, Charley."
the morning they piled into a jeep, Kelly driving in his usual crazy
way, and saw him off at the railroad that would take him to his connection.
They gave him a bottle of champagne to have with Adelaide, and a package
of lollipops for the kids. Kelly's sloppy command, his easy-going but
hands-on control had supplied a lazy coercion that minimized goldbricking
because everyone knew what they had in Kelly and would never let him
down. The new company sergeant, Sgt. Drape, was soon called Sgt. Drip.
He was a drill man with a short nose and a crew cut so stiff you could
plant seeds in it. He had no talent for running a service outfit which
he thought could achieve best results by snapping orders at it. Pretty
soon things began to get mucked up. The company captain, bucking for
major and intending to become a colonel if he could conceal his fear
of explosions, spent the next month trying to locate the bungler but
didn't realize it was the Drip. Meanwhile, the Drip was telling everyone
what a screwball Kelly had been and how disorderly the unit had been
run. That's when the men decided to have a meeting to plan to get to
the captain with the real scuttlebutt and hint to him how he could save
his own ass. It was six weeks to the day that Kelly had left them in
this lurch. Quaker and Smitty, on their way to the meeting in the barracks,
barged in, and nearly fainted. Kelly, looking like a condom salesman
in a suit that hadn't been quite completed, it sort of hung all over
him like bags, and looking sickly pale in his jowly cheeks, his hair
hanging over his brow, but his shoes polished as usual to the nines,
if dusty, sat on a cot in the far corner with Kugle and Bucky staring
at him. Kugle swayed from side to side as if he was praying in a synagogue
while Bucky sniffed in at his nose as if he was crying. Nobody said
anything, they were altogether so stunned.
you go home with your discharge in your hand like I told you to?" Kugle
tried to joke. Nobody laughed.
"Yeah, like I did that," Kelly said with a weak smile.
"I only came back to tell you what it's like to open that door, the
door of that little house with the big lawn and see Adelaide standing
there like a vanilla sundae made in heaven, all whipped cream. And the
kids, three faces you'd need an angel to paint. It didn't matter to
anybody what we were gonna have for dinner that night because you could
have sent out for the world's pissiest chow mein, it wouldn't have made
a goddam bit of difference we were in such a scramble being there all
together raising such a racket you'd think you were back on the firing
range. But in fact chow mein is exactly what we did have that night
and I was the one who was sent out to get it, Adelaide was so relieved
it didn't have to be her again. But if you saw the way they climbed
over me! I'm talkin' about Charley junior, Medea- that was Adelaide's
name her - and Buster - a name that fits like a spike in a railroad
- wow - I never had a week in the army like that week in our little
house. You don't know what love is until you have been kicked in the
shins fifteen or twenty times in a row- that's Buster- who walks in
the air when you hold him up and waves his feet like a propeller, lemme
tell you, or put him down and let him go and he can give you a nosebleed
with one sock. But that Adelaide, oh, boy, you know she quit getting
out of bed for breakfast the day I come home because she says she's
been getting up for over four years to give everybody breakfast, and
can you blame her? Listen, if it wasn't for the condition the lawn was
in I wouldn't have had to mow it and throw my back because looking for
a job was the most important thing before anything else. Which I did
do, and like an idiot when they asked me what I knew best I said being
a sergeant, which didn't get me any offers. At night when I turned the
radio on to do my favorite thing, listen to the ball game, Adelaide
wanted to talk. She could do it three, four hours straight and didn't
even ask me to say anything. And though I have the best three kids on
that block I am bruised all over. The morning is jump up and down on
daddy time. Well, somebody had to get the breakfast."
got up and dragged the suitcase, which he had shoved under the bed,
out saying, "I thought the best thing to do was to take one of these
off-base army houses being offered here, move the family, and be able
to spend most of the week in the barracks where I belong and go home
on weekends." He pulled his uniform out of his suitcase and began to
change his clothes. "So I re-enlisted. They even offered me a hike in
rank. Call me Master Sergeant Kelly," he said with a grin, and added
with a sigh, "and snap to."
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