Some Yardbirds Can Fly Backward

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto


   You 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.

   "Can't 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.

   Kelly 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.

   With 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!"

   Everyone 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 a beer.

   "Whatcha gon' do the first theng ya git home,?" quipped Smitty, leering at him. Everybody laughed.
   "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 said, depressed.
   "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.

   When 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."

   In 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.

   "Didn't 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."

   He 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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Copyright August 3, 2000-


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