The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did
by Joe Holt
Rod and I worked on the mess decks together. Rotten duty. Horrible hours. Reville at 0500. Taps whenever. The cooks needed us available at a moments notice so we didnt rack in the troop compartment with our outfit. We were given this little cubbyhole with six or eight racks. Really cramped quarters. More so than the troop compartments. The Pickaway pulled into Subic Bay. The second time in a month. We'd spent the last couple of weeks in Vietnam. Near Quang Nai. The first liberty in Olongapo had been a revelation, but this time we were veterans. I
even had some money this time. That $65 combat pay made me feel rich. I crossed the bridge with a sense of daring Id not had the first trip. I was determined to have a good time.
Once in town I got my MPC converted to Pesos at the first booth I came to. I hadn't gone twenty feet down the main drag when I saw something in a shop window that I just had to have. A bugle! What was I thinking? I had an absolutely clear vision of myself being the life of the
Olongapo party by traveling from bar to bar with this bugle, blowing Reveille to my hearts content. I was totally oblivious to the possibility of making a fool out of myself. If theres a town on earth where a fella can be a horses ass and get away with it, its gotta be Olongapo.
I walked on in, pointed to the bugle in the window, and in less than a minute I was the proud owner of this shiny new bugle. Ten bucks maybe.
Who remembers? Id learned how to blow a bugle when I was a kid (like two years before), but Id never had an opportunity to show off with it. Looking back that moment all I remember is being so damn proud. Simple things for simple minds I reckon. So off I went down the street. I walked straight to Paulines. I'd been there the month before, and I remember it was the biggest joint in town so I'd have a good sized audience for sure. As I walked in there were dozens of
tables in front of me, and the long bar immediately to the right. As the friendly young ladies were asking me if Id like to sit at a table with them I just scooted over to the bar and plopped down on a stool. I stood my bugle up on the bar and ordered a drink. The bartender walked up to take my order, but the first words out of his mouth were, You gonna play that? I said, I'm thinkin about it. You play it. Ill give you a free drink. I couldn't believe my luck. This is exactly how Id imagined it! This is it!
As I picked up my bugle, only then did it cross my mind that this was a
goofy thing to do, but this is what I'd imagined. I couldn't stop now. I took a deep breath and let go with one fine rendition of Reveille if I do say so
myself. As the first notes blasted across the room I got an immediate and startling reaction. Everybody jumped about a foot. Glasses were spilled, and
bottles fell over, but nobody was mad, just surprised. A few seconds later everybody in the room was smiling. Mostly Marines. Some sailors. Grinning. When I'd completed my last note I got a pretty good round of applause, and from then on I didn't have to buy one drink. It seemed to me that about half the folks in the room offered to buy me a drink. I had two or three lined up on the bar in front of me pretty much the whole time. Every twenty minutes or so somebody would ask me to play it again, and I would. More drinks. My nineteen year old liver was gettin a workout. I even did a Chow Call once just to prove to some guy that I knew it. Later I tried to do a Taps, but when your lips are numb its downright difficult to do it without a lot of squeeking and such. Three or four Reveilles into the afternoon and I was totally shitfaced. I still had drinks on the bar, but I figured I'd had too much as it was. I didn't feel comfortable when I was gettin numb. Insecure really. I told the group around me that I was going to make a head call then I just left.
I didn't have to be back across the bridge till 2300, but it was only late
afternoon. I made the semiconscious decision to go back to the ship. In the heat of the afternoon the drinks were really messing me up. I
don't remember how I got to the ship. I do remember vaguely going to my little mess deck cubbyhole and lying down. Nobody else was there. I just conked
The mess cook woke me up. Id been dozing off and on for I don't know how long. Five in the morning maybe? He needed somebody to swab down the mess deck area before morning chow, and I looked to be in better shape than any of the other guys in this little group. He was right. I felt great. I hadn't had that much sleep in months. I decided to roust Rod too.
What the hell. I wasn't going to do all the work. He was on the lower rack directly across from me. I nudged him with my foot. No response. I kicked him, but just a little. He groaned and moved a bit, but I realized that he was still half drunk from the night before. Then I had the most brilliant idea that Private Holt had ever come up with.
I reached behind myself and plucked my trusty bugle from my hanging
helmet from side of the rack. I bent down, put the bugle about a foot from Rods head, then started to blast away with another perfect rendition of
Reveille. A lot happened in those few seconds, the most dramatic of which was Rod jerking awake, opening his eyes somewhat, and in one spastic
motion, punching my bugle halfway down my throat. My lip lost a bit as the mouthpiece skidded by. My teeth shattered. Everybody yelled at once, and I
mean everybody. The three or four other sleepers in the room yelled. Rod yelled, but most of all, I yelled. AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! Or to be
truthful, MMMMMPPPPPHHHHHH! I spit out what felt like a dozen teeth. Blood splattering as I yelled. I was horrified. My pretty little face with my pretty little teeth were maimed forever! I was angry. Real angry. At who? Rod? He was drunk, it wasn't his fault. In those few seconds it was clear to me that this was the dumbest damn thing I'd ever done, and I'd done some dumb stuff, just ask anybody. I ran out of the compartment, up the nearest ladder, onto the deck, and threw the bugle as far as I could into the waters of Subic Bay. I had to suffer till 0800 when the ships dentist could give me a minute of his time. Until then I hadn't opened my mouth. I was afraid the cooler air across my busted teeth would be painful. That and the fact that it felt
horrible. I didn't relish the thought of actually surveying the damage. As I sat in the dentist chair I was prepared for the worst, but as it turned out there wasn't nearly as much damage as I'd imagined. I'd chipped three teeth, and broken one of my buck teeth in half. Almost a perfect circle in my smile. My lips were two huge scabs by this time. The dentist got his drilling gear
out and buffed off the raggedy edges, but other than that there was nothing he was gonna do.
Rod barely remembered the incident. We lost him a few weeks later. I lived with that hole in my smile for two and a half years till I got em fixed while I was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. They had real dentists there! The broken one was replaced completely by a cap. Its changed color over the years so now its a bit yellower than the others, but every morning when I
look in the mirror and check out my feeble smile with what looks like a corn nut on the front I'm reminded of Rod and the time I did the dumbest thing I've ever done.