Why is it some memories are so hazy, sometimes you can't even remember what you had for dinner; duh de duh de duh. Yet, other memories are etched forever on the surface of your brain. They have no particular significance, but it's like they found a prominent spot & every time -- or quite often -- when the memory scanner goes by, there they are, perched on a little knob, waiting to be picked up.
When I got drafted in late June 1955, they sent us to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, where they outfitted us, cut off all our hair, and had us cutting weeds for three days in the Arkansas heat before they put us on a train & sent us -- I think we celebrated the fourth of July sometime during the trip -- to Camp Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for basic training. Which, all things & particularly the season considered, was a heckuva lot better than doing basic training in the Arkansas sun.
Anyhow, when I finished up eight weeks later, I had a week of leave before going to Camp Gordon just outside of Augusta, Georgia, for radio-teletype training. This was less rigorous, but I never did see the Master's course while I was there.
But I digress. When I "graduated" from basic, my folks and sister drove out to Colorado to pick me up. I think they had the light blue '51 Studebaker Commander then -- the one with the torpedo nose & lots of pickup. So, rather than going straight back to Council Bluffs, we decided to take the long way back -- through the Rocky Mountain National Park & Estes Park -- & do a little sight seeing on the way.
After looking at the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, we drove up to Denver late in the afternoon and got a motel room. After supper, Jane & took the car & went out & ended up at a nightclub up on top of Lookout Mountain. And it was such a magnificent view, that the next morning, as we were buying some supplies for a picnic lunch later that day, I said, "Before we leave Denver, why don't we go up on top of Lookout Mountain and enjoy the view. Jane and I went last night and it was fantastic!"
So off we drove, me at the wheel, up that mountain road. And what I saw in the daytime -- that I hadn't seen at night -- was how the edge of the road stopped & all there was was down!!! I mean straight drop-off time! So, knuckles white & hands grasped firmly on the steering wheel, I hugged the center line as we twisted & turned our way up and down.
But I digress. The "moment frozen in time" in my memory occurred later that day when we had stopped for lunch in the Rocky Mountain National Park. My mother was busy arranging some sticks and twigs in a pile when she suddenly noticed these two big boots in front of her. As she looked up, she saw they were attached to a big forest ranger, complete with uniform, hat, badge & all.
And, as she knelt there, looking up, the forest ranger said to her, "You weren't going to make a fire, were you?"
And I can still see my mother, sticks in hand, just looking up & shaking her head from side to side & saying, "Oh no. No; no fire."
And for instance:
It was my second or third day in the army and we were at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, where we had this corporal with a Southern accent -- I think he may have been from Texas -- ordering us around. The corporal called everybody "stud." It was "stud" this & "stud" that & "alright 'stud,' move it!"
Anyhow, it was early in the morning at roll call & we were all standing there at attention, including Jimmy Robinson, as the corporal called the roll. Jimmy was probably not much more than sixteen years old -- I think he had lied about his age to join the army; I entered the service under duress as a draftee -- & was from somewhere in the hills of Tennessee. Except he called it "Tinnissee."
Well, the corporal got to the "R's" & hollered out, "Robinson, James D." Jimmy just stood there, didn't say a thing.
The corporal shouted again, "Robinson, James D.!" Silence. Even though we could all see him standing there.
And then a third time, "Robinson, James D.!!"
Finally, there was this little high-pitched voice from somewhere in the ranks saying, "Do you mean Jimmy D. Robinson??"
With a couple of "studs" interspersed, the corporal told Jimmy to double time around the barracks ten times. And while he was doing it he was instructed to shout at the top of his voice, "My name is Robinson, James D.!!"
And for instance:
Coming back into the South Building after lunch (maybe at the Flagship, but I can't remember for sure) at the first wing entrance on C Street (Bob Fones once said -- and it was perhaps his most famous statement -- "they'll never close C Street!" But that's another story). It was sometime during the 1960's because I'd been working at Agriculture for a number of years & Mike Bay was still there.
So we came into the building at the 12th & C Streets entrance -- no guards back in those days -- & a bunch of other people got on the elevator with us. And as we went up, one of the guys -- obviously mistaking me for someone else -- said, "Well, now that you've been with us for a couple of months, what do you think of the outfit?"
Why is it you always think of these great responses afterwards, but not at the time they're needed? If only I had said, "Well, frankly, it's a pretty shitty place to work" instead of "Oh, I don't work in your office -- you must have mistaken me for someone else" Rats!!
And for instance:
It was 1962, and I was working at my first job at the Department of Agriculture, which was to do the information campaign on the swine brucellosis eradication program. Swine brucellosis causes abortions and infertility in pigs; in humans, it causes brucellosis or undulant fever, a rather nasty disease that produces an intermittent fever, chills, etc. Anyhow -- and in retrospect it seems like a dumb idea -- I decide that we needed to do some radio public service announcements on swine brucellosis.
So, I get with Vince Markley, who was our radio-TV guy. Now Vince was from the New York City area -- the Bronx or Brooklyn or over in Newark maybe -- who was a fast-talking Italian guy, florid face, just a little overweight. So when I broached the idea of some PSA's, Vince said "Great, what's the angle?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "I'm looking for one."
Well, we batted back some different ideas & finally I said, "Why don't we emphasize the human health aspect of swine brucellosis?"
"How many cases are there a year?" Vince asked quickly. "Does it kill people? Do they die a horrible death?" So I admitted that there weren't really all that many cases and that it was a mostly debilitating disease, but still it was serious to people who got it.
"Human health!" Vince exploded. "We can't use that; it won't work!!" And then he uttered the words that I still remember almost every time I brush my teeth:
"Why, more people gag to death on their toothbrush than die from swine brucellosis!!!"
And for instance:
"They'll never close C Street!!"
That was the famous -- or infamous -- never-to-be-forgotten-by-me phrase uttered by Bob Fones, a graphic designer and artist in my office who I'd met when I first came to Washington.
It was the spring of 1961 and my office was on the fifth floor of the first wing about halfway down the corridor looking out on 12th Street as it ran between Independence Avenue and C Street, Southwest. At that time there was no Forrestal Building or L'Enfant Plaza or Southwest Freeway or anything. They were starting to build some of the framework for the bridge across the Tidal Basin, but all of the area to the east of 12th street was basically vacant. All the slum buildings that had been there before -- or so I'd been told -- had been torn down, with only some big trees remaining and most of the vacant lots were being used for parking lots.
Now you have to realize that Bob Fones was born and raised in this area. And at that time, C Street was also U.S. Highway 1, perhaps the main artery through the District. And had been, all the time he was growing up.
I, on the other hand, had just arrived so my mind was not prejudiced by these historical facts. So when I looked out my window & saw this ditch or trench just adjacent to the intersection of Independence & 12th Street, and when someone told me that it would be part of the 12th Street tunnel under the mall, and when I could see that at the angle they were digging the road that entered that tunnel would cross C Street at "street level," I came to the conclusion that when the tunnel freeway was finished, C Street would have to be closed.
But when I mentioned this to Bob several days later, his reaction was immediate. "Oh no," he exclaimed emphatically. "They can't do that! C Street is a main artery!"
And then he uttered those famous dogmatic words (which to this day I have not let him forget) "They'll never close C Street!!!"
That fall, as the road was completed, C Street was blocked off at the intersection of 12th Street Southwest and Highway 1 was rerouted through the city.
That was almost thirty years ago. Bob works out in Beltsville now, but I see him every so often. And, if the occasion is right -- or even if it isn't -- I'll just casually murmur, "They'll never close C Street."
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