What a MESS!

Our Army company was a unit called permanent party, which meant that the company’s headquarters were stationed permanently at Fort Lee.  Most of the companies at Fort Lee, while I was there, were teaching units, and they taught quartermaster and cooking.  Our company was a quartermaster (supply) company that supplied petroleum.

While I was there, our mess hall was named “Best Mess on Post” for eleven out of thirteen months.  Record-keeping, cleanliness, dining hall ambiance, and, of course, the taste of food, plus a few other criteria, were the determining factors.  I was proud of my record-keeping.

As the mess hall clerk, I had told the mess sergeant, Sgt. Bush that I had difficulty working during the day when everyone wanted to sit in the mess hall office and talk.  The office was air-conditioned (I got that AC from the supply sergeant Gonzalez, as well as the one in the dining room, each for a 30-lb can of coffee).  Eventually, Sgt. Bush agreed that it might be easier for me to work nights and get some paperwork done and give up my seat in the daytime to one of the assistant mess sergeants.  We had so many of them, and they didn’t do anything.  They didn’t have to do anything; we had two E-6 cooks who were chefs in real life.  One was a chef in Boston; the other in Baltimore.  So, I worked nights with the night bakers – Jack and a guy who reminded me of Louie Armstrong.  I remember him only as Sarge.

Sarge was a short black man with a noticeable limp and a continuous smile.  I doubt it was a war injury, but he really waddled more than limped anyway.  He could bake some amazing pies, cookies, and cakes.  Jack was more of a bread expert.  Both could bake with their eyes closed.  They did – figuratively.  Jack was stoned most of the time, and I think Sarge was waiting to get off work so he could mix the milk he took from the mess hall with his Scotch at home.  That’s the first time I had ever heard of that concoction.

Jack and I would give Sarge a ride home after we shut the place down.  Sarge would sit in the back seat of Jack’s car and smile, holding on tight to his milk.  Jack and I would sit up front and smoke a joint.  Jack was, without a doubt, the most professional pot smoker I have ever seen.  He could roll a joint with one hand, drive with his knee, and fiddle with the buttons on the dash.  He wouldn’t let me roll the joint.  He actually did better with one hand than I did with two.  He was also one of those drivers who have to look at you while talking.  I hated it when he turned to talk to Sarge in the back seat,  while still rolling that joint, or smoking it.  Jack and Sarge were the two happiest people I have ever known.

Jack was from Omaha.  He spent part of his time in San Diego before being drafted. He married a Southern California blonde, both with heavy dependencies on drugs.  I had smoked pot before, but Jack introduced me to hashish, LSD, Ecstasy, methamphetamine (yes, in 1970), THC tablets, black beauties, mescaline, reds, phenobarbital, magic mushroom, Quaaludes, and probably several other narcotics that I can’t remember.  Jack could only get little amounts and if we were getting addicted, there was no more of the particular drug to keep up with the addiction.  It was after Jack was discharged (honorably as a sergeant) that I was introduced to heroin.  I snorted it once and had a doobie laced with it another time.  I refused to shoot anything into my veins.  I did not like heroin one bit.  Notice that I have never tried cocaine.

It’s possible that someone knew we were a disaster waiting to explode, so Jack and I were sent out to the edge of the post and told to clean mobile cooking equipment in a Quonset hut.  For the first few weeks we didn’t clean a thing.  We smoked some pot and drank some Boone’s Farm Apple or Strawberry Hill.  Occasionally, we would Ripple wine (87¢) instead of the more expensive Boone’s Farm ($1).

One morning, we drove into town to get a bottle of wine.  When we got back there were all sorts of vehicles surrounding our Quonset hut.  The area where we were located was also a place where soldiers were taught to drive all kinds of vehicles.  A trainee drove a deuce and a half (a two-and-a-half-ton vehicle that looks like a truck, but technically, there is only one truck on base, and that’s on top of the flagpole at headquarters) straight through our Quonset hut.  Had we not gone to town; we would have been killed.  The Quonset hut was demolished and there was field cooking equipment scattered over hundreds of square yards of the area.  At this point, no one could tell if the equipment had been cleaned or not.

Jack’s time in the service had run out and he was sitting for a week or two to transition out of the Army.  I was sent to the commissary to learn how to cut meat.  I still had about 10 months before my discharge date came around.  I just know that they tried their best to hide me, and I didn’t mind.

Previously posted related blogs:

https://iowappa.com/?p=1816 Order Up; May 3, 2020

https://iowappa.com/?p=1700  A Pattern Begins to Develop; August 28, 2019

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