“Remember the time . . .”
“Want another round here?”
As the waitress left to fill the order for the two men sitting at the table in the corner of the VFW hall, she overheard the taller one say “I’d like to take her around.” She was used to that sort of comment from the old guys who came in to drink and talk. These two had been sitting in the corner for a couple of hours, talking, drinking slowly, and not being too obnoxious. “They are telling lies about their time in the service,” she thought. “They all do it.”
“Where was I, Bob?”
“You were talking about the time we went duck hunting on your dad’s farm.”
“Oh, right. Remember the morning we went out to the lagoon to hunt ducks? It was still dark when we walked from the house to the blind that we had made the day before with cane bundles.”
“That was a great blind for shooting.”
“And as we walked along in the dark I thought that I saw a duck.”
“And you whispered, `Bob, there’s a duck roosting in that sunflower. Shoot it.”
“God, I still have dreams about that, Bob. I actually thought for a moment that it was a duck, and I remember pulling the shotgun up to my shoulder and sighting down the long barrel for a sure shot when the “duck in the sunflower” said `Are you pointing that thing at me?’”
“What if I had fired the gun?”
“We would have had a dead duck hunter before the sun came out.”
“And when I heard the voice I pulled the gun down and kept on walking. Then the guy says, `You better wait until it’s light before you point that thing.’ And we kept walking to our blind.”
“Is that the blind we used to think we could get the girls from our class to? We fantasized about screwing them all and then shooting ducks?”
“Hey, Bob, that’s the one.”
“We never did get any girls out there, did we?”
“No, but we made love to a lot of them anyway!”
“Didn’t we though? A couple of real self made lovers!”
“We were self made alright! God, if I had fired the twelve gauge I was using I would have blown the poor bastard’s head off. Jesus, Bob, it could have been a disaster.”
“You didn’t though, Bob, so don’t worry about it.”
Just then the waitress returned with the two bottles of Coors.
“Here you go, Bob,” she said putting the bottles on the new cardboard coasters from her tray.
Both men answered her “Bob.” “Thanks,” they said in unison.
“Oh, that’s right,” she said with a smile. “You are both Bobs, aren’t you? How can I tell you apart?”
“I’m the good looking one.”
“I’m the well hung one.”
“I’m the former Marine,” they both said.
After she left and while the taller of the Bobs filled the two glasses with beer, Bob started to remember.
“Remember that other duck huntin’ trip? We went south of Wray to those lakes down on the Republican River with those other guys from the football team.”
“You mean Gary and Swede?”
“Yeah. That’s right. And we hated Swede. He was such an asshole. Anyway he had just bought four new decoys. Beautiful life like things they were. Inflated they looked like Mallards more than Mallards did.”
“And we helped put them out in the lake.”
“And he had a caller. We all settled down in the blind and Swede started calling those ducks to come join his Mallards in the pond. And you looked over at me and said, “Concavo” and I answered “Convexo” and then we both knew what to do.”
“And when the flock started to settle into the pond we opened fire.”
“The ducks flew off safe and sound and Swede shouts `You sons-a-bitches!’ as he looks out at the ruined decoys losing air through the double ought holes.”
“Hey, Bob, he never went hunting with us again.”
“I know, Bob.”
“Did we ever shoot any ducks?”
“Oh, yeah. Remember the time you took that four-foot long shotgun of your dads and fired it into the sky? A damn duck fell out of the sky!”
“Well, of course. I aimed at it.”
“Sure you did. You lucky shitbird. Anyway you ran way out into the water, picked up the bird by its head, and brought it back to the blind. A little tiny Teal, with most of its ass shot off. God, you looked so proud of your kill. There must have been four ounces of meat there, Bob.”
“Ton jay vous.”
The waitress had been hovering nearby smoking a cigarette. She walked over to put out the cigarette in the ashtray on the corner table.
“What’s with this gibberish you two old Marines talk? This “ton-jay-vous,” “convexo, concavo” stuff?”
“Why it’s a secret language, my dear, a secret language constructed by the only two speakers of this secret language, Bob and Bob.”
“OK. I can keep a secret,” she said walking back to the bar.
“When did we start speaking that gibberish? Do you remember, Bob?”
“I think it was after a math class in the ninth grade. We were studying geometry and the words “concave” and “convex” seemed funny to us so we added some prefixes and suffixes and began to develop our own set of words. And the words were so flexible that they could carry almost any meaning. We used to drive everyone crazy with our sincere utterances of nonsense.”
“Ninth grade. That was the year we got the new home room teacher, that tall skinny guy fresh out of college.”
“Oh, right. And we did our special home room tricks on him.”
“I remember waiting for him to call our names and then we would climb out the window and come around and in to the room again.”
“He didn’t know what was going on. We had him on the run.”
“He could never get the count and the list of names to match. And he had to call the principal in that time to talk to the boys in the class about the smell.”
“Remember, we used to have the early morning farting contest in home room? He who farted loudest won the day.”
“Yeah. I do remember. Earle was the champion of all time.”
“Right you are. And the principal gave us a tongue-lashing that would peel the hide off a cow. Shortly after that they combined the boys and the girls for home room and that put a stop to that behavior.”
“And after chewing us out and on his way out the door, the principal had to hear the loudest fart in Wray High School history! Earle had the last laugh, and that was so funny.”
“Yes, he was a legend from then on.”
“Then the girls moved in with us and you got in trouble for taking your shirt off.”
“Oh, yeah. Dotty said she was cold. So, being a gentleman of the first order I took my shirt off and offered it to her.”
“Too bad the teacher got some balls just then, and sent you, stripped to the waist, to see the principal.”
“The principal. His name was Mr. McNaughton. He was OK; really. I can remember going in that time and he made me stand there until I felt really silly. Then he said, “You must stop acting like a little boy.” And I promised that I would. And that I would apply myself to my studies. And I remember so clearly that I really meant it. I was sincere. My promise came from deep inside me with feeling. And then two days later I was expelled for three days for making that stink bomb in the chemistry lab. But I really meant it. I think that is when I learned that sincerity is a second class virtue.”
“I gotta pee.”
Bob hobbled off to the head. He had hobbled for several years now as a result of a back injury he received on the job with the Colorado state highway department. An operation had fused the vertebrae in his lower back, but the nerve damage was severe enough that his left leg was getting smaller and smaller over time. He was retired now but still took the occasional job on the highway as an inspector. The two had known each other for over fifty years now. They had gone to high school together, joined the Marines together, and served in the Korean War together. After being discharged their paths had split and it was rare now for them to be together. The taller Bob, still sitting at the table, had gone to college on the GI Bill and had been teaching literature and philosophy in Canada for the last thirty years. As he waited he considered that their friendship was as old as the 1940 Ford sedan that he had seen in the garage at Bob’s Longmont home. In those high school years they had driven around Wray in either Bob’s Ford or his own 1940 Mercury Club Coupe. They had raced in those cars, put in miles and miles driving up and down main street looking for girls, and spent hours polishing and tuning them so they would run fast and make the Smitty mufflers rumble with the throaty sound of a speed boat.
As Bob sat down again he said, “Do you ever think about the football team we had in those days?”
“Sure. I remember that we went to State every year from 1949 to 1952. And we won the State championship in 1951. It was fun to play for the most part. But then did we really have a choice? I mean if you didn’t play football you were considered some kind of wimp or worse.”
“Did you ever learn anything from the coaches?”
“I learned how not to treat students. I mean those guys were more like Marine drill instructors than teachers. What did they usually teach? Shop or maybe mechanics. But I remember them mostly as cruel and elitist. If you weren’t good football material they never had much time for you. How about you? You were the super athlete.”
“I’ve seen Coach Frank a few times at class reunions. He asks about you. He even apologized for not being a better teacher. Must be feeling guilty about stuff now. But, yeah, as long as you were first string they loved you but they were awful with the poorer players.”
“Mostly what I remember is that initiation we had into the W-club as freshmen. Remember that?”
“Couldn’t forget it, Bob; even if I wanted to. That stuff is against the law nowadays.”
“As it should be. As it should be. I remember particularly three things. One was the walnut race in the gym. We were naked and had to pick up the walnut with our butt cheeks, run down the floor and in relay fashion pass it on to the next runner.”
“Oh, God, yes, and if you dropped it on the way you were supposed to pick it up with your teeth and run it down to the next runner.”
“And secondly, remember the oysters. They had a gallon can of slimy oysters and would put us on our backs, pop an oyster in our mouth, and then when we tried to swallow they horrible thing push on our stomach with a paddle so it would pop back out. Then they would pick it up and try again. The coaches got a real kick out of that. `Make you a man,’ they said. I never could see how any of that hazing shit could help me mature.”
“Let me guess the third. The banana in the commode?”
“Right you are, my concavo friend!”
“They showed us a turd in the toilet bowl, blindfolded us and forced us to reach in and pick it up with our bard hand. At least they had put a banana in instead of the turd. That had to have been the worst of the evening. Reaching in there and believing that you were squishing a turd. Ahh, it took a special kind of human being to dream up that as part of an initiation rite!”
“They stopped most of that the next year.”
“Yes, I think someone had complained to the principal. Never knew who it was, but I’m glad someone did. It was so dehumanizing.”
“Memory is a strange source of information,” he thought. Sometimes it is like a movie that plays in ordered scenes, but other times it delivers just images and bits of dialogue. As the waitress delivered two more beers to the table, she seemed to say something that triggered his memories.
It had been back in 1953 when they were both on leave.
“What are they going to do with all the dead bodies?”
“Oh, I think there is a dog food company that’s sending a truck to pick them up for processing.”
“There will be lots of dog food after this “battle” won’t there?”
“Yep. Just like in Korea.”
The two young men were walking on the outer circle of a jackrabbit drive in the fields just south of town. There were about a hundred men involved in the drive that had been advertised for weeks in the Wray Gazette. “Men needed to join in drive to rid fields of rabbits,” the story said. “Bring a club, a pitchfork or a shotgun to participate. Some will be needed to walk the outer circle of the drive to shoot those rabbits that escape from the main body of beaters.”
The two friends walking the outer circle were armed with shotguns. Bob Davis had an over/under 4/10 and 22 combination while the other Bob was carrying his stepfather’s 12 gauge shotgun, an old pump model that was aver 4 feet long and kicked like a horse. The first time he had fired it, it knocked him on his ass. The second time he was prepared and it only bruised his shoulder where the stock was driven into it like a hard crisp punch. Finally he had learned how to fire it without serious damage to his body.
Both of the young men were in civilian clothes, blue jeans and white t-shirts, and light jackets to keep off the early morning northeastern autumn Colorado chill. Both were still in the USMC and were on leave after returning from Korea. Both had enlisted straight from high school and when in town they wore their uniforms. They had been buddies from the fifth grade. All the way through high school they were always together.
They shared a couple of shotgun stories as they walked along about fifty yards behind the main collapsing circle of men who were driving the jackrabbits toward the wire pen that had been set up as a holding pen. Occasionally jackrabbits bolted out of the circle and they would take turns shooting them. They were easy targets.
“Remember the time we went duck hunting with Swede?” asked Davis.
“Oh, yeah. That was great hunt! We got our limit that day.”
“Yeah, we got all of his decoys.”
Indeed they had. Swede had just bought six inflatable decoys to bring the mallards in to the pond. He had a duck caller too. The Bobs thought that pretty pretentious so after Swede had set up his decoys and called the birds in a small flock of ducks responded. When they lifted to fly shotguns roared. Swede got one duck, but Bob and Bob each got three decoys.
“Boy was he pissed.”
“Yeah, but he never wanted to go huntin’ with us again!”
Bob lifted the 12 gauge to his shoulder to shoot at a rabbit trying to make it to freedom in the short grass. “Boom.” It sounded a bit like a mortar firing.
“Remember the time we went hunting early in the morning by the lagoon at home?” asked Bob.
“Oh, shit. You almost shot some guy.”
“What a dumb shit. I thought it was a duck and was ready to fire. I would have blown the guy’s head off.”
“You thought it was a duck roosting in a sunflower. Just think, roosting in a sunflower. `It’s a duck roosting in a sunflower, ‘ you said, before you aimed that monster 12 gauge.”
“I have often wondered what would have happened if I HAD pulled the trigger. And what stopped me.”
“Well, the guy said, `Hey, are you aiming that thing at me?’”
“It’s a good thing he did.”
They walked on in silence, watching the field for any escaping rabbits. The main circle of men and boys were within sight of each other now as the circle closed on the jackrabbits. The drivers were almost shoulder-to-shoulder now and the escape routes for the jackrabbits were being eliminated. Not much shooting now. All the rabbits were being driven into the center of the section of land selected for the drive.
It was a beautiful morning in Colorado with the sun beginning to warm the fields as it climbed out of the eastern horizon into the blue sky. Rabbits were used to grazing in the fields in early mornings here, and were not used to finding hundreds of people in their feeding grounds. Since the coyotes had been killed off by the farmers the rabbits had few predators and had responded with a huge population growth. They were everywhere, eating the first several feet around every wheat field from the safety of the fence line and its tumbleweeds. They could lay ruin to acres of cash crops as well as to pasture land used to graze cattle. The farmers were fed up, and had lobbied the local agricultural authorities to sponsor a “harvest” of rabbits.
“Look at that, Bob.”
As the circle tightened you could see the hundreds upon hundreds of rabbits running side to side, heads turning this way and that, looking for an escape route. They were surrounded and out gunned, but they didn’t know that yet.
“God, they look just like the gooks we surrounded outside of Sokkagae just before Pork Chop Hill. “
“And they are headed for the same fate, I’m afraid.”
“Yeah, dog food.”
Corporal Davis had manned the BAR in that firefight and Bob had been his assistant, packing extra ammo as well as his own M-1. They had sucked the communist troops into a trap and the two Bobs were part of the ambush. Hiding in the bushed under the cover of earth and bush they had waited until the communist platoon was pursuing their decoys into the crater at the foot of the hills. When they got the order to fire the enemy was close enough so that the two could see the looks of surprise when the Marines opened up with BARs, M-1s, and 50 caliber machine guns. It was over in minutes. The cries and screams of agony from the dying enemy penetrated the sudden silence as the firing ceased. Bodies were strewn all over the killing field. It had been one of the few times that the Marines were not attacking a fortified position where they were the dog food.
Several of the men with clubs rushed into the enclosure and started beating rabbits to death. Blood splashed all over the ground.
“My God, look at those rednecks go at it.”
“Redneck.” The word brought a rush of memories.