Chapter 10 – Go Ask Alice

“Getting a regular date in New York City was a really big deal. Few of the girls in the towns around the fort would have anything to do with soldiers. And most of the bars on the Jersey Shore were pretty rough and so were the girls that hung there, not to mention their boyfriends, if you should hit on the wrong girl. We soldiers tried a couple of times for a good time dancing and drinking but it was no use. Short-haired soldiers were a hard act to sell.

“So getting a date with Marge was worth the effort. Marge was pretty and blond, a blue-eyed Italian who lived with her family in a huge rent-controlled apartment on the lower east side.

“Doesn’t sound like she looked much like me. What was my attraction?”

“Don’t you remember me drooling over you and telling you how stunning you looked that night at the fancy French restaurant. You really put on show, I must say. Marge was pretty too but younger and less sophisticated.

“So Marge’s family had lived there since Marge was born. We went to the theater, the movies, discos and on payday she introduced me to a guy dealing nickel bags among the stacks in a used bookstore. We went to a folk music club not far from her home in the East Village. We sat at a back table the size of a nail head with a chianti bottle holding a candle. She expertly rolled a joint. It was very good. We got very high. This was an unbelievably great escape from the unpleasantries of army life. It was tough to go back to Ft. Monmouth on Sunday nights. I should have spent more nights with you, too, Agnes. And you were more than a great escape.”

“I’d have liked that too, then,” murmured Agnes.

“It became a regular weekend thing. After riot-control drill on Saturdays I’d hit the road; up US highway 1 for New York.”

“What was riot-control, pray tell?”

“I’ll come to that in a while. One weekend in June we took my car to Cape May at the southern tip of New Jersey. Summer weekends were a sidewalk arts and crafts fair. It was several cuts above the Atlantic City scene. It was a nice trip out of the city; Italian ices on the boardwalk, sitting on the beach looking out at the sea. Marge loved it. Toward mid-afternoon we drove over to the coast guard boot camp where Max was a “boot,” a man with no rights or privileges except cigarettes and Sunday visitors. Max didn’t smoke so visitors were it. My uncle suggested that I pay him a visit so I figured it would be fine to arrive without calling ahead. So when we arrived the announcement went out over the loudspeaker all over camp, “Marsh you have visitation.” The Chief Petty Officer on the desk had asked, “What’s your relationship to the boot? Only family is allowed to visit.”

“He’s married to my cousin,” I answered flatly, immune to the attempt at intimidation.

“Well, I guess that’ll do. Sign here. You too, miss.”

Max was now family I thought and visiting family was just one of those things one did. Marge, from an extended Italian family thought it was great to support him at such a time. That winter Max had gotten his letter from Lyndon Johnson directing him to report for “incarceration” as he put it. He was to report at the end of the school year. So to avoid a fate in the shooting war he hustled down to the Coast Guard recruiter and signed up, thus avoiding the draft.

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