From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Sunday, March 28, 2010

the satisfication of aubry snopes

aubry leans over the ship's railing, watching the activity below with a keen interest. he and his fellow marines keep their eyes on a tugboat as it gently nudges the side of their vessel. excitement mounts among the soldiers as it draws close to the nearest dock. dry land at last, and aubry shall soon be pleased to stand on it again.

for the next twelve months, this small island in the far east will become his new home. here there will be new sights for him to see; new smells to savor. he will sample new foods as well as hear strange new sounds, some of which, over time, will become familiar to his ears.





man, woman, boy and girl. aubry will catch on eventually.

but first he has to learn to say hello: konnichiwa.

then thank you: domo arigato.

followed by you are welcome: do itashi mashite.

it sounds more like don't touch my mustache, aubry observes with a grin.

as he settles into his assigned quarters, he learns from seasoned marines about the houseboys. for a small fee, he is told, one will make your bed in the morning. he will also keep your shoes shined, do your laundry, iron your uniforms and sweep and mop your area. when you return from work, it will all be done. all you do is pay him fifty cents a week.

one rotund houseboy is called timmy. the smiling oriental comes into the cubicle one afternoon and sits on a bunk where he listens while aubry plays guitar. when he is finished, timmy asks if he can try it. aubry hands him the instrument, and after a few chords, timmy begins to sing badly, but with plenty of gusto.

uo ah my suh shy
my onnie suh shy
ou may me hop he
when sky ah grey
uo neva no dea
how mush i love uo
ple doe ta my suh shy away

the base where aubry is stationed has many modern conveniences, including a new barber shop. he is surprised to learn, however, that every chair is manned only by young women. a petite nassan must stretch to reach the top of his head, and in doing so, her body might touch his and linger softly against him for a moment. he blushes, but never complains. most do not understand his language anyway, except for a few phrases.

(after taking a seat, he instructs the girl, pointing with his fingers.

you trim high and tight, right?

okay, joe. you waa lee some on top, nay?)

when she is finished, she vacuums hair particles from his neck and shoulders before he leaves the chair. he decides he can get used to being treated this way.

the cavernous mess hall amazes aubry. every day is the same: a high level of noise mingles with the smells of fresh-cooked foods along with the odor of human sweat. all of the female servers behind the counter are young and attractive, and do their jobs with practiced efficiently. aubry learns not to talk to any of them, as they only stare at him and smile or giggle among themselves anytime he tries.

off base he finds endless diversions to enjoy while on liberty, but it has its drawbacks. he tours a brewery and samples their beer while struggling to understand his tour guide. unsure about the price of a ticket to a local movie theater, he overpays the girl in the booth who keeps repeating over and over.

one dolla movie; two dolla smokey.

he ends up in a balcony called the loge, where smoking is permitted, but for a price.

cab rides are an adventure in and of themselves when it comes to the american language. no driver knows much beyond a typical question:

got american cigarette, joe?

the months pass by quickly, and aubry soon rises to the status of a short-timer. now he can brag to all of the new-comers how little time he has left on this miserable island, keeping with a time-honored tradition among marines; there are only two good duty stations in your life -- your last one and the next one.

he packs his sea bag and hauls it up the gangplank of a ship that will shortly set out for san diego, california. after requesting permission to come aboard, he turns and says a silent sayonara to the island before going below to claim a bunk and store his gear.

a month later, aubry sits at the counter of a small diner in a dry and dusty west texas town. a waitress comes over carrying a pot of dark-brown brew plus a menu.

needa minnit, darlin'? wasome coffee first?

he slides a cup over and she fills it to the brim without spilling a drop.

i be rat back, hon.

while she is gone, he studies the menu and decides on a chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.

the waitress returns and listens to aubry while scribbling on her pad. then she tears off the top sheet and hands it to the cook.

yont more coffee, you jes hollar.

the meat is tender and crunchy at the same time. as he cuts the last portion in two, the waitress comes back with a question.

yosom dessert, shug?

aubry chews and smiles as he shakes his head while a thought passes through his satisfied mind.

the best sound in the whole wide world is a girl who speaks english that i understand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

from the journal of seaman aitch lamar

friday, may 23, 1788 at five bells in the forenoon:

the sloop john bedford, under the the respectful command of captain rene magritte, pulls away from the crowded docks of albany. she carries a full load of grain stored below and is bound properly for madeira. there our crew of seven shall trade out our cargo for wine and a few cattle. we pray the weather holds faire.

june 29:

made record time to landfall. the second mate, who is my grandfather, has us all in high spirits. tomorrow we set sail for nassau in the far west indies. several cattle crowd our decks which the two cabin boys attend with goode cheer. our hold is now fully packed with flasks of fine portugee wines. the bovines act restless and noisome, as this is a new experience to their nature.

august 9:

in to port. humid, warm and crawling with activity. captain magritte makes huge profits which he in turn invests in kegs of sugarcane rum. after restocking his craft and settling his affairs, he invites the entire crew into towne to celebrate his great success.

august 10: i am sick and sorely injured, as are several of my fellow mates. a gang of seamen from a three-masted square rigger, all bolstered by large amounts of ale, set upon us last night and did great bodily harme. i feel hurt and broke up.

august 12:

the call goes out frome the first mate for the captain who has been staying ashore. we have been promised to set sail for home port at eight bells, predicts my grandfather, which is where i prefer to be. i do desire to go home.

august 12, 8 bells:

a constable came and took grandfather away before the midday. he over-indulged in our grog rations, we learned, and went mad afterward. he thereby broke into the captain's personal possessions and threw most of them overboard, giving the two cabin boys a terrible fright. a sheriff stone boarded our vessel to question the entire crew. i wish the man would leave us alone.

august 14:

while bartering with the sheriff for his second mate's release, our beloved captain has been forced to fire our cook who got a bad case of islander fits. the mad man tossed all manner of food staples into the bay before turning to our stores of fresh corn, which he devoured like a rabid foxe. why will they not let me go home?

august 23:

captain magritte has hired a new cook today. he has announced plans to hoist up the john bedford's mainsail on the morrow. although that is a comfort to mine ears, i cannot help but think that this is the worst trip i have ever been on.