Meeting the Man

Posted: 10/02/2012 in 1970, not Viet Nam, The US ARMY (c) 1970
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I heard him before I actually saw him.

From down the hallway came the very loud scream of Bette Davis shouting into a phone; “God —Dammit, that’s not what I asked you to do is it? why won’t you listen to me, Bruce….”

And then we were there.  Barry Levy and I were standing at the entrance to a small metal and glass cubicle. Seated behind the desk in front us was a pudgy little man with a shiny pink head surround by a rim of gray hair. He was stuffed into a blue shirt and tie, and wore black-rimmed glasses (military issue, it seemed); a wool blazer was over the back of his chair. He said goodbye to the person on the phone and quickly stood up; which made him seem even smaller. Swiping his hand quickly across the top of his head he smiled warmly, and spoke in a very soft voice with bit of a stammer.

“Why, hello Mr. Levy, and you must be the Lt.” his hand stretched out to shake mine (or rather, hold it gently)  “Wendy, this is the Lt we’re going to interview”

A lovely young woman stood up from a desk that was squeezed in to a corner and nodded in my  direction.

“I’m Elwood Armstrong, Entertainment Director . This is Wendy my secretary and you are…?”

“Mr. Armstrong this is Lt Smith, be nice to him. Lieutenant, good luck.”

And Levy was gone.

“ww…Well, sit down Lt. I imagine you must have a first name (the voice now very soft and gentle, his face beaming) “

“Yes, Sir. Doug – my name is Doug”

“Douglas, I expect. So Lieutenant, you studied theatre in college it says here…. Tell me about that.” He perched on the edge of his desk, feet, barely touching the floor.

For the next two hours I was grilled about theatre, what roles I played, what shows I had directed, designed and so on. I learned the history of Elwood Armstrong and Ft. Dix’s lovely Theatre Workshop. How his previous assistant/musical director had gone to Germany for a better position; what a ‘marvelous’ production of “She Loves Me” they had just done.Very successful!  Wendy had a role in it, she was ‘absolutely delightful! So cute and can sing like an angel’ (Wendy blushed a little, shook her head, and went back to her typing.)

His stories were punctuated from time to time by high-pitched laughter and ‘Ha’s’

And finally a quick and breathy “well.”  “I think you’ll do just fine, Lt”.

“You come back here tomorrow and we’ll get started learning how things work. We’ll go see the theatre and meet the boys. You must be very careful with my boys Lt. I am afraid they are not very military. They’re used to managing themselves, you see. Very talented but lazy and a dreadful bunch of rascals, aren’t they Wendy?”


Then softly, “See you in the morning, then.”

“We start at 8:30am…at least Wendy does and the …. others…. I will be in around 10 or so. As a man of the theatre I have never been an early riser.”

He took my hand gently again as if to shake it but never did.  “Wendy will show you out, Douglas. Welcome”

And she did–with a smile. ”He’s a little crazy, but not so bad, really. You’ll get used to him. I’ll be here at 8. See you then.”

I sat in my car for a while digesting it all… then drove directly to the Officer’s Club Bar.

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