Posts Tagged ‘Officer’s club’

In the days after our success with “Lovers and Other Strangers” at the Officers Club life went on;  concerts, contests, trips to NYC to buy equipment, last minute drives to DC for the same, and paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork.

During all of this activity my family life continued as well. For the first time since our marriage (and the last so it happened) Jen didn’t have to work. Her full time job was Mother, wife and whatever she wanted to do. Ft Dix had countless things to do for families and children as well as soldiers.

She was always very talented at making things with her hands. The Ft.Dix crafts center fueled that fire daily. She began taking pottery classes, weaving classes, knitting, macramé and on and on.

We had always made gifts for Christmas and other holidays because we had too. We had no money to buy them. In college we even made made our own holiday cards  and the paper we wrapped our gifts in. Now that we could afford to buy gifts we continued to make things for our home and our friends. By the time we were assigned on-base Officers housing, she had a created a houseful of amazing artwork.

We were assigned to a two bedroom house on a corner lot (very nearly across the street from the Generals home). Big open rooms, lots of windows, high ceilings large walk-in closets. We personally owned two chairs, 2 beds, one table, the ammo box bookshelves and lots and lots of books and art. It was a beautiful space that suited us very well. We were able to borrow furniture from the Army until we got our own (or not). And now she was even closer to the  crafts center.

The Post nursery was next to the craft center so Chris was being taken care of and being socialized at the same time we were getting all Arty.

One weekend we decided to drive into Philadelphia to shop for a sofa bed. In Gimbels Dept Store we found the absolutely artiest sofa bed ever! Nubby fabric, earth tone yellow, orange and green stripes and it was affordable. We bought it immediately and happily went home to wait for its delivery. A few days later the truck drove up in front of our new home, carried the new sofa inside, unwrapped it, cleaned up their mess and drove away.

When I came home that evening I was thrilled. There it was. We just kept looking at it and smiling. Chris was busy jumping on the cushions and rolling on it.

I suggested excitedly that we try out the bed. Great idea! We unfolded the bed lay in it , jumped and rolled on it and felt very proud of ourselves for having so successfully shopped!

Eventually we decided to put the bed back and sit down to watch tv.

It wouldn’t go back.

We tried everything– Pulling it out again and pushing harder . Pushing even harder and then both of us pushed even harder.

It Would Not Go Back in!!

We  gave up and decided to call Gimbels the very next day.

A repair man arrived the next day. He walked into the house, looked at the sofa, pushed it, pushed it harder. And then declared, “This thing is broken.”

“I’ll send someone back for it. Leave it the way it is and the store will send movers later.”

And then he was gone.

One month and a dozen phone calls later the sofa/avant garde sculpture  was still in our living room reaching towards the ceiling amidst all of our other pieces of art. There was still no place to sit.

On week later Mr. A said, “Call Mr. Gimbel”

“There is no such person as Mr. Gimbel.”

“Of course there is. Do you want me to call?”

“No. No. I’ll do it”

I once again took out the well worn delivery slip, found the phone number and called it.

“Gimbels Dept Store, how may I direct your call?”

“Mr. Gimbel’s office please.”

“Whom shall I say is calling?”

“Lt. Douglas Smith from Ft. Dix, New Jersey.”

“One moment”

Maybe 2 minutes later, “ Hello Lt.- Gimble here. What can I do for you?”

Oh my God! I could barely speak…I really got through to the president of the company.

I explained what had happened regarding my sofa bed; he apologized profusely and said he would have it taken care of immediately. I hung up the phone– flabbergasted but still skeptical.

Mr. A beamed! “Told you, by God! Go to the top. Always go to the top!”

The very next morning a Gimbels truck pulled up in front of our house; loaded the sofa bed into the truck and handed us a check for the full amount of the purchase. There were no more in stock. Apparently they had sent us the floor model. That explained a lot.

That weekend we went to a nearby Sears store, purchased a magnificent “leather” Chesterfield rolled arm, button tufted queen sized sofa bed; had it delivered the same day; and enjoyed many, many years of stylish comfort slipping deeply and comfortably into it’s soft delightful arms.

Always go to the top. Indeed.

A few weeks later Bill got out of the stockade and then out of the Army at last. With him went at least 2 guitars and amplifiers from our music room. I am sure he felt Uncle Sam owed him at least that. We never reported the loss.

Rehearsals went well and as we approached opening night we (the directors and staff) knew we had a very funny show.

Some of the actors were not so sure. Nerves, insecurities and just plain fear had begun to kick in. One of them was my very funny nurse from NY.

For some reason she suddenly decided everything she was doing was wrong. This, in turn, caused my other cast member to question his performance as well.  Perhaps, for such a short piece they had been over rehearsed? I was at a loss. They were very funny and very real (something not often achieved by amateurs).

Late one afternoon before rehearsal we met and walked through the act, stopping to discuss why this or that action felt wrong. I suggested they try it another way—something that felt more ‘right’. They did, and found a couple of moments that seemed more natural for them at that moment. I told them there was no reason they needed to feel locked in by what we had done before – they should feel free to respond naturally and honestly to what was happening between them on the stage. No need to feel pressured to make it funny even. They felt good about that and thanked me for understanding and taking the time with them. They went off laughing to the dressing room to get ready for the evening’s run through.

I went to my office to worry about what I had just said. If they really did improvise and not stick to what we had meticulously worked out in rehearsals, it could become ponderous and dreadful. What had I done? Why did I think I could direct anyway? Shit.

That evening the run through went incredibly well. I was baffled. They did absolutely nothing different. if anything, they were sharper and funnier than ever. Even the crew and the other directors were laughing hysterically in the house.

After notes that evening, They asked me, “Was it okay?”

I practically choked.

“You tell me. How did you feel? Any new impulses? It seemed very fresh to me.
…and you were getting your laughs, spot on.”

“Yeah”, they said “it felt good. The laughter was nice. We had to adjust a little to let it subside, though”

“Yes, I noticed. Very professionally done. Instinctive. You’ve got something going on up there. Just let it happen, enjoy it every time…dare I say it…have fun.”

And they did, …every time.

The show was a big hit. The Ft. Dix Theatre ‘Glitteratti’ filled the houses for the entire run. The General and his wife were completely delighted.

About a week after the show had closed, Mr. Levy called ‘A’ and I into his office. The Colonel had an idea. Well actually it was the General’s idea, but they all agreed. General and Mrs. Cooksey wanted us to repeat “Lovers” at the Officer’s Club as a dinner Theatre. They would invite all of the officers and their wives to attend one of 3 performances over a weekend. It would be just a damn shame if everyone didn’t see this wonderful play.

“Well, how about that?” mused Mr Armstrong on our way back to our office. “That’s never happened before, by God!” He chuckled loudly “Lt. Smith, I believe you are good luck. Let’s call the boys before they destroy the set.”

The next couple of weeks were spent examining the O Club space, redesigning the set, reassembling the cast and rehearsing for the new space. It was all very exciting and a little tricky to negotiate the times when the space in the club was available for us to work in; but we managed to get things set up the day before and had a run through on Thursday night.

Food service was overseen my Mrs. Cooksey and managed by the Club staff, so, thank God we didn’t have to think about that. The show seemed to have stayed tight and the cast was excited to have been asked to do it again.

Friday night, the excitement and nervous energy were high. The room filled up with officers and their wives. Cocktails flowed and the dinner service began. The general made his rounds of the tables .

As the dessert course and coffee were being served the show began.  I prayed that the noise and proximity of the audience wouldn’t throw them; but the magic was still happening. The audience was roaring with laughter as I paced back and forth in the hallway watching through the door. Finally the act ended. The applause was incredible, laughing whooping, whistling. I turned to go backstage when Col Gordon and Mr. Levy grabbed me by the shoulder.

“Smitty, God Dammit; You are one funny son of a bitch!”

“Cigar?” “Barry give the man a Cigar”;

“ I’m gonna tell ya boy, Cooksey is damn happy with you…damn happy.”

“Thank you, sir. No cigar, thanks. I’ll just stick to my cigarettes.”

“What are ya drinkin? Scotch? Whiskey?”

“Gin….and tonic”

“Bobby, give this man a healthy gin and tonic…Tanqueray”

“This is a good night for us, boy. Thank you.  Damn, but you are funny!!”

“We’ll sir, the playwright had something to do with that; and the actors.”

“Damn right, but you picked ‘em and you made ‘em think and act funny. Don’t forget I’ve seen these Theatre Workshop plays before, slept through most of ‘em.”

“General, we’re over here.”

And there he was, Major General Cooksey, laughing and downing scotch.

“Lt., tonight makes me very glad I took a chance on you! Good things to come, only good things. Have a drink on me…Bobby back him up!”

Just then the lights began to blink on and off. They hurried off to watch the next act and I went back stage to congratulate the really funny people who just insured my next two years would be OK.

The entire night was very festive. Everyone remained in good spirits and invited the cast to join in the party when the show was done. I encouraged them to be prudent as we had 2 more shows to do. My cast, at least listened and went home early.

It seems like a year’s worth of things happened in those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I spent my mornings in the office, my afternoons at the theatre and my evenings in the officer’s club or meeting the local theatre people in a round of Holiday parties. What an eclectic bunch they were, mostly military or families of military, but the a few community folks who liked to help out.

I rented an apt in the same complex as Sgt. Healy and arranged for the Army to deliver my furniture (what there was of it) from West Va, where it was in storage in my in-laws garage.  There was much to learn about the Army way of doing things and the mountains of paperwork required to accomplish anything. Fortunately, Wendy was an expert and neither I nor Mr. A needed to worry much about it. We did have to know about it though. Even secretaries got days off.

There were two very memorable events that happened within days of one another to cement my connection to this place and these people.

One night I was at the Officer’s club having dinner alone at the bar when a friend of mine from Indiantown Gap basic training walked in. Now sporting a bushy moustache and a dress green uniform, he was very much the Army Officer. Lt. Carl (as in Carlo) Esteban was a gregarious and funny guy. A lot of fun to be around. He immediately walked toward me in the bar and grabbed me by the neck shouting “What the fuck, What the fuck…do you believe this?! You’re here too. We are 2 lucky sons-a-bitches. Did you just get here?”

“No been here a month. “

He rolled his eyes. “Where are you assigned?”

I said “Special Services”

“Holy Shit, really?”

“Yep.” I told him my story.

“Mother fuck me, that is one great story…you need to stay under the radar, though if you wanna keep that cushy job”

By now we were drinking beer, my dinner taken away. “I think I can if you will stop shouting it to the entire room!”

“Oh pffft”…beer flying out of his nose,  “good thinking.”

He told me about a couple of the guys who had in fact gone to South East Asia…but he didn’t know about any of the rest. He was a training officer in an infantry battalion, so, in theory, he could be next, but he didn’t think so. Never knew why he felt ‘safe’…but I never saw him again either.

As we drank and laughed we were joined by a friend of his. They began talking about the Jersey Shore and asked me what I thought of it.

“Never been.”

“Really? You gotta go.”

“In fact I have never even seen the ocean. I grew up in WVa, never travelled much till now.”

“Oh wow,man, that is fucking terrible. Let’s go now.”

“What?”

“I’ll drive; it’s not far, Let’s go.”

“It’s snowing.”

“So?” “Come on, we gotta go.  It’s Friday night we got nowhere to be tomorrow. C’mon,” as he paid the check for all of us.

“Hey, don’t do that my dinner was on that check.”

“Fuck it man, we’re loaded. Never had so much money in my life!”

So the three of us left the club, got in Carlo’s car and set out for Seaside Heights, New Jersey at 9PM on a snowy December Night. We stopped for beer(of course). And drove and talked the 2 hours to the shore. I don’t recall seeing any other cars on the shore road.

We parked the car near the boardwalk, most places were dark. Carlo said he knew a bar that would be open. But first—the beach.

The wind whipped up and snow whirled around us as we stepped between buildings, onto the boardwalk and down a few steps to the beach. A light coating of snow lay over the sand, the stars shone brightly in the deep black sky, and for the first time in my life I heard the the roar of the ocean. Saw the white caps in the dark night slither along the sand. In front of me was a vast expanse of blackness rising and falling as far as I could see. It was terrifyingly wonderful. The air was cold but the ocean smell was fantastic.

I stood there a few minutes looking out, falling in love with the majesty of the ocean, even on a dark winter night. Tears filled my eyes and I was embarrassed to turn around and face these guys I barely knew, so I just stood there absorbing every bit of it until someone said, “okay fucker, you’ve seen it now, I am freezing.” And smaked me on the back. It was cold.

We walked along the beach and the boardwalk a little way until we saw some light off to the left on a side street. Moments later we opened the door to a small barroom with a pool table, a pinball machine, a juke box and a a pot bellied stove in the middle of the room. A few locals were sitting around the stove, the bar man among them. He greeted us and asked what kind of Budweiser we wanted, taking three from a cooler.

“What you fellows doing out here this time of night?”

Carlos told him they had brought me to see the ocean. We were still in uniform, so he needlessly told them we were at Fort Dix.

That information got us each a shot of something awful.

We sat and talked with them for an hour or so, then hurried back to car and drove silently back the way we had come.

Carlos dropped me off in front of BOQ at about 2 in the morning. Ii thanked him for the beers and the experience.

“See you again, pal. It was a good time”, he said, his friend grunting something from the back seat.

“See ya, I said”

I never did.