How do you get to Okinawa from Japan? Get yourself poured onto a plane in Sasebo, still drunk from a night in the Ginza. Pass out. Wake up. You’re on Okinawa! No sweat, Marine.
In a later post, I'll tell you all about Okinawa, because it turned out to be one of my favorite places in the world, and eventually I got to see a lot of the world. But, I'm going to save that for the story of my second visit to the island, an adventure so much fun, so enjoyable, that it still makes me smile more than forty years later.
But this episode, that I have called "The Worm," is a different matter.
It can be overpowering, the pressure on young Marines to go out into the "villes" that surround military bases and get laid. Whether you want to or not, and often, you don’t know if you want to or not, but your best buddies, the ones you just met for the first time a couple of hours ago, are keyed-up and insistent.
“C’mon man, you can get an all-nighter for twenty bucks! You need twenty bucks? I got you covered, c’mon man, get into some civvies, let’s go, I got a extra shirt, here, c’mon, you can get trou in the "ville," coupla bucks, c’mon, I got a hard on ‘bout to jump outta my skivvies and drag me along behind it.”
Who can refuse a deal like that? An all-expense-paid expedition into the fleshpots of Okinawa. You can’t show how timid you really are in front of these warriors, can you? Wait a damn minute! Eighteen years old, a year in the Corps, on the way to fight for your country, and “timid?” What’s up with that?
I guess it’s time for some frank talk about my experience with women. Don’t worry, the recitation will be brief, by necessity. Skimpy. Paltry. Trifling. Measly. Count the number of such experiences on three fingers.
By the time I made an early departure from my little Southern high school, I was still a seventeen-year-old virgin. Yes, sigh, it's true. I had never, in fact, opened the covers of a Playboy magazine. The most lurid visions of female anatomy I had seen to that point were the underwear ads in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. Copping one feel of Jan’s (not her real name) left breast in the back of the bus on a marching band field trip was the peak of my sexual conquests. I had made-out with my sweetheart Judy Vance at every possible opportunity, but she would firmly move my hand away if it strayed close to one of her forbidden zones.
In my generation of small-town idiots, the Great Moment, the de-flowering, the un-virginizing, typically occurred in the back seat of a friend’s borrowed Chevy. The girl, a year older than me, had officiated at the same rites of passage for several other high school lads. You would think she would have the routine down pat by the time she got to me, but, unfortunately, not. Pam (not her real name) was inept, and I was stupid, scared, and fumbling beyond imagining. Right from the beginning she freaked me out with her kissing. She was the weirdest kisser I had experienced to that point, and, well, to this day, actually. She would open her mouth as wide as possible and the pound her tongue in and out of my mouth like a piston. It so startled me that all my carefully planned maneuvers dropped out of my mind. So, there was a rubber, and I couldn’t get the package open, then I couldn’t get it on for some reason, then I dropped it on the floorboards. OK, too much information. I’ll spare you the rest, all 15 or 20 seconds of it, except to say that it was a most unpleasant and humiliating “coming” of age ceremony.
That was the first of three dismal encounters.
After I graduated from boot camp, I met a college girl while on leave in Tallahassee. Martha (not her real name) took a liking to me and bought a bus ticket from Florida to North Carolina, a six hundred mile trip that took twenty-four bouncing, lurching hours along old Highway 17. Martha was sweet, perky, cute and horny. Well, she came to the wrong guy, if scratching that itch was her intention. My performance, using the term loosely, was incrementally better than my back seat pyrotechnics with Pam, but I could see the disappointment growing on Martha’s face. The two days we spent together started low and went down hill. When I put her on the bus for the long ride back to Florida, we were both relieved. She did not promise to write.
There was a third sordid episode, the result of a scheme devised by my buddy, Gus Baldwin. He inveigled his girlfriend Peggy (her real name) to ride the bus down from D.C. bringing along a friend named . . . ah . . . Debbie (not her real name). Gus and I rented two cabins behind a road house across the Neuse River just outside of New Bern. These were high class accommodations, you bet, nothing but the best for our would-be paramours. After the two couples retired to our respective quarters, I soon learned that . . .ah . . . Debbie was having nothing to do with what I had in mind. I was confused as to her motivation for the long bus ride to meet and spend the night with a Marine she had met once, for about ten minutes, and put the question to her, along with other questions along the line of “could I just touch” and “would she just remove.” Some time during the hours of whining, wheedling, begging, and groping, Debbie revealed that she was the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. Debbie, the preacher’s daughter. Great. The long and short of it, well, the short of it, was that nothing happened and we both lied and said that it did. Sorry, Gus, after all these years, I’m confessing. Nothing happened. I lied.
So, episode three doesn't count. That's the sorry sum of it, my accumulated sexual history, testament to my prowess as a player. In football metaphor, two punts and a fumble.
Armed with two sorry sexual episodes, one lie, and a brave face, I entered the night life of the little “ville” just outside Camp Hansen. If you think a guy just saunters into one of these sleazy clubs, picks out a whore, and goes upstairs for boom boom, you are mistaken. A young Marine can manage the “saunter” part, but after that, the women take over. They are in charge. They size you up, sort you out, allow you to buy them overpriced whiskey sours (no booze, just sour mix), negotiate the pricing and menu, then, like a good cattle dog, cut you away from your buddies, and spirit you away to parts unknown.
My “date” for the evening hailed a taxi, and off we went to her own house, somewhere on a mysterious dark street, miles away from the fleshpots. I call it a house, but her place was more like a small ground floor apartment, or maybe a big shack. She turned on a light and I really got to see her for the first time. She was attractive enough to interest any man . . . twice my age. Damn, she was old enough to be my mother, maybe my grandmother. Tearing my eyes away from the knowing look on her face, I nervously examined the room. There was a bed and a few pieces of furniture, a hole in the ground that I later learned was a toilet, and a curtain stretched from wall to wall, behind which her children were sleeping, supposedly sleeping. Yep, her kids. I didn’t see them, but I could hear them, and she spoke to them on a couple of occasions. She knew enough English to tell me to take off my clothes. Filling a basin with water, she washed my parts, my shrinking, shriveling parts, and examined me for outward signs of disease. It was all very romantic. Finally, she turned out the light, took off her own clothes, pulled me into bed, on top of her, and said something like “get to work.”
How I wish I could! Get to work, that is, or more precisely, get “it” to work. The damn thing had no interest in this magnificent adventure, nor was my Lady of the Night particularly helpful. Eventually losing patience, she pushed me off, muttered “I sleep now,” and rolled away from me. By and by I shook her awake, “I have to piss.” She pointed to the hole in the floor, “No pee on floor,” and went back to sleep. I squatted miserably over the hole, doing my best to aim in the dark, and wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of there. But where was “there?” I was in a shack somewhere in a low-rent district of Okinawa, with no street lights, at one o’clock in the morning. I had not heard a motor vehicle of any kind since the taxi dropped us off. I was about as existentially lost, and lost for real, as a guy can be. I was stuck here until morning.
I crawled back into bed with her.
“Boom boom?” she asked.
“OK, sleep now.”
I lay there in that strange bed, next to that stranger, and waited for morning to come. Surprisingly, I fell asleep. I almost never remember dreams, but I still recall a piece of a dream from that night.
I dreamed of my high school sweetheart, Judy Vance. She was sitting below me in the band room at Florida High with the other flute players. We were waiting for the band director, Glen Heinlen, to come in from his office. From my station up in the corner, I rattled off a fortissimo open roll on the parade snare. The other members of the band stopped talking and looked at me. I handed the sticks to my buddy, David Kahler, and walked down the risers, right through the trumpets and then through the saxes, heading straight for Judy, my eyes locked on hers. She blushed immediately, and Judy was a hard, fast blusher. Her cheeks turned bright pink. I stood in front of her for a moment, breathing hard, then dropped down on one knee.
“I want to tell you, Judy, in front of all these people, that you are the only one in the world for me.”
Oh, go on, roll your eyes. It was 1963, high school stuff, and besides, it was only the anguished dream of an eighteen year old kid in bed with an Okinawan prostitute, so give him a break. Give me a break. Whatever.
“No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you.”
Dream Judy reached up with one hand and pulled my head down to hers. She kissed me softly, for a long time, as my classmates whistled, hollered, and made a racket on their various instruments.
That dream, and variations of it, played over and over and over, through the hours of that dreadful night. That dream was like the glow of a paper lantern keeping away the darkness and my despair. That dream of Judy stood between me and a nasty little thought . . . a worm.
A worm that began to burrow into my body.
“There’s something wrong with me.”