One of the best parts about living with my family are morning stories with Dad. Most of the time there’s music too, my favorite, Dad’s all original tunes, live and in person, in the living room.
“I got to play the Jew card,” he said, “Once. You don’t know this story?”
Maybe I’d heard it before. Once. But I wanted to hear it again. So we time-warped, back to the early 70’s, when Dad was 21, in the marines.
Inspections were coming up; everyone was busy getting ready. Each locker had to be neat, each suit clean pressed, shoes polished and buffed. The platoon was a flurry of activity as the men prepared. (Keep in mind, this was long before Haliburton’s time. They did their own laundry and shared the chores. No feasible work on the military base was outsourced.)
Meanwhile, Dad took it easy.
He had Jewish services to attend that day. He took a car, filled with everyone’s junk from the platoon, because… where else would they put it? And he went into town for services.
Immediately upon his return, Dad was jailed. He explained his reason for missing the inspection.
“Why didn’t you attend services on base?” Asked his superior.
“It’s a Catholic priest, sir,” Dad replied.
“That’s the same thing, isn’t it?” The man shot back.
“Well, no sir…” Said Dad.
Dad did what he had to do – he contacted the ACLU. Before long, there was a letter from the pentagon instructing Dad’s release. (Apparently we have some important laws to protect ourselves from just this kind of thing.)
Anyway, once they realize you’re the smartest guy around, you become the assistant to whoever is in charge of your unit. Dad told me about the day he was chosen…
“You know the story about the chanting, right?” He asked me.
“Tell me again,” I said.
Each major is different – they all have quirks. This one demanded that, when he called out a name, Goldfarb, for example, the entire unit had to yell it back, “Sir, Private Goldfarb, sir!” (Guess he wanted to make sure everyone got the message.)
One afternoon, everyone was having a smoking break, but Dad didn’t smoke, so he took a 5 minute nap instead.
“Jesus Christ,” muttered the commanding officer… Silence.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” He yelled.
“Sir, Jesus Christ Sir!” replied the chorus of bewildered men.
“Private Jesus Christ!” The commander bellowed.
“Sir, Private Jesus Christ sir!”
Dad, at attention, “Yes, sir!”
“Why didn’t you come when I called you the first time?” Asked the Major.
“You called Jesus Christ, sir.”
“Well, you are Jewish, right?”
“And Jesus Christ was a Jew, right?”
“From now on when I call Jesus Christ, you come here.”
“Now go outside and find out if it’s raining.”
Dad obliged, “It’s raining, sir.”
“I want to ride my motorcycle home today, but I can’t ride it in the rain. Make it stop raining.”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir,” Dad said. He turned around to go outside. But the commander stopped him.
“Where were you just going?” He asked.
“To make the rain stop, sir.”
“How were you going to do that?”
“I have something I do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
Dad told his superior about a Buddhist chant he’d learned about before he joined the service.
The man pondered, “You know, my wife does that.”
From then on, Dad was the assistant.
One day, the Major lamented that too many guys were getting held up failing the physical fitness test. No one could do the required number of pull-ups and, as a result, the unit was getting too big.
Dad suggested the chant.
“We’re going to try something different today,” said the Major. He got everyone doing it:
“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, nam-myoho-renge-kyo, nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”
Sure enough, that day every last one of them passed the pull-up test.