Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 25, 2003.

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    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 49
    (2/15/01 4:39:23 pm)
    It had started as most service calls do---the customer
    needed you an hour before, even though the problem they
    you to solve, might have been with them for weeks, maybe
    even months.
    A stifling August afternoon in Phoenix---the
    temperature, the traffic, the tempers, and always the chance
    of a
    temper-tantrum being thrown by some gun-packing citizen
    ---the new word being used was ‘road rage’. Those were
    just some of the things that did not lend themselves well to
    getting to the customers home without a lot of major
    The call for service had come from Mr. Harry
    Rosenzweig’s nurse-housekeeper, Ms. Hayes. I think Mr. R.
    was a
    widower because I had always been called by Ms. Hayes. I had
    been to the home many times before---an older home
    with a lot of old home plumbing ailments. It was one of
    the original homes in Central Phoenix and was located
    Mr. Rosenzweig’s jewelry store---that particular business
    being a landmark in the downtown area for more than five
    When I arrived at the residence, I pulled up onto the
    driveway and parked. The windows were down on the truck
    and when I turned off the engine I could hear the sounds of
    water being swept with a broom---that and the sounds of
    mumbling---mumbles mixed in with curses. The screen door
    was propped back and Ms. Hayes was sweeping water
    from the washer machine room---great swooshes of water and
    yes, I could distinctly see her lips moving, though I
    could’nt determine the words being uttered. She stopped
    sweeping when she spotted me and brushed the straggles of
    greying hair back out her face. Her face was flushed and
    the hospital looking ‘scrubbs’ she was wearing appeared
    darkened with perspiration. Ms. Hayes had always reminded
    me of how I remembered Ma Kettles (Marjorie Main)
    from the movies. I remember also she had a way of saying
    those catchy phrases---Texas humor. As I approached the
    Grand Lady with the broom, she smiled most graciously and
    exclaimed ‘sweeping this cotton-picking soapy water is
    like trying to herd cats’! I guffawed like a fool for I’d
    never heard that expression before. She looked at me
    for a moment and then turned on her heel and went back to
    ‘herding cats’.
    It was abundantly clear that the washer machine had
    overflowed---Ms. Hayes was still mumbling to herself as I
    her stoop over and pick up a dirty mop rag off the floor.
    She wrung it out with strong and dripping hands and
    commenced to swab the perspiration off her face and
    neck---nothing delicate about this Texas Marm. Now that I
    here to solve the flood problem, it was done ‘raining on her
    parade’ as far as she was concerned.
    I set about doing the work I had come to do. It
    involved both working
    inside the laundry room as well as the roof top over that
    area. When I worked inside I could hear voices from the
    living room. One voice I identified immediately as Mr.
    Rosenzweig’s but the other voice, though sounding vaguely
    familiar, I could not discern who it was. The voices
    sounded as if the two were arguing because their talking
    like shouting but there was laughter mixed in also. I
    thought that maybe the other voice I was hearing was some
    customer of mine who’s voice I’d soon recall---like the
    I continued to labor ---sweating and fussing---up and
    down the ladder---cycling the washer machine, rodding the
    drain. I must have suddenly declared out loud, ‘that’s
    Senator Barry Goldwater in there talking with Old Harry
    R.’! I
    had been so deep in concentration that I did’nt realize Ms.
    Hayes was standing close enough to me that she had heard
    my ‘thinking out loud’ statement for she exclaimed in an
    exasperated sounding voice as she rolled her eyes ‘who
    Harry and Barry, the vaudville twins, Old Frick and
    Frack--- I tell you those two just drive me nuts when they
    She had made those remarks so matter-of-factly that it
    took me by surprise---I must have chuckled or giggled at
    the honest lady’s outburst for I got that vacant looking
    ‘not amused’ stare from Ms. Hayes once again. Well I’ll be
    damned I thought, this Lady is really humorous and does’nt
    even know it. Strange stuff, this Texas humor!
    ‘Well, is it fixed now’, Ms. Hayes asked in a calm,
    expectant sounding voice, ‘I got more cotton-pickin’ dirty
    clothes to do than Hop Sing’s Hand-Wash Laundry and I
    just know the tooth fairy ain’t goin’ help me do it’, she
    stated with a completely straight face. ‘I just hope you
    don’t have any more bad news for me’ she quipped, ‘like you

    want to meet the Senator and talk a lot of political
    nonsense so I can’t get my work done’!
    I just knew the lady was joshing me for a tell-tale
    smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she was waited
    my reply---that reply being a vigorous nodding of my head in
    the affirmative, as I had already concurred that this labor
    would be almost free just for the chance to meet Barry
    I had already put all my tools and equipment away so I
    was ready to meet Mr. Republician, and I must have
    appeared anxious for Ms. Hayes quiried in an almost serious
    sounding voice ‘well, are you ready to be thrown into the
    lions den?’ I followed close onto her heels into the living
    room where the lively and noisy conversation had been
    coming from.
    Mr. Rosenzweig was sitting in his big old ‘Archie
    Bunker’ looking wing back chair and Senator Goldwater
    straddled a wooden straighback kitchen chair, his arms
    resting across the back of the chair top. They both looked
    toward us as we entered their ‘lions den’---waiting.
    Ms. Hayes made the introductions quickly---I was
    simply, John the Plumber but she added in a gratuitous
    voice that I sure had saved her bacon as she turned and left
    the room. Sounded like a compliment to me----kinda------.
    Mr. R. extended his thin and liver-spotted hand and
    croaked in a wavering sounding voice that he was sure glad I

    could come because he was running out of clean socks. I
    could’nt tell for sure but I think the noise he made then
    was a
    chuckle---the running out of socks must have been a shared
    joke because there was no doubt about Mr.
    Goldwater---he guffawed loudly from down deep in his wiry
    looking body.
    He was clad in faded and thread bare Levi’s and wore a
    Levi looking denim shirt. His boots were worn and scuffed
    so completely that their color was only bare leather. His
    sweat stained cowboy hat lay on the floor near his
    could tell he had been wearing the hat for there was the
    tell-tale dimpling made by the hat brim on the skin on his
    colored forehead.
    ‘Excuse me for not getting up John, but I’m so damn
    lame it’s like I got run over with a Mack truck’ he declared
    a true Barry Goldwater sounding voice, as he thrust out his
    hand---my own work-hardened had met all the strength
    and firmness of a much younger man.
    ‘I’m pleased to meet you John’ he remarked, ‘pull over
    a chair John the Plumber and tell me and Harry how good
    the plumbers are these days---that is if you’re off the
    clock,’ he added emphatically, grinning that Barry Goldwater

    grin. I assured him that I was off the clock and would’nt
    be charging for the conversation, as they both continued to
    grin at me. I seated myself on the straightback chair I
    had been offered and waited. Did’nt seem appropriate for me

    to start talking first for they both were much older than I
    was. Maybe I was even feeling overwhelmed too---.
    I was taken aback at how frail Mr. Rosenzweig had
    become. He slouched, stoop-shouldered and fragile looking
    the old wing back chair but his eyes were still bright
    and alert and they seldom ever left his old friends face.
    I was to
    learn they had been life long friends--- sons of Jewish
    immigrants, born and raised in the wild west town of
    Barry in the retail clothing sales and Harry a jeweler. As
    I look back now on the two men, I would bet one was of a
    rowdy nature while the other was much more restrained---I’ll
    bet you can guess the one of a rowdy nature----did’nt
    have to be Nick the Greek to win that kind of bet.
    The Senator was a gifted conversationlist, after all he
    had been a politician all those years. A ‘mover and shaker’
    much renoun and it did’nt take long for history and facts
    and stories to begin. Damn, he was a good storyteller too.
    Ms. Hayes had been right--- we were going to talk a lot of
    nonsense and waste a lot of time but it was’nt the least bit

    political. Sometime later, after I had seen her depart the
    living room, she had returned and closed the door ---Harry
    and Barry and John the Plumber talked into the fading
    When I told Mr. Goldwater I was a retired militaryman
    having spent 20 years in the NAVY SEABEES, it was all
    uphill from there as we exchanged military stories. He
    jokingly remarked to his friend Harry R. , ‘damn Seabees,
    trust ‘em, steal anything not nailed down’! Harry cackled
    heartily and Barry guffawed from down deep in his gut at his

    own joke. I knew Senator Goldwater was Air Force, in fact
    I think he was a Brig. General. The Senator motioned
    with his hands a lot and I noticed his fingers being blunt
    and strong looking---that and the ever so square jaw the
    cartoonists always depicted so well. Mr. Rosenzweig sat
    huddled in his chair, his mottled and liver-spotted hands
    together in his lap---I think back and recall the old fellow
    was wearing bedroom slippers with no socks---his bony
    ankles as pale as alabaster stone.
    If I smelled like a sewer rat or appeared dirty and
    unkempt that afternoon those two fine old gentleman never
    a hint. Their language was earthy---not foul or nasty, but
    two old friends and a visitor parrying, thrusting, and
    conversing in a manner one would expect in a gentlemans
    smoking room over brandy.
    I told them of my extensive military experiences---my
    specility of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC)
    warfare---of my two tours of duty in Viet Nam---of military
    construction projects around the world that I had worked
    on such as the Cubi Point Philippine Island airfield the
    Seabees built during the Korean War---I boasted quite
    but so did he----!
    The Senator spoke of his Army Air Corps days in World
    War Two and I still recall a heartwrenching story he told
    of a test pilot named Joe. After the war the BELL X-Series
    of rocket-jet airplanes were being developed and tested
    over in the deserts of California. His friend Joe had flown
    many missions with the Senator during the war and it must
    have been one of those ‘like a brother to me’ things. Joe
    was killed testing the X-1 and as the ‘old warhorse’ related

    those events for me, massive sobs and the flailing of his
    arms drove home the fact that there had never been closure.
    When he could continue the story no longer, he laid his head
    across his arms on the back of the old kitchen chair and
    breathed deeply, trying to gain composure. So very tenderly
    his old friend Harry reached across and gently patted the
    back of Mr. Goldwater’s head---his thin and spidery hand now
    appearing that it had the strength of Samson. So very
    touching----I shall never forget----.
    Yes, we talked into the failing light of the early
    evening---I never felt that day like I imposed---I never
    felt any caste
    system develope from either age or station in life. The
    bantering conversation as well as the serious remarks fit
    comfortable old slippers.
    Mr. Rosenzweig has since passed away and I pray Mr.
    Goldwater is well and content. I have retired from the
    cleaning business and my grandson Travis is now operating
    the service. I work in my woodshop these days ---my days
    are spent making John’s Angels’ named in memory of our son
    John Jr. who passed away in July 1996. Hospice of the
    Valley in Phoenix has the original John’s Angel on perpetual
    display ---they took such good care of Johnny until he
    succumed to the terrible ravages of AIDS. Mr. Goldwater’s
    wife Susan is Hospice of the Valley’s Executive Director.
    How can we ever know how lives touch in the scheme of
    A final remembrance of that day long ago at Mr.
    Rosenzweig’s home--as I got up to leave, the Senator and I
    insisted that Harry stay seated, and as I reached over to
    clasp the old fellows hand, I noticed his eyes---they were
    humorous eyes, just like I had noticed about the Senator.
    Sure could’nt describe them any other way than ‘laughing
    eyes’---I turned and had the Barry Goldwater paw thrust out
    toward me in the best political stance of the day. ‘Damn
    John the Plumber, sure good to visit with you---don’t take
    offense at my Seabee remarks---but you know, us
    politicians gotta tell the truth’, he declared caustically.
    Thank goodness, he still had that smile in his eyes and
    the broad grin on his face I glanced down toward Old Harry
    R. and he was grinning just as broadly at his friends
    I felt there had to be a closing this day on something
    frivolous so I told them the drain cleaners motto.
    The timing could’nt have been more perfect. Those two
    old men with the laughing eyes exploded in gales of
    glee---Harry clapped his frail and wrinkled hands loudly
    together and Barry stomped his scuffed and worn cowboy
    boots on the carpeted floor. The rucus was still going on in
    the living room when Ms. Hayes let me out of the washer
    room door.

    John H. Wilborn Sr.

    27 March 1998