New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions.
-Mark Twain-

My new years resolution is the same every year and I always keep it. It is "I resolve to make no New Years resolution". -tom swaim-

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Old Fools Journal: The Ugly American or How I Discovered Two Authors that Influenced My Life

Manila Bay at sunset.

When I was a young sailor in the U S Navy while aboard the USS McKean DD784 we visited the city of Manila in the Philippines. I believe we were there for about a week. I walked the city alone every chance I had. I remember that as a time of very deep soul searching and that is best done alone. Soul searching is about all you can do when you are have little money. I was homesick, I missed and longed for my bride I did not really want to be here even though I was helping save the world from all future wars.

The first day while walking the streets and looking at stuff I came across a bar called the "Ugly American". Big sign in English and of course I had to investigate. It turns out that it was owned, at least in part, by William Lederer one of the co-authors with Eugene Burdick of the book "the Ugly American". I had been observing some of the local color and by that I mean more prostitutes in broad daylight than I had ever seen before. Beautiful girls and boys, all small and young. Some of the boys were prettier than the girls. Everyone spoke excellent English and all were open and confident but not too pushy with the exception of one boy back at the boat landing where we caught the shore boat back to the ship. He was determined that I would go with him describing the many pleasures that I had only barely heard of. I ran like a scared rabbit. If any of these young people knew how much money I didn't have I would have been invisible.

When I first spied the Ugly American bar I knew nothing of the book by that name. Of course my curiosity was piqued so I went in looking for a cold beer to quench my thirst. It looked and smelled like any other bar I'd been in since arriving in the western pacific. It was cool and dark, there were 3 or 4 working girls at the tables near the front and a very friendly bartender that served up the coldest San Miguel beer I'd had since arriving. That one didn't last long and I ask for another commenting about how cold it was. The bartender said I could have one more cold one but any more would not be as cold. He said that the only way he could get any that cold was to lay 4 or 5 directly on the evaporator coils in the less than adequate cooler (by American standards) the night before. He put several more on the coils but informed me that they would only be really cold if left there overnight. I told him that any beer slightly cooler than room temperature would be OK (as I aged any beer that had been in the shade would be OK) but if he would get some really cold I would be back the next day.

The girls came over one by one checking me out for action but when I explained my financial situation they kind of drifted away. They all spoke excellent English and were conversational after that. They never treated me with anything but friendship but they were not free for anything else. The bartender also spoke excellent English and on asking told me the story of the bar. When he showed me the dogeared paperback copy of the book The Ugly American. I ask to look at it. I read the first few pages and I was hooked. I began to read in earnest. I tried to buy the book of course thinking that a book was not squandering my meager funds. He said no but that he would keep my marker in it and I could read some more when I returned for the cold San Miguel.

Those days I spent in Manila at that bar were some of the most pleasant time I had in the Pacific. That included visits to Japan, Okinawa, Formosa (Taiwan) and Hong Kong. All were great in their own way but I had more money in the other places except for Okinawa so it was a different experience described in a other episodes. I don't remember anything about Manila the city as I didn't go sightseeing but I remember the people, the conversations and that I really had an enjoyable time.

I went to the Ugly American bar every day that I went ashore. Times got better and I received my pay while in Manila but all I did was go to that bar read and chat. I finished the book before we took the anchor up and went on to read more by both authors. Burdick wrote some great south pacific tales. Lederer wrote more on the naivety and ignorance of the average American.

That time I spent there plays like a little movie in my memories. Why I wasn't whoring around like any good red blooded American sailor after I got my pay I don't know. I wasn't morally against it I just didn't do it there but I made up for it in Hong Kong and Yokusuka. Sailors in groups were quite often embarrassing and I didn't want to be part of that. I was, I think, seeing the world and trying to absorb it. There was plenty of partying but always without too many witnesses. Some of those stories will be left untold. Or not.
Mail call. We got mail pretty regularly when we were with a carrier. They are already lowering the mail bag here.
The only place there is room for a helicopter to drop anything is on the fantail and there is a lot of stuff back there. The aft gun mount has to be turned sideways but the hatches and depth charges were still cluttering up the deck. These guys make it look easy but this is an extremely dangerous job for the pilot and the receiving crew.
And he is away with our outgoing. I often wonder what these guys are doing now.
I will revisit this type of helicopter at least one more time but under much less pleasant conditions. I have to admit that I am having trouble putting those unfortunate events in print.


f said...

Still here, still reading, still thankful that you're writing.

kfg said...

What f said.

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