Now Playing: Let’s Stay Together, by the great Al Green. “Let’s – let’s stay together, loving you whether, times are good or bad or happy or sad.”
I mentioned once to a friend on Facebook that I’ve lived a weird and wonderful life (and hopefully still have a lot left in me). Sometimes it seems like it’s out of a song.
This tale, as many of the previous ones have, stems from my days in Jacksonville, working for The Daily News. The newspaper, and being a reporter/editor, really has little to do with the main part of the story, other than explaining why I lived there in the first place.
Not that I didn’t love Jacksonville. That’s right. It was a great place to cut your teeth on newspaper work. Because Camp Lejeune was there, there was more to the city than most many Eastern North Carolina towns. And what there was was pretty straightforward (as opposed to Wilmington, which I never really embraced – it just seemed kinda snooty to me). Jacksonville wasn’t perfect, and it knew it, but it was fun.
Shortly after I started at The Daily News, I got the story of a lifetime, covering the court-martial of Pfc. Robert Garwood, a Marine from Indiana who got captured by the North Vietnamese and was accused of turning against his fellow servicemen. Did he? That’s a good question. I heard a lot of the testimony before being moved into an editor’s position at the paper, and I was never 100% sure about him, one way or another. I knew it was a lot to expect of an uneducated and unsophisticated 19-year-old to remain perfectly loyal in that situation. Anyway, I met a lot of good reporters from around the state at the court-martial, and I held my own with them. Sometimes more than that. Another aside: One of the reasons I’ve always looked at CNN skeptically came after being around some of their folks then.
There was always something interesting going on in J-ville because of the base and beach. There was never a serious hurricane during the time I was there, but there was a different kind of storm – Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. That was the simple one – I still remember the night the first bombers struck Baghdad. I found out when I got home from coaching my youth basketball team’s practice that week.
Once the ground war started, we did our best covering the home front, and I think we did a pretty solid job at it. On the day it ended, I had perhaps my finest moment as a journalist. I wrote, if I say so myself, a damn good headline to cap off the war: Victory, By George. (It had come to me in the shower that day, not unlike a modern-day Archimedes.)
Anyway, near the end of our time in Jacksonville, Karen and I moved into an apartment complex near the paper. Which brings me to the point of this tale.
Our immediate neighbors were a young enlisted Marine, Leon, and his wife, Nydia. (Like Lydia, only with an N.) They were from California. We didn’t see a lot of Leon – he was busy training a lot of the time. But we became friends with Nydia, and with their animals, a dog named Woofer and a cat named Meowser. And I swear I’m not making that up, nor am I inventing what comes next.
One day we were talking with Nydia, who’d moved to North Carolina in a hurry when Leon got assigned to Lejeune. She was trying to decide what kind of work she wanted to do. She’d graduated high school and started college but had to quit when she moved. We suggested a few things and some folks we knew who could possibly help her. Then, as adults often do, we got around to asking her what kind of work she was interested in.
“I really want to be a hairdresser,” Nydia offered. “That’s what I was studying in school when I had to leave.”
I almost choked, and I couldn’t look at Karen because I knew if I did we’d both break out laughing.
We’d moved in next to a Beauty School Dropout.
Like I said, my life is like a song – sometimes one from a musical. (And don’t think that’s the only one. There’s a West Side Story story dying to be told one of these days.)
We left J-ville not too long after that. We never did know what Nydia decided to do, or whether she ever passed shampoo. I sure hope she found something that she liked doing.
As for Karen and I, we ended up in Gastonia – the poster city for Weird and (sometimes) Wonderful. But again, that’s a story – or two or three – for another day. But I’ll give you a hint – there’s lettuce in it, even though we were past our salad days.
Shalom. Going to the beach next week and not sure how often I’ll post, if at all.
“Beauty school dropout,
No graduation day for you.
Beauty school dropout,
Missed your midterms and flunked shampoo!”