Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paying the Price

After basic training down in Texas, I enjoyed a 30-day leave before shipping out to Hahn Air Base, Germany. After a long season of GI issued food, it was heaven to sit at Mother’s table and, in a leisurely fashion, enjoy the food I had grown up on: fried chicken, purple hull peas, mashed potatoes, hot water cornbread, sweet tea and a great variety of raw vegetables, including succulent tomatoes. I came home for the leave skinny and departed for Germany with a loosened belt.

I rode the Greyhound to Trenton, New Jersey, from whence I was to board an airplane for my first trans-Atlantic flight. While I was waiting a long period of time to receive the final copy of my orders and the instructions as to where to gather for the flight out, I went to a busy restaurant just outside the military establishment to have a hamburger. There were lots of Americans in uniform there, apparently awaiting final orders as I was. An attractive young lady came up to my booth and casually sat down beside me. She introduced herself as Mary Jones, very ordinary name for such an extraordinary beauty.

She was a great conversationalist. She was mostly in the interrogative mode, seldom revealing information about herself. She found out a bunch from me, including my interests in sports, automobiles, especially hot rods, and current events. The little bit she revealed about herself sounded somehow as fictitious as her name: her mother was ill, her father had left them; she had to work hard to support herself and a number of younger siblings. Then came the sales pitch: “Since you are going to Germany, how wonderful it would be if you could stay connected with the States by magazines. I have some really great rates on Hot Rod, Sports Illustrated, and Time.”

To make a long story short, I gave her $10 and my APO address, and she promised that my subscriptions would start immediately. I would probably have magazines waiting when I arrived at my base. She concluded by saying she had really enjoyed our time together and that, if it was okay with me, she would correspond with me. Of course, I was delighted.

There were no magazines waiting for me at the base. There was no letter from Mary Jones waiting for me at the base. No magazines and no letters from Mary ever came. It was a scam, but, as a lonely teenager about to embark on a long trip into the unknown, I enjoyed her company, whoever she was. Was it worth $10? Yes, if I can forget about her callous lies and dishonest ways. No if I cannot. And I can’t. But I did get at least $10 worth of experience from the situation and, as I think back without projecting my older and wiser self into the picture, I sort of knew I was being duped and didn’t care. This was the last American girl I would talk to for a long time. I paid the price.

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