We pulled into Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. I was blessed to have the day off while my other five sailing buddies had to work. I found a nice place to have a beer, and other refreshments.
When Dickie, a shipmate in the Deck Department with me, suddenly came through the door and sat at my table, it was not good. He talked and drank boiler makers and was soon drunk. He wanted me to go to another town with him. I walked outside and was basically telling him why I had no intention of going with him. Once in Cam Rahn Bay, we were at my favorite place.
Suddenly, he pulled out a pen knife and challenged three giant Black soldiers and called them an unflattering name. He then said, “In Alabama, we know how to take care of you N…give you what you deserve.” He then pointed the one-inch blade at them and told them to come on, if they had the balls.
The soldiers looked at him like he was some kind of a crazy fool, which he was! I apologized and begged them not to bounce his ass all around the village. They backed down and smiled at me, got up and left.
Dickie said, “You chicken shit! Another Yankee with no balls! I would have smashed them, but you got in the way.” I got up and left and hid for a while; until he staggered out and went looking for me. Then, I slipped back in and sat down.
Mama San, brought me a beer and smiled. She said, “Thank You! No pay for beer.”
So, then we stood outside the hut when suddenly a young kid flashed by, jumped up and grabbed the money that was in Dickie’s shirt pocket. He ran like a gazelle, turned towards the open spaces of the place and ran towards a never-ending wall with one short, narrow green door. He opened it and was gone.
Dickie, drunk and staggering, started running, following the kid in the white shirt and brown pants. He opened the door and with a little difficulty pushed his way in, leaving it open. I didn’t have long to wait for Dickie to appear with the child in his arms. All at once, a stream of screaming and crying humanity flew out the door after him. It was as if they all came out at the same time. There had to be a thousand of them. Dickie stretched his long arm high into the air. The short Vietnamese were outraged that the child was beyond their reach. The mother, father and child were crying. The crowd was overwhelmed with fear that the child might be injured, or, worse yet dropped.
Dickie reached me, and the throng surrounded us. There were threats, pleas, and lots of anger. Dickie demanded that the boy who took his money be found and his money returned, or he would keep the child. A voice spoke in Vietnamese and pandemonium ensued. The multitudes were getting more angry and ugly. The Vietnamese were looking at me and pleading for my help in their own language. What they wanted was clear.
I said to Dickie, “Give them the baby… NOW!”
“Shut up, and mind your business, you little Spic.”
“I’m not going to say it again, Dickie. Give them the baby!”
“You mind your own business. You’re a coward! What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to show these people that I am on their side, and I’ll be the first one to jump on your ass. Give them the baby!”
“I want my money.”
“Dickie, I mean it! Give them the baby. I will get your money back from that kid, or I will give it to you from my draw.” He lowered the baby. A collective shout of joy went up when the mother put the child in her arms, and the tears of fear were replaced with the joy of avoiding a bad situation. The people headed for the green door and it rapidly swallowed them without a burp.
We stood there almost alone. Dickie said, “You always get in my way.”
I said, “I’ll get it back, or give it to you. I went into the hut and told Mama San what happened. She said she was well aware and had sent someone to get the kid to return the money. Soon, there was a knock on the door. The kid came in, with a lowered gaze, indicating shame. Mama San smacked him so hard in the face that he flew sideways. She yelled at him…a good dressing down. She snatched the money from his hand, and he left posthaste.
The apology was sincere, and I took the money and gave it to Dickie. He looked relieved and sneered at me because he wanted to cause trouble…not find a solution to the problem. We parted company, and I would never ask the Great Spirit for another favor except to just keep him away from me.
I went outside for a smoke when an elderly woman came up to me smiling. She took my hands in hers and, while lowering her head, she touched her forehead to my hands and said, “Number one!” When she raised her head, she had tears coming from her eyes, and whispered, “Thank you.”
As she walked away, I knew that once again I was on the right side of another encounter. I had done what was needed to be done to avoid a very bad situation, so it was time to go in and have another beer.