The West Palm Beach Old Guys Lunch Bunch
Winter 2014 in a Gated Community in Lake Worth
March 2014 - 82 degrees
The ubiquitous Florida Canals
Main Road in a Lake Worth Low Rise - there are no high rises in this Palm Beach County town!
Winter 2014 - West Palm, Florida
If you are lucky enough to spend some winter-time in tropical Florida, you will probably return North in the Spring with many pleasant memories.
Fortunate to have spent parts of a few years on both the East and West Coasts of the Sunshine State, I have a book full of recollections. Here are a few:
At 69 years of age, I still enjoy being called ‘kid’ by my snowbird neighbors, most of whom are deep into their 70’s and 80’s.
Triple dipping from the ocean to the heated pool and finally into the hot-tub, also is one of my top memories from a few seasons back when I stayed on an island near Sanibel.
The endless group lunches and dinners are always satisfying. This winter, in a gated community near Palm Beach, I was part of "The Old Guys Lunch Bunch." The group picks a different restaurant every week for the ‘boys only’ luncheon meeting.
While the girls were off playing Bingo, the guys sauntered into the selected eatery like teenagers, flirting with waitresses and customers alike. The ladies never seem to mind when 60 to 90 year old guys tease them - they know that if they ever challenged us, we would run like sprinters.
One particular afternoon, I was part of the 'bunch' at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in West Palm Beach. We were seven old coots seated at a long table. One man was at either end, I was with one other person on one side, and opposite me were three ancient marines - veterans of the Korean War.
Despite their real names, I called them Larry, Moe, and Curley; for reasons that might become obvious as I tell a few tales from that luncheon.
Nothing and no one was safe from this trio. When the waitress asked if everything was okay, Curley replied, “Yes everything is fine - except for the service!”
Curley, as I dubbed him, was on my opposite right. In the middle was Larry, who seemed the most normal. During the meal, he did nothing to dispel that notion, but the next day I saw him in the gated community’s parking lot, riding a bicycle and wearing a kaki outfit that seemed military. He stopped every once in a while and put some sort of a piece of paper on people’s cars.
I found out later, that he had appointed himself the complex’s Parking Lot Officer. If he saw a car that didn’t have a ‘resident’ sticker, he gave them a ticket telling them to either register at the office or get out of town.
Seated at my left was Moe. He was the oldest and funniest of the three Marines. Deep into his 80’s he sports king sized hearing aids that sprout from both ears. He hears equally bad with them, or without them.
Most of Moe’s conversation revolves around whether or not he likes someone.
“Do you like John?”, he asked me, flashing a toothy smile that spread from ear to ear.
“Yes I like John. I am glad he is here with us,” I responded.
“He’s a great guy, isn’t he?,” Moe added.
“Yes he is,” I agreed.
“He’s nice to everybody, isn’t he?”, Moe stated. “He’s a great guy. He was nice to his father. He’s a great guy.”
“John’s a great guy, isn’t he? Do you like him?,” Moe asked me for the final time.
“Yes I do. I like him,” I said again.
“I DON’T LIKE HIM!,’ Moe shouts, then flashes a huge grin and turns his head away.
Of the three old warriors, Curley has the best stories. He told me of meeting the great boxing champ Joe Louis and the time that he was a caddy for Joe in a round of golf. Then he informed me that tough Middleweight champ Carmen Basilio caddied for him.
But his best yarns come from more than sixty years ago when he was in boot camp in Parris Island, North Carolina in the 1950s.
It was a time when the Marine Corps was under heavy pressure from Washington and from the voters because a number of young recruits had died due to extreme training from some over zealous drill sergeants.
“My D.I. was meaner than most,” Curley said. “When I first saw him and looked at his uniform, I noticed that he had the three Sergeant’s stripes on top, but I could also see that there used to be three more stripes on the bottom that had been torn off. You could see the outline on the uniform where the stripes had been.”
“The very first day, that drill sergeant explained how he had lost half his stripes,” Curley continued. “He had recently been reduced in rank for abusing his trainees. He might even have been one of the men responsible for the training deaths that had rocked the Corps.”
“The sergeant decided to put his cards on the table right away. He stood before us and gave us a little lesson in abuse,” Curley told me.
“I AM GOING TO TELL YOU BOOTS WHAT CONSTITUTES ABUSE,” the Sergeant shouted to his men. “YOU. STEP FORWARD,” he singled out Curley - who quickly complied. “IF I COME UP TO YOU AND KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASS WITH A GOOD RIGHT HOOK ---- THAT IS NOT ABUSE!
IF I KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASS WITH A GOOD RIGHT HOOK AND THEN PROCEED TO KICK YOU IN THE FACE SEVERAL TIMES --- THIS COULD BE CONSIDERED ABUSE!"
Later Curley had a much more serious encounter with that same Sergeant. He was on kitchen duty and in the middle of a long, searing hot North Carolina afternoon. Less than five feet away from him was a freezer full of ice cream. There were few others around. He figured the odds. It looked pretty good that he could bag one of the ice creams and get away with it. Deftly, he snatched one and bolted it down in seconds.
Hours later, he was told to report to the sergeant’s tent. There were two by fours serving as a door frame to the Pyramid style tent. The sergeant was seated at a desk, in plain view, because the tent flap was open.
Curley had to knock on the two by four in order to be allowed in. He rapped on the wood and announced himself.
“I can’t hear you. Knock louder,” came the reply from inside the tent.
Curley kept knocking louder and louder but the Sergeant kept insisting he could not hear him and he demanded that the recruit knock louder still.
Finally when Curley’s voice was hoarse and his fists were reddened with his own blood, he was admitted.
“ADVANCE FIVE PACES!”
Trembling, Curley tried to walk towards the desk without betraying his fear.
“STOP THERE MAGGOT. DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE?”
“No Sergeant. I do not,” Curley said.
“He didn’t answer me," Curley explained. "The sergeant simply got up from his desk and stepped in front of me. Then he wound up and hit me so hard in the mouth that he knocked me right through the doorway and I landed on my back outside of the tent.”
“GET BACK IN HERE YOU FILTHY MAGGOT. I DID NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO LEAVE,” screamed the sergeant.
“I stumbled to my feet and went back in. He walked up to me and got so close I could feel the heat of his breath. I didn’t know if he was going to hit me again or just kill me. He was silent for a long time before he spoke."
“MARINES DO NOT STEAL. NOW GET OUT OF HERE.”
Curley never forgot the lessons learned from his D.I. They were hard, but served him well in the Korean war and later in his decades as a New York City police officer.
Now, slowed down by the grind of living more than four score years; Curley, Larry and Moe look every bit their age; except sometimes sitting around a table with pals, telling yarns from the old days and chatting up waitresses. For a few moments the clock gets reset. For a brief time they are 18 again.
That’s the beauty and the magic of God’s Waiting Room.