“Get a load of this guy,” I blurted. Outside, a guy wearing a Marine cap, Aviators, and a full length trench coat stepped from a convertible BMW onto the sun-drenched street. With an R. Lee Ermey-like strut, he marched across the sidewalk and up the steps. His boots tapped cadence as he crossed the deck towards the front door.
The bar’s two customers interrupted their conversation and fixed their gaze on the door in time to see it burst open. With a voice as loud as his body language The Drill Sergeant exclaimed: “IS THERE A PLACE IN THIS TOWN TO GET A SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT?” Though it was a question, he bugled his curiosity with authority.
Being a veteran of bar wars, I enjoy such non-sense; this one reminded of a long-past winter’s afternoon when my nose was jarred from a book. A ninety-year old cowboy kicked open the door and proclaimed: “Get off your ass you cock-sucker and pour me a drink.” I responded: “Why don’t you waddle down to the funeral home, if you make it by Happy Hour they’ll serve you a shot of formaldehyde. The old man sniped back: “You’re a funny cock-sucker aren’t you?” Expecting similar banter, I blurted: “By a shave and a haircut you mean a shot and a beer, you’ve come to the right place.”
The Drill Sergeant’s chest expanded. “NO, I SAID A SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT, IS THERE A PLACE IN THIS TOWN TO GET ONE?”
Customer number one, who is known locally as The Gook, fell into his role as emissary – a story in his own right, The Gook is a sixty-something, self-styled, self-proclaimed gangster. For a decade I was convinced he landed in our town as part of the Witness Protection Program. “Can’t get one here, you have to go to Frenchtown or Missoula.”
“WHAT KIND OF TOWN IS THIS?”
The Gook snickered and sipped his cocktail. “Oh well.”
Sensing this small Montana town didn’t conform to military expectations, he changed course, “ANY OF YOU BOYS VETERANS?”
“I am,” Customer Number Two said. Though new to town Chico already proved his ability to spin a sentence at near sonic speed. Something about The Drill Sergeant changed Chico’s demeanor. Rigidness replaced his easy going nature. “I’m a Marine.” Chico later admitted he was sure our guest was stashing a twelve-gauge under the trench coat.
The Drill Sergeant approached Chico. Extending his hand he did the Semper Fi thing and blurted Hoorah. Disdain washed over Chico’s face. He glanced in my direction before facing The Drill Sergeant. “It’s Oorah,” Apparently, in military speak, Hoorah is an Army Ranger chant, Oorah is Marine.
Ignoring Chico, our guest stepped back, puffed his chest out and proclaimed: “FORCE RECON, VIET NAM.”
The Gook and Chico exchanged a glance.
“How old are you?” Chico asked.
A sarcastic laugh escaped The Gook. “I’m sixty-four and missed the cut. You’re not old enough.”
“GOT INTO THE CORPS WHEN I WAS FIFTEEN, FOOLED THEIR ASSES.” He stepped away from the conversation and up to the bar. “LET ME BUY YOU BOYS A ROUND.” He threw a hundred dollar bill on the bar and said: “WHATEVER THEY’RE HAVING, YOU TOO!”
I held up my bottle of Power Aid. “I’m drinking this.”
“I AIN’T BUYING YOU THAT.”
I shrugged: “Whatever, you’re not hurting my feelings.”
“BOY, GET ME SOME AGAVE,” he bellowed dangerously close to my bubble.
I snatched a bottle of Jose and Tarantula off the shelf and slammed them upon the bar top.
“BOY, THAT AINT AGAVE!”
“Boy,” I retorted, “If you don’t like it, there’s another bar down the street, I’m sure they got your ‘Agave.’” I’m sure my attitude rubbed him as ill as my long hair and scruffy look.
Doubling down, The Drill Sergeant must have imagined us on the Parade Ground. “BOY YOU MAKE ME THE GODDAMNEDEST BEST LONG ISLAND ICED TEA YOU EVER MADE!”
Normally, at this point when the run-of-the-mill belligerent gets to this point, he gets the there’s the door routine, but something stopped me. It may have been full length trench coat – the weather was too warm and I wasn’t convinced Chico was wrong – or, it may have been curiosity, it may have been the rush of standing face to face with such a character. “Boy,” I retorted, “You’re lucky I make the goddamnedest best Long Island Iced Tea you’ll ever have!”
As I executed my marching orders, Chico asked: “What’s your name?”
“Jorge,” The Gook repeated. “What brings you here?”
“I’M ON A MISSION TO POLSON, MONTANA, TO RESCUE A HOMELESS VETERAN, AND DRIVE HIM TO ARIZONA.”
“You still in?” Chico asked.
“Put in my time.”
“Yep.” Chico fidgeted. Chico later admitted The Drill Sergeant’s presence and the uncertainty of the situation stirred memories of his experience in the First Persian Gulf War.
“WHY’D YOU LEAVE?”
“Said, I put in my time.”
Interjecting, The Gook asked: “Who sent you on this mission?”
“I DID. IT’S MY JOB, MY DUTY TO HELP THOSE WHO NEED HELP. WHEN I RETIRED I WAS WORTH A HALF-MILLION DOLLARS, AND YOU KNOW WHAT I DID? I GAVE IT ALL AWAY, AND NOW I HELP THOSE WHO NEED IT.”
“I could use a little help,” The Gook quipped.
“YOU DIDN’T SERVE!”
“Five years in Uncle Sam’s Cabin. I know all about the Feds,” Gook said as he walked to the window. “Nice car. You giving that away too?”
“YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY I HAD IN MY WALLET WHEN I WOKE UP THIS MORNING? NOTHING, NOW I HAVE TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS, KNOW HOW I GOT IT? DOING FOR OTHERS. SAME THING WITH THE CAR. I OBTAINED IT BY SERVING OTHERS.”
Gook snickered. Later he said The Drill Sergeant probably earned it standing behind a 9 mm.
“Karma,” I said sitting The Drill Sergeant’s drink on the bar.
“EXACTLY.” He stepped towards the bar.
“Where you from?” The Gook asked.
“A LITTLE HERE, A LITTLE THERE.”
“Why’s your car have Idaho plates?”
“THAT’S WHERE I REGISTERED IT.” To me, The Drill Sergeant asked: “WHERE’S THE BATHROOM, I NEED TEN MINUTES ALONE.”
“First door on the right.”
He looked in the restroom’s direction and hesitated.
“You’re not on base, you don’t need my permission.”
“WHERE AM I, AM I IN MOTANA?” he asked no one in particular.
My stomach knotted. I imagined nothing good happening. The phone rang. I answered with my eye on the Sergeant who had yet to make a move towards the bathroom. As I moved out of ear-shot, Tammy’s voice filled my ear. “Hey,” I responded. “I really can’t talk, I’m dealing with crazy, the craziest shit I’ve seen.” I gave her a quick synopsis.
“Is he driving a black BMW?” she asked.
“How do you know?”
“Go look on the community page.” Tammy was referring to the town’s Facebook page. While talking on the phone, the boy’s conversation led back to the car and by the time I hung up, Chico, Gook, and The Drill Sergeant were filing out the front door. I jumped online and read this: (I planned on cutting and pasting the post, but it has since been deleted, so I’m taking this from memory.)
Was just approached by a strange man on Bible Lane. He drove up in a black, convertible BMW with Idaho plates and said that he was here to help me, and that he has very good instincts about who needs help. He also said that he was looking for a shave and a haircut, which was strange because he was clean shaven with neatly cropped hair. He said his name was George Buryman (?) Then he said something like “There’s a blonde hair, green eyed girl looking for a boy named George.” I excused myself and locked the doors and called the Sherriff.
His last name jumped off the screen. I have no idea if it’s real or not, but the combination of bury and man further tightened the knot in my stomach. We were dealing with someone unstable who potentially was carrying concealed weapons under a full-bodied trench coat. I peered out the window. The three men were standing around the BMW seemingly having a conversation about a car. I walked behind the bar wondering what we were in the middle of, and how this would play out.
When the door opened, I swallowed hard seeing what The Drill Sergeant was carrying. Draped over his left forearm was a full sized American flag, he held a cane in his left hand, and a camouflage Cabela’s duffle bag in his right hand. “I INEED FIFTEEN MINUTES ALONE TO GIVE MYSELF A SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT.” He pronounced as he set the duffle bag and cane on a buddy bar.
Images of blood raced through my mind. At the very least I imagined him killing himself in the bathroom. He walked to the side door, and peered into the courtyard, the flag still draped over his arm. He turned and looked directly at me. “BOY, IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO ME YOU SEE THAT I’M BURRIED WITH THIS HERE FLAG.”
In my thirteenth year of bartending, I did something I’ve done less than a handful of times, I unclipped the safety on the can of bear-spray stashed behind the bar. What he said next to nothing to assuage my fears.
To the three of us, both Gook and Chico followed the Drill Sergeant back in: “WHICH ONE OF YOU BOYS IS GOING TO GIVE ME A SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT?”
I imagined him reaching into his bag and slashing whomever approached him. “I’m a hair farmer,” I said flipping my pony tail over my shoulder. “I’m morally opposed to cutting anyone’s hair.” Despite my bravado, my knees knocked.
Though he claims what happened next was unintentional, to everyone present, especially considering how The Drill Sergeant reacted, Gook laid down the best fuck you I’ve heard. “It looks like you’ll have to give yourself a shave and a haircut, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go into the Men’s room to do it, it’s small, dank, and dirty, the Women’s room would be better for you, it’s clean and roomy.”
The Drill Sergeant’s face reddened, burning under his hat and above his trench coat. “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” he bellowed approaching The Gook.
Being a veteran of different kinds of wars, The Gook held his ground, smirking at The Drill Sergeant’s reaction. He later said that he knew he could take him to the floor but he wouldn’t have been able to keep him there, he was hoping Chico and I would have laid the boot on The Drill Sergeant.
I don’t know why there wasn’t a confrontation, maybe it was Gook’s demeanor, maybe The Drill Sergeant knew he was outnumbered, maybe he was a poser, but I can imagine seeing Gook not puff up, nor step back, nor do anything but maintain his manner dissuaded The Drill Sergeant who stormed out of the bar without his duffle bag or cane, but with his drink in hand.
“What just happened?” I asked.
The door swung open. “HERE, I WALKED OUT WITH THIS.” He set the remainder of his drink on the bar top, picked up his duffle bag and cane, and approached Chico. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
“What do you mean?”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?” The Drill Sergeant still maintained his ear-splitting volume.
“WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING ANYONE?”
“WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO?”
“TAKE SOMEONE FISHING WHO CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES!”
Chico’s face reddened. He later admitted he was ready to slug The Drill Sergeant. “Leave me alone.”
“WHAT ABOUT YOU?” He said turning to The Gook.
“What about me? I’m comfortable in my own skin, how ‘bout you? Can you say that?”
“I HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO THAN WASTE MY TIME WITH YOU.” The Drill Sergeant marched out the door. I watched him climb into his convertible, rev its engine, and do a sharp U Turn and speed down the road.
I turned and repeated my question: “What just happened?”
The Gook answered. “Don’t know if he’s off his meds, or whatever, but I just felt like I was in the presence of evil.”
Post-script. The following night at 1:45 AM, as I was leaving town after closing the bar, the black BMW rolled into town as I drove out. Apparently, The Drill Sergeant never made it to Arizona. I made it home quicker than usual that night, my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror.