YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW. part 36. Ungifting and Never mind the Viet Cong, we’re being attacked by Pthirus pubis

Ungifting. Relationships take many forms in life. We fall in love, form great friendships or bond with others for a variety of reasons. In these relationships sometimes gifts are exchanged, especially when a certain level of intimacy has been achieved. We’ll call them Bill and Ben to protect their identities. Bill had already done one tour of Vietnam and had come back for a second crack at it. The man was something of an entrepreneur and had invested in a bar in Vung Tau. He wasn’t a member of the Beast Troop so I didn’t have anything to do with him until our move. He was a nice bloke, popular and had feelings for Ben. Bill spent most of his off nights in the bar in town, probably counting his money and checking accounts, who knows? What I do know is with some of those profits he bought some beautiful gifts for Ben. A top of the range Nikon SLR 135mm camera, a Seiko chronometer and a US class type ring. Gold with a huge stone in it. I can’t comment on the type of relationship they had, whether it was sexual, platonic or very good mates. Whatever form it took, Bill was in it for the long haul. Nobody seemed to be bothered or even uptight about them, to each his own.
These images courtesy of Wikipedia.
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Another Friday night and I had decided on having a night in, actually it was forced on me as a result of a game of poker. We had a great card/games table installed in our hut, A 20, making our little slice of paradise a regular casino. I’d played many card games as a child, including poker and blackjack. Mainly for jelly beans or using buttons. One lazy Saturday afternoon a game began and having a few dollars to spare I joined in. The table was well attended and an engineer from another unit dropped in for a game. Anyone with money was welcomed with open arms. After a few lacklustre hands I received the Ace, K, Q, and J of diamonds and a two of something. I discarded it and received the ten of diamonds. Be still my beating heart. Here are a couple of statistics: The odds of being dealt a Royal flush is 0.00015%. This means  if you were dealt 20 hands of poker every night of the year, in 89 years you should only expect to see one royal flush. Naturally I bet up, so did the engineer and everyone else folded and sat back. The betting went back and forth and news went around, a big game’s brewing. I never thought poker could be a spectator sport. We played hut rules and that involved the looker losing if they had an inferior hand. I’d run out of gambling money and thought even if I looked I would win, no matter what he had it wouldn’t beat my hand. He had a Royal flush of hearts. The argument amongst the spectators went along the lines of having the same hand the pot should be split. However the hut rules were final, I looked, I lost. $135 to be precise, a fortnight’s wage. The pot was in the vicinity of about $700. The general rules of poker state that if there are multiple hands of the same rank then the pot should be divided equally. No matter how much money I put out he would have hung on with the hand he had. Lesson learned, never bet anymore than you can afford to lose.
A typical crew at the card table, notice the strict dress standards and fine décor.
zzzzzThis picture gives you a better look at the inside of the hut, nothing flash at all. Both of these pictures were taken by myself.
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Back to the story, I was the only man in the hut. Another beautiful night in South East Asia, a sea breeze came in through the open front door, and shifted lazily amongst the mosquito nets hanging above empty beds. The light above my bed gave off a soft glow, making for a cosy nest under my netting.  The war was miles away and someone else’s problem now, all that mattered was my comfort and a little relaxation. A couple of cans of coke, and a good book can be the makings of a cheery evening. Now Ben made his home in the bed opposite mine and on this evening I knew he’d gone into town, along with everybody else. It didn’t concern me in the least where Ben went or what he did, I had my own relationship to sort out. The squeal of brakes as our unit Jeep (stolen from the Yanks) came to a halt at the rear door of the hut disturbed my reading. The wham, as the back door flew open made me sit up. Then a huge roar, “Where is he? Where is the ungrateful, little fucking shit.” Bill stopped at the end of my bed, he wore a flying suit and his shoulder holster hung under his arm, the 9mm Browning pistol looked larger somehow. Standing well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with a big nose, and a huge moustache he made for an impressive sight. Said moustache was trembling wildly, like an epileptic, hairy caterpillar. I’d seen some angry men in my life up to then, including my father who seemed to become a raving mad man when he went off. Bill had this look. He stared at me and I noticed the cross pein hammer in his right hand, “Where is he Smithy?” What could I say other than, “Sorry Bill, the last I saw of him he was heading into town. Why, what’s up?” He gave me one of those looks, you know the type that says, you know everything and you’re not telling me. I felt a tad vulnerable. Sitting upright in bed, I threw the net to one side and waited for the outburst. It came in a howling, heart wrenching scream of pain and loss, “The ungrateful little bastard,’ he raged, “I gave him everything he wanted, everything.” He paused for a moment, the silence seemed alien, foreboding, then,  “Which bed space is his?” I nodded at the one opposite me and he gritted his teeth, “Right.”

Wielding the hammer like some latter day Conan the Barbarian he knocked the lock off Ben’s locker, reefed the door open and began throwing gear out. I think it was the Seiko watch that came out first. Placing it on the floor he drove the hammer repeatedly into the face and started swearing. Satisfied that the watch no longer worked he tossed it on the bed and pulled out the Nikon SLR 135mm camera. He looked at me, tears streamed down his face and he whispered, “I bought this for him especially you know. He always wanted one, wanted to do photography. Now the unfaithful little piece of shit shows his true colours.” He hit the camera that hard the pointy end of the hammer stuck in the lens. So he kept raising and lowering the hammer, smashing the camera wide open. Another rummage in the locker and he brought the ring out. Holding it tightly for a moment he placed it on the ground and tapped it with the hammer into the concrete floor, until it became a twisted lump of metal. Throwing the ring on the bed he drove the hammer back into the camera. Getting his breathing under control he stood there, head bowed, shoulders heaving and went on, “I’m on duty and I needed to go in to town for half an hour. Now, do you know what he did tonight?” I shook my head, “He went behind my back with some fucking little whore in town. She told my Mama San who told me. Because I wasn’t supposed to be in he went bloody tom-catting.” He turned slowly, and walked towards the back door. He stopped, turned and said, “When he comes home Smithy, tell him it’s all off will ya?”

So ended a one-sided beautiful relationship. Ben kept an extremely low profile for quite a while and I discovered what the insides of a Nikon looked like. Perhaps Bill shouldn’t have taken the gifts and destroyed them. Although venting his spleen on them with a hammer, instead of Ben was the better option for all involved. I really felt for Bill. A sad aside, he died in a traffic accident two years later, after surviving two tours of duty in Vietnam, go figure.

Never mind the V.C. We’re being attacked by Pthirus pubis. In our hut we had a double locker between two beds. One side each with hanging space, a place for your weapon and drawers for your smalls and such. I’ll call the bloke who I shared lockers with Typhoid Mary, or TM for short. TM was a grub, he didn’t seem to wash often, drank to the extreme and contracted syphilis, gonorrhoea and Pthirus pubis or the common crab louse. All of this happened in one week. People will say that crabs can only be contracted through sexual contact, I say they’re wrong. I remember TM coming home late one night, bouncing off lockers and beds, drunk and obnoxious. I heard the locker door open and slam shut. The following morning after showering I rummaged in my locker, took out a pair of undies put them on. It was then I noticed a baggy, saggy, putrid pair of Y fronts at the back of my locker. Taking hold of a broom I used the handle, took them out and flung them at TM, still asleep in bed. You guessed it, the following day I had a definite uncomfortable, itchy feeling in my nether regions. After a quick reconnoitre through said regions I spied the culprit. A horrible little monster burrowing into my tender flesh.
Thanks to wikicommons for the picture.
crab_louse

 Howling indignantly I found TM and vented my rage on him. “Don’t blame me,” he sneered, “It’s probably that dirty slut you hang out with.” Well, that started a commotion. A few blokes gathered around, separated us then they put their two bobs worth in. The general consensus being at the time, that the only people who used the excuse for contracting VD or crabs from a toilet seat or similar, were officers and padre’s. I wanted to set them right on this one. When it came to personal hygiene I was fastidious. Being a Pommie (from England) there is an assumption that we don’t wash. As a child my mother washed me daily with carbolic soap and a nail brush, so I knew what it meant to be clean. I took the long, lonely, itchy walk down to the regimental aid post and joined the line of other worried men, to become one of several scratching madly away. The medic took one look at me, smiled and said, “You’re the third bloke with crotch crickets today.” I didn’t feel so alone then. He gave me a quick short arm inspection, hummed a little tune then took a brown glass bottle off the shelf. “Here you go, have a shave and rub this in every day, they’ll be gone in no time.” I paused, and stared at him, “Shave?” – “Yeah, shave the area.” Oh, the penny dropped.

The stuff smelled terrible, perhaps that will drive them away I thought. Nope it won’t. Standing by my bed I took out a pair of tweezers and found the small, clear plastic container my pinky ring came in. Then I went to work. After a few minutes I’d managed to find six adult lice, plucked them kicking and screaming out of my tender flesh and placed them in the container. I put the container on my window ledge, grabbed a razor, shaving soap, brown bottle of insecticide and wandered to the shower block. I’d never man-scaped myself before. Sure I’d been under the delicate ministrations of a wardsman when I had my appendix out, he’d shaved me with a cut throat razor, yikes. No, this was different and with shaking hands I trimmed the shrubbery away from the garden feature. For those of a gentle, animal loving nature I must warn you: some crab lice died in this procedure. By the time I’d finished there was that much blood, it looked like Jack the Ripper had paid a visit. Undeterred I applied the liquid from the bottle. Have you ever had a hot chili and the heat comes slowly upon you, building all the way until it burns like hell? Well it wasn’t like that at all. I may as well have rubbed petrol into my manly bits and lit a match.
I found this pic of Moi amongst my slides today and brightened it up a little. Now I may have been drunk and used the wrong finger for an insult, or perhaps someone asked how many weeks to go before we leave or, how many crabs today?
Laurie Smith Vietnam 1971

Cradling my best mate in shaking hands I returned to the hut. Now to protect the innocent I won’t mention any names here, just the initials GM for good mate. GM, wearing shorts stood next to my bed with the ring container in his hands, peering intently at the contents. He turned as the door opened and everything went into slow motion. I saw him lift the lid and the box flew out of his hands. I lurched forward, “Nooooooo, watch out.” (in a long drawn out voice). The damage was done, those little critters hit the waistband of his shorts. By the time I explained what had happened they’d disappeared. Sad to say GM became infested. I cleaned out my locker and dumped all of my underwear in the rubbish. My freeloading *friends* and their sticky little eggs vanished after a week. Suong finally believed me that I hadn’t been with anyone else, and had a laugh about GM catching them.

As a brief aside I came across many people when I worked as a prison officer and policeman who presented with lice, both pubic and common. They had crabs in their eyebrows and armpits. Then there was scabies which are even worse. It was enough to make my skin crawl. The time is drawing close to leaving Vietnam and there will probably be only a couple of more posts after next weeks.

Next week: A quick roundup of the final month and Where, who, why the bloody hell am I?

34 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW. part 36. Ungifting and Never mind the Viet Cong, we’re being attacked by Pthirus pubis

  1. bgbowers

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this instalment, Laurie. As usual, you bring everything to life and make it so easy for us readers to imagine and ‘feel’ it all. Bet you’re glad the infestation is safely in the past – nasty little critters!🙂

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  2. suzjones

    Great post Laurie. I enjoyed it so very much. The photos added to the story so that is an added bonus.
    It’s always great to hear the real stories about war sometimes. These aren’t the sort of stories you would see in the media that’s for sure🙂

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Suz, gotta tell it like it is, or not at all I reckon. Don’t want to scare old people or horses though.🙂 You won’t find my stuff in what’s fed to the public.🙂

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  3. Theresa

    It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m laughing out loud; I’ll bet my husband knows I’m reading your latest post… Seriously, my friend, I send you my best wishes for a New Year filled with peace, happiness, and good health. My world is better for having you in it. Blessings…

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  4. Raani York

    Okay Laurie… now this is both: Sad and hilarious – and…. itching…. *grin*
    Of course Bill and Ben are the sad part. I’m sorry to hear it ended so badly for them – but then: love, a relationship, a friendship – can only be given – but not bought – not with as many presents as possible. (which yes – I think is a good thing!)
    And thank God I cannot tell you “I know how the infestation felt” because I never had it and I’m REALLY grateful – but the way you describe it made me giggle and laugh! YOUR kind of humor, Laurie – and your kind of way getting something humorous out of every situation.
    You’re GREAT.
    I hope you’re going to have a GREAT and amazing Happy New Year!! Sending you hugs.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Yes Raani, there is a xmas louse.🙂 Sad about the boys but I guess there were lessons to learn there. I can also assure you of one thing, you aren’t missing out by not having the little blighters find a new home on you. As I’ve said, there is nearly always a little humour to be found in most situations. I will definitely try my best to have a great new year, hugs always accepted and returned with great affection. Make sure you have a great new year too.
      Cheers
      Laurie.
      C

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  5. itsnotjustmeright

    Beautiful story again – I love reading your war stories! My brother used to be a bit of a ladies man. He once told me ‘If you haven’t had crabs, you haven’t lived’. Safe to say, he didn’t catch them from old mate leaving his jocks lying around…..ps Happy New Year to you!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thank you, I mustn’t be doing too badly if I can make a story about crab lice entertaining.🙂 They’re definitely not man’s best friend though. You’re brother sounds like one of life’s sages.😉
      All the best in the new year,
      Laurie.

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  6. Jane Dougherty

    I couldn’t help wondering if there was a connection between the two halves of this dollop of army life. The word louse I suppose is common to both. A great story as usual. Still wondering how you survived it all.

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      1. Jane Dougherty

        My mother used to nag me to write about my years working in the wine trade, that the stories I told her were incredible. I always said nobody would believe them. Having read your blog, I’m beginning to wonder if that matters🙂

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  7. Pagadan

    Your pictures do add a lot to your stories. EEK!! Oh, yes, there’s so much more happening behind the scenes in war zones. Thanks for sharing. You make history come alive.

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  8. lifechange90

    I think its all been said Laurie! I’m just feeling for you now! Except I wonder why you didn’t rearrange the guy’s face for infesting your gear (and you!)….
    Pity about Bill and Ben, but I hear they went on to a fabulous TV career afterwards! Or was that another Bill and Ben….?
    Cheers,
    Ray

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Ray. No he wouldn’t have been worth losing my rank over, nor the loss of pay it would entail. The army didn’t mind the troopers and privates beating the crap out of each other. They didn’t like it if you had a higher rank and did it.😦 No, that was the other Bill and Ben.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  9. nataliescarberry

    Oh how you do weave a story and always, always manage to make me laugh out loud during the course of the telling. Then there was the touch of pathos about Bill and Ben. I especially enjoyed the part about beating the bloody hell out of the watch as my husband did the same thing one night in the throes of a drunken stupor. It is comical when all those little parts start flying off in all directions. I pray you have a wonderful week coming up, Laurie. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thank you so much Natalie, it’s sometimes good to look back and laugh. Bill and Ben were definitely doomed to failure, it shows you can’t buy love and if you do it comes at a high price. Those little cogs and springs go everywhere.🙂
      I’ll do my best to make my week a good one.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  10. davidprosser

    How anyone can make such a situation so entertaining I don’ t know. I was even gritting my teeth for you as you ministered to yourself with the razor and firewater. I once put Fiery Jack on my lower back and then took a bath in which I started to wash MYSELF (hint hint), I know your agony.
    Have a Great New Year Laurie

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      I try Dave, some things need a touch of humour to get you through. I’m hearing you with the Fiery Jack. I knew a bloke who mixed up his wintergreen ointment with the ointment for his haemorrhoids. This was when chemists used to put it in those little round cardboard tubs. Oh the pain! he reckoned he never had trouble with them after that.

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  11. Jane Risdon

    Enjoyed this as always. found the post about Bill and Ben very sad and touching and so tragic in the end. What a waste of a lovely camera too.. Mum worked as a dispenser in a chemist all her life and has many stories to tell about little critters and their hosts!! Lol.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Jane, it was a sad story. It doesn’t matter what the relationship people still hurt. Mum would have a swag of stories working in a chemist shop. Thankfully it was my only infestation but didn’t I itch when I finished writing.😦

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      1. Jane Risdon

        Lol…..I can imagine the scene…making me giggle a little. Life is one long series of stories and the characters come and go, touching us briefly in some cases, but often making a huge mark upon us. I can see how big a mark these experiences have left upon you. Dad never spoke of Korea or any of the other places he served and I think I can understand why. He read a lot but was not inclined to write, if he had done, I can only imagine the tales he could have told us all. Happy writing in 2014 and lots of good health too.🙂

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        You’re right, life is one long story and sometimes story tellers break out and pass on theirs. They certainly left a mark on me alright. There would be a ton of stories to come out of Korea. Unfortunately it is the forgotten war. Sad really.
        Thanks for your good wishes Jane.
        Laurie.

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