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Alabama Slim: It All Started in Korea

Chapter 4
Virgin Courage and Liquid Conflict

August 1969

    After Boo and Top Cat left, a couple of guys walked in and came over to the table, “Hey, you are the newby who was just assigned here, right?” said the Spec 5.
    “Yes, Specialist,” I said rising and holding out my hand. “I’m Tom McDonald, but folks just call me Alabama Slim.”
    “We don’t hold to rank around here, just call me Buddy.” He said taking my hand firmly. “I came over to welcome you to the unit. This guy here is Talladega. He’s also from Alabama.”
    I shook with both and gestured for them to sit. “Talladega. I think I went through there once. School of the Deaf and Blind there if I remember?”
    “That ain’t our best feature now. Ain’t you heard, they done built the largest and fastest NASCAR race track there now and the first race is next month,” said Talladega.
    “You have to forgive him, he’s always going on about Talladega, that’s why we pinned him with the name,” said Buddy.
    “Didn’t know about the race track. ‘Bout time Alabama got an important professional sport. Too bad it isn’t football or baseball. NASCAR’s fine, not that I follow it much.”
    “And you claim to be a Southern boy! But, can’t see how it will beat Darlington anyway.” said Buddy.
    “You just say that ‘cause you’re from South Carolina,” said Talladega. “This here is said to be the fastest course in NASCAR.”
    Buddy quickly replied, “We’ll see.”
    “Let me order up some beers for you,” I told them.
    “Naw, none of that piss for me,” said Buddy. He looked over at the waitress and hollered, “Bring me a Jack and coke.” So that was the secret— shout.
    “I’ll take a tequila,” said Talladega.
    “OK, I’ll take a screwdriver,” said I. It was the only mixed drink I’d heard of that sounded like something I might like. I was told by a guy that vodka did not hurt you as bad as other drinks the next day and you could not smell it on your breath as badly. So, I bought into that myth. Also, I loved orange juice.
    The drinks arrived quickly and we continued our discussion, with me trying to learn a little about the job coming up and they trying to learn more about me. My problem was that I had so little life experience, that I had little to tell, that anyone would want to hear anyway.
    I sipped my screwdriver and found it easier to drink than I thought and drank it right down. It was a lot easier than beer. I then called the waitress over and told her, “That was a bit small. I’ll take four more of these,” and pointing to my screwdriver glass, then pointing to Talladega’s drink, I added, “and I’ll have one of those too.” She left shaking her head.
    “Damn boy, slow down, we got a lot of drinking to do tonight when we get back to the barracks and you meet the rest of the boys,” exclaimed Buddy.
    “Oh, leave him alone, we Alabama boys can drink anybody under the table any time. You go Slim!”
    Other than a couple of episodes where I first tasted and disliked sharing a can of Budweiser with my friend, then later got sloshed on beer in training, I did not have any drinking experience. I figured if it tasted as good as this screwdriver, it wouldn’t hurt to indulge and try to fit in with my new friends.
    The drinks arrived and we were getting gazes from people around us. Encouraged by Talladega, I lined up the screwdrivers, putting the shot of tequila before the fourth one. Then, I proceeded to down them quickly, hesitating slightly after the tequila, my first, to cough, then hurriedly downing the last screwdriver to wipe out some of the burn it produced.
    “Damn!” said Buddy.
    “You alright!” said Talladega, slapping me on the back as I tried not to choke and show that it affected me. Then I grinned. The old “demon rum”, or in this case demon vodka, was masked by the delight of orange and deceived me into thinking, well, this is not all that bad. “That’s how the devil gets you every time”, I remember hearing the preacher at the old Baptist church back home telling the youth of the Sunday School class one morning when he substituted as teacher.
    Just then, a guy at the next table came over, “Bet you can’t do that again without throwing up all over the place.”
    “Leave him alone, Jones, he’s our NUG and I don’t take kindly to anyone else messin’ with my people,” said Buddy. “He’s had enough for now.”
    I found out later that NUG meant new guy pronounce like ‘u’ in hug. “No,” I said, stupidly speaking with my new alcoholic courage, “I’ll take you up on that, how much?” Now the funny thing about that was that I was raised and had religious convictions against gambling. Drinking, gambling in one night—not to mention the lusting after the girls of the evening. I was headed toward the Devil on a downhill sled.
    “Now we talkin’. Give ‘em hell Alabama Slim.” said Talladega.
    “Knock it off!” said Buddy. Then pleading with me, “You sure you want to do this Slim?”
    “I got it,” I said, already slurring my words a bit and regretting my big mouth.
    “OK, if Slim says he can do it, I got five bucks to go along with his says he can do it in less than a minute and keep it down.”
    “I’ll add another five to that,” said Talladega, “my boy from Alabama won’t have no trouble with it.”
    “OK, big mouths, let’s do it. I’ll cover your $15.”
    Now since you could get drunk and get a girl for $5 back then, that was a lot of money for a bet, so I began thinking about it. However, I realized, I could not back down now and, hey, I was feeling good!
    Buddy called the girl over and said, “Fix my boy Slim up again with four screwdrivers and a shot of tequila, honey.”
    “Igoo”, she said as she walked away, again shaking her head.    
    When she returned, I was sweating. Jones took out his watch and said, “Go ahead big mouth, do it.”
    I lined up the drinks, then positioned the tequila once again before the last one.
    “Quit pussyfooting around, turkey, drink them up!” one of Jones’ buddies said. By now, half the club had come over to watch the show.
    “Watch your mouth!” warned Talladega. “You go right ahead and show ‘em Slim.”
    So, I did. I think they went down faster this time than last time, because I had become numb to the bite.
    “Damn!” was echoed around the room.
    “Pay up, Jones.”
    “Naw, we gonna wait a few minutes first, make sure he keeps it,” he said as he hit me on the back.
    “You touch him again and you’ll answer to me, Jones.” said Buddy, to which Jones backed away.
    Jones tried another approach. “OK, I tell you what, we do it again, double or nothing.”
    “Trying to get outta your bet Jones?” Buddy asked. “I always knew you were chicken shit, but I never heard you would welch on a bet.”
    “Naw, he ain’t gotta pair if he can’t do it again.” said Jones to the nods of agreement and ‘Un-huh’s from his friends who didn’t like losing their money.
    “No sweat.” I said, immediately regretting it. But hey, I felt real good now, like I could do anything. Then I had begun to put it all together. That would be a beer, 12 shots of vodka and three shots of tequila, going down the throat of a guy who was essentially a teetotaler. Oh, and I forgot to mention, these were big ounces or an ounce and a half, because Army bars were not allowed to cheat people. Add that up, that’s 12 ounces of beer, a pint of vodka and over a half cup of tequila, in less than ten minutes—enough to give a wino a good drunk.
    “No, Slim, you had enough.” said Buddy.
    Talladega came over to me and started massaging my shoulders, “This heah my boy Slim can out drink you any time, anywhere, just like any good ole boy from Alabama. So if’n he gonna drink it, you gonna drink with ‘em”
    “Oh no,” Buddy moaned. “Here we go.”
    “That’s not the deal.” said Jones.
    “If you want double or nothing, that’s going to be the deal. What you chicken Jones?” said Talladega. “The person who finishes first with out spilling any wins.”
    “Yeah, but what if he throws up.”
    “OK, if any of ya’ll puke in the next five minutes, then the other man wins,” corrected Talladega. “but after five minutes, you pay up immediately. Also, loser picks up the tab.”
    “I’m not sure I have enough.” I said.
    “Don’t you worry none about that,” Talladega said, “We got you covered.” Beers, shots and mixed drinks were all the same at the club— twenty-five cents in the golden days of subsidized class six rations.
    “Yeah, that’s fair. You got the balls to do it, Jones?” said Buddy.
    “OK, let’s do this. Anyway, as much as he’s had tonight, this should be easy. I’ve only been drinkin’ beer tonight. But hey, it’s your money.”
    I looked around the room, which had a sort of fuzzy, warm glow to it. Money was changing hands and drinks were ordered. Everyone cleared the table except for me and Jones seated across the table from each other. The band had stopped and it seemed everyone was watching us.
    I lined up my drinks as before. Jones lined up his, putting the tequila first. Buddy took out his watch, then said, “Ready, set,” to which Jones began ahead of me. “Go!” said Buddy, shaking his head. “Jones, you cheating bastard!”
    I grabbed up the screwdrivers and began draining them. It seemed that I was not even taking the time to taste or swallow them, just tossing them down my gullet. By the time I hit the tequila and finished the last screwdriver, Jones was still on his third drink. He then stopped.
    One of his buddies said, “Go ahead and finish it up Jones, he ain’t won unless he can keep it down for five minutes and I don’t think he can.
    With a sour expression, Jones continued. He gagged, hesitated and coughed on the tequila, but finally finished it and eventually finished the last screwdriver. But, he was too late. Cheers had already gone up everywhere on my side of the table and everyone was patting me on the back again. It felt really good to be me that night.
    “Geeeze, that was less than 20 seconds!” said someone in the background.
    After Jones finished his last drink and suffered the cheers of my supporters, he said, “OK, smart ass, we’ll see how long you can keep it. Bring another round!”
    “Oh no, you welcher!” said Buddy. “You gonna pay up this time.
    I was really regretting my big mouth now, because I had no idea how much longer I could hold out. So, this time I kept my mouth shut.
    “What, this guy not up to it? Why I could drink him under the table any… uh,” then Jones started looking sick, he finally tried to get up but released a stream of projection vomit over the table that probably hit a world record for distance, just missing me as I ducked quickly and jumped up, having forseen what was going to happen. The stream hit the trousers of a guy behind me.
    “Damn Jones, I’m gonna whup your ass.” said the unfortunate guy who took the full brunt of it all. A couple of men tried to hold him back.
    “You can pay me tomorrow, after you get cleaned up.” said Buddy with disgust, motioning for Talladega and I to follow.
    Talladega pulled my arm and and started leading me out the door saying quietly in my ear, “Gettin’ kind of hot in here now, we betta book.”
    Then the angry specialist with puked on fatigues shrugged off his fellow soldiers’ grips and threw the table to the side and charged into Jones driving him into another table and onto the floor and they fought in a heap. As I looked back I saw several people trying unsuccessfully to separate them. Then a couple more started punching and it began to look like a scene in an old western movie.
    Once outside, Talladega let out a big rebel yell. “You sure showed them what Alabama boys can do, Slim! I’m getting thirsty again, let’s go to the hut and get down to some serious drinking.” The both of them casually walked off like there was nothing happening inside, with me tagging along, as two MP’s rushed passed us a half minute later. I was alarmed until they passed, but Buddy and Talladega kept up a conversation putting on a “nothing happening here” face. But, then I figure, war’s hell and my new friends had just toughened up over here and gotten used to the excitement.
    I remembered my former pastor and wondered what he would say if he saw his former church organist and overall good boy now. I said a silent prayer to God asking for forgiveness. I mean, I had even swore I would never drink alcohol, now I had broken the vow, getting completely drunk for the second time, but that’s another story.
    I think Bobby Troop, a jazz singer and musician and DJ on Armed Forces radio overseas, summed it up on the big screen saying an appropriate line in a bit role in M.A.S.H., “Damn Army!” The Army seemed to be trying to damn me—but I knew better, it was my own “damn” fault. Eighteen years of parental and religious training went down the tubes.
    A drill instructor the year before warned us before going off-post for a pass, “Don’t be young, dumb and full of cum.” I guess even that insightful description was now appropriate to me. After a few drinks, those ladies in the club were looking real good. Luckily, my new buds pulled me away before I went down one more road to sin.

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