You Had To Be There! I Was!!

They’re never going to believe you, but you tell it anyway. After all, you were there, and besides it gives you so much absolute fun to recall the complete absurdity, or total charm, of a past moment, of a past era, of another day. You may have been much younger then, or it might be recollections of a day not yet mature enough to be called yesteryear. Never the less, though you’re not Moses, it is yours to once again “behold these truths.” A pratfall, a handshake, a misgiving, disbelief, uncontrolled laughter, a thrill, a spill, a chill, an honor bestowed, or a simple misunderstanding of intentions; all yours to relate, all yours to keep enjoying as part of who you were, who’ve you become. And even perhaps, a guide to the wonderment of what is in store.

There you are telling, someone a story from your past, and by the expression on their face you know they’re having a great deal of trouble believing you. All of us have had incidents, when recounting becomes hard to believe. You know the old cliché, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” These kinds of stories often begin with, “you’re not going to believe this; wait until you hear this one; I saw it with my own eyes; trust me, Hollywood couldn’t write a better ending.”

It was my first day of basic training. We were in Fort Lewis, Washington. Almost the entire company of men was from Southern California. It was early in January, and this area, very near Seattle was known for experiencing inclement weather. During the four months of basic training there were only a total of four twenty-four hour periods when it didn’t rain. To make a long story short, cold and damp was the order of the day. With the exception of ten of us, the entire company of two hundred guys was drafted into the service. We were almost an entirely civilian army.

I was one of the ten men who had volunteered for the draft. An injury had ended my thoughts of baseball for the time being, and I wanted to get through my pending obligation to serve, at as young an age as possible. I was nineteen years old. At around 4am on that first morning of service to our country, the consistency of the Seattle weather held true to its reputation. The rain fell as we prepared to scamper outdoors to the parade grounds for what is commonly known in the service as “First Call”/”Reveille”. I don’t recall the guy’s name; for the sake of this narrative, let’s call him “Benny”. I do remember Benny was proud to let us all know he went to Beverly Hills High School. Please don’t take this as a downer to the school. I’m merely reporting what I remember about Benny, and his Mama’s boy naïveté. Like all of us, Benny forced himself from his bunk (army cot), stood up, staggering as he did so, and made his way to the end of the barracks, in order to look out the window. After doing so, Benny turned away from the window with a smile on his face, and began his trek back to bed, as he put it. Benny shouted to us,” It’s raining guys, we’re not going to have to go out there today.” Benny was now back in bed with the covers pulled over snuggly. As our platoon sergeant came into the picture, we knew something special was in the offing. Without hesitation our sergeant motioned for us to be quiet. He then pointed to four of us, and continued with his soundless direction; One guy at each corner of Benny’s bed cot. His gesturing was precise and priceless to see. Our sergeant waved both of his arms in an up and over motion. In a flash Benny was upside down on the floor with his cot on top of him. Benny got to his feet and allowed,” But it’s raining”! To which our sergeant replied, “So in Beverly Hills you don’t go out in the rain”?

Poor Benny, he had become a marked man. From that day forward at the most inauspicious occasions Benny would be subjected to the chant: “Take the day off Benny, cause it’s raining out there.” The guys could be merciless.

There have been times in my life when I’ve said to myself,” Take the day off Benny, (Harvey) cause it’s raining out there.” Imagine those words as the title of a down home country lyric, and you’re en-route to the good old fashioned feel sorry for yourself sort of conundrum life has a way of unsystematically throwing at all of us, usually when we are most unprepared for it. You had to be there, and I was, too often perhaps. Benny had no one to talk to about his plight. When you think about it, it really wasn’t Benny’s fault to begin with. Unlike da harv (me), he was drafted into the army.

Interesting comparisons can be made.

Benny, and da harv, same age;
da harv volunteered to serve;
Benny was taken into the service after trying every way possible to avoid the draft.
At home in Los Angeles, Benny was considered unfortunate, while I (da harv) was considered to be immature, foolish, and a flag waiver.
(I mean there was a war going on, why would anyone volunteer to be killed?)
Benny grew up in a family where work meant nine to five. Dawn and the Kalmenson family awakening occurred at the same hour each day. As a child I never remember sleeping in, not that I wanted to.

What a difference a half century can make. The Benny’s of the world no longer have to worry about the draft. They are free to sleep in without penalty. Da harv remains stuck in his almost worn out time lock. If I had it to do all over again, there I’d be, waving the same flag, and considering myself lucky for my personal moment to do so. Today, the fellows and gals, who find themselves duty bound to serve us, and the country God blessed them with, are now exemplified as heroes and heroines.

In my era the general public was barely cognizant of our departure from their society, or our ultimate return. There were no parades, no banners, and rarely a celebration-taking place. Vets received no thank you; none was expected. We were thirteen years away from our first Super Bowl extravaganza. Half time at a game was a great time to go to the bathroom. Come to think of it…there was no instant replay. But on the plus side we didn’t have to worry about entertainers from other countries making obscene gestures while our children were glued to the tube.

I guess if I had to choose between recalling Benny’s incident, or a degenerate flipping me the finger at half time, I’d have to go with Benny. But then I guess you would have to have been there.! I was!!!


  1. maybe, with guys posted on the four corners of bennie's cot, this incident also gave rise to the expression 4 on the floor… 🙂 rog

  2. I can recall times when I lived an hour north of LA and being in a coffee shop early and someone would ask my plans for the day. When I told them I was driving in for an audition I would hear"Your kidding,I called in sick, I'm not driving in this rain" !!!! So Harv, its gottn worse.

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