What’s the most surprised you’ve ever been?
I’ve had some surprises that were real humdingers. I’ll tell you about a couple of them, but the surprise I really want to tell you about is one that didn’t happen to me.
Wait’ll you hear it!
Let’s start small, with a warm summer afternoon back in my teens when I was working my way across a ledge on the side of an 80-foot-deep canyon. I had my hands on one 6-inch-wide ledge and the tips of my shoes on another one. It was no big deal though. I’d crossed that stretch a dozen times before. It started out bad, but as you neared the end, the ground below angled up until the drop was barely 15 feet to a soft grassy slope.
Anyway, I was working my way across, enjoying the warm sun on my back and the sweet smell of ripening wild grapes drifting to me on a light breeze, my goal being said grapes on the other side.
Then came the surprise.
A blacksnake on the upper ledge stuck its ugly face in mine and wiggled its tongue at me from 2 inches away from my nose.
I let go.
On the way down it occurred to me to wonder exactly how far across the ledge I had gotten.
Well, I’m alive to write this, so-o-o-o ...
That was a surprise. But it doesn’t come anywhere near one that happened about 10 years later.
One night while I was pulling KP in the mess hall, Pete and Steve, two cooks, decided to play a joke on a radio operator named Willie who was always coming in and begging for a steak — which he never got.
I watched as Pete slid into a small upright freezer, after which Pete and Steve spent 15 minutes running a rope around his neck and making it look like he had hanged himself.
Steve then telephoned Willie to come get a steak. But Willie had just eaten and said thanks, but no thanks.
Steve, however, was determined that he was not going to be cheated out of his little joke and had a long, heated conversation during which he kept on insisting that Willie come over.
Now it had taken those two idiots quite a while to get Pete properly hanged, and before they finished he was half frozen and shivering badly. And it took Steve a long time to convince Willie to come on over. On top of that, Willie took his time showing up.
When he got there, Steve told him to open the reefer and get out a steak, but Willie, having eaten, again said thanks, but no thanks. Then those two then argued for another 10 minutes, by which time poor Pete, now having been in a small, dark, airless upright freezer for 45 minutes was no longer in tiptop condition.
Anyway, Willie, at long last convinced to open the freezer door, opened it and saw something he had not planned on seeing.
Pete, having managed to loosen the rope around his neck, came leaping out with frosted eyebrows and looking as white as his cook’s jacket, got tangled up with the rope, grabbed Willie, and moaned out a very convincing, “Oh-h-h-h-h!”
Willie, holding his heart, shot backward across the room and landed with his butt against a red hot coal-fired cooking stove.
Pete, poor guy, just hung there moaning, “Oh-h-h-h-h!”
And Steve, most surprised of all, fell over a mop held by a young KP — me — saying, as he fell face first into my very large mop bucket, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my blub-blub-blub!”
Then Willie came flying back off the hot stove and stepped in said mop bucket on top of Steve’s head.
“But how were you surprised?” you might ask.
Well, my surprise came at how long it’s possible to laugh without stopping. I swear I laughed for 20 minutes straight even though Steve, once he got his head out of my bucket, issued me a death threat once every 10 seconds.
But the best, the absolute best surprise I’ve ever heard of happened to Harry Dugan, a staff sergeant assigned to my training office at Lockbourne AFB, just south of Columbus, Ohio.
Harry Dugan was the quietest, most unassuming guy you can possibly imagine.
He spent his days at his desk with his nose to the grindstone, week in and week out, rarely saying much. And never, ever, giving anyone a hard time.
Thin faced, sandy haired Harry Dugan had a prominent nose with a right angle bend in its middle. That big old hook nose of his was so thin and so long that we used to kid him that he saw the world in two separate pieces. Add to that a pair of full lips and two light gray eyes and you have a very distinctive face.
One wintry Sunday afternoon poor Harry was strolling the streets of Columbus when he passed a policeman idly looking in a store window. As he passed, his eyes met those of the policeman reflected in the window. I’ll let Harry tell you the rest.
“He jumped straight up in the air, whipped around, yanked out his revolver, shoved it in my face, and yelled ‘hit the ground!’”
“I said, ‘But what did I do?’ At least I think I did. I started to anyway, but when I saw the scared look on his face, and his hand shakin’, and heard the hammer on that revolver click back, I thought I better do what he said, so I hit the sidewalk.”
“Then all hell broke loose. He had his boot in the middle of my back, and he was yellin’, and about 10,000 other cops showed up and yelled at me every time I asked what I did.”
“They cuffed me, tossed me in a squad car, kicked me out at some police station, fingerprinted me, stripped me naked, looked in my mouth — and everyplace else too — and threw me in a cell. And when I dared to open my mouth and ask why, they all yelled at me.”
“I froze in that cell buck naked for six hours, and every time I opened my mouth they all yelled at me again.”
“Then a police lieutenant came in and showed me a picture of a con and said to look at it. It was me! I swear it was me! I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but that picture was me!”
“Then he told me that it wasn’t me, but it was a cop killer they wanted, and he asked me if I understood why they nabbed me.”
“I said yeah, but I’ll tell you what, I ain’t never goin’ into Columbus again. Never. And I’m gettin’ this face of mine changed.”
Well, I don’t know about the face change, but I swear his eyes had grown four sizes overnight. And they stayed that way!