I know I’m not telling you anything new, but there is a big difference between wisdom and brains. I had known that for a long time, but learned that again the day I graduated from college — and not from one of those long, boring speeches either. I was sitting in the student body and had a ringside seat to a demonstration of it. With brains, you can go all the way through college with straight A’s, but it takes a guy with a little wisdom — AKA common sense — to keep from falling off the stage in a long, black gown.
The common sense approach? Do not rent a gown that’s too long in hopes of “looking a little taller for the chicks.” I’ll tell you something else. If that guy went on to become a doctor, as he threatened to do, I pity his poor patients.
I might mention that when we were dissecting our cats in the Comparative Anatomy Lab, he was the one who thought a cat brain might make a handy eraser because it was “gray, and soft, just about the size of a walnut — which is a handy size — and looks like it would be perfect for the job.”
In case you’re wondering — he tried it. It wasn’t.
He wasn’t as bad as another genius I met, though. One day while stationed in California I happened to say something about Egyptian hieroglyphics while some of us were eating lunch. An NCO I didn’t know asked me if I knew how to write in Egyptian.
I laughed. “Sure. First I learned a language that hasn’t been spoken for three thousand years, and then I learned the alphabet. I understand it has four or five thousand characters.”
“I do,” he said.
“You do what?”
“Write in hieroglyphics.”
And believe it or not, he took me over to his room in the barracks and showed me. I didn’t know too much about Egyptian hieroglyphics at the time, although they were an interest of mine and still are, but I knew enough to tell he wasn’t faking it.
You could say a sentence to him in English, and he would write it down in hieroglyphics. And I don’t mean the way some jewelry companies will write your name down in the basic glyphs and make a nice little pin or ring for you. Those are beautiful, but they only use a small phonetic alphabet. No, he used those glyphs exactly as they were intended to be used. Of that I am sure, having had to learn a lot more about hieroglyphics recently while I was in the process of writing a novel.
Genius, however, seems to be granted to people in a rather spotty way. As far as the area of their specialty is concerned, they have it all. But for other things? Forget it!
It was early 1962. Operation Great Shelf. We were engaged in sneaking guns, tanks, men and whatnot into Vietnam under the guise of war games in the Philippines. About 25 or so of us had been detailed from California to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to handle the fast, in-and-out stops of heavily loaded cargo aircraft carrying men and equipment for the “war games.”
For six days straight we worked around the clock in two, 12-hour shifts, as plane after plane came in, refueled and took off. A couple of them needed repairs. Their cargo had to be off-loaded and reloaded onto empty aircraft that arrived for that purpose, but basically it was just another hot, humid, sweaty, temporary duty on the blazing hot asphalt flightline of a Pacific island. Guam, located 13 degrees north of the Equator, is not the coolest or driest place on the planet, Johnny. Trust me, no one there has ever heard the words, “Well, it’s a dry heat.”
One 12-hour shift after another slid by, with very little to separate one from the next, but then came a three-day break while the phony war games took place in the Philippines. We were off duty and could do anything we wanted. Some of the men headed straight for Agana, the capital city, looking for the usual: booze and broads. I was married and had no interest in such things. I might have been tempted to go into town to try a civilian meal, but coming from a Navy town in Connecticut, I knew that Agana had a Naval base, and that any restaurant worth eating in would be full of off-duty sailors, marines and the airmen from Andersen.
Instead, I settled for something I had been hearing about for years — a white sand beach and shallow, blue lagoon located right there on Andersen. Off I headed to Tulagi Beach, along with my genius friend, who was part of the team sent from California.
What a magnificent beach! Fine white sand, crystal clear water, and swaying coconut palms. Someone had a pickaxe, so we clambered up a tree, got some coconuts and husked them by jamming them onto one end of the pick axe and pulling off the husk. I tell you, you have not tasted coconut until you’ve had one right off the tree, tapped into one end and drunk deliciously cool milk and fanged the daylights out of soft, tender meat.
Stuffed full of coconut, I headed for the blue lagoon along with my genius buddy, where I discovered, much to my amazement, that the “sand” in the lagoon was composed of billions of tiny shells, each perfect. They ran from the size of a tiny grain of uncooked rice to about the size of a spice drop. Since Lolly fairly doted on shells and had quite a collection of them, I scouted up three soft drink cups, filled them, and set them aside in the jungle that ran right up to the beach. I didn’t go into the jungle, though. There were signs all over. Live mines from World War II. Some disbeliever tried it some weeks afterward, I heard. Too bad!
Then, at last, I headed for the water. Just one problem. I am colorblind. I do not notice it when I start to turn red, so I have to be careful. I turned to my genius buddy and said, “Hey, do me a favor. I’m colorblind and I won’t know that I’m getting red until it’s too late. So warn me, will you?”
“Yup. Yup. Yup.”
Some time later I experienced that scratchy feeling on my shoulders that tells you that you have already been in the sun way too long. I ran a little check and saw that I was already burned enough for even me to see it, so I asked genius boy, “Hey! Didn’t I ask you to tell me if I was getting red?”
“Oh, you’re not red. You’re kinda pink, but you’re not red.”
Ever seen a bald guy with that kind of burn? Oh, my! It feels like your head is a torch in a Frankenstein movie! And when it burns brown and starts peeling? Ever seen burned beef roast with bright pink raw spots? It ain’t pretty.