Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great Lovers I have Known--III--Tom Allen--I

After I graduated I was promptly drafted with the purpose of fighting in Viet Nam. After basic training I was sent to White Sands Missile Range to learn how to do COBOL on army computers. The idea was that after a couple of months of training I would be sent to Viet Nam and the soldier who trained me actually was sent to Viet Nam, but I, and the soldier sent after me, for me to train, never were sent there. Then they quit sending soldiers. Although we were still in Viet Nam, the force was being reduced and it was clear that we would soon withdraw our troops altogether.
So I spent my two years in the Army at White Sands. When I first arrived, there were six of us single LDS enlisted men. Most of them had been to Viet Nam and were sent to White Sands to finish out their enlistment. Within a couple of months, there were only three of us left--Craig Johnson, about whom I will write later, Tom Allen and myself. After a year, Craig was discharged and returned to BYU, leaving Tom and me to fend for ourselves.
The nearest towns of any size to White Sands are Las Cruces , New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. We would go to both to attend social functions, but Tom favored El Paso, I favored Las Cruces. That is, Tom favored El Paso until he met Beverly. We were supposed to attend Church in Las Cruces, which we generally did, but the first year I was there, Tom always wanted to leave church quickly and get to some social event in El Paso. How Tom missed Beverly all that first year is still a mystery to me, after all, she was in our ward. But anyway, he did. It may have had to do with Craig, who also favored El Paso. Craig had gone on his mission to Mexico, so he really enjoyed socializing with the Hispanic people in El Paso. At any rate, Craig left in the middle of the summer and it was in August that Tom first asked Beverly out. She accepted and Tom was smitten. He took her out as often as he could, seeing as how he had no car and was, therefore, dependent on me for transportation. Tom’s lack of a car was a result of his lack of any money, which I will explain forthwith.
Tom had been a very successful salesman, and had, he claimed, been the proud recipient of an income in excess of 6 figures, which in those days was a considerable sum, somewhat akin to a quarter of a million dollars per annum today. But as so often happens with salesmen, or at least has so often happened with the few successful salesmen I have personally known, they have two problems. The first is the assumption that they will always earn what they earn at their peak. The second is that even if they could in some miraculous manner earn that much, they can always spend more--usually a great deal more. Both of these problems afflicted Tom in spades, to the point that he got so deep in the hole that he finally decided that the only solution--or, at least, the only somewhat honorable solution— was to volunteer for the draft, which he did. He had avoided being drafted outright by being overweight, but faced with the possibility of forfeiting on his debts--some of which were to people who, again, he claimed, were the type of characters who, when presented with a bankruptcy decree, would ignore it and attempt collection using brass knuckles, he knuckled down himself and brought his weight within acceptable limits. The result was that Tom’s creditors were forced to accept what payment they could get, and Tom was forced to give up his entire paycheck except for about $25 a month, to pay off debts.
At any rate, Tom began dating Beverly as much as he possibly could using my car and my money. Since I was rather chintzy with both, Tom only got off two or three dates before Beverly was off to BYU. After she was gone life settled more or less back into the old routine with Tom pressing to go to El Paso as often as I would agree to go.
During Christmas break, however, Tom really hit his stride. For one thing, he had a little more money. He was still, of course, restricted to his $25 a month allowance from the army, but he was always thinking up schemes to make extra money. Some of these actually paid off in a very minor way. He always claimed that they would pay off in a major way if I would simply break loose with the capital to make them major money makers, which I generally refused to do. My favorite scheme--possibly my favorite, because I saw through to the problems and refused to donate so much as a dollar to it--was his "great kool-aid bonanza". He came to me one day greatly excited, telling me he had the perfect scheme to make a small fortune. If I would loan him $50 I would double my money in a matter of days. When I demanded to know how this was going to happen, he was reluctant to tell me (as he generally was) claiming that it was such a fool-proof scheme that I would want to do it by myself, thus cutting him--who had thought the whole thing up--completely out. To this I replied that, not being much into money-making schemes, he need not worry about me. In this instance, he finally agreed to tell me the scheme, since it was clear that no money--at least, no money from me, would be forthcoming unless he did. It turns out, he explained, that the PX had decided to put their sugarless kool-aid--normally 10¢ a package--on sale for only 2¢ a package! If we--or, more accurately, he, using my money--bought up $50 worth, he was sure he could sell the stuff in a few days for 8¢per package, thus being able to double my $50 and still have $50 left over for himself.
"And who," I asked, "do you propose to sell all this kool-aid to?"
"Are you kidding?" he demanded in an incredulous tone of voice. "People will be scarfing this up all over the place. They will be getting normally 10¢ packages of kool-aid for only 8¢. People will be buying all we will sell them and pleading for us to sell them more."
"Well, all I want to know is, who are these people?’
"For starters, the guys in the barracks."
"The guys in the barracks!" I said with a laugh. "The guys in the barracks shop at the same PX you shop at. I doubt very much that they will be jumping at the chance to buy kool-aid at 8¢ a package when they can buy it at the same price you paid for it."
"Well, I can always sell it to the people we know at church, both in Las Cruces and El Paso."
"The people in church!" I laughed hollowly again. "I take it you are going to pass a note up and down the aisles saying something like, ‘Would you like to buy a package of normally-10¢-sugar-free-kool aid for a mere 8¢?’ That should go over in a big way."
"Listen," Tom said impatiently, "how I sell it is not your concern. All you need to do is give me the $50 and then collect the extra $50 in a couple of days."
"I’m sorry, Tom," I said trying to sound sincerely sorry, "But there is a good reason why the PX has put the stuff on sale. I don’t know what it is, but my guess is that you will be able to buy kool aid at 4¢ or 5¢ a package anywhere. They probably made way too much of the stuff and are giving the PX the first shot of getting rid of the surplus." Of course, it turned out I was dead wrong. In a couple of days you could not buy sugarless kool aid--not legally, at least--at any price. The government had banned cyclamates, the principle ingredient in the stuff--and required kool aid to withdraw it from the market. The PX had gotten a few days warning and tried to unload their supply.
But the important point was that I had saved my $50. I was not always so lucky. Nevertheless, sometimes Tom’s schemes would actually pay off--as I said--in a minor way and he would have a few extra bucks to spend.
Well, during the college Christmas break, while Beverly was home, he made the most of those few extra bucks and anything and everything he could get out of me. The result was that he was dating Beverly several times a week.
Beverly’s father, who during the summer had assumed that, since Beverly would soon be safely away at BYU, the whole thing would die a natural death, became concerned. I knew he was concerned because he called me into his office. He was the chief chemist at White Sands, or, at least, if not the chief, very close to it. He had a large spacious office--which my boss did not have (he shared it with two others)--a private secretary, and several workers down the hall.
Before the holidays were over he called me twice into his office to talk to him. The first time he explained that he and his brother had always loved chemistry. They had played with chemistry kits all the time they were growing up. All the time he was explaining about his childhood, I was asking myself, first, why he had called me over, and second, what I was going to say to my boss, who I was sure would ask me why the head chemist had asked me to come to his office. I wasn’t sure he would believe me when I told him that he had called me over to explain what a great time he had had as a boy playing with his chemistry sets.
Of course, it soon came out what the real purpose was. It became clearer when he explained that, although, both he and his brother had loved chemistry from their earliest days, only he had actually gotten a degree. His brother had taken lots of chemistry classes in college but had never actually gotten a degree. The result was that his brother, who according to Beverly’s dad, was always inventing new and important chemicals for the small companies he worked for, it didn’t do him a lot of good because as soon as he invented these marvelous new chemicals, his small company would use the new chemical as a leverage to sell out to a big company who would promptly lay off the brother. Thus, although a chemistry genius, because he had never gotten a degree, he was mostly out-of-work and broke. Beverly’s father, on the other hand, because he had a degree, was chief chemist at a major army installation and was securely earning a good income. Mostly so I would have something to explain to my boss, I asked him what the chief chemist at White Sands actually did.
"I always have a goal," he responded, "and I’m working toward it constantly."
I decided from that rather evasive answer that his goal was pretty much the same as my boss’s goal, which was pretty much the same goal as most of the upper level people at White Sands and that was to always have something in mind so you could look busy in case a general happened to walk through your department. Beverly’s father actually called me over two more times while I was there and it was clear that he was not going to waste any effort on the goal of looking busy on a mere Spec 4.
"Do you see what I’m driving at?" he asked after explaining about always having a goal.
"You feel that it is important to graduate from college." I said after a pause. I was still thinking about what I was going to tell my boss and thinking that the idea that the chief chemist called me over to tell me about the importance of college graduation was not much more believable than that he called me over to tell me what fun he had as a boy with his chemistry set.
"Precisely!" he exclaimed hitting his fist on his desk for emphasis.
"That is very helpful," I said, "and nice to know and all that, but, actually, I’ve graduated from college."
"I know that. But your friend, Tom, hasn’t. How much college do you think he has?"
I responded that I really didn’t know but I doubted that it was very much.
"Well, I do know. I had a friend look it up in his personnel file. Exactly zero, that’s how much. That’s why I called you over here. I want you to somehow put the kibosh on his dating of my daughter. I also learned that he is so deeply in debt that he hardly gets any money to spend. I don’t know where he is getting the money to date her at all."
Of course, I was not about to supply that bit of information. I simply told him that the holidays were almost over, and, I felt, that the romance would probably die a natural death which I really did feel, knowing that Tom was unlikely to carry on a courtship by correspondence.
This proved to be the case. After Beverly returned to BYU, Tom wrote her once, or possibly twice, and then life seemed to return to normal. But, as it turned out, the flame was turned down, but it was by no means extinguished, as I was about to learn.

1 comment:

Jeanine Gee said...

Kool aid scheme sounds like the chicken farm idea from Jeeves and Wooster. I loved it.