Three Sevens and a Vacuum Cleaner
When I arrived at Bitburg Air Base in 1957 they didn’t have housing for Peggy and I. She was coming over from the states to Germany in about 6 weeks, so I checked into the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. It was okay for a temporary place to stay, with a strong emphasis on temporary. The bathroom was flanked by bed rooms on each end. The bed was a wooden Army folding cot about 20” wide. I think it was designed for a combat zone by someone who hated the human body. But I was going to stay there for only a few days, right?
No, wrong. When my wife finally arrived, we still didn’t have suitable living quarters, so Peggy moved into that cot on top of me. Getting up in the middle of the night for a potty break was almost impossible and I don’t want to say anything more about that.
A month of that and they moved us into 4 rooms on the 4th floor of a 4-floor walk-up. I think the Air Force had never heard of an elevator. We were young and happy and not making much money. But life was good because we both went way out of our way to make it that way.
The question of buying a vacuum cleaner came up a few times. The cost was $19.95 and we were not budgeted for that kind of extravagance. Peggy was pretty insistence and she usually got her way. I balked and we had several “discussions.”
Fortunately for me, our squadron was sent on temporary duty to Wheelus Air Base, just outside of Tripoli, Libya, where we had a gunnery camp. Derelict trucks, tanks, and airplanes were placed out in the Sahara Desert for us to shoot at with our F-100 fighter guns. Occasionally we saw packs of wild dogs and we strafed them instead. They were known to attack and kill pilots who had to eject from a crippled airplane.
Wheelus was not the end of the world, but it was rumored you could see it from there. They had a thing called a Ghibli. It was a sandstorm that came out of the west and you could see it coming from 75 miles away. With the winds out of the Sahara blowing sand more than 60 mph, it was almost overwhelming. Visibility could reduce to 20 feet. When we saw one of those things coming there were 2 options. You could run back to your tent and be 100% miserable for 2 days, or you could rush to the Officer’s Club and be 95% miserable for 48 hours.
It didn’t happen very often, but when it did, I chose the club. They locked the doors, taped up the cracks, and nobody got in or out until the Ghibli ran its course and dissipated in the Mediterranean Ocean.
That left us with 2 things to do at the club, eat or play poker. The problem was the food. They had powdered potatoes, powdered milk, powdered ice cream, and cooked meat that no one ever talked about. That left me with the poker option, and there were a few games scattered around the club that I could sit in on.
I forgot to say that there was also bourbon, scotch, vodka, and myriad other such libations that freely flowed into everyone’s mouth but mine. I didn’t drink.
Fortunately, about 6 years earlier, when I was a corporal, there were frequent poker games in the barracks. Not wanting my lot to fall upon chance, I went to the base library and checked out Hoyle’s Book of Odds. We played only 5 card draw or 7 card stud, dealer’s choice.
I memorized all of the odds for each game, and made myself 2 rules, never ever play a hunch and don’t bluff again after you’ve been caught bluffing. I also knew that most poker players who drank while playing, liked to play hunches.
At Wheelus, one dark Ghibli night, in the wee hours, it came to a showdown between me and my boss, a major named Charlie Davis. The game was draw and I was dealt 3 sevens, a jack and a duce. I discarded the jack and asked for one card, which didn’t help my hand. By holding 4 cards I figured my boss would think I was holding either 4 to a flush, or 4 to a straight. The odds against drawing a helping card were very high and I’m sure my boss knew that. He probably grinned when I wasn’t looking.
Charlie was sitting straight across the table from me and the 4 other players dropped out. I was startled when the major also drew only one card. Was he trying to do to me what I was trying to do to him? I figured his best hand to be 2 pairs and my 3 sevens would beat him.
The pot was big, over $40. Nether of us was completely broke, we just didn’t have much money. This pot was the culmination of the nights work, and important to both of us. I was thinking about Peggy.
He bet five-bucks and suddenly it was put-up or shut-up time for me. Should I fold my hand and let him win? He was my boss and my career depended on how he rated me at the end of the year.
Or did I call his bet and take the pot home? I didn’t dare raise. My thought processes were on fire. I would probably work for the Major another year or so, no more. But Peggy and I had already been married 5 years (going on 66 now). The decision was easier than I thought and that night I phoned Peggy and told her she could buy the vacuum cleaner.
And Major Davis wrote me an efficiency report that got me promoted to Captain.
In all of these years of marriage, my wife has never argued with me, but I’ve argued with her a few times. Always, when she sensed strong words were coming, she’d say, “Well honey, I’m sure you’re right,” and she would walk away, which totally debased me. She knew that in 10 minutes we were going to do it her way anyway, so why discuss it. But I was always the winner because I won the argument. That’s just the way us alphas are. f