By Ron Kovic
Editor’s note: The following short story is part of the new anthology “A Fictional History of the United States (With Huge Chunks Missing)” (edited by T Cooper and Adam Mansbach; reprinted here courtesy of Akashic Books).
This story accompanies an original Oct. 10, 2006, Truthdig essay by Kovic, “Breaking the Silence of the Night.”
1968: The Recruiters
When I was still in high school, about a month or so before I was to graduate, the Marine recruiters came down to my school with hopes of getting as many young men as possible from my graduating class to put on the uniform. I was so excited that day that for a few minutes before they arrived, I sat in my seat in the Massapequa High School auditorium wondering how I was going to react when they finally walked in. At first I thought I would stand up and salute, but after a while I figured that might look a little silly, so I then thought of maybe just sitting in my seat and humming a few bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I practiced a few, much to the dismay of a guy sitting next to me, who nudged me with his elbow to let me know it was time to stop. At about that moment, two smartly dressed Marines came marching into the auditorium.
“God, look at that,” I said.
“Yeah,” agreed a kid from the back row, “they’re really something.”
The Marines quickly walked to the front, climbed the stage, and suddenly to our surprise began tap-dancing right there in front of all of us. After a furious little jig, they started singing a song about a young man who loses his penis in the war but is still alive.
“Oh, if you lose your penis in a war,” sang the one Marine.
“Oh, if you lose your penis in a war,” sang the other.
“And you can’t make love with sexy girls no more,” sang the first one.
“Then don’t blame it on the old Marine Corps,” sang his partner.
“Yes, don’t blame it on the old Marine Corps . . .”
The entire auditorium began to boo.
“Hey, we don’t want to hear that part!” shouted a little fat kid from the front row.
“That’s not supposed to be part of the bargain,” said another boy.
“Yeah,” I found myself shouting from the back row, “I thought the Marine Corps built men—body, mind, and spirit!”
“I’m getting out of here,” said another kid not far from where I was sitting.
“You said it!” a kid in the front row shouted, throwing his books and pencils up in the air.
At that exact moment, both of the Marine recruiters pulled their pants down.
“What are you doing?!” shouted one of the teachers who had put the assembly together and had bragged about serving in the Marines during World War II and killing so many Japs he couldn’t count them all. “That’s against regulations!”
But by now both Marines had their pants all the way off.
“Their penises are gone!” shouted a boy from the back.
“They’ve been castrated!” yelled another boy.
“How’d you lose them?” said a voice from the front row.
“In a pool game,” said the one Marine.
“What kind of romantic battlefield wound is that?”
“It wasn’t too romantic,” said the Marine, pulling his pants back on.
“No penises,” I whispered to the guy next to me, who was slouching deep in his seat, holding onto his penis to make sure it was still there.
“God,” said the guy next to me, “I never thought the Marines were like that.”
“What happened in the pool hall?!” the teacher then shouted.
“Well, we just went in there to shoot a game of pool—“
“We were confident as hell,” interrupted his partner.
“Yeah, we had never lost a game of pool in our lives. We were Marines.”
“WE HAD TRADITION!” screamed his friend.
“So we went in there swaggering, two drunken Americans with a mission.”
“To win that pool game!” yelled a boy from the back.
“You’re damn right!” shouted both Marines as they zipped up their flies in unison.
“We were pretty cocky. Before the game even started, we bought drinks for everybody in the place.”
“Then what happened?” asked the teacher.
“Well, that’s when this little Vietnamese guy walked in and told us we were fucked and he was challenging not only us but the entire United States to a game of pool.”
“A championship match?” asked one of the boys in the front row.
“Yes,” said the one Marine politely. “This little short shit who couldn’t have weighed over ninety pounds is standing there in the bar telling everybody that he’s sick and tired of being pushed around by bullies like us and that he’s taking no more shit. We just laughed at him.”
“He was such a nobody,” said his partner, putting his hands on his hips.
“He was acting real uppity and arrogant.”
“So we accepted the little gook’s challenge. I racked the balls. We were playing eight ball. We grabbed our cue sticks, and that’s when the guy said he wasn’t using one.”
“Wasn’t using a cue stick?” said the teacher.
“Yeah, he whipped out this machete and announced to everybody in the bar that he was using it instead.”
“To play pool?” said the teacher.
“That’s right,” said the one Marine, “and he promises in front of everyone in the bar that if he loses he’ll be our servant for life. But if he wins . . .”
“He tells everybody he’s gonna cut our balls off.”
“What happened then?” asked a little boy in the front row, now standing up.
“Well, we just kept laughing at him.”
“Everybody in the bar laughed at him,” said his partner.
“Yeah, who did this short fucking shit think he was?”
“And besides, we had never lost a pool game. We didn’t know what losing meant.”
“So you bet your balls?!” I shouted.
“That’s right, we bet them without even thinking.”
“The crowd moved around the table and the game began. My partner broke. We had the high balls and the little Vietnamese guy had the low ones. For a while we were in the lead, but then the little guy started making these incredible shots with his machete that made everybody in the place become really quiet. I started to get a tingling sensation in my groin area.”
At that moment, every boy in the high school auditorium grabbed hold of his penis.
“I had never felt anything like it before in my life. We had never lost,” said his partner.
“It came down to one last shot. The Vietnamese guy had to sink the eight ball to win. It was an impossible shot. Everybody in the bar was betting against him. I’m telling you, nobody in the world thought he could make it. And then he just grabbed that big machete of his, closed his eyes—“
“Closed his eyes? He closed his eyes?” someone shouted.
“That’s right, he closed them, and there was this tremendous hush in the bar. You couldn’t hear a thing . . . and then it happened.”
“WHAT HAPPENED?” yelled the auditorium.
“He sunk the eight ball.”
“And then he made us put our penises up on the pool table.”
“And after a couple shots of whiskey . . .”
“And the crowd roaring like crazy . . .”
“HE CUT OUR DICKS OFF!”
“You let him cut them off?!” screamed the teacher.
“We had no choice . . .”
“We made a bet. It was a COMMITMENT!” shouted his partner, now starting to cry.
The auditorium emptied very quickly after that, and when the final bell rang that afternoon, the Marine recruiters still stood crying on the stage of the auditorium.
Courtesy Akashic Books
“A Fictional History of the United States”