Most columnists soon learn that what they write has all the impact of a pebble tossed into a pond. A few ripples, and then oblivion. But occasionally surprises occur.
In the summer of 1951 I underwent one of my sporadically religious impulses. I submitted a description of it to Guideposts, a magazine founded by minister Norman Vincent Peale. To my surprise, they published it. End of story? Not quite.
The article appeared in October, as my ship crossed the Pacific enroute to the Korean war. By the time we reached Yokosuka, Japan, I had received two fan mail responses. One was from a gushing middle-aged clubwoman (let’s call her Mrs. Epworth) who lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her announced mission: to one day meet me in person, just to thank me for finding God, saying so, etc. (More about her below).
The second letter was from Ian, a New Yorker who worked as a publicity man for one of the Hollywood film studios. He accompanied his compliments with a dozen black-and-white glossy photos of movie stars, mostly glamorous women.
My first mistake was not ducking the overtures of Mrs. Epworth. My second goof was showing the starlet photos to my buddies in the radio shack. They slobbered over the pictures, as could be expected of young sailors about to spend a frigid winter guarding the bleak perimeters of Korea.
One day the pictures caught the attention of Ensign Muldoon, a good-natured, easy-going officer. His eyes lit up. “Where did you get these?” I told him. He said, “Could I borrow these for a few days?” I replied, “Sure.”
In the following weeks I received more importuning letters from Mrs. Epworth, who looked forward to our meeting one day. And Ensign Muldoon did not return the pix of the movie tootsies. I learned that he had taped the photos all over his stateroom in the officers’ quarters.
I could have asked him to relinquish the pictures, but I didn’t. Muldoon was a likeable guy. But as time passed, resentment set in. Big mistake.
My ship made a liberty call in Sasebo. I went ashore, ignored my negligible religious promptings, and got drunk. An hour later, as I boarded my ship, I had a marvelous idea: “By god, I’ll go get those pictures back from Muldoon.”
U.S. Navy regulations state: “Plastered enlisted personnel should not invade officers’ quarters without very good cause.” I knocked on Ensign Muldoon’s door. He responded. “Hello, Driver. What’s up?” It took him 0.4 of a second to figure that out. He invited me in while he calmly removed the glamour photos from his bulkheads (Navy for “walls”). He said, “Sorry I was slow in getting these back to you.”
I could have faced a captain’s mast for my intrusion. It didn’t come. Muldoon stayed silent. A good guy, Muldoon was.
On the other hand, Mrs. Epworth was a pain where you can’t put a plaster. I was discharged, and went home to Harrisburg. Somehow Mrs. E. had learned where I lived. Her “We must meet!” entreaties continued despite my evasions.
One Sunday morning I was at home with my father. Uninvited, Mrs. Epworth – her husband in tow – entered our driveway in a shiny black Lincoln Continental. As she rolled down her window I took charge, with words largely to this effect:
“Ma’am, I’m here with my father. He is a good man, but painfully shy when suddenly facing complete strangers. So am I. If I ask you in, we all will experience an hour of social awkwardness you couldn’t even dream of.
So let’s avoid it. And, please, no more letters.” The Epworths departed.
What’s the point of this column? Avoid submitting your thoughts to religious publications. Once you do, God only knows what may happen.
Reader, this concludes today’s pebble in your pond. Let the ripples roll.