Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chapter 3. Joe Brown

One Thursday, Joe Brown had one of his things. Mr. Conrad, his boss, the safety director, apparently had said something to him about how he wouldn't be in such a "rut" if he weren't so "hard headed." Joe stormed out of the office, went to his room which was down the hall from mine in the B.O.Q. (Bachelor Officer Quarters), pulled out a bottle of whiskey and began a state of siege. By Saturday, a few of the lieutenants in the B.O.Q. decided that something had to be done to help "old Joe" and therefore told me to go in and do something about it.
"What can I do?"
"What do you mean what can you do? You're the doctor. You're supposed to help people, especially a good friend like Joe."
When they put it that way, what could I say? If I didn't go in and face Joe, my whole reason for existence would be meaningless, not to mention being a spineless coward who turns his back on a friend. And so, I weakly tapped on the door.
"Who is it?" growled a drunken voice that sounded louder than it had ever sounded before.
"What do you want?"
" To talk to you."
I pushed open the door and, with shivering knees and hesitant steps, meekly stepped into the room.
"The guys on the floor asked me to see if anything's the matter."
"I'm fine."
"You haven't been out of your room since Thursday. You might get sick if you keep drinking."
"I can handle my liquor."
"Can I help you in any way?"
"Maybe if you saw Dr. Kagan," I hesitated. "He could help you."
With that, Joe became furious. I could see the anger welling up in him. "Kagan the shrink? You think I'm crazy? I thought you were my friend. Get the hell out of here!" He grabbed me by the seat of my pants and literally tossed me out into the hall. He was a physically strong man. The group picked me up off the floor and asked what I planned to do next.
"I can't do anything."
"What do you mean? Something has to be done. You're the doctor. Think of something."
But at that moment, being a coward began to seem preferable to facing Joe again. I retreated back to my room to think. The siege continued all weekend. I made a few attempts to reason with Joe through his door, standing out in the hall. It was useless.
On Monday, I reported to Major Fratelli what was going on. I had barely slept all weekend.
"You're a doctor. You're not supposed to get so emotionally involved. You should put the matter in its proper perspective and deal with it accordingly."
Easy for him to say. He barely knew Joe, didn't live down the hall from him, and didn't have the guilt patrol on his back.
"So, Major, what should we do?"
"First of all, we can't let this guy remain there indefinitely, being crazy."
"Exactly what are we going to do with him?"
"This guy has to be removed. He's in a sensitive position, and we can't leave a nut in that kind of job."
Did I mention to you that Joe was the assistant safety director? He and his boss, Mr. Conrad, were civilians and retired army officers. I won't say what they actually did (in fact I don't know the specifics), but it was one of those "secrets" that the enemy apparently knew all about, and we (the U.S. Army) knew they knew all about it, but no one was saying.
After assuring me that I shouldn't worry and he'd take care of the problem, Fratelli trudged over to the G2, his boss, to solve the problem. The next morning when I asked Fratelli what the G2 was going to do, he threw up his hands, stared at the ceiling, and said, "Nothing!" They tell me this has been going on for years. You know, he once got mad at some captain in the Kimchi Kabana (an officer's club at Yongson Compound in Seoul for transient officers who are in town temporarily for army business or recreation) and ran after him with a chair. When the captain escaped, Joe threw the chair through the window. Can you imagine, pieces of glass and wood spraying down from the second floor? The M.P.s carted him off to the nut house for a week. But they won't fire him because, in his sane periods in between, he's the only one who knows the work, and he's a nice guy. Its a crazy situation. He's been here forever and has had a string of bosses who never stay long enough to really know what's going on, not the way he does. On the other hand, because of his craziness he never gets promoted to safety director but remains the perennial assistant. After about a week, Joe emerged from his siege, somewhat shaven, somewhat sober, and said to me, "Doc, I'm sorry I threw you out of my room. I've just been feeling kind of low. My health hasn't been just right. Food doesn't seem to go down the way it should. I'm tired all the time. I'd like to spend a week or two down at the MASH (in peace time the local military hospital). I need a good physical exam to find out what's wrong with me so they can fix me up. I hear Kagan goes down there sometimes. Maybe I can see him there, and he can help me see things right."
Relief and joy welled up in me. I immediately picked up the phone, fortunately got a line, and made the arrangements then and there. I congratulated Joe on his good judgment. By that evening he, a driver, and a suitcase were dispatched down the road to the MASH and life returned to normal.

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