Billy was his name. Come to think of it, Billy is still his name. A couple of years ago we reconnected on Facebook and I was shocked that he was still alive. He was a few years older than me and made partying a lifestyle. In an Army full of people one bubble off center, he was bat shit crazy. He was a musician, an orthodontic technician and several other things that I can't discuss due to statute of limitations. I'd hoped he was still alive, but considered it a low probability with prison being a strong second to organ failure.
Billy Hays started sometime around 1986 at the 6oth EOD at Ft. Dix, NJ. We were told he was our clerk. He was a bit more, but that is a much longer and different story. He was also one of the most unique individuals I have ever met in all my days.
I haven't seen him except in photos since 1988, so my description may be a bit off. That's okay, because this blog is about memories, not exact facts. I remember Billy as being about 5'6", thin and wiry. He chain smoked as if he needed them to survive and drank beer like it was water. Billy was and still is from Mobile, Alabama.
Before I reconnected with him, my strongest memory was his laugh. It was infectious. He truly loved life and wanted to share the joy as often as possible. We hit it right off.
The 60th EOD had a maximum number of 14 members, and I think we often had only 12. There were only 3-4 of us single guys and we were all on the first floor of the same building. Army barracks are Spartan. These were brick cinder block, painted some baby puke yellow and had no light fixtures. The only light in those rooms came from lamps plugged into outlets. There were bunk beds and two lockers per room, though over time, I ended up being the only one with a roommate, despite the fact that I was a sergeant. Of course Specialist Billy fucking Hayes had a private room across the hall.
The Army is a strange place. They have rules that defy logic and in some cases seem to be created intentionally to contradict logic. One such rule dealt with heating. There was no air conditioning in the barracks, but there were heaters. Regardless of what the weather conditions were, the Army in its infinite wisdom decided they would set dates for when the heat came on in the winter and when it turned off in the summer. It didn't matter to the officers in charge that it often got extremely cold before the start date, any more than it mattered that often times in the spring, it would get too hot outside for boiler operated heaters to continue to run. The dates were the dates, period.
The lack of air conditioning was especially cruel in the months of July and August. One of Billy's favorite stories of me was when he found me one day, sitting in front of a computer in my underwear, dripping sweat into an increasingly large pool on the floor. I was playing one of the first PC computer games and I was hooked. I had the window wide open and a fan going full tilt, but 95 degrees with 90% humidity is going to just plain suck.
One day that first summer, I heard from another soldier that he'd been to a place about an hour away that sold used air conditioners for less than fifty bucks. I asked Billy if he wanted to come along. He said sure and off we went. About ten minutes into our trip and I heard the very distinct sounds of a bottle being opened. My head spun hard to my right and there was Billy, drinking an ice cold bottle of beer. He looked at me and smiled.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
"Drinking a beer, Gus, want one."
"No, I don’t fucking want one. I don’t drink and even if I did, I wouldn’t do it in a moving vehicle in the state of New Jersey."
We then got into a debate over the legalities and I informed him that not only would I lose my license, but I would then get busted down to slick sleeve private. He considered the people that made such laws "savages". At that time, drivers in Alabama and Texas could have beer in their hand as they drove, with a rifle on the rack behind them.
He finished it fast and chucked the empty out the window.
"What am I supposed to do with the rest of them?" He asked, displaying three more bottles, the amount he estimated needed for the one hour round trip.
I told him to hold on to them and we would put them in the trunk when we got to our destination. He then proceeded to take out a cigarette and a lighter.
"Nope. Not in my car you don't."
"Jesus Christ, Scott. First I can't drink, now I can’t smoke? What the FUCK?!"
He only called me Scott when he was pissed, all other times, I was "Gus". I gave him the stink eye, and he rolled down the window. I wasn't sure what he was going to do, but I wasn't prepared for him to lean out at over 60 miles per hour and smoke. Sure, it took him awhile to light it, but he managed. I wasn't sure if he was really that angry, or if it was just the wind disporting his features, but either way, he didn't look happy. From that day on, if we went somewhere we took his car.
We got to the place just as a column of vehicles was leaving. All the drivers had Ft. Dix stickers on their windshields and they had picked over the less expensive inventory. Only two larger and more expensive units remained. I looked them over and asked the man how much they were. $65 bucks for either unit was the answer. I had exactly $50 dollars left until payday, which was only a two days away.
"Billy, do you suppose I could borrow $15 dollars from you."
"Sorry Gus, no can do."
I told the man I'd have to pass and without skipping a beat, Billy said, "I'll take one!"
He broke out a wad of cash and paid the man. The window unit was almost as big as Billy.
"Do me a favor, Gus and help me load this big mother into your trunk."
I was too stunned to react, so I picked up the other end and loaded up the unit. We couldn’t close the trunk and had to tie it down. We got back to the barracks and he needed help getting in the room and into HIS window. I went back to my room that was even hotter than when I left and stripped back down to my undies, sweat dripping into an ever growing pool.
About two hours later, there was a knock on my door.
"Jesus Christ, Gus, it's cold in there. Can I borrow some long johns from you? You could hang beef in there. I don't even need to ice my beer."
It was times like that that allowed me to live with the guilt of duct taping him a foot off the ground to a pole in the boiler room that was situated facing the street out from of the 60th EOD. What are friends for?