Gullible’s Travels

The Cage

Freshman year was busy, beginning in Anderson (Indiana) where basketball legend Johnny Wilson and baseball great Carl Erskine were the local heroes. By the end of 1946 we moved to Tampa, Florida where I was advised by a Walgreen’s cashier to attend Jefferson High, an inner city school. Among classmates were offspring of wintering carnival families and circus performers like the Flying Wallendas. Student scholastic level must have been a little low ‘cause I regularly read the history assignment to the others in class. The concrete outer yard became my algebra tutoring site. Could be you learn more by teaching anyway.

In Anderson I had handed out papers for delivery at the Daily Bulletin, so in Tampa I headed for the Tribune where my role was keeping stock for the advertising and circulation departments after school. By March the weather was sufficiently hot in Florida that the fine suits provided by my sister Lee caused my manager to suggest I use deodorant. I did that, and decided to finish the year in cooler Colon, Michigan with the Dunns, parents of my boyhood friend Paul. So far so good. Three schools in one year with Latin which I had planned to take for four years.

Paul was athletic, artistic, could sing well and knew the names of war planes on sight. Since I lacked all these qualities, I must imagine my attraction as a companion was to boost the ego of those around me. Did I mention I was also uncoordinated?

Since Alice Dunn had done her best to ride herd on two active teens, it was decided that both boys would spend the summer in Tampa and not wear sweaty suits. The bridge to the swanky Davis Island was not far away, so we visited to gaze through the bars, monitoring the suits that we had heard were worn (or not) by French-style sunbathers. I seriously considered changing language classes in school.

The war was over, troops were returning along with fighting, bombing and transport planes no longer needed. With a fleet in “mothballs” at MacDill Field a short distance to walk for active boys, the airport was a tempting place to visit. Security was now a low priority and all manner of temptations awaited on the other side of the fence. At dusk we failed to resist temptation.

When the siren of a fast moving car demanded our attention, the young questioning minds came face to face with the truth of consequences. We had already learned that the chord along the upper edge of the transport’s seats was not to request a stop at the next corner as on a bus. Its important purpose was to spray extinguishing foam on the engine in the event of fire. The sound of our action had been heard in the headquarters building across the field. Somehow I can’t describe the décor of the now MacDill Air Force base offices.

There was plenty of time to think as we waited for the next move from the government that had saved the world and now was to sentence us to an unknown fate. My memory is much clearer on meeting the authority figure who eventually arrived. Manny de Castro assured us that we had successfully ruined a very expensive engine, a vital government possession.

We quickly got the impression that we were now his possession. We later learned how valuable that possession would be.

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