by Michael B. Pinkey
...a fable for our time
On St. Patrick's Day the color GREEN festoons every window, storefront, lamppost and park bench in my town, and everyone wears green--taken as a whole, the crowds of men, women and children moving along the sidewalks resemble nothing so much as a bagful of green confetti dumped onto the pavement and then pushed along by a slow, slow breeze. Even most of the dogs in town have green ribbons tied around their necks, or green-enameled-steel shamrocks dangling from their collars, because this town--Begorrah City--is real proud of its Irish ancestry.
I like green, so this suits me fine--I don't even mind that the Shillelagh Cafe serves green mashed potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, although a few complaints have been heard over the years--once from a guy driving through to New York, who found himself resuming his journey more quickly than he had planned, and another time from some clipboard-tapping ballpoint-pen jockey from an office upstate which sent him here to worry about the deadliness of so much food coloring (and that guy left town to a lot of loud laughter once we found out what he was here for, because everyone knows the cook at the Shillelagh uses spinach juice instead of that stuff in little plastic bottles). It is pleasant, indeed, to eat parsley-garnished corned beef and green mashed potatoes and green beans for lunch, and to wash it all down with a couple of gallons of green beer, and then wander along Blarney Boulevard to Guinness Park to sit on one of the green metal benches there among the effusions of greenery which have greened up again pretty well this close to springtime--to sit there, listening to the green-headed parakeets among the green leaves of the trees, and--to watch for leprechauns.
We have leprechauns here in Begorrah City. They've been here since the place was nothing more than a few tents and cookfires and laundry lines strung through the trees, so we figure they stowed away in the boxes and suitcases and trunks of the Cullhaghenhs and Multolligans who started this town.
Now, you wouldn't know we had leprechauns to just drive through our city, or even by only stopping over for lunch. If rabbits are shy and skittish about people and cars, leprechauns are at least a hundred-thousand times more so. I lived here for seventeen years before I caught sight of my first one--on St. Patrick's Day, 1981.
Because--as shy and sneaky and given to hiding among the shadows of dandelions as leprechauns are--they cannot resist what goes on around here on St. Patrick's Day.
So, if you sit on a bench in the park here on St. Patrick's Day and keep your eyes on the bushes without LOOKING like you are keeping your eyes on the bushes, and sit very still for a long time--maybe a couple of hours--it's just about guarenteed that you'll see a leprechaun. If you are smart, you'll just enjoy seeing one, the way you might enjoy seeing a hummingbird or a moth glowing under the moon, and let it go at that.......if you are thinking the way I did on that St. Patrick's Day in 1981, you'll remember the legend that catching one of these wee folk grants you right and title to their pot of gold, AND....
Actually, I was deliberately out in the park that St. Patrick's Day hoping to grab a leprechaun--I knew, by then, that they could be found that time of year (these things get around any town our size), and I was desperately trying to come up with enough money to get my TV out of the pawnshop--make my car payment--get my electricity turned back on--the usual expenses, but they were pressing me particularly hard that year. I chose a spot near a large mock-orange bush, and settled back, pretending to nap.
Then I caught sight of him--only three inches or so tall, dressed in green to blend in with the color of the park grass, his bushy-browed eyes sharply upon me as he moved past my leg with no more speed than that of a crippled snail. I waited--I waited--watching him through my fake-shut eyes, I waited AND--when he was just about to feel safe and make his dash on past me--I GRABBED HIM!!!!!
My God, how he kicked and cussed and struggled and squirmed!!! You haven't ever really been cussed until you've been cussed out by a leprechaun who finds himself in your fists instead of hiding under beer barrels downtown, where he'd planned to spend the afternoon. However, my grip was firm, and we both knew The Rules--
"Away with ye!" he shrieked. "Y'll get NAAAAO pot o' gold from the likes of ME!!!"
"OK," I said, giving him a squeeze, "if you'd rather be cursed according to the old tradition, upon your head, down onto the heads of your great-great-great-great-gr--"
It shook him up quite a bit to hear me refer to this "curse according to the old tradition"--I grinned, glad I'd spent that afternoon at the library the week before.
After a time of the usual and-to-be-expected haggling, bargaining, dealing, and counteroffering, the leprechaun--who I by then knew was called Casey O'Shannahannlaughlentenvaugh O'Grynne--led me out of town, past the sewage plant, beyond the field full of old tires, though the dilapidated motels-turned-into-flophouse-apartments and the brand-new mansions being put up where the bottle factory used to be till it burned, on down the road--then off the road, into trees, and through the trees until I had no idea whatsoever where we were.
"Dig here, then, if y'll not have heart enough to leave it be," Casey said at last, pointing at a nondescript area deep in the shadows around us.
I glared, startled. "Whaddaya MEAN, 'DIG'???!!" I demanded. "You didn't say anything about digging!!!"
"Aye--'tis a fact, now, 'tisn't it?! HEEEEHEHEHEHEEEEEE!" the leprechaun laughed--in a flash he was off the ground and standing on a rather high tree limb above me. "But dig ye will, if y'll have the gold--have it or leave it, as ye please--I've kept my end of the bargain!"
And he vanished, like a popped soap bubble.
Well, I'd heard stories of how people had been led to leprechaun gold, only to be tricked out of it--like the guy who nailed a handerkerchief to the tree involved, and went back for a shovel, only to find that every tree in the woods had a handerkerchief nailed to it--things like that. I was determined this would not happen to me...I knew, also, if I left the place, I'd never find it again without marking my trail, and I couldn't think of any foolproof way to do it--putting out pennies or anything like that to follow back was a laughable idea, which only a fool would have had faith in...I sat down on a nearby fallen tree, staring at the spot in the ground, and thinking about my situation....
That was almost thirty years ago, and I must say, that guy Thoreau had it right--life in the woods really is a pleasant way to spend your days.
Every now and then I can hear leprechauns cussing at me from the woods surrounding the shack I built right above the place to which I was led--the sound is a lot like the rustling of dried leaves high above you in a rather strong wind--it makes me laugh to hear their rage as I go about my daily dig with the very servicable big flat rock I found, and a diet of berries and acorns and clover salads is actually really very healthy compared to the cheeseburgers I used to eat every day. The hole I've been working on is several hundred feet deep now, but I know I'm on the right track--I have found traces of gold chain and, once, a gold coin with an antique harp design engraved upon it. Of course, after the ladder broke--I guess, a couple of years ago--it was impossible for me to get out; I'd've starved, if the leprechauns hadn't kept tossing those acorns and berries down to me a couple of times a day. They do that because they know if I die without renouncing my claim on the gold it will be cursed, and useless to them, from then on--so they keep me alive, and tell me they'll help me get free if I'll give up the gold, and now and then they whisper to me as I sleep of the "sweet life" back in town--the girls, the TV shows, the beer and the chicken-fried steaks I'm supposedly missing--but I laugh at them all. Really, I just laugh. Out loud. I laugh at them all out loud, every day, all day long. And I'm going to keep right on digging.
It is very likely, if not certain, that Michael's most important early musical influence was his mother Annette. Today we present a 1951 studio recording featuring Annette singing, with her sisters Barbara and Artine playing flute and piano. Michael was in the womb when this recording was made!
Above: Pinkey and humorist H. Allen Smith, Alpine, Texas, February 23rd, 1974
Below: Letter from Smith to Pinkey prior to their visit.
YES, in 1974 my wife and I (in our new '73 Corolla) undertook a road trip all the way from the coast of North Carolina down through Texas into Mexico, and then back up through Texas and made our way to Alpine, where I'd arranged with H. Allen Smith to visit him when we got there.
I read my first H. Allen Smith book when I was 12; I used to wander the libraries, looking at random for books which would catch my interest, and--seeing a spine depicting horses wearing eyeglasses and smoking pipes, my interest was, indeed, piqued--and, after reading LOST IN THE HORSE LATITUDES, I became a Smith fan for life.
After my wedding in '71 my bride & I drove down to honeymoon in a cabin in the remote hills overlooking Lake Texoma. We were married on a Saturday; the next morning I drove to a nearby bait-&-sundries store to buy a Dallas Sunday newspaper........while reading through the TV magazine therein included I jumped up with stunned glee to see that a Dallas station would be showing RHUBARB that very night--a movie I'd long hoped to someday see--!!!!--SO, I loaded my wife up in the car and hauled off down the highway into Dallas, where we rented a Ramada Inn room to see the show. Yeah--on our honeymoon. HOHAWHAW! THAT'S the kind of Smith fan I was (and remain). I still recall the pleasant chill that ran up my spine when I saw "Based on the novel by H. Allen Smith" come forth in the opening credits... I do have a taped-from-TV VHS someone gave me decades ago, but never really knew it was out on DVD (except occasional bootlegs). About time. (Oh, and my wife & I have been married more than 43 years, so she didn't hold the diversionary Smith trip against me.)
A lot could be said about my hour's visit with Mr. Smith that 1974 day--I remember it all very well, having been in awe of the encounter...
While I was a'visitin' him, he mentioned he'd just gotten back from Germany and I asked, "Did you go to Neuschwanstein Castle?" He was struck by the question and replied, "Why, that was the object of my visit!" --then he outlined his idea for his next novel: a Texan learns that he is the true heir to King Ludwig's estate, and mounts a hell-raisin' army of fellow Texans to go over and retake Neuschwanstein Castle. I've always wondered whether he wrote any of that book...
I stood right there in H. Allen Smith's home office in Alpine while he signed & inscribed eight books in a row for me (he said, "It's kind of hard coming up with an inscription over and over again like this!"--so I didn't tell him I had 20 or 30 more books out in the car HOHO)...
We saw the original artwork for the cover of THE RETURN OF THE VIRGINIAN before it was published, and I also saw--to my great glee--the original Hershfield drawing of Robert Benchley and H. Allen Smith at table (Benchley grinning, Smith scowling) which adorns the title page of LOST IN THE HORSE LATITUDES, framed and hanging on Allen's office wall.
When I went to Alpine to visit him, he was 67--an age which I will attain in nine months...I was 19 when we met. Time, she mysteriously jus' FLY by-----
Getting back to favorite Smith quotes--I can't source this and I may be slightly paraphrasing, but one I have repeated for years is, "There's a war going on between the Smarts and the Stupids, and the Stupids are winning."
(Note: Written in May of 2019, prior to a commemorative event.)
I was recently asked by Jonathan Pinkey, my friend Mike Pinkey’s son, to write something about my time with Mike as a Marine military correspondent and journalist at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, NC in the early 1970s.
First off, I was so sad to hear of Mike’s untimely passing, and that the world lost a great wit, talent and person of myriad interests and depth. I am happy to have served with him and known him as a friend.
I told Jonathan that it might be a bit awkward for me to write this, due in part to Mike’s love/hate affair with the Marines. I don’t ever recall him ever saying in clear terms how he ended up in the Corps.
And, my apologies if this runs longer than it probably should for its intended purpose, yet I found it hard to condense things easily.
Sometimes I got the feeling that growing up an Army brat, as well as his dad the Colonel, had something to do with his military enlistment….that maybe he felt he should try it out.
Yet, at times, I was surprised that he had indeed ended up being in the Corps.
It was such an odd time and place for us all, being Marines in the waning days of the (by then) very unpopular Vietnam War, as a lot of combat vets rotated back Stateside and mingled with us newbies and Cold War warriors.
At least that’s what I called Marines like Mike or others that served at home, or as I and Paul White did with NATO deployments. It was strange ending up being sent to places like Norway vs. getting thrown into the jungles of Southeast Asia. I think a lot of people tended to overlook that the old Soviet Union was still a major threat to us and they were constantly up to mischief in the North Atlantic, along the borders of West Germany, Norway and Finland.
That was a reality of the Corps that many people seemed to not think much about, yet it was very much a real issue for those of us serving during that period of time.
I have always considered Full Metal Jacket one of my favorite but sort of crazy movies. It was a pretty accurate rendition of the story of Marine boot camp and subsequent perils of a combat correspondent in Vietnam. That was the fate and duty that I, Mike, Paul White and the others of our time as USMC public information specialists (aka combat correspondents) faced, had our number rolled up to go to Vietnam or some other combat hotspot that might have flared in the Middle East, Europe or elsewhere.
I was told by one of our senior NCOs that had served in Vietnam that our job specialty had among the highest casualty rates percentage wise of any during that war—as only about 150 or so sergeants and below were in the field—it was small and select.
Yet, Mike, Bob, Paul, Andy and I, along with the rest of us younger guys and gals, ended up with a divergent role and sets of duties of our own, in the “peacetime” side of things. But, we too took risks and went through our share of issues, problems and dangers along the way.
Mike was, like most of us younger Marines, caught up in that sort of insane, topsy-turvy aspect of life in general, and the Corps of the time, in particular. We had Admiral Zumwalt that took over the Department of the Navy, which was grudgingly admitted as the “parent” of the Corps.
Zumwalt began some policy changes (such as allowing sailors to wear beards) that were controversial and just added to the pull between the civilian world, added internal tension within the military, and ruffled the hard-Corps traditions of the Marines that we were all still expected to (at least mostly) maintain as PAO types.
There were issues of drugs, racial conflict, views on discipline and conduct, the ending of the draft and a shift to the all-volunteer military that was ongoing….and we were caught smack in the middle of all that.
Even though we were not involved in the fighting in Southeast Asia, we still bore some of the stigma of crazy Vietnam era Marines from the civilian world, which made things perhaps even more strange and at times crazy, as we seemed regarded by those who had served as “different” or not “real Marines”, while facing the contempt for being a Marine from those outside.
I think that discouraging state of affairs made for some soul searching times that we each had to sort through—and Mike in particular seemed to be far more conflicted about this than some of the rest of those in our unit.
Another point of turmoil was brewing in those days as the Marines were put under a force reduction order as the Corp’s role in Vietnam was minimized.
A lot of older career Marines got reduced in rank or forced out around that time, which added to something of the turmoil of the time which we did not need. We all I believe suffered our share of inner soul searching and concerns about what we were doing in the military in those days, with Mike perhaps agonizing more than others.
It was through this period that we filled out our duties and responsibilities of service for better or worse.
Mike had a wit that was razor sharp if not troublesome at times. His ability to write zingy and at times pointed statements, especially in the usually conservative military publications of the day, was somewhat amazing to us all. He often seemed to get leeway and even was gently prodded by the higher ups to dig into and write about controversial subjects in his well-read Pulse of the Point column in the base newspaper, the Windsock.
He seemed to excel at that and in his work in editing and other facets of that publication, which Anne also helped to assemble and get published each week.
Being from central North Carolina, my family had a small place south of Atlantic Beach, and on one or two occasions Mike, Anne, Bob Marshall and some of the others went there for a cook out and some relaxation, as well as took some trips to local arts fairs and other sites. They also visited me and my folks at our home before they left NC. I always seemed to feel a certain wistful, more free soul that came out with Mike in such periods.
There was usually some topic or subject that would get Mike started off into some deep and philosophical conversation, yet at times he could flare into something of a huff, especially when writing or something didn’t go well on the military front, often over a few cold beers.
Mike was often moody. At times he was exuberant and cheerful, yet also troubled by things that swirled deep in his mind and soul, including his disaffection with the military that seemed to grow. I was, frankly, amazed that Mike got sergeant stripes, yet glad he did so.
I say that not to mar a veteran’s reputation but illustrate that he just seemed to be more open and wear his conflicted views on his sleeve at times. He was questioning about the military and the ongoing war and the turmoil within the States at the time, like many of us were.
I don’t think any one of us wanted to be among the last of the Marines to die in the then iffy, deteriorating Vietnam War, especially as riots and demonstrations and varied social change spread across our home states.
Yet, I can only speak for some periods of time, as I being a Fleet deployable Marine, spent a lot of my time on what were temporary, short-term assignments with varied Marine units within the 2nd Marine Air Wing and others. Paul White and I were, as an example, deployed as part of an amphibious brigade to Norway, then aboard ship later we visited several European nations in port calls.
So, I was in and out of Cherry Point a great deal. So, my memories and real contacts were sort of piecemeal and scattered about Mike and most of the others that were in JPAO at the time on base. I do remember Mike being very upset when Anne backed into the side of my car when I visited their tiny place off base one time. I thought he was going to bite his pipe stem in two. He also at times was prone to harangue landlords of the crappy rental properties that were the only ones most low rank enlisted Marines could afford off base, using some very colorful terms.
I can however recall some long evenings of talk, laughter, debates and such that often took place either at Mikes place or at times, in some of the smoky, hole-in-the-wall bars and dive clubs that dot areas with military bases or at the nearby beach walks and bars, that were fun yet often turned philosophical.
Some of my best memories revolve around off duty hours and times spent with the guys and gals of JPAO, a lot of whom were also talented writers, a great cartoonist, excellent photographers and even a few motion picture and broadcast folks all mixed into one hell of a good unit.
I used to play chess some with Mike, and recall sitting in dark cafes off base or at Mike and Anne’s place off base, with Mike puffing an oft-unlit Sherlock Holmes style pipe stuffed with sweet smelling tobacco—likely the inspiration of Suttlespice No. 76, in his book Stray Not Beyond.
Mike was the first person I knew who mentioned JRR Tolkein and the Lord of the Rings, which was foreign to me. I, being a product of the then fairly rural southern life I’d grown up in, was still learning about people and places far different. He was at times such a font of knowledge and obscure things that I at times found him irritating in retrospect. But, I always got over it with him.
I before long had gotten tagged by Mike with the nickname “Tree”, for what I assume obvious reasons.
He and Anne seemed a well-connected couple, which was made for each other. Yet, Mike also began to strike me as perhaps having been more at home in some of the counter culture movements vs. the Marines, especially when the subject of Vietnam or possible new orders came up. There were a few that were still being sent to Southeast Asia including Vietnam—and I at one point almost got sent; but the orders didn’t go through. Mike at times seemed very troubled in his soul over the prospect of getting sent off to war, yet to his credit he did his duty…yet was a restless soul as I recall in many ways.
I had at one point anticipated trying to make a career of the military, yet things seemed to not favor that move for reasons that involved family and other issues that were out of my control. So, I, like most of the younger Marines there, never became a field tested combat correspondent like the fellow in Full Metal Jacket.
Yet, we were all at one time part of the USMC Combat Correspondent’s Association and still to this day are considered as eligible to be in that elite group…and I fondly recall the trip Mike, Anne and some others of us took to New York City to the Association’s annual meeting there, courtesy of the Corps. Mike seemed at home in Central Park and the old Roosevelt Hotel ballroom, unlike the drunk private that yelled for more beer at the top of his lungs to black-coated waiters.
Instead, most of us ended up serving the majority of our enlistment with the Joint Public Affairs Office (JPAO) of the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, NC. Unlike Mike, who was “station” personnel, I and several others including Paul were deployable Fleet Marine Force personnel assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron-2, which has in recent times been in war zones in the Middle East, among other locales.
I was deployed in October of 1973 along with a mass of other Marines on ships to just off the coast of Egypt during the Yom Kippur War. Israel had suffered crushing losses and the US had begun resupply efforts and started warnings with the Soviet Union about them moving troops into the area. We were the counter force and there for a few weeks it seemed we might have ended up in the front lines of what could have become World War III.
I was debating reenlistment then but an emergency with my family at home made the decision for me and soon I found myself back home, being discharged into the insanity of the Arab Oil Embargo and the great gas shortage that followed. I know that crazy time also impacted Mike and the other Marines we served with.
Yet, as with all good things, the amazing crew that worked their magic with the routine public affair issues and duties of JPAO, MCAS Cherry Point, NC and the Windsock, seemed to all-too-soon change as people came and went, goals shifted or circumstances intervened.
So, I suddenly was no more a working part of the JPAO and Windsock, yet it will live on in my heart and memories, as does Mike and his shenanigans, oddities and talents.
My time as part of JPAO, Cherry Point and the great Windsock crew was over in dizzying fashion, yet I still fondly remember the characters and Marines that were involved in producing that splendid paper and the writing, thoughts and topics it covered.
I like to think that we all, Mike especially with his Pulse of the Point column, perhaps cracked open the military information and news operations to a bit of new thinking and openness that has carried over to today.
I know people who live here in my town in NC that are retired Marines and their kids who remember reading the Pulse of the Point and Mike’s works well over forty years ago. I think that’s a tribute in itself.
I was so sad to hear that the old base building that housed the Windsock crew burned years ago. Yet, I feel that the words, thoughts, deeds and documented successes of those years still survives, like Sergeant Michael B. Pinkey, in thought and spirit, as like it or not, a part of Marine Corps history.
Mike was I believe a perfect fit for his job at the Windsock and JPAO Cherry Point, NC in that time and his experiences, DINFOS school education, association with other talented news and correspondent types all hopefully carried over into his civilian life and has been passed on to others to some degree.
He will be missed, and while sergeants were not saluted in the Corps, I do salute his memory.
Former Cpl. James “Ted” Crabtree, USMC
1970-1973 Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron-2, FMFLANT
And Joint Public Affairs Office, MCAS Cherry Point, NC
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