by Joe Váradi
I forget how long we were in there.
I was on my way to an interview on one of the upper floors. She was an executive for one of the sales and trading firms in the building. And man, did she have a knack for telling stories, and a gift for injecting some much-needed levity into our mechanical failure-induced predicament. I don’t recall every part of our conversation as we sat there waiting to be rescued, but I will always remember this gem. It transported us across time and space, to a place of hard lessons and innocence, of conflict and humor, of struggles and smiles.
The teacher gives her fifth grade class an assignment — to speak to their parents that evening and come back with a family story with a moral ending. The next day, the kids file into the classroom.
“Ok, let’s hear your stories. Susie, you’re up first,” says the teacher.
“We live on a farm with chickens, and we sell the eggs at the farmer’s market in town each weekend. I was collecting eggs in the hen house one morning, and carrying the full basket back to the house, when I tripped, fell, and smashed all the eggs on the ground.”
“And what’s the moral of the story?”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”
Next it was Katie’s turn to go.
“We also have a farm, we raise chickens to sell to the meat market. One night, a thunderstorm knocked out the power to the incubator, and from two dozen eggs we only got a few live chicks. The moral of the story is: don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”
“Excellent, Katie.” The teacher scans the back row. “How about you, Johnny, do you have a story for us?”
“Yeah — take my great-uncle Bob,” Johnny begins.
“He was a Green Beret in Vietnam, running helicopter reconnaissance missions up the Mekong Delta. One day his chopper got hit pretty hard about 20 clicks upriver, in enemy territory, and he knew they were going down. He looked around the cabin to see what he could salvage. He grabbed an M-60 rifle, all the ammo he could stash, and a machete. There was a bottle of Jack Daniels rolling around on the floor, he couldn’t let that good bourbon go to waste, so he chugged it. After the crash landing, Uncle Bob extracted himself from the wreckage, realized he was the only survivor, and took up a position so he could survey the surroundings. He counted about a hundred North Vietnamese regulars in the tall grass. He took out seventy of those Viet Cong with the M-60, before he ran out of ammo. He charged the enemy with his machete and cut down another twenty, before the blade went dull. Uncle Bob, high on alcohol fumes and the smell of blood, balled up his fists, and finished off the rest of them Charlies with his bare hands.”
“Dear God,” the teacher says, mortified. “What moral could you possibly have taken away from that horrific story?”
“Don’t fuck with Uncle Bob when he’s drunk!”
Thanks for your attention!
Ps: Charlie is not derogatory, and not an ethnic slur, in case you are wondering as I did. It derives from the term Victor Charlie, which was military code for VC, or Viet Cong.
Here are the previous two installments in the series: