No Bare Feet Beyond This Point

I grew into manhood in the Sinai desert: 1977-1980. Missed out on Disco, but it was damn well worth it.  What you may choose to read below is the first installment of a personal history I am determined to write about the men and women I had the honor to know, to love, to work and walk among, and to call ‘Friend’, as we all tried in our way, to bring peace between the Egyptians and the Israelis after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The conditions were harsh; the boredom at times mind-numbing. Seventy-five percent of us were under thirty. Most of us were Texans. We were not actually building anything see-able, tangible, touchable: we were, in fact, civilian ‘Paid Political Hostages,’ not construction contractors, not U.S. military Special Forces, but we ended up building something immensely more important than bricks and mortar: The Camp David Accords—Peace between two enemies who had not known peace since before Moses was a pup. Some of us who spent too many years there, went slowly and surely insane…

SFM_Letter

1979 Sinai Field Mission

postcard

WARNING:

NO BARE FEET BEYOND THIS POINT

A faint laughing snort escaped as I shook my head upon seeing that sign duct-taped to the door of the hooch belonging to some of my fellow drivers: ‘Rocket Tom’, ‘J.R. Mog’, ‘Jet’, and ‘Big Mo’. Big Mo wasn’t a driver per se; I mean he didn’t drive trucks or R&R passenger vehicles: He drove dozers, road graders,  front-end loaders, and the occasional fork lift, although he considered fork-lifts “Too wussy for a Texan named Big Mo” to drive.

I gave the door a hearty knock.

“Enter!”

Opening the door, I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke shoved out by the cold air conditioning.  The contrast from the hot Sinai air shocked my senses, but felt oh, so… inviting. I stepped inside the doorway and paused, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting in the hooch. The sun in Sinai is blindingly bright. Seated around an empty cable spool (about three feet in diameter), were three fourths of the usual suspects: Mog, Jet, and Rocket Tom.

“You just gonna stand there, or ya gonna have a seat?” Mog demanded. J.R. Mog, a corpulent, charismatic, boisterous, ‘talks too loud’ Texan who generally had the first (and last) word in any conversation.  His full title was ‘J. R. Mog, Half-Man, Half-Alligator, Part-Time Hog; Tamer of Wild Women and Other Assorted Interests.” Or… simply just ‘Mog’ for short (Thank God).

“How y’all?” I said, taking a seat on one of the camel saddles which served as chairs. Scattered about the tabletop were a couple of small pipes, a chunk of hashish the size of a pregnant golf ball, an overflowing ashtray, three or four empty beer bottles (Amstel), a couple of magazines, a crumpled pack of Marlboros, a Moët & Chandon bottle with a burnt up candle stuck in it, wax coating it all around and down to the top of the table thus cementing it there, and something that looked like it might once have been an orange.

Mog answered, “We just finer ‘n frog hair. Wanna beer? You know where the fridge is.”

“Matter of fact, I do,” I said, getting up and tacking back and forth through the piles of dirty clothes, homemade furniture, shards of beer bottles, and stacked-up cases of Amstel, Heineken, and Tuborg Squash—a heavily carbonated orange soda from Denmark—the best thing on Earth for the morning cotton-mouth most of us suffered more mornings than not. (Had something to do with smoking hash and drinking late into the night, but… that’s just my opinion.)

I returned with a Heineken and sat back down, taking a swig as I did so.

Jet said, “Well, Lancer, now that you’re all settled, we can fire us up a bowl.” (I had not done anything noteworthy enough up until this point at Sinai Field Mission to warrant a moniker other than my given Christian name). Using a Buck Knife, he proceeded to carve some hash off the golf ball, then mixing the slivers with some tobacco, stuffed one of the pipes and lit it with a Zippo.

We passed the ‘bowl’ around, refilling it a few times here and there, then settled back with our beers.

Jet, the oldest at the table–about thirty—wore a goatee, long brown hair on top of a head that looked a little too big for the rest of his frame. He had a laconic manner, but was not what one could ever call ‘brusque’. He just didn’t say much. He seemed to save his words like cash money is what I’m saying. Presently, he asked, “Mog, when’s your next run to TA?” (‘TA’ = Tel Aviv).

Mog (who spent words with reckless abandon) replied, “I got the fuckin’ R&R run tomorrow. Shit!  Hey Lance, what you got? Wanna trade?”

Mog hated the R&R runs mainly because R&R runs meant taking passengers. He loved driving the trucks into ‘Town’. Two reasons: He loved trucks and he loved to drive trucks very, very fast. Mog was a great driver, but riding with him scared the shit out of me.

“Sure Mog; I’ll trade with ya.”

“Which run you got?” he asked, now slightly wary at my all too quick agreement.

“Canal run.”

“Aw Shit No! Forget it.”

SFM Basecamp was about thirty klicks from the Suez Canal. Every day an R&R vehicle left SFM to rendezvous with one coming from Cairo. Passengers would take a small boat across the canal and continue on to Cairo or back to SFM. Incoming and out-going mail was also exchanged. Having  ‘The Canal Run’ meant getting off-base only for an hour or two. Going to Tel Aviv meant driving only four hours, checking into the Sheraton and having the rest of the day and night to paint the town red with Per Diem and whatever else one wanted to contribute or muster out of his own purse.  Mog had an Israeli girlfriend in Tel Aviv, actually she was his fiancée, and he took all the Tel Aviv runs he could get, so he could go see ‘The Little Mama’. In fact all the drivers had Israeli girlfriends except Big Mo. His ‘Honey-Co’ was a Big-Boned, Tall Drink O’ Water, Texan Gal, working for SFM, just like us. Her name was ‘Big Mammu’ and if those two didn’t eventually get united in hellish matrimony, then I say ‘Fuck it.’ There is no hope for the rest of the world. Perfect for each other they were, is all I’m saying.

Rocket Tom was a wiry, slightly nervous-energy type about five-foot ten, with long dark brown hair and a full beard. Even though he was Pure Texan, his accent spoke ‘Tennessee’ to me: Probably genetic since most Texans have Tennessee bones buried somewhere in their family closet.

“Y’all just gettin’ back from the TA? Rocket drawled in my direction.

“Yeah. Had the Reefer Run. The KP’s unloading her now.”

“Well,” he went on, “I hope y’all brought back some ah that Israeli choc’late milk this time.”

“Sorry Bro; they still fresh out at the market.”

“Well shit-fire!” he yelled, standing up. “How they spec’ us to keep our mo-ral here in the Middle of the Fuckin’ East, Sinai fuckin’ field mission hot-ass desert without no Goddamn choc’late milk?” (He did love chocolate milk, especially after a smoked bowl or two of the hubbly-bubbly, which for us was another word for hashish, although technically, it means the water pipe we sometimes used to smoke it in, often mixed with a sticky sweet Egyptian honey tobacco—very pleasant aroma, that.)

Mog chimed in, “Hell an’ God-awmighty Rocket! Calm the fuck on down Son!  Y’all need to lay off that shit anyhow. I believe you done put on a pound or two just this week, ‘specially round yer middle section there.” (Rocket Tom weighed about 140 pounds, soaking wet. With-his-boots-on).

Mog continued on the roll he was working himself up to, “Lancers, that reefer truck still got both its mirrors attached?”

Laughter all around.  (Rocket, now sated and satisfied by his outburst, had sat the fuck back down…)

I had become notorious with the drivers (and somewhat despised & infamous by the mechanics) for losing the driver’s side swing-out mirrors off four trucks in the past two weeks. The roads through the desert were quite narrow with no shoulders at all. And in fact, there was usually a sharp drop off which if hit, would cause a fast moving, top heavy, loaded-down truck to flip over. I was cognizant of this and would never give up my half of the road. No Matter What. Too often I would encounter an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) truck with some pimple-faced kid, fresh off the Kibbutz at the wheel barreling down upon me from the opposite direction, taking his half of the road from the middle. Inevitably our mirrors would connect. And violently. Since SFM’s trucks all had air conditioning, my windows were always rolled up, saving me from being smacked by the mirror as it smashed against the side of the truck. The IDF guys, well probably not, as their trucks, to my knowledge, did not come with factory air.

“Yeah Mog. She still got both her mirrors.”

“Well, did ya leave any crippled jackasses in yer wake this time?” Mog laughed.

On my very first R&R run to Tel Aviv I was driving our Chevy van loaded full with twelve passengers, two of whom were high-ranking State Department pukes. I was a bit nervous, and was trying to drive oh so carefully and safely, as I felt my future as a driver depended on it. Somewhere just south of Al Arish, we came upon a couple of donkeys in the road. I started slowing down, but not wanting to hit the brakes too suddenly or too hard, thereby throwing my passengers forward, I misjudged and hit one of the jackasses square in the ass. His hind legs flew out from underneath him and his butt hit the road. He managed to get back on his legs, then turned and glared at me as he stumbled off. I drove on down the road as if nothing had happened and saw a Bedouin in my rear view mirror shaking his fist and spewing what I theorized were some choice words at me in Arabic.

“Naw. Overall it was a borin’ trip,” I said. Then added, “Mog, you sure you don’t wanna take my Canal Run tomorrow?”

“Son, you know damn well I don’t. Last time I had that run…” (Here it comes, another ‘Mog Story’) “I got stuck for two hours behind a broke-dick-of-a’-Egyptian-lame-ass-broke-down-convoy. They had the whole damn road covered up with their doubya-doubya-two wrecks-on-wheels. Musta been twenny of ‘em. I’m tryin’ to figure out how to get around, but they had the unmitter-grated gall to break down ‘tween two fuckin’ sand dunes. Nothin’ I could do but set an’ wait ‘em out. I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-Hell if their tow truck finally shows, and she pro-ceeds to break down her own self! Jesus, Mary and Yosef! My passengers getting’ all stupid worryin’ an’ frettin’ they ain’t gonna get to Cairo in time to catch their planes for R&R back to The Land of the Big PX and the All-Night Restaurant,  I told them the other vehicle gonna wait there at the crossin’, so why don’t y’all just shut the fuck up!”

“Uh Mog,” Rocket interjected, “There weren’t no USG types in your vehicle, were they?”

“Ah Hell No! Rocket. You know I am always po-lite as pie when those State Department assholes are on-board. Anyways, as I was sayin’, we sittin’ there wonderin’ when the next tow truck gonna show, so I call ahead to Mohammad to see if he at the canal yet. Finally managed to get him on the radio and tole him to set tight. I’d get there when I got there.“

A word here about the convoys that travelled through the ‘Buffer Zone’. The Egyptians had nothing but World War Two era Russian trucks and every time they attempted a convoy, they broke down. Sure as God made Texas, they were gonna break down. The Israelis, on the other hand, had all-new trucks and tanks, and planes, most of which they got from the U.S. when Nixon bailed them out during the first half of the two-week long Yom Kippur War when the Egyptians were actually kicking the ever’-lovin’ shit outta their asses. There was a massive air-lift of new military hardware to the Israelis, so they would not get pushed into the Mediterranean. Now, I’m not saying the Israelis didn’t deserve credit for winning that war in the end, (and some would still call it a ‘draw’), but without the infusion of new equipment from Tricky Dick and Hank Kissinger, well…

Mog continued, “Well, with nothin’ to do now but wait her out, I went to see if I could find some ‘Gyptian could give me an idee of just how much longer they gonna be blockin’ my road. After wading through some wearing they jammies and wantin’ baksheesh, I found an officer who spoke some English. He tole me, ‘No worries. No worries.’ Well, directly here come another ‘gyptian tow truck. Took ‘em another hour to clear the damn road. We got to the canal just ‘bout an hour ‘fore sundown. I swear, I ain’t takin’ no more canal runs. Oh fuck no!”

***************************

There was a lot of bullshit talked at SFM, but for the most part, it was what you’d call pretty good bullshit (for the most part.)  I enjoyed it terribly.

If you have come with me thus far, then you may be happy to know that there will be more to this story. Too much more.

Way too much more.

Stay tuned, if you’re of a mind too.

Thanks for reading.

–Lancers

 

67 thoughts on “No Bare Feet Beyond This Point

  1. Pingback: Ha Ha Ha! Bet Y’all Never Seen This One | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  2. Pingback: Thurs day | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  3. Pingback: I Guess Buffalo Ain’t Gear’d for Me and Paul | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

    • Mad Annie (See? This is the Very First-Est Time I have called you by your full / Christian name–just a pointless point)
      Anyhow…
      Mad Annie,
      I love you (Blog love you)
      Thank you.
      Love you
      Don’t wanna be without you!
      (Okay; the last was ‘over-the-top’–even for me…)
      Love,
      –Lancers

      Like

    • Dear Carey,
      Pardon my incredulity, but…
      Really?
      You claim to know…
      How so?
      I was at SFM from ’77 until ’80,’
      Don’t remember you (but then, I do not remember a lot. So, you may be forgiven)
      Tell me true.
      –Lance

      Like

    • If I remember correctly, we shared a common “porch” for awhile. I roomed with Kevin Ferguson and later with George Robb (not sure I’m really supposed to be naming names, but….). I got out there about Jan. of 79 and would have been working in the galley with the Ships Cook when you were there. I myself am an old Greenville boy and knew these guys well before and after.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Carey, I must apologize, but for the life of me… I just do not remember, but then, I did a lot of hashish when I was in Egypt. Just saying…
      But seriously, you have all the right answers… and know all the right names. Do you happen to recall who ran the BX at SFM??
      Hint: She was a she.
      If you can name her or describe her, I will continue to get to know you (if you want)

      Like

    • Damn, you got me on that one. I remember Becky (Cold Duck) was the barber for awhile, but can’t remember the gal that ran the BX. Here’s one you probably haven’t though of in awhile. Remember Black Bart, the driver that got shit canned for hosing out the inside of his vehicle?

      Like

    • Who ran the dispatch for Facilities Maintenance. i.e. who assigned the drivers their routes? And was she female (how easy is that one?) Where was she from.. and what was her name? Who was the Project Manager for most of the time ‘we’ were there” Which construction company actually built SFM
      What photos did “Ship’s Cook” have hanging behind the serving line of the chow line?
      Who was Ship’s Cook? Did he have any relatives at SFM? Was he normal?
      Was I?

      Like

    • You know what? Now I do think I remember you and if you are the guy I think I remember, I must apologize, I get lots of shit from people who claim to have been Navy SEALs, etc…

      One last question and you should know this easy:
      What was the name of the ‘House Band’ at SFM?

      Like

    • I know you now. Carey, I am so sorry for giving such a ration of shit. Please accept my very humble apology.

      “What’s that word? I think I’m eccentric… call me a liar, call me a writer…believe me or not.”
      “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.”
      –Jimmy B

      Like

    • Foggy on a lot of that, but the ships cook’s brother was Royce Loftin. Course, the cook himself was Berne Loftin, or as Lilly Garfinkel used to call him “Rabbi”. He had “HOLD FAST” tattooed on his knuckles, and the name of every ship he had ever served on tattooed on the rest of his body. Part of my duty was that I had to give him his haircut (white sidewalls) once a week. If I remember correctly, cook had a picture of LBJ behind the chow line. The guy who ran the kitchen was Ace Jenkins, big old surly jarhead (who was actually a pretty good guy). The house band when I was there was the Sisco Ducks. I know cos I played guitar, and my crazy ass buddy sang and jumped around and basically acted like he should be institutionalized. Rocket Tom still lives in Greenville I think. unfortunately, JR MOGG (Wes Martin) died of a heart attack awhile back. Wait, did Bernadette run the BX?? Always had a thing for Bernadette, as did most of the guys out there.

      Like

    • You know what Carey? Now that you are the person I had hoped you were…
      I can say this about you:
      I admired you.
      You had talent.
      Now, if you knew me back in my latter daze at SFM, you might also recall that I was truly insane those last months and was a perfect asshole, and had no friends there save for Bart Armstrong and Mary Ann Gunnin…

      Like

    • Bart and Maryann..wow! I would never have remembered them.
      Well, I think we were all assholes. And misfits. It was pretty much what we all had in common. I just remember you as being one of the few who was smart enough to just shut up and smile at all the absurdities (I’m still trying to master that) and much to mine and everyone else’s benefit, you’ve retained, and relay those absurdities beautifully. Thank you sir, and keep up the good work.

      Liked by 1 person

    • And just as I was getting to know a friend I had so easily cast away, so many moons ago…you leave me here alone with my Blog and my memories of SFM (Yeah, during a nostalgic moment, I bought that Weinstein Movie— what an ass he was–had I not been on RR when he filmed…I would have told him some shit)
      NEWay…. so glad you turned to to a man I remember from my misspent youth.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Ya Know: We Are Just On the Cusp of The Wayward Side of TB Thusrday… | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  5. Pingback: Running in Soft Sand: Part Two | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  6. Pingback: One More Time | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  7. Pingback: Throw-Back: She’s Not Here | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

      • Being cognizant helps . . interesting to think about this time in history. Was almost sent over there myself in 1992. Chose college Lance … sometimes you have no choice with fate Love

        Liked by 1 person

      • True about Fate.
        Cognizant? I need to work on that. Sometimes I cannot recall what I had for supper the night before, but I can remember little stupid things I said thirty years ago…. Things that make you go “Hmmmm”
        🙂

        Like

  8. Pingback: Sinai Field Mission. Or The Story of How Lance Lost His Mind and Later Found it Ferreted Away in His Pocket | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  9. Pingback: Life is Funny; Laugh Out Loud | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

  10. Beautiful writing style, reminiscent of someone… can’t quite put my finger on it, but will get back to you on that as soon as I remember the name. The piece is very atmospheric. I certainly got the feel that I was there with you, making the crossings, learning to distinguish between the best tobacco to be found and freezing in wait for the donkey to get back up from the ground. I do hope that Mog and Big Mammu ended up together 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Vic for that compliment. And thanks very much for reading this rather long piece. Your time is appreciated. As far as the romances of Big Mo, Mog, Big Mammu et al; I think everyone lived happily ever after. Hehehe

      Like

  11. Pingback: TA: It Doesn’t Always Necessarily Mean Tits an’ Ass | Texan Tales & Hieroglyphics

    • That was the first time in my life I could afford to drink imported beer. Is that sad or what? Thanks for your comment and feedback. Happy Saturday to you!
      Cheers,
      Lance

      Like

      • Happy Saturday to you too. I really do like your spunk and details in your writing and the accents you use in your voices. Keep letting me know what you think, please. I just published another two.

        Like

  12. Military stories are probably my very favorite type of memoir. I have read them all. Generation kill, the economic hitman… I watched restrepo and band of brothers like a real fan girl.

    Awesome.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Actually, (and I can see how you would assume this, as I did not really make it clear) this was a completely civilian mission, no U.S. Military at all, run by the U.S. State Department.

      I wasn’t military until 1985 when I enlisted in the Navy. There were approximately 180 Americans working at SFM, thirty or so were women. Also in the U.N. Buffer Zone were hundreds of UNEF forces, most of them from Ghana. They provided some security, but did not live on SFM with us. They had their own bases in the Sinai.

      Thank you for reading! I appreciate it.

      Like

Feedback? Comments? Questions? Let me know...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s