Hugo," I said. "Not now."
I got my first
look at the Orient traversing the 30-mile stretch of road that links the
American air base at Tachikawa with Tokyo. The road has been widened over the
years, but in 1953 it looked like a country lane that a whimsical emperor,
doodling on parchment, had accidentally decreed into a highway. Everything that
could be set on wheels and steered moved crazily along that narrow path, and
from every freakish vehicle, fore and aft, long lengths of pipes or timber
extended, precariously balanced, bound with frayed scraps of rag or rope and
adorned at each end with a red flag. Perched on bicycles, unflinching elves
played rash games in the traffic, supporting on their shoulders, meanwhile,
those ubiquitous planks and pipes. I remember the rich green of the pine trees,
their jagged arms beautifully misshapen, and the fragile dwellings,
fence-guarded however humble, and the workmen huddling over roadside fires.
After that, I remember Hugo Batzlinger's first military briefing.
who briefed us, is a tall, good-looking California-born Nisei who has worked in
Tokyo for the armed forces since 1946. Jimmy's job—he's still at it—is to
coordinate the schedules of entertainment units that are invited by the Defense
Department to tour the Pacific Command. When Jimmy is not shuttling on that
road between Tachikawa airport and his office near Tokyo, meeting or sending
out entertainers, he spends his time on the telephone obtaining landing permits
for a choir of trained canaries or tracing a slide trombone lost on Iwo Jima.
Jimmy's job is not easy. The years of playing simultaneous roles as host and
policeman to finger-snapping show-biz folk in collision with the Army had
already engraved his visage with a pessimistic sulk by the time Hugo and I
arrived. Nevertheless, a shred of sentimentality remained. Under the glass top
of his desk, amid the timetables and checklists, were autographed photos of
memorable performers: Bob Hope, Bill Holden, Marilyn Monroe, Terry Moore in her
fur bathing suit and others. Today Hugo Batzlinger's picture is not there, but
Jimmy will always remember him. On my subsequent trips Jimmy has invariably
greeted me with, "Where's Hugo?"
"On behalf of
the commanding general," Jimmy began that day in 1953, "welcome to the
Far East Command. The general has asked me to convey...." Only some urgent
incident along the 38th parallel, the message implied, prevented the general
from greeting us personally, but his words were so filled with "his
grateful acknowledgment of our contribution to the welfare and morale of
America's fighting men overseas" that I felt absurdly puny being only a
table-tennis player. But Hugo sat erect, his neck curved forward so that his
face was a foot ahead of his shoulders. He was twirling his table-tennis bat,
and he had a let-me-at-'em look in his eyes. After the general's unctuous
greeting, Jimmy got to the real purpose of the briefing: "You are under
Army discipline now. No smuggling, no selling PX booze or cigarettes, no
black-market currency exchanges. In the unlikely event you are captured by the
North Koreans, the Geneva Convention requires that you give only your name,
rank and serial number."
mind getting a crack at those North Koreans." Hugo put in. "I hear they
have a terrific table-tennis team."
We were in the
former headquarters of General MacArthur, overlooking the Emperor's moat. Jimmy
led us down a corridor to get our dog tags made, and we entered an office with
a desk, a typewriter and a sergeant. The sergeant had a pink bulbous nose and a
pink face, but a fresh GI haircut had uncovered a strip of white behind his
neck and two white patches where his sideburns used to be. He had a foot of
hash marks on his sleeve. It was plain that the Army, through some typical
mismating of talent and task, had sentenced him to wed a typewriter and that
home life bored him. Our approach touched off a reflex, for without looking up
Miles. Emm eye ell ee ess."
Then it was