Friday, July 27, 2007

A Small Paean To A Good Man

Warren Harding was a friend of mine with whom I had the great good fortune to spend a summer many years ago tucked away in an antediluvian village north of Athens, the horyati of Nea Makri, Greece, where I had been delivered by the US Government to aid the Seabees in building a Naval Communication Station (now superfluous, defunct, decrepit and declassified thanks in great part to the microchip, but that for later…) and where Warren Harding had been sent by one delighted military contractor or another to build a number of 600-ft. tall conical monopoles, (he’s at the top of one in photo) steel radio antennas, the ultimate erector set, it being Warren’s job to guide each depending beam into place all the way to the top and his qualifications being that he was among the world’s foremost rock climber/mountain climbers and indeed had been the first to scale the face of El Capitan in Yosemite sometime in the late 50s, but it is 1965 at this point and all this is unknown to me…

As a lowly Seaman one of my jobs was guard at the Main Gate through which passed every day Warren and his crew and as time went by, day in, day out, it was all cheery hey howdy boys delighted to see you etcetera and one night Warren invited me to dine with him and his wife and another of his crew, a guy named Jack Rausch – Warren was little, 5-8 maybe, made of sinew and nerve, indeed a fearless man, afraid of nothing I ever knew about, and as friendly, soft-spoken and good-natured as they come. Jack was a big fellow, I mean big, 6-10, 400 pounds and when I walked in that evening he was playing a classical guitar which in his hands looked like a uke.

…after a late, great, real Greek meal, moussaka & horyataki salada, with a little ouzo, a glass of retsina, then some wine and beers, and possibly had a hash pipe going, we soon all were quite nicely fried and got into playing a word game – who could think of the most words with a de- prefix in a row and it got quite lively; at first we rattled ‘em off left and right but it got tougher until suddenly Warren hit a string of them, ‘Deface, defalcate, defecate, debase…’ and he was off, leaping from chair to table to bed – ‘…demean, decry, debilitate, (leap, leap, leap) declaim, debate, decelerate’ – leap, jump, yell, bounding to the floor and running across the patio leaping into the olive tree, racing to the top, ‘…deny, denigrate, demand, debouche…descend de-tree…’, and light as a feather came down to earth. The most down to earth, high-energy guy I ever met, RIP Warren…

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