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Something's Fishy in New Jersey or Bless My Sole...

Story ID:7427
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Dillon Montana USA
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Something is Fishy in New Jersey or Bless My Sole…
By Chuck Dishno 2011

Shortly after the Korean War, I was sent to Fort Monmouth New Jersey to attend photography school. It was a natural for me as I had been developing and printing my own pictures since the age of seven.

This was quite a cultural shock for me, coming from Fresno, California via Bly, Oregon. Fresno was a fairly large city but nothing compared to the towns around Fort Monmouth. It was just a short way from New York City and the traffic was the worse I had ever seen.

I had only been married about 6 months and my first wife, went with me. We stayed on base for a few days before finding and apartment we could afford on a soldiers pay. At that time a GI only got $97.00 a month but that combined with my allotment for a wife and off base allowances we could count on about $150 a month, not much as the apartment was $60 and we still had to eat. My wife, Marge, soon got a job in Long Branch N.J. where we lived.

I had rented the apartment for 3 months thinking I would be through with my photography class then and would be sent on to a permanent base.
The three months were about to end and I still had not received any orders and the rent was about to go up. I was in a quandary as what to do.

About this time, I was called out of an early morning formation by the base commander. He took me into his office and said he had received a phone call that morning from a Mrs. Lapresti, my landlady. He said she was very mad and proceeded to chew him out for me messing up the apartment. The officer was a nice guy and when I explained that I was waiting for orders which were long overdue, he suggested that go home right away and calm this mad Italian lady down as he sure didn’t want her calling him again. I thanked him and he gave me a pass to get off the base.

By the time I got to my apartment, Marge had already left for work and I didn’t want to bother her. She would be working until 9 pm so I figured I had plenty of time to take care of things.

As soon as I drove up a very mad, Mrs. Lapresti met me in the driveway and followed me up the stairs nipping on my backside all the way.

Apparently she had gone into the apartment and was snooping around. When she looked under the bed she saw what she perceived a large stain. I told her it had been there when we moved in 3 months ago. This didn’t satisfy her at all so I just got a bunch of boxes and started piling things in. She really flew off the handle then and when I told her I was moving out she yelled at me that I still had to pay another month’s rent. I just ignored her and kept right on packing. She asked me where I was going to go and I told her I had no idea but I wasn’t about to spend another night at her place and that she had better not ever call my CO again or she might have the entire U.S. Army on her back.

As soon as I got everything in boxes I carried them down and packed them in my Volkswagen Beetle. There wasn’t much room but I finally got it all in except the ironing board. Fortunately the VW had a sun roof, so I opened it and stuck the ironing board there with about 3 feet sticking straight up.

Mrs. Lapresti was still yelling at me as I proceeded to drive away. Something about the key that she had had special made. It was just a common skeleton key that you could buy at any hardware store. I think I said something, not too nice, to her and threw the key out the window or I may have even tossed it through the open sun roof. At any rate as I drove away I could still her yelling at me in Italian. I like to think that my ironing board was waving at her and my tires were saying “wop, wop, wop”, as they crunched down the gravel driveway.

The search was on now to find a new apartment and quick. I still hadn’t told Marge what had happened and it was nearing 5 pm.

As I drove downtown in Long Branch I suddenly remembered the U.S.O. Club where we would go some evenings to watch TV. I remember seeing a bulletin board there where locals posted apartments and other things. On this board was posted and apartment for $15 per week. It looked like just the thing I was looking for. Since it wasn’t too far away I left my VW parked on the side street and walked the few block to the apartment.

Actually it was another house and the owner, Mrs. Eagles, was renting out one room with a bathroom down the hall. She agreed to rent it by the week since she knew all about G.I.’s and their short schedules. The only problem was she didn’t allow any cooking in the room. I agreed to take on a weekly basis and paid her for the next week. She was really a nice reprieve from Mrs. Lapresti, at least she wasn’t Italian.

By this time it was getting close to 9 pm when Marge would get off work. I walked back just in time to see her coming out of the store where she worked. I met her and said that before we got to the corner I had something important to tell her. I then blurted out, “We have moved.” She said that she didn’t believe me but just as she said it we walked around the corner and saw our VW parked with the ironing board sticking out thru the sunroof. She let out an expletive, then said, “Well I guess we have really moved.” I told her all about my encounter with the mad Italian lady and we both had a good laugh.

Since we were near the U.S.O. we went in and had a sandwich then decided to check out our new apartment. Going back to the VW we found that I had packed it so tight there wasn’t room for the passenger. Marge said she would walk and follow me. I think she was trying to get the full assessment in her mind.

The one room apartment was quite nice and comfortable for temporary quarters. There was a large bed, with night stand, large chest of drawers but that was about it. We brought up all the boxes and piled them in one corner not knowing what was in each because of my speedy packing with the witch of Italy on my back.

As I said there would be no cooking in the room and since Mrs. Eagles was just down the hall we didn’t dare use a hot plate. Since we had to eat, breakfast was usually cold cereal with milk we kept in Mrs. Eagles refrigerator.

Because we lived off base I was allotted a $30 a month for separate rations, but even in the early ‘50’s $30 didn’t go very far. My solution to this involved a little bit of larceny.

The off post personnel were issued a Class B Chow Pass. It was pink and had a large “B” in the center. The guys who lived on the base were issued a Class A Chow Pass. It was white with a large A in the center. On going to the mess hall you had to show your pass and the Class B ones had to pay for their meals, not much though, usually 35 cents for lunch.

Since I still had access to the photo lab, I decided to fake a Class A pass. It was easy to do. All I had to do was borrow a friend’s Class A pass, make a photo of it and print it out on photo paper. Then with a little doctoring up I could sign my name on the bottom.

This forgery worked well but I have to admit that I was a little shaky the first time I used it. I could just see me behind bars at Fort Leavenworth for trying to cheat the Army out of 35 cents. I kept listening for the M.P.s to rush down the hall and put me in handcuffs. All went well though and I was soon an old hat at getting “free” food.

When I would go thru the chow line, I wore a loose fitting fatigue jacket and would stuff cold cuts and slices of bread under the fatigues. What a thief!

After I had eaten, I would get into my VW and head back to the apartment to feed Marge. This worked well for dinner too. Liver and onion and S.O.S. were a might harder to bring home so on those nights we splurged and went to a restaurant named Tony’s Tomato Pies. It was an Italian restaurant and had the full Italian cuisine. Tomato Pies were like a pizza but with lots more tomato. The cheapest thing on the menu was spaghetti so we usually ordered a large plate of that and shared.

Tony was a really nice Italian man who was in Italy before the 2nd world war. He had taken a liking to American soldiers and wanted to pay them back for all they had done in liberating his country. He was a very interesting man to talk to and he seemed to like us as he would rarely let us pay for our meal.

Tony had had lots of celebrities in his restaurant too. I remember seeing a large signed picture of Enrico Caruso on the wall. Of course Tony would, if asked, burst out in some Italian song. I remember asking him if he knew Mrs. Lapresti and he just rolled his eyes.

Days and weeks went by and still no orders for me on a transfer. We still lived on a weekly basis, eating cold cuts and spaghetti at Tony’s.

About the third week, we began to smell something bad in the apartment. This didn’t go unnoticed by Mrs. Eagles either and on several occasions she asked us about it. We said that we smelled something too but couldn’t figure out what or where it was coming from.

One day I opened up one of the boxes that were stacked in the corner and “whew”, I found the source. Apparently in my haste to get away from Mrs. Lapresti, I just grabbed everything in sight not realizing or caring what it was or where I put it. One of the things I took out of the small refrigerator was a 1 lb package of frozen sole. I put into the first available box and sealed the lid.

Once I found the sole, I took the box, clothes and all to the incinerator and burned it. After leaving the windows open for the night the room began to smell normal again much to Mrs. Eagles relief.

Mrs. Eagles was a wonderful and forgiving woman
and soon all was forgotten. I will bet, though, that the next time she rented to a “short timer” like we were, she checked all the boxes before allowing them to move in.

The next week, my orders finally arrived. I was being transferred to Fort Lee, Virginia where I would spend the next 18 months.

Fort Lee was near Petersburg so we rented an apartment in an old Victorian house. That was great and we made sure we didn’t bring in any stinky fish.


Post Script: In 1990 Roz and I took a trip to New York to visit her daughter, Bobbie. While we were there we rented a car and drove to Long Branch to see if Tony’s Tomato Pies was still there. It was and we had a nice lunch.

Tony had died a few years earlier and it was run by one of his sons. We told him of our great relationship with his dad, and he said, that was the way his dad was. Always trying to help the G.I.s who had helped out his country. What a man! And, yes, the picture of Caruso is still on the wall.

Needless to say, I didn’t go by Mrs. Lapresti’s house though. Just the thought of her screaming at me as I exited her property was enough.

I hope, someday, to go thru Heaven and see, tucked away on a pasta shaped cloud, a little sign saying “Tony’s Tomato Pies” G.I.’s Welcome!