Olongapo Girl: A Tale of
By: The Sceptic
I'll call him Leinhart, not to protect his identity so much as because it was years ago and I don't remember his name any longer. Seems like his name started with an 'L', but it's really immaterial because Leinhart's story isn't all that unusual. In a way, what happened to Leinhart has happened to most of us, more than once. Humans are such slow learners. Leinhart was just a dim-witted little smirch -- younger than most of us -- with whom a hundred-or-so guys shared berthing near the aft of an aircraft carrier. His was the lowest of one of the three-tiered bunks. Mine was the top -- right beneath the flight deck and one of the four wires that Navy aircraft tailhooks grabbed to be able to stop. It was damn noisy during flight ops.
Sometime during the cruise, Leinhart became the quintessential Pigpen from Charlie Brown comics. He didn't take showers and he only changed into clean clothes for inspection, after which he donned his dirty blues again. Attempting to shame him only seemed to feed his resolve. He was angry with the Navy over something (who wasn't?) and refusing to take showers was his form of protest. Even in berthing, with the stink of too many guys in tight quarters and everything inundated with molecules of Navy chow-induced flatulence perpetually renewed since 1960 (when the Enterprise first launched) we could detect Leinhart. He was sour!
He wouldn't leave clothes and linen in the net bags to be picked up twice a week. The grease spot on his pillowcase got so nasty it looked like someone had used it to drain a pound of hot bacon. Finally, a couple of us donned latex gloves, tore his rack apart and put sheets, pillow and all the sour clothes we could find into a garbage bag and threw it off the sponson. He was pissed for having to pay to replace his stuff -- but at least he had clean clothes for awhile.
We finally ganged up on him and threatened his life. We literally dragged him to the showers and convinced him to become reacquainted with the standard issue white washcloth. We even contributed soap --good old Lava with pumice -- as a gesture of our sincerity. That became a weekly ritual for awhile. He was such an annoying shit-for-brains, if he wanted to be an obvious target for our aggression, he was welcome to it.
Olongapo changed Leinhart.
The flattop made port at Subic Bay on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Being off duty meant being off the ship. One of my buddies -- a native who found the U.S. Navy to be a fine alternative to poverty -- was gone the whole time to visit his wife in Baguio. Among the recreational alternatives were the clubs on the base, Manila -- if you wanted to take a bus -- or Olongapo. Olongapo was the town right outside the base, a place where an average American sailor with a little money could drink, eat pork or monkey meat barbecued on a stick (after 120+ days at sea, anything not cooked in a Navy galley was gourmet) or get laid. The going rate for a cute little business girl all night was 100 pesos, or $10.
[I could tell you that I didn't get any because I was being faithful to the girl back home, and because the chances of getting the clap (or worse) scared the shit out of me. I could explain that the thought of these beautiful young girls spreading their legs for sailors and marines -- because they were poor and it was the only skill they had -- would have made me too nauseous to get it up at the right time anyway. I could try to convince you of all that but I don't know you and you don't know me and anyway, it was a long time ago so what difference would it make? Oh, I'm sorry. You say your husband or father was a sailor on a Pacific cruise and stopped at Subic Bay before the U.S. closed the base in 1992? Don't worry: he was with me all the time.]
Leinhart did got his first nookie though, but in his mind it wasn't a transaction of cash for flesh -- as I'll explain momentarily. When some of us came back to the ship that first night to sleep, we noticed that Leinhart had been there and gone already. There were clothes in his net bags. His wet wash cloth and damp towel were hanging up to dry. All the time we were in port, he only came back to the ship to shower and change -- quickly -- then hurry back to town again. I saw him during one of those visits, and he was standing tall and grinning like an idiot. I knew it wasn't the scent of Lifebuoy that was exciting him.
The Enterprise left port to the strains of Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" (I hate that damn song) on the intercom and we were back to our twelve-on, twelve off work rotation. Leinhart, meanwhile, was still smiling, showering, and he wasn't a pain in the ass any longer. He informed us, almost right out of port, that he was in love and going to get married. Eyes rolled, but he didn't notice. He was looking toward his future.
A few weeks later over a game of poker, we finally pried the story out of Leinhart. He had met the girl in a bar and she had invited him to go home with her. He walked her to the door of a pitiful little apartment, then realized that personal hygiene might be a factor. He told her that he would be back in an hour, rushed to the ship for a shower then into town again and found her waiting for him.
They talked for a while while she helped him overcome his shyness and eventually gave him what he had only experienced in sticky dreams. "She isn't a bar girl, though," he informed us. "She has a job selling clothes in one of the little shops -- maybe you saw her." He went on to give a description that would fit any number of young women on the island.
"You didn't pay her?" I asked, trying hard and mostly succeeding at hiding my incredulity. "Not really," he answered. He told us that the next morning, she had mentioned that she was short of money for rent, so he had helped her out with that. Over the next few days, he had bought furniture for her apartment, had asked her to marry him (she said 'Yes') and had given her cash to help her out in the meantime. In addition to writing her nearly every day -- and she sometimes wrote back in tortured grammar -- he was sending her a big chunk from his twice-monthly paychecks. His plan was to get the Navy's permission, get back to the States, take some leave, fly to the P.I. and tie the knot. Then she would be able to go to the States with him.
Most of us felt sorry for the poor fucker -- not that American servicemen don't occasionally find a good wife in the fleshpots of foreign ports -- but because he played there's-one-born-every-minute so easily. At least he was happy. As long as Leinhart was happy and felt there was someone who loved him, we agreed that we weren't going out of our way to convince him that he was probably being taken in. Maybe she wasn't a hooker (or all that dedicated to that profession) and it would all work out for him and what the hell? -- he was showering regularly.
I don't remember exactly how it happened. Maybe an unexpected expense came up. Maybe he blew too much money at the next port. Maybe he simply forgot. In any case, Leinhart skipped a payment on his future and shortly afterward his brown-skinned sweetheart dear-johned him. She was going back to her home on one of the other islands to attend university and 'thank you' and 'sorry' but it was over.
The break-up didn't break Leinhart permanently, but after a few days of listening to him sob behind the curtains of his rack, he emerged different, ossified, blue steel in his eyes. I only heard him speak once of his Olongapo girl after that. He spoke briefly about being used and referred to her as a whore.
Well, maybe she was a prostitute and he was just one of a hundred johns but what exactly does that mean? She needed her rent paid, and money to live on. He gave her what she needed in exchange for something that he needed as well -- not sex (although that was a factor at first) but happiness and a sense of security. He felt he was loved.
Leinhart had gone from angry pouting child to a man with a future, almost overnight. It wasn't getting laid that made him a man; it was his love of a woman (as irrational as it might have been) and the sense of responsibility that accompanied it. In his mind, he hadn't been paying for sex. He had simply been doing what he thought was right for the woman that he loved.
A lot of us were sending money and/or gifts from abroad back home to wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Regardless of whether Leinhart's Olongapo girl was hooking when he met her, it was subsequent events that made her a prostitute in his mind. If she had been Susie, the girl-next-door in Chicago or wherever he was from, had agreed to marry him, had been accepting his money -- then decided to change her plans, he wouldn't have felt any worse about it. This theoretical Susie wouldn't have been any less of a prostitute in Leinhart's eyes.
Most of us sell ourselves to get what we want or need -- especially in personal relationships. Women have married to get out of a job they couldn't stand or to get away from family they despise or to have a nice home. Men have married because they want decent cooking or they're tired of picking up after themselves or because they want a consistent source of sex. Even in modern society, when men cook and do laundry and women have lucrative employment and know that it's OK to admit that they like to fuck quite as much as men do, we still sell ourselves to each other, in exchange for something we need. We can't stand being alone, or we want a sense of security, or we want someone to stroke our ego. We need!
Men and women occasionally form relationships on the basis of selflessness, of giving without expecting anything in return -- out of pure love. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize how extremely rare that kind of love -- unmixed with need -- really is. Relationships last until someone else happens along who can offer more, sooner and at a better price. It's a marketplace where we all try to get the best in trade for what we have to offer. The only tragedy is when one partner believes in the relationship totally, while the other is open for a better deal.
The Olongapo girl may really have been a prostitute, and may have never intended to be anything else -- although sending that letter which cut off the possibility of more funds indicates to me there was more to it for her. Maybe she simply decided that she could do better without Leinhart. In any case, the lessons she taught Leinhart was worth every penny that he paid for it -- if he learned them.
But he probably didn't learn, because we are humans and slow learners. The reason we are so fucking dense is because most of us are infinitely capable of love -- even if it is somewhat polluted by our desperate needs.
Human love is a rosebush. Events mow into the thorny bastard, chew through the stalks, mulch it into a pile and burn it into the dirt. We give a person all we have, but then circumstances beyond our control ends the relationship and we feel like a patsy. "Always and forever" turns out to be a few months or years, because someone better came along. We feel used. But usually a few months or years go by and we have grown out again, more deeply rooted than ever and are making even better roses than before.
Fortunately for those who have no energy left to sink into black holes of disappointment and only want to become sane again, the soul-killing toxins will eventually kill even the most hardy rosebush.
More great stories located at:
"The Unquiet Collective", Quest of the Unquietmind