Sunday, September 09, 2007


If you walk out of your home, apartment, or any building at night, you find the night full of shadows that make the mind imagine it sees all sorts of devilish things. However, if you stand in the shadows and allow the darkness slowly to surround you, you will be amazed at how well you can see – at how comfortable you find yourself there.

I learned this as a young boy, running the neighborhoods at night playing hide-and-go-seek, avoiding the occasional clothesline, garden hose, or hanging birdhouse or feeder. It all came back to me as I performed “night watchman” duties at Keesler AFB. The added night experienced also served me in Vietnam.

A patrol would drop me off on the border of my assigned grid of buildings, and I would walk away from any light and stand in the shadows until I got my night-vision. Dressed in my fatigues, carrying a flashlight, a night watchman’s clock, a two-way radio, and a clipboard with all sorts of information and area maps, I was almost invisible as I moved about my appointed rounds on the base.

There was a sense of power you felt in this stealthy situation, and of course, I had my 1911 as added confidence.

The clock at the right is a very modern model, but very similar in shape and configuration to the one I carried. Night watching began many years ago, and was a simple process of ensuring someone visited buildings, checked the doors and windows, and secure areas on a routine basis during off hours.

The processes involved securing a “numbered key” to a building, or to several points around the perimeter of a building or area, and having a “night watchman” check the building at specific times. The visit is confirmed by inserting the “coded key” into a clock and making it record the key number and the exact time of each visit. On a checklist, the guard verifies he has checked all entrances and that no one has entered.

The procedure was a good one, but not foolproof to the foot-patrol who was determined to goof off. If you could imagine your assigned area from an aerial view, you could determine the shortest routes between buildings going cross-country, rather than walking along the outside perimeter. Therefore, you could spend more time doing what you wanted to do, meet another foot-patrol for a BS session, or just duck in somewhere to catnap or get warm! There was also the use of a motor patrol buddy who would let you ride around until it was time to “click” a time clock, and then have them drive you quickly there. If a system can be beaten, then some desperate person will find a way!

I always made the complete circuit by foot at least twice a tour of duty, once the first hour, and then the hour before getting relieved. On one particular night, I was making my first round after assuming the foot-patrol at midnight. You would expect that everything would be buttoned up securely, or the guy before you would have found it. However, on this night I turned the key in my clock and started to walk on by a door when I tried the knob just for grins. It opened!

The facility was a Laundromat, full of washers and dryers, and all kinds of drink and food vending machines. My heart began pounding in my chest! It was the first time I had ever found a door unlocked, and I immediately conjured up all kinds of bad guys inside waiting for me to enter.

I immediately stepped away from the door, back to the shadows, and radioed for a patrol to assist me. After hearing my description of the situation, the Desk Sergeant dispatched two patrols.

Within minutes the patrols arrived, red lights flashing, headlights on bright and aimed at the now open door. A tall skinny black Airman First, later called a “Buck Sergeant,” came to where I was standing and asked me what I saw.

Nothing…the door was just unlocked!” I explained. Wonder why they didn’t find it on the evening shift?”

Good question,” he said, “…or, there’s someone in there now.”

The Airman First motioned for the other patrol to stand at the door and for me to go inside to check things out, and that he would follow me. I swallowed a couple of times and proceeded. Just before clearing the door, I looked back at the Airman and caught him giving that “let’s watch the new guy get the crap scared out of him” grin to the other Patrolman! He quickly recovered and with a more serious face motioned for me to go on.

I made careful and deliberate steps into the dark building, shining my flashlight into every opening and around every corner. It was soon evident that there was nothing there and that there never had been, but there was one more closet to check before backing off and locking up.

I slowly made my way up to the door, sensing the Airman standing right behind me. As I reached for the doorknob, a Coke machine suddenly and loudly snapped on right behind the black Airman. He made a little girly squeak in his throat, whirled around, and came within ounces of squeezing off a round from his .45 into the machine!

All this was witnessed by the Patrolman at the door who was now belly laughing and bracing himself against the side of the building.

Wh’cu laughin’ at asshole?”

You asshole! Were you going to shoot the big bad of Coke machine?”

Long story short, I was sworn to secrecy, but I did not have to keep quiet long. At the next Guard Mount, my witness gave it up to Sgt. Webb and the whole Flight. They all laughed, including Sgt. Webb, long and hard.

It was a bonding time for me. I now had a story and something in common with the older troops on the Flight. It was a beginning for me. I now felt like I belonged to the group and that they belonged to me. It was another good thing that happened in the Mississippi night.


BRUNO said...

It was good for a laugh TODAY, as well as then! And as I recall, the "old-style" Coke machines really would make the damnedest racket on start-up! Almost as effective as the tall grass on your pants-legs, when walkin' through a cemetery at night!

Yeah, NOW you're startin' to "get in the groove" with 'em all! Felt GOOD, didn't it?

Mushy said...

A very therapeutic cleansing!

One problem may result from this exercise...I'm been struggling trying to remember all these things for years. Now that I'm putting them down for posterity, I may no longer have need for my mind. I may only be left with that bothersome electrical brain hum!

What can I do with the space that's being emptied out?

pat houseworth said...

Never used a "code" clock in the Air Force as a SP..but did when I was performing Night Watchman duties at a lumber yard in Wausau, Wisconsin.

I was going to night college classes, then would work at the lumber yard from Midnight to 8...spent weeks trying to figure out how to "fix" the time on those clocks....and I did. Best I can remember, nothing ever got swiped, but I did manage to get some shut eye in before the next afternoon classes.....

Ashamed I am......(pssst, not really)


BRUNO said...

"All that empty space"---!

Will a small beer-bong fit in there???

You mean to say that HUMMIN' ain't supposed to be there? Geez---I thought that was just the "normal" sound of the equipment!

Don't worry---SOMEBODY still has to remember to press ON, or maybe RESTART...!

J said...

Mr. Mush you crack me up! I love your stories. My mom has my grandparents old Coke machine, a real huge old thing, and let me tell you what! That thing used to scare me, it WAS loud! You are so right.
I remember as a kid my grandma used to put the Thanksgiving turkey in it before Thanksgiving, if there wasn't room in the fridge. Funny how two unrelated stories can bring back good feelings for us both!

Buck Pennington said...

If your Airman First would have put a .45 round into that Coke machine all Hell would have broken loose... for days! IIRC ammunition was scrupulously inventoried and signed for...and discharging your weapon is cause for an investigation under any and all circumstances, State-side, at least. Do I remember correctly, Mushy?

Mushy said...

Absolutely Buck!

Only in Vietnam did we get away with discharging a weapon for recreation. Some guys would fire at rats, but you had to remove the top round from the clip, which was painted red. Then you replaced the red round before turning in the clip/s to the armory.

Thanks for the confirmation JGal!

Suldog said...

Yep, used that clock-key deal many times working as a security guard. And, yep, you can always find a way around the intended purpose :-)

david mcmahon said...

Wonderful post, Mushy. The Big Bad Coke Machine indeed.

Remind me to tell you about the talking Coke machines!!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Man, I was a security guard at a few places in college, and we always had to walk rounds and carry the key box. The first job was at Gearhart Ind. in Ft. Worth, which was an oil company. We had a huge compound to walk around, twice a night. I started there on the midnight shift, and I was originally very nervous to walk around out there by myself. There were all sorts of stories about the radios we carried setting off the explosives in the bunkers, where they weorked on the drill rig tools. And there were ghost stories, about walking around and all of a sudden the hairs went up on my neck... etc. I learned to love the midnight shift, because od the solitude, and the cooler weather, and the fun folks who worked that shift. Eventually I went to the "swing" shift, 4 to midnight, and that one was even more fun. Your post brought back lots of fun memories. I used to hate having to lug that friggin' key box around. had to do that at the Colonial Country Club, in grad school. There were fun goings on there too, but mostly on other shifts. I'd arive at the guard shack and find the guys sitting there and watching porn videos. It was hilarious.

Mushy said...

I'm amazed at how alike we all are...we share such wonderful, yet simple events in our life, and that's another reason to blog...just to see how ordinary we all are.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Don't worry about the empty space. I think the process of remembering will only bring more up. At least, that's what we all hope.