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Old 01-16-2003, 06:11 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 4,601
Cool "Coin of the Realm"

"Coin of the Realm"

Larry meets a Marine and comes away with fuller pockets than he had before.

ALL MEN carry specific things in their pockets, and the items and locations are as constant as the Northern Star. For as long as I can remember, I have carried my wallet in my left front pocket, and a knife, Zippo lighter, and change in my right front. The denomination of the change is always exact: three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel. And a silver dollar.

I like silver dollars. When I was little, my Aunts Tini and Ethel, and their husbands, Sam and Sol, always brought my sister and me silver dollars when they came to visit; real, silver dollars, one for each of us. I still have a stack of them in my desk, and some are very old. There is something very good and very American about European Jews with accents, whose family was gassed, kissing a five-year-old and handing him a coin from 1782. I have bought many silver dollars since, and I never feel exactly right if I leave the house in the morning without one of them. I always carry a silver dollar.

In my work, every time I walk through the curtain on a talk show, from my first Carson shot to the last Letterman, every time I have a job on a sitcom or a movie, whenever I walk out of a dressing room, I don't take my wallet, I don't take the change, I don't take the knife or the lighter, but I always have a silver dollar in my right, front pocket. Always.

Until now. I got a coin from a Marine a few weeks ago, the day after Christmas. I'm looking at it now. And I don't carry silver dollars any more, because I carry his coin instead, every day, and that's what I'll carry until I see him again. Here's how I got it.

My wife and I took our children to Lego Land over Christmas. It's just above San Diego, a great theme park, clean and well-run, and the kids adore it. It was not our first visit, nor our second, and that ought to say something right there about the joint, unless, of course, you're a complete idiot and still go back to places after being treated like a steaming turd. There's a fine hotel just a couple of miles away, and we've been there before, too, and the kids love that place as much as Lego Land, and we're fortunate to be able to stay there.

I should probably say here that I didn't want to go in the first place, and that's because I never want to go anywhere in the first place. Like most family men, I firmly--no, rigidly--believe that ever leaving your home voluntarily is an act of galloping stupidity. If I have time off, I'd actually like to lounge around my own bed in my own room, pour juice from my own fridge--you get the idea.

For example, last year, the Divine Mrs. M. buttonholed me downstairs at our bar (my favorite vacation spot, by the way), and told me about a terrific place up the coast that has "Condos, individual apartments, one or two bedrooms, full kitchen and dining areas, play room for the kids, and a washer-dryer in every unit!" I marked my place in the dusty volume I was reading, took a sip and replied, "So, in other words, if we pack everything we own very carefully, spend thousands of dollars, prepare a trip with the precision of the Inchon Landing, and get really, really lucky, we can spend two weeks in a place that's nearly twenty percent as good as the house we have now." I believe my sarcasm eluded her, but at least she left me alone to read and drink.

So off we went to Lego Land.

By the way, most Jews think Christmas is the best day to go to places like Lego Land or Disneyland (or WallyWorld, for that matter) but, of course, this is dumber than Hans Blix. Since everyone gets the same idea at the same time, the crowds are no better at all, and probably worse. And it's not just Jews. Every Buddhist or Hindu family in America gets the same brainstorm, and as a result, the ethnic breakdown of the crowd looks like a freshman mixer at M.I.T., or the unpopular sofa from the beginning of "Animal House." ("Ira? I believe you know Ramesh, and Googoo, and Wong?")

But it's a great place, Lego Land, the employees are terrific, and they let me wait with my wife and kids for every ride, so I can strap them in and walk back out again to meet them at the end.

See, I hate roller-coasters. I hate anything that moves fast, or at all, and the only ride I would ever get on myself would be one where a string of La-Z-Boys pulls up and then doesn't go anywhere. A few months ago, I took the kids to a nearby mall and went with them on a miniature train ride. It was a small, oval affair, twenty feet long and eight feet wide and perfectly flat, and it couldn't have been going more than two miles-an-hour, and I was dizzy for a week.

Anyway, we had a great time at Lego Land, and on our third and last day, my wife strolled off to get a soda, and I sat down on a concrete barrier while the kids ran themselves ragged inside a mammoth Jungle Jim.

A young man came up and asked for an autograph. He was, I don't know, late twenties or so, and the way he filled out his clothes you knew he was either a baseball player or a soldier, but the haircut was unmistakable: a military man. We shook hands, and I motioned for him to sit, and we talked for a while. He was there with his son, three, who was no doubt, that very second, swinging from something inside the quarter-acre maze with my kids. And he was especially grateful for this time with his boy, since he flew attack helicopters for the Marines and had spent a large chunk of the last year in Afghanistan. Oh. Where are you now? Right up the road, Pendleton. Well, that's good, huh? Yeah, but not for long. Leaving tomorrow. Where to? Kuwait. Oh.

We sat quietly for a minute. What a beautiful day it was, warm and sunny. Lucky, indeed, the country that is kept free enough to have its citizens making places like Lego Land. Did I know Lee Ermey, he asked, the actor? He was a Marine. I sure do, not personally, but I love the guy, he played the Drill Instructor in the first half of "Full Metal Jacket." Yeah, that's him. The D.I.'s kind of have to be like that, he explained. I hope to God they are, I said. Who do we want doing that job instead, me? What kind of Marines would we get then? "Gee, son, no biggie, but I would really rather you didn't hide donuts in your locker."

We smiled. Another silence. Kuwait, huh? Yeah. Well, he said, sorry to be such a bother, don't want to take up your time. Hold it. You got an address? Thanks. Here. We shook hands. What do you say to a guy like this? "Good luck. Thank you for what you're doing. Take care of yourself."

Just before he turned away, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin, and handed it to me. I looked at it. I'm looking at it now. Dates of service, name of the operation, military abbreviations, a very tough slogan. I want you to have it, he said. What? Oh, no, I can't. No, I want you to have it. I can't. Please. We shook again, and his kid came running out, and they walked off.

My wife sat back down and asked what I was holding. A coin. That guy with the kid give it to you? Yeah. Staff Sergeant Robert Ponce, U.S.M.C.

"Where's he going?"

"Probably to get a hot dog. Not for long, though. He's going to Kuwait."

"Oh, Lord," she said. Then our kids came running out, too, and asked if they could have some more time. Sure. Why not? They ran off again. My wife and I watched them go, and then I took her hand, and we sat there for a little bit.

Driving home the next day, the kids asked if we could go to Lego Land again sometime. Absolutely. Yay, thanks, Dad.

And we will, too. Great place. God willing, everyone's well, my wife will pick a chunk of time, and then calmly begin hitting me on the head with a rolled up magazine until I stop being cranky and just agree to do it.

Yes, we'll be back. And let's all pray that after his next job, whatever it winds up being, Robert Ponce can say the same thing.

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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