His family name was Hogart, though, and the stress of repeating the "oh" sound twice - "Mo Hogart" - was excessive for the grade schoolers in whatever little flyover town he grew up in. By high school his two names had become one all-purpose "Mogart", and it is as Mogart I remember him, standing atop an orange-and-white drum at the barricaded entrance to Sector Control North.Mogart worked for the battalion Supply and Transport (S&T) platoon, the small contingent of logistics specialists tasked with pushing supplies forward from our brigade out to the line companies. Officially he worked with me in Headquarters Company, tossed into the jumble with us medics, the cooks in the mess hall, the clerks in the Battalion PAC, all of us ash and trash that kept the battalion running.
Ask any line dog and he'll tell you that the Headquarters Company is full of more nuts and fruits than a Harry and David gift basket. And if I were to be honest, I'd have to say that we DID have our share of eccentrics, including my alcoholic old boss Monty Harder and the staff sergeant we called "Sergeant Jambo" because he spoke some sort of unintelligible Carolina barrier island dialect which, to our ignorant ears, sounded like something out of a Jungle Jim movie. Nobody in the company could comprehend anything he said including the First Sergeant, who eventually transferred him somewhere at the other end of post. COSCOM, I think.
I should add that this gomer also had a full length portrait of himself in uniform.
Painted on black velvet.So.
Mogart wasn't exactly the standout character in our Headquarters Company. But he was certainly in the running. The announcement of his entry into the HHC "Serious Sinai Freak" contest was probably Fluffy the Flatcat.
Our billet buildings in South Base had a small clowder of feral cats living somewhere inside, probably in one of the exterior stairs or under the building itself. These fugitive creatures were typically seen only at night, by the guys on Charge of Quarters or battalion Staff Duty, or by the night bakers interrupting their lightless raids on the mess hall dumpsters.
Every so often one of these cats would meet with a predictable mishap on one of the camp roads. This was where Fluffy the Flatcat and Mogart made their acquaintance.
Mogart was returning from an evening's amusement at the EOD Club; Fluffy had met his steel-belted destiny some days before and had been baked to a leathery consistency on the arid asphalt by the merciless Sinai sun. Mogart said he had seen the unusual lump from a distance and had ambled over to investigate; those who knew him better suspected that he had tripped on the thing and had practically pissed himself when he fetched up next to Fluffy's petrified snarl.
For whatever reason he peeled the flattened critter off the pavement and toted it back to his billet, carefully depositing it on a picnic table outside the main door. Fluffy was waiting for him there the next morning, and that was the beginning of the brief reign of terror of the Fear of a Black Cat.Because through Mogart's agency Fluffy began turning up everywhere. He perched grinning down from above the orderly room door and gloried in a brief - roughly five minutes, from the time Mogart tied him there until the commander noticed him - elevation to hood ornament on the Battalion Commander's quarter-ton jeep.
Perhaps the most terrifying Fluffy appearance was tied crotch-high to one of the piss-tubes up at Sector Control after dark, where he confronted an sleepy Australian helicopter pilot who came to full awakening at the sight of what appeared to be a vicious animal poised to bite down upon his unprotected and fully occupied penis.
His screams brought the duty squad tumbling out of the TOC trailer wide-eyed and fumbling for their single taped-closed magazine, his frantic evasive action sprayed the piss tube, Fluffy and his trousers with equal thoroughness, and the ensuing international hard words brought a quick and surreptitious burial for Fluffy, who passed from undead catness into legend.Mogart was distraught at the loss of his furry friend. Several of the other guys from S&T accused him of then trying to lure the Shithead from 3A into the road with meat-like food from a C-ration (or more likely an MRE - we were just beginning to get them in the early Eighties) to procure an even larger flat pet.
(Have I mentioned the Shitheads yet in Tales from the Sinai? No?I went out into sector [a wonderful time and a story I'll have to tell another day, of Sergeant Howard's squad and our adventures as Wadi Ain El Fortaga; Leroy and Jutta, the camels in the wire, Suleman's kite, Old Selim, Sala and Salaha, and the ascent of Gebel Mikemin. But that's for another day] right after this; there was quite a bit of speculation about the effect the loss of his necrotic feline friend would have on Mogart."Fucker's going to really go Asiatic," warned several would-be China hands, "better watch out for him when we get back."
Well, the Shitheads were supposedly the brainstorm of some psychological genius from DA, who, after spending quite a lot of the government's money, determined that having "companion animals" was good for the boys' morale. Said animals, typically a sort of rangy greyhound-y looking mutt, were apparently obtained at very low prices from a nearby source - probably Israeli, since the Egyptians like most Arabs are not generally dog fanciers - and imported to their new homes to spend their doggie lives warming the hearts of the lonely boys in uniform.
There these poor lads immediately dubbed them individually and collectively "Shithead" and spent what time they didn't ignore them booting them around and cursing their uncleanliness, uselessness, relentless mooching and usual expression of morose self-pity. Which, given the attitude they met, was hardly unreasonable.
When more specific identification was needed, the shithead would be surnamed by its location.
"You hear about that Shithead got run over yesterday up on the MSR near Eilat?"
"Well, damn, that sucks. Shithead there was a cool Shithead. You mean the Checkpoint 3 Alpha Shithead?"
"Nah, he's fine. It was the OP3-1 Shithead."
"Well, there you go, then. That fuckin' Shithead was dumber the the goddamn Sergeant Major. No wonder he got his doggie ass run over."
"Dude, that's harsh. Dog's dead, you're insulting him by comparing him to the Sergeant Major..?"
My only other Shithead experience came during the Force change-of-command, when the new MFO Commander flew into OP 3-11 and proceeded to ignore all of our military cleanliness and knowledge-of-our-standing-orders sort of brass-shining we'd gotten up for him and instead asked the squad leader about the OP Shithead, of which we knew nothing other than his infuriating habit of crapping in people's unguarded boots.
Anyway, that was the Shitheads)
So it was with some anticipation that I looked over the white-painted siderail of the whining deuce-and-a-half as we rolled out of the mountains, crossed the MSR towards the Sector Control wire. My curiosity wasn't long unsated. For there, perched atop one of the empty drums at the main gate, was the man himself.
It was only after I spent a moment wondering what the hell he was playing at that I noticed his worshipers.These consisted of a raggedy swarm of fifteen of so assorted "Bedouin" kids. These weren't the genuine deep-desert Bedu, the like of which we had supped with the preceding two weeks. These were the scaff and raff of the seedy little settlement nearby; town Arabs, drifters, fellahin, really. And there were more than a dozen of these clustered in a sort of half-circle in the dusty waste outside the gate, ranging from borderline-lean just-past-toddlers to underfed-borderline-starvation-thin mid-teens. They were all gazing up at Mogart as if he was a baked chicken, Ramadan, Christmas, New Years and the second coming of Muhammad Ali all in a set of chocolate-chip fatigues.
As we grew closer to the gate, we could tell that the kids were watching Mogart for some sort of signal; this he gave, in the form of a sort of little jump or hop that included bringing his hands together over his head.
The response was immediate and explosive; suddenly fifteen little Egyptians were doing frantic jumping jacks - "sidestraddle hops", in Army terms - their little bodies jigging, spinning, and bounding with the frenzied motion, like jumping jacks performed by spastic methamphetamine users.
Mogart lowered his arms to shoulder height, pointing both index fingers at the ground, which was the signal for his little minions to drop to the bare soil and begin doing pushups. These were more energetic than efficient - most of the kids couldn't keep their backs straight and the resulting sine wave was pretty silly looking. The little toddler types just rolled around on the ground.
And then Mogart raised and spread his arms triumphantly, at which signal his followers jumped to their feet bowing at the waist like so many toy drinking birds. Even over the blat and whine of the trucks we could hear their little voices crying
"Hail Mogart! Hail, oh mighty Mogart! Hail Mogart! Oh mighty Mogart!"
And then the entire scene dissolved into scrambling, kicking, grabbing chaos, because their king scattered largesse among his people in the form of peanut M&Ms. The resulting riot was not pretty to watch, as the older kids snatched and clubbed with brutal efficiency. While the god of the steel drum looked down benignly and raised his arms again. The chanting returned as we rolled through the gate; hail, Mogart, oh mighty Mogart, hail...I don't think anyone said a word for the next mile, until from up near the cab, a low voice opined;
"Well. He's gonna burn in Hell for THAT shit..."
All there agreed that deserved as it was it was unlikely, since Hell was empty and the Devil Mogart was here.
And the sun went down behind the mountains to the west.