The war officially began in 1950 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and attacked the south. I was eight, and at the house next door when the disturbing news came on the radio. A lot of people were there in the kitchen, smoking, drinking coffee. Mike said beating back those invaders was gonna be real tough on our troops, and everyone sagely nodded, and said things like yeah, war is nothin' but hell, it ain’t just a piece of cake, and who knows what’ll happen next? Huh?
The conversation turned to some of the less fortunate among them who’d returned, five years ago, from WWII. Joe Lapinski, and Marty Rodginski, and Sam Koslowski. They’re just not right, you know? Marty hasn’t been sober for five years. These guys got seriously messed up over there, even thought they weren’t wounded, and that’s what happens after combat. But now here we go again, another friggin’ war. Those goddamn Koreans!
It was getting pretty gloomy in that warm room, so I chimed in with something that I thought might cheer them all up:
“We’ll kick the mustard and ketchup and the shit and piss out of ‘em!”
That sentence froze everyone in the room. They all stared at me with their eyes wide, their mouths open, and their jaws slack. How in hell could a little eight-year-old kid still wet behind the ears come up out of the blue with something like that?
The night before I’d gotten deep into a radio melodrama set in England, where one of the characters said, “That bloke’s keen as mustard.” From the context I understood it to mean that the guy was sharp, and quick, and full of spice and energy. Thus knocking these qualities out of the evil North Koreans would be a good thing, right?
Also, what goes with mustard? Ketchup. They’re a pair, like salt and pepper. And my sentence contained a pair of pairs!
I really thought they’d laugh and applaud and say what a bright, clever, and fascinating little boy I was. But no. Absolutely not. No way.
“Hey, Johnny, you shouldn’t use those filthy words.”
It was absolutely pointless for me to ask them: “In what way are those words filthy? And besides, you use them all the time. It’s okay for YOU but not for ME. Why? Where’s the law that says eight year olds can’t use the words that all you old people use?”
I knew they wouldn’t answer, and I also knew if I dared to throw impertinent questions like that at them I’d get my scrawny little ass kicked. Oh, well, I thought. This is just another instance where the only smart thing to do is to just shut the fuck up and pretend to be as stupid and ignorant as the rest of them.