(from my forthcoming novel, Cinema! Cinema!)
“Well," said Jerry Grogan, "this one guy that I know, his dad was a sailor. I don't mean like a professional sailor all his life or anything. This guy wanted to be a professional athlete, actually. A baseball player, in fact. A pitcher to be exact. Do you know what baseball is?
“Sure,” said Rosalyn. “It's that earth sport that moves real slowly. I see it from time to time on inter-dimensional planetary television. It's the one with all of the beer ads.”
“Yeah, that's it. So anyhow, he wanted to be a baseball player, but as fate would have it, there was a war going on at the time. The guy doesn't want to get drafted into the army, so he joins the navy. Seems like a good idea at the time. In the long run, it sets into motion a whole turn of events that winds up with him retiring as a social worker rather than a baseball player, but such is life. You know how that goes?”
“Do I ever,” said Rosalyn. “I wanted to be a plumber, but I wound up as an art teacher. Some days what I wouldn't give to fix a leaking faucet or a toilet with a bad flapper valve.”
“You can do those things any time you want, baby-cakes. The next time my toilet overflows I'll give you a call.”
“Anyhow, the guy winds up floating around the ocean, running up and down steel ladders and scrubbing decks and saluting people and all the things that sailors commonly do. I don't think he had a parrot or anything. I think those are reserved for pirates, and these guys were legitimate sailors. Some of them had tattoos, though, I'm pretty sure of it."
"When the war ended," Grogan continued, "this guy's ship had the task of picking up a whole bunch of soldiers and marines who had been involved in more 'hands-on' sorts of war-making and ferrying them back home. This seemed like a pretty good deal, because the sailors were a lot less concerned about people trying to kill them or sink their ship or whatever, now that the war was done. Their thoughts had mostly turned to getting home and getting jobs or getting laid or getting really good and stinking drunk.”
“Everybody has their vices,” inserted Rosalyn.
“You can say that again, baby-cakes. So all of these sailors and soldiers and marines are on the ship together for a few weeks, and they end up getting to know each other a bit, and playing poker together and all the things you do when a war is over. And this one marine strikes up a conversation with my friend's dad, and eventually asks him if he wants to see what he was bringing home as a souvenir from the war. Well, this is too good for my friend's dad to pass up, seeing as how the guys on the ship never really had the chance to do any souvenir gathering during the war, and mostly were bringing home only tattoos or the clap.”
“I bet some of them picked up tiny things, too,” said Rosalyn, “just as a little gift for their moms or girlfriends.”
“Maybe. Here and there maybe a plastic snow-globe or something. I'll give you that. But whatever the case, my friend's dad apparently didn't want to miss seeing what a marine might be bringing back from some battle-torn island somewhere. Maybe a cool sword or a helmet or a flag or something. So he goes down to the hangar deck of their ship, where all of the marines are camped out on makeshift bunks, and the marine grabs his seabag and they go to a private little corner behind some crates and pipes and stuff. And the marine pulls a glass mason jar out of his seabag.”
“That's what my friend's dad thought at first, too. Or maybe some kind of special ethnic delicacy that he found in an enemy chow line. But the marine lifts it up in my friend's dad's face and lets him get a real close look at it. You know what it was?”
“Of course you don't. You couldn't believe it. You couldn't imagine it. You couldn't make this up.”
“What was it?” pressed Rosalyn.
“Ears,” said Grogan with a horrified look. “Ears.”
“Ears. Enemy ears. It turns out this marine was cutting off ears from dead bodies of the enemy soldiers that his unit killed. Whenever they overtook a position, or captured a bunker, after everything was quiet, this guy would go around with his knife and slice the ears off of dead soldiers, and then put them in a jar with vinegar or vodka or mineral spirits or something. He had it all wrapped up in a couple of towels, and he carried it with him everywhere. Apparently it was the second jar he had used, as the first one broke in his backpack or seabag or something, soaking everything with his field-expedient embalming fluid. He managed to save the ears, though, so it was okay.
“Lovely,” said Rosalyn, looking a little nauseated.
“Well, my friend's dad was speechless, I guess, but he never forgot the mason jar the ears were in. The marine had scratched the word 'ears' into the metal cap. Probably scratched it in with the same knife he used for removing the ears. Who knows? You don't forget a thing like that, though.”
“You would think that just seeing a bunch of ears floating around in a jar would be enough of a reminder of what's in the jar, though,” Rosalyn pointed out.
“Yeah, but I guess he wanted to dedicate that jar for one use and one use only. He probably didn't want to use the jar for making a batch of pickled eggs after the war.”
“Good point. What if he got the lids switched with another jar, though?”
“I have no idea. Anyhow, years later, probably forty years after the war, my friend's dad is on vacation in a big city on the coast, and was at an antique store with his wife, and they're poking around, looking at stuff, and he spots an old mason jar with a metal cap sitting there on a shelf, and it looks familiar.”
“Way. He grabs it, and sure enough, there's the same word, 'ears', scratched into the lid. The very same jar. I guess he even opened it and took a sniff. Still kinda' smelled like vinegar or something, but no trace of ears. “
“He did. He bought the thing and took it home with him. He kept it on his desk at work, and put old fortunes from fortune cookies in it. Every time he ate at a Chinese restaurant and got a fortune cookie, he'd keep the fortune and take it with him to put in the jar. When he retired, the thing was over half full of old fortunes, and he took it home with him. After he died, my friend got the jar, and now he's doing the same thing with it. It's on his desk, and he's trying to fill it to the top with fortune cookie fortunes before he retires. Only one problem, though.”
“He can't stand Chinese food.”