I was home on leave when I received an invitation to a party at a friend’s house. She thought I would add spice to her party. She warned me that the professors were opposed to the war in Vietnam. Well, if it’s spice she wants, I thought, why don’t I wear my dress blues with ribbons? Carla, being more perceptive than I, took this as reason enough to stay home.
I know professors can be a pompous lot, but I was not prepared to be totally ignored. When I spoke to them, they not only didn’t respond, they didn’t even look at me, so I retreated to the bar and had a few drinks. The bar, built in a den, was really quite lavish for a home bar, and even came with a bartender. I was impressed and envious.
A woman sat next to me, and I thought she might be coming on to me as there was plenty of room, in fact, I was the only one sitting at the bar when she arrived. She was staring at my ribbons. My chest swelled. She leaned forward so that she could see them better. She studied my ribbons. I smiled, bursting with pride.
I realized in that moment that it was no longer me against them, no longer me against the Navy. I had become one of them. I knew every one of my ribbons and why it rated a spot on my chest.
She looked a little awkward, and I realized that she might be drunk, but I could tell she was fascinated with my ribbons. I wondered if she knew what any of the ribbons meant.
I jumped backwards off the stool, my arms flying straight out beside me. I had no idea I felt so strongly about my ribbons. I stood there shaking with my arms still stretched out. I saw the spittle move slowly down across my ribbons.
“Don't move,” I heard someone say.
“We’re making a citizens’ arrest,” said another as their arms folded around mine. “Call 911,” somebody said.
“Yes, a drunken sailor has assaulted a female college professor. We want him arrested. Please hurry.”
I finally looked down past my ribbons, and understood what they were talking about. The woman who was sitting beside me was lying on the floor with her arms straight out forming a cross. I realized that I must have hit her when my arms flew out.
The deputy must have been in the area. He was a big man, late thirties or early forties. They all began talking at once. “She was just sitting there having a quiet drink and he up and knocked her out.”
The deputy ignored them and went to the woman on the floor. He kneeled down and smelled her breath. “Are you sure she isn't just drunk?”
“Oh, no. He col' conked her. I saw it. He knocked her clean off her stool.”
The deputy waved something across her face and she began coming to. He looked back at us; “You can let go of him now.” He helped her to her feet. “What happened?” he asked, looking at her.
“What do you mean, what happened?” she asked.
He turned to me. “Suppose you tell me what happened.”
“She spit on my ribbons,” I stammered, still shaking.
“Is that right?” he said turning back to her.
“No, that isn't right. I didn't spit on anyone. I wouldn't do—”
“It's still there,” I said defiantly.
The deputy looked down at my ribbons. “Oh my,” he said, and reached behind him for a napkin from the bar. To my embarrassment, he cleaned my ribbons. He was meticulous. “You can have these dry cleaned,” he said. I realized then that he must have ribbons of his own.
“Folks,” he said, “it's against the law in the state of Florida to spit on another person. It is an assault just the same as if you hit someone with your fist. The chief was within his rights to hit her back.”
“But she's a woman.”
“Doesn't matter. The law applies equally to men and women. C'mon chief, I'll walk you to your car. We're not wanted here.”
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