By Pfc. Len Zineberg, Topeka AAB, Kans.

Soon as we hit Los Angeles Joe disappeared. The other guys were kind of sore. “That Joe,” somebody said, “he probably had something all set and wants to keep it for himself. Those quiet guys, they go over with the broads.”

The rest of us chased around seeing the town, waited in line at the Hollywood Canteen and saw Hedy Lamarr; got a real kick out of walking in the crowds, getting the feel of a big city again. We had been back at the Hill Street USO for about an hour when Joe came in.

“Did you make a strike?” I asked him.

“Didn’t even try for anything,” he said. “I went to a burlesque show.”

“Burlesque? Haven’t you seen enough pin-up girls?”

“I always go to a burlesque,” he said, “if there’s one around. It sort of reminds me of home.”

I thought he was kidding me.

“It’s a long story,” he said. “It goes back about 10 years. You remember ’33 and ’34?”

“No,” I told him. “I was just getting high school then.”

“I was hunting a job then,” he said. “Hunting for nothing. A guy didn’t know which way to turn. I had a girl; we went steady for a couple of years.”

Then he stopped, lit a butt and started reading a magazine. I could see he was steamed. After a few seconds I asked him: “Okay, what’s all this got to do with a burlesque show?”

“No sense talking to you,” he said. “You don’t know how it feels to make four bits stretch over a week.”

“Sure I do.”wwii gi soldier home cartoon

“You only think you do. And you don’t know what it means to walk around without a job, with only carfare in your pockets.” He stopped for a second and ran his hands over his bald head. “You’d leave the house early in the morning, looking for a job, any job. By 9 o’clock you were through; then the hardest part of the day started—trying to figure something to fill in till late afternoon. If you came home the folks would look at you, and their eyes would say: ‘Why aren’t you out? Maybe something will turn up, and you won’t be there.’ All the time you knew there wasn’t a thing, but it looked better if you were out all day.”

“I know,” I began.

Joe cut back in. “If you weren’t around then you don’t know anything. Once a week I’d save 20 cents and go to a burleycue show. In those days they started at 10 in the morning. They shoed you a bunch of old movies, and then the girls came on. It was as good a way as any of spending the day. There was my girl—“

“Don’t tell me she was in the show.”

“Don’t be a jerk,” he snapped. “I’d see her every night; we’d go for a walk, take in anything that was free, or just sit around. We should have had our own home by then. But hanging around like that, full of wanting each other, wanting a lot of things—it was hard on the nerves. We began fighting and we split up. A year later she married a guy with a job. She was a swell girl. I think about her a lot. The last time I was home I ran unto her on the street.”

“And she was fat and dumpy, huh?”

“No,” he said. “She was like I pictured her, only a little more mature. She had a kid with her, a cute little girl about 6. We said hello and looked at each other, and I walked away without another word. There wasn’t anything I could say. I went into the john of a bar and cried like a baby.

“Whenever I see a burleycue now, it reminds me of home, my old lady, the girl, even the head of hair I used to have.”

“I’d try to forget a deal like that.” I told him. “Is that what you want to come home to?” The hostess danced by with a sweet little mechanical USO smile.

“Hell no,” he said.

“Then why think about it?”

“Damn it,” he said fiercely, “it’s the kind of world I don’t ever want to see again, the kind we’re trying to change. I go to the burleycue and I remember why I’m in this goddam war.”

“It sounds screwy,” I told him.

“Sure it sounds screwy to you,” he said. “You don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about. You’ve still got milk on your chin.”

One of the boys came up. “Well, Joe,” he said. “Where you been?”

“No place,” said Joe. “Just around town.”

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