Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD—ARMY STORIES (Sneaky Peeks) 1 & (31) ARTSY a NY Times Peek

JEAN SHEPHERD—ARMY STORIES (Sneaky Peeks) 1 & (31) ARTSY a NY Times Peek



Shepherd army stories not available for me to choose among for my Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, because the Shepherd Estate thinks it may someday want to publish them themselves, including all those previously published in printed form: “Troop Train Ernie” (published in Shepherd’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons, Doubleday, 12/1981 as “The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”), and four published in Playboy: “The Secret Mission of the Blue-Assed Buzzard,” 9/1967;  “Banjo Butt Meets Julia Child,” 12/1968; “Zinsmeister and The Treacherous Eighter From Decatur,” 1/1970; “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League,” 5/1971. At some point in Shepherd’s past, “The Secret Mission…” was to be the title story of his never-to-be-published book about the army, a short story collection he apparently referred to as his army novel.

In Shep’s Army, I really would have liked to include “Troop Train Ernie” and “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League.” I describe all five stories so that those who have trouble accessing them in other ways will at least have some sense of what they’re like in print.


(From A Fistful of Fig Newtons,)

179th_troop_train_pier_X (2)

(No Image in Book. Photo here from Newport News, VA:

U. S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Road

Port of Embarkation, June 3, 1943

For Service Overseas)

Shepherd told this story on the air several times, each version a little different. “The Marathon Run…” appears as though it was meant to depict the transit of Shepherd and his Company K from Camp Crowder, Missouri southward. Because Shepherd suggests, and the troops expected, it seemed as though they were being shipped out to a war zone during World War II. Those knowing a bit of Shepherd’s actual biography might realize that the fictional company was heading to another army facility, Camp Murphy, Florida. The story starts:

The troop train had been underway for about three hours when the saga of Ernie began….

Company K was awakened two hours before revile and told to make ready to fall out on the company street. Shepherd wrote some of the usual expletives and bawdy innuendo found in his printed army stories–that he couldn’t use on the radio in those days. The regular personnel are there: Gasser, Sergeant Kowalski, Lieutenant Cherry, and Zynsmeister, [note spelling here]. Lt. Cherry addressed the troops:

“Company K is about to embark on a great adventure….This troop train will be sealed, since we are part of a highly secure troop movement.”

Under way, Shep, Zynsmeister, Gasser, and Ernie were assigned to KP in the incredibly hot, sweaty, chow car. After hours of serving, they were moved to the cleaning car to work on pots and pans, taking over from:

Three guys armed with hoses spewing scalding water and cakes of taffy-brown GI soap capable of dissolving fingernails at thirty paces and long-handled GI brushes, [who] struggled to clean what looked like four or five hundred GI pots.

Eventually, the job over, Shep, Gasser, Ernie, and Zynsmeister got to rest in relative comfort as the mess sergeant opened the car’s large side door, letting in some relative coolness. The sergeant leaves for a few minutes. The train has unexpectedly stopped and the men look out to see a building with the word BEER on it:

There are few words that mean more under certain circumstances. All the thirst, the hungering insatiable throat-parching thirst earned during our sweaty backbreaking twenty-four hours of KP engulfed the three of us like a tidal wave of desire.

Ernie is chosen to get off the train and buy beer for all four of them. It takes a while and the train begins to move and Ernie can’t make it back on. The last paragraph comments in part:

There are times when I awake at 3 A.M. from a fitful sleep hearing the clink-clink-clink of poor Ernie’s dog tags. Ernie, lost forever in Arkansas, wearing only his GI underwear, forever AWOL, a fugitive from a sealed troop train.




artsyfratsy 10010


(Black, White, Hermaphrodite)

I commented previously in my Full Color Newspaper Wars:

The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored.”

Indeed, I have subsequently seen and appreciated others. But the only one that I’ve felt compelled to comment on at length regarding its composition, is the large image that dominated the front page of the Times Arts section, illustrating a major article on “Where He Meets She: Sexual Ambiguity as Old as Humanity.” The subject is hermaphroditism as depicted in antiquity and specifically by a marble sculpture believed to be a Roman copy of the original Greek. What I’m sure enticed and disappointed many other Times readers previously is that the paper had only shown the back of the nude person, leaving those who hadn’t seen the original on view in the exhibit at New York’s Met to wonder about how the front view illustrates the subject. The more recent article satisfies our curiosity (not on the first page, but on the backside, page 2), in a smaller frontal view. By curious happenstance or carefully contrived page-layout, (which I noted as I was about to cut out the newspaper story for reference) the come-hither front page and the reverse side, page 2 article itself, overlap and together encompass the complete paper sheet of pages one and two. You should not and cannot cut them apart.

It’s the carefully arranged large photo that especially grabs my attention. It’s in color, but the subject matter presents a basically black-and-white composition. (My printed copy of the Times has it almost totally black and white, while the image on the Times website, reproduced here, has more warm tones, especially in the marble figure and the background tone. One might wonder which the photographer would have preferred–and, indeed, whether the photo was manipulated for publication to exaggerate the black-and-white contrast.


My description applies more directly to the black-and-white effect on paper in my printed Times, but also applies to the image as shown here. Central, the tones alternate white and black: moving from bottom to top we have, (1) after the gray base as bottom border, the nearly white pedestal top; (2) the figure’s slim black shadow and its base; (3) the white marble reclining figure itself; (4) beyond, the small exhibit case’s black base; (5) the white upon which the case’s figure lies; (6) the small black figure itself; (7) of that case’s clear, transparent hood’s top, the narrow white highlight, which forms a subtle upper border to the entire photographic arrangement.

The overall background of the scene is a medium gray. Acting as visual borders/columns in the composition, are two shadows of people (presumably visitors to the exhibit), who, either by happenstance or by contrived, compositional arrangement, are also perfectly positioned psychologically by both having their backs to the photo’s subject. (On the Times‘ paper, the two people-shadows blend more into the background tone.)

Is the entire image a kind of Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment,” a fortuitous happenstance recognized and captured? Too damned coincidental. Rather, I would like to think that, when snapped by the photographer (RICHARD PERRY/THE NEW YORK TIMES), all of my above description represents an observed, preconceived, and manipulated composition.

As for this photograph, in addition to so many others

I’ve appreciated in the Times,

I wish I’d taken it.

For the curious, the other side: sleeping-hermaphrodite-front



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