Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD—ARMY STORIES (Sneaky Peeks) 3 & (34) ARTSY Vivian and Frogs 3

JEAN SHEPHERD—ARMY STORIES (Sneaky Peeks) 3 & (34) ARTSY Vivian and Frogs 3



(From Playboy, 9/1967, Partial Image)

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The tag for this story says: “in which the chipped-beef eaters of company k are recruited for a short-order cram course in haute cuisine—and precipitate an epicurean insurrection.”

Shepherd, in a French restaurant, is reminded of his far-off days in Company K, a radar unit:

Radar, a highly technical pursuit, naturally brought into its embrace a peculiar kind of soldier. Many wore thick GI spectacles of the type known today as granny glasses,…

He muses over the terrible food served by the Mess Sergeant, Banjo Butt, as he was affectionately known among the KPs, and comments on a military food specialty, S.O.S.:

…an indescribable pastiche of creamed chipped beef on toast, justifiably nicknamed with the initials that signified the international distress signal, but only in their secondary meaning.

Shepherd writes proliferously about the lousy food, until finally, the happy surprise one morning. He describes the gourmet food for chow then and over the next days, all accompanied by “white-coated dining room attendants.”

Eventually, after much Shep-wit, the soldiers find out what had happened. Company K had been the subject of an experiment regarding how experienced, gourmet-cooks, who had been drafted, would perform for regular GIs before being transferred to a high-level officers’ mess. Of course, Company K soon got ol’ Banjo Butt back again with his scrumptious S.O.S.:

We were back in the Signal Corps. The rain trickled down the tent pole and spread in a widening puddle beneath my bunk as I cried myself to sleep.




artsyfratsy 10010


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Smile For Me, Babe!

Back when we were young, when I was really busy working on several Museum projects, my department chairman said I should hire an assistant. I interviewed and I hired. Vivian was smart, did well, and was cute and sexy. Eventually she was designated as a preparator, which meant working on various exhibits including my design of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians, realistically painting plastic casts of those animals. She found frogs unpleasant, even to look at, and asked not to be given any to paint. As she put it, “They gross me out.” We did our best, but we ran out of reptile and amphibians to paint except for frogs. What would we do? What would Vivian do?

Someone had a bright idea. In one exhibit we were to show a series of painted casts describing all the stages of growth from an egg up to a fully developed, adult frog.


A Diagram From the Internet.

First we gave her a plastic egg to paint, which was no problem for her. Then the next stage, then the next, up through tadpoles, one stage at a time. Along with the stages, Vivian evolved in her ability to cope. Finally, after painting all the others, she got the full-size frog cast to paint. No problem. She painted it.

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A Museum-Plastic-Painted-Frog

Vivian and I became not just coworkers, but friends. We gabbed; sometimes we two went to the revered Julian Billiard Academy on 14th Street to shoot a couple of games of pool; when she said she’d like to buy a house in the Catskills, upstate New York, I told her about an elegant little vacation house there for sale by my close friend Dick. She bought and loved that house in Pine Hill, eventually living there full time before moving to Cambria, California. A year before she died, she sent me a Facebook note—I wonder now if she’d realized how ill she was and was reminiscing about some of the good things in her life:

Had I not met you, I wouldn’t have worked at the AMNH [the Museum], wouldn’t have gotten my house in Pine Hill, wouldn’t have met my girlfriend in the Catskills whose grandparents had a house in Cambria. Thank you so much, Gene!

Vivian and Charlie (2)

Vivian and Charlie,

Her Beloved Dog.




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