THE PHONE COMPANY," says The Homer News published at Homer, Alaska, "has run out of phone numbers," and that's that."Until more arrive, some time in April by the latest estimate."
For centuries we have squandered numbers as if there were no tomorrow, no generations yet unborn who might need numbers too. Everywhere we have used up numbers - Social Security, the customer's line at Cannon's fish market, the division of 66 by 100.
And now we have run out. Not even Ma Bell can get any.
People say, "Oh, it's just in Alaska they've run out." Fools say, "Oh, we'll get some more in April probably."
God gave us 10 fingers and, in most cases, 10 toes in the event of really thorny sums, but we have never been content to use them. No, we have arrogated to ourselves the stance of gods. No man among us but can say "5 billion" without even a modest blush.
This time we may squeak through, by sending emergency numbers to Homer. Maybe next year we can squeak through by sending some more. But how long can that go on?
Infinity is easier to stop than to start up again. Eternity cannot always be counted on to resume in April. Think of that, the next time you are tempted to multiply 17 by 63 when you don't really need to. And especially the telephone - don't ever dial unless it's life or death.
I recently had the honor to be invited to the 78th annual Carabao Wallow, held this year at the Sheraton Park Hotel.
As you know, the Military Order of the Carabao is made up of men who liberated the Philippines into the American empire in 1898 (the islands became a republic in 1946) and who were stationed there or fought there or who had some connection with a war there.
"Have to serve on the east side of the 180th longitude," said a gentleman at my table. "That way you keep out the bastards that sat around Pearl Harbor the entire war."
There were 800 men, a woman working at one bar, and a woman in the Marine Corps Band. In general the banner of women's liberation has not advanced very far amongst them.
The membership roster begins with Lieut. Gen. Harold R. Aaron, and the B's begin with Rear Adm. A. J. Baciocco, and I soon ran into Gen. Robert E. Cushman Jr. and my old friend Vice Adm. Kenneth K. Cowart, and so the alphabet goes.
Of course a lot of members and guests were not of field rank. I was a corporal, a rank below Maj. Gen. and rarely, as I recall, piped aboard a Japanese freighter, let alone battleship.
Everyone wore either uniform or dinner jacket. It should have been white tie and tails, but men in Washington have worn just anything since the Kennedys.
"Gentlemen," said a bullhorn to the assemblage, once an hour and a half of general wetting down had occurred, "turn to your songbooks."
The National Anthem was sung with vigor and the colors trooped and then we turned to the lyrical account of why monkeys have no tails.
"They were bitten off by whales," we all bellowed, and I must say I never heard any question answered more authoritatively in my life.
We then turned to the matter of the celebrated virgin of Cebu, whom I never ran into during my own military career but who was "six months old today" at the time the song was composed. It struck me as possibly sexist, but fairly catchy and tuneful.
A good sweat was raised by the next song designed to be sung at evening by tired soldiers, to the tune of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching."
"DAMN, DAMN, DAMN the Insurrectos," went the refrain, as every body banged the tables with his fists in strict tempo with the music.
I heard an admiral ask Capt. Roger Pineau how the display of samurai swords was coming along at the Navy Memorial Museum, and whether any Japanese national treasures had wrongly been smuggled out.
The captain said the exhibit had been extended through March 15 thinks to widespread public interest, and that he was happy to say the fellow who got all the swords together, David E. J. Pepin, was a man of great integrity and would never dream of trafficking in hot swords.
Gen. Cushman, formely commandant of the Marine Corps, looked roughly 20 years younger since his retirement. Marines, I believe, age a commandant considerably, but Cushman certainly bounced back.
Yonder was William W. Rogal Jr., wounded at Tarawa and a lawyer now. There was Robert Sherrod, the famous World War II correspondent who is now working on his biography of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a man be never had any special adulation for. Then there was the general who once protested to the late Samuel Eliot Morrison, the historian, about Marine sanitary disposal arrangements on some island:
The general said the Corps was very particular indeed about latrine arrangements, and Morrison later wrote Pineau that he had deleted the reference to carelessness in these matters from his history.
There was entertainment lasting maybe two hours in which skits touched on merry topics like the B-16 bomber and bell-bottom pants, and bottles of scotch and bourbon (they do not serve sissy drinks like vodka or rye or eau de framboise) circulated both clockwise and counterclockwise around the tables.
Gentlemen were requested in advance to please leave bottles on the table and not cart them off after dinner. One year, a source said, a fellow stocked up for 10 years.
W. Braham Claytor, secretary of the Navy, tried to leave after supper by ducking out the wrong door, but shot back in and (they said it was a linen closet) tried another and was never seen again.
His predecessor as secretary, J. William Middendorf, explaining to somebody he had not bought Sloan's, the department or furniture store.
The noise was very comforting to hear. Smoking is down this year. Drinking is, if any change at all, somewhat up.
Some women asked me subsequently why grown men go to such things and bang their fists while singing about the damn insurrectos and listen to Adm. Thomas H. Moore solemnly swear (upon assuming chairmanship of the group) that he will never under any circumstances ever water the whiskey, and -
"Peace," I said. "It's not necessary for you to understand why they do that."
There was a toast to the memory of the dead. Eleven seconds by the clock. Perfectly timed. Less would be callous, and more would be wrong. Full steam ahead to the monkeys who lost their tails, and to the solemn oath so hugely sworn by the admiral.
There are some, as a wit once said, who have no memorial except the air that is breathed.
You either understand these occasions or you don't, and it's no great matter.
I was never anybody's hero and didn't even drink the free booze, except for a toast, so I know you don't have to be bombed past your skull to have a fine time and feel marvelously at home.