Judy and Baby

It is after my underachieving Padres hung for a win in a crazy race for the last wild card spot that just shouldn’t be a part of baseball, engineered entertainment for money, and i find myself embarrassed for checking the scoreboards. It is quite a while after Maureen retreated to our bedroom to read a book on her kindle before falling asleep. The light is on so she is still working on completing her read. The animals are all put to bed.

i walked out to check the stars. They are still there in their place right along with Venus and Jupiter and Mars. So far, so good.

i began to wrap up when i stumbled across the post with the poem i wrote about Judy Collins a couple of years ago. It jarred another thought about her and another singer.

Back in the old days, the Subic Naval Station was a legendary spot for sailors, officers included. It was the doorstep to the bridge across “Shit River,” aptly named, to Olongapo, the city that was either the closest thing to Fiddler’s Green on earth, a modern reality of No Name City from “Paint Your Wagons,” or a den of iniquity. Probably a combination of the three and a bunch more. Wild until the U. S. of A. pulled out, and the world changed, at least in the Southwest Pacific.

There was this woman…Actually, there were two women.

Laverne Baker was one. She had become someone i adored when she came out with her 45 RPM “Jim Dandy,” even though i knew she wasn’t singing about me in 1956 when i was twelve years old. When she sang “I Cried a Tear” two years later, i was infatuated. In 1969, she was admitted to Subic’s Naval Hospital suffering from bronchial pneumonia contracted during a USO tour in Vietnam. According to Wikipedia, a friend suggested she stay in Subic as the director of the Marine’s NCO club on the base. She did. For 22 years until the base closed. If you were a good officer, you could be invited to the Marine NCO club, or if you were a sneaky officer, you could wiggle your way through the protocol to attend her singing her songs. i did that twice. i remained enamored, perhaps more so.

But the lady i’m relating to here was Baby. i do not know her last name. Everyone just knew her as Baby.

Baby was about five feet tall and to put it politely (i think) a bit rotund. But that young lady — actually, she was somewhere between 18 and 50. It seems like she was there forever, but i really don’t know. She was the stuff of legend. She sang. Lord, did she sing. She could cover anything. Incredible voice.

i first heard Baby sing at the Chuckwagon, the county music themed burger bar across the street from the more formal Subic “O” club. i was drinking a San Miguel while playing the slot machines just opposite the bar. The band in the dining area started up and Baby sang a Loretta Lynn song. Nailed it. i no longer can recall which of Loretta’s songs it was. And then Baby took me back. She sang Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” a song i loved so much i would play it amidst my rock ‘n roll songs on the WCOR top forty weekend shows.

i had not ventured from my slot machine and San McGoo, but then, i got up and walked around the wall of slot machines. She was in front of the band, a pretty woman in a mumu. She could flat sing, and boy howdy, she sang everywhere on that base. She sang at the Cubi Point (the aviator’s world) O’Club, and as i mentioned the Chuckwagon. She did not sing at the Quarterdeck, at least not when i was there. It was a small bar on the second deck of the Subic O’Club. They had a great jukebox and the waitresses would dance with the officers when they weren’t waitressing. But the Quarterdeck has too many stories of it’s own to delve into here.

But Baby was The Show in the main dining room, also ballroom of the Subic O’Club. The dining room was a vast place for formal dining. Great food. With a dance floor in the middle. One of our favorite songs of Baby’s in 1979/80 was “Send in the Clowns.” Stephen Sondheim wrote it and a grunch of folks sang it, but “Send in the Clowns” was Judy Collins’ song as far as i was concerned. And there in front of the dance floor ahead of the band was Judy Collins, about six inches shorter and about 25 pounds heavier, but if i closed my eyes, it was Judy Collins. That good.

The tables were full with couples who were stationed at the base and officers from the ships in port. The crazy perpetrators had their own table. Mike Peck, OW Wright, Pete Toennies, and yours truly. If i remember correctly, one of the more serious guys, Will Walls, was with us. It was December, just before we would spend Christmas in Hong Kong and New Year’s Eve and Day in Singapore as members of the staff for Amphibious Squadron Five. Bruce Brunn, the marine combat cargo officer could have been with us, but i don’t think so. Regardless, Baby was about half-way through her set. We knew one of the next songs would be “Send in the Clowns.” So the crazies plotted. Trouble.

As my song began, we slowly rose and moved to the side of the ballroom. When Baby reached the fourth stanza, she reached the lines “Send in the clowns / Don’t bother, they’re here. We waltzed, in line, around the dance floor.

As i recall (and i can recall just about anything, fact or fiction at this stage of the game as 42 years have rolled by, the O’clubs, the base, and Olongapo as we knew it are all gone), we received a standing ovation, along with Baby, of course, who stifled her laughter at us to get through the remaining lyrics.

Don’t know where Baby is. Judy is still around. Heard her sing “Send in the Clowns” at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco about three years ago. She is still the best.

And when i hear “Send in the Clowns” by anyone. i laugh while loving it…

i guess i’m still a clown at heart: Send in the Clown. Don’t bother, i’m here.

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