San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Blame It All on Salt

Ever since waging war in the desert, I’ve been worried about losing my mind. You see, the temperature in the tank was so high and the relative humidity so low that we sweated maybe a gallon a day, but knew it only because of the thick crust of salt on our fatigues. So the bright boys back at HQ figured it should be replaced, and made us swallow a couple of outsize salt pills with every meal. The General himself would come sniffing around to make sure we were actually swallowing the things, and anyone caught faking it would get three days in the brig.

It reminded me of the story about Bligh and Cook. Captain Bligh, with his record of lashings and keel-hauling, is generally regarded as the epitome of unreasoning cruelty at sea, while Captain Cook, who insisted on everyone drinking a cup of lime juice every day to avoid the scurvy, is the very model of consideration for his men. Well, someone did a little checking and found out that Cook, over his career, ordered three times as many lashings as Bligh, all for refusing to drink the nasty stuff.

Anyway, in the army there’s always some creep who has to outdo the rest so as to curry favor with the brass, and I couldn’t help noticing that those who took four pills to our two always ended up going gaga, so sometimes they couldn’t even recall their own names. This alarmed me so much, particularly when I forgot something as we all do from time to time, that I decided to take regular intelligence tests.

But in the army, where showing the slightest sign of intelligence is a misdemeanor, it’s not so easy to figure whether you’re losing it. So it had to wait on my next leave, when I made a beeline for Tavistock House, where the shrinks check out claims of battle fatigue, and demanded an intelligence test.

They obviously thought I was nuts and laughed their heads off at my suspicions about salt. But knowing that higher education destroys the critical faculty, I persisted and finally got my test. I turned out to be only slightly subnormal – 97 out of 100 – but I took it as proof positive that the army was trying to destroy my mind to make me a better soldier.

Then pretty soon we were out of the desert, the pill issue stopped, and I forgot the whole thing until I got back to

Civvy Street

, got married and promptly forgot my wife’s birthday. Thereafter, I rushed back to Tavistock House whenever I repeated the offense, which was roughly once a year, and recorded a progressively lower IQ reading over the years, when I should have shown a progressive improvement as I became familiar with the limited number of different tests they kept up their sleeves.

The toffee-nosed shrinks called it “a natural concomitant of the aging process,” but I call it a natural concomitant of the salting process, since there isn’t a cook in the world can keep his hands off the saltcellar. Just yesterday I was filling out a form and forgot my own birthday, so my advice to you is: “Stick with the Navy.”You won’t lose your marbles on lime juice.


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