An Excerpt from
Breaks, Brains and Balls: the Story of Joe Conforte and Nevada's famous Mustang Ranch
Book II:    1945 - 1955

The Army Made Me a Lazy Man

It usually surprises even people who knew Joe well to learn that he served three hitches in the Army. He had postponed his draft notice as long as he could while World War II was raging, but eventually, at its end, he was drafted. He was most notably a military policeman ("not because I liked police work but because I heard it was the easiest work there was"), and he became a citizen while serving at Fort Riley Kansas. Here is Joe's entry into the Army.

On November first, 1945, I was inducted into the United States Army. I'm twenty now.

I was spared from going to the front, but now they needed soldiers for peacekeeping. I don't care anymore. If something's got to be done, let's get it over with. Especially, now that there's no more war.

They sent a bunch of us to Fort Lewis, Washington, to the Corps of the Army Engineers for basic training. My first months in the Army are not very pleasant. I was not conforming to Army life. I was not used to taking orders. Some two-bit corporal would tell me, "Pick up that cigarette butt from the ground." Chicken shit stuff like that. I'd tell him to go to hell.

I was used to giving orders, not taking orders. I can't do what I want to do, I can't go home, there's no wife, I can't do this, I can't do that. For the first month of basic training, I'm beginning to hate the Army life.

Not really hate it, but it was a pain in the ass. A waste of time.

Susan was pregnant, she had a belly on her, and I sent her back to Oklahoma to live with her mother.

On New Year's Eve, me and another soldier were walking down the streets of Olympia with nothing to do. We walked by this '37 Ford and the keys were in the car. We didn't even hesitate. We got in and drove away. Immediately, we head for Los Angeles.

When I got to Los Angeles, I stopped at the La Cienega Bowling Alley, about two or three blocks from the market, and stole a pair of California plates. I put them on my car and threw the Washington plates away.

I tell my father that I got a furlough and now I'm going on to Oklahoma to see my wife. . . .

In Oklahoma, Susan's mother says, "She went to New Orleans. She went with a girl friend for a couple weeks." And she gives me the address.

It was not common for people to have telephones at that time. I don't think Susan's parents even had a telephone in their home. Today, you make ten calls a day. In them days, to make a long distance call it had to be very, very important. And I have a habit of surprising people. I do that all the time. So I head to New Orleans. I'm going to surprise her

I go to the address in New Orleans and they say, "She went back to Oklahoma yesterday."

Oh, God Almighty. So I turned around and went back. As I go through the town of Alexandria, the red light lights up and the police stopped me.

Naturally, I got talking, start kidding with them, and joking with them and got them off track. Immediately, I let them know I'm in the Army. Not that I'm AWOL, just in the Army. And that I'm looking for my wife — I told them, I went from Oklahoma all the way down to New Orleans, and now I have to go all the way back.

They're entertaining themselves with my story, but they still asked me for my driver's license, my Army papers. I helped the situation by joking with them and bullshitting them, "My wife is going from here to here, she's pregnant, I can't find her, I'm going crazy, I just got a furlough and my time is running out."

They asked every question but one: "Who owns the car?"

I grant you it was an old car, a '37 Ford and now it's '46. But they never asked me who owns the car. It's an odd thing. Finally, they said, "Okay, but you better get your light fixed." That's why they stopped me, because my tail light was out.

They let me go.

Oooh! Man, was I relieved.

Sometimes I think God goes with me. If I'd have been caught driving a stolen car then, I would have been kicked out of the Army. Not only that, I was not a citizen yet — I'd have been deported to Italy. I wouldn't be here today. So, God was with me.

After I get away from these guys, I'm my brave self again. I go back to Oklahoma and Susan was there. So glad to see her. I don't know if it was love or not, but I cared a lot about her. I can't say that I was really . . . madly in love with her. I cared a lot about her, but real, real love, I can't say it. I can't. Because in times later, there was some girls I met that I got that feeling I didn't have here. She was a beautiful woman, well-built, beautiful legs. She's the mother of my oldest daughter, Anita.

I spent a couple of days with her, but pretty soon I say, "I've got to go back." I suggested that she go back and live with me at the camp. "How about Irene coming along and she can stay with you while I'm in camp?" They agreed. They didn't know I'm AWOL.

So the three of us go back to Fort Lewis, Washington. But the tires of that Ford are getting smooth, and there were a couple of them that won't make it. I was desperate to get two tires, pay double, triple, whatever. But even the shops couldn't get any.

In New Mexico, I went to a shop. I was asking this guy to help me out with a couple of tires. And he gives me the same story. There was an open window in one wall, and outside was a deep ravine.

The phone rings.

He goes into the office to answer it, and I grab two brand new tires off the rack and throw them out the window into the ravine. If I didn't pick the right size I was shit out of luck. In a minute he comes back and he says, "I'm sorry I can't help you."

"Thanks a lot anyway," I says, and I take off. We get a motel and stay there until it gets dark. I went down into the ravine and picked up the tires, and the next morning I went to a gas station all the way across town and got the tires mounted. Now I can travel.

This is the dead of winter, and this fucking car didn't have any windshield defroster, and every few miles I had to stop the car and wipe off the windshield with gasoline. Salina, Kansas, it's thirty below zero. Through Idaho it was snowing like a son-of-a-bitch, and on the radio Vaughn Munroe was singing, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." We got to Olympia in the middle of the night, seventeen days from the day I left.

"Okay, girls, I borrowed this car from a friend, I have to take it back." I let them out at a bar, and I went to the bus station and put all the bags into lockers. Then I drove back to a few doors down from where I had stolen it. I wiped off all the fingerprints from the car. I left it there with the key in it and called a cab.

The guy must have been surprised when he got up in the morning and seen his car across the street. But he didn't lose nothing; he even got two brand-new tires. Tires were hard to get in them days.

I put the girls in a rooming house; the next morning I turned myself in. I've been AWOL for seventeen days.

Sergeant Roman was waiting for me. He looks at me. "Well," he says, "Did you have a nice time?" I said, "Well, you know my wife is pregnant, I was lonesome." Now the war was over, they weren't as strict on AWOLs. During the war, I probably would have gone to prison.

The procedure during basic training was that you got sentenced to what they called hard labor. Hard labor was that a truck would pick you up and drive you out to the sand dunes, and you had to shovel sand. They could have given me six months in jail, so that was not such a bad deal.