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Speech Therapy

By Shokichi “Shox” Tokita For The North American Post

My first career was as a flying officer in the United States Air Force. I flew in jet fighter interceptors initially, then moved on to cargo aircraft flying across the Pacific, which eventually included over 100 combat missions in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. So, you would expect that this writing assignment about one of the most frightening experiences in my life would be about my flying career, right?

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t. One of the scariest experiences in my life occurred before that, when I was in my mid-teens. You might recall that my mother bought the Fremont Hotel in the late 1940s, about a block away from our first hotel. I became the night watchman, or clerk. This hotel was located where the Seattle Uwajimaya parking lot attendant’s hutch is presently located, with the entry on Sixth Avenue (“The Seattle Uwajimaya Parking Lot,” napost.com, Mar. 2022). My primary job was to go to the new hotel every night, sleep there and respond to whatever happened during the night.

Initially, it was a relatively quiet existence since Mom filled the hotel with pensioners so one-night customers were few and far between. However, it was also the start of the Korean War. Seattle became the primary shipping port for soldiers heading for combat duty in Korea. Some of you may recall that there were “tons” of them wandering the city looking for nightspots and “other” activities before loading onto troopships and heading overseas.

Well, one of the “other” activities included looking for prostitutes before they left. As is usual in cases like this, there were those who took advantage of this situation to “relieve” these soldiers of their dollars. It became a regular occurrence for a group of soldiers to be wandering the hotel hallways looking for these “ladies” after they had paid the so-called pimp. You can imagine the anger that would arise among the group when they found that they had been “taken” and that there were no such women in our hotel.

Invariably, they would wind up at the hotel manager’s barred window and it was my duty to inform them that they had been “taken for a ride.”

I would sleepily inform them, in an aggravated, condescending tone, that “you dumb s@#$heads got taken! There ain’t no whores in this place! Get the hell out and leave me alone!”
This became a regular occurrence each time a new shipload of soldiers was ready to leave.

One night, there was an extraordinarily loud soldier who came to the barred window. He was red-faced, well over six feet tall, raging mad and shaking my barred window. As I went into my 15-year-old expletive-filled explanation, he got angrier and angrier to the point that I thought he was going to come after me. I was sure he was going to break the bars, kick my door in and leave me with a new, unscheduled facial. Being on the second floor, I had no escape route. I was trapped!

Well, I was fortunate that he left like a raging bull without giving me the facial.

From that point on, my explanations included such phrases as “I’m sorry to inform you, sir, that…” and other courteous words of a consoling nature. I started using words and tones of speech designed to appease, rather than condescending words that irritated an irate person even more. It was a scary speech lesson that school had not taught me!!