Muldoon’s Teeth/ memoir by Brian McFadden

Muldoon’s Teeth (Chapter 4)

When I had been in Vietnam for a few weeks a form of home sickness I’d never experienced set in. As a result, like so many other Marines, I was always looking for mail from friends and relatives. It always gave me a brief respite from my surroundings and assured me there was still a part of the world where everything was safe and good. 

Besides letters, I exchanged audio tapes with my parents and hearing their voices and listening to the events at home were a real morale booster and a fun way to fill the time between rocket and mortar attacks. Once, my parents sent me an audio tape from my Uncle Richie. Richie was my mother’s youngest brother and a terrific raconteur. 

The tape he sent recounted the time when he and his buddy Ed Muldoon came back from Korea and got out of the Army. They arrived in Jersey City with almost no money and only the uniforms on their backs because of a disastrous side trip to Las Vegas on the way home.

Muldoon was something of a “Sad Sack.”  He had little family, and those he had moved away while he was in Korea leaving no forwarding address. So, Muldoon was broke and homeless. He wound up sleeping on my grandmother’s sofa until he could find a place of his own, which he didn’t seem in much of a hurry to do.

An Army friend of theirs invited them to his wedding. They had no suits but didn’t want to wear their old uniforms. My Uncle Johnny had quite a wardrobe and kept a padlock on his closet to discourage his brothers from using them.

The weekend of the wedding Uncle Johnny was going to the Jersey Shore. After he left, Uncle Richie and Muldoon removed the bolts on his closet door and picked everything they needed from his “duds.” They planned to launder and iron the shirts and return everything to the closet before Johnny returned on Sunday. Saturday morning, they dressed up and headed for the Church. On the way, they pooled their money and bought a small gift for the couple. 

They arrived early, so they adjourned to a local tavern and spent the last of their money on beers. As a result, they arrived at the Church just as the now married couple were in the receiving line. They slipped around to the back door of the church so they could get in line and kiss the bride. At the reception, Richie and Muldoon got separated. Richie met a girl named Martha, who eventually became his bride, so he wasn’t concerned about Muldoon for the rest of the evening. When the reception was ending. and his new girlfriend Martha left, he went looking for Muldoon. He stopped in the men’s room and heard someone moaning and babbling. He looked in one of the stalls and found Muldoon. He was commode-hugging drunk, draped over the porcelain throne, where he’d already deposited all of the food, and drink he’d consumed. Muldoon kept babbling about his teeth until Richie pulled him up and said, “What about your teeth, Eddie?” “I lost my teeth, Rich!” he said. “I think I puked them into the toilet.” 

In the background I could hear my family laughing and I almost felt like I was there with them. Uncle Richie had a great comic timing and delivery. He also kept speaking to me throughout the story. He’d say things like, “Brian, you had to be there.” I wished I could have been.

I also wondered what he would have felt if he was in my place waiting for the next barrage of incoming. Besides the dangers of a war zone there is a sense of separation from all you love and hold dear in your life. It haunted me every day

Richie went on to tell how he rolled up his sleeve and tried to find the teeth in the toilet to no avail, so he told Muldoon he found them to get him up and out of the reception. Then they staggered home since they had no carfare and couldn’t catch a ride. It began to rain heavily so that when they stumbled into Grandma’s house they were soaked. They got out of Johnny’s clothes, which became a wet pile on the kitchen floor.

At first, they didn’t know what to do, then Richie thought of “Mike the Greek,” who had a tailor shop around the block. Richie had been friendly with Mike the Greek since he was a kid and did deliveries for him. At one in the morning, he was knocking on Mike’s door. Mike let him in, and he explained his problem. Mike told him not to worry and to leave everything to him. Richie went home and went to bed.

At six in the morning when Mike the Greek showed up with Johnny’s suits, shirts, and ties, Richie took them into the bedroom and returned them to Johnny’s closet like nothing had ever happened and went back to bed gloating that he’d put one over on “The Duke.”

Later, he and Muldoon awoke to the shouts and threats of my Uncle Johnny, who accused them of wearing his clothes. They protested their innocence until Johnny produced a plastic bag from the tailor shop with a note from Mike the Greek stating, “Richie the clothes are okay now. I found Muldoon’s teeth in one of the pockets. Good luck, Mike.” 

When the tape ended, I began to record my own thank you message. I told him how much I wished I were sitting on my parents’ porch hearing him retell the story instead of being where I was having to do what I was doing. I hadn’t been in country very long, but I constantly felt isolated and as if I were doing a thirteen-month stretch in prison. Suddenly the sirens sounded, and we began taking incoming rockets. Dropping everything, I ran to the bunker. About an hour later when they sounded the all clear, I returned to my room to find I had left my tape recorder on. I rewound the tape and found it had recorded the entire rocket attack. I was about to erase the whole tape, but instead, I decided to mail it back to Uncle Richie explaining what happened. Then, I hesitated because I didn’t want him to get the impression I was in constant danger when I actually spent most of my time in concrete bunkers. I quickly dismissed that idea and mailed it never thinking he’d take it over to my parents and play it for them. From the day my parents heard that tape until I returned home, they assumed I was in constant danger, and no amount of assurances made them think otherwise. As a result, I stopped making the tapes and felt even farther from home. I also started to believe that no one at home could comprehend what I was experiencing. It was becoming apparent that you “had to be there” in order to understand.


Brian McFadden is a playwright whose works have been produced at numerous regional and community theaters around the country. He recently completed his memoir, The Proof of the Poet in which “Muldoon’s Teeth” is a chapter. He is a former Marine Captain and a disabled Vietnam veteran presently living in Cleveland with his wife, Molly, a playwright and actress, director, and jazz vocalist.  

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