Saturday, December 26, 2009

INTO THE GREEN WOOD--PART FOUR

.
The Elephant



The supple flesh of her inner thighs. Her delicate firm breasts. The surprisingly coarse feel of her glossy black hair as it cascaded through my hands. How I wish the sensorial glories of my Okinawan paramour remained etched in my memory! But they don’t.

I’m making it all up.

What I do remember is the feeling of her hard little fist between my shoulder blades as she shoved me out her door and onto the pre-dawn streets of the village. She punctuated my ejection with her most sentimental farewell.

“Go away!”

With that soft murmur to comfort my low spirits, haunted by my dreams of Judy Vance, I wandered around lost. After a while Okinawan people began to emerge from their homes. I was able to employ my most useful Japanese phrase:

Takusi-wa doko desuka? (Where is the taxi?)

Following the gestures provided by amused villagers, I stumbled onto a main road and hailed a cab. In a stupor of fatigue and self-pity, I was conveyed back to the main gate at Camp Hansen. The MP (Military Police) on duty greeted me cordially. The conqueror returneth from his all-night victory!

Right.

At the barracks I showered and dressed in my most presentable uniform, which wasn’t saying much. I’d be lucky if some officer didn’t smoke me for my disreputable appearance. I shoved the wrinkled detritus of my few belongings into a sea bag.

Enough wasting time. Let’s get it on.

The transport chief, a gunnery sergeant, listened to my request for immediate passage to Nam. I couldn’t tell if he was amused or pissed off.

“You got another week until you have to report. Relax. Enjoy the last liberty you’re going to get for a year.”

“Gunny, please, get me out of here. I need to get to work.”

“God preserve me from Gung Ho FNGs.”

“FNGs?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

The gunny consulted a couple of clip boards.

“You’re slotted for transport straight through to Chu Lai at zero nine hundred on the twenty third. You sure you don’t want to hang around? You can have a lot of fun on this rock.”

“Gunny, can’t you get me an earlier ticket? I’ll take anything.”

The gunny scribbled something on a piece of paper.

“Davis! Take this war hero over to Kadena. Scramble! His flight leaves in 45 minutes.”

“Thanks, gunny!”

He snorted.

Wheels up. A few bumpy hours over the South China Sea. Crossing the Viet Nam coast line. Below, rice paddies to the horizon, then roads, villages, towns, a big city, Da Nang. The airplane made a steep bank to port and an immediate screaming dive bomber attack on the air base below. Teeth crunching smash into the runway, screaming brakes, heavy G deceleration as all engines reverse. Shuttering stop. Silence. Breathe.

We whistled and cheered. Viet Nam. The NAM. The Real Deal.

Returning vets brag about the nauseating stench and the blast furnace heat that assault you when you greet Da Nang for the first time. Both descriptions are accurate, but I leaned into the heat. Embraced it. It’s supposed to be like this. Yeah!

As for the stench? I closed my eyes and inhaled, giving my full attention to the delectable compounds that swirled through my nose. Fine subtleties of diesel fuel and jet exhaust harmonized with a smoky piquancy of cordite, the pungent nip of chemical toxins, and there . . . just a trace of sewage! From this complex assemblage of malodorous compounds, I began to arrange a fascinating bouquet of exotic stinkage. Then, beyond my smart-assery, the ominous martial fragrances, I detected something remarkable, something just beyond the wire, a foreign, dreamy aroma.

Asia.

Fruity, fishy, earthy, spicy . . . Asia.

I loved it.

You should remember that I was traveling alone, not attached to a unit, just chugging along under my own steam into the theatre of combat. There was no one to tell me what to do, no sergeant barking orders to “get in line over there” or “report to the receiving depot.”

OK, I’m on my own. I figured I should get a look at Viet Nam before someone showed up to take charge of me.

I deplaned and wandered off down the runway toward a handsome formation of peaks that I would learn to call the Marble Mountains.


Marble Mountains


The Da Nang runways are long and it took me quite a while to hike to the end. It was worth the effort. I left behind the sounds or aircraft and generators. I found myself wrapped in solitude. I looked past the concertina barbed wire, beyond a no-man’s land of desecrated red earth, then past fields, paddies, little houses . . . Viet Nam.

I breathed and listened. There! Somewhere behind the Marble Mountains, I heard them. Far away, but unmistakable. Explosions. Our artillery giving it to somebody.

Yes! Deep and menacing, the crash of the Elephant moving through the bush.

The Elephant.

I was here.

At last.

After a while I heard a vehicle racing up behind me, a jeep with a couple of hard-eyed MPs.

“What the flat flying fuck are you doing out here?”

“Just having a look, Corporal.”

“Get your FNG ass into this jeep before someone blows it off, probably Corporal Stoneface (not his real name) here. He ain’t killed a dumbass FNG all week.”

Corporal Stoneface did not crack a smile. He wasn’t even looking at me. His eyes were flicking back and forth across the tree line beyond the wire.

“FNG?”

“FUCKING NEW GUY!”

“Oh yes, that would be me. Fucking new guy. Newest, greenest, dumbest, fuckingest new guy you’ll ever meet.”

Corporal Cop relaxed, just a bit. He almost smiled.

“OK, as long as you got that straight.”

As we hurtled back down the runway, the MP began my orientation.

“We’ll drop you off at Receiving. Find your gear, check in and show them your orders. They’ll give you a rack (bed) and help you find a hop (airplane) to Chu Lai. Then you’ll be on your own. While you’re waiting you can go into Da Nang City, but it’s not a good idea right now. Lotta shit going down. Charlie (Viet Cong) slipping in and out. One of our pet Mama-sans (proprietress of a bar or brothel) says NVA officers (North Vietnamese regular army) are setting up something big, maybe tonight. So, take my advice, Lance, stay out of the ville.”

“Roger that, Corp.”

“There’s a slop shute (chow hall), a barber shop, you need a haircut, and a flick (movie). Keep it wired tonight, huh?”

“Rog.”

The other MP, Stoneface, never said a word. His eyes never stopped moving. His hand never left the butt of his forty-five. These MPs were strung tight.

Well-fed, spiffy hair cut by a tiny Viet Namese barber, showered (cold), and feeling squared away in relatively clean clothes, I sought out the Enlisted Club and launched a one-man assault on a formidable line of warm beers. The E-club consisted of a long bar and an expansive deck of picnic tables, mostly open to the sky, with a white-washed plywood movie screen at one end. Very cool. Sit out under the stars, sipping suds with your brethren, watching an old black-and-white movie. I’d like to tell you what the movie was, but you have to remember that I had been traveling for almost a week with too little sleep and too much booze. I was fried. I didn’t make it through the movie. Somehow I found my rack and passed out.

WHAT THE HELL!

That’s what it was like. Hell. The world had turned a demonic red. Sirens were screaming like the tortured souls of the inferno. For a moment I thought I had died and been plunged into the underworld. I jumped off my cot, tripped over something, and fell on my face. Marine warfighter at his most impressive. Men were running everywhere and yelling. I gathered my wits about me, aided by a flood of adrenaline rushing into my chest.

We were under attack.

The crimson hell-light was from dozens of red flares floating down in their parachutes. What should I do? I stuffed my feet into my boots and chased after a squad of armed Marines. I had no rifle, no gear of any kind, not even a helmet. Fortunately I had passed out in my clothes so I was not running around naked through the attack.

I followed the squad, sprinting out to the base perimeter. We tumbled into the trenches of the defensive emplacement. Panting. Big eyes. After a while, a sergeant came down the line.

“Where’s your weapon, Marine?”

“Just came in-country yesterday, Sergeant.”

“You should be hunkered down at Receiving. What are you doing out here?”

“Seemed like a good idea.”

He laughed.

“OK. Keep your eyes open and your head down. If Charlie gets one of us, pick up a weapon and get into the fight.”

“Roger that.”

“You OK, Marine?”

“I’m good, Sergeant, real good.”

He patted me on the shoulder and continued down the line.

We waited.

And waited.

Hours.

After a while I saw movement down the line. One of our patrols was coming in through the wire. I heard passwords and responses exchanged. The Recon guys ambled in to the revetments and immediately lit cigarettes. These men were the stuff. Recon Marines. Experienced, hard core, infantry vets. The professionals. I crowded close, hoping I could inhale some of their bravado.

“Just more bullshit,” a Recon sergeant was explaining to one of the officers, “nothing to it.”

“Fuck me,” yelled one of the staff NCOs, “Alright, Marines, stand down, light ‘em if you got ‘em.”
The Recon guys were chatting amiably, so I sidled up and asked one of them what had happened.

“Who the fuck knows. Some water buff sets off a claymore. Some sleepy rear echelon motherfucker has a wet dream and starts lighting up some pissant gook hooch. Everybody shits their pants and they send us out for a little stroll through Da Nang.”

“How close is Charlie?”

“Charlie? Hey, the NFG wants to know how close is Charlie?”

They laughed.

“Well, Marine, Sir Charles is right over there."

He pointed out into the darkness.

"Sir Charles is everywhere. But Sir Charles does not have the nads to pick a standup fight with the goddamn Marine Corps in the fucking middle of our turf. Sheeeee-it”

“Sheeeee-it” I echoed.

“You’ll be OK, Marine, but . . . “

“Yeah?”

“Get some fucking gear. You look like a goddamn tourist.”

I followed the men back in to headquarters, eventually found my hooch, and dropped down on my rack. Dawn was sliding over the horizon. When was I going to get a full night’s sleep?

Da Nang transport was even more casual than Okinawa. I hung around the air terminal until I could hitch a ride 60 miles south to Chu Lai. I wanted a chopper ride so I could see the sights, but I got a cargo plane. As it was my first ride in a C-130, I decided it would be a minor adventure.



C-130

Sitting alone in the cargo bay along with a full load of helicopter parts, I listened to the engines begin to whine. At the last moment, group of ARVN, South Viet Namese Army soldiers, climbed up the ramp and grabbed hold of the cargo straps. Some of them were still smoking cigarettes. They looked like Boy Scouts, but I was respectful. What did I know anyway? They had seen a lot more action than Lance Corporal Jenkins, FNG.

We rumbled down and down and down the runway. Will this behemoth ever get off the ground? Finally we got lift and slowly, slowly began to climb.

TING TING TING TING TING

Five machine gun rounds pinged into the undercarriage of the plane. Oh shit. We’ve been hit! The big plane banked hard to starboard, engines roaring. We held on to the webbing of our side-facing seats and waited to crash. But the plane kept banking and climbing.

“Are we circling to land back at Da Nang?” I yelled at the ARVN troopers who ignored me.

After a while, one of the Marine flight crew clambered down from the flight deck and made his way over to me.

He yelled, “You OK?”

“Yessir!”

“See any damage?”

“Uh, nossir?”

He looked around, then walked down the cargo bay and back up the other side, climbed the ladder way to the flight deck and into the cockpit.

I guess we’re not going to crash. The Elephant has a sense of humor. Ha ha.

The plane continued to gain altitude. After a few minutes it leveled out, and then in a few more minutes began to descend. Another hard bank to starboard, the plane leveled out, and delivered a neck-snapping slam into the runway. Guy at the stick thinks he’s a carrier pilot. The C-130 bounced along the tarmac, then came to a brake-screeching stop. The engines wound down. The ramp lowered. Impossibly bright sunlight poured into the bay. A member of the ground crew strolled up the ramp, looked over at me. Grinned.

“Welcome to Chu Lai.”

.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

INTO THE GREEN WOOD--PART THREE

.
The Worm


How do you get to Okinawa from Japan? Get yourself poured onto a plane in Sasebo, still drunk from a night in the Ginza. Pass out. Wake up. You’re on Okinawa! No sweat, Marine.





In a later post, I'll tell you all about Okinawa, because it turned out to be one of my favorite places in the world, and eventually I got to see a lot of the world. But, I'm going to save that for the story of my second visit to the island, an adventure so much fun, so enjoyable, that it still makes me smile more than forty years later.




But this episode, that I have called "The Worm," is a different matter.

It can be overpowering, the pressure on young Marines to go out into the "villes" that surround military bases and get laid. Whether you want to or not, and often, you don’t know if you want to or not, but your best buddies, the ones you just met for the first time a couple of hours ago, are keyed-up and insistent.

“C’mon man, you can get an all-nighter for twenty bucks! You need twenty bucks? I got you covered, c’mon man, get into some civvies, let’s go, I got a extra shirt, here, c’mon, you can get trou in the "ville," coupla bucks, c’mon, I got a hard on ‘bout to jump outta my skivvies and drag me along behind it.”

Who can refuse a deal like that? An all-expense-paid expedition into the fleshpots of Okinawa. You can’t show how timid you really are in front of these warriors, can you? Wait a damn minute! Eighteen years old, a year in the Corps, on the way to fight for your country, and “timid?” What’s up with that?

I guess it’s time for some frank talk about my experience with women. Don’t worry, the recitation will be brief, by necessity. Skimpy. Paltry. Trifling. Measly. Count the number of such experiences on three fingers.

By the time I made an early departure from my little Southern high school, I was still a seventeen-year-old virgin. Yes, sigh, it's true. I had never, in fact, opened the covers of a Playboy magazine. The most lurid visions of female anatomy I had seen to that point were the underwear ads in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. Copping one feel of Jan’s (not her real name) left breast in the back of the bus on a marching band field trip was the peak of my sexual conquests. I had made-out with my sweetheart Judy Vance at every possible opportunity, but she would firmly move my hand away if it strayed close to one of her forbidden zones.

In my generation of small-town idiots, the Great Moment, the de-flowering, the un-virginizing, typically occurred in the back seat of a friend’s borrowed Chevy. The girl, a year older than me, had officiated at the same rites of passage for several other high school lads. You would think she would have the routine down pat by the time she got to me, but, unfortunately, not. Pam (not her real name) was inept, and I was stupid, scared, and fumbling beyond imagining. Right from the beginning she freaked me out with her kissing. She was the weirdest kisser I had experienced to that point, and, well, to this day, actually. She would open her mouth as wide as possible and the pound her tongue in and out of my mouth like a piston. It so startled me that all my carefully planned maneuvers dropped out of my mind. So, there was a rubber, and I couldn’t get the package open, then I couldn’t get it on for some reason, then I dropped it on the floorboards. OK, too much information. I’ll spare you the rest, all 15 or 20 seconds of it, except to say that it was a most unpleasant and humiliating “coming” of age ceremony.

That was the first of three dismal encounters.

After I graduated from boot camp, I met a college girl while on leave in Tallahassee. Martha (not her real name) took a liking to me and bought a bus ticket from Florida to North Carolina, a six hundred mile trip that took twenty-four bouncing, lurching hours along old Highway 17. Martha was sweet, perky, cute and horny. Well, she came to the wrong guy, if scratching that itch was her intention. My performance, using the term loosely, was incrementally better than my back seat pyrotechnics with Pam, but I could see the disappointment growing on Martha’s face. The two days we spent together started low and went down hill. When I put her on the bus for the long ride back to Florida, we were both relieved. She did not promise to write.

There was a third sordid episode, the result of a scheme devised by my buddy, Gus Baldwin. He inveigled his girlfriend Peggy (her real name) to ride the bus down from D.C. bringing along a friend named . . . ah . . . Debbie (not her real name). Gus and I rented two cabins behind a road house across the Neuse River just outside of New Bern. These were high class accommodations, you bet, nothing but the best for our would-be paramours. After the two couples retired to our respective quarters, I soon learned that . . .ah . . . Debbie was having nothing to do with what I had in mind. I was confused as to her motivation for the long bus ride to meet and spend the night with a Marine she had met once, for about ten minutes, and put the question to her, along with other questions along the line of “could I just touch” and “would she just remove.” Some time during the hours of whining, wheedling, begging, and groping, Debbie revealed that she was the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. Debbie, the preacher’s daughter. Great. The long and short of it, well, the short of it, was that nothing happened and we both lied and said that it did. Sorry, Gus, after all these years, I’m confessing. Nothing happened. I lied.




So, episode three doesn't count. That's the sorry sum of it, my accumulated sexual history, testament to my prowess as a player. In football metaphor, two punts and a fumble.



Armed with two sorry sexual episodes, one lie, and a brave face, I entered the night life of the little “ville” just outside Camp Hansen. If you think a guy just saunters into one of these sleazy clubs, picks out a whore, and goes upstairs for boom boom, you are mistaken. A young Marine can manage the “saunter” part, but after that, the women take over. They are in charge. They size you up, sort you out, allow you to buy them overpriced whiskey sours (no booze, just sour mix), negotiate the pricing and menu, then, like a good cattle dog, cut you away from your buddies, and spirit you away to parts unknown.

My “date” for the evening hailed a taxi, and off we went to her own house, somewhere on a mysterious dark street, miles away from the fleshpots. I call it a house, but her place was more like a small ground floor apartment, or maybe a big shack. She turned on a light and I really got to see her for the first time. She was attractive enough to interest any man . . . twice my age. Damn, she was old enough to be my mother, maybe my grandmother. Tearing my eyes away from the knowing look on her face, I nervously examined the room. There was a bed and a few pieces of furniture, a hole in the ground that I later learned was a toilet, and a curtain stretched from wall to wall, behind which her children were sleeping, supposedly sleeping. Yep, her kids. I didn’t see them, but I could hear them, and she spoke to them on a couple of occasions. She knew enough English to tell me to take off my clothes. Filling a basin with water, she washed my parts, my shrinking, shriveling parts, and examined me for outward signs of disease. It was all very romantic. Finally, she turned out the light, took off her own clothes, pulled me into bed, on top of her, and said something like “get to work.”

How I wish I could! Get to work, that is, or more precisely, get “it” to work. The damn thing had no interest in this magnificent adventure, nor was my Lady of the Night particularly helpful. Eventually losing patience, she pushed me off, muttered “I sleep now,” and rolled away from me. By and by I shook her awake, “I have to piss.” She pointed to the hole in the floor, “No pee on floor,” and went back to sleep. I squatted miserably over the hole, doing my best to aim in the dark, and wanting nothing more than to get the hell out of there. But where was “there?” I was in a shack somewhere in a low-rent district of Okinawa, with no street lights, at one o’clock in the morning. I had not heard a motor vehicle of any kind since the taxi dropped us off. I was about as existentially lost, and lost for real, as a guy can be. I was stuck here until morning.

I crawled back into bed with her.

“Boom boom?” she asked.

“Maybe later.”

“OK, sleep now.”

I lay there in that strange bed, next to that stranger, and waited for morning to come. Surprisingly, I fell asleep. I almost never remember dreams, but I still recall a piece of a dream from that night.





I dreamed of my high school sweetheart, Judy Vance. She was sitting below me in the band room at Florida High with the other flute players. We were waiting for the band director, Glen Heinlen, to come in from his office. From my station up in the corner, I rattled off a fortissimo open roll on the parade snare. The other members of the band stopped talking and looked at me. I handed the sticks to my buddy, David Kahler, and walked down the risers, right through the trumpets and then through the saxes, heading straight for Judy, my eyes locked on hers. She blushed immediately, and Judy was a hard, fast blusher. Her cheeks turned bright pink. I stood in front of her for a moment, breathing hard, then dropped down on one knee.

“I want to tell you, Judy, in front of all these people, that you are the only one in the world for me.”

Oh, go on, roll your eyes. It was 1963, high school stuff, and besides, it was only the anguished dream of an eighteen year old kid in bed with an Okinawan prostitute, so give him a break. Give me a break. Whatever.

“No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you.”

Dream Judy reached up with one hand and pulled my head down to hers. She kissed me softly, for a long time, as my classmates whistled, hollered, and made a racket on their various instruments.

That dream, and variations of it, played over and over and over, through the hours of that dreadful night. That dream was like the glow of a paper lantern keeping away the darkness and my despair. That dream of Judy stood between me and a nasty little thought . . . a worm.


A worm that began to burrow into my body.

“There’s something wrong with me.”


.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CHURCH

.

Up before dawn and alone in the great meditation hall of the Siddha Yoga Dham Ashram. The drone of the tamboura on its never-ending tape fills the dark cavern. A single guttering candle on the Puja is the only light. The incense from last night’s program, and many programs that came before, still lingers in this sanctified atmosphere. I dedicate myself to Dharma. My meditation is about as deep as I can go.

Out before the hikers and running the trail between Edwards and Purdon Crossings. Below me the rush of the South Yuba River fills the canyon. Early morning sunlight filters through dense forest canopy. Fragrances of laurel offer the incense for my sacred temple in the trees. Dharma pads along, at my side, silent companion.
.

.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

INTO THE GREEN WOOD--PART TWO (revised)

.




Go West, Young Marine


Imagine how peculiar, to go to war all by yourself?In the books and movies, you always go with a platoon or a Legion or 300 Spartans or some kind of a team. The team usually has a troubled inner-city kid, and an overweight, but lovable kid, and a hick, and a coward, and John Wayne. But I just bumped along, all by myself, in the spring of 1966, with a sea bag and my orders.
Heading west, to see the Elephant.

I caught a flight out of San Francisco on a commercial jet to Tokyo via Anchorage. Yes, I have been to Alaska, if sitting on the runway for an hour while the plane takes on fuel and exchanges a few civilian passengers counts as a visit to “The Last Frontier.” I looked out the window. Rain. Fuel trucks. Slick tarmac. More rain. Alaska. What a thrill.

Flying by night over the north Pacific. I studied my Japanese phrase book, and created my own, slimmed-down version.




Bob’s Guide to Useful Japanese Language Suitable for One Night in Tokyo




Twenty Important Words and Phrases




Dozo please
Arigato thank you
Domo very much
Domo arigato thank you, very much
Do itashimashite you’re welcome
Konnichi wa hello
Biru beer
Ginza entertainment district
Konban wa good evening
Bijin beautiful woman
Domo gurai how much does it cost?
Hai yes
Iie no
Sukoshi little
Takusan many, much
Doko where
Benjo wa doko desuka where is the toilet
Ohayo gozaimasu good morning
Koibito girl friend
Sayonara good bye

By the time I had modified the phrase book to my own purposes, I was snockered. Remember I was only eighteen years old, and it in those days it was hard for a boy to get served alcohol--until we flew into international territory. My stewardess (no luke warm "flight attendant" nomenclature in 1966) was quite happy to serve one of the Few, the Proud as many beers as he could drink. I passed out.





The plane landed in Japan. I woke up. At the U.S. base outside Tokyo I learned an important lesson in military life. If you are carrying your own pay record, you can probably sweet talk the paymaster into giving you some cash. After inveigling a hundred dollars, I set off to see the sights of Tokyo, by which I mean . . . women. Surely a hundred bucks American was enough for one night of party. I had the idea that Tokyo was cheap. Remember, Made in Japan?

With the practical phrases of Bob’s Guide memorized, I figured I could nimbly handle myself on the streets of Tokyo. I grabbed a taxi at the gate and told the driver:

“Ginza, dozo.” (Ginza, please.)

Countries around the world brag about the daredevil driving antics of their cabbies. Don’t believe them. Tokyo taxi drivers are the worst, psychotic, suicidal lunatics who have recently escaped from the city’s psychiatric wards. Surviving the ride from the base to downtown Tokyo was one of the most terrifying episodes of my four years in the United States Marine Corps. I toppled out of the taxi and barely resisted the impulse to kiss the sidewalk.

But here I was, on the Ginza! Neon lights, exotic smells, music from numerous outdoor speakers, dense crowds of, well, Japanese people. What first? Food! I wandered around until I found an eatery that served something I thought I recognized, chicken-on-a-stick. I went in, offering various polite greetings that seemed to be appreciated. Seated, I asked if anyone spoke English. I figured, hey, a lot of these folk probably speak English, didn’t we conquer them twenty years ago? No. No English. From anyone. Then or later. My entire night in Tokyo I did not find a single Japanese person who spoke English, except for the bartenders, all of whom knew two words: “whisky sour.”

I was on my own, just me and Bob’s Guide to Useful Japanese.

“Biru, dozo. Takusan biru.” (Beer, please. Many beers.)

After takusan biru’s and several plates of yakitori and raisu (my phrase book was now up to twenty-two useful words and phrases), I headed back out on the streets to resume my quest for female companionship. It was then I discovered two disquieting facts. First, I realized that I had already spent almost half of my money and needed to reserve some of the remainder for the (Oh My God!) taxi ride back to base. Tokyo, even in 1966, was NOT cheap. The second ugly fact was that I had neglected to research and include among my useful Japanese language, the word for prostitute, whore, lady of the night, working girl. The best I could come up with was “geisha.”

“Geisha wa, doko desuka?” (Where is Geisha?)

Strangers to whom I put this pathetic query, stepped back, looked at me with derision, and walked away as quickly as possible. Even the bartenders wanted nothing to do with my question.

“Geisha?”

“Whiskey sour, hai?”

“Hai.” Sigh.

I started drinking whiskey sours and further depleting my funds. Sitting in a bar where everyone carefully ignored me, I was getting drunker and drunker. Am I having fun yet? There was a raucous commotion just outside, and in through the door exploded a group of British sailors, in uniform, in their hilarious little British sailor suits, with the ribbons hanging from their caps. I started laughing at them. A pint sized runt of a sailor walked up and demanded?

“What’s so fuggin’ funny?”

That really sent me into hysterics. I fell off the bar stool, howling. They stood in a circle around me.

“Get up, Yank. Get to yer feet. We’re gonna kick yer bloody arse.”

Still giggling, I got up and attempted to assume a lethal fighting stance. What happened next was up to them.

“Fight me, or buy me a drink.”

The sailors considered this choice, laughed, and decided to adopt me for the rest of the evening, their own U.S. Marine. Fightin’ Fuggin’ Devildog. We partied together and barhopped through the Ginza. We swore oaths of eternal friendship and cried like babies over the sentimental confessions of our souls. We sang the great songs of the British Navy and the U.S. Marines.

“God Save our Gracious Queen!”

“From the Halls of Montezuuuuuuuma
To the shores of Trip Pooooo Liiiiiiii.”

“A thousand gobs laid down their swabs
To fight one sick Mariiiiiiiiine!”

And that’s what I remember best about my night in Tokyo. Me and the British sailors, drunk and happy. Not a bad night, as these things go.

But in later years, I reflected back on my only trip to Japan with immense regret. My Ginza expedition was a modest success, lack of nooky notwithstanding, but I think of all the things I might have done, and was too young and ignorant to envision.


The Imperial Palace


A pilgrimage up Mount Fuji


A ride out into the countryside


A tea ceremony conducted by a real geisha


Sacred Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines


The Noh, Kyogen, and Kabuki theatres

(that most of all)


Even today, at this moment, I would like to send my apologies to Japan for such bad manners. To ignore the incomparable treasures of Nippon for a line of whiskey sours! To set my highest sights on getting laid by a hooker.

For shame.

I makes me blush to think about it.

..

Friday, October 16, 2009

INTO THE GREENWOOD—PART TWO


.


Go West, Young Marine



Imagine how peculiar, to go to war all by yourself?

In the books and movies, you always go with a platoon or a Legion or 300 Spartans or some kind of a team. The team usually has a troubled inner-city kid, and an overweight, but lovable kid, and a hick, and a coward, and John Wayne. But I just bumped along, all by myself, in the spring of 1966, with a sea bag and my orders. Heading west, toward the Elephant.

I caught a flight out of San Francisco on a commercial jet to Tokyo via Anchorage. Yes, I have been to Alaska, if sitting on the runway for an hour while the plane takes on fuel and exchanges a few civilian passengers counts as a visit to “The Last Frontier.” I looked out the window. Rain. Fuel trucks. Slick tarmac. More rain. Alaska. What a thrill.

Flying by night over the north Pacific. I studied my Japanese phrase book, and created my own, slimmed-down version.

Bob’s Guide to Useful Japanese Language Suitable for One Night in Tokyo

Twenty Important Words and Phrases

Dozo please
Arigato thank you
Domo very much
Domo arigato thank you, very much
Do itashimashite you’re welcome
Konnichi wa hello
Biru beer
Ginza entertainment district
Konban wa good evening
Bijin beautiful woman
Domo gurai how much does it cost?
Hai yes
Iie no
Sukoshi little
Takusan many, much
Doko where
Benjo wa doko desuka where is the toilet
Ohayo gozaimasu good morning
Koibito girl friend
Sayonara good bye

By the time I had modified the phrase book to my own purposes, I was snockered. Remember I was only eighteen years old, and it in those days it was hard for a boy to get served alcohol--until we flew into international territory. My stewardess (no luke warm "flight attendant" nomenclature in 1966) was quite happy to serve one of the few, the proud as many beers as he could drink. I passed out.

The plane landed in Japan. I woke up. At the U.S. base outside Tokyo I learned an important lesson in military life. If you are carrying your own pay record, you can probably sweet talk the paymaster into giving you some cash. After inveigling a hundred dollars, I set off to see the sights of Tokyo, by which I mean, women. Surely a hundred bucks American was enough for one night of party. I had the idea that Tokyo was cheap. Remember, Made in Japan?

With the practical phrases of Bob’s Guide memorized, I figured I could nimbly handle myself on the streets of Tokyo. I grabbed a taxi at the gate and told the driver:

“Ginza, dozo.” (Ginza, please.)

Countries around the world brag about the daredevil driving antics of their cabbies. Don’t believe them. Tokyo taxi drivers are the worst, psychotic, suicidal lunatics who have recently escaped from the city’s psychiatric wards. Surviving the ride from the base to downtown Tokyo was one of the most terrifying episodes of my four years in the United States Marine Corps. I toppled out of the taxi and barely resisted the impulse to kiss the sidewalk.

But here I was, on the Ginza! Neon lights, exotic smells, music from numerous outdoor speakers, dense crowds of, well, Japanese people. What first? Food! I wandered around until I found an eatery that served something I thought I recognized, chicken-on-a-stick. I went in, offering various polite greetings that seemed to be appreciated. Seated, I asked if anyone spoke English. I figured, hey, a lot of these folk probably speak English, didn’t we conquer them twenty years ago? No. No English. From anyone. Then or later. My entire night in Tokyo I did not find a single Japanese person who spoke English, except for the bartenders, all of whom knew two words: “whisky sour.” I was on my own, just me and Bob’s Guide to Useful Japanese.

“Biru, dozo. Takusan biru.” (Beer, please. Many beers.)

After takusan biru’s and several plates of yakitori and raisu (my phrase book was now up to twenty-two useful words and phrases), I headed back out on the streets to resume my quest for female companionship. It was then I discovered two disquieting facts. First, I realized that I had already spent almost half of my money and needed to reserve some of the remainder for the (Oh My God!) taxi ride back to base. Tokyo, even in 1966, was NOT cheap. The second ugly fact was that I had neglected to research and include among my useful Japanese language, the word for prostitute, whore, lady of the night, working girl. The best I could come up with was “geisha.”

“Geisha wa, doko desuka?” (Where is Geisha?)

Strangers to whom I put this pathetic query, stepped back, looked at me with derision, and walked away as quickly as possible. Even the bartenders wanted nothing to do with my question.

“Geisha?”

“Whiskey sour, hai?”

“Hai.” Sigh.

I started drinking whiskey sours and further depleting my funds. Sitting in a bar where everyone carefully ignored me, I was getting drunker and drunker. Am I having fun yet? There was a raucous commotion just outside, and in through the door exploded a group of British sailors, in uniform, in their hilarious little British sailor suits, with the ribbons hanging from their caps. I started laughing at them. A pint sized runt of a sailor walked up and demanded?

“What’s so fuggin’ funny?”

That really sent me into hysterics. I fell off the bar stool, howling. They stood in a circle around me.

“Get up, Yank. Get to yer feet. We’re gonna kick yer bloody arse.”

Still giggling, I attempted to get up and assume a lethal fighting stance. What happened next was up to them.

“Fight me, or buy me a drink.”

Instead, they decided to adopt me for the rest of the evening, their own U.S. Marine. Fightin’ Fuggin’ Devildog. We partied together and barhopped through the Ginza. We swore oaths of eternal friendship and cried like babies over the sentimental confessions of our souls. We sang the great songs of the British Navy and the U.S. Marines.

“God Save our Gracious Queen!”

“From the Halls of Montezuuuuuuuma
To the shores of Trip Pooooo Leeeeeee.”

“A thousand gobs laid down their swabs
To fight one sick Mariiiiiiiiine!”

And that’s what I remember best about my night in Tokyo. Me and the British sailors, drunk and happy. Not a bad night, as these things go.

But in later years, I reflected back on my only trip to Japan with immense regret. My Ginza expedition was a modest success, lack of nooky notwithstanding, but I think of all the things I might have done, and was too young and ignorant to envision.


The Imperial Palace


Sacred Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines


A pilgrimage up Mount Fuji


A tea ceremony conducted by a real geisha


A ride out into the countryside


The Noh, Kyogen, and Kabuki theatres
(that most of all)


Even today, at this moment, I would like to send my apologies to Japan for such bad manners. To ignore the incomparable treasures of Nippon for a line of whiskey sours! To set my highest sights on getting laid by a hooker.

For shame.

I makes me blush to think about it.

.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

INTO THE GREEN WOOD--PART ONE



John Wayne and Carol


The South China Sea was rolling us side to side, side to side, with a slight swell. In flat-bottomed amphibious landing craft, a slight swell is enough stomach-churning motion to get everybody except the swabbies seasick. Even with the open top, we were breathing a thick soup of diesel fumes and vomit stench. Our nausea was amplified by the gut-wrenching terror we felt as our amphib churned toward the beach.

Those celestial military powers who decide such things had sent us in on a moonless night. It was about as dark as a night can be except for a zillion stars blazing down on us and the little red caution lights that, optimistically, kept the eighteen assault boats from running into and sinking each other.

The first machine gun opened up and was immediately enjoined by every piece of ordinance the NVA had emplaced for the defense of Chu Lai. The small caliber rounds pinged off the armored front doors of the landing craft and we waited for cannon or heavy caliber fire to smash into us. As we got closer, pre-targeted mortar rounds began to hurtle down. All we could do was crouch a little tighter and hope the shells landed somewhere else, anywhere else. An earsplitting explosion, followed by a shock wave, meant that the amphib on the starboard side had been hit. Tough. Not us.

We felt the tracks find purchase on the bottom. The swabbie driving the boat gunned the motor and we lurched up onto the beach. Thank God he didn’t chicken out and stop short, leaving us to wade ashore under fire. Not our swabbie! Good swabbie. The front gate slammed down and we got out of that thing about as fast as a scared-to-death platoon can move. My fire team went right and up to 2:00 o’clock as planned. We hit the sand and started to return fire.

We were in Viet Nam!

We were at war!

Well, not really. That was a scene from Sands of Iwo Jima starring John Wayne. If you want that kind of war story you should rent it on Netflix, or maybe The Boys From Company C or Platoon. If you want a movie that more closely approximates my combat tour in Viet Nam, you should maybe rent Catch 22. No, I didn’t arrive in Nam in the guts of an amphibious landing craft. I landed in Da Nang in the bowels of a Pan American 707. Whoop de doo. But I get ahead of myself. My actual voyage to Southeast Asia was even more capricious and bizarre.

Here’s what really happened.

Gunny Cunningham handed me my pay record and orders and told me to get my ass to Bravo Battery, 2nd LAAM (Light Anti-Aircraft Missile) Battalion, Chu Lai, Viet Nam, as soon as possible.

“By when, Gunny?”

“Still hard of hearing, Jenkins? As soon as you can get your lazy ass over there.”

By this time Gunny had taken a real liking to me which was why he was talking so sweet. The C.O. (commanding officer), Lieutenant Mike Stevens actually came out of his office to shake hands and wish me luck. He offered this advice:

“Volunteer for everything. Maybe you’ll see some real action.”

“Aye, aye, Sir, I will. And, sir, thanks for the transfer.”

“Get the fuck out of my Battery.”

Like Gunny Cunningham, the Old Man had a soft spot for me and was fighting to hold back his tears.

“Now, Jenkins, now!”

That was it. My departure ritual. Pomp and circumstance. No expense spared.

I had no reason to hang around Cherry Point, and my North Carolina kin were not much for ceremony, so I thought what the heck? I might as well head on over to the war. In those days, military men on their way to Viet Nam just showed their orders at the ticket counter to get a seat on any west-bound flight. Even if the plane was full and they had to pull some civilian off the aircraft, soldiers and Marines got a seat. Not stand-by; priority seating. If there was an empty chair in First Class, we got that, too.



From Cherry Point I finagled my way on a patched-up DC-3 to Raleigh, then commercial to Sacramento, and a bus to Travis Air Force Base which was the hub for MATS (Military Air Transport). The main attraction to Travis AFB was it’s proximity to San Francisco. The main attraction to San Francisco was the Twin Peaks.

The Twin Peaks of Carol Doda.

Carol Doda and her “Twin 44s” were already legendary by 1966. I considered it my patriotic duty, my obligation on the eve of my departure to defend America by ogling the largest bosoms to ever be displayed upon the national stage. Or at least upon a grand piano in the Condor Club up on San Francisco’s North Beach. For an eighteen year old Southern boy who had never been in a bar, much less a strip club, Doda and her “Girls” were a really big deal, or deals, to be precise. A large warm mammary, I mean memory, to comfort me in the hell of mortal combat. Had to have a look, didn’t I?

MATS ran a free liberty bus into San Francisco with a return bus late in the evening. I arrived downtown about mid-afternoon and realized I had made two critical mistakes. First, I was wearing a pair of light weight slacks and a short sleeve shirt. As the saying goes, “I spent a frigid winter one evening in San Francisco.” Damn, it was cold. And windy. And foggy. What the hell? The weather was great at Travis. My second mistake was arriving with about fifteen dollars in my wallet. I spent about ten bucks on a butt-ugly tourist sweatshirt, leaving me about five for my Dodaquest. I started walking, asking directions, and eventually arriving at the Condor Club where Carol’s bosoms were about ready to make their second or third appearance of the day. They had that girl flying in from a hole in the ceiling about fifteen times a day, and I am not making the number up. I call her a girl, because Carol Doda was not much older, in years, than I was. Please, do not dis-respect Carol Doda; the girl worked hard for her money.

My problem was also money. There was a cover charge and you had to buy drinks while you were there. I talked my way past the cover charge with a guns, guts, and glory tale of my impending heroism, and spent the last of my cash on a couple of whisky sours. Whiskey sours. I told you I was naïve.


Down she came from the rafters, this Rebel Without A Bra, trailblazer for many things pornographic and prosthetic yet to come. Carol Doda was quite pretty, if you actually looked at her face. But that was not the point. She danced around and maybe sang a song or two. My memory is shaky on the singing part. She smiled and shimmied and shook and swayed and swung her huge fleshy bags. Men whistled and yelled and starred at large breasts. Something was wrong with me. After a few salutary whistles of my own, I shut up, and started feeling bad. I just sat there, getting more and more depressed. It was just so . . . weird. I was not aroused or sexually excited in the slightest. My main feeling was discomfiture. I was embarrassed for the other men in the club, and for myself. What’s a nice boy like me doing in a Frisco strip club?

I was not embarrassed for Carol Doda. She was in charge. I looked at her eyes, way, way up behind those plastic bumpers. Her eyes were alert, moving around, working the room. Pro, no doubt about it. And nice, I thought, basically a nice girl. In the flush of youthful righteousness, I wanted to save her, redeem her, get to know her, be a pal, take her away from all this.

But before I could put a rescue plan in motion, the manager sidled up and whispered that I had to leave. There was a line outside waiting to come in, he said, and that I had long since slurped down my drink. He nicely whispered the news of my ouster, and that was fine with me, because I was done. I re-emerged on the cold, hard streets. Took a deep breath. Somehow I found my way to the pickup point to meet the bus back to base. It was over two hours before the bus arrived, and I will tell you, that was one damn cold wait. When it finally arrived and I climbed on board I saw that there were already several Marines and a few mismatched service men from the other branches quietly talking and smoking. The bus was warm and smelled like a barracks. I felt comfortable, at home, peaceful, right where I belonged.
I didn’t recognize at the time that I was already leaving the “World” and sliding inexorably down into a strange new land, a truly strange new land.
.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

INTO THE GREEN WOOD—PROLOGUE

.

Arjuna

Tonight I help my son, Luke, prepare for combat in Afghanistan. He asks for the war paint. I take out my old jar and try to open it for him. The lid has rusted tight; hasn’t been used in such a long time. I no longer have the hand-strength to twist the lid off. He does.

As my son applies the green and black pigment to his forehead, and under his eyes, and on his cheeks, I study an apparition of my younger self as I made my own brave preparations for what was to come. So many years ago, and now, the night before battle, the memory returns in the body of my own child. I know he will be courageous and resourceful, for that is how he was raised by me, and trained by the Corps. Will it be enough? Will it give him the edge? Will he fight well? Will he hesitate at a life-and-death moment?

Luke is a liberal and a democrat, something of an anomaly among the rank-and-file of the Corps. He considers things deeply. How will he reconcile his humanistic instincts with the brutal demands of his profession?

I seek reconciliation of his dilemma, and solace for my suffering, in scripture.

At the climatic engagement of the Mahabharata, Arjuna, the combat commander of the Pandava nation, is driven by chariot to Kurukshetra, the sacred field, between the two armies. He is there to blow the war horn that will signal the beginning of the mêlée. Arjuna looks upon his enemies, rank upon rank of former friends, teachers, and even relatives from within his own family. He envisions the internecine carnage to come, the massacre that he himself will commence with the sounding of the great horn. He is overcome with the conflict between his compassion for humanity and his duty as a warrior.

Unwilling to initiate the slaughter, Arjuna climbs from the chariot and throws himself to the ground. The two armies are frozen in place. The battle, constrained by the formal conventions of the time, cannot begin until the horn is blown. From both armies, combatants shout for Arjuna to give the signal. He ignores the shouts.

Arjuna’s charioteer, a kinsman by the name of Krishna (yes, that Krishna) joins him. Krishna asks the reason for Arjuna’s distress.

"I see my kinsmen so willing to shed their common blood. My limbs fail. My mouth is dry. A shudder shakes my body. My bow, Gandiva, slips from my hand. A fever burns my skin. I can hardly stand. My mind is spinning. Nothing but sorrow and evil can come from this war. I am confused and lost. I no longer see what is right. Show me what is best. I will be your student. Please instruct me and guide me."

Over the next several hours, as the martial hordes of two nations wait in the hot sun, Krishna speaks quietly to Arjuna. Krishna’s discourse, of course, is the crown jewel of Indian scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Song of God. The Gita explicates the many aspects of Dharma, correct and conscious living, but key is Krishna’s charge to understand, accept, and act on Arjuna’s duty as a warrior for righteousness. Upon the conclusion of Krishna’s sermon, Arjuna ascends the chariot, blows the horn, and launches the war.

Arjuna’s predicament is also my own. As a warrior, and as a yogi, my duty to country and Corps (not necessarily in that order) stands in stark contrast with my commitment to love, gentility, and the other elements of my spiritual aspiration.

Knowing that Luke’s deployment to the Afghan conflict was imminent, I ask Swami Nityanand for his counsel. Nityanand is not my guru, and I offer no opinion as to his legitimacy or competence, but he treated me with kindness and respect, so I ask him for a blessing for my son and any advice he can offer. Nityanand thinks for a few minutes, and says these words:

“Blessings on your son. Tell him to do his duty. But whenever he can, tell him to see God in the innocent people he will meet and treat them with great kindness. That way he will preserve his soul and return with the knowledge that Dharma has prevailed in him.”

Nityanand says it better, but that’s the essential message I pass along to Luke.

Later, I overhear Luke talking to his men.

“You will be in shape before we deploy, especially your cardiovascular conditioning. You will run until you go blind or you will get my boot up your ass. You will not get anybody knocked up. You will not run off and get married between now and spin-up. And one more thing . . . when we get over there you will treat the Afghan people with respect and kindness. You will be a credit to the Marine Corps and to yourself. You hear me, Marines?”

I marvel. My little boy, my Arjuna, is commanding a fire team of warriors. Their lives are in his hands; and his, in theirs. How can I let him go? How can I hold him back? How will I go on living if he . . . . no, put that terror back in its dark little box and shove it deep into a far corner where I can pretend it isn’t there.

War paint complete. He is fierce and frightening. Then he winks at me and mugs with his tongue out the side of his mouth. I have to laugh. Killer and clown. My only son.

I want him to listen to me. Wire it tight. Watch your six. Think. Keep your eyes moving. Think. Use every piece of cover. Think. The ground is your best friend. Be silent. Use the darkness. Think.

“Thanks, sir, all good advice.” He humors me. Pops. Old Corps. Dad.

His men are strutting young roosters. I love them. I’m terrified for them.

“We’re the professionals, sir. We have stuff you never dreamed of. Don’t worry, we’ll all come home, and bring Corporal Jenkins with us. Hey, assholes, mount up! There’s beers to drink and women to woo! Let’s go see the Elephant! OoRah!”

OoRah. Whatever the hell that means.

I watch them drive away in my son’s beat up Camry.

Just me now.


Alone.


Drifting away into the remembrance of my own initiation.


Nineteen Sixty-Six.


The year I went to see the same damned Elephant.


.

Friday, October 2, 2009

PRAYER COVE













Five miles into the Weimar run we stop at Prayer Cove, a secluded clearing just off the Coyote Creek trail.














Dharma drinks and splashes around in the creek while I pray, or rather, chant a beautiful Sanskrit prayer called “Jyota se Jyota,” irreverently translated to mean “Come On, Baby, Light My Fire.” I chant or sing the chorus and six verses at the top of my lungs, letting the song ring out through the green woods.


My musical treatment is not Siddha Yoga approved. I riff the rhythms and embellish the phrasings as the spirit moves me. I even make a couple of slight, but profound changes in the words. I begin and end the chant with “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih (Om Peace Peace Peace)” instead of “Sadgurunath Maharaj Ki Jay,” the traditional invocation and benediction. I change the first line of the sixth verse to “Jivana Nityananda Avinashi.” For those who have hung around SiddhaYoga, this is an eyebrow-raising alteration. It won’t be the first time I’ve played fast and loose with the orthoodoxy. I’ll probably get a midnight knock on the door from the Siddha cops.

I offer the chant, and myself, to the Mother of us all. I open my arms wide and turn in slow circles, inviting all of nature to pour into me.

Sun,

sky,

clouds,

creek,

creek sounds,

trees,

wind,

bushes,

berries,

poison oak,

fungus,

dirt,

birds,

bird songs,

animals,

insects.

All of it. Welcome. I adore you.

That’s my prayer. Am I praying to an old white guy in the heavens to grant me personal favors? A cure for cancer? World peace? C’mon. So why do it? I pray as discipline, as spiritual practice to help me keep my feet on the Path.





I pray because I like it.


The final chorus of “Jyota se Jyota” picks up speed, and some folks, including me, like to add spirited hand clapping. Dharma’s head snaps up. The hand clapping is her signal that it’s time to get back on the trail.

“Om Shantih Shantih Shantih.”

"Woof"

"OK, dog, let’s go!"

.

Silence

.Silence
























.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

INTO THE YELLOW WOOD--EPILOGUE

.

.

“Two most important skills in life are making friends . . . and keeping them”


Gus


Marion “Gus” Baldwin was the kid your mama didn’t want you to play with. Mothers could tell this right away from the sideways serpent grin he conjured just before the trouble started. Gus did have a certain “glint in his eye,” but was adept at the All-American Kid routine, which he performed to perfection. When you got to know him, you quickly learned that devils really do walk the face of the earth.

Gus was more mature than I about women and sex. He had a girlfriend with whom he had slept—all night long! I was envious and deeply impressed with his savoir faire. In this regard, I acknowledged him as the alpha wolf in our little pack. I had my own areas of expertise, and I think Gus was respectful of my prowess in dramatic arts and outdoor sports. All in all, we balanced each other. That's why we clicked from our first meeting on the train to Marine Corps boot camp.

Those of you who followed my YELLOW WOOD series met Gus Baldwin in PART NINE--Battle of the Hinky Dink. You may remember how he instigated the legendary food fight, and how I instantly joined the fray as his wingman. Many of our subsequent misadventures followed that pattern: wicked idea, serpent smile, and then hellzapoppin’ mischief--with Bob left holding the bag.

“What a dumb-ass,” grinned Gus, “Why are you always getting caught?”

Together we survived the surreal tortures of Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. I remember one episode when the Drill instructors publicly announced our IQ scores and then cruelly mocked us. If you had one of the lower IQ scores, you were mocked as an idiot, but their special scorn was reserved for those unfortunates with high scores. One recruit, whose name I can’t remember, had a ridiculous score around 165. I believe he was spirited away in the night by the CIA and hooked up to a computer. Oh yes, I think his name was Houser, Doogie Houser. Gus and I had the next two highest scores. His IQ was three points higher than mine.

“Oh my God,” quoth the Senior Drill Instructor, “What have we here in the Three Three Eight? Two bona fidey geniuses. Isn’t that wonderful? ISN'T THAT WONDERFUL?"

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Baldwin and Jenkins. Are we surprised?”

“Sir, no sir!”

“I always knew Miss Baldwin was the biggest wise ass in the platoon, but where has Miss Jenkins been hiding her light? Under a bucket I’m sure, so that we won’t be blinded by her brilliance. Oh, it hurts my eyes just to look at her. Does it hurt your eyes to look at Miss Jenkins?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Jenkins would you mind terribly putting a bucket on you head so that we are not blinded by the light of your superior intellect?”

Gus just smirked. He was really, really good at smirking. Olympic class smirker.

But the fantastic result of those matching I. Q. scores was not revealed until a few days later when the MOS (Military Occupation Specialties) were allotted, also publicly. Gus and I were both assigned 6742, HAWK missile operators. We had orders to report to the same outfit. We were going to be stationed together!

(Insert Infantry Training theme song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Stones)

After boot camp, Marines go directly to the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. For several weeks new Marines play war in the woods, shooting things, and blowing stuff up. I have to tell you the truth. We had a lot of fun. Boom!




Infantry training complete, Gus and I arrived together at Cherry Point, North Carolina, the founding members of Delta Battery, Third LAAM (Light Anti Aircraft Missile) Battalion, a training unit whose mission was to get replacements ready for the First and Second LAAMs recently deployed in Viet Nam. There to welcome us to Delta Battery was Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham, the third member of our little ménage a leatherneck. Cunningham was a craggy-faced, mean Marine fighting machine, and he didn’t much like Baldwin and Jenkins. “I think I’ll keep you Devil Pups busy with a month of mess duty. Welcome to Delta Battery.”





We spent about eight months at Cherry Point. We grew to loathe that base and Marine Corps garrison duty which we called the Mickey Mouse Marines, a grueling, tedious cycle of marching, inspections, field maneuvers, testing, and physical training. Until our HAWK missile system finally arrived, the first months were especially mind-numbing. My dislike for stateside assignments would play large in several career decisions, but they were still a long way off, and the material for later stories.




Lieutenant Mike Stevens eventually arrived as the first CO (Commanding Officer) of Delta Battery, and immediately Gus and I knew the new Old Man was cool. Stevens would bust your ass, but he was fair, he listened to us, and you could tell he was Marine Corps to the marrow. When he assumed command, things quickly improved, by which I mean he started issuing 96 hour passes, beginning with me and Gus as the battery men with the most longevity in Delta. Gunny Cunningham was not pleased.

We were off on our first swoop, a term used by servicemen to describe a breakneck dash to a party spot as far away from base as a 4 day pass could take you, give you the most time to play, and then get you back by deadline. For us, swoop meant getting out butts to the Washington D.C. suburb of Silver Springs, Maryland, Marion’s home town where he could bed down with his girlfriend, I could pursue the girls he tossed in my direction, and we could operate inexpensively out of his father’s house. We were PFCs by that time (Private First Class) and making the ridiculous salary of $125 a month.

Our Swoopmobile was my suspension-sagging, heavy-assed Plymouth station wagon. We had blazed a route through backwoods roads to avoid the state troupers who probably would have pulled us over for averaging 100+ miles an hour. Remarkably that grey behemoth handled beautifully and could hug the road, the faster the better. Gus would sit next to me drinking a beer; completely relaxed and unconcerned with the Carolina piney woods streaking by in a blur. “Think you could drive a little faster?” I tried to oblige and put my foot to floor.

Here’s a strange morsel to chew on. That Plymouth wagon was the same car my mother shot herself in. My step father, Lu Smith, pushed it off on me because he couldn’t stand to be in it. I wasn’t happy about it myself, so I really didn’t care if I destroyed it. Or me? Now there’s an interesting thought.

Marion’s father, also named Marion, or Big Marion as I called him, was a D.C. Beltway operative of some kind, I don’t remember what he did exactly, and he was much more urbane than me or my small town Southern hick-folk. Overlooking the obvious distinctions in class, Big Marion treated me kindly and introduced me to such sophisticated wonders as avocados and spicy food. Noblesse Oblige. At that time he was attempting to secure $1,000,000 in underwriting from the World Bank to mount an expedition to Peru. There, among the Quechua Indians, he was hoping to discover and return with the world’s first foolproof aphrodisiac. I thought this project was quite the most remarkable and exotic thing I had ever heard.

Gus and I wheeled through Silver Springs on our periodic romantic quests, and had some luck at it, more Gus than Bob, to tell the truth. Our efforts yielded unexpected results. Twice, women followed us back to North Carolina and involved us in escapades I’m not going to discuss here, mainly because the sordid stories are embarrassing, pornographic, and expose yours truly as the pathetically inept dumb fuck I was at the time.

You can insert one of Marion’s trademark smirks.

Here’s one more odd coincidence. The Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point is just 17 miles from New Bern, North Carolina, place of my birth, and the small town where most of the Jenkins clan still lived. Gus and I had a second home off base, and my family came to love him, even if they didn’t know what to make of him, being a Yankee and a city boy and all. We would scoot back in forth between my beloved grandmother’s house and my “real” father’s house, depending upon which one of them could put up with us on any given weekend.



Bob, my grandmother Carlie "Coggie Dear" and Gus Baldwin

At Big Bob’s house, Gus was the shiny object of attention from my two step sisters, Alice and Phyllis. Alice was a thin, rather tightly-wound, and reserved brunette. Phyllis was a hefty, carnal redhead. Both of them harbored fantasies about Marion Baldwin.

One night, Phyllis, who was “stacked,” leaned over and rested her watermelon-sized boobs on the dining room table. Marion, yeah, grinning that grin, reached over and rested both hands on the top of her . . . ah . . . offerings. Phyllis looked down at his hands, and then up at him. An exquisitely timed pause, then Gus dribbled both of her breasts like twin basketballs. Badda badda badda badda. Phyllis let it go on for a few shocked seconds, and then launched a right-handed roundhouse right at Marion’s head. He ducked, knocking over the chair, and falling to the floor. Alice and I followed suit, falling to the floor in hysterical laughter. Phyllis was on her feet, yelling, and they were off though the house and outside. I don’t know if she caught him, and I suspect if she did, she had her way with him, but I don’t know that for sure, and to this day, Phyllis just blushes when reminded of the event.

Nor did my other step-sister, Alice, escape Marion’s wickedness. Gus and I were slightly inebriated, no, drunk as skunks. Alice had baked a cake and was about to ice it when Gus announced that we were going to take over the cake decorating. Alice made the mistake of saying something like “cold day in hell” or “over my dead body” and they were off. Gus yelled, “I’m gonna get you!” He chased Alice around the house, tackled her in one of the bedrooms, tied her up, and stuffed her in her Mama’s closet. Later, Alice would accuse me of helping him, but I vehemently proclaim my innocence. Stuff my own step sister in a closet? Never.

Alice out of the picture, we attempted to ice the cake, making a total botch of the job, of course. A while later, Big Bob’s wife, Agnes, came home to discover the cake disaster in the kitchen. She demanded, “Where’s Alice?” Gus and I looked at each other. “Run!” As we fled for our lives out the back door, I yelled over my shoulder, “In the closet, in the bedroom closet!” None of the women in that house spoke to us for weeks. Alice said she would never, ever forgive him, but she always had a little smile when she made that announcement. In fact, I think that Alice would have flopped to the floor on her back if Gus had given her the slightest encouragement. And maybe he did. And maybe she did. What the hell do I know, anyway?

The event that shattered our friendship was so wrenching, that most of you would probably repress the memory. I’ve lost a lot of bad mental baggage over the years, but for some reason I remember that moment clearly.

We had been out in the swamps on one of those nightmare field exercises when it rained round the clock for four days. We were wet, cold, and pissed off. Gus and I were tense with each other because I had received orders to ship out to Southeast Asia. We were going in different directions for the first time in our Marine tour of duty. I felt betrayed because he wasn’t going to Viet Nam. He felt betrayed because I was.

We were standing in line to wash our metal trays and eating utensils in garbage cans filled with hot wash and rinse water. Gus was in front of me. He looked back over his shoulder with that smirk and said something I didn’t like. I snapped back at him. A couple of verbal barbs were exchanged, each one nastier that the previous. Gus swung around and threw a punch at me that I took in the side of the face. It rocked me back for a second, and then I came after him with both fists. We stood there, toe to toe, throwing punches. Somehow we ended up on the ground, grappling, and trying to get in more shots as other Marines rushed in to pull us apart. You don’t want two well-matched Marines fighting each other like that. They’re strong, aggressive, and they can injure each other. That’s what they’re trained to do. So our brother Marines got us untangled before either of us got seriously hurt. I turned around and walked away.

That was the end of our friendship. Not very pretty, is it? I shipped out in a few days and Gus went off to wherever he went.

The angry words that sparked the fight were the last we spoke to each other.

I served my tour in Nam, got out of the Marines and went on with my life, marriage, couple of college degrees, theatre gigs, and a move to the west coast to take up my career position at San Jose State University.

While teaching and directing shows at State, I began to develop an alternative career as a professional storyteller. As that enterprise gained momentum, I started touring and taking engagements all over the country.

Early on I got the idea of trying to locate Gus. Every time I got to a new city I’d take a few moments in my hotel room, open the phone book and look for Marion Baldwin. If that didn’t yield any results, I’d call information.

City after City. New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Pittsburg. Lots of smaller venues, but no luck.

Marion Baldwin is not a common name, but there are some, and I found them, and called them. “Were you the Marion Baldwin who joined the Marines in 1965 and knew a guy named Bob Jenkins? No? Sorry to disturb you.”

I was especially excited when I landed a storytelling gig in Washington, D.C., adjacent to Marion’s hometown, Silver Springs. Perhaps his father still lived there? I found the Silver Springs section of the phone book . . . and there it was . . . the entry I had been seeking for a decade . . . Marion Baldwin. I dialed.

A sweet little voice answered, an elderly-lady voice, “Yes?”

“Good evening, mam, my name is Bob Jenkins and I’m looking for an old Marine Corps buddy named Marion Baldwin. Does he, perhaps, live there?”

“No. But I do.”

“Ah. But no Marion Baldwin?”

“Yes, Marion Baldwin lives here.”

“But you said . . . .?”

She laughed, “I’m Marion Baldwin!”

Of course, “Marion” can be either a man’s name or a woman’s name. I apologized for bothering her, but she didn’t want me to hang up. I could tell she was lonely. For the next half hour we chatted. She told me about her husband, now deceased, and I told her about Marion Baldwin and a cleaned-up version of our adventures together in the Marines. I don’t suspect Lady Baldwin is still with us on this side of the Veil, but I liked her, and she liked me, and I still remember her. Tip o’ the hat to you, Mrs. Marion.

City after city.

In the late Nineties toward the end of my teaching career at San Jose State, I was running a technically-oriented university department with its own computer lab. I became acquainted with Al Gore’s new invention, the internet (a joke that some of you may remember) and with “people search” software. The first person I looked for was Marion Baldwin. Within fifteen minutes I located him. He was living in . . .

San Jose, California.

Gus Baldwin and I lived in the same city! We had both been living in San Jose for two decades and had never run into each other. I was especially flabbergasted because as a director, actor, and storyteller, my name and photo had many, many times been in the San Jose Mercury News as well as the college newspaper. And to top it off, Gus had been a student at San Jose State where I was chairman of the Television, Film, and Drama Department! I thought, “How could he not know I was in San Jose?”

My next thought was that he very well knew where I was, and he had been deliberately avoiding me all these years. But what the hell, I fired off an email, and within ten minutes, he responded, equally flabbergasted.

We arranged a lunch meeting at a downtown bistro. We were both nervous. You can imagine the thoughts: “What will we remember about each other? Will the light of friendship still glow? What if he’s a snotty asshole? Flamed out bum? Registered sex-offender? Fully enlightened Buddha?”

But no . . . it was just Bob and Gus. Gus and Bob. And his IQ was still 3 points higher than mine!

In the ten years since then, we have drawn closer together, not the way it was in those intense months following the Battle of the Hinky Dink, but nice. Genteel. When we can, we spend time together. He knows he could call on me to cover his flank, and I’d be there.


I’d still trust Gus to do the same.



Semper Fi.
.

Friday, September 25, 2009

COME AND SLEEP

.
This is a work in progress. The two brief scenes that follow are from a full-length play titled COME AND SLEEP based on a chap book of seventeen little poems by Steve Sanfield. In the middle of the two scenes is another scene titled The Coverlet of Tears that I have removed for this blog post. Let me know what you think.
Scene 3
The Fox Eye

(KITSUNE and POET enter a hotel room)

KITSUNE
We do a thing to keep safe.

POET
Safe from what?

KITSUNE
Bad foxes.

POET
(In an exaggerated Japanese accent) Ah so. Foxes.

KITSUNE
Ah so? Funny man. You have pencils?

POET
Not very sharp.

KITSUNE
No sweat. Now you give me two pencils.

POET
No sweat.

(POET rummages through his bag. KITSUNE goes to the closet and gets a coat hanger. POET gives her two pencils.)

KITSUNE
You have string?

POET
No, I don’t think so.

KITSUNE
Rubber bands.

POET
Nada.

KITSUNE
Paper clips.

POET
Bingo.

KITSUNE
No bingo. Paper clips.

POET
(Laughs) How many?

KITSUNE
Four.

POET
Here’s a handful. Knock yourself out.

KITSUNE
Why I want knock myself out?

POET
Just an expression. It means, take all you want.

KITSUNE
OK. I knock myself out. You take shower. You go in there. I make Fox eye.

POET
I take shower? You make Fox eye?

KITSUNE
Yes, go now. Get pretty clean. Smell better.

POET
Yes, mam.

(POET exits to bath room. KITSUNE begins to make the “Fox eye” from the clothes hanger, two pencils, and four paper clips. As KITSUNE works, Noh Drama music begins and KOHARU, as masked Tsure, enters from the hashigakari. The following scene is enacted in Noh Drama style.)


Scene 3
Shigure no Kotatsu
(the coverlet drenched with tears)

KOHARU
City of Osaka, once proud, is become decadent and cynical. In a poor section near the entertainment district, lives a woman of noble birth . . . Kitsune.

(KITSUNE’s work assembling the “Fox eye” becomes her house keeping chore.)

(in this space resides the deleted scene)


KITSUNE
I hear about the double suicide. I have sacrificed everything to prevent this horror. I strip off my holy robes, and wrap myself in my only possession, my tear-drenched coverlet, long hidden in the wall of my cell. I abandon the nunnery:

Two years
a nun
--useless exercise

I spit on Bushido code of honor. I defy my own karma. I make my way back to Osaka where I take employment in a second-hand bookstore. There I find this little book of anom . . . anum . . .


Scene 4
Now Sex Time

(POET sticks his head in from the bathroom where he has been listening.)

POET
Anonymous?

KITSUNE
Yes, anonymous, poems.


(POET returns from bathroom, naked, takes the coverlet and wraps it around his waist like a towel.)

POET
Smell better?

(KITSUNE smells the POET, not a little sniff from a distance, but all over, the way an animal smells another animal. She pulls his towel off and smells his crotch, his ass, his feet. It is quite matter of fact.)

KITSUNE
Yes, smell better. Smell like sex. Good sex.

POET
I’ve heard Japanese women don’t like to kiss on the mouth. Is that true?

KITSUNE
This Japanese woman kiss on mouth very much, but first we hang Fox eye. Bring chair over here.

(KITSUNE points to the center of the room. POET moves the chair to the center of the room as instructed. KITSUNE climbs on to the chair.)

KITSUNE
Hold this.

(KITSUNE hands POET the “Fox eye.” She unties the ribbon that holds her pony tail and shakes her hair loose, then indicating the “Fox eye.”)

Give me.

(She ties the ribbon to the hook of the coat hanger and stretches up toward the ceiling.)

Hold me.
(POET puts his hands on her waist.)

Tighter.
(POET steps closer and wraps his arms around her).

Tighter!

(POET squeezes her very hard).
Good.

(KITSUNE ties the ribbon to something on the ceiling, then gives the “Fox eye” a little spin. As it spins, the lights dim, and gigantic, distorted shadows of the “Fox eye” revolve around the room. She looks down at him.)

Now sex time.

(What happens is hard to see, and hard to understand. In a blur of incredible speed KITSUNE breaks free of the POET’s embrace and violently takes him to the ground. With yips, barks, and growls, they roll in a tangled frenzy across the floor until she subdues him and mounts him with her teeth on his throat. Growling low in her throat, KITSUNE begins to hump him.)
.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TWO THOUSAND AND ONE--A HAIR ODYSSEY

.


Yesterday I forgot to wear my ball cap to the job site and paid for my lapse. I was trimming large cedar branches with the chain saw when a quarter-size dollop of cedar resin fell on top of my head. I didn’t notice it until later when I reached up to ruffle the sawdust of my scalp and managed to squish the sticky substance into my hair, creating a wad of sawdust, resin, hair, and grossness. Yuck.

In the hours before I could get home, the mass of unspeakable putrescence expanded in volume and nastiness. It seemed to be attracting additional dirt, dust, lint, small insects, and airborne detritus of all kinds. Firmly affixed to my head, it had adhesion power that rivaled superglue. I figured turpentine or mineral spirits on a rag, carefully and patiently applied over several hours, was my first option in attacking the lump, now twice it’s original size. I think I could feel it move, I’m pretty sure about this, like a jungle parasite or alien larva. I wanted it off! Get it off me!

On all the shelves and cabinets of my garage, there was not one drop of solvent.

Desperately I looked around for something. There, flaunting its cheerful blue and white logo, was a modest little can of WD-40, peeking out from behind a can of motor oil, as if to whisper, “Psssst! Over here!” I remembered reading an article called “Facts and Myths about WD-40, Versatile Product of 2000 Uses” or something like that. WD-40?

Oh, what the hell.

I sprayed some of the Versatile Product on my fingertips and went to work. Working completely by feel, I rubbed the secret formula into the hairy wad. Within ten seconds the repulsive mess had completely disappeared. I mean, vanished, vamoosed, kaput. I couldn’t believe it. I kept searching through my hair to find where the thing had hidden. It was gone!

My next thought was, “What have I done?” I envisioned scalp burns, blisters, a large and growing bald spot, maybe melanoma. At the least, I figured I had burned my hair follicles into brittle, straw-like stubs. Quick, to the shower! I washed my hair twice. Hmmmmm? Seemed OK. As I dried and then brushed my hair, I noted something peculiar. My hair looked and felt great. I don’t use conditioner when I wash my hair, so I don’t have much experience in these things, being a manly man and all, but this must be what conditioner is like. My hair felt silky and healthy and . . . well . . . nice. A day later, it still does.

So, WD-40 marketeers, you should immediately do two things. First, (1) add Versatile Use number Two Thousand and ONE, Hair Conditioner, to your ad campaign, and second, (2) pay me some big moolah for my discovery and the free advertising I’ve just given you on my blog. Phone lines are open to receive your proposal, perhaps monetizing my website, though I would also consider a one-time buy-out if it were of sufficient size.

But I’m keeping my eye on the really big payoff. You see, I don’t have a whole lot of hair up there anymore. If I notice a new crop coming in, WD-40 and I are going to make a killing in the hair restoration racket. I really should keep my mouth shut about this, don’t you think? Shhh.


.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

INTO THE YELLOW WOOD--PART THIRTEEN

.

This is it. The final episode in the YELLOW WOOD series. It completes the expedition I wanted to attempt. Thank you, my friends, and my dear sisters, for being sturdy companions as I hiked strange paths, taking such odd forks and twists through the forest of memory.

There will be an epilogue in a few days that I am very confident you will enjoy. “Guaranteed to raise a smile,” as the song lyric promises. The epilogue covers events that occur within the chronology of YELLOW WOOD, but also go far beyond the limits of this series. That’s why it’s not included here.

So let’s get on with it, and wrap it up.



Gung Ho


PFC Jenkins, Robert, U.S.M.C.


“The Old Man wants to see you.”

Out of the corner of his mouth Gus Baldwin asks , “What have you done now?”
I gave him my most innocent shrug.
He warned me, “Do not mention my name.”

The Old Man was still First Lieutenant Mike Stevens, and he was still shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. I stood at attention in his office at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Old Man kept me standing there for what seemed like several minutes.

“Jenkins, what the hell are you doing in my command?”

“Sir, I was given orders to report to this . . . .”

“Shut up.”

I shut.

“You have the top tech rating in the battalion. Your IQ and aptitude scores are off the charts. Why are you a PFC in Delta Battery?”

“I . . . ah . . . got promoted from Private?”

“Do not mess with me, Jenkins.”

“No sir, messing with you, sir, would be a mistake of classic pro . . . .”

“SHUT . . . YOUR . . . HOLE.”

Hole. Shut. Mine. Completely.

Lieutenant Stevens swiveled around in his desk chair and stared out the window as a launcher loaded with HAWK missiles was pulled along by a loader. Too fast. Tank driver fantasies. Gunny Cunningham catches him shit will fly all over base. Wouldn’t want to miss that. Where’s Gunny when you need him?

The Lieutenant didn’t seem to notice. The wall clock ticked. I waited. Marines are pretty good at waiting, even standing at attention.

“At ease, Marine.”

I relaxed, but not too much. What was this about?

“I’m going to recommend you for Officer Candidate School.”

“Sir?”

“We’ll send you to college, on our ticket. You graduate as fast as you can, you malingering fuck, we commission you, you give us five more years, six if you want to go to flight school. You want to go to flight school like your stepfather?”

How did he know about my stepfather, Lu Smith, the “former” Marine fighter pilot? Smith wasn’t even my last name. Well, Stevens was, after all, the Old Man and thereby semi-divine, but his knowledge of my background was, in a word, disconcerting.

He repeated, “You want to go to flight school?”

“No, sir.”

“Okay, no flight school.”

“I mean, no sir, I don’t want to go to OCS or get a commission.”

The Lieutenant stared at me like I had spit in his face. Then he spoke, very, very softly. It is not a good thing when Marine officers speak very, very softly.

“Please, if it’s not too terribly much trouble . . . .”

Oh shit, I am screwed.

“Please tell me why you are declining a free college education and a commission in my United States Marine Corps after I have hung my ass out in the wind to provide you with this singular honor?”

Really, really, really screwed.

“I want to go to Viet Nam, sir?”

“You. Want. To. Go. To. Viet. Nam. (Every word was its own sentence.) What the fuck are you talking about?”

“It’s the only war we’re fighting, sir, and I want my piece of it.”

“Oh my God, do not, do NOT, quote me that Gung Ho bullshit! Viet Nam is not a war! It’s a stinking dog turd and good Marines are being killed for that stinking dog turd.”

“It’s the only dog turd I’ve got sir, and I’m afraid it will be over before I get into it.”

Contemporary readers will appreciate the irony of that statement.

“Let me tell you how it’s going to be, smart ass. You are going to accept my offer. We are going to help you clean up your cluster-fucked academic record from Florida State, then we are going to put you somewhere else, and that somewhere else just might be the Naval Academy at Annapolis. In four years you are going to graduate with honors and you are going accept your commission in the Marine Corps. You are going to Basic School. And then, and then, you are going lead Marines in the real fight, the fight against the goddamn Soviet Union because that’s where the real war is. Do you read me, Jenkins?”

“No, sir.”

“What part did you have trouble understanding?”

“I understood it all, sir, but I must respectfully decline your offer.”

“Respectfully . . . decline.”

“Yes, sir, and I petition you to grant my current request for immediate deployment to Viet Nam. I have been submitting those requests every week.”
He ignored me.

“Do you even know where Viet Nam is?”

“It’s somewhere in Asia, sir, swampy, I believe.”

“Swampy. Oh my Jesus U.S.M.C. Christ. I have got Chesty Puller’s little fight’n devil dog right here in my own unworthy office. Jenkins, you may be some kind of test-taking genius, but you are the dumbest motherfucker I have had the misfortune, the miserable bad luck, of having in my command. Why is God in heaven punishing me?”

He sat there rapping his knuckles against the desk. Not a good sign. Maybe he wanted an answer to his question.

“I don’t know, sir, why God in heaven is punishing you.”

Sometimes I wish I could just keep my mouth shut. But he didn’t come after me for my wise-crackery. His mood changed.

“Is that your final decision?” Fuck the commission. Fuck Lieutenant Stevens. Send me to Viet Nam?”

Deep breath.

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Caiazzo, get your lazy ass in here.”

Sergeant Caiazzo sauntered in to the Old Man’s office. Disheveled, overweight, Caiazzo was a caricature of the typical admin puke, but he was a pretty decent guy. Just wouldn’t want him on night patrol.

“Cut orders to get this dumbfuck PFC transferred to Bravo Battery, Second LAAM. That’s in Chu Lai, Jenkins. Viet Nam, Jenkins.”

“Yes, sir.”

Caiazzo, get him out on my battery before I have to see his sorry ass ever again.”

“Yessir.”

Caiazzo slouched out of the office.

“What are you waiting for, a brass band to play the Marine Corps Hymn?”

“No sir, thank you, sir.”

“Do not fucking thank me. Dismissed.”

I snapped to attention and executed a snappy about face.

“Jenkins. Stop. Caiazzo!”

Caiazzo stuck his head back in the door.

“Sir?”

“While you’re typing up his orders, get his promotion papers together.”

“Sir?”

“We still have one Lance Corporal allocation?”

“Yessir, but you were going to give it to . . .”

Stevens cut him off.

“Give it to this . . . warfighter.”

“Yessir.”

Caiazzo winked at me and disappeared.

“Why are you still cluttering up my office?”

“Sorry, sir, I’m gone with the wind, sir, gone with the wind.”

“Fuck you, Jenkins.”

I was trying not to grin.


Well. We’re done. You’re done. I’m done. The YELLOW ROAD is done. It feels kind of incomplete doesn’t it? Unfinished. Of course, there will be another expedition, a journey to that most bizarre of all American wars, Viet Nam. For those who have been making a certain request, yes, there will be romance. Romance, and weirdness enough for an entire season of The Twilight Zone.

So, let’s get off this Road with homage to the poem that framed it, from Robert Frost,


The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a road, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Sigh)
.