Here’s another installment of Waiting for Westmoreland excerpts. This time in Vietnam. Next time back in the US. Maybe the opening hook–or maybe later for that. 🙂
Only a Salvador Dali painting could do justice to life at Bearcat. It was that surreal. Eating, sleeping, showering were all so different even from the austerities of military bases in America. Jungle foliage surrounded the hard-packed mud/dirt of the base camp, kept at bay only by tractor blades and defoliant. Much more peculiar was the human environment. These were people whose language and culture I did not understand—not the Vietnamese as much as my fellow soldiers. We were in a hostile, very foreign place, most of us for the first time in our young lives. Partially freed from the constraints of military discipline applicable on American soil and with drugs and alcohol readily available to assist, suppressed quirks and previously hidden subcultures came out in the open. Vietnam was a crucible, heating and compressing psyches. Necks got redder. Drawls got longer/slower. Moonshine making/drinking possum hunter/eaters were a puzzle to Down East lobstermen or Windy City slickers, and vice versa. Open discussions were mumbled in my midst about Toms, Jemimas and Oreos. My friend Jackson’s name never came up among the accused, despite his transformation.
Since I had seen him at Ft. Meade, barely a month before, Jackson had shed the guise of Huey Newton. Now he played the role of Rochester, Jack Benny’s man. Instead of the “Yass, boss,” that Rochester always said to Benny, it was “Yass, sergeant” from Jackson. It was accompanied with a happy hop-to-it attitude, instead of the sneer common to earlier times. What the hell had happened to Jackson? Later on, I would see the wisdom of his change in behavior. This was a cloak of compliance, shielding him from harm in a place where opportunities abounded to deal with “uppity n****s.” Clearly, some other brothers had quickly clued him in. Why risk a “friendly fire” accident for the sake of ego or pride while here in Nam? The score against whitey could always be settled later on “back in the world.”
I watched all the episodes of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS series about the Vietnam War. An amazing work. Brought back memories and I learned things I didn’t know. Look for a guy in a fatigue jacket, sunglasses and a beard standing along a war in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during John Kerry’s testimony. Oh, it’s in episode nine, about 34-35 minutes in (may vary with your DVR or computer; right after Kerry says, “biggest nothing.” If you didn’t watch the series you should–pending any issues with PTSD, of course. It confirms my opinions and much of what’s in my book, Waiting for Westmoreland, about America and the war.
Last Thursday, September 21st, I posted an item commemorating the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Vietnam on Views from Eagle Peak. It’s no coincidence that the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick series about the Vietnam War began and continues on PBS overlapping that anniversary. If you haven’t yet seen it, go to the PBS site to see more information about the war and the series. It contains interviews with more than 100 individuals involved with the war–on all sides. I wasn’t among them, but this September also marks the tenth anniversary of my publishing a memoir which prominently features my experiences in Vietnam. The series and my book are complementary.
In the Buddhism I practice, there is no such thing as coincidence. There is causality–cause and effect. A long-time leader I know within our lay organization prefers the term anagogical (no doubt stemming from his former Catholic background) to describe what fellow Buddhists often describe as mystical phenomena. His term is more precise, reflecting the unseen connections between events. Such is the case not just with the timing of the PBS series but with events in my life from childhood through Vietnam. My experiences in Vietnam destroyed innocence and shattered illusions but ultimately led to my practice of Buddhism ten years later–in 1977. Waiting for Westmoreland reveals how Vietnam led me to Buddhism. It also explains how my childhood led to behavior in Vietnam that formed causes that produced life-threatening effects.
Watch for a feature on these two anniversaries in the October edition of Eagle Peak Quarterly. In the meantime, as promised in that Thursday post on Views from Eagle Peak, here’s another excerpt from WFW.
I spent my first 11 years living in a small stucco house in Minneapolis, the second one in from Humboldt Avenue, where the first block of Victory Memorial Drive began. The mile-long boulevard commemorated America’s successful end to the First World War. How odd it seems to me now, growing up on a street by that name. My war, Vietnam, had a somewhat different conclusion. It would leave me not a sense of victory but one of loss, both for my country and for myself. My parents bought the house new, in 1929, 18 years before I was born.
No longer new by my time, the blackened walls of the former coal bin were now just a reminder of an old furnace that once warmed the dwelling. The detached garage at the end of our small back yard had a current-leaking rotary light switch that would give a mild shock on rainy days. A dirt alley next to the garage separated us from an out lot next to the Soo Line tracks. Further back was a switchyard, with engines shuttling boxcars back and forth most days of the week. Through trains rumbled by during the night, with steel wheels clicking and clacking on the rails and whistles sounding in advance of the grade crossing at Humboldt Avenue. I slept through the sound, growing accustomed to it much as I later would the sounds of distant artillery and helicopter gunship fire during Vietnam nights, waking only when the battle grew too near.
This looks promising, to me, for at least a short story. Let me know what you think. Thanks.
“I’m seeing strange things, people on a beach. They’re talking in languages I don’t understand,” Ned said.
“It’s been happening to me too—right now in fact,” Jeff turned and looked down the sidewalk to a beach that should be an intersection with another street.
“But they don’t seem to see us, do they?”
“No, it’s like a movie playing in my mind—like they’re not really here. Is that what you’re experiencing, Jeff?”
§ § §
“There’s a problem in the alpha set,” the monitor said. “People and events are bleeding through from another set—maybe the delta or gamma set.”
“I’ll get right on it,” the technician said. “Is anyone getting alarmed by it?”
“Wondering or disturbed a little is how I’d describe it. We have to get this fixed ASAP. Thinking about tanning, volleyball or beachcombing is fine but we can’t have the alpha’s seeing episodes from people on a beach.”
“That’s what’s coming through‽”
“Yes, totally out-of-place for them. They’ll lose focus on their daily lives—on the trauma they’re facing. We can’t have that! The experiment must be controlled. We could lose funding from the galactic university that’s sponsoring us.”
Two years ago, I attended my 50th high school reunion. I did so only after much consideration and advice from others, Yes, some may think that a bit loony–especially if you’ve seen some of the movies and TV shows lampooning such events. I posted an item about the results back then. Now, Chris Graham has graciously allowed me to guest post a reprised and improved version of that event on Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog.
Here’s a snippet:
What with social media, why would anyone go to a high school reunion? Especially a 50th one! Well, there’s the web and then there’s face to face, rather than Facebook. The latter is OK for casual updates; in person is real. In the end, I went.
Nearly everyone encouraged me to go. I remained ambivalent. I had positive memories of a hip and inspiring English teacher. I learned to write up lab reports creatively in an advanced physics class. The reports confirmed expected outcomes, despite the experiments failing to do so. That came in handy later in college and for doing budget submissions at work.
Then there were the negatives. I had few friends and didn’t get to know many people well. Teenagers can be cruel, as we all know. But it’s been 50 years. I have grown; the tormentors will have aged and undoubtedly mellowed, I thought.
See the post from Wednesday on this collection, including highlights and excerpts from two reviews of the five already received, with an average 4.6 rating.
On to what moved us this month. Although we have thankfully escaped this medical and emotional challenge in our family so far, we know others who have faced it and won. So we were moved to see this report in USA Today.
When Amy Kleiner was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in January, she knew she had a tough road ahead of her, but she also knew that her friends and family would help her weather the storm.
Kleiner’s best friend and neighbor, Tera Kiser, was there throughout her diagnosis, mastectomy and 20 chemotherapy treatments. To celebrate Kleiner’s final chemo treatment, Kiser did something extra special: She organized a parade of family and friends.
“I just felt like the Lord gave me the idea,” Kiser, 41, told TODAY. “The minute she pulled into the neighborhood we could have people there with signs just to celebrate her last treatment.”
As astonished as Kleiner was by this sweet display of love, Kiser had one more surprise in store for her.
“I wanted to have people that care about her hold a balloon and have each person let one go symbolizing her treatments,” said Kiser. “And then I wanted to [have her family] give her the last four so she could let them go herself. It was just beautiful.”
You’ve seen it highlighted here before. Now you can download The Fountain for FREE—these three days only:August 25, 26 and 27. It will be back to $2.99 on the 28th. Don’t miss out! See just two of the reviews that we have received so far. Read more on the Amazon page.
A great read! Says D.G. Kaye, author of several nonfiction books. “If you enjoy short stories in fantasy/sci-fi genres, and stories that make you think then look no further than Maberry’s tales which will engross you with stories about karma, greed, time travel, aliens and muses. . . Maberry is a prolific writer who knows how to keep a reader captivated till the end and finishes his stories with an unexpected twist.”
“The Twilight Zone Meets Philip K. Dick” says Nicholas Rossis, author of several sci-fi and nonfiction books. “I wonder if The Fountain’s stories should be labeled speculative or science fiction, as they remind me more of Twilight Zone and less of Philip K. Dick. Maybe that’s the best definition of them; the common ground between these works. Whichever it is, I enjoyed them and their twists. Maberry writes in a clear way that immerses the reader into the story. He has a gift for creating easily identifiable characters who feel familiar after just a few lines. All in all, a fine collection for those who enjoy their short stories with a twist.”
Don’t you just love the Doors? But this isn’t about music, except one more passing reference. Ray Stevens would be aghast. I think the song lyrics might as well be “Everyone is strange in their own way.”
For decades now, my wife has said I’m strange. I welcome the epithet as an amusing truth. “Why Be Normal?” the buttons and stickers ask. Just so. There is a time and place for eccentricity and normality. Earning a living, of course, may require a modicum of the latter—depending on the work one does. It certainly did for the day job from which I retired some time ago. But let’s get back to strange.
We had met before, my wife and I, at one activity or another of the Buddhist organization we both belonged to. Attending that Halloween party at a mutual friend’s house quickly took us to level of intimacy neither of us had expected. An intimacy that only a few years later led to marriage. A marriage not without its challenges at the outset, but that’s another story. That’s a central part of the memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland. This is a teensy weensy memory about our strange beginning.
We’re both into sci-fi. That inspired our costumes for the party. She came as an alien. Hair an unnatural shade, with face and exposed flesh covered in matching shiny silver. An alternating black and silver diagonally-striped lame knit of sorts covered her torso. I came as Gully Foyle, Alfred Bester’s protagonist from The Stars My Destination. I couldn’t quite master the tiger face tattoo, so I just lettered my forehead “Nomad” in black grease paint. You’ll have to read the book to understand. I added a long maroon caftan and a walking stick to complete the image.
We danced together, we danced alone. I danced around my head-high staff to the thrilled amusement of another partygoer. Thirty is a great time to indulge and flaunt one’s strangeness. It’s never left me. It just manifests in many other ways. What’s life without letting loose the strictures of normalcy. Lighten up. Have fun! She did and I did, mixing our facial paint that Halloween night.
I miss those Halloween trick-or-treaters at our suburban home in Virginia. My faces were way more scary than those who came for candy. Alas, with the seclusion of our dream home in New Mexico from a well-traveled street means we see no children on the annual event. But there are other ways to bring out the strange. Perhaps a topic for another day.
Nearly 50 years ago Joni Mitchell sang of the famous festival of Woodstock. She said in her counterculture song of the same name, “We are stardust.” Now there are scientists who say we may indeed be made of–or at least include in our DNA, not just an inheritance from Lucy millenia ago in Africa but from dust particles blown by galactic winds across the Milky Way.
Supernovas and star-birthing nebula’s may have expelled matter across the universe, hither and yon. Up to one-half of the atoms surrounding us may have intergalactic origins. Making us, in some respects space travelers. Perhaps this explains the abundance of people we refer to as “space cadets.” Perhaps their genetic heritage includes more than a fair share of dust from deep space–with an abundance not simply of dark matter but what might be called, “dumb matter.”
Aside from the pejorative humor, I suspect that this article might form the basis for some interesting backstory–or even a plot line, in a future story. If you get to it first, congratulations. The article is out there; it’s not mine.
Yes, it’s time once again for the #WATWB monthly feature. You may have noticed my affection for dogs. This is another post about what they bring us humans. Warning: if you are sensitive, this might move you to tears–albeit not sad ones. It’s about a therapy dog that is blind, having had to have her eyes removed due to glaucoma. That doesn’t stop her from bringing joy and consolation to children in the hospital. Read the story here.
Coming on Monday, July 10th–The Fountain, A seven-story fantasy and sci-fi collection of short fiction. One quarter the size of an average novel, it’s perfect for summer reading or when you have a few minutes to spare but not a couple of hours or more.
Reminder: If you pre-ordered The Fountain, it will be automatically delivered to your Kindle device, the cloud reader or your app on Monday.You can still pre-order it today or wait and order it on Monday. Just to pique your interest, here’s a brief excerpt from “Lily, an Amazing Dog.” Want to know more, check out the Amazon page or look back at the first post about the book here, with brief highlights of each story.
The first incident came on a morning walk past the retirement home, along a tree-lined boulevard. A flash of sun off a sliding glass door across the street caught Roger’s eye. A lady in a green dress stepped through the door onto her fifth floor balcony. She smiled and waved, seeing Lily with her plushy frog. It’s a retriever thing—Goldens can go nowhere without carrying something in their mouth. The matron began watering a potted ficus. He looked away momentarily.
A loud sound of rending metal drew his attention back to the building. With silver hair streaming and dress flapping like a flag in a stiff wind, the woman plunged from the collapsing balcony. Lily barked at the sight, dropping her frog. In that brief moment, a shimmer appeared in the air. The woman disappeared into the flickering space, never hitting the ground. Lily barked again, before picking up her frog and moving on with the walk as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
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