Lightning Strikes Again

Traveling in time via excerpts from Waiting for WestmorelandVietnam, 1968/Washington, DC, 1979-1982.

Any other night, I might be outside catching the breeze, smoking a joint. Or taking a nap on the balcony that ran round the ATC. Not this night. Sixty feet off the ground, the air traffic control tower at Long Thanh North shook. Rain ran in sheets down plexiglass windows. No sorties tonight. No VC shooting rockets either, so I didn’t need to report an azimuth from their origin.

I wasn’t an air controller. My partner and I were from an artillery unit at nearby Bearcat Base camp. We took turns at night watching for enemy fire and reporting the direction for gunships to hit them with the miniguns. Miniguns that fired the same 7.62 mm rounds that M16 rifles did, but at a few hundred rounds a minute. Enough so that the red tracer rounds looked like a snake waving in the sky.

I was with Headquarters Battery. He was from service battery, the guys who transported artillery rounds and other materiel to the firing batteries out in the field. A NASCAR fan, it seems. He liked to do 90-degree skid turns from Bearcat to the airfield. I told him to stop. He did it every time. We had this duty a couple times a week, while it lasted. He knew about the accident—the one that ended my desperate gig as a liaison radio operator out in the boonies, albeit safe ones. Safe for other than driving.

I was in the backseat of the M-151, a stupidly designed jeep with understeer. A lieutenant sat in front with the driver. A passing truck threw up a cloud of dust. The dust covered the pothole. Cooper hit it at 35 miles an hour. The jeep fishtailed a few times before flipping and rolling. We were all thrown out. The lieutenant got a broken arm. Cooper a skull fracture. I saw white through his black forehead. That ended his tour in Nam; They sent him to Hawaii for essential treatment. I got a concussion but had no broken bones. During my six days in 93rd medevac in Long Binh, I missed seeing Bob Hope and Raquel Welch there and later when back at Bearcat.

Meanwhile, back at the tower, the storm picked up. The wind was bowing the plexiglass windows inward. Loud thunderclaps came closer and closer until the lightning rods atop the tower were routing strikes to the ground below. That’s when a blue flash arced three feet across a console. We all moved to the center of the room, atop tall wooden stools. We stayed put, with feet off the floor and away from all metal objects while waiting out the lightning strikes.

Never been that close to lightning again, except figuratively speaking. Thanksgiving, 1982 at the Harrison house in Northeast DC. Just three weeks after our son’s birth. Let’s back up to a couple of reference points.

Three years before that Thanksgiving dinner, I had called my fiancée’s father to let him know our plans. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea. At age 30, she really didn’t need his consent.

“If the two of them get married or I find the two of them together, I’ll kill the both of them.” It was the week before Thanksgiving, 1979, when a shaky-voiced Juanita called to pass along her father’s plans for us. At least that is what she overheard him telling her brother.

“He’s just saying that, right?”

“Maybe, but we need to take this seriously—he has a gun in a safe at home,” she said, a tremble of fear in her voice.

“But he wouldn’t really do that, would he?” No way, I thought.

“You don’t know my father. He has a very angry nature. There are things he’s done that. . . well, things I can’t tell you about. But believe me, he is perfectly capable of it.”

The words above are from the opening lines of Waiting for Westmoreland, the memoir I wrote in 2007. At that point, my Buddhist practice was less than diligent. It quickly became so. I might have given her up. I might have killed him first. We could have run away to a virtual Timbuktu. None of those options were sensible. You can’t run away from karma—you must expiate it or change it. Although I didn’t understand his attitude in its entirety, I accepted responsibility for his feelings toward me. I prayed for his happiness. Obviously, I am still here, years later, writing stories and posting stuff on blogs.

In 1981, we went on a pilgrimage, during which I made these determinations: the next year we would have a child (there were medical obstacles to that) and Juanita’s father would shake my hand. I didn’t mention this to her.

Three weeks before Thanksgiving, 1982, our son was born. Her father came to the hospital—and shook my hand. He then invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. Back to my lightning strike. We went to dinner with just a slight trepidation. Fear rose when he said, “Come on down to the basement, John.” Ah, here comes the bullet, ran through my mind. No, just the Redskins game against arch rival Dallas Cowboys.

That was when I discarded my transient former self as a common mortal. I would forever after be a buddha. Anyone can be one, they simply must believe it and practice it. I’ve never stopped. If I could turn his hate around like that, I could do anything.

Ka, a resident Cirque du Soleil Show in Las Vegas

We love Cirque du Soleil; we have been to many of the touring shows. Finally went to Vegas for one that stays put. That feature enables props and features that touring can’t do. We went there in October for our anniversary. No gambling, just Cirque and a scenic drive though one of the many red rock canyons in the Southwest.

KÀ has more of a storyline than many Cirque du Soleil events but perhaps a little less song. Plenty of varied costumes and the traditional humor. It’s the platform and the boat that are unique. The floor on which the cast perform moves up, down and side-to-side both vertically and horizontally. So much so that it’s difficult to imagine how the people stay put when almost completely vertical. You can see it at the MGM Grand.

Check out KÀ at the Cirque site.

There are a variety of other resident shows from the group in other Vegas hotel/casinos. If you’re going there anyway, you should check this one out or any of the others that might suit your tastes.

Waters of Life Flow Within, explained

We posted this mashup on July 2nd to minimal response. Perhaps a rewrite might help. 

What’s a mashup you may ask?

For one thing, it’s a bit of this and that; often with excerpts from Waiting for Westmoreland. That memoir covers my life from youth through Vietnam and beyond into relationships and marriage; plus the advent of Buddhism.

For another, a mashup is creative thoughts and links from songs, life experiences and other Snippets of time, places, people and events juxtaposed. AND thoughts or perspectives on writing, thematic observations, etc.

I’d like to think it’s a literary thing–but maybe it isn’t. Densely packed allusions fill Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s the doorstop fruitcake cliché in print. But all fruitcakes are not all doorstops—nor are all award-winning books, I imagine.. My wife’s rum-soaked fruitcake is soft and moist, and rich in its varied flavors. The critics loved Pynchon’s novel, awarding it a national book award. I hated it. I tried reading Gravity’s Rainbow three times before giving up. If it takes hours of research (I won’t brag about my honors degree from college), no thanks.

On the other hand, I loved Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. It received a nomination for that same award, but didn’t win. It also got nominated for Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards–but lost out to Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, Left Hand of Darkness that same year.  The film version of his book DID win a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film. Vonnegut’s book was eminently more readable than Pynchon’s. Fifty year’s from its 1973 publication, Gravity’s Rainbow has yet to be made into a movie (although one seems to be in progress, finally).

Contextual clues to the post; it includes these items:

  • Fair use lyrics from the Talking Heads (the song is “Once in a Lifetime“–lots of allusions to water, above and below ground).
  • References to waterfalls that we have visited (my wife of nearly 42-year and I love them)
  • Allusions to a major character/term in Dune–(both the movie and the book)
  • Traveling the US
  • Integration with  movie scenes and the life of yours truly

Waters of Life Flow Withinedited

My water of life needed more than a Kwisatz Haderach (Dune) could giveNearing age 30, with two former wives, I was still searching for answers. .

Minnehaha Falls laughed. (In Minneapolis)

Cracks in self-confidence were widening after Liz (2nd wife) left. I thought a path would appear once I learned enough. It hadn’t. Couldn’t blame Liz after five years of indecision. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The over-examined one is very frustrating.

Falling Water—loved it, but wouldn’t want to live there—(even if Frank Lloyd Wright built it).

Amidst the dull peoplescape of the party, Lisa sparkled like a mirrored ball above a dance floor. Who is that person? Why is she so alive, so different from the rest? So I asked her. “I’m a Buddhist. I chant,” she said. Words I’d heard once, two years before—out of mind but not forgotten. She wound up in my lap, where we blissfully exchanged kisses, heedless of others. Eventually, she stood up to go.

Blitzed, I said, “I’ll remember your number,” repeating it several times.

“I’ll remember your kisses,” she replied, with a blissful smile promising more.

I called her the next day. I had to know more—and how I could get the zest for life she had. She gave me a thick book and took me to meetings.

We were on the phone at all hours—day or night. I wanted it all—her mind, her power, discipline and self-control. I wanted her body too, but I couldn’t have it. She was trying to remain objective about whether she’d be marrying this other guy. That didn’t keep us from getting very intense. Like her unexpectedly spending the night.

Liz and I still talked. I visited her in an apartment miles away. While there, in a bedroom voice, she called a guy. For my benefit? My heart bled on the 30-minute drive home but I got over it. She called me for rides. Were we still friends or was she was using me? I didn’t care. We spent one night spooning naked after she had had an abortion.

Journal notes  3/2/77—What a curious state of affairs; I love two women yet may have sex with neither! But I’ll settle for two birds in the bush in the absence of one in the hand.

And—It is truly exhilarating to perceive the prospect of finally leaving the postgraduate womb and entering the world. A rite of passage nears. It inducts the spirit of joy into the coming challenge. Change will be abounding; in change there is growth.

On March 31, Lisa and I stopped for drinks at Coco’s, an Arlington (Virginia) bar. The next night, I went with Liz to a Fools’ Party. How apropos. There were no singles at the party. It was all couples, whose common thread was wives working at the same place as Liz. While there, Liz made a remark of some sort to which I jokingly said, “You can be replaced.”

“I already have, by Lisa,” she retorted—she knew about her.

The following night, as typical as it had become, Lisa called me at 1:30 a.m. We stayed on the phone until 3:30.

Waters of life flow within.

In between time spent on Lisa and Liz, school, clerking 20 hours a week at the law firm and odd hours devoted to sleep, I continued going to Buddhist meetings. Toward the end of law school, Liz and I saw a movie.

Liz insisted on attending my graduation. She did, after all, work at a shitty job during my first two years of law school. Afterwards, we had a relaxed dinner at the Magic Pan Créperie, reprising the ending scene from Annie Hall. As Diane Keaton [Annie Hall] departs, Woody Allen so oddly but aptly concludes with, “Guy goes in to see his psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’

‘Why don’t you turn him in?’ The psychiatrist asks.

‘I would, but we need the eggs.’ I guess that’s pretty much how I feel about relationships—they’re totally irrational and absurd, but we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”

Water flows below ground, like the spring fed Cedar Lake in Minneapolis where Jill and I went six years before—the cold water upwelling if you swam over it. Similar, but not like life’s water within.

Soon, Liz and Lisa were gone. A break from serious relationships was past due. I had been chasing intimacy as a substitute for happiness through someone else. I had been worshipping the womb, insistent on a communion of souls through the offerings I left there. I needed to find happiness first within myself.

In the summer of 1977, I went looking for the social life I had never had. In 15-months, I went out with more people than I ever had before. Mostly fellow members. Strong, self-assured vital women. Like fish, they needed no bicycles. I went to bed with none of them. I enjoyed conversation and company for a while, calibrating my interpersonal sensor for the future.

At a Halloween party in 1978, the sensor went off. I had known my future third wife for over a year. An attractive woman, trim at 5’6”, with relaxed hair falling around her café au lait face. Not among those I had casually dated. Now we hit it off dancing. I came dressed in a caftan, carrying a staff. I was Gully Foyle, from The Stars My Destination, with his Maori tiger-face painted on mine, NOMAD and all. She was a silver-skinned alien of uncertain origin. No lap, as with Lisa, just bliss.

The next time, we had just returned from a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We smoked a little dope at a gathering of friends. That led inevitably to the munchies and then the cheap wine.

“Whoa, man, skip me on this round,” I said to the proffered produce. “I’m green enough already.” She was warmly sympathetic, compassionately comforting me in my discomfited state.

“That’s OK, John, just sit back and relax for a few minutes,” she said, stroking my cheek. “Do you want some Alka Seltzer or Mylanta?”

“Nah. I just need to sit still for a little while.”

“All right.”

Nobody had been so felicitous to me in a long time. Maybe she cares about me. It had to be time to go for the eggs—she even liked SF! Soon enough we were an item, going together to one party or another.

Caught in Anita Baker’s rapture of love? Yes and no. Same as it ever was? (Talking Heads) No. The water flowed above the ground. Then I told her father we wanted to get married. Told you that story already.

Niagara Falls, Maid in the Mist. Blackwater Falls, West Virginia. We like falls. Trails in the woods. Sci-fi. Trains.

The kayaker paddled silently in the still waters of St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park, leaving a widening wake behind him.

Her words and phrases start stories or scene snippets. She is my muse. She is my beautiful wife who lives with me in a beautiful house. A house that comes from causes made in decades past. The third time is the charm in this lifetime.

So, what say you? (dialogue from Morrowind—a computer gameI’d like to know.

Review, Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

The Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel)The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unusual time-travel cum historical fiction book populated with annoying characters among both the long ago ones and the latter day folks. A multi award-winning book that slowly comes to a climax in the last quarter of the text.

I must offer kudos to the creative efforts at depicting life in medieval times, yet showing the conflicts between children, extended family and the young historian protagonist. Unfortunately, the author spends way too many pages to show that medieval interpersonal relationships were not so different from those of today.

Yes, the challenges facing the time-traveling historian were ably revealed—but like the character conflicts, were too repetitive. It took too long to get to the point. Again, there were jerks—life is full of them. To me, it seems after we understood who was who, the author might have moved the story along—in perhaps 35-40% fewer words.

As for the other half of the story (the current times from which the young historian traveled), the reader is repeatedly treated to an obnoxious character that is an impediment to resolving the risks to the traveler. This character is a combination of the “Peter Principle” and it’s analogue, the “Dilbert Principle.” There are more bothersome people as well; life is full of them. If you have none in your life, you are a rare fortunate one. But did readers need so many in this book?

The saving grace for me is that both the latter day person elevated to his level of incompetence and a few annoying folks from Medieval Times shared the fate of karmic retribution. Being a Buddhist myself, who realized what they had coming, this felt like an offering of schadenfreude to those who might be so inclined. It would be a spoiler to tell you how the heroic types wound up–but you might guess, this not being not being a noir book, just plenty of suffering.

Finally, another positive observation: This story offers few of the traditional time travel issues but other conflicts and complexities seldom seen.

View all my Goodreads reviews

a Rabbi and an Imam Visit New York Campuses

An amazing segment from Stephanie Ruhle’s show last night.

Two prominent faith leaders have been friends for twenty years. Islam and Judaism are both Abrahamic religions, they point out. With their perspectives on interfaith understanding, they went to colleges in New York to work toward understanding among students. Many of the campuses are rife with anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.

This 9:30 minute clip will give you hope that the disinformation that propels the hatred can be remedied.

Review of The Chill, by Scott Carson

The ChillThe Chill by Scott Carson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the blurb in Goodreads says, “a drowned village lays beneath the dark, still waters of the Chilewaukee reservoir. Early in the 20th century, the town was destroyed for the greater good: bringing water to the millions living downstate.” The greater good being New York City’s fresh water needs from long ago.

People in Galesburg were supposed to have been bought out and left. Not all of them did. That’s where the horror and suspense comes in. The Chill may give you some. My four star rating is for excellent character development and a strong story line. A look into the odd past of the ensemble group of people, connected past and present, offers a hook that keeps the reader turning pages.

As some other reviews have noted, the book might have gone on longer than necessary. Once the unknowns come to the fore, the scary elements decline somewhat and details drag on. The result is more four star reviews than five, mine included. Still, I recommend it.

View all my Goodreads reviews

The Missing Piece, Review of a John Lescroart book

The Missing Piece (Dismas Hardy #19)The Missing Piece by John Lescroart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Got in late to Lescroart with #19 in the Dismas Hardy series. Simon & Schuster has eBook sales that got me a discount. May have to go back and check some earlier in the group.
Lots of twists and turns in this story featuring a couple of lawyers and a former homicide chief, now a private investigator. All about who killed a recently exonerated rapist/murderer AND the alleged killer of the former felon.
There is a panoply of suspects, danger to the PI and other characters in this complex narrative. If you like crime fiction, this will light your fire with the depiction of cops, lawyers, bikers, and more. Maybe it was this person–or maybe someone else. As a mystery, the real villain is a late conclusion.

View all my Goodreads reviews

An Honorable Man–a Book Review

An Honorable Man (George Mueller #1)An Honorable Man by Paul Vidich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A period piece, from 1948 into 1953. It’s when Communism fever was hot and spies were a big deal in the Cold War. Joseph McCarthy was badgering a variety of government employees, among other targets. The book had a minor figure in the story, modeled on him.

But, the plot is mostly about who is the mole in the CIA passing info to the Russians. There are multiple suspects in the office where protagonist George Muller works. Along the way, there’s some familial challenges and romance; the latter is well-written. For a debut novel, character development, dialogue and personal habits were well done.

The only shortcoming I found came in the stereotypical conflict between the counterintelligence agents from the FBI and the CIA folks. It might have been a little better handled. As anyone who reads this type of story must know, the CIA is not supposed to be working in the USA. But then, the limitations on when they could do may not have been fully developed in 1953.

I recommend the book.

View all my Goodreads reviews

NOTE: I have a two-hour course to present at the Western Institute of Lifelong Learning (WILL) on October 9th. WILL is affiliated with Western New Mexico University, here in Silver City. I have much work still to complete so I will be taking a break on this blog until after the class.

The Generous Jay

A repost from 2021, slightly edited. 

We followed the truck for miles, from Hatch along NM-26 to NM-27. Every hundred yards or so we’d see a red chile on the road. Hatch, New Mexico is the chile capital of the world. Some loose pods in the back were blowing from the uncovered load, or so we supposed. The distributor’s loss. Gains for the ravens or crows—or spicy sustenance for a hungry lizard. No pain for them, unlike non-human mammals. Although many folks like the burn.

Red or green? That’s what the order taker asks. A New Mexico thing—green chile cheeseburgers is a menu staple. Chile relleno with the whole pod. Onions the size of Florida oranges, the giant ones. Ristras hang decoratively from porches, drying—awaiting grinding into powder. Rotating barrels outside grocery stores roast the peppers each fall. Roadside vendors sell burlap bags filled with the red heat, cooked as is for one dish or another.

It’s chili con carne for me, without chile peppers. I’m still up for Kung Pao or General Tso’s Chicken. Sadly—not much demand in the Southwest for those items and those that can be found are just not the same. I’m not quite an acclimated New Mexican foodie yet after more than a decade here.

Those unspoken observations ran through my mind on the trip en route to Silver City. Then I saw the Mexican Jay. Just like the ones at our house, high atop the hill near Silver City. Were the Jay’s picky or kindly—knocking seed off our feeder? Other birds and the chipmunks happily scarf up what their benefactor tosses to the wall below. So, the chiles weren’t blown from the truck; the Mexican Jay sitting atop the load was tossing them off, every so often. A generous or fussy bird? Maybe it was leaving a trail to follow—nah, not likely.

Shakti and Weather Report at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall

This is one of the top five concerts I ever attended.

It came on April 23, 1976, just a few days past my birthday. Shakti with John McLaughlin, opened for Weather Report on the latter’s Black Market album tour. For those who have not been there, the Kennedy Center’s sound quality is exquisite anywhere in the hall.

McLaughlin, for a time, became known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Prior to going acoustic with Shakti, his “Mahavishnu Orchestra” recorded a series of very popular fusion jazz albums. I like to describe it as “jazz at the speed of coke,” for it’s nearly hypersonic music. Some people doing coke that’s cut with speed might keep up with the tracks. Try the “Noonward Race” on the Inner Mounting Flame CD/LP from 1971 as an example (find it on YouTube, Spotify, et al).

With Shakti, he and his fellow musicians slowed—slightly. Here’s a four-minute track from the album 1976 album, “Lotus Feet”—that they played at the April 1976 concert.

If you want to hear more, here’s a link to the whole album. As you listen to the 29-minute “What Need Have I For This—What Need Have I For That—I Am Dancing At The Feet Of My Lord—All Is Bliss—All Is Bliss,” final arrangement, Imagine the members frenetically beating any of the three Indian percussion instruments with bare hands—the clay pot ghatam, the drumheads of the mridangam, or the two tablas.

A clay pot played by T.S. Vinayakaram
Played by T.S. Vinayakaram, pic  Wikipedia
Played by Zakir Hussain

 

Wooden drum
Played by R. Raghavan, pic Duke University music collection

 

Weather Report’s repertoire sounded quite different. The group regularly changed personnel, according to commentaries. All on this performance were renowned for various instruments and members of previous bands. The Black Market had an evolving sound as people came and went over time. Throughout most of its existence, the band was a quintet consisting of Zawinul, Shorter, a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a percussionist. While generally labeled as a jazz fusion group, they went beyond it sometimes. For this tour, the musicians were Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius, Alphonso Johnson, Chester Thompson, Alex Acuna, Don Alias, and Narada Michael Walden.

A Wikipedia article says that Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous founded the group. While at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Florida (FNCC, the SGI-USA Buddhist group retreat) I told fellow Buddhist Wayne Shorter how much I enjoyed the concert. He passed away recently after an illustrious career.

I loved Gibraltar, among many other songs from this concert. Here’s a link to a 5-minute cut of the tune on YouTube.