Author Archives: gdgdurden

About gdgdurden

I am an ultrasound technologist in the Pacific Northwest who grew up listening to the stories that the grown-ups told in living rooms and around fires. I love a well-told story and try to continue that art.

One Eyed Jack Re-Do

In the fall of 1972 I was fortunate enough to begin my junior year of college at Sonoma State College, now Sonoma State University, in the town of Cotati, California.  Cotati was a wide spot in U.S. Highway 101, about one hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sonoma State was the newest of the California State Colleges then and there were no dormitories yet, so students were left to find lodging as best they could in Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, or somewhere in the rural countryside where the locals would take in a student or two to augment their income.

By pure luck I was able to find an apartment in a two building complex that was about 200 yards across a flat field from the college.   A narrow asphalt path led from just across the street to the west parking lot of the school.  This complex housed something like 200 students and was conducive to almost anything except studying.  My unit consisted of a living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and one bath.  Three of us were lodged in that unit, and on a roll of the dice I ended up alone in one bedroom while my roommates Roy-Boy and Animal shared the other.  It was a good arrangement, from my point of view, and we all got along very well, considering that each one of us was, in our own very unique and individual ways, crazy as loons.

The focus of community for the residents of Building A, where my apartment was located, was the swimming pool.  The pool was in a concrete courtyard area that also contained a fire pit, a picnic bench and several deck chairs.  On nearly every evening, whether during autumn, winter or spring, many if not all of Building A’s residents would be found by the pool.  Many of us would swim, some in swimsuits and others in a state of nature, while others would tend a roaring fire and still others would talk politics or flirt or weave dreams about where they hoped to be in five or ten or forty years down the road.

On several occasions we would decide to make music.  A couple of the students possessed and were able to play instruments.  Roy and Jan played the guitar.  Lenny played a clarinet.  I pounded on a big, red conga drum.  Others played pots and pans and telephone books and anything else that they could turn into an improvised musical instrument.  On such nights the cacophony produced by anything that could be blown into, scraped across, plucked, thumped or tickled would waft out into the dark Sonoma night, accompanied by the voices of those who’s preference for instruments of auditory torture ran to the vocal cords.  As a result, our courtyard would frequently look and sound like a couple of the circles of Dante’s vision of Inferno.

One of the members of this fiendish ensemble was Jack.  Jack was a tomcat, and I mean 100% tomcat.  I assumed that he had once been somebody’s pet because he was not overly skittish once he became accustomed to us. Jack would hang around us looking for a handout or any morsel that might fall to the concrete paving of the pool area.  We would also frequently find him diving in our dumpster looking for gustatory jewels which we had carelessly thrown away out of the ignorance of our abundance.

Jack was a large cat but there wasn’t much fat on him.  Lean at the hip, with a ragged coat and a tattered ear, he was a veteran of many a scrape with plenty of evidence of battles lost as well as battles won.  The most visible of his battle scars was his right eye. That eye always drooped to a greater or lesser extent from one day to the next, and was always tearing or weeping a fluid which made it look like he was crying.  The wounded eye neither got much better nor much worse as time went on, and we just accepted that feature as part of his essential ‘Jackness’.

A couple who lived in my building, Jan and Sheila, took a particular shine to Jack and began to feed him when he wasn’t out catting around, and eventually the attraction of a warm bed and steady meals was sufficient to entice Jack to more or less move in with them.  These two people were some of my best friends at that time, so I got a chance to get to know Jack pretty well.  One afternoon we were sitting in their living room petting and sharing treats with Jack when Sheila said “We ought to take Jack to a vet and get him checked out.  He probably has worms, and maybe we could get his eye fixed.”

“I would love to Honey”, responded Jan, “but how are we going to do that?  We’re eating on food stamps as it is, you know.”

“It couldn’t cost that much” I chimed in, demonstrating how little I knew about such things.  “Maybe if we just squeeze a few bucks out of our food budgets next month we could get a little done for him.  Then we could do more for him each time we scraped a some more money together’.

“I think it’ll take more than that” said Sheila.  ‘I’ll call a vet tomorrow and see what this kind of thing would cost”.

“That sounds like a plan Babe” said Jan, and then we dropped that subject in order to pursue weightier matters, such as the dull roar that was beginning to pick up over at the poolside.

It was actually a few days later that Sheila obtained the information that we needed, and the number set us back on our heels.  “The vet said it would take anywhere from $80 to $150 to do the kind of check-up that we talked about.  Any work that he had to do on the eye would be more.”

We sat there thunderstruck, looking at each other in bewilderment. Jack sat over on a pillow, fresh from having a mouthful of dried food and looking at us with his perpetual ‘wink’ as Jan called it.  At that time my entire budget was $125 from the G.I. Bill check that I got every month.  That included rent, food, and the all-important beer ration.  Jan and Sheila had less than me, therefore having to rely on the already-mentioned food stamps.

“Maybe we could take up a collection” offered Jan.  “Everybody else likes Jack too.”

“Yeah, they like him as long as they don’t have to pay for him” I said. “Their budgets are the same as ours; beer, rent and food.  Taking care of Jack probably isn’t a line item on too many of their budgets.”

 

Jan, Sheila and I fell to cudgelling our brains, trying to find a way to squeeze enough money out of our budgets to give some veterinary attention to a worn and dusty old tomcat.  We sat silently, each in his or her own thoughts, and I reflected on my own necessities.  Beer, of course, came first.  I was 23 years old and a student, after all.  Rent was also non-negotiable, so I began to review my food budget.

I was already very thrifty in the food department.  My mother had grown up in deepest Appalachia, and my father in rural Georgia during the Great Depression.  Both of them knew how to stretch a penny; in fact, Dad used to joke that Mom could squeeze a nickel so tightly that an Indian would come out riding a buffalo.  Dried rice and beans, cheaper cuts of meat and other inexpensive products would be prepared by Mom in such a way that I grew up eating tasty meals and never knew that we would be considered by many to have been marginally poor.

While attending Sonoma State I put that tradition to good use.  Pinto beans were 19 cents per pound.  Ham hocks were 25 cents per pound back then, before white people outside of the South discovered them.  Garlic and onions and salt and pepper were almost as good as free.  With no more than 75 cents I could cook a pot of beans that I would eat out of for three days, if that pot was otherwise left alone.  Usually, however, it was not left alone.

First my roommates discovered my beans, and then the word got around to the others in our community.  The beans were available to whoever wanted to come in and enjoy a bowl.  Another bowl was placed on the counter next to the refrigerator, where people would leave whatever change they had in their pockets so that I could keep the bean pot full.  This was a generally agreeable situation for nearly everyone in Building A, but one day a glitch appeared in our well-oiled machine.

One afternoon when I was working on a paper on Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations at the site of the ancient city of Jericho, I heard the door open and close and a female voice cry out my name.  “Back here!” I shouted, wondering about this innovation of any female person looking for me.  I heard rapid footsteps and soon found myself confronted by an obviously agitated Maureen, one of my co-tenants and the significant other of Joe.  Maureen was pure Irish, and at this moment her Irish was up.

“You have got to stop Joe from eating here!” she barked.

“What are you talking about, Mo?” I asked, unsure of whether to be shocked or amused.

“I’m talking about your damned beans,” she replied.  When Joe’s been eating them I can’t be around him.  He’s peeling the paint off of the walls.”

“I’m sorry Mo, but that’s something that you guys are going to have to work out.  I can’t very well share my food with everyone else but tell Joe to bug off.”

“Isn’t there something that you can add to them, or something that he could take to tone them down?  I’m telling you, I can’t live with him if he keeps this up.”

I invited Maureen to take a seat and tried to calm her down.  I was somewhat successful and we talked for a while.  Maureen and Joe were two of my favorite people in that complex and I didn’t want to cause a strain in their relationship or a rupture between Maureen and myself.  Finally I threw out an idea.

“Why don’t you have a couple of bowls yourself; you know, fight fire with fire?  I’m getting hungry and wouldn’t mind some company.”

Maureen looked at me blankly for a moment, and then a devilish grin began to grow at the edges of her mouth.  She then said, “Sure.  Who knows, I might like them too.”

Like them she did, and in Maureen’s virgin gastrointestinal tract the more unpleasant components of those beans frolicked like young sheep gamboling in a field of lush grasses and wild flowers in the springtime.  Full of pinto beans and the promise of retribution, Maureen returned to their desecrated love nest and waited for her lunch to reach it’s full measure of pay back potency.

All of building A knew when the knockout blow was delivered.  In the still of the early evening, before the nightly party began by the pool, Joe’s tortured voice cut through the cool, late autumn air.  “Jeez, Mo.  Did something crawl up your ass and die?” His question was answered by a fiendish cackle, followed by another sound which was something like ‘braack!’”  A moment later we heard their door open and then slam shut as Joe exited from their apartment in search of relief and a breath of fresh air.

From our patio we could hear all of this transpire, and the three of us were soon laughing so hard that we were almost crying.  Once I had composed myself enough I went around our patio toward Mo and Joe’s front door.  As I looked through a window I could see Maureen dancing gaily in the kitchen.  I knocked on that window, which was open, and got Maureen’s attention.  She broke into a big smile when she saw me and waved for me to come in.  I declined that invitation, which made her smile even more broadly.  She gave me a double thumbs up, which I returned with a smile of my own, and retraced my steps back to the relative safety and breathability of my own apartment.

Peace did eventually return to the Mo and Joe unit, and Mo came over often to learn from me how to make those wonderful beans and other cheap meals.  It was always a little dangerous to go over to Joe and Mo’s place, however, after she began to cook that wonderful stuff herself.

This and other food memories ran through my mind as Jan and Sheila and I thought about how to get Jack patched up.  As I pointed out earlier, my beer budget was untouchable.  Everybody has priorities.  Rent, too, was a dead-end street.  And as for food?  Well I had to eat.  Everybody has to eat food.  Everybody needs to eat food.  Everybody – – -.  Wait!  Everybody has to eat but not everybody likes to cook food!  They like to eat it but they don’t like to cook it.

There the answer was, staring us in the face from the very beginning.  “Let’s have a benefit dinner for Old Jack,” I said.  Jan and Sheila saw the wisdom of that suggestion immediately.

“What will we cook?” Sheila asked.

“What will you two cook?” Jan asked.  “You know that I’m useless in the kitchen.”

“How about spaghetti?” I asked.  “I know how to make a lot of it, and if I go cheap on the meat I can stretch it even further than usual.”

We struck hands on the deal and began to make plans for our dinner.  We started saving our pennies wherever we could, and Jan and I even cut into our previously untouchable beer allowance, so powerful was our determination to make this dinner happen.  Jan was a gifted calligrapher, and he began to produce exquisite posters to put up throughout the complex announcing a spaghetti feed to benefit Jack.  Interest ran high, additional dimes and quarters flowed into the fund, and the progress began to make it look like the enterprise might really work.

On the morning of the big day I began to prepare a large kettle of my own sauce recipe: ground beef and pork, tomato sauce and paste, onions, garlic, mushrooms, olives, peppers and a pinch or two of various spices, simmered for a few hours.  In the afternoon, in an even larger kettle, we threw the noodles into the boiling water as the time to serve drew near.  After letting them boil for a few minutes I began to pluck individual noodles out and throw them on the wall.  When the noodle would stick to the wall it was done.

Sheila opened the door and the first of a horde began to file through.  Jan snatched noodles out of the kettle and I applied dippers full of sauce while Sheila passed the hat.  Technically the food was free, but Sheila put a serious stink eye on any chiselers who thought that he’d get away with a free meal.  People filled every corner of our unit and spilled out into the courtyard and beyond.  We served every bit of that spaghetti except for the plate that I saved for myself.  Jan and Sheila did not indulge, as they were vegetarians. After the last diner had left we counted our take.  Minus the cost of the raw materials we had raised $78 and some change, not a small amount in those days.

The next day Sheila made an appointment with a vet, and on the appointed date we cornered Jack and wrapped him up in a towel so that he wouldn’t do too much damage to us on the way.  We piled into my old Dodge Lancer and began the trip to the vet.  Jack liked this idea about as much as Joe liked Maureen’s revenge, and he was pretty edgy when we carried him into a room filled with other cats and some dogs too. Our turn finally came and we stepped up to the counter and met Doctor Hendricks.

“Well then, who’s cat is this?” he asked.

We looked at each other and said, “Well, Doc, he’s nobody’s cat, really”.

He looked at us kind of funny and said “So you want me to work on nobody’s cat?”

“Well Doc,” I explained.   “He’s a stray that we all have come to like, and so we want to fix him up some if we can.”

Sheila then told him the story of the benefit dinner and added,  “We raised $78 and some change and can each of us add a few dollars more if we have to.  What can you do for Jack with that?”

The doctor stood there for a few moments and repeated the story to make sure that he understood it.  Once he decided that he did understand it he said, “OK.  Let me keep him until this afternoon and I’ll see what we can do”.  We thanked the doctor profusely and then went about our day’s business.

About four in the afternoon we returned to pick up a bathed, wormed, vaccinated, and thoroughly mortified Jack.  The veterinarian told us that the damage to his eye was permanent, but that he could see out of it well enough and that it did not seem to cause pain and would not negatively impact him if he remained indoors.  Jan and Sheila decided then and there  that Jack would be their indoor cat from that moment until the end of his natural life.

“How much did this cost?” asked a nervous Sheila.  She knew that the extent of the doctor’s work was probably a good deal more than we had.

“How much did you say you raised?” the vet asked us.

“Seventy eight dollars and some change,” Sheila answered.

“Then the bill comes to seventy eight dollars,” he said.  “And change”.

With profuse expressions of gratitude we returned to Jan and Sheila’s unit and turned Jack loose to sulk in his corner and lick his wounded pride until dinnertime.

I remained friends with Jan and Sheila for a few years until my gypsy lifestyle led me to new fields.  The last thing I remember of Jack was him doing one of his favorite things.  Jan and I had opened a couple of beers and rolled a doobie the size of a Havana cigar.  We were enjoying both, while Jan’s excellent stereo boomed out album after album of Pink Floyd. Jack loved that band and would sit still as a statue about four feet away from a suitcase-sized speaker, winking his wounded right eye at Syd Barrett and Roger Waters and the boys for as long as the music would play.

I was told that Jack lived a couple more years after I left the scene.  He died a happy and loved cat.

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PURPLE HEART

PURPLE HEART

It was 9:45 in the evening and nearly time for the Enlisted Men’s Club to close.  Almost two dozen boisterous soldiers of the 537th Company, 63rd Battalion of the Eleventh Transportation Command were alerted that they had fifteen minutes to slurp down the last of their cold beer and return to their hooches for the night.  What they did once they returned to their prefabricated aluminum quarters was their own business.

The EM Club was a wooden structure that was slightly larger and a little bit taller than a residential hooch, which could sleep twenty four men.  It was constructed of materials scrounged from the stream of goods that flowed through the river port operated by the 63rd.  The wooden planks that formed the sides of the building, the aluminum that made the roof, the fiberglass insulation that stood guard between the revelers inside and the grueling heat that ruled the daytime over the flat Mekong Delta outside; all of it was collected from shipments destined elsewhere but which lost their way in the fog of war and ended up at the 537th.

Larry Ordonez tended the bar, sold jerky and pretzels and whatever else came through the supply line legitimately or otherwise, and opened several hundred cans of beer in a twelve hour day.  He was taller than average at 6 feet 1 inch, and weighed around 220 pounds, making him imposing enough to prevent most trouble from breaking out in his club.

The customers were mostly smaller and younger than Larry; hardly more than boys.  It was 1967 and the draft was still feeding young men into the war in Vietnam, men who in some cases had been high school seniors going to baseball games and drinking sodas at the Tastee Freeze, and hoping that some pretty girl would go with them to the Senior Prom less than nine months earlier.  These boys in olive drab fatigues frequently got drunk and got stupid but only rarely did they get rowdy.  Larry’s presence went a long way toward ensuring that things stayed like that.

Larry’s assistant was Mike O’Reilly, a private first class who had once been a buck sergeant.  Mike was not as tall as Larry but he weighed more, and there was little fat on him.  He had previously served in some unit of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade where he had committed some act serious enough to get him reduced in rank to private, but not so serious as to result in spending time in the infamous Long Binh Jail that was known to all soldiers in-country simply as LBJ.  Nobody knew what that infraction was and nobody asked.  If Mike wanted anybody to know he would tell them, and he wasn’t talking about it.

Ten o’clock struck and Larry yanked three times on the cord that was attached to a brass bell.  The rich tone of the bell cut through the white noise of the small building, announcing that it was time to take their party elsewhere, or perhaps go and crawl into their bunks and get some sleep before starting another hard twelve hour shift at the port in a few hours.  The bell had been removed from a small Vietnamese freighter that had been rocketed and sunk at the port many months earlier.  It sank right in front of Deep Draft Berth 3, rendering that dock unusable for 2 1/2 weeks until it could be hauled out of the water by a huge floating crane and placed in a yard to be salvaged.  The bell disappeared, only to reappear in Larry’s EM Club, no questions asked.

The men drank up and filed noisily out through the door.  The last man through was Phil Ostercamp, a soldier who usually occupied a table by himself in a corner of the club.  Even when other men shared a table with Phil he still drank alone.  Phil was 22 years old, making him senior to many of the other occupants of the club.  He was deeply tanned wherever skin could be reached by the sun.  He never wore shorts or went about shirtless as many of the others did.  Fatigues and boots and a floppy bush hat were all that most people had ever seen him in.  He congregated with others very little and spoke less.

At last the EM Club was empty.  Larry and Mike began to clean the tables of empty beer cans and to wipe the tabletops and bar counter clean of spilled beer, cigarette butts and other detritus left behind by the thirsty man-children.  At least tonight there was no vomit on the floor.

After a wait of about ten minutes a knock was heard at the door.  Larry crossed the room and opened the door, allowing Westy Dunfee, Mark Morrissey and a new kid, Earl or something like that, to enter.  Larry had seen this new guy around recently but had not interacted with him at all.  He had heard other men speaking to him and they called him something, and it wasn’t Earl.  Nicknames were common in the Army, so that did not strike Larry as unusual.

“Welcome to the After Hours Club boys,” Larry said with a grin and a flourish.  The three filed into the room and waved at Mike.

“How do Fellas,” Mike said as he waved back.  “Y’all here to help clean up?”

“It’ll cost you a beer,” Mark called back.

“Help y’self,” Mike responded.  “Y’all know where the cooler and the brooms are.”

Westy walked toward the cooler while Mark went to the back room and retrieved two brooms and a mop.  The third soldier stood by the bar and waited to see what was going to happen next.  Westy extracted three beers and opened them.  Mark threw one of the brooms to the new person  and gave the other to Westy, keeping the mop for himself.  Westy handed out the open beers and then turned back to Larry and Mike.

“Fellas, I think you all know Weasel here,” he said as he waved at the new person in the group.

“Oh, I thought that I heard you called Earl somewhere,” Larry said.

“That’s what my parents call me,” the man replied.  “But I’m just fine with Weasel.”

Mike laughed and Weasel turned menacingly toward him.  “You got a problem with my name?” he growled.

“Whoa, hold on now,” Westy said.  “Mike don’t mean no offense, and you don’t want none of him anyway.”

“Yeah,” Mike said.  “No offense intended, but where’d you get that name?  Ain’t everyone who comes in here calls himself Weasel.  Ain’t got no badgers or squirrels or raccoons neither.”

“Huh!” Larry snorted.  “We got no shortage of squirrels that come in here night after night.”

“Yeah, but they don’t call themselves Squirrel now, do they?” Mike asked and then turned to to Weasel and asked, “How’d you come by that name, boy?”

Weasel seemed to bristle at the word ‘boy’ but answered without making a fuss over it.  “When I was at Fort Hood I was in a shit detail company.  We didn’t have nothin’ official to do, so they would call us out to morning formation, count us and send us to breakfast, and then we were supposed to go back to the barracks and wait for somebody to pick us for some crappy job that somebody else in a real unit didn’t want to do.

“I didn’t have time for that shit, so I would just vanish like most of the other guys, only they would go to the snack bar or the PX or other predictable places where they would get pinched by the First Sergeant and put on those details.  I knew how to not be found.  Top Sarge hated me for that and called me a weasel.  I kind of liked that, so I ran with it.”

Larry and Mike laughed out loud at Weasel’s story and that seemed to take a little of the edge off of his belligerency for the moment.  The men fell to wiping and sweeping and mopping the floor, and in a very little time the little wooden building was mostly clean and ready for the next day’s work.  The five men sat at a round table and began their second beers.  The air conditioner that poked through the wall was no longer working against over two dozen sweating human bodies and had begun to make headway against the heat that reigned sovereign over this corner of the world.  Weasel pulled what looked like an unfiltered cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit it.  He took a deep drag on the ‘cigarette’ and drew it into the bottom of his lungs.

“Ah!” Westy said.  “Pass it over, my friend.”

As Weasel passed the joint to Westy, Mike asked him, “How long you been in-country, boy?”

“I got in a month and a half ago,” Weasel replied.  “And I got your boy hanging.  Don’t call me that again.”

“Whoa, simmer down son,” Mike replied.  “No need to get yourself hurt over nothing at all.  We’re all friends here, less’n you don’t wanna be.”

“Easy now,” Westy chimed in.  “Mike’s from the South, and I don’t mean Atlanta or Nashville.  Boy’s just a term of endearment where he comes from.  That right Mike?”

“Right as rain.  I’m from the town of Adel in South By-God Georgia,” Mike said with an easy smile.  He was not overly worried about Weasel.

“Yeah, he don’t speak good English,” Mark added.

“Like you do?” Larry asked Mark, who then flipped some condensation from his cold beer can at him.

Weasel seemed to accept the explanation of Mike’s use of the word ‘boy’ and also noticed that nobody at the table was impressed with his machismo.  He subsequently ratcheted down his prickly attitude.  The joviality of the other four men and the effects of the strong Cambodian marijuana that they were smoking soon made for a more mellow atmosphere in general.  Mike passed on the joint as it came around to him saying, “No thanks.  I’d rather get my high out’n a bottle than smokin’ them funny cigarettes.”

“Cool,” Weasel said as the joint came back to him.  “More for me.”  But you could tell that the animus had departed from him.  He took a long drag on the joint and passed it along.

 

The conversation the drifted from topic to topic, but as usual the three younger men spent a lot of time telling tales of their sexual prowess back in the world before being drawn into Uncle Sam’s all-expenses-paid vacation in the tropics, and how they were going to resume their studly ways when they returned after their tours of duty in Veitnam.  Larry and Mike, having heard such stories many times from the younger soldiers, listened without letting their doubts show.  Weasel, being the youngest and most given to general machismo, painted a most vivid picture of his exploits.

He lit another joint and took a long drag.  After holding the smoke in his lungs for nearly a minute he exhaled and asked, “Who was that guy that was sitting in the corner?”

“What guy?” Mark asked.

“What corner?” Westy asked at the same time.

“That corner over there,” Weasel replied, pointing to the table in question.

Larry followed the line of Weasel’s pointing finger and then replied, “Oh, that was Phil Ostercamp.  That’s sort of his private table.

“What’s his trip?” Weasel asked.  “How come he gets his own table?  He sits there and doesn’t say nothing, just looks at his drink and doesn’t hardly even drink it.  It’s kinda spooky.”

“Phil’s a short-timer,” Westy explained, referring to the soldier’s eminent return to the United States, or at the very least his departure from Vietnam.

“So he’s short,” Weasel replied.  “That doesn’t entitle him to his own table.  The dude could still talk to somebody.  How come I never seen him at the port?”

“He’s usually on convoy, so you won’t see him at the port,” Mark explained.  “He’s sort of crazy; always pulling gunner on a jeep.  Volunteers for it too.”

 

“I thought that MP’s provided convoy security,” Weasel said.

“They usually do, and sometimes the 11th Armored Cav does,” Mark replied.  There’s gaps though, and he signed up for the duty.  It turned out that he’s pretty good at it, too.  Now he’s working a 60 in the back of a rear jeep all the time.”

“Dude must be a nut bag,” Weasel observed.

“Not really,” Larry interjected.  “Working where I do I get to know a lot of people around here.  Phil’s all right, or at least he used to be.  He was never the life of the party but he was as cool as anyone else was.”

“So what turned gloomy as a grave digger?” Weasel asked.

“Six months ago he got a Dear John letter,” Larry explained.

“Oh, that sucks,” Westy observed.

“That ain’t the half of it,” Larry said and then continued.  “His wife was pregnant when he was sent over here.  He expected to go see his wife and baby in Hawaii when his R&R came around.  They send married guys to Hawaii to be with their families, you know.”

“Yeah, we know that,” Mark said.  “Me?  I’d rather go to Bangkok,”

“Well, you’re not married and a father, which is probably a good thing,” Larry replied and then continued his story.  “Anyway, Phil got the letter two weeks before his R&R started.  His wife told him that the baby wasn’t really his and she wanted a divorce so that she could marry the baby’s real father.”

“Holy shit!” Weasel exclaimed.  “I’d go home and shoot somebody.”

“They don’t value shooting people back home the way that they do here,” Mike observed.  “Phil talked about doing just that, back when he talked much at all.  He told me later that he crossed that option off of his to-do list for when he got home; said that rotting in jail didn’t sound like a great future.  That was a few months back.  I don’t know what he’s thinking anymore.”

“So he likes to ride gunner now,” Mark said.  “That much I know about him.  What’s he doing?  Is he trying to take his revenge out on the Cong or trying to get himself killed?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Larry answered.  “Maybe the one or maybe the other, or maybe even both at the same time.  They say that he doesn’t flinch in an ambush.  He stands there looking for movement or muzzle flash or anything to guide him, and then just whales away with that 60.  Shit’s flying past him like yellow jackets to a piece of meat on a picnic table and stuff’s blowing up all over the place; he just stands there and makes ‘em pay.”

“I knew some fellas like that in the infantry,” Mike said.  “The gates of hell would be open’n up and they’d just be like taking their sweet time and pouring it right back to the bad guys.  Crazy som’bitches!  Some of ‘em would get lit up but others seemed to be born with a four leaf clover up their asses and never got touched.”

“Ain’t no way that I’d let any chick screw with my head that way!” Weasel declared.

“You ain’t gonna know that until some chick does screw with your head, junior,” Mike replied.  “Phil loved that girl; least he said he did, ’n I suppose that’s true.  It’s not like breaking up with your eighth grade girlfriend, or it shouldn’t be.”

“Especially when there’s a baby involved,” Larry added.

“Especially when you thought that the baby was yours, and it wasn’t,” Mike continued.  “At least that’s what he was told, but then she lied about other things, so how do you believe that this or any other part is true?”

“That stuff will really mess with your head,” Larry said.  “You don’t know how you’ll react until you’re in the middle of it.  I’ve heard it a couple ‘a times over here, being a bartender and all.  And the thing is that it got worse.”

“The hell you say!” Westy exclaimed.  “How does it get worse than all of that?”

“Well, Phil was in shock and didn’t know how to deal with that information.  Two weeks after getting the letter he went on that R&R, not knowing what the hell else to do.  It was like he was numb and couldn’t make any kind of a decision, or even process what was happening around him, so he did whatever came next when R&R came around.  He  went and stayed in that place that the Army had secured for him and his family, and it empty as a tomb.  I think that’s when he really snapped.”

“Why didn’t he just pick up somebody on the beach or in a bar and spend the week with her?” Weasel asked.  “Thats what I would have done.”  The others at the table either scoffed or remained silent after hearing that.  Weasel scowled at the rejection of his attempted logic and then Larry continued his story.

“When he got back here it was like he was as empty as that house in Hawaii was.  He volunteered for the gunner position every chance he could.  Once they saw how good at it he was they put him there on every convoy.  Now he’s got three weeks to go before he goes home or wherever they send him.”

“I heard that they sometimes send the really crazy ones to the Philippines or Korea or somewhere so that they can try to straighten out their heads a little before the go home,” Mark said.

“Yeah, I heard that too, but I don’t know if it’s true,” Larry said as he picked up his story again.  “They offered to let him stay back at base camp the last three weeks but he wasn’t interested.  He’ll go on convoy the day before he goes home if they’ll let him.”

“Wow, that crazy bastard walking around on the streets back in the Real World.  That’s not the best idea that I’ve ever heard,” Westy observed.  “Maybe it would be better if he succeeded in getting himself killed in the next three weeks.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Mike said with a frown.  It was obvious that he was not impressed with Westy’s comment.  “I don’t know if he’s really trying to get himself killed.  This is just my opinion, but I don’t think he hates the Cong and I don’t think that he really wants to get killed.  It’s just that he doesn’t care if he gets killed or not.  I think he feels like he’s dead already, in the middle of his soul at least, and he’s just getting into the thickest part of things so that he can feel a little bit alive again, even for just a while.  Unless you’ve been in that shit, you can’t really know about it.”

“Well, I think that’s enough of this for me,” Mark said.  “I’ve got to get a little shut-eye before we have to do it all over again tomorrow.  You all coming or staying?”

“I’m done,” Westy said.

“Me too,” Larry agreed.  “I’ll lock the place up.”

“Light weights,” Weasel said, but he got up too and walked to the door with Mark and Westy.  On their way back to their hooch the three friends paid little attention to the flares in the nighttime sky just beyond the perimeter of their battalion.  Flares were not an uncommon thing in the Vietnamese sky after dark.  Upon their arrival at their hooch however they discovered a buzz of activity

“What’s up?” Westy asked a soldier who occupied the bunk next to his own.

“Where’ve you been man?” the soldier replied.  “Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Phil Ostercamp took one from a sniper.”

“Kiss my ass!  You’re shitting me, right?  I saw him just an hour ago.”

“Yeah?  Well, it doesn’t take an hour to get your ass dusted by a sniper.”

“Oh, crap.  How is he?  Did they waste him?”

“I don’t know.  He was talking when I saw him, but he was blubbering shit that I couldn’t hear well.  Bleeding like a stuck pig, too.”

Mark and Weasel heard that conversation and came across the hooch to where Westy was talking with the other soldier.  “So he got his wish, huh?” he said.

“What wish?” the soldier asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Mark replied and returned to his bunk.  Weasel had the bunk next to Mark’s.  He sat down on the edge of the steel bed and looked at Mark, his face white as a sheet.  Mark noticed that the bravado and macho talk had escaped from Weasel like gas out of a ruptured balloon.

“Yeah kid.  The shit’s real here.  This ain’t no damned John Wayne movie.  People get hurt and people die, and that happens in a lot of ways.  I hope that bullet didn’t kill Phil.  Hell, I hope that maybe it brought him back to life somehow.  Either way we gotta do our stuff again tomorrow, so let’s get some sleep.”

BAM!

“Aw, crud.  Here comes Willie.”

Enzo Acosta was looking out through the window of the Central Avenue Recreation Center office where he was seated with Clyde Bartow, Brian Cortner and the new Assistant Recreation Leader, Mary Fillippi.  Over the teeter-totters and beyond the swings  could be seen the large, shambling figure of Willie Starnes slouching toward the nerve center of the place that the neighborhood kids simply called “The Park.”

“Man, why doesn’t his parents move or something?” Clyde asked.

“We should be so lucky,” Brian replied.

“Why didn’t is parents practice birth control?” Enzo asked, and all three boys let out a collective groan.

“Why do you dislike him so much?” Mary asked.  She was the newly-hired assistant recreation leader, recently graduated from Arizona State University and just beginning to climb up the ladder of civil service.

“He’s kind of a jerk,” Enzo replied.  “He thinks he’s being funny all of the time, but he’s the only one who’s laughing.”

“So why don’t you tell him he’s not funny?” Mary suggested.  “Maybe he needs to hear that so that he can change his act.”

“For starters, we don’t tell him that because he can kick our as – – -; our butts, I mean,” Clyde replied.  “He’s not smart, but he’s big and he’s mean.  Nobody wants to be his friend, but nobody wants to be his enemy either.”

“Well, I’m sure that Mr. Peterson doesn’t allow any bullying here at the rec center, and I won’t either.”

“You won’t see it; not really.  He’s careful not to do anything that’ll get him busted.”

“Why do you hang out with him then?  I’ve seen you all shooting hoops or goofing off out in the field.  If you don’t want him bothering you here, just say so.”

“That might make it better here,” Brian said.  “But it would make life just that much more hazardous at school and everywhere else.”

Willie had reached the Park office by this time and, seeing the three boys and Mary  inside, he walked through the door to join them.

“Hi foxy lady.  You must be the new rec leader,” he said to Mary, and as he did so he reached out with his left hand and popped Brian in the back of the head, simultaneously saying “Bam!”

“You can call me Miss Fillippi,” Mary said with a voice tinged with icyness.  “And I will not allow you to hit people here.

“Oh, that’s just a game that we play,” he replied to her, and then looked at Brian and the other two boys and asked, “Isn’t it?”

They all agreed that it was, and in this case what they said was nearly the truth.  The game began as one in which surprise was the point.  A person might throw a large, soft rubber ball at another who was not looking, or perhaps snap someone’s shoulder with a rubber band.  At the point when surprise, and occasionally mild discomfort, occurred, the initiator of the surprise would shout “Bam,” and was thereby excused from retaliation unless and until the victim could create a surprise of their own.

It was a harmless game and fun, at least until willie learned about it.  Then punches in the shoulder or a basketball thrown at your face became the “joke.”  Once, Willie caught Brian leaning back in a folding chair with his feet up on the seat of a wooden park bench.  He was balancing on the two back legs of the chair and had his hands clasped behind his neck.  They were outside of the Park office in a covered area where hop scotch and four square might still be played on infrequent rainy days.

Brian was talking about his plans to study acting and then go to Los Angeles when he graduated from high school in two years.  That really was his dream, and he was trying to impress Mary Ellen Zinner with his knowledge of how Hollywood worked and how he would climb the ladder.  Mary Ellen was quite taken by Brian’s seeming knowledge and Brian was quite taken with Mary Ellen.  In fact, at that moment his whole attention was on her alone.

Willie saw a golden opportunity and removed his shoes and socks.  He filled one sock with sand and tied it off at the ankle.  Then he edged close to where Brian was leaning back and describing one of his life dreams to another of his life dreams.  When he was no more than six feet away he threw the heavy sock at Brian and connected with him squarely in the crotch.

Surprise and pain combined to cause Brian to jerk back, which resulted in him tumbling backwards and hitting the asphalt with the back of his head, right in the middle of the four square court.  “Bam!” Willie shouted and then he laughed.  Nobody else laughed with him, and Mary knelt down and asked Brian if he was OK.  His head and his nuts hurt and he was as embarrassed as he could possibly be, and he briefly considered getting up and punching Willie in the face, even though that would probably amount to something like suicide.  Mary Ellen was showing concern for him however, and that unexpected pleasure gave him pause from getting up and at least trying to beat the living snot out of Willie Starnes; something that he was fairly sure that he could never accomplish.  The memory of that day however would leave a sour knot in Brian’s stomach for a long time to come.

“Come on,” Willie said, interrupting Brian’s reminiscence of that humiliating event.  “Somebody check out a basketball and let’s shoot some hoops.”  Clyde offered Mary Fillippi his wallet for a basketball and soon they had a two-on-two game going on in the basketball court.  Brian ended up on a team with Willie, and between plays Willie asked him, “What’s Miss Prissy-Pants’ problem?”

“Huh?” Brian asked.  “What are you talking about?”

“The hottie in the office.  What makes her so unfriendly?”

“What?  Who?  Mary?  Shoot, I don’t know what you mean.  She’s OK enough with me.  Maybe she doesn’t like to be called a foxy lady.”

“Shit!  Every chick likes to be called foxy lady.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I guess some might like it if they know the person who’s calling them that.  I suppose you would have to ask her.”

“Uh-uh.  Nope.  I’ve got a better idea.  You guys play with yourselves for a while.”

Willie flashed a smirk, thinking that he had just delivered a clever line.  Then he walked through the gate in the corner of the basketball court and disappeared west on Bernardo Street.

“Where’s he going?” Enzo asked.

“Who cares?” Clyde replied.  “Let’s just enjoy his absence.

They continued to play some games that did not require teams, eventually forgetting about Willie.  The break was a pleasant one, but it was much too short.  Far sooner than they would have liked, Willie was seen pushing through the gate and re-entering the court.

“You miss me?” he asked the three boys.

“Does Europe miss the plague?” Enzo replied, and then said “Bam!”

Willie laughed along with the others but punched Enzo in the shoulder anyway.  The look on Enzo’s face suggested that there was an internal debate going on in his mind whether or not the time had come to retaliate against Willie whether he had a chance of doing so successfully or not.  If Willie noticed that look, he chose to ignore it.

“I guess I settled Prissy-Pants’ hash for her,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“I went to the Market Spot and bought a potato, and I shoved it into the tailpipe of her car.”

“Why did you do that?” Brian asked.  “What’s that supposed to do?”

“Its stuck tight,” Willie replied.  “When she fires up her car the exhaust will be blocked and she’ll blow out her muffler.  That’ll teach her to play smart mouth with me.”

“Shit, man.  That’s cold,” Enzo said.

“Yeah?  Well, then she should watch who she’s talking to.  Are you standing up for her?”

“Naw, none of my business,” Enzo said, thinking better of getting into it with the much larger Willie.  “She’ll probably guess who did it.”

“Yeah, but she can’t prove it,” Willie said with his incredibly annoying smirk.  “Though I hope that she does guess who did it.”

“Oh, crap.  It’s time for me to go,” Clyde said, looking at his watch.  “My dad’s back from deployment somewhere in the Pacific, and he expects to eat at three thirty every afternoon.  I gotta check the ball in and split.”

“Yeah, me too,”  Enzo echoed.  “Mom told me to be home before she went to work.  I’m cutting out of here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Brian said.  My brother’s going to sneak me into a movie tonight.

“You’re just a bunch of chicken-shits that don’t want to stay around for the fun,” Willie accused.  All three protested that he was wrong, but they still turned and left.  Clyde checked in the ball and said goodbye to Mary, and then the three friends started walking down Bernardo Street towards Brian’s house on Myrtle, three blocks away.

The stories that they had told Willie were, of course, pure fabrications.  They only wanted to put distance between themselves and the Park before Mary finished her shift and started her car to drive home.  As they walked toward Brian’s house, which was a frequent gathering place for the three boys, they discussed their problem.

“Man, we should have warned Mary,” Enzo said.

“Yeah, it’s not cool that he’s trying to screw up her car,” Brian agreed.

“But how could we say anything without Willie knowing it?” Clyde asked.  “I guess we’re the only ones he told, so he’d know that it was us who ratted him out.  I don’t want to deal with that either.”

“Ah, shit.  This is a mess,” Brian growled, and so the conversation went.

Once they arrived at Brian’s house the three boys went to the garage that had been converted into a sort of club house.  Inside were sofas and a small refrigerator, and walls covered with movie posters and other Hollywood memorabilia.  Brian’s brother, Frank, was in the club house when they got there.  He was looking for a place on the wall for the latest poster that he had brought home from his job at the River Bend Theater, where he worked part-time.

“Hey man,” Brian said as he entered.

“What’s up, Frank?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, what up?” Clyde echoed.

“Hey guys.  How’s it hanging?”

“Ah, you know.  Same old same old,” Brian answered, and then after a moment he asked, “Hey Bro.  What happens when you stick a potato in somebody’s tail pipe?”

“What?”  Frank asked.  “You guys trying to screw with somebody?”

“No man,” Clyde replied.  “We just wanna know.  Somebody did it to somebody else, and he said that it will screw up their car.  Is that true?”

“No,” Frank said with a laugh.  “That ain’t true.”

“How do you know?” Enzo asked.

“Because I tried it,” Frank replied.

“Really?” Brian said in surprise.  “How come you never told me about it?”

“You never asked,”  Frank replied.  “Anyway, it’s no big deal.  Nothing happens.”

“No shit?  So it doesn’t blow out the muffler?”

“No,” Frank answered, laughing again.  “It just shoots the spud out a foot or two, and that’s all.  There’s a lot of compression in a car’s engine, and a spud won’t last very long in a tail pipe.”  The three boys looked at each other without speaking, but with relief washing visibly over their faces.  “Is there something that I should know about?” he asked.

“No, it’s nothing,” Brian answered.  “We’re all cool.  Hey, what’s that you’re hanging up?”

“It’s a poster for the film series that we just finished at the River Bend.  ‘B-Movie Classics of the 50’s and 60’s.’  They made some fine cheese back then.”

The boys gathered around Frank and marveled at the poster that he was in the process of hanging on the wall.  It was a life-size poster of Michael Landon as the Teenage Werewolf, complete with a hairy face, a mouthful of fangs, two large, hairy paws and a high school letterman’s jacket.

“Wow,” Clyde said and whistled.  “He looks like Chewbacca on steroids.”

“Yeah,” Frank said.  “Isn’t he cool?”  Then he left the boys alone in the garage, saying that he had to go into the house and study.  Brian opened the little refrigerator and extracted three soft drinks, which they opened and then sat down on the sofas.

“Man, we gotta do something about Willie,” Brian said.

“Do what?” Enzo asked.  “The guy can take on all three of us at the same time, or at least two of us.  What can we do?”

“Shit, I don’t think that there’s anything that we can do,” Clyde said.  “I may just quit going to the Park.”

“Oh hell no!” Brian replied.  “I think Mary’s starting to like me, but I haven’t asked her to go out with me yet, and there’s no other place where I can hang with her.  The Park’s the only place where we can get together.”

“Go on man.  What’s Mary to you?  Or more to the point, what are you to Mary?  She’s a college graduate, for crying out loud.”

Brian flipped his bottle cap in Clyde’s direction.  “Not Mary Fillippi, pea brain.  Mary Ellen Zinner.”

“Oh, really?  You think that she’s looking at you?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I thought that she had better sense,” Clyde said.

“Yeah.  I thought she was looking a little higher up the food chain.”

“Screw both of you,” Brian said, and they all laughed.  Anyway, I’m not going to let that asshole run me away from the Park.”

“Then what’re we gonna do?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah.  If we can’t get rid of him, I wanna at least have a little pay backs,” Clyde said.

The three grew silent as they pondered the problem of Willie Starnes.  What do you do with a guy who is bigger than most of the rest of the kids, that wants to be one of the guys, but wants to be the alpha male at the same time?  Clyde was studying his fingernails while deep in thought, and Brian was looking absently out through the window.  Enzo was staring at the toothy Teenage Werewolf poster on the wall, occasionally baring his own teeth and curling his fingers into claws.  It was into this setting that Frank walked with a can of beer in his hand.

“Wow, what are you guys so serious about?” he asked.  “I’m not used to seeing this much brain power coming out of this group.”

“We’re trying to figure out a way to get some pay backs on Willie Starnes,” Brian said.  “There’s gotta be some way to get back at him.  I mean, he has to be afraid of something or someone.”

“He’s afraid of him,” Frank said, motioning towards the Teenage Werewolf with his can of beer.  “At least, he’s afraid of some of his friends.”

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“He’s afraid of those movie monsters,” Frank replied.  “Him and his sister came to an evening showing last week.  It was The Creature From the Black Lagoon that was playing, I think, or maybe the House on Haunted Hill.  Anyway, it scared the pee out of him.”

“How do you know?” Brian asked.

I was working behind the snack counter that night and I saw him come out of the theater and go into the bathroom.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  He peed his pants.”

The room fell silent as a tomb, and then erupted into laughter at the thought of big, bad Willie peeing his pants at a movie, and with his sister as a witness.  “Oh man, I wish that I could have seen that,” Enzo said through his laughter.

“Maybe we should invite him to go see a movie with us,” Clyde suggested.  “He couldn’t turn us down without looking like he was chicken.”

“Oh, he’d find an excuse,” Brian said.  “He’s stupid, but he isn’t dumb.  I don’t think he’ll get into a movie house with us if there’s a chance he might pee his pants again.  Dang it!  There must be some way to introduce him to a good monster.”

The three boys, and now Frank too, fell to scheming on some way to take Willie to a monster movie.  They came up with multiple scenarios, none of which was practical.  Finally, however, Brian hit on a plan.  “Guys,” he said.  “If we can’t take Willie to the monster, maybe we should bring the monster to Willie.”

“Huh?” Enzo grunted.  “How do you propose that we do that?”

Brian pointed at the Werewolf poster and said, “That thing’s nearly life-size.  How about we stick that into Willie’s window tomorrow night?”

“Willie lives on the second floor,” Clyde observed.  “How do you propose that we stick that in his window?  You gonna ride on Godzilla’s back?”

“Well, that’s the stuff that we have to figure out,” Brian replied.  “We gotta be smarter than Willie, don’t we?”

“Hey!” Frank interjected.  “How does this sound?  You cut out the picture of the Werewolf from that poster and glue it onto some cardboard from the box that our folks’ new refrigerator came in.  Dad was saving it to put down over some place in the yard where he wants to kill the weeds, but I think that this is a worthy cause. Then we’ll tack Old Toothy there to the end of an eight foot two-by-two, and then join that to another two-by-two.  That’ll give you sixteen feet plus your own height, and you should be able to stick that thing right into Willie’s bedroom window.”

The boys broke out into cheers and laughter as they approved of Frank’s idea.  “OK,” Brian said.  “We have a plan.  Now we have to work out the particulars, like how’re we gonna know when Willie’s in his room?”

“That one might be easier than you think,” Enzo replied.  “Wednesday nights are family night at Willie’s house.  His old man insists that they eat at four in the afternoon and then play cards or dominoes or whatever after that.  He makes the the family stay together until six thirty.  Willie always splits to his room the second that he can get away.  By six thirty-five he will be there.”

“How in the heck do you know all of that?” Clyde asked.  “You been hanging out at his house?”

“No man.  His sister sits next to me in Mr. Hearns’ English class.  She tells me some stuff about Willie that I don’t share much because it could get my ass kicked.  She doesn’t like him much more than we do.  She told me about the family night stuff.  She doesn’t like it very much herself.”

“Did she tell you about him pissing himself at the movies?”

“No, she didn’t.  I guess that was one that even she wanted to stay away from.”

“Hot damn!” Brian shouted out.  “It’s payback time!”

“Whoa,” Clyde said.  “How are we going to join two two-by-twos together end to end?   How are we going to get them to Willie’s apartment?  Most important; how are we going to get away from there without getting our asses kicked or the police called on us?”

“I can help you with that,” Frank offered.  “It shouldn’t be too hard to build a sleeve to act as a connector for the two two-by-twos.  You guys get to work on cutting out the Werewolf and pasting him onto the cardboard.  We can think about the other stuff while we get this done.”

By seven o’clock that evening they had a fairly rigid nearly life-size Teenage Werewolf attached to one end of an eight foot long two-by-two piece of lumber.  On the other end of the wood stick was a pair of one eighth inch thick metal straps that were fastened to the wood by two bolts that ran through holes in the metal and wood that had been drilled by Frank.

The second two-by-two also had holes drilled into it that corresponded to holes in the lower end of the metal straps.  By sliding the second two-by-two between the straps, inserting two more bolts and then tightening them down with a couple of lock washers and nuts, the assembly became a fairly secure sixteen foot pole with a Teenage Werewolf on the top of it.

“So how’re we going to get these to Willie’s house?” Enzo asked.  “We’d look a little conspicuous walking down the street with it.”

“Let me talk to Larry Boortz,” Frank said.  He’s got a truck.  Maybe he’ll let me borrow it tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah man,” Brian said.  “Tomorrow’s the day!  Can you call him now?”

“Sure.  I’ll go inside and see if I can get ahold of him.”

Frank went into the house to find his phone, leaving the three boys literally vibrating with excitement.  “This is what I’ve been dreaming about,” Brian said.  “I’ve wanted to get back at that jerk ever since he hit me in the balls with that sock.”

“Yeah man,” Clyde agreed.  “I wish that I could see him when he pisses himself again.”

“Piss hell!” Enzo replied with a laugh.  “I’ll bet he puts a big, fat, stinking brown log in his underwear!”

They all began to laugh so hard that they had to sit down, and they were still laughing when Frank returned with a big grin on his face.  “The truck’s ours after four o’clock, boys.  We’re in business and we’re gonna do this thing.”

The next day, a day early in November, the boys anxiously waited for Frank to return with his friend’s truck.  By five o’clock they had loaded the wood and poster and hardware into the bed of the truck.  The sun went down at five fifty three that day, so they waited until six.  Then, Frank, Brian and Enzo climbed into the cab of the truck while Clyde laid down in the bed holding tight to the two-by-twos, the ends of which protruded over the tailgate of the truck’s short bed.

Frank drove carefully, trying to draw no attention to the truck and its occupants.  They parked in the middle of the block on Mason Street, equally distant from the street lamps at either end of the block.  Willie’s apartment was reached by going south on Mason to Thirty Fourth Street, then turning right and going to the next corner.

There was a light on that corner, but it was across the street diagonally from Willie’s apartment.  A hedge of oleander bushes grew in a line about three feet from the apartment and parallel to the building, which largely shielded the boys from sight.  A further feature that weighed in their favor was the row of pepper trees that grew in the parking strip along the street.  The light from the street lamp would be shielded at the height of Willie’s window by those trees, leaving Willie without enough light to see anything other than a big, snarling werewolf outside his window.

At Six twenty five they cinched down the nuts on the metal sleeve, creating the sixteen foot-long pole, and crept down the sidewalk with it.  Dusk was settling in with a deep gloom, and nobody saw them as they rounded the corner of Mason and Thirty Fourth.  They quickly ducked behind the oleanders and stepped silently towards the spot below Willie’s window.  Frank had a watch and he followed the second hand.   Slowly it slowly piled up the minutes until it finally read six-thirty.  He held up his hand, signaling for them to get ready.  Six thirty one.  Six thirty two – – -.

At six thirty five he dropped his hand and Brian raised the poster up until it rested motionlessly, flush in the middle of Willie’s bedroom window.  At first there was not a sound.  Six thirty six.  Six thirty seven.  Then a shriek was heard which tore through the screen of the open window and cut into the darkening night.  Brian waved the poster up and down, then side to side, and shriek followed fresh shriek.  Enzo and Clyde were softly stamping their feet, trying to suppress the urge to laugh out loud.  Frank, the cooler of the four, signaled for Brian to pull down the Werewolf and retreat to the truck.

They quickly followed Frank’s lead and ran quietly back to where the truck was parked.  Frank and Clyde jumped into the cab of the truck while Enzo and Brian stuck the pole Werewolf-first into the bed and then climbed in after it.  Frank drove two blocks forward, where they stopped and disassembled their pole.  After that they drove back to Frank and Brian’s house.

The next Saturday the three boys were once again hanging out at the Park, this time outside of the office.  Mary Fillippi was huddled with several of the neighborhood girls talking about nothing that a boy would want to hear.  Once again, Willie was seen plodding across the playground towards where they sat.  The boys carried on their conversation, pretending that they had not seen him.  Finally, as he came close to where they sat, they acknowledged his presence.

“Hey Willie,” Enzo said.  “How’s it hanging?”

“Yeah,” Clyde chimed in.  “What up, man?”

“Hey”, he replied.  “One of you guys want to check out a football and go chuck it in the field?”

“Not today,” Brian said.  “Mary’s busy with Diane and Linda and Mary Ellen and some other girls, and I don’t feel like breaking in on that.”

“Besides,” Enzo added.  “We’re going to the movies.  You wanna go with us?”  Clyde and Brian looked at Enzo as if he had lost his mind.  They had made no such plans that day.  This was the first that they had heard anything at all about going to the movies, and especially with Willie.

“Yeah,” Willie replied.  “Maybe that’d be all right.  Somebody would have to spot me a little change to get in.”

“Yeah, I’ll spring for you,” Enzo replied.  Now the other two boys looked at Enzo with absolute horror on their faces.

“What movie are we going to?” Willie asked.

“The one at the River Bend,” Enzo answered.  He looked at his two stupefied friends and gave a barely-perceptible wink, and then asked them, “What’s playing today?  I think it’s that old one, you know; Fiend Without a Face,” isn’t it?  You know, the one about invisible radioactive brains with the spines hanging out that fly around and land on the back of your neck and suck your brains out?”

Brian realized where Enzo was going with this and stepped up to play his part in the subterfuge.  “No, I think that one was last week.  I think this week it’s The Fly; that one where the guy whips a cloth away from his head and he’s got a big, black, fuzzy fly-head with little mouthparts quivering.”

“Oh yeah,” Enzo responded.  I love the part where David Heddison’s head is on the fly that’s caught in the spider web and the spider is about to eat him.  Vincent Price picks up a big rock and crushes them both.”  He then looked at Willie’s ashen face and said “Oh, are we spoiling this by giving it away?  Well, there’s a second feature that we won’t talk about.”

By now Clyde had caught on and wanted his turn.  “No, no, no.  You’re both wrong.  This week it’s The Tingler.  You know, the one where the big centipede-looking thing crushes your back if you don’t scream when you’re scared and it gets taken out of that mute girl’s bloody back and kills all sorts of people.  I love that movie.”

“Oh yeah!” Brian and Enzo said in unison.  “Let’s see if any of the girls want to come too.  Who knows; they might need a boy to hold their hands.  Are you in, Willie?”

Willie’s face had turned a sickly shade of pale, somewhere between nausea green and deathly white.  He waved both hands in front of himself, signaling a negative reply.  “No man.  I just remembered some stuff that my dad wants me to do.  You guys go ahead on.”

“Too bad,” Brian said and rose up from the bench where he was seated.  “I’ll go ask Mary Ellen and the girls right now if they want to go.”  As he walked slowly towards the office where the girls were gathered, Willie waved to Clyde and Enzo and turned to leave the Park.  After he had fallen out of sight the three boys stood together and looked at one another in silence.  Finally Brian broke into a big smile and said “Bam!”

The laughed so hard that it was almost their turn to pee their pants.  The noise of their laughter reached into the office where the girls were, and they emerged to see what was so funny.  The boys knew that they would have to guard the secret of their sweet revenge until either Willie moved away from the area or one of them grew to be big enough to back him down.

“It’s nothing,” Brian said.  “Inside joke.  You’d have had to be there.”  Then he looked at Mary Ellen with something approaching boldness and said “You want to go to a movie today?”

“Sure.  Maybe,” she answered.  “What’s playing?”

Brian looked over at Clyde and Enzo and asked “You guys know what’s playing?”

“Haven’t a clue,” Enzo replied and looked at Clyde who just shrugged his shoulders.

“We could call it a blind date,” Brian said.  “A really blind one.”

“That sounds like fun,” Mary Ellen replied.  “I’ll call my parents from the office and ask.”

 

Just Another Morning In Paradise

This morning I sat down in my chair and wrote out all of the things that I intended to get done today. Drive to Sellwood and pick up supplements from my naturopath, return to Vancouver for a massage, get gas, go shopping, and maybe watch some college football. It was going to take some timing, but it could easily be done.

The naturopath’s office opened at nine in the morning, so at eight thirty I jumped into the car and began the thirty minute trip to Sellwood where His office is located. As I crossed the I-205 bridge I felt my pocket, as is my habit, to make sure that I had remembered to bring my phone. I patted up my thigh and then down and, finally, and with considerable consternation, accepted that I had forgotten to bring my phone. “No sweat,” I told myself. “I’ve survived without a phone for most of my life. I guess I’ll do OK for the next hour or two.” So I drove on, exiting the 205 onto Powell Boulevard, and then began to meander through Southeast Portland towards Sellwood.

About half-way down Powell a warning tone came on in the cab of my car and a tire symbol appeared on the dash. I wasn’t perturbed because the darned thing had been going off periodically for the last four months, and the service guys at the local Ford dealership could not find anything wrong with the tires or with the electronics. I had come to accept that my onboard computer was malfunctioning at best, or that it was possessed by a malevolent spirit that was out to make my life miserable. Either scenario was equally believable, although my money would most likely be put on the latter possibility.

Shortly after the alarm went on I stopped for a red light, and when I accelerated again I became aware of an odd flopping noise. This is not entirely unheard of in my Ford Escape. Many times when I’ve been on the highway and had the rear windows down, my ears have been assaulted by the most unpleasant of flopping sounds, so I thought that this might be the same phenomenon.

The windows were rolled up however because it was about fifty three degrees outside and I was wearing only a tee shirt. Also, I was not on the highway. No, the sound came from somewhere else. “Maybe that car next to me,” I thought, so I slowed down and let that car get well in front of me. The flopping sound continued. It wasn’t that car.

At that point I could no longer dodge the fact that I had a tire in trouble. I turned right onto a side street and parked by the curb. Upon getting out of my car I looked at the two driver’s side tires and saw that they were fine. When I walked behind the car and looked at the rear passenger-side tire however, I received the verdict: It was as flat as a board.

“Oh great,” I thought. “Flat tire. Deep into Portland. No phone. What the heck am I to do next?”

At this point some sort of acute stress response reaction set in. This is more commonly known as the “flight or fight syndrome.” I was in a situation here: flat tire, no phone, sketchy neighborhood, wife on a plane to Las Vegas. What do I do next?”

Plan A was to change the tire, but that was not really a valid option. I hate working on cars. When I was young it was expected that all boys could work on cars; that they longed to work on cars. I tried to develop a taste for such activity, but the effort never paid off. Finally, in my later twenties, it became crystal clear that I hated working on cars, and I refused to do it ever again.

Because of this it never occurred to me that I should try to change the flat myself. I might as well try to turn lead into gold. Somewhere in that car was probably a jack, and quite possibly there was also a spare tire. I had no impulse – and I mean zero – to look for either. Cars are dirty, and I don’t like car dirt. Garden dirt is fine. Dirt with tomatoes growing out of it is just peachy. Road dirt? Dirt with old grease in it? Dirt that demands that you scrape your knuckles as a price of admission to play in it? No. Hell no! No damned way. I don’t do that.

Plan B was to return to Vancouver where my phone was and call Triple A. As I said earlier, I was in reaction mode, and going back to where I came from was the first real plan – and it was a visceral plan at that – that came to my mind. Returning to my house in Vancouver would provide me a chance to reset the situation. At that moment I could see a bus approaching that was going in the direction that I wished to go, so I jumped.

I ran across the street and made it to the bus stop in time to board the bus, thanking my lucky stars that I was on my way towards my destination with no delay. I was also thankful that the bus was warm since, as I said, I had left my house wearing only jeans and a tee shirt. No sweat, eh? I’ll be inside all the time!

The bus took me a mile up the road to where I could walk a short distance to the light rail stop, or Max as it’s called in Portland. I walked through a homeless camp and gained the Max platform, only to find that the next train was twenty six minutes away. Weekend schedule. I had no phone, no book, and no pen and paper, and no sweatshirt or jacket, so I chose to walk in long loops around the platform to kill time and try to keep warm.

I made one loop and knocked three minutes off of my wait time. As I began the second loop I remembered that this was a weekend. The train would still run to the Gateway Station, and from there I would board a train that would still run to the Park Rose Station. What I did not know however was if the express bus ran from Park Rose to Vancouver on weekends as it did on weekdays. I would be rolling the dice. It was cold and I was walking on the train platform among trash that was blowing in from the homeless camp, and I did not wish to roll any dice.

No! I would have to stay on the train and pass through Gateway to Lloyd Center, and then walk to the Yellow Line that would take me up to Delta Park. From there I could take the Number Four bus to Vancouver, then the Number 37 to within five blocks of my house.

I made another loop around the platform. Sixteen minutes to go. I began a third loop and in my mind I watched myself arrive at my house. I have a set of keys in my pocket and I will enter through the front door. But – – – wait! Our front door is secured by a multiplicity of locks which includes a manually-thrown dead bolt, and I do not remember whether that bolt has been retracted or remains in place. If it is still in place, all of the keys in the world will do me no good, so I ask myself, “Do you feel lucky?”

Actually I do not feel particularly lucky on this day. There has not been one thing that had happened to me yet that could possibly contribute to any sort of feeling lucky. I stopped and felt completely flummoxed while pondering my options, while a catsup-smudged McDonald’s wrapper blew against my ankle. In a moment my next move became clear: I had to return to my car and retrieve the garage door opener (which I should have removed from the car in the first place).

With a sigh I retraced my steps down from the Max platform, back through the homeless camp, and back to Powell Boulevard. There, I caught a bus that returned me to where I started. I opened my car and retrieved the garage door opener, then locked the vehicle and walked to the nearest bus stop, going now in the opposite direction. The buses were running more frequently than was the Max and I decided to take a bus to where I could more easily catch the Yellow Line towards Vancouver. Also, getting on a bus would get me out of the cold, and I wanted very much to do just that.

While standing at the bus stop and walking in circles, trying to kill time until the bus arrived and I could warm up again, my brain once again began to engage in something reminiscent of normal function. I had a Triple A card in my wallet, and if I had my phone I would have already called them for roadside assistance. But I didn’t have my phone. But somebody must have a phone!

I looked around me and saw nobody except one quintessentially odd Portland couple crossing Powell a half a block east of where I stood, and one tuxedo-colored tom cat in an empty yard behind me. I knew that my odds with the cat were weak, and the couple, both scantily clad with neon hair, piercings in places that gave me a mild case of anal flutter, and the unmistakable look of being stoned out of their gourds, inclined me to suspect that my odds for luck with them would be only slightly greater than were those with the cat.

I looked to the west and saw only a closed neighborhood bar. Since it was only a little past nine in the morning I knew that there would be nobody there. To the east was a row of businesses, and I started walking in that direction to see if I might find one open and the proprietors willing to let my scraggly self come in and use their phone.

A dental office, an accountant, an insurance agent, a wood panel business; all were closed. It was a weekend, or have I already said that? I saw some more businesses across the street, each with a simple neon sign that said ‘Open.’ I thought that I might try my luck there but just a few yards in front of me on my side of the street I saw a barber’s pole and it was moving. I walked up to the building and sure enough, the business was open. I opened the door and walked inside. There, an Asian woman was cutting an Asian customer’s hair. Another Asian customer was waiting for her turn.

The barber spoke very little English. She tried to explain something, but I had no clue what she was saying. I began to relate my own sad story but it quickly became apparent that she did not understand me any better than I understood her. Fortunately the customer waiting for her turn in the barber’s chair understood my dilemma. She offered me the use of her phone and I put in my call for roadside assistance.

Thirty minutes later two gentlemen showed up to remove the flat tire which had been destroyed by a jagged piece of metal, and replace it with the pathetic little rubber donut that functioned as my spare tire. I then limped home, retrieved my phone, and drove to the tire place where I replaced all four of my old tires with nice, new ones with a fifty thousand mile warrantee.

Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful morning.

Achieving The Dream

I have wanted to be a writer for almost as many years as I can remember. Now, at long last, I believe that I can lay claim to having succeeded in that long-held dream. Amazon promises me that on Tuesday of next week, three days from now (but who’s counting?), a book will arrive in the mail; a book titled The Garden. The author is Glenn L. Durden. Me. This event will signify a very important milestone along my life’s journey, and I am going to share a little of that with you now.

It wasn’t easy. Oh, the writing? Not at all. That part was easy enough. I would rise early and go to Thatcher’s Coffee and write until I had finished two sixteen ounce cups of coffee. If the story was really flowing I might write until the buzz began to wear off. The good coffee, the white noise in the moderately-sized room, and the big, comfortable chairs made for a perfect place to allow the creative juices to flow. Sometimes I would write a chapter in a day, but usually I would produce much less. I never really knew where my story was going, so many times I would come to a dead end. Then I would have to back up and start again to see if I would arrive at the place that I wanted to but didn’t know it.

Finally I put the last period after the last word. “There. It is finished!” I said to myself.  I saved all of my chapters on the hard drive and then printed the entire book because I don’t trust hard drives not to fail, and then decided that my work was good enough to try my luck with a publisher. That is when the real work started.

I am not very capable with technology, and nobody wants to see a printed manuscript or any part of a printed manuscript any more. They probably haven’t wanted to see them for many years. Instead, chapters or summaries of chapters or other portions or distillations of my work were required to be formatted and filed and GoogleDoc’ed or DropBox’ed or sent in other manners of digital packaging that looked for all the world to me like the instructions were written in Klingon.

Nevertheless I gave it my best shot. After a few tries I became proficient enough to get samples of my work to a number of publishers. Some were kind enough to give me written rejections. I considered that progress. Eventually I learned that one could advance one’s publishing career all the more quickly by securing the services of an agent. I next thing that I learned however was that the services of agents were not materially easier to secure that were publishers. I found the whole business to so frustrating that I began to lose heart and considered giving up on the whole thing. Then I mentioned my dilemma to a friend named Bob.

Bob lives far away from me now but we stay in contact. He makes a decent living writing guides for expatriates living overseas, and he publishes his own work through Amazon. “Give it a try” he suggested. “It’s easier than you think. They’ll tell you what to do every step of the way.” That sounded very promising, so I decided to take a chance.

 

The first thing that I discovered in the process is that Bob is a lot better with a computer than I am. “Easy” to him is like “Excruciating” to me. First I had to download my novel into a template that fits Kindle and then the paperback version, and they are quite different. Then, relying almost entirely on my wife’s vastly superior computer capabilities, we cut and trimmed and configured until the template actually resembled the real life product.

The next thing that I learned is that I needed a cover. Most books have them. I looked around my home town and learned that a book cover will cost you $500-1,000, and usually closer to the higher end. Well, I don’t have anything like that figure to invest in a hobby that is hardly likely to generate anything close to that in royalties so here I was, stuck again.

One day, while getting a haircut and whining about my problem to my barber (do barbers listen to more people whining about their problems than do bartenders?), I had the answer to my problem dropped into my lap. “Why don’t you go to the local community college and see if one of the graphic arts students can make one up for you?” she suggested.

This was pure genius. I contacted the college and was eventually put in touch with a student who needed a graduation project. We met and I shared some pictures that I had already taken and my general vision for the cover. She soon produced a cover that I believe is the best book cover that I’ve ever seen, although I might be biased about that.

So finally all of the pieces have come together and a paperback containing my words and my name is on its way to my house. It will be placed in a prominent location and every time that I look at it I will be reminded that a dream which existed for half a century has been fulfilled. I can’t linger over my accomplishment for long however. My second book is already under construction.

 

 

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter 13

Two days later Chris, Pam and Calvin were sitting at a table at the Spice Rack, a popular restaurant in Pacific Beach.  Jackie was expected to join them momentarily after getting off of work.  Chris and Pam had spent the day at the beach; their first date.  Chris was still careful of the sun, due to possible lingering effects of the antibiotics that he had just finished taking.  “Dairy and sunshine are not your friends while you take the” the emergency room doctor had told him, so he had put up a pole and canvas sunshade and placed a blanket under it.  Pam preferred to lie just outside the shade, cooking slowly under the San Diego sun and basting herself with baby oil so that she would roast evenly.  This was San Diego, and your social status was at least partly dependent upon the quality of your tan.

Chris had attached his old racks to his mother’s car and cinched down the surfboard that he had pulled out of mothballs.  With a tee shirt on and his nose slathered in zinc oxide, he would make forays out into the surf.  The waves were from three to four foot high that day, and they were well formed.  Chris enjoyed some pleasant rides and gave Pam lessons, which was even more pleasant.

The sun had just began to drop toward the western horizon and light was creeping  up under Chris’ shelter when it was declared to be time to go.  He washed off the sand at the public showers near the boardwalk and put on another shirt, some shorts and flip flops.  Pam went into the restroom at the Surfer Hotel and washed up a little better.  She emerged in shorts and a blouse tied at the bottom, sandals and her hair pulled back in a pony tail.  Chris stared at her as she emerged from the Hotel and wondered how in the world he hadn’t noticed her when they were kids.

Calvin got to the restaurant before they did.  He had secured a table by the time that they arrived and already had a pitcher of beer when Chris and Pam walked in.  They sat down with Calvin, ordered a soda for Pam, and after Chris had washed some salt and sand out of his throat with a glass of the beer they began to talk.

“Before we say anything else” Calvin began, “I’ve decided that I am going to give college a try.”  Pam clapped her hands and Chris gave Calvin a soft punch in the shoulder.  Calvin smiled, appreciating the encouragement that he was receiving.

“So, what made you finally decide to go that way?” Chris asked.  “Not that I think you shouldn’t.”

“Well” Calvin replied, “I’m not going to work and pay taxes so that only you can go to school on the G.I. Bill.  I’m going to ride on that gravy train too.”  This prompted another round of clapping and another punch in the shoulder.  “But really, I liked being in the Spear the other day.  I think I want to see if that works for me.  I talked with my Mom about it and she’s excited too.  She says that I can stay at her house to save money while I go, but I’m not sure about that yet.  I would be the first in my family to go to college though, and she said she’s proud of that.  Yeah, the more I think about it, the more that I like the idea.”

“Maybe we could form a study group” Pam suggested.  “Jackie has been in some and she says that she always does better when she studies with a group.”

“How would that work?” Chris asked.

“Well, we’d all be starting in our first semester, so we’ll be taking a lot of the same basic courses;  math, English, Physical Ed, you know, the basics.  We could study together, at least some of the time, and help each other out when we’re stuck on something.  Jackie only joins them now for specific classes, but we’re a long way from where she is.”

“And where exactly am I?” Jackie asked as she walked behind Chris and pulled out a chair next to him.  Calvin attempted to stand when Jackie arrived, as he had been trained to do by his mother, and nearly upset the table.  Chris’ beer and Pam’s soda came within an inch of tipping over before Chris reached out and grabbed a glass in each hand to steady them.  Some of the contents still slopped over onto the table top anyway.

“Excuse me!” Calvin spluttered as he sat back down and began to sop up the liquid with some napkins.

“Don’t worry about it” Jackie replied.  At least you have SOME manners, unlike others who are present.”  She playfully slapped Chris on the shoulder as she said it.  Chris’ face reddened and he began to make excuses but stopped when the other three began to laugh.  Later, Chris would reflect that this had been the first time that Jackie had ever joked with him.  It felt like some fences had fallen down.

Jackie ordered a glass of wine and Pam told her about Calvin’s decision to attend college.  “That’s wonderful” Jackie said.  “I don’t think that you’ll ever regret that decision.”  Calvin beamed his pleasure at all of the positive words that he was hearing.    “Pam was talking about forming a study group when you showed up” Chris said to Jackie.  “She says that it’s worked for you.”

“It has” Jackie agreed.  “I’m convinced that all of us in our groups performed better than we otherwise would have.  As time permits I could help yours too, every now and then.”

“That would be great” Chris replied.  “My brother has offered that too.  He’s in grad school though, so he’s way past where we’ll be.”

“I never knew your brother, Chris” Jackie said.  “I didn’t even know that you had one until just the last couple of weeks.”

“Yeah, he’s a couple of years older than me.  He used to hang with a different crowd when we were kids.  Sometimes they’d let little brothers tag along, but not very much.

“Yes” Pam interjected.  “I know how that is.”

“I never ignored you” Jackie protested.

“No, you didn’t” Pam agreed.  “But I didn’t really fit in the group, so I hung back.  It’s OK.  We’re all grown ups now.”

Chris looked at his and Calvin’s beers and at Jackie’s wine, and then at Pam’s soda.  “Well – – -,” he said, drawing out the word.  Pam crumpled her napkin and threw it at him.

The waiter arrived to take their orders, and afterwards they resumed their conversation.  “So, how is your work going?” Pam asked Calvin.  “I was surprised that you could be here this early today.”

“We just wrapped up a job and we’ll begin another on Wednesday or Thursday.  I’m going to lose a lot of money by going to college!”

“You’ll earn it back, and more” Jackie advised.  “You won’t regret it.”

“No, I probably won’t.  It’s just hard to pass up the money now.  The boss wanted us to work through the weekend, but I’ve got other things to do.”

“Like what?” Chris asked.

“I’m going to meet with some of my friends from the Rez” Calvin answered with some hesitation.

“Oh, are they coming into town?” Pam asked.

“Uh, well, no.  They’re not.  Actually, I’m going out there.”

Chris couldn’t speak.  Jackie and Pam knew nothing of their recent experience of being followed back into town.  Nevertheless they were surprised too.  “Really?” Jackie said.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

“Yeah” Chris said while looking straight into the eyes of his friend.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

Calvin averted his eyes and pushed the knife on the table in front of him, to align it perfectly between his fork and spoon.  “Yeah, I think so.  I’m going out really early.  Those clowns don’t get up at the crack of dawn, so I’m not too worried about it.”

“Well, what’s so important that you have to risk it?” Jackie asked.  Chris was silent, but the same question was in his eyes.

“It’s a church thing.  Me and some guys I know do church.  It’s sort of our own thing.”

“Don’t you go to church on Sunday?” Jackie asked.

“Yes, I do attend the mass on Sunday.  The Saturday thing is only once every couple of months.  It’s something that me and four other guys do.  We call it ‘Church Our Way’ and it’s pretty special to us.”

“Tell me more” Jackie urged, and Calvin continued.

“For starters, we meditate on a passage of scripture while sitting in a sweat lodge.”  The blank stares that surrounded him told Calvin that further explanation was in order.  “We’ve built a low hut by stretching canvas over supports made of branches, and there’s a hole in the ground in the middle of it.  We go inside naked while one guy who stays outside heats up some rocks.  When they’re ready he puts them into the hole in the ground and we ladle water over them and sweat in the steam.  It’s a cleansing ceremony that’s pretty common in a lot of tribal traditions, and we use it to clean our bodies and clear our minds.

“Whenever the temperature drops, the firemaster adds new rocks and we pour more water on them.  After two rounds of hot rocks we drink some water and then do two more.  When that’s finished we go into a house where we sit in a drum circle and drum while each person gets a chance to sing what he feels like he’s learned in the sweat lodge.  When everyone who wants to has sung, we sing another song to God the Creator and then thank Him for life and all of the good things that he has given to us.”

The other three people at the table were quiet for a while, thinking about what Calvin was sharing.  At length Jackie spoke up.  “I think that sounds pretty cool to me, but I’ll bet that the churches aren’t very wild about it.”

“Yeah, they don’t really dig it at all.  We pray to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, but we do it in a sweat lodge and accompanied by drums and song.  That really freaks some people out.  They think that we’re doing devil worship or something like that.  We’re just doing worship in our own cultural context is all.  We’re pretty sure that Jesus didn’t say “Ye shalt in all ways look like a mid twentieth century Southern Baptist if ye wish to follow me.”

“Well, I have to admit that it sounds a little weird to me” Pam said.  “But from what I know about you, you don’t strike me as being some sort of voodoo guy or something, so I don’t see why anybody else’s opinion should matter here.”

“Thank you” Calvin replied.  “I think.  Well, it’s just that my ancestors didn’t come here on the Mayflower.  They wore animal skin clothing, and little of it.  They used dance and drums to worship Creator.  They cleansed in sweat lodges and they constructed lives out of the land and what Creator gave them.  We don’t think that responding to Creator in our own cultural context is a bad thing.  In fact, I doubt that the first Christians meeting in Jerusalem, or Asia, or Roman Europe, looked like Nebraska Methodists, or prayed like Texas Baptists.  So we do it our own way and it feeds us spiritually, we believe, and honors our God.”

Chris had not said anything while Calvin had this conversation with Jackie and Pam.  Now, when it seemed as if Calvin was finished, Chris spoke up.  “I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten already what happened when we went to get your truck.”

Calvin didn’t respond and the girls looked at each other and then back at Chris.  “What?” Jackie asked.  “What about when you went to get the truck?”

Chris recounted the experience that they had with being followed back to San Diego, at the end of which Jackie replied “Oh, that’s insane!  You have got to do something about this.  You’ve got to go to the police.  There are laws in this country.  People can’t just get away with doing that sort of thing.”

The look on Calvin’s face said “Oh, yes they can,” but he determined that now was not the time to share that insight.  Instead he said “Sometimes things just aren’t as cut and dried as you’d think they should be.”

“Well, you’re not going alone” Chris said matter of factly.

“Oh, God” wailed Pam.  “Are you both out of your minds?  Is there some unwritten law that says that boys are not permitted to use their brains?  You two have got to go to the police, and not go galavanting around the county where you could get yourselves beaten to a pulp or worse!  I haven’t waited nineteen years to find a boy that I think is worth spending time with so that I can see him – – -, so that I can see him – – -.”

Jackie reached across the table and put a hand over her visibly upset sister’s wrist and then looked first at Calvin and then at Chris.  “Pam’s right” she said calmly.  She’s right and both of you know it.  This nonsense has got to stop.  Chris, you showed kindness and thoughtfulness when you first came to us, so I know that you can do better than this.

“And Calvin,”  her gaze switched to him, “You’re no fool.  Now I wish that you would both drop this silliness; no, I’m asking you, as a favor to me and to my sister, that you would listen to me.  You’ve both got parents and families and friends;” at that moment she patted her sister’s wrist, “and someone very dear to me who has a special interest in you, Chris, and they all deserve better than to have you two involved in your own personal war with those people.  Now please.  Please. Tell us that you’re going to go to the police before we go any further today.  Will you do that?  Please?”

Chris looked silently at Calvin.  Calvin looked back at Chris, at the two girls, and then back again at his friend, and then he slightly shrugged his shoulders.  Chris was determined to support his friend, but he also desired to agree to Jackie’s plea.  The conflict had created a struggle in his mind.  He had found that he was attracted to Pam in a way that he had never been before to a girl.  She was an attractive girl, but it was her kindness and genuine concern for others without seeking advantage for herself that drew him to her.

He also realized how much he enjoyed the friendship with Jackie that had begun to grow in the last few weeks; a friendship that was far more satisfying than the romantic juvenile fantasies that he had entertained before his three years in the Army had given him a context with which to compare what had value and what was merely shadow.  Jackie was nearly begging him to go to the police, for Pam’s sake as much as for his own, and he wanted to do as they asked.  But he also had friendship obligations to Calvin, and he respected those obligations.

The conflict played on Chris’ face and Calvin could read it, so he spoke up and came to Chris’ aid.  “Chris is reluctant to go to the police because I am reluctant to go to the police” he said.  “He wants to agree to this for your sake, Pam, and that very much, I suspect.”  He then turned to Jackie and continued.  “And he wants to agree for your sake too.  But he knows that I have some pretty serious doubts that it will do any good, so he is holding back for my sake.”  He then spoke directly to Chris.  “I appreciate that, buddy, and I don’t want to put you into a position of disappointing either side, so I agree to go with you to the police.  It’s not that I believe that it will do an ounce of good, and in fact it might even backfire on me, but I agree.”

Calvin gave Chris a soft punch in the shoulder and Chris looked back at his silverware and napkin, saying nothing.  Jackie broke the ensuing silence and asked “Why on earth wouldn’t you want to go to the police, Calvin?  How could it possibly backfire on you?”

Calvin then spoke of the injustice that his people had come to recognize as the norm.  “When there’s trouble between Indians and white people, the Indian is usually thought to be the cause of the problem.  If the police decide to get involved at all in such cases, it’s us who are likely to end up in jail.  Or dead.  I’m not just whining to you.  We’ve got two hundred years of history to support what I’m saying.

“Now, Chris is my buddy.  We went through some things together in Vietnam that make people stick close to each other, although the truth is that Chris saw a lot of worse things than I did.  The truth is that I never expected a white guy and me to be as good friends as we’ve turned out to be.  Actually, Tom Fielding was the first white guy that I ever got close to, and it was him who showed me that this was possible.  “Anyway, I can see how much you care for Chris, Pam, and you too Jackie.  I know that he wants to listen to you both and put your minds at ease, so I’m good with going to the police.  I’ll tell you right now that I don’t expect anything good to come from it, but I’ll stick with my Bud.  That’s what we learned to do in The Nam.”

Silence descended onto the table in the middle of the noisy restaurant.  Calvin stared at the girls while Chris continued to study his napkin.  Pam and Jackie looked at each other and then back at Calvin and Chris.  Pam reached across the table and placed her hand on Chris’ arm, but said nothing.  It was Jackie who broke the silence.

“I’m sorry Calvin.  I didn’t know any of that.”  She then looked at Chris and continued.  “But I still believe that you should go to the police.  It’s 1969, and things are starting to change.  I think that you should give the system a chance, but I admit that there’s a lot here that I don’t know.  I’m speaking for myself, but I think that Pam will agree with me.  We will worry for your safety – both of your safeties – but we’ll support your decision, whatever it is.  I don’t want to be one more problem for either of you to have to worry about.”

Jackie concluded by saying  “Calvin, we care about you too.  We don’t give a flying damn about Indian or white or any of that stupid crap.  You’re a good person and a good friend.  If you don’t get some justice from the law, I’m going to be really pissed!”

Pam looked at her sister, surprised by her rare use of profanity.  She laughed, and the sound of her laughter broke the tension at the table.  Jackie said “Well, I can be pissed off if I want to” as her face reddened, and then Chris and Calvin laughed at that.  After a few minutes more their food arrived and the four friends fell to eating and laughing and enjoying life, as only the young can do.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Twelve

Chris, Calvin and Sonny were on Interstate 8 headed east the next morning.  Calvin attended an early mass and wasted no time in picking up the other two.  “I’m dying to get my own wheels on the road” he explained.  Chris made introductions when they picked up Sonny, and they drove straight down Fairmont to the freeway.

They drove through the pass between Mount Helix and Grossmont, and dropped into the El Cajon Valley.  Sonny asked if they could pull off of the freeway for a moment and stop at a military surplus store that lay close to the offramp.  Calvin did so and Sonny replaced the blanket that he had given to the shivering diver nearly a week ago.  That purchase secured, they were soon rolling east again.

The day was already beginning to heat up.  El Cajon Valley was always hotter or colder than San Diego, and on this day the gloom that had dominated the area the previous week had failed to blow in from the sea to cool things down.  At this moment El Cajon was merely hot.  In a few hours it would be more like an oven.

“So, you and Jackie seemed to hit it off pretty good” Chris said to Calvin.  “I didn’t expect her to be that open.”

“Yeah, I felt pretty comfortable talking to her.  I could see right away that she was hurting.  I tried to be honest, and I tried to fill in as much detail about Tom’s life as I could.  The little details can say more about a person’s life than the big ones do.  She was very easy to talk to, and that helped a lot.  Man, I know that you and Tom said she’s pretty, but she’s more than that!”

“Except when she’s taking a swing at your face” Chris said.  “She just never did cotton to me at all.”

“Which shows intelligence and good taste” Sonny said, and which comment drew Chris’ right elbow into his ribs.

“She was OK with you, as far as I could see” Calvin said.

 

“We got over a hard place last week” Chris replied.  “I’m not looking for any kind of a relationship with her now, although I tried for that a few years ago.  I just want to be a friend.  I suppose that to her I’m a connection to Tom now instead of competition for his time.  Maybe that gives us room to be friends.”

“Well, she was always friendly to me” Sonny said.  “She never made any stupid pollock wisecracks about me, for which I was grateful then and am grateful today.”

Calvin looked across Chris at Sonny’s large frame that was resting against the passenger door.  “I can’t believe that anyone ever made stupid Pollock jokes about you” he said.

“Nobody did twice” Sonny replied with a grin.

“Oh, great.  I’m the only guy who ever pissed off Jackie!” Chris lamented.

The three young men chattered on as the truck passed through El Cajon and ascended the grade to Alpine.  They stopped for lunch in that town at a cafe with the unpromising name of the ‘Chat and Chew.’  Afterward they continued east, through the Laguna Mountains and on toward the high valley where the Campo Reservation was located.  The banter continued, but it was mostly carried on by Sonny and Calvin.

Chris felt his stomach clamping down around the hamburger and fries that he had just eaten, creating an uncomfortable knot in his gut.  He was remembering what Calvin’s uncle had said about the three goons who had jumped them wanting revenge.  Those three goons lived out here, and they were driving right into their territory once again.

“So what?” Chris asked himself.  “We kicked their butts before and there were just two of us”

  “Yes” the internal dialogue proceeded.  “But they expected us to be pushovers.  They won’t make that mistake again.  And will the bring guns?  Knives?  Clubs?”

     “But there’s three of us this time.”

     “Who says that next time there’ll only be three of them?”

     Fear, or something very much like fear, mixed with some other primeval instincts in Chris’ mind and began to pour adrenaline into his system.  That brew of emotion and chemicals reacted badly with the churning mash of lunch in Chris’ stomach, and with little time to spare he croaked out “Pull over man, I’m gonna puke!”

Calvin swerved onto the shoulder of the road and Sonny jumped out of the car.  Chris barely cleared the threshold of the door before he cut loose, spraying a wave of lunch and beer and bile and stomach acid toward the bush that he had hoped to get behind before the flood occurred.

He wretched three or four times more before he finally sat down on a boulder that Calvin had narrowly missed in his haste to come to a stoop.  “You OK man?” Sonny asked when Chris seemed to have regained his composure.

“Yeah, it’s OK.  I’m cool.”

“What’s up with that?” Calvin asked.

“Ah, it’s nothing.  I used to get carsick a lot when I was a kid.  I still do sometimes.”  Chris was lying through his teeth.

“Man, that was a load” Sonny said.  “I’m glad you didn’t put that in my lap!  You OK to go on?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.  Let’s do this thing.”

They got back into the truck and continued to drive into the reservation.  Chris cracked some jokes, projecting a comfort that he did not feel, in an eventually successful attempt to return the mood in the cab of the truck to the cheerfulness that had prevailed before he had gotten sick, and the episode was forgotten by the time that they rolled up the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s mobile.

Sonny, remembering what Chris had told him about waiting to be invited in, didn’t make a move to exit the truck.  Calvin jumped out of the truck immediately and began to walk around the front of it.  He began to motion for the other two to get out also and then, thinking better of it, held up his hand, signaling for them to stop.  He then continued up the stairs and onto the tiny porch, and knocked on the door.

The door opened almost immediately.  Calvin’s uncle stuck his head outside the door and saw Sonny sitting in the truck.  “You planning on giving every Anglo in the county a tour of the Rez?” he asked.

“It’s all right Uncle” Charlie replied.  “He’s going to help with the towing.  You gonna let me offer them some coffee?”

“Them?”

“Yeah.  Chris is here too.”

“The guy that peed on the cowboy?”

“Yes Uncle.  Chris is here too.  The three of us came so that things would be more equal if we run into John Wayne and his punk friends.”

“That’s probably smart, even if they are white.  Carlson and his bunch want your scalp so bad that they can taste it.  Yeah, you can bring ‘em in.  I won’t stay around though.”

Calvin turned and motioned for them to come in.  Sonny and Chris exited the truck and walked quietly up the porch.  Sonny had figured out that there was tension in the air and was quiet as he approached the door.  Calvin’s uncle looked at him with an expression that would have been appropriate if Chris had emptied his stomach on the kitchen table instead of the side of the road.

Sonny walked past the scowling uncle and Chris followed.  The older man’s expression softened minutely as he gazed at the bruises that were fading on Chris’ face and the clean and healing wound on the side of his head.

“I liked it better with the fishing line” the uncle said, and then walked out of the mobile home.

“He likes you” Calvin said with a laugh after the door had closed.

“Yeah” Chris replied.  “Like he likes a goat head stuck in his foot.”

“No man, I‘m serious.  I haven’t seen him talk to a white person unless he had something nasty to say.  He was impressed that you let me sew you up, and that you helped me in a fight with other white people.  and he really likes that you peed on one of them.  He told me that he’s wanted to do that himself all of his life.”

Sonny looked at Calvin, then at Chris.  “You peed on somebody?”

“So, ‘I liked it better with the fishing line’ doesn’t qualify as nasty?”

“No man.  Context is everything.  That was a term of endearment.”

“You peed on somebody?” Sonny repeated.

 

“Aghh!” Chris exclaimed.  “Let’s get to work.”

“Coffee first” Calvin replied, and poured the coffee that his uncle had already made into three cups.  Later, after Calvin told the story of the fight and Chris’ victory dance over his fallen adversary, they went to work.  It was an easy task attaching the tow bar to the front of Calvin’s truck and fastening it to the trailer hitch on the back of his borrowed vehicle.

While they were closing the garage door Calvin’s uncle pulled to the side of the road in front of the mobile home and stopped.  He walked up the driveway and Calvin met him half-way.  They talked quietly for a couple of minutes and then separated.  The uncle drove away and Calvin returned to where Chris and Sonny were waiting.

“They know we’re here.”  Calvin told them.

“Who knows we’re here?” Sonny asked.

“Briscoe and Dennehey know” Calvin replied.  “Uncle saw their truck, a blue ’68 Chevy.  It drove past here while we were hitching the truck.”

“I didn’t see any truck” Chris said.

“Uncle did, and you can trust that.  They left the Rez to the east, and you can bet that they called Carlson from the first pay phone.”

“Shit! Chris exclaimed.  “Don’t those guys have anything else to do?”

“No, they actually don’t” Calvin answered.  “They’re rich, remember?”

“So how’re they going to stay rich?  Even rich people have to do something besides skulk and look for enemies.”

“Maybe, or maybe those shitbirds will piss all of their parents’ money away and end up poor folk like us.”

“Well, let ‘em start something” Sonny growled.  Maybe it’s ass kicking time for them again.”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin said.  “They know that there’s three of us and that two of us kicked their butts the last time.  I’m guessing that they’ll bring some sort of insurance.  We’ll go out the way we did the last time and see if we can get out of here under their radar.”

They climbed into the truck and started the engines.  Calvin pulled slowly out of the driveway and then drove down the lesser used roads of the reservation.  It was quiet in the cab of the truck; the banter of the trip east from San Diego had vanished.

Chris was looking for anybody that might be following them whenever Sonny got out to open and close gates.  In the silence of the drive each was in his own thoughts, and the thoughts in Chris’ head ran to bullets ripping, heads exploding and fists the size of mallets opening and closing.

They came at last to the road which led to the Interstate.  Calvin turned right and drove a few miles per hour under the speed limit, all the while glancing in the rear view and side view mirrors.  Chris noticed that and looked in those mirrors too, from time to time.  He saw nothing suspicious.  At last they came to the on-ramp and soon they were in the thick of the traffic headed west towards the city.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief, and even Sonny relaxed what had been some very tense muscles.  Only Calvin remained vigilant.  “I guess we’re home free now” Chris said.  “Not that I wouldn’t mind administering an ass-whupping to those jokers again if I had to.  I’d just rather that I didn’t have to.”

“Well, you may get your chance yet”  Calvin replied.  “I think we’re being followed.”

That statement sent a shock through Chris and Sonny that caused them both to sit bolt upright.  “You’re shitting me!” Chris said.

“I wish I was” Calvin replied.  “Back three cars in the middle lane.  Shiny blue pickup that nobody’s ever used for real work.  I saw it on the road before we got on the freeway.  Every now and then on the curves he’d come into sight for a minute.  I’m guessing it’s Carlson’s punks, and maybe Carlson too.”

“Well shit” Sonny growled.  “Why don’t we take the next off ramp and get this thing done?”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin replied.  “I try to make violence a last resort.  It’s a Christian thing.  I’ll fight if I have to, but I’d rather not.”

“Well my religion is ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’” Sonny said.  “These guys are persistent.  They’re not going to leave you alone.”

Chris listened to his friends discuss the situation.  Sharp images of his bad dream arose in his mind, and with those images came the desperate panic that he had felt that night.  That urge for survival, bred by years in Vietnam, fueled a desire to strike out; to hit and kick and bit and club and shoot, and do whatever was required to win the next battle and stay alive.  The berserker was once again creeping out of the shadows of Chris’ mind, looking to lead a desperate and bloody charge against his adversaries.

Chris stared into the rear view mirror and struggled to regain control of his own mind.  He looked carefully at the pickup and it slowly registered that it was just a normal pickup truck that could only carry normal sized people.  those people might be carrying any sort of weapon, but they were just people and not iron-toothed, mallet fisted visions from hell.

The rising warrior receded and rational thought regained it’s place in Chris’ head.  “We’ve got to do a little creative thinking here” he said.  “We’ve got a situation and we have to manage it.”  Chris’ wartime experience began to assert itself.  A threat was presented, and a strategy was required to deal with it.

“I don’t think that they want to stop us and fight today” he continued.  “I think that basically they’re cowards, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked us from behind.  They want to follow us and find out where we live.  These are some evil bastards and they want to get me and Calvin on our own.  We have to figure out how to screw up their plans.”

They sat silently in the cab as the truck rolled slower than the other traffic through Alpine and down into the El Cajon Valley.  It was Sonny who first broke the silence.  “They still back there?”

Calvin looked for the one hundredth time in the rear view mirror and answered “Yep.”

“OK.  Here’s my idea.  We can’t shake them, what with dragging your truck behind us, so let’s take the truck to my place.  They don’t know me from Adam and, for now at least, they don’t have much of a beef with me.  With that load off of your tail you can lose them pretty quick in downtown traffic.  Chris, you get off at my place, and when they go to follow Calvin, you can walk home.  I’ll go with you just in case.  Calvin, you call Chris or me, or both of us for that matter, as soon as you get home safe.  Then we can plan what to do next.”  They debated aspects of that plan but ultimately that’s what they decided to do.

By the time that they had agreed on this they had crossed El Cajon and were rolling down the grade towards Mission Valley.  They passed College Avenue and saw the college that Chris and perhaps Calvin would soon be attending, and came to the 43rd Street off ramp at the bottom of the valley floor.  When the traffic light turned green Calvin progressed up the grade towards El Cajon Boulevard, and as he slowed down for that light he burst out in a peal of laughter.

The laughter made both Chris and Sonny jump in their seats.  “What?” Sonny asked.  “What’s that all about?”

Calvin continued to look into the rear view mirror, beaming with relief.  “Yeah” Chris added.  “What gives?”

“Take a look in the mirror” Calvin said.  Chris and Sonny did as they were instructed and Chris instantly recognized the truck that belonged to Calvin’s uncle.  It had just slipped in behind them, and Chris said “Excellent.  Now there’s four of us.”

“It’s better than that” Calvin replied.  “You see that old Dodge in the lane next to him?  That belongs to Uncle’s friend, Nestor Vargas.  If I’m right, they’re both about to have a little engine trouble right now.”

As he said this the light changed.  Calvin took off down 43rd Street with all three of them looking in their mirrors.  Sure enough, both vehicles sat motionless in their lanes.  The two drivers emerged and raised their hoods and began to gaze down at their engines.  As the three friends sailed through the green light at Orange Avenue they saw the light behind them turn red once again, and when it did the hoods came down and the two drivers reentered their vehicles.

Chris directed Calvin through the neighborhood, through residential streets and alleys, and soon they were backing Calvin’s pickup into the garage behind Chris’ house.  When the truck was safely nestled next to the old Mercury that Chris’ father was restoring Chris said his goodbyes to his two friends.  Calvin left to drop Sonny off before returning to his mother’s house.  Before leaving however, Chris said “We’ve got to talk about what to do.  We can’t let this shit go on.  We gotta go to the police or something.”

“That’s never worked all that well for me” Calvin objected.

“Well, you’re not in this alone now, man” Chris replied.  “If we gotta kick ass and take names to get some help, then that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Sonny agreed and stated that he was with them all the way.  Calvin seemed to be struggling for words, and he simply grasped Chris’ hand and then Sonny’s.  “Let’s go before I start bawling” he said to Sonny.  They reentered the truck and rolled down the alley toward the street that led to Sonny’s home.