If you think dog kisses are gross

I was watching television the other night. I haven’t been watching much TV lately; there are just too many commercials. Especially the Discovery group. They show 10 minutes of programming and then fall into a pattern of four to five minutes of programming punctuated by four or five minutes of advertising. I timed a show they ran about manufacturing and at the end of the hour I’d only seen 38 minutes of program. I find that particularly annoying since I’m paying for this programming. I give a lot more latitude to over the air broadcasters who get their revenues from their sponsors. But cable companies get advertising dollars plus significant subscriber dollars as well and so I feel like I’m being double dipped. Anyway, I don’t watch that much television anymore, instead watching streaming video services from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and a bunch of independent channels via Roku.

Anyway, there I am watching television and on screen is some guy explaining how little Emanuela standing next to him goes to bed hungry every night. He talks about how terrible her lot in life is, repeating a few times how she goes to bed hung every night, just as she will tonight.

“What?” I say, startled. “What do you mean she’s going to go to bed hungry tonight. You’re using her in a commercial solicitation and you should damn well be paying her. The last thing she should be is going to bed hungry tonight. That little girl should be getting paid scale and that means that at the rates this jokers is quoting on how little it takes to feed her, this little girl should be anything but hungry for the next six months.

This schmuck was doing okay until he made the comment that her hunger would continue. At that point I went from annoyed to saliva projecting anger as I yelled obscenities at the television set. I’m not asking this guy to cure hunger throughout South America, I am though, asking him to pay for the exploitation of this little girl’s story and image.

Of course, this causes me to question other things. In the next extended commercial he shows little Jose scooping water from a puddle from which you can almost see the dysentery jumping like porpoises from its surface. I recognize this man from ages and ages of these commercials over the years and I wonder how come this dude and his organization hasn’t installed communal activated charcoal filters for the village. His organization has been collecting significant sums over the years, it seems like they should have, by now, improved the lot of these little villages to the point that they’re asking for clothing, medicine and education, not the fundamentals of clean water and minimal protein intake.

As I look them up I discover that this company actually has a pretty high rating. 80% of the 230 million dollars they took in during 2012 went to helping children. In spite of that gold star, my questions still persist. In the last five years they’ve collected roughly a billion dollars yet the children still aren’t eating and are drinking from parasite laden puddles.

What’s wrong with this picture?

In reading about welfare assistance to children in South America and Africa, I discover that small religious groups are able to provide large geographic areas of fresh water, free of contaminants and parasites. “We have to address the most basic need, sustenance, before we can move on to higher purpose.” commented a member of one of the religious factions volunteering her time with others doing six month hitches. “Clothing, education, and even to an extent, housing has a much lower rating for us. They may live in shoddy little shacks and wear torn clothing that’re the discards of more prosperous, but none of that matters if they have no access to potable water and nutrition. Education is at the bottom of the list.”

I agree completely. While I think it’s just great that the organization advertising on television is a transparent company that’s spending 80% or 230 million on kids, I have to wonder if they’re spending those dollars in the right way. Of that 80%, how much of that goes to the direct benefit of the kids and how much is paid to local ‘oversight’ that takes a cut as the cost of doing business? There has to be something wrong with the process somehow.

There are a fair number of organizations, religious and secular, that are providing assistance to impoverished children around the world. That adds up to a stunning amount of money and both volunteer and low paid workers that can attack this problem. So why is little Emanuela going to bed hungry and how come Jose is drinking the birthing waters of the anopheles mosquito. Especially with Mr. Plea standing next to them? And I ask again, how come Emanuela is going hungry tonight when she just starred in a commercial?

Something is just a little off about this. What do you think it is?

 

Chance Circumstance

Trying to dig a hole was ridiculous. The ground atop the hill selected to be the Tactical Operations Center was hard packed fine gravel and rock. Hitting it full strength with my entrenching tool accomplished noting but sending a shock wave through the shovel all the way to my shoulder that hurt like hell. There was a low overcast sky and rain occasionally sprinkled just enough to keep me we. In the open area that meant the winds brought a chill. I mean, what was this all about? Vietnam was supposed to be tropical. Cold was the last thing anyone was supposed to feel, but it was monsoon season and that meant all bets were off. I figure I should have felt lucky the skies weren’t dumping rain on me in thousand gallon lots.

My Sergeant scuttled over to where I was and asked me why I wasn’t digging. I told him I was and struck the ground with the entrenching tool. A spark flew from where the blade hit the ground but other than that there was no effect. “Can we get an engineer over here to shape charge a hole?” I asked. The Sergeant said no, that wasn’t going to happen. Intimating I was a retard, he sent me over to the other side of the hilltop to join three guys who had a pretty good hole started for themselves.

Of course, the resented my showing up after the major work was done, so I did my best to try and catch up. When the hole was about five feet deep, I filled sandbags with the dirt dug from the hole to build up walls. This settled them down, at least they quit bitching, but I was still and intruder. An interloper who wasn’t part of their squad. We settled into a strained peace as the daylight faded into night.

Our position stood on the side of the crown of the hill. It was a steep angle down to the treeline where the jungle took over from the rocky surface of the peak. While it was still a little light, I worked my way down the steep slope, hacking down the random clumps of brush making a living in the sparse areas were a seed beat the odds and sprouted.  Getting back up was harder. I’d take a few steps up the steep slope only to slide backward a step or two. I called up to the hole and asked them to throw me a rope but I was summarily ignored. I finally got down on my hands and knees and made my way back up to the position, pretty much feeling a similar resentment to them as they did me. The way I saw it, at least I had a reason to be pissed.

I climbed out of the hole and went and found a case of C-rations. I raided the carton, getting the ‘good stuff’ for myself. Beefsteak and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, crackers, cheese spread, peaches, and cigarettes filled the leg pockets of my jungle fatigues and as I walked I sounded like a gypsy cart drawn by a burro as I walked. “What’s you bring us?” asked one of the guys.

“Oh? Were you hungry? I thought you were busy with your letters and books and stuff. So busy you didn’t hear me asking for a rope after I cleared the field of fire for all of us.” A couple of hands came up, displaying the middle finger. “There’s a pile of new cases up there. The good stuff was still unclaimed a few minutes ago. If you go now, you should make out. Maybe even get the Ham and Lima Beans.” This last was a cheap shot. Nobody liked Ham and Lima. It tasted terrible and had a texture that invoked the gag reflex. Thing is, the cans that Ham and Lima came in clipped into place on an M-60 machine gun as if it was a factory part and helped feed the ammo belt into the gun. This reduced jams. A couple of the guys said they’d check it out and went off on a treasure hunt for C-rats. They returned ten minutes later with a box laden with some choice selections which improved the general attitude in the hole. I even got a thank you for the head’s up that the rations were available.

I dug a shelf and a kind of chair for myself and piled about 10 rounds of grenades up next to me. My current weapon was an M-79 grenade launcher. Settled for the moment, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. It was around 9:30pm and we were sitting two hour watched we started at 8 o’clock. My first shift started at midnight.

I was roused by the sound of a gunshot. My eyes blinked open and I took stock of the situation. The other three guys were on their feet and looking down into the darkness below. They guy closest to me tapped my shoulder then made a gun with his finger and thumb and pantomimed shooting down into the darkness of the jungle. “You see a muzzle flash?” I asked. He shook his head no and said he thought he saw motion. I picked up my weapon and there was a loud explosion on the other side of the TOC, about where I’d first been assigned to dig a hole. The artillery shot a flare that lit everything up and then we could see that the VC were moving quickly down in the jungle’s edge and a few of them were trying to crawl up the steep incline toward us. My three hole mates opened up with their M-16s and I lobbed five or six grenades into perimeter. Bullets whistled and made dull noises where they impacted the ground or hit a sand bag. I dumped a few more boxes of grenades out and yanked the round out and stacked them on my little shelf. I put four downrange before our platoon sergeant was yelling for cease fire. Things quieted down almost immediately. From the few fires burning down in the jungle there were shadows moving that could have been people. I lobbed a grenade down there only to have the platoon sergeant give the back of my helmet a love tap with the toe of his boot. “Hey!” I complained.

“It’s just a probe.” said the sergeant. They’re done now so everyone stand down.” He then moved on to check the other positions and we settled back into a watch rotation.  The rest of the night passed uneventfully.

In the morning we learned that we had one and only one casualty. They had sent a guy to make himself a little sandbag bunker where they’d first assigned me to dig my hole. He’d made a rectangle two sandbags high that was big enough for him to lay in with a little extra room. He spread his poncho over it to keep off the rain, but that was it. A VC had crawled up close to his position. The guy saw him and fired a shot but missed. The VC threw a satchel charge that landed right next to the guy and it blew up, killing him instantly. We realized that was the gunshot and explosion that started off the sudden firefight that ringed the command post.

It wasn’t lost on me that I could have been the one killed. Because my sergeant got annoyed and sent me across the hill, he’d saved my life. I think whoever was in that unprotected position would have been dead meat. My sergeant commented to me later that I’d been right. He should have had an engineer come blow a pit there. But, he’d said, we were only going to be there the one night and it didn’t seem worthwhile to make ourselves too comfortable. In fact, only minutes later the CO called for us to pack it up and moved us to yet another hilltop. I don’t think the sergeant got that guy killed either. I think because of the layout and situation that whoever got stuck with the hard rock position was going to die. Even a pit can’t protect you from a short fuse satchel charge that lands right next to you. If there was any positive it was that the dead guy took the VC with him. The body disappeared in the night, but a few people saw the VC lay all akimbo. But the night was super dark, what with the low overcast, and without a moon, Vietnamese nights were darker than a coal chute to a blindfolded man.

As I recall it today I don’t get any chills or feel blessed or anything. I didn’t feel any of that back when it happened.  The realization was worth a whispered “Jesus,” and that was it. The mind moved on to other things. It’s not like I minimize the soldier’s death. For a lot of us we took time to feel bad, the amount of time depending on how well we knew the person. But then we moved on. We just had to because that was the best way to get back home, and regardless of what brought us to the war, at some point it stopped being about ideals and became fighting to get home.

 

Just Nuts

A definition of insanity is to do the same thing the same way repeatedly while expecting a different result.

I’ve read the statement above a number of times in my life. I don’t know who’s being quoted, I simply know that I believe that it’s true. It has to do with making the same mistake more than once, something I’m guilty of. Back in elementary school I found that it was an error to make a wisecrack to an angry teacher. That doing so would have negative repercussions. I was a “child of independent thought” and therefore compelled to repeat the error, inevitably turning a verbal reprimand into a much harsher correction. At one school I did it often enough that I was, to my parent’s consternation, invited to leave permanently. In that case I learned that repeating an error a sufficient number of times could have a very negative impact on me. In the end I finally learned to keep my mouth shut, but it was the army where I learned to keep my comments to myself as well as learning to keep a poker face. Giving a drill instructor the stinkeye was no less an offense to an insubordinate comment.

I think most people have learned about repeating errors and so try to minimize repetition of mistakes, and in more ways than speaking one’s mind at inappropriate times. At this moment in time though, I have to wonder if we, as a nation, have learned the age old lesson when it comes to “the suffrage.”  I am, of course, talking about our right to vote. We have a congress with the lowest popularity rating in the history of our country. Never has any US congress been so negatively perceived as the one we have today. Our congress has fallen from favor steadily, with the vast majority of the country believing that our elected public servants have no interest in working to make the country better and stronger. Yet time and time again the voters return incumbents to office, apparently thinking they will act differently than they have since taking office. It takes death, old age, or extreme scandal to unseat a congressperson. A few who actually wanted to accomplish good things have resigned in disgust, and from both sides of the aisle. Lousy governance isn’t completely tied to party, but it does say something that a growing number of conservatives have become independents, eschewing the radicalism sweeping through their numbers.

But the point here is that we, as a country are dissatisfied with those we keep electing and yet we keep on reelecting them as though in some magical way there’ll be an improvement. Or maybe some of us believe it’s not our representative that’s the problem. That the other states need to vote someone new into office. But that’s magical thinking because of the people in other states who believe the same thing; the other states are the problem. The truth of it is that we need to start sweeping in order to effect a change and we can only affect change in our own states.

Unless a candidate is really good and shares my view on a majority of issues, I will rarely vote for an incumbent. I believe that by changing those in office, we get better representation because of the ‘new eyes’ factor. Reelecting incumbents keeps the same perspectives and same methods, networks and cliques in place. New eyes give us new perspectives, new alliances and new methods. It makes our government more responsive to the issues that matter to us today. Incumbents tend to pay lip service to new issues only to return to the same old grind. That, as we can clearly see, results in an almost comatose government that spends it’s time with petty prejudices rather than working to raise the vitality, power and economy. Much better to go for change because that will produce change.

Anything else is just crazy.

At the fair

“I’m always right and I never lie,” swore the candidate. His teeth gleamed a radioactive white as he simultaneously spoke and grinned an endearing smile that seemed practiced to support his position. In one hand he held a corn dog, well wrapped by a napkin to protect his custom cut Armani suit. He looked nothing like the people of the venue; a state fair was not his dress for success destination. He should be wearing cowboy boots, tailored jeans and a western top with pearlescent snaps enclosing his shirt and decorating his pocket flaps. At least he wasn’t wearing a western hat. Such an accoutrement would broadcast LIAR over his head in neon red. The leather vest was trying to fill in for the hat anyway. He couldn’t have looked less like he belonged there. In the eyes of many he didn’t, but Iowa was where those people entertaining a run in the coming elections all congregated all showed up to announced their candidacy while swearing up and down they had no intention to run -although if asked would probably set aside their desire to spend more family values time with family and accept the opinions of supporters to take a shot at the big chair.

A television news reporter pressed a mic in his face and asked, rhetorically of course, That between then and a private 200,000 viewers that he was truth the best chance for a party with. The answer was an abashed “Well, I do have the experience and the contact to reach across the aisle to secure the proposed agreements that might propel the country forward from its current static place. Our congress has single digit approval numbers. To invite the incumbent back is to invite the status quo, which certainly leaves us stuck in the tanglefoot quagmire we’ve experienced for the last thirty years.”

“So, you’re going to run?” asked the reporter.

“No decision has been made. Like I said, I’m just here to sample the winds.” The teeth gleamed brightly again. Behind him, the candidate handed his corn dog off to his aide who dumped it surreptitiously into a nearby trash can.

Fifty feet away, another politician, a stately woman with a Murphy Brown hairstyle wore a bright red dress with white sleeves. A blue scarf hung stylishly over her shoulders and embraced her neck. Another reporter was asking if she planned to run in the coming election. Again the candidate claimed they were merely putting a toe in the water to test the temperature, but had no specific plan to run. She too, she explained, would certainly step up if called by her constituents.

In fact, of the twenty two politicians at the fair, none of them was willing to come right out and say they planned to run. The truth was that they were merely preening for those who might step forward and offer the beginnings of a war chest to fund a run for the office. The likelihood was that they would all become announced candidates and then their numbers would dwindle as those with the greatest financial support would be able to soldier on. Others would be given deals for interim offices to step away, others yet would simply fade from the limelight to turn up later in private sector lobbying positions, their connections across the aisle use for access to those who went the distance.

All around this activity would be the bustle of the fair itself. Young farmers would show their pet livestock, families would play games of chance where a few would take home large stuffed animals or a doomed goldfish swimming in tiny globes of colored water. Cotton candy, ketchup and mustard would stain clothing like Picasso art pieces and kids, tired from a long day, would argue in the back seat of the family car. In truth, few, if any of the families, would have taken much notice of the politicians who came to the fair for exposure. The fair existed on two planes; one was as a backdrop to prove the down home, family valued nature of potential candidates to reporters desperate to fill their columns or air space. The other was actually a piece of Americana, an attempt to stretch an expired image of national life another year in spite of the winds of change that time and technology that continued to morph the country.  In a few days it would be forgotten, the photos taken with smartphones shared among the circles of friends who were now off to new gossip and new games, films and apps for the kids, new concerns about money and the practical obstacles for the parents.

The politicians would vanish for a while, to reappear at another time on the airwaves, and they point back to their visit to Iowa as proof of their connection to the middle class, which they knew no longer existed. And the game would play on and on.

 

 

 

A Boy’s Dog

The dog stood at the bow of the boat, his nose in the air and his ears blowing backwards in the wind as we skipped from wavelet to wavelet. The sun was bright and the day was warm and the sky was an azure blue with picture cloud cumulus floating lazily.

Most people don’t know it, but french poodles are water dogs. Somewhere along the way people started giving them embarrassing haircuts, camouflaging their innate hunting instincts and love of the water. Worse, people like my mother saddled them with names like Vicki, multiplying the curse. Vicki was actually my mother’s dog. It was she who fed him, took him to the vet, and took him to the doggy hairdresser. She kept his bed clean and his water bowl full. That did not stop me from claiming the dog as mine much of the rest of the time.

I discovered that my dog was a great companion early on, and would take the dog with me on my boat excursions around Long Island Sound.  Every so often the dog would see something attractive and leap out of the boat. What was visible from his raised place in the boat would disappear as his eyes dropped to water level and he would paddle in confused circles wondering what happened to whatever it was than interested him. Then I would idle around, chasing the dog so I could pull him back in the boat -but he would avoid me, sure he could find his object of interest if he only gave it another half hour or so. The dog couldn’t swim for another half hour pretty quickly and would turn my way and paddle back to the boat with a depressed expression on his face. Then would come the struggle to get him back in the boat which would end in his shaking off the twenty gallons of water his coat would sop up. My mother wasn’t thrilled with my maritime dog trips. She paid good money to have the dog’s hair cut with chaps on his legs, puff balls on the feet and tail, a distinguished moustache and a poofy topknot. As to the puff ball on his tail, Vicki’s tail had been bobbed as a puppy for nothing more than cosmetics by the breeder. I always thought about finding the breeder and cutting something off of them for cosmetic reasons to see how they liked it. His ear hair was cut so he had frills that dangled down giving them more length. I wanted my mom to have the dog’s hair cut ‘normal,’ thinking the poofy hairstyle looked silly.

While he did look a bit dorky, especially right out of the dog parlor, Vicki wasn’t stupid. On the contrary the dog was pretty darn smart. He’d play pirates and treasure with me on the rocky coast, ducking and hiding when I would. When we would trap our imaginary quarry, I swear the dog would chuckle as I yelled “Arrrr!” and we jumped from our hiding spots, ambushing our prey.  It didn’t matter to the dog (or me) that we played pirate against pirate. Pirates were much more interesting than the frilly dressed captains of the sea who pursued them who I always saw as being French for some reason.  Maybe because the dog was French. The dog was happy to carry a sword in a scabbard and wear a hat with a feather -so long as I tied them down.  I’m not sure, but I think he liked the hat because it hid the topknot.

Today we were out on the bounding main in search of adventure. We’d been cruising for an hour and a half and were headed into Five Mile River to hit the gas pump. It was a busy day with a lot of traffic and we were in the channel. Seagulls were wheeling and calling, inspecting the comings and goings of boats in case they were making free fish available when Vicki barked once sharply and jumped headlong into the water. With so many boats and the dog’s head such a small object I freaked out immediately. I began to wave at the other boats, trying to guide them away from my dog. Some of the people on the other craft smiled widely and waved back, failing to understand I wasn’t being friendly, I was having a panic attack.

So was my dog. After a few boats barely missing running him down and their wakes giving him a snoot full of water, the dog was freaking out as well. He swam around in a tight circle and I motored over to him, hoping he would play his avoid Bob game.  He let me pull up to him but there was a 40 foot Chris Craft that was just opening up its throttles and I was directly in front of him on the wrong side of the channel. He had the right of way and he was pressing the issue. He leaned on his horn and didn’t back off on the gas. I did a cross arm wave and then tried to grab my dog. Vicki was in a panic, seeing the large boat bearing down on us and swam for his life. I turned to try to follow the dog while making an obstacle that the other boats would look out for. I would wave, steer the boat, try to reach out to grab the dog and then repeat. The Chris Craft almost nailed the back of my Boston Whaler as it passed. The pilot was shaking his fist at me when a girl on board with him pointed to the dog and the guy got the idea of what was happening.  He yanked his throttle to idle and then reversed his engines to make a quick stop. This caused two boats in trail to duck around him, one of them now bearing down on my dog.  He was in a small ski boat and saw the dog and pretty much did the same thing the Chris Craft did. He managed to stop about five feet from my dog and my boat as I made another grab for the dog. Vicki wasn’t having any of it and started paddling for all he was worth, and made his way out of the channel.

The ski boat turned parallel to me and closed in, trying to drive Vicki to my boat, but Vicki had his eye on the shoreline and was paddling his little heart out. The ski boat stood off and I stayed next to my dog until I banged a submerged rock. It wasn’t a hard knock, but I knew I had to use an oar to pole myself to the shore. I kicked into neutral so I wouldn’t shear my propeller’s drive pin and riding the waves of wakes went bump, bump. bumping to the shore. Vicki got to the water’s edge and pulled himself onto a big and flat kelp covered rock and just collapsed. He was panting so hard it scared me. I grabbed the painter, a rope used to tie off the boat, and hopped onto the rock. I knelt down and took the dog’s head into my lap and petted him and reassured the dog he was okay. The guy in the ski boat shouted out asking about the dog and I yelled back I thought he was okay. The guy hung around for a few minutes until Vicki stood up and shook, soaking me with water. He laughed and powered up and headed out to the Sound.

I pulled the boat close to the rock and hopped into it, cringing as it bounced against the stone. I called the dog and slapped my side, the signal to come. Vicki looked at me like I was out of my mind, tilting his head to the side and blinking his eyes. The dog sat there a moment and then sighed deeply and stepped over near the boat. Coaxing him, the dog wouldn’t jump into the boat though. I finally lay over the bow and grabbed the dog by the collar and yanked him so his front paws rested in the gunwale. He looked side to side, sighed again and hopped the rest of the way into the boat. I used the oar to work the boat away from the coastal rocks  and the dog and I putted over to the gas pier and fueled up.

Finding himself none the worse for wear, the dog retook his position in the bows, his front feet on the plank seat, his nose in the air and his ears flapping behind him in the breeze.

Drop Kick

It was steaming hot in the Caribou, a cargo plane that looked like an abbreviated C-130 Hercules. It had a rear cargo ramp that would permit the passage of a single pallet which made it a good fit for small drops into remote outposts. We could load three pallets in a row for aerial drop, making for about the same load a crammed deuce and a half truck could haul. Maybe a little more. Thing is, we could put our deliveries in places no truck could even consider approaching.  Even with only two engines to the Hercules’ four, it still had impressive short field capabilities for takeoff and landing, no less the ability to drop parachute loads or dump and bumps where we shoved the load out with a drogue chute a few feet off the ground. The latter was the go to move for a really hot LZ where the crew didn’t want to spend one more second than necessary under the guns of homicidal enemy.

Our pilots for the day were a couple of Canadians and me and a guy named Fernandez were the load pushers. This was Fernandez’ first week in country and he was nervous as a cat.

“Hey, man…” I said to him as he sat staring out a side window.

“WHAT?” he screamed, flinging his canteen into the air and looking side to side to see what was no doubt on the verge of killing him.

“Whoa! Lighten up!” I said leaning down to pick up his canteen. I was just gonna tell you that we’re wheels up in a couple of minutes. It’s time to shut the bird up.”

“Oh. Sorry.” he said. “What do we do?”

“Well, it’s easier to show you but it’s simple.” I side shuffled to the back end of the plane and showed him how to close the ramp and make sure the side doors were shut. Although on this trip, I pinned the aft port door open to get some air movement through the cabin. “It’ll get pretty hot in here if you don’t.” I said. Then we did a lead check to make sure the pallets were properly on the rollers and strapped to the airframe D rings. We’d already done a rig check when the loads were outside so there was no reason to repeat that. Then I picked up the intercom phone and told the captain were tied for the ride. The starboard engine started turning up, coughed to life and then settled to a smooth idle. The port engine followed suit.

We waited about five minutes to get permission to taxi to the active runway. There was no wait there, as the nose pointed up the runway the pilot ran the throttles up and we accelerated and lifted off in no time at all. We sat at the base of the steps up to the flight deck and our pilot told us our ETA to drop was 30 minutes. The copilot opened a cooler and fetched out a few Dr. Peppers, the can cold with condensation dripping from them. “Happy to fly your crew any time, Boss.” I said smiling. It was about 100 degrees in the plane and after humping the cargo, Fernandez and I were damp with sweat. We both drained our cans and dropped them into a trash box. I tapped Fernandez (who jumped again) and pointed aft. I led us back to the loads and unstrapped them each, save a single throw over that would hold them and their cargo chutes in place. I then showed Fernandez how to hook the deployment bag strap to the static line, a thick steel cable that ran for and aft along the ceiling.

The pilot rang the buzzer that gave a 10 minute warning. I took this time to explain to Fernandez the safety lines we wore to keep from falling out of the plane and the order of releasing the final safety strap from each of the loads. “How do we get the loads out?” he asked.

I smiled and told him to press against the wall, stay out of the way, and the magic load fairy would take it from there. “Just stay clear of the load, get a stable place to stand and hang on.” About then the five minute buzzer went off and I unstrapped the second and last lead and Fernandez got the first. Being a newbie, I wanted him inboard as far as he could be so he’s still be with us when we landed back at base. The final buzzer went off and I yanked the lanyard that dropped the cog preventing the load from rolling backwards and stood off to the side, gripping the superstructure. The plane suddenly went nose up and the pilot added throttle and the pallets rolled smoothly back and off the ramp. Their descent yanked the big chutes out of the bag, blossoming them out like big green umbrellas that swung above the pallets. I always liked watching the loads drop, oscillating once or twice before contacting the ground with a soundless thump. They could be heard on the ground, but not in the aircraft that was filled with engine and prop noise, and the sounds of winds whipping around the cabin. When I saw three good landings  as I collected up the deployment bags fluttering behind the ship and hit the ramp closed lever and the clamshell back of the aircraft closed up. There was still noise and exhaust smells coming through the still opened side door as we folded up the remains of our load straps and materials and piled them into a crate that a forklift would pick up at the base camp and haul back to the rigger area for use on another drop.

We headed forward to sit on the web seating for the short ride back to base. Fernandez just sat down when he kicked up a foot like a Rockette dancer. Bip, bip, bip! The plane banked heavily and someone from the flight deck called back that we were taking fire.  Fernandez lay on the deck in a state of shock. I looked him over and didn’t see any blood, but I did see four holes in the cargo deck. The toe of Fernandez boot was chewed up. I untied his boot and pulled it off gently. His sock was also torn at the toe like his boot, but his foot was intact. “You lucky bastard!” I shouted at him, grinning.

“Lucky? I’m not lucky, I got shot man. I got shot!”

“I’ll but your boot in for a purple heart.” I said. “When it comes this close, you’re lucky man. You could be going home without a foot!”

“You didn’t say anything about getting shot at.” said Fernandez.

“Well, it doesn’t happen that often. You’re a lot more likely to fall out of the plane with the load or break your arm because you weren’t hanging on. But this is a war and surprise! People shoot at each other here. When we get back I’ll buy you a beer at the enlisted club and you can show everyone your boot and tell your story. You’re bound to have a few rounds bought for you.”

“Really?” he said, perking up.

“Hell yeah. You got a great story for yourself. I bet you’ll be telling it into your old age. I know I will.”

 

Dear John (or whoever)

Jeanette,

I guess things are going okay here. I mean, as good as can be expected. I’m glad I have two of your pictures. I keep one with me and the other stays pinned to the wall of my hootch next to my bunk. I swear that sometimes your photo is all the keeps me going. I think about what I’m coming home to. But also what I’m here to fight for. You and the people like you who haven’t had to suffer the rigors of war where you live.

Gotta run, I have a patrol coming up.

Love you, Jeanette!

Bob

———————————————————————————-

Hi Bob. It’s always good to hear from you and I’m glad you’re safe. But I’m feeling bad because I haven’t been real honest. As you were getting ready to leave, being ‘with you’ gave me status. You made me one of the cool chicks, you know? And, well, you know, it was all so romantic you know and It let me live a life I couldn’t have without being with someone like you. Such sweet drama, you going off to die and everything. But weeks and weeks have gone by, you know. And it’s like I’m supposed to sit around pining for you. Well, you know, that isn’t my thing. I like to party. I’m sure you understand. I’ve been going out with Gerard, you know, Gerard Pennar who’s captain of the football team and his dad like owns this major legal partnership. He makes sure I get to all of the ‘in’ parties and stuff and he’s lots of fun. It just isn’t right to string you along. I mean, I figured that you’d probably be dead by now. I know that sounds petty, but your friend, Steve Bishop (who says to say hi!) says that you’re a survivor. A badass who will take it to the Vietnam Cong and come back with great stories. I didn’t want you to come home expecting things to take up where they were, you know? I’m moved on and I bet you have too and your nice letters are just you trying to let me down slowly. But you don’t have to do that anymore because we don’t have to play games anymore.

I included your ring in the envelope. You can give it to your latest flame and I wish the two of you the best luck!!! I’m really on your side, you know. Your friend,

Jeanette

——————————————————————————

Jeanette,

I’m so sorry to hear your feelings. I certainly wasn’t playing any drama games. Sorry you were. But okay, if you want to be with someone else then so be it. Caring for each other shouldn’t be a ball and chain.

Good luck to you and Gerard.

Bob

——————————————————————————-

Bob,

You don’t have to be such a jerk about this. But if you want to speak the truth, I just wanted to get the things from you I could, you know! Gerard says you need to stay out of Ardmore. If he sees you he’ll kick your ass to a bloody stump!

I can’t believe I kind of liked you.

Jeanette

 ——————————————————————————-

Well Jeanette, tell Gerard I’d be happy to show him some of my moves, I hope he like the smell of cow shit because that’s what we cover the pointed end of punji stakes with. Don’t bother to write me back, I have no interest in anything you have left to day.

Bob

———————————————————————————

Hey Bob,

I’m so sorry I got all angry and emotional. Gerard was very upset that I volunteered him to kick your ass. In fact, he doesn’t want anything to do with guys with your training, Could you find it in your heart to tell Gerard that there’s no hard feelings and he can call me anytime.

——————————————————————————

Jeanette

No.

Bob

—————————————————————————–

Six months later I stepped off the Jet JFK at :30 in the morning to greet me, home from the war. I waited about, but they failed to turn up. A janitor I got into a conversations with was nice enough to give me a ride into town and dropped me at the door to my parent’s grammer Park apartment. The doorman left me into their darkened rooms and I could hear them sleep breathing in their roo. I crashed on the guest room bet and woke to a circle of faces. “He doesn’t look an different,” said my dad. “He looks a lo stronger,” said my mom. “He looks like Bob. I gotta go catch my trains.

I sat up and said “hello, everyone. I’m back from the dark continent with its squabbles and unpleasantness.” My mother struck me with a pillow and dad said “Theyr’ll be no  goldbricking here. I expect you to get a job right away.” I mentioned that I would deduct it from his gains in the sales of my Lionel Trainset. Since it was,at the time of the sale, worth every penny of $100,000, that shut my father up immediately since he sold it to GoodWill for a mere $25. Was I a dick enough to sue the old man,  Yes, yes I was. I loved those trains more than the money and while it took six year, AlI got my hundred grand.

“I thin you should find yourself a new roost.” said my dad.

“Me too.” I replied. “Where’s Ardmore?”

 

Go this way and that way…

“Well, hello Mr. Kirkpatrick! I don’t know if you remember me but I saw you -sometime last year I think.”

“Sure, you’re Doctor Peach and the last time we saw each other you were wearing an arm brace.” I replied.

“Ah! That would put it at the end of last summer. I remember you because you were pretty insistent that you didn’t want to stay with us.”

“Well, no offense was intended. The treatment I get is excellent, I just hate hospitals.”

“Then what makes staying so bad?”

“The beds actually hurt me. I can’t find a comfortable position on them. When I do finally get into a reasonably acceptable position and fall asleep, someone wakes me up to take blood, give me a breathing treatment, take my vitals, change my saline IV or bring me food that, honestly, I can’t eat. My appetite and tastes have been wrecked by the chemo I took and it’s still affecting me all these years later. It has nothing to do with your care.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. So, what brings you here today?” he asked me.

“Severe chest pain, seems a little coupled with breathing. It surrounds my lungs like a halo and puts pressure on my sternum. I don’t think I have a heart problem.”

“Well, the EKG backs up your assumption. Your heart seems to be working just fine, but your blood pressure and heart rate are on the low side.”

We chatted about what other symptoms I was feeling and played question and answer for a while until they sent me for a chest xray and a CAT Scan. Then it was a matter of waiting for cultures and other lab results from the various samples they took from me. I was lightly dozing in a comfortable fog when he returned. Four hours had passed since I signed in.

“Have you had any swallowing problems?” asked the Doctor.

“No. I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”

“You’ve got some foam in the lungs that indicates that you may have aspirated some food or saliva. That could cause an infection and produce the symptoms we’re seeing and the test results we’re getting. I’d suggest that you stay here for a day or two to just keep an eye on things but I know you wouldn’t like that very much.”

“Well, if there’s a good reason for me to be here, then I’m okay with staying. But of it is just a matter of keeping an eye on me, taking vitals and handing me my meds, well, I can do that at home where I have a pretty good setup. Full hospital bed with memory foam mattress, a trapeze to help me move, a 50 inch TV to watch movies and stuff on, and it even hooks to my PC as a monitor. My wife is happy to make me food and will produce a menu of things I can and still like to eat and she keeps me company. She’d be coming out here every day to hang out with me so it’s more convenient for her to be at home as well. She has all of her diversions and her own bed and chairs -all a lot more comfy than a visitor chair. Worst of all, your internet here is terrible. Half the time I fails trying to send or receive email. That means I have to brink my iPad and run it in hotspot mode so I can get at least a megabyte of connectivity. Still not enough to stream Netflix, Hulu or Amazon though. My home connection is 120 megabit of business class connectivity.”

“Can I move in with you?” asked the doctor. My nurse was waving and pointing at herself while nodding as if to say ‘me too!’ I laughed and said we had two extra bedrooms, first come, first served and I’d be happy to have my own medical team in house.

In my area, the VA has been working to improve their medical care and patient support. The administrative arm makes that a pretty tough row to hoe. For every little gain in efficiency, the Spokane VA is inundated with more vets to handle.  The load on staff members is pretty heavy yet the face it with a smile. Sure, there are a few bad eggs; some people hate their job no matter what it is and some people are just plain unfriendly. But Spokane tries and it shows.

The patient overload make access to care problematic. Personally, I believe that there should be two levels of care. The first is for people who are, for the most part, healthy. They come in for colds and flu, the odd accident or slowly increasing symptoms that may be indicating something is amiss. The second level is for people who have established chronic need for medical care. People who, like myself, have cancer or other life threatening illness. These people should be assigned to teams who are up to date on the patient’s situation and can get care 24/7. A simple infection for these people can have lethal consequence, so it’s important to be able to bypass much of the redundant testing and get straight to the tests which are relevant to their condition, antibiotics and pain relief. Trying to merge these two levels of care into a single system redoubles doctor’s efforts and multiplies the cost of patient treatment, never mind extending the suffering of the needy patient while following a general one-size-fits-all policy.

The government is famous for cutting off its foot to spite its face. The VA has to stop closing facilities and then updating the abilities of others. This has proven to overload the care system and cause more suffering. Build and fully staff facilities in all areas with a sufficient volume of veterans to warrant a care center, then operate that center with the two-tiered system that gets the type of care needed to the vets in need.

 

9:15am

“I’m so sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Pirog. “I mean, I know celebrities find it difficult to have private moments because fans intrude everywhere you go.”

“Who are you and what are you doing in my hotel room?” said Nick Pirog.

“I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help get your next book out. I mean, everyone is anxiously awaiting 3:10am.” I said.

“Um, look, I appreciate it when my fans support me but…”

“Wait a minute. I’m not a fan, Nick. I’m a supporter! I’m here to help, not ask for autographs or selfie photos or something. You need something, let me know and I’ll do it! Besides, I already got your signature in my signed copies of Unforseen and Gray Matter. Although I wouldn’t mind signed copies of Afrikaaners, Oz the Schnoz and the Elephant Rebellion, Arrival, 3:00am, and Borns. And 3:10 too.”

“Well, I’ve been using electronic publishing and so I don’t have printed copies to hand out.”

“Oh,” I said a little disappointed. “But still, I’m happy to do anything you need.”

“Great! Could you get off of my girlfriend please?” Nick said.

“She does look a little comfortable.” I said, looking at her. “Hey! Whoa there, partner. You don’t need that phone!” I noticed that Nick was sliding his hand towards his smartphone laying on the nightstand. “You need to call someone, you just tell me and I’ll do it for you. I’m here to relieve you of the little chores and annoyances that could prevent you from getting your books out. Consider me your personal assistant!”

“Okay. Could you dial 911 for me, please?” asked Nick.

I jumped up and looked around the room, scrutinizing it for threats. I pulled out my Glock 9 just in case.I didn’t see the problem, but then it’s not up to us supporters to second guess the artists. I dialed the phone and gave the hotel name and room number. “Okay, the cops are on the way, Nick.”

“Great. Thanks. Now could you put the gun away and step out so my friend and I can get dressed?”

“You bet!” I said, backing across the room. I stepped out the door and closed it behind me. Waiting for Nick I began to pace the hallway. Just as I arrived at the elevator, the doors slid open and  four cops charged out and went straight to Nick’s room.  They knocked on the door.

“Police!” one called out and I saw the door start to open. I knew it would take a while for Nick to finish his business, so I stepped into the elevator and rode it down to the lobby. After about ten minutes the cops pushed out of the elevator with Nick between them. “The City of San Diego Police Department has better things to do than chase prank calls, Pirog.” I heard one say fiercely. Nick was saying something in a beseeching tone but I couldn’t hear and it looked like the cops didn’t want to.

This was no good. I ran and caught up with them. “Hey, wait officers.” I called out. They stopped and turned towards me. “Nick didn’t make the call, I did.”

“Why would you do that?” asked one of the more burly of the group.

“Well, he told me to.” I answered. “I asked if I could do anything to help him and he had me make the call.”

“You see this?” the big cop said to his partners. “Damn celebrities have no concern for their fans. They just use them for their own amusement with no thought of their fan’s feelings.”

“No, no. It’s not like that.” I said. “Nick is a great guy.”

“Yeah, a great guy who sets nice guys like you up as the brunt of a practical joke. Well, not this time.” said the cop. “Let’s go.” The cops moved out through the front doors to where two police cars sat. They put Nick in the back of one and his girlfriend in the back of the other. In a moment they were gone.

“Gee.” I sighed. “I always thought Nick was a great guy.” I decided I would still buy his books, but in the future I’d keep my distance. The last thing I wanted was to hang with someone who got me into trouble.

 

 

And eggs fell out

Marcus Kelly and I were standing in a lean to waiting for the duty bus. The little thatched roof was the military’s wave to comfort for those of us GIs who used the sparse transportation to get around. We used the busses to get from place to place at the airport, the downtown administration buildings and office, and if they happened to go past or close to a favorite watering hole, we could ride there too. Different busses ran on different schedules. The airport busses were run the most often, doing their route around Tan Son Nhut every half hour from 6am to 6pm. The MACV in town shuttles ran from 8am to 6pm every 45 minutes and the downtown shuttles ran every hour from 8am to 10pm. This last was the most useful because you could take the bus out to you choice of bars and take the last one back to base in time for 11 o’clock curfew. The busses didn’t run on the weekends, which simplified deciding which one to catch. Of course, it didn’t make sense to remember any of the bus schedules since we only happened to be in town to scarf up some aerial delivery supplies from rigger headquarters. Normally we were out in the field at any number of bases, transients going to where this or that unit needed fast supply from the sky. Rather than a bus, our transportation ran the gamut of DHC-4 Caribou, HC-130 Hercules, C-123 Provider and even the old C-41. We also dropped from CH-47 Chinook twin rotor helicopters.

Kelly was huge. He stood 6 foot six of barrel-chested bulk and tipped the scales at almost 300 lbs and not a bit of it fat. On patrol he was a pack animal, carrying an M-60 machine gun with enough ammo to entertain a two-week firefight. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the guy really packed the ammo cans. He was from Boston and had the accent to prove it. No, not nor’easter, Irish. We riggers were of a single company, the Aerial Pack and Maintenance Company, but were spread out all over because there was no way to base out of a single place. We were in Saigon, Bien Hoa, Nha Trang and a smattering of lesser known bases. The lower you were on the totem pole, the the more time you spent in the lesser known bases. Kelly and I were on reprieve (as we called it) getting some soft duty doing magical requisitions of much needed equipment. It was called magical requisitions because no paperwork ever accompanied the goods we piled on to unscheduled flights we bummed from pilots who couldn’t care less what got tossed in their cargo hold so long as it was supplying our side of the war.

Kelly was great when it came to lining up flights. He would tower over some second lieutenant traffic officer wanting to know which of the planes on the ramp was his. All the while he would chew a cigar stub and growl about shoving someone’s tongue down their throat and pulling it out their butt. The flustered flight officer, unable to find any such orders, would decide it was better just to tap an aircraft for the mission than to risk the ire of the monster snorting and pawing his hooves on the other side of the counter.

It depended on how much we had to carry that determined the way we’d scarf a ride for our goods, which often arrived in a 3/4 truck tearing out to the flight line and offloading as quickly as possible, all the while encouraging the flight crew to go ahead and fire up the motors. Sweating and wild eyed, we’d jump into the aircraft and close the cargo doors while yelling “Go! Go! Go!”

“What about your truck? You gonna just leave it on the ramp?”

“The owner is on their way right now to get it. Please take off. Now.” Only once did the aircraft get a call from the tower asking them to return. The pilot and copilot found this hysterically funny and totally ignored the call. We slipped the captain a fifth of Seagram’s and told him he was our kind of people.

We’d spent the day scoping out the items we needed for retrieval the next day and were now at the bus stop waiting to go downtown to a bar and relax before heading over to NCO transient billeting. A few other people had wandered out of the sun to wait on the bus and soon there were about ten or so of us there waiting. Kelly elbowed me and nodded his head toward a Vietnamese guy. It wasn’t unusual to see a Vietnamese guy in Vietnam and I looked at Kelly and shrugged a ‘so?’ Then I saw what Marcus saw. The guy was carrying a cloth wrapped parcel. It didn’t look like something from a store or something someone would wrap to give to another.

Kelly moved behind the man who was now looking furtive, his eyes on the swivel. Marcus grabbed the guy and hefted him into the air and literally threw the into the rock and scrub of the vacant lot the bus stop was in front of. I yelled DOWN!” and threw myself at a couple of the people in the group. There was a loud WOOSH noise and the Vietnamese guy Kelly threw started screaming in pain. He was carrying a satchel charge alright, but it failed to explode. Instead, the chemicals and gunpowder flash burnt while the would be bomber lain across it. The air grew thick with the smell of charred chemistry and cooked meat lacing the thick gray smoke that spread out from the burn zone.

The bus pulled up followed by a pair of MP jeeps. Kelly and I quietly stepped onto the bus and took seats midway back. The people crowded up to the MPs with a lot of arm waving and yelling. The people appeared to be looking to point us out as the bus pulled away from the stop. We didn’t want any part of what was to come if the MPs got hold of us. We’d be hours giving statements and filling out forms and there was no way we’d get our drinks. It could even compromise our clandestine mission of a little inter-company adjusting of equipment possession.  We got off a couple stops down in case the MPs took it on themselves to head off the bus. Ten minutes later we were squeezed into an overheated press of bodies yelling out our drink order.

“You know,” said Marcus. “It would have really sucked if I tossed that little guy like that and a loaf of bread fell out.”

“No one would have carried food in that tumble of filthy cloth.” I said.

We drank our drinks and thought about it.