OBSIDIAN

You remember the name of the town, don't you? [Zihuatanejo]

Category: Uncategorized

And we’ll never be lonely anymore…

Summer of ’66, we’re in a position in the middle of nowhere, as they say, sand flat surrounded by steaming fucking jungle. One road in, potholes eighteen inches deep, full of water even in July. Mid-morning couple helicopters bounce in and drop off some civilians and some mid-level brass. WTF? We’re nobodies, less than a hundred guys, one captain, a couple of lieutenants. Couple of gunships standing a kilometer out turning a slow continuous sweep of the tree line. Word comes down we’re going to have some entertainment. Entertainment? They have us carry some ammo boxes over to a GP tent and spread them out in a kind of semi-circle. Sitting on one of these ammo boxes puts your ass about six inches off the dirt. I’m about ten feet from the side of the tent, looking up, when they lift the flap and there are these three girls in long white sequined dresses, black stilettoes and false eyelashes, swaying to the beat of recorded music, each holding a chrome microphone, young black girls, they seemed really young and not glamorous, just pretty kids, blinking in the sun, dust settling on their patent leather shoes and starting to build up on their pancake make-up, and launching into Chapel of Love…smiling at us, giggling even, rocking to the so familiar lyrics, glancing at each other, picking their way through what must have seemed to them so familiar and mundane but what was to us so unexpected, I remember actually laughing at loud at the sheer joy of it. The Dixie Cups. I’ve thought of them often over the years.

The meaning of hip

Well, late to the party here, as usual. And I’m older than most of you guys so my frame of reference is maybe a bit different. For me it was pretty much Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys and then the Beatles leading into the Marine Corps and then the Stones coming back from overseas and into the World. Not a lot of other stuff although there was always a bunch of stuff playing wherever I was. But I had no real strong affinity for any of it (beyond the Stones). It was mostly about getting laid so you had to know the names and maybe some of the lyrics. Couple of things…First, I was in a unit in RVN where some guy had managed to get a little record player from some godddam place and they had it set up in the corner of one of our bunkers (we were right at the edge of the DMZ, lotta noise) but they only had one record, a 45 (remember them?), Bobby Vee with Rubber Ball on one side and I don’t remember the other side. You guys are talking about the torture of AM radio and long upper Midwest crossings, let me tell you if I’ve heard that fucking song once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. I went through the stages of grief, kinda liked it starting out, catchy, pleasant, then it kind of started irritating me, made my skin crawl, threatened to bust up the player and then found I could ignore it, just tune it out, until finally it actually started to make me laugh, I mean actually laugh out loud. Maybe I was losing it a bit right through here. Anytime I had to pass that bunker I could hear that goddamed thing playing…I can hear it now. Second,…a few years later, living in Berkeley, big three story house, 19 roommates. Like everything else in those times you had to know a fuck of a lot just to make your bones, it was impossible to get laid if you had no opinion about music, so I had to actually pay attention. Big list of bands and composers goes here…lots of music in that house, you had to be able to name the band and the lead singer(s) on the opening chord…one guy in the house that I knew, but not well, but someone I suspected if circumstances had been different, could really be good friends with was this totally unhip guy from back east. He wore these big old heavy wingtips and Levis with a belt(!) fer chrissakes, had a bit of a gut, had never been to the beach but really fucking knew the music scene, almost savant-like. He knew the groups, the instruments, the lead singers and their managers and the studios where they recorded, and in an environment where groups were frequently breaking up and then reforming in different combinations he somehow kept up with that too. He also knew a lot of shit about other things too. Probably the best student in the house. Graduated and went to Boalt. He was a really interesting guy. So unhip. But so fucking hip. If you know what I mean. So one time we’re in the kitchen at the same time, and I’m probably eating Kraft Mac&Cheese (this is almost a sure thing) and we’re just there at the same time, not really eating ‘together’ but eating at the same time, does that make sense? And there’s music playing someplace in the house and we’re not really talking, just letting the music fill up the house and then looks over and says, ‘You know who I like?’ and I look over at him and he says, ‘Donovan…and Neil Diamond…’ And I kinda grunt ‘yeah?’ and nod my head conciliatorily because at this time and place these are not things you’d admit to unless you were really, really uncool. But he recognizes my tone and he then says, ‘No, really. I do.’ And, of course, all these years later I see he was right. Easily one of the brightest and coolest guys I’ve ever known. Last thing…my maternal grandfather, Bill Stemple, was the first guy to have seatbelts in his car that I knew, put them in himself around 1948-49. Also screwed a compass into his dashboard and mounted this big honkin’ spotlight at the side of the windshield on the driver’s side. Another guy I really admire.

Aloha Oe

Once in the days when I was young, my innocence still intact, our troop ship ghosted silently along Oahu’s south shore toward the seaward opening to Pearl Harbor. Having drawn late duty, I was below decks asleep when someone shook me awake and said, “We’re coming into the harbor.”

I swung my feet over the edge of my rack, pulled on my boots and headed up the ladder. As I clear the transom and step out onto a catwalk into the sunshine I am struck immediately with a profound sense of familiarity, de ja vu perhaps, the deep, unsettling sense of having been here before. This exact view of Diamond Head, so familiar and breathtaking in real life and floating quietly in my preconscious mind, an image so detailed and accurate that I am overwhelmed with a sense of belonging.

I turn slowly and take in Honolulu, gleaming white against a deep, green drape of mountains and an electric blue sky. The mountain pass through which the planes had come. The old Ala Moana, the Royal Hawaiian, Fort de Russy, the clock tower at Hickam Field, where my mother had lost two cousins, all move slowly by until we swing into the channel.

We climb a short ladder to the flight deck and cross to the port railing and someone says, “There’s the Arizona.”

In the windswept channel, hard by Ford Island, a stark white alabaster bridge stands astride the lurking, broken hull of the Arizona. I glance down the rail, three hundred Marines and sailors are suddenly silent. This too, we have all experienced before, have seen ourselves in this very place somehow; we all carry this image, this moment.

In the blue-green water, her outline is clearly visible, a tiny oil slick still rises from the hull and the flag stands permanently at half-staff. No one speaks a word. Behind me and to my left, I can hear the ship’s own ensign snapping in the breeze, below us and off the port bow, the flag at the monument answers with its own ruffles and cracks. Except for these two flags and the water lapping faintly against the ship, there is not a sound and no movement.

And then comes some faint music, ebbing on the wind, at first I think it’s my imagination but then louder, more persistent. We start to straggle across to the starboard side and just ahead, marching up the dock, in tight formation comes a Navy band playing a welcome for us. A short Sousa medley, all drumbeat and driving cadence, then sliding magically into the lilting, sensuous Aloha Oe, with its melancholy promise of gentle breezes, of going away and coming back again, and then the band pays its respects to the ship with a rousing Anchors Aweigh and the sailors start to smile, I turn to the guy next to me and almost laugh out loud at the incredible lightness of the moment and then they stop abruptly and there is only silence, the wind pressing against my chest, we watch but the instruments remain up, at the ready, and I realize what they’re about to play and I swallow and they strike the first notes of our quirky, magnificent hymn and every Marine is suddenly rooted to the deck.

After the Ogden is secure and most everyone is below fighting for shower time, I stroll back over and look at the Arizona monument. I try to hear the planes. I try to imagine the burning oil and the men in the water.

Behind me someone says, “It gets me every time.” I turn and find our First Sergeant quietly squinting into the sun, he turns and looks at me and says, “Yeah…every single time.”

In ten days, we will be in Southeast Asia.

My Morning with Eric Hoffer

Ha! Well, it isn’t much of a story, more like an anecdote, maybe. As I said it happened when I was living in Berkeley and taking the occasional temporary job with Manpower to make ends meet, grocery money, walking around money. One morning, they hooked me up with some guy on the waterfront up in Richmond. So I find this guy and he takes me out to a warehouse on the end of a pier, big old building with roll-ups down both sides and across the end. Totally empty. He gives me a push broom and tells me to sweep the place down. He’ll be back around 4:30 and he leaves. This fucking place is enormous. I’m not sure I can do it by 4:30. So I’m working away and about an hour later I get to talking with some old guy fishing from the pier. Nice old guy, short, stocky with a pinch-brim hat and a beat-up tackle box and I realize it’s Eric Hoffer. Shit man, this is cool. He’s kind of retired by now but he’s pretty well known around Berkeley and shows up at school sometimes to give these little talks. I keep working away and going out every half hour or so to check in with him. Ha, I keep waiting for him to say something pithy. I know, I know, I’m pretty fucking dense. Anyway by about 2, I’m seeing I may not finish this goddam job by 4:30 so I’m bearing down and he disappears. No wave, no nod, no good bye, just gone. I think how Eric Hoffer that is. Cool. Cool to be snubbed by Eric Hoffer. I’m almost happy he didn’t say good bye. Better this way. So that night back at the house (up on Oxford Street) I let slip how I spent the morning chatting with Eric Hoffer up in Richmond. At first there is some doubt, some sideways glances but I plow ahead and pretty soon they’re all thinking it’s possible and leaning in for the details which I carefully embellish. It became part of the house lore that I’d spent the morning with Eric Hoffer. Whenever it came up I played it with humility. A couple of months later some of us go down to campus one night to hear him speak. Not just him, there were three of four people speaking that night (I think Nader was there that night) but, of course, we were all looking forward to me reacquainting myself with Hoffer and if the opportunity presented itself, maybe I could introduce a couple of my buds. Well, you know where this is going. We get settled into our seats and I find Hoffer on the dais and, shit(!), it isn’t ‘Eric Hoffer’! I’m having hot flashes, blinking my eyes while my friends are all still busy getting settled. One part of my brain is still trying to decide how to handle this when I hear my voice say, ‘That isn’t Eric Hoffer, uh, I mean, I don’t know this guy’. Oh man, it was brutal. After that my friends would randomly look up, usually over my shoulder, and whisper, ‘I think Eric Hoffer just walked in.’ Fuckers. And it pissed me off when I realized some random old fart wasted part of my morning up in Richmond and didn’t even have the decency to say good bye.

Passing Through

Guy died yesterday. On the golf course. On the fucking golf course. Jesus. Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in what most us assumed was mid-career. Of course the reaper is amused by such presumption. My father saw it coming from a distance. My mother died suddenly. Where did they go? Really. Where? Roger said he was going back to where he came from. The body had ceased to be useful and now he was casting it aside and going back. David Foster Wallace, Leann, Lee Bishop. The demons we’d all suspected were in pursuit finally ran Robin Williams down. They say you can never really know a public person. Shit, you can never really know an intimate. But really what is there to know? The differences, the variations, end up meaning nothing.

‘And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?’

Heard from a guy I used to know. A thousand years ago. Out of the blue, that’s the way it always is. Just a ‘how you doing? How you been? sort of thing. Nothing special really, except the name and the freight it was carrying. The name belongs to a nineteen year old kid. Stuck in time. Can’t see the name without seeing that kid. White hair would be an outrage. Couple of things, first forty years is a long fucking time. Shit, forty? Coming up on fifty. Lotta water under the bridge. Lotta water under my bridge. Lotta water under his. Funny how we didn’t stay in touch. I think about that part of it sometimes. Not just this guy but most of the guys from those years. Funny. When you run into somebody you haven’t seen in a while, you know, someone you’ve lost track of for, say, three or four years, someone invariably says, ‘What have you been doing?’ but with this guy, and other guys who’ve looked me up, the fifty years seems to make that a silly question. The question becomes ‘Did you have a good life?’ But let’s face it, we’re in the home stretch here and any casual inquiry is going to call up some unpleasantness, death, illness, divorce, an estranged child, a bankruptcy, some goddam thing. Life’s like that, fifty years will include some cruelty. It’s almost enough to just hear from them, to know they’re still of this earth, still have their faculties, and can confirm I did, indeed, pass through that time with them.

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

Raymond Carver

Overly familiar things.

Destined to be my shortest post ever. Pet peeves. Any reference to the Atlantic Ocean being ‘The Pond’. Dated, over-used (and how!) and trite. Vast majority of people who use it are too young or too uninformed to appreciate a time when it was actually kind of an amusing allusion. ‘Deja Vu all over again’. Give it a rest. Give it a fucking rest. ‘At this point in time’. Redundant, ill-considered. ‘At this point’ suffices or, in the alternative, ‘At this time’, equally apt. Not both. (It turns out I yammered on too long for this to be my shortest post ever. Turns out ‘As though it were yesterday’ which immediately precedes this snippet, is shorter. My only excuse is that ‘As though it were yesterday’ is actually a scrap from a much longer piece that is incubating and likely to see the light of day in a week or so.)

As though it were yesterday

I remember the funeral. Black and white and grey. The drum. The horses and the caisson. The sound of the horses on the pavement. And the little kid saluting. And the drum. And the adults moving along at a good clip to keep up with the caisson. Jackie’s veil blowing. And the drum.

So it goes. Poo-tee-weet.

NRA convention just ended here in Houston. Usual, predictable silliness. Palin spoke, shrill, drawn, playing the victim card and the entitlement card and the paranoid card…Perry spoke, pretty much the same shit…Ted Nugent spoke, I think, but failed to make any headlines down here and since I didn’t actually read any of the (mostly) front page articles about the convention, limiting myself to just the headlines, ledes and the occasional caption, I’m not absolutely sure what his appearance amounted to. I feel better not knowing. Couple of things occur to me though. First, they had a vendor showing his wares who is marketing a life-sized mannequin of President Obama that ‘bleeds’ when shot. Big seller. The same company has a model called ‘the ex’ which can be ordered with various colors of hair to approximate what your ex-wife might look like when viewed through the sight of a high powered rifle or assault weapon. ‘She’ also ‘bleeds’. Also a big seller. I can’t make this stuff up. I see where a thirteen year old boy in Florida shot his six year old sister (last night, I think) with a handgun he found while he and she were alone in their home. Of course, last week we had the five year old boy who shot and killed his two year old sister with his own rifle, a gift apparently, which had been left leaning in a corner of the living room of their trailer-home in Kentucky or Ohio. No one ‘knew’ the gun was loaded. Some guy in Virginia, Kokesh is the name, I think, a radio personality with a large reactionary following is organizing a march into Washington, DC with a thousand interested listeners all carrying loaded rifles. I’m not clear on the point they’re trying to make. Carrying a loaded rifle is legal in Virginia but not in Washington DC. Circle July 4th on this one. I think it has something to do with the effort in several states to round up firearms that are currently in the possession of people who may have originally bought them legally but who would now no longer be allowed to have them, you know, like they’re now felons or crazy or their ex-wife is so afraid of them that she’s managed to get a restraining order on em. So now if they were to apply through the FBI database to purchase a firearm, they’d be rejected. So this guy thinks this is evidence of the coming police state, hence, the march. The connection’s still a bit fuzzy for me.* Got an email a couple of weeks back from a guy I knew in the service. I get a lot of these emails. Mostly jokes or naked women. Sometimes jokes with naked women. But also sometimes political, invariably right wing and Fox News dumb. Sometimes I hit reply all and gently point out I’m a life-long Liberal Democrat which means I get taken off distribution for a while but somehow I end up back on it. Sometimes I take the time to point out the glaring fallacy of whatever they’ve sent but mostly I’m too lazy to do that. Anyways, recently I got one that was a call to arms over proposed legislation that would deny 2nd Amendment rights to veterans who had been diagnosed with extreme PTSD (the small print indicated the restriction would only apply as long as the patient was under a physician’s care and on medication, this didn’t seem to mollify my former compatriots). There you have it, if you’re crazy enough to require a locked ward and meds, you ought to still have access to your local firearms dealer. I miss Stanley Kubrick. And this is what I think they may turn out to have seen all along and we didn’t…we want their guns, all of em,.. no exceptions…we want to disarm them. I didn’t see it. I always thought what we were doing was trying to come up with some common-sense accommodation so that the needless gun violence might be reduced while preserving the right of rational citizens to own a gun. That’s what I thought but now am beginning to see there is apparently no rational gun ownership. They think any modification of the second amendment is infringement, that they should be able to own slaves, shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, that women should never have been given the vote. Maybe they were right all along and we just couldn’t see it. I think they may be right, I want their guns, all of em, every fucking one of them.

[My heading here belongs, of course, to Kurt Vonnegut. I thank him.]

(July 10th update) *July 4 has come and gone and no march. Seems as though Kokesh called it off (from a jail cell, I believe). So, anyways, no march. But now this knucklehead sneaks into DC and video tapes himself loading a shotgun with enough background showing to prove to his followers he was really in DC (in Freedom Plaza, a couple of blocks east of the White House) and if he can’t have his little march, he can still show those pointy heads what he’s made of. He states publicly this is/was an act of deliberate civil disobedience. And, in a ‘what-did-you-expect’ moment, last night (July 10), Kokesh was arrested at his home in northern Virginia for what are being described as ‘guns and drug’ violations. The warrant was served by the Parks Police, who have authority over the National Monuments and local gun laws in DC. They were accompanied by a twenty member SWAT team complete with armored vehicle and night vision goggles and ‘two low-flying helicopters’. And in wholly predictable knuckheaded fashion Kokesh and his followers are whining about the ‘official over-reaction’. Perhaps if Mr. Kokesh is found guilty of a felony he won’t have to worry about his Second Amendment rights anymore. Felons can’t own firearms.

(July 29th update) A Washington, D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Adam Kokesh held until trial calling him ‘dangerous’ during a Monday hearing. Further, Magistrate Judge Frederick Sullivan told Kokesh’s attorney, “I consider your client a very dangerous man,” and continued, “you don’t make a political statement with a gun.” The police confiscated multiple firearms, mushrooms and marijuana from his Virginia home.

So it goes. Poo-Tee-Weet.

The Beautiful Mouth

The trouble with this place is its expectations. I should have seen this coming. Plain as the nose on your face, as they say. I had intended to use this as a place to collect my thoughts, cogitate, plant fragments and revisit them until they forced themselves on me or were found out and deleted. That was the idea. But, of course, the posting of them became the point, the expectation, unfinished work need not apply. By the time I’d been back and jiggered and rewritten and come to an understanding, it was already ‘out there’, no one would see it in its Sunday clothes. Now I’m back to chasing fragments, back to disorganized piles on my desk, disconnected things rattling around in my head. Sent myself an email last week. A thousand word email. Poor man’s Word. Hit reply, rewrote it and sent it back to myself, twelve hundred words. This is what this place was supposed to be. Funny.