In 1998 Derek Vaughn edited a short film (“John”) that won the student academy award. That same year he graduated from The American Film Institute with a master’s degree in film editing. A graduate of UNLV with a dual degrees in film studies and communications, Derek has edited a TV series for Roger Corman, co-produced one feature film, and has edited independent features, docudramas & reality television shows. A well-rounded artist, he has won minor screenwriting awards, released eight albums, www.catapultdistribution.com/artist/derekvaughn, and written four books, www.readersfavorite.com/search.htm?searchword=derek+vaughn&searchwordsugg=&option=com_search&sea
Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite
Broken Heart Apartments by Derek Vaughn is a short story of two weird couples with an impossible love story, but one that is hugely entertaining. Seth is a very jealous lover whose girlfriend breaks up with him in unusual circumstances. He is the epitome of desperation and feels the ache of unrequited love. And while he pines away in his apartment, there is hot action taking place next door and he can hear the orgasmic moans of Miranda and her lover, or is it the human-sized doll with a dildo, an imitation of the man who loves? Miranda has been messed up by men in the past and she has created a powerful wall to keep every man away. But her encounter with Le'Nard, the Waterman, could change everything. Will she have enough courage to open her heart and begin to learn to trust again?
There are few characters in this story, including a life-size sex doll dressed as Le’nard. The language is beautiful, colorful, and vividly descriptive. The dialogue is entertaining and it focuses on character development. I loved the humor, powerfully conveyed through dialogue. For instance, after a moment of intense sex, Miranda asks Le’Nard to leave her apartment. He comes back because the place is on fire and he fears for her, but he finds her with a sex doll dressed to look like him. It is funny when they argue on which Le’Nard she’d want to keep. It is even funnier to hear his lament: “I never had anyone like me so much that they dressed up a doll to look like me, but threw me out when they had the real thing.”
Broken Heart Apartments is a book that explores the dark side of passion, the insanity of love, and the transforming power of friendship. This is not a book for the conservative. Derek Vaughn has done a brilliant job in writing a compelling story, a quick read for anyone who is looking for something sexually stimulating and entertaining.
The author is a husband, hobby writer with no training and around ninety odd publications including memoirs, genre and drama, bookseller; hiker and snowshoer. He was a mathematician and actuary. After many years wondering in the wilderness he returned to the Portland OR area where he lives with editor Sharon and cat Kitzhaber.
The Other Side Of This Life
After a string of losses, at last something good was coming my way. My wife of fifteen years had left me a month ago leaving me a financial and emotional wreck. Rather than a home cooked meal and a glass of wine for dinner as it was early in my marriage, I’d been eating bar food and drinking too much. My new assignment at Multipor magazine at least meant that my boss hadn’t decided to fire me.
In fact, it was much better than that. As much as my other woes were dragging me down, I could see some kind of award, maybe even a Pulitzer if I did a good job. I suppose that some didn’t see the potential in the story that I did. The research arm of XHSU had received a huge grant to find a cure for or more likely cures for cancer. I was to report on their progress, but more importantly, divulge the personalities of the leaders. Multipor magazine depended more on scandal and celebrity than science.
“It’s no cure for cancer” has been a cliché for something which isn’t too difficult, but curing cancer has been the unattainable holy grail of medicine for as long as there has been medicine. There are both skeptics and optimists about the chance of XHSU getting there. It had already made significant progress and had great funding and doctors. Still, progress was incremental.
The institution gave us full access. Their stated objective was to get more funding. My suspicion that it was also to get more press for some of the prima donna doctors was quickly confirmed.
I met Sheila Hopkins, the project leader first. Of course, I have to tone it down, when writing my article, but she is the coldest fish that I’ve ever met, and that includes real fish. The body language, her talk, her dress and her body all said loudly “I’m all business and I won’t waste any more time with you than I absolutely have to”. As quickly as she could, she outlined the approach that she and her staff were taking – find a way for anti-bodies to attack and kill any cancer cells. The problem was that the cancer cells ‘wanted’ to survive and had clever adaptations to hide from those anti-bodies. The approach that XHSU was taking was the same general one that had limited success with other cancers – ‘educate’ the anti-bodies with modified bacteria or viruses to break through the cancer defenses. No one approach would work for all cancers, but under her direction, team doctors would attack the worst cancers – lung, breast, ovarian and prostate first.
Hopkins was such a cliché of a frigid, anti-social woman that I thought that I must have gotten the wrong impression from our first meeting. Later interviews confirmed that my first impression was the right one.
After a couple of interviews with more or less normal doctors, I had the misfortune of interviewing a self-promoting asshole “Hi, I’m Jason Jensen, but call me JJ.” How was he an asshole? Let me give a partial inventory. As nearly as this ink stained wretch could determine, his suit cost over a thousand dollar, and his haircut, maybe only a hundred. He subtly or not so subtly ran down every other person on the team. He called Hopkins “his associate” when she was clearly his boss. Because he must have felt that was inadequate, he mumbled something about her “playing on the other team”, not that he objected. I believe that comment came from his alleged attempts to get next to her. He claimed that his two divorces were caused by work pressures, but the majority opinion was that he couldn’t keep it in his pants. Have I mentioned his cologne? Quantity over quality.
It was easy for me to invent an excuse to turn down dinner with him. I didn’t need any more of his wonderfulness and everyone else’s inadequacy.
Back at home I backgrounded the two most interesting interviewees. Hopkins came from a middle class family. At every level in school she was freaky smart. The only thing unusual outside of that was that her only sibling, a much younger brother, had died in an accident. That was the only thing that I could find that could possibly explain her blandness and lack of affect. Jansen was much easier to explain. His father had been a state representative with unrequited ambition for higher office. His mother had been the state attorney general. Hopkins earned everything that she got the hard way. Jensen made it by his parent’s influence and money. The twice divorced doctor profile resembles one of our former governors in some ways. I would bet money that he’s hoping for a repeat of that former governor’s success without repeating the part about resigning in disgrace.
Something was nagging me about the interviews, but try as I might I couldn’t bring it to the surface.
The next day I only interviewed Hopkins. I had decided to try to break her of her ‘just the facts’ attitude. My bait was to taunt her with criticisms from doctors at the University Of Spokane Medical School. They claimed that what she was trying had only had limited success and no potential. Grim faced as always, she said “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.” As soon as I heard that, my puzzle was solved. She could see it on my face and told me “You know I’m really busy, can we finish this over dinner tonight?”
I agreed and we set the parameters. I wasn’t surprised that she mentioned a place known for its discretion and privacy.
I must back up a little. Wife Ellen and I had grown apart after fifteen years. She had her part time accounting job, her social circle and two or three volunteer activities that I don’t even remember. Yes, you can say bad husband. I mostly drank into the night with reporters and sometimes availed myself of hookers before and after the divorce. Even though I deserved it, and maybe hadn’t loved her for years, it hurt a lot when she left.
A year after Ellen divorced me; I was solicited by an unbelievably attractive prostitute while I was out drinking. Tall, blonde, hourglass figure, husky voice, she had it all. I spent the most exciting night of my life with her. On our way out of the door, a drunk almost knocked me down. She shrugged and said, you guessed it, “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.” It struck me at the time that in some cases they do eat you, but that’s not the point. Remembering that night, I realized that Sheila is Sephora.
At dinner, the first thing that Sheila said was “Before I talk anymore, you must agree to two things. First this is all off the record and second, you won’t try any two bit therapy on me.” I didn’t have much choice, so I agreed.
“If you are any good as a journalist, you did a background check on me for your article. You probably know that my only brother died in an accident. If you were really thorough, you know that I was really close to Bobby. I was even kind of a second mother to him because I was ten years older. He really looked up to me and I got a kick out of helping him with schoolwork. Ah shit, that horrible day. For some reason, he was really bugging me. ‘Sheila’s got a boyfriend. Sheila’s kissing Johnny. Suck face. Suck face.’ At least that’s what I remember. I got annoyed beyond reason and yelled at him ‘Go play in the street, you little shit’. He gave me a really hurt look and ran out into the street without looking and was hit and killed.”
“I never told anyone why he ran into the street. I claimed that I couldn’t explain it. They made me go into counseling which is where I learned to hate the shrink industry. ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘Do you have feelings of guilt?’ So much helpless, hopeless, useless bullshit. Of course I felt guilty, but I never told them the depth of my guilt.”
“You may think that my slut side is an attempt to punish myself. No one really knows why people do things. Usually we rationalize decisions and behaviors rather than understand them. No one knows what I would be doing now without watching Bobby die. My interest in curing cancer may look like I’m trying to balance my life by saving lives, but I was interested in biology well before the incident.”
As she went through her story, I was thinking just what she imagined I was thinking, but she was right about reaching easy conclusions.
“Do you have any questions now?”
“Quite a few now, but let me start with a simple one. I paid for your services. Why do you charge for sex? Not that it wasn’t worth it, but you don’t need the money.”
“Fair enough. In case you don’t remember, I didn’t ask for anything. You and some others think that I’m a whore and leave various amounts of money. When that happens, the housekeeper gets a very good tip. Next.”
“Sheila and Sephora don’t look, smell or sound much alike. How do you do that?”
“Smell is easy. Sheila is fragrance free and Sephora goes in for exotic fragrances. I lower my voice when I’m Sephora. Looks require a little more work. Underwear makes Sheila stick-like and Sephora voluptuous. I’m 4 inches taller as Sephora with stiletto heels and the wig makes me blonde.”
“How do you keep your lives separate?”
“My lives are separated by the clock. On the nights I decide to be Sephora, I usually am her from about 10pm to 2am. I never stay away from home all night. I live in a neighborhood where we all lead anonymous lives. We don’t have block parties or anything like that. I suspect that I may have some very kinky neighbors but they don’t pry into my life and I don’t hang out with them.”
“Are you Sheila or Sephora?”
“I don’t have multiple personalities if that’s what you think. I’m Sheila and Sephora is an act. That isn’t quite honest. I’m a little bit Sephora.”
“Have you ever had any continuing interest in any of your pickups?” After I asked this, I blushed a little bit when I realized why I had asked it.
Sheila paused “Rarely. Nothing I’ve ever acted on.”
I hope that I kept my optimism at her response hidden.
“Have you ever been close to having your cover blown?”
“Once that asshole Jason Jensen was at the same dive bar that Sephora was. I had to leave, because if he hit on Sheila, he definitely would hit on Sephora, and I couldn’t risk being identified.
I wrapped up the article a little later. While attempting to appear objective, it was easy to use quotes and information from various sources to make Sheila clearly the genius that she is and Jason the dick that he is. The words of others supported Sheila, but Jason’s own words sank him. The article suggested, but did not say, that cancer would largely be eliminated in about five years.
My article was controversial with a lot of supporters and detractors about my prediction of a cure. It ended up collecting a couple of local awards, but no Pulitzer, and I got a raise.
I’m drawn to Sheila / Sephora, but don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if it is Sheila’s brilliance or Sephora’s sensuality that obsesses me. I have the faint hope that I’m one of the rare ones that Sephora liked. I’ll call Sheila tomorrow and hope for the best. Maybe knowing both of them will give me an edge.
Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
(Photo: Carol Bales)
Poetry Can Create Friends with Little in Common
I have an accidental friend with whom I have nothing in common except one interest that prompted our original exchange of emails. That interest is poetry but poetry itself isn’t important at the moment. What’s important is his most recent email which illustrates how two people so different can still get along—at least electronically—when they have a love of poetry in common. We have never met and it’s unlikely we ever will. But that’s not important either at the moment.
My friend writes that he has been watching U.S. athletes compete for a place on the Olympic team that goes to Brazil to compete against athletes from other countries. He says they “are giving their all to represent our country in Rio.” He also says the Olympics are about “peace and security.” I wish I could agree with him on both counts and I hope he is right.
I think, however, very few athletes in any country go to the Olympics to represent their country. I would make an exception for professional athletes already well known and rich from their labors who may indeed want to represent their country. But “peace and security,” certainly noble goals for anyone, strike me as being far from the mind of most, if not all, Olympic athletes.
Some people engage in sports for fun but athletes do so to win. In an age where cooperation is needed and desirable, athletes compete. It’s their reason for working so hard in their preparation for months before the competition.
I say this as someone reared in a neighborhood where athletics were the currency of acceptance in adolescence. There were natural athletes and there were the rest of us. Because of the culture in my neighborhood I wanted to be good in sports. I had no interest in being a chess champion or music prodigy, two areas in which my skills would not have made either possible. But in sports, some sports anyway, one can do fairly well even with modest gifts if those gifts are developed with practice. It comes down to how much one wants to succeed as it does in most aspects of life.
I remember playing for the school football team in eighth grade. I was a lineman. I thought I could play football in high school and chose to go to a private high school, a “football factory” with good academics, that had won the city championship three years in a row. I thought I could play for them. I was six feet tall already but when I went out for the team I saw a lot of guys six feet tall who weighed 40 pounds more than I did. They were linemen in the raw in need only of coaching. I was Ichabod Crane out of my element trying to make that team.
I finally realized I was too skinny so I quit football and took up basketball, a sport new to me. Not much time to learn. I made the team but hurt my knee and couldn’t play until later at a small college where people at my skill level competed as hard as they could. We didn’t do it with the hope of one day making a lot of money playing as professionals. We never thought of the Olympics. We did it for one reason—to play well and to win.
One either has that desire or one doesn’t--not only in sports but in other aspects of life as well. And to this day, decades later, I’m not certain who is better off, someone locked into sports or someone who, like my email friend, prefers chess or music instead. Yet two people so different can still love poetry and do their best to write well, succeeding at times and not so much at other times. As in life, revision is a necessary component for any kind of success.
It was tough competing in sports where there were many natural athletes better than I was but I loved it. And I think playing ball helped me later in life when I had to compete to get and keep jobs I didn’t want but had to have in order to pay bills. I ran into disappointments playing ball but I learned to keep playing. I don’t recommend this route for anyone else. Those for whom sports is the right road will find it on their own. But, in retirement now, I have to say it was the right road for me.
I always had book smarts but I think sports helped me as an adult to want “to win.” And by winning I simply mean earning enough money to handle responsibilities. I don’t mean being the boss, although at times I had people reporting to me. I mean simply going to work every day. That can be a tough assignment. I could have done without every job I ever had if I had inherited a big estate.
If I didn’t need the money I would never have worked, although I admit the same spirit I had in sports often drove me at work. But most of the time I was competing with myself. Often it was simply a matter of not giving up.
My electronic friend, with whom I share this deep interest in poetry, would have no interest in competing. And I am happy for him in that regard. Cooperation is what he prefers and in retirement I prefer that also.
In writing I don’t compete with anyone but myself. I’ll revise forever and maybe still not get it right. But I think it’s possible to compete and cooperate at the same time. I think both are necessary for some people to succeed in life if they want to eat, work and recreate without interruption.
Charles Hayes, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, and others.
It Don‘t Mean Nothing: A War Memoir
As the pop flare gradually falls to earth, hissing like an angry cat, surreal waves of green and yellow light-up the landscape beyond the perimeter. Sloshing down the trench under a monsoon rain, I enter the radio bunker and find a couple of waterlogged grunts, or infantrymen, wrapped in their ponchos. Feeling no pity, I watch their cowed expressions and shake my head.
“How come you guys aren’t in position?”
Searching briefly for an excuse but finding none, one of them says, “Aw hell, give us a break corporal, there ain’t nothing out there but maybe a rock ape or two. You ain’t been here long enough to know.”
Knowing that their tour of duty can be extended for disobeying orders, my reply is quick.
“I been here long enough to know that if you two don’t get back to your positions you’ll find out that you're not as short as you think you are.”
Grudgingly picking up their gear, they give me a dirty look, and return to their post.
Keying the radio, I quietly report.
“Yankee one, yankee 3, sit-rep all secure, over.”
“Three, one, roger, out,” comes the reply.
Resuming my post, I duck below the edge of the trench and light a cigarette. The patrol should be on it’s way back by now. Looking to where they will come through the gate in the concertina wire, I see the red glowing eyes of the sentry dog and wonder if it knows how close to death it is. Suddenly green streaks of light cut the darkness about 200 meters out. The following ack-ack-ack of an AK-47 quickly travels the short distance and tells me that there is enemy contact. Red tracers split the darkness from the opposite direction followed by the rapid burst of M-16 fire. Hollow thumps of grenade explosions mix with the booms of the 12 gauge double ought bush gun. All over the night becomes full of the sound and illumination of what seems like a hundred pop flares going off.
Marines straight from sleep hop to the bunker lines as a helicopter ‘spooky’ gunship arrives and mini-guns the enemy. Looking like one big red screen descending from the darkness, a curtain of lead sweeps their grid. All other fire ceases and an eerie quietness takes hold, broken only by the zipping sound of the mini guns. In awe of such firepower, I look down the trench line at the flare washed faces turned to the sky. It seems they are paying homage to Zeus or some other God practicing his art of war from the heavens.
The contact broken and its mission accomplished, the chopper leaves as dawn breaks so quickly it is like waking up from a dream. Colonel Blevins, the battalion CO, or commanding officer, is now on the line. I hear Tim, his radio operator, relaying orders for the patrol to break cover, reconnoiter, and come in.
All eyes are on the gate as the patrol appears, half carrying, half dragging two body laden ponchos. Dropping the bodies near a little bridge over the trench, they hold up while the Colonel approaches.
A small crowd begins to gather, mostly officers but a few enlisted as well. Many snap pictures as Tim and I stand together off to the side and eye the lumpy ponchos.
Pulling back the largest cover, the Colonel reveals a Vietnamese man dressed in khaki shorts, a black long sleeve shirt, and Ho Chi Minhs, or sandals made from rubber tires. His face is just a pair of cloudy dark eyes set in a ripped and bloody mass. A dark hole exists where one of his ears used to be.
Quickly scanning the members of the patrol, I wonder which one has the ear.
The rest of the body is not in much better shape. Pools of half clotted blood are starting to darken the yellow mud around the edges of the poncho. But for the clothes, what lies there could be the half finished job of a butcher suddenly called away from a slaughter.
Except for the occasional whirring sound of a camera advancing film, it is utterly quiet as the Colonel moves to the other smaller body and pulls back the poncho. A large conical hat covers the head with the rest of the body in remarkably better shape than the first. Wearing black silk pants, shirt, and the same kind of sandals, this Vietnamese appears to have been hit only in the upper torso.
Lifting the hat, the Colonel releases a long stream of black hair caught in the chin strap. Cascading down to frame the face of a lovely Vietnamese girl of perhaps sixteen, her eyes closed, the hair covers her bloody shirt. She seems only asleep.
Not a camera shutter is launched nor a word said. A scene which no mere camera can capture lies before us. It is something that only we can realize. Something that is and forever will be present to us youngsters of war. Always present even in its absence. For it is our girl friend, our sister or our buddy’s sister, the dream girl we want to go home to, or the one that we hope to find when we get there. It is a piece of us that lies there dead. Without a word the Colonel quickly places the hat back over the girl’s face and leaves. There is no weapon found.
Rooter, one of our corporals before he transferred to the Marine Air Wing at Chu Lai, literally drops in aboard a chopper for a quick visit. Deciding to have a little fun for old-time sake, we catch a USO show that is passing through. Almost always these shows consist of a bare bones plywood stage where a Korean band with at least a couple of pretty girls in short skirts perform, dancing, and singing American songs. Laughter, macho jokes, and too much to drink are standard fare at these events. Rooter and I quickly squeeze into the little show for some fun and beer.
Making it inside the same hooch, or plywood and G.I. metal shack, that Rooter used to share with me, we sit around and rap about life down in Chu Lai. Rooter impatiently describes his new unit as the same ole same ole and suddenly asks, “Hayes, you want to get high?”
“What do you mean,” I reply, “we just drank all that beer?”
He smiles and rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, but that was beer, I got some really fine Chu Lai weed. You ever try any weed?”
“Yeah, I tried it a couple of times, it doesn’t do anything for me, can’t see what all the hoop la is about.”
Rooter eyes me skeptically.
“Yeah, where did you ever smoke any pot?”
“Back in the world, West Virginia,” I say.
I am about to elaborate when he bursts out laughing.
“West Virginia! You mean you never smoked any Nam weed? You really are a cherry, Hayes. Come on, let's go outside and smoke a joint. Then you can tell me it doesn’t do anything for you.”
“Are you crazy,” I exclaim. “You mean you’re packing around marijuana?”
“Hey take it easy,” Rooter replies. “You’d be surprised at the number of heads around here. It’s cool. Come on, I’m going to show you what’s happening.”
Behind some refrigeration units near the hooch it is dark and quiet. At this time of night anybody not on the line or radio watch is usually asleep.
Rooter pulls up the bloused leg of his jungle trousers and takes a little cellophane package of pre-rolled joints out of his sock and fires one up. Inhaling deeply, he passes the joint to me.
“Take a big drag and hold it in,” he says in a hushed voice.
I do as instructed. The pot seeds mixed in the joint sometimes explode in a small shower of sparks, lighting up the darkness around us. Back and forth we pass the joint until it is too short to smoke. Rooter eats what is left. Neither of us say anything for a while. We just sit on the ground and watch the night sky.
Finally Rooter asks, “Man, how you doing, good weed huh?”
“I don’t feel a thing,” I say, “just a little bloated from the beer.”.
“You're shitting me, Hayes,” he exclaims.
Rooter goes back into his sock and produces another joint, lights it, and passes it directly to me.
Taking the joint, I pull a long drag and offer it back.
“Hell no, not for me,” Rooter says. “I’m totally wasted. Wow, man, not getting off…..you smoke that one by yourself.”
“OK, but this shit don’t affect me, I tell you.”
After sitting there for a couple minutes, Rooter quietly looking around at the night, me puffing on that joint, holding it in and exhaling, a sudden rush hits me. Nothing like the change overtime that alcohol brings on. It is like one moment the world is one way and the next it is different in the extreme. Time takes on aspects that are foreign to me. Looking down, I see the half smoked joint dead in my hand. Lifting my eyes, I see Rooter staring at me with a big shit eating grin on his face. Reaching the joint toward him, I say in a voice that is dead serious but sounds ridiculous, “You can have this back now.”
“Did you get your ass kicked, cherry,” Rooter laughs. “Still don’t affect you, huh?”
I now definitely know better than that.
“Lord have mercy, I am smashed. What the hell am I going to do. I can hardly move.”
Laughing, Rooter stands, reaches down, and grabs my upper arm to help me stand.
“Come on let’s get you back inside the hooch, you look like you're ready for the rack.”
Rooter gets me inside, sets me on the rack, says goodbye and leaves, never to be seen again. Just off into the night, or back to Chu Lai or some other unit. Not even carrying a weapon, just that ass kicking Chu Lai weed, like some vagabond who has quit the war and is now just touring the places he has been.
Having received a small box of cheeses from my mother for the holidays, I stretch that box, a little at a time, with my friends. This Christmas of 1968 and many of those that will follow will always be associated with this gaily packaged box of cheeses resting under my M-16 rifle. I take a picture of the little set up for my personal Christmas card.
I will give it to my stepkids many years later……before they and their mother leave me, not having been with me even a year.
There are places and times in people’s lives that seem to take on a significance that one looking on might find odd. But for me, as meager and poor as it is in a war zone, this Christmas, along with the yuletide cheeses, will become my last Christmas with any meaning. At this point in my tour I am struggling to get along and remain a part of the World which I consider to be the USA. But my grip is not as tight as it once was. Now instead of an angel atop my Xmas center piece there is a rifle. Things, however slightly, have changed.
Time inside the wire is slow and that means time to fill the nagging empty feelings with the various activities that can be dreamed up. But step beyond the concertina and you are as full up of bone and blood as you can stand. Patrols and listening posts are out in the bush every night. Then there is the observation post beyond that. I have been on them all, humping the radio because the grunts have a hard time keeping anyone who can operate the radio, change batteries, and keep track of the different callsigns and frequencies for things such as med-evacs and fire support. Long hours spent in the COC or commanding officer’s communications bunker assures that a marine from com section is up on all that stuff.
LPs or listening posts are the worst. At dark three guys with rifles, grenade launcher, radio, and a starlight scope go out a couple of hundred meters to a strategic place. Settling in, they try to see through the hazy scope what is going on around them and report in every hour. No digging in or any of that defensive stuff, just quietly hunkering down and trying to freeze in place for hours on end. The joke is you listen until you hear them coming and report it, hoping that they pass over you without knowing it. In reality a listening post is fodder, no more, no less. And if you are unlucky enough to be there when Victor Charlie comes you are unlikely to survive any fight from such an exposed position. But it will eliminate the element of surprise. Everybody hates listening posts and knows that they are throwaway jobs with a posthumous purple heart as their only reward.
Once I thought I heard someone creeping through the bush toward us and my heart pounded so hard that I had to listen between beats. Peering in the direction of the sound for a couple of slow minutes, I finally discovered that it was just an insect moving among the weeds a few feet from my ear.
I am probably the senior corporal in the whole company and have been denied promotion once….maybe for saying that I did not intend to stay aboard when my hitch was up. But after a few awards for doing a good show with the things that the military throws up for morale or busy work, I am informed that I have made sergeant. I will receive my promotion the next day.
The com section lieutenant, an ex-school teacher from San Diego, forms us up and makes sure that I am presentable. The company commander, an older grey haired mustang, or an officer that rises from the lower ranks, comes out of the company hooch, says a few words, and asks me to step forward. Walking up close, he squarely faces me.
“Corporal Hayes, you have earned this promotion and I am pleased to give it to you. I know that you will not stay in the Marine Corps but I hope that you will use this promotion to inspire you to achieve success in your civilian life wherever you go. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I take the warrant, shake the Captain’s hand, and honorably present a salute, which he sincerely returns. Like another click of the clock, I suppose, it is done.
Looking tired and sad the captain tells the company 1st Sergeant to dismiss us and goes back into the hooch. While I treat the whole thing respectfully, I know that the only reason I am promoted is because it would be an embarrassment for me to remain a corporal. The old captain is not, nor ever was, part of my problem. He is old and near the bottom of the back side. I trust him to not try and gung ho his way to greater things at another’s expense. Just like me, he is simply trying to get through Vietnam and back to the world. I saw it written on his face and heard it in his words, and for that I am thankful. Other than that the whole thing means nothing nor, more importantly, does it change anything.
During lulls in the war things get so boring that almost any excitement is welcome. It is also a good time to get into Da Nang and the giant military PX or post exchange to buy some hard liquor. Tim and I do just that by hopping a convoy into the crowded city. We jump off just on the far side of the local shanty town near the PX and cut across the squalor of the makeshift village.
Betel nut chewing women squat in front of their tiny shacks of junked military material, stirring a pot of who knows what. The pungent smell of nuoc mam, or fermented fish sauce, is so thick that it tells me I am unquestionably foreign. Vietnamese peasants, chased from their homes in the countryside, mostly by the US military, see us and our M-16s coming. However fake, they present friendliness, smiling up at us with blackened teeth as we pass. Looking at each other after we pass, they frown and spit long streams of black juice into the dust by their fires.
There are no men but plenty of kids, not even waist high, crowd around us begging and trying to reach into our pockets on one side while just as many try to tug our watches off from the other side. Some of them hold up small marijuana packets for sale, $1.00 mpc, or military payment currency. Others, in broken English, hawk their sisters who are waiting among the shanties, hoping that their little pimps will bring some money home for rice. Most are starving. Once healthy people who proudly owned and farmed their own land, they are relegated to lives of abject poverty, their land now part of an American free fire zone.
Hurriedly, we get through this result of our presence and past the guarded gate into the PX. After buying a fifth of Jack Daniels and a couple of cartons of cigarettes we pass through all the cheap electronics and jewelry. To say that passing through war, starving people, and abject poverty, to clutch a fancy bottle of whiskey is surreal would be an understatement. Like during the tragedies, times of hurt, and disappointment, the mantra of the war plays in my mind with such scurrility as well.
“Fuck it, it don’t mean nothing.”
Going back out to the street, we catch another convoy going back. Reaching the road to hill 821, we jump off and catch a six by, or large troop truck, the rest of the way. We do pretty good, in and out and still time for evening chow. Knowing that there will be plenty of night rations later if we get hungry, we skip it. Instead we seclude ourselves in the hooch, crack the Jack Daniels and preceded to get wasted, eventually crashing late in the evening.
I am on R&R, or rest and relaxation, for six days in Sydney, Australia. Wandering the streets with my head somewhere in the sky, I am puzzled by a crowd gathered near a large TV on the sidewalk. Walking up to the back of the crowd, I stand beside an older man with thinning hair and try to see what is going on. No one is speaking. All are glued to the TV. Looking between them, I see a fuzzy image of some kind of space man climbing down a ladder and gingerly stepping to a dusty surface. A murmur goes through the crowd and the older man turns to me and says, “I never thought it would ever happen. Isn’t that remarkable?”
Not knowing what he means, I simply reply, “I don’t know. It depends on what your talking about. What’s this all about?”
Recognizing my different speech, he looks at me incredulously.
“You really don’t know? Where are you from anyway?”
Feeling sort of alien, maybe a little spacey as well, I reply.
“You are an American?” he says.
“Yeah, I’m getting a break from the war.”
Smiling, I guess because the Aussies have boys in Vietnam too, he says,
“Your country just put a man on the moon.”
As he turns back to the TV I say, “Oh yeah, they said they were going to do it.”
Beginning to walk away, I am called back by the same gentleman.
“Hey, you should watch this, your country is making history.”
Pausing to be polite, I half turn and smile. But there are no words for me to be nice. Feeling like I have somehow failed an important test, I turn my back and walk on.
In the Nam my days are winding down. With a couple of weeks left until my rotation date, I am a bit surprised when I suddenly received orders to rotate back to the States. Hallelujah my time has come….just in time. It takes a couple of days to check out of the battalion and return my weapon and other gear. During this time I am able to have conversations with some of the others on a different level. There is a sadness in our exchanges, sadness that they are being left behind, that we all can’t go. But they have been living the life of survival long enough to appreciate that right then, at least one of them is going to make it out. However none of that sadness can overcome the relief I feel when, orders in hand, I jump into the jeep and ride away to stage for my return to the world.
Much like it was on Okinawa where I staged to come in country, I wait for two days to learn that I am not going to fly back to the U.S. I am going back to the world on a fucking ship as part of a Marine Regimental troop withdrawal. Part of Nixon’s political stunt, pretending a troop withdrawal when in fact all the marines on the float are rotating and being replaced anyway. At least I am going to get the fuck out of here, regardless of the means, and that is what I hold on to.
I and 1800 other marines are crammed aboard a troop transport, and another 200 are put on its flag ship, a flat top helicopter carrier. Pushing off from Deep Water Pier in Da Nang Harbor I feel like I am born again.
Sailing past the mountains along the South China Sea under a moonlit sky is far different from nights under a sky of whining rockets. If you hear them, you wonder who gets it. If you don’t, you get it.
At sea the night is quiet, cool, and smells of salt with a peacefulness that comes from the knowledge that it is over.
Laying over in Okinawa for two days to take on water and food, we are not allowed to leave the ship. It will take 22 days to reach the California coast. And that is going all out, except when we skirt a typhoon. Even on the outskirts we pitch and roll so bad that I must wrap my feet in the chains that hang my tier just to doze. It is easy to lose someone and not even know it during such weather. Many career marines completely disappear during this part of the float.
As the ships dock and tie up, I have no idea of where I am. But it is sunny, warm, and almost November. So I must be somewhere in Southern California. Coming across the Pacific I went from hot to cold and now back to warm.
Compared to the small Marine Band and the few USO girls on the pier hosting tables of donuts and lemonade, we are a salty looking bunch. Yelling down to the girls, I have them throw some of the donuts up. I and others along the rail snatch and wolf them down. The little band in their ragged red uniforms, looking like castoffs picked to welcome castoffs, puff and beat out a couple of marches.
The whole thing reminds me of a Norman Rockwell poster with its characters somehow coming to life and gathering on the pier for a photo shoot. What could any of them possibly know about the place that the people aboard this big boat are coming from. Had they an inkling of that truth, they surely would not be here dressed in their Baby Janes and floral dresses, serving lemonade and donuts. To me it is just another surreal example of Americana that never makes it inside the loop of what really is.
We are taken to Camp Pendleton where I came from a little over a year and a different lifetime ago. Long haired and bare headed, standing in my first formation back in the world, I hear an announcement that anyone with less than 6 months remaining on their active duty time will be discharged as soon as the paperwork can be done. With less than 5 months of active duty left, I figure it is the sweetest sounding thing that I have heard since it all began more than 2 years and 7 months ago. For the next nine days I wander around in an almost dream like state.
Finally, all in one day, I process through hours of paperwork dressed in my winter green uniform and sign the DD-214 that honorably releases me from active duty in the United States Marine Corps. With a silent thank you to the Gods mixed with the sorrow that at least one of my friends didn’t make it, I squeeze into a limousine full of other discharged marines and exit Camp Pendleton for the last time. There is not the slightest urge to look back.
Having plenty of war booty in my fat wallet, I ride up to LAX and buy a first class ticket to D.C. to see my mother. While I was away she moved from West Virginia to a Maryland suburb of D.C. for a better teaching job.
With little fanfare I show Mom that I am still alive, return to the airport and catch the next hop to the Appalachians of Southern West Virginia. During the hour long flight I gaze down at the rolling landscape of forested hills. For some reason they always seem to make me sad with their isolable landscape half hidden in wispy fog. This time is no different, only more so. These age old hills are impervious to the goings on outside their domain. They have not a hint of the momentous events that crisscross the globe, nor what I have been through the past year. Yet this is where it all began for me. Being alive is all that I can bring back to their intractable presence. Amidst such loss and guilt, that just doesn’t seem fair.
Few years back, my husband rented a house. It was a large bungalow located in the corner of an open street surrounded by empty plots. My kids and I were extremely delighted as it was just the kind of house we wanted; airy, sunny and spacious with lanes all around within the boundary wall where my two boys could cycle. There was a small lawn and a porch that could fit two cars. Within a month, we had set the house and even thrown a house warming. Everyone had liked it and things went smoothly but all our happiness ended in smoke when strange things started happening there.
One day, I had gone for shopping and returned late after sunset. As I entered, my younger son came running to me and said frightfully,
“Mom I saw a big black dog passing outside the lounge window.”
I was nonsensical and I did not give any importance to it as he was always scared of something or the other and termed it his illusion. Few days later, while we sat in the lawn outside, I sent my daughter, twelve at that time, to fetch water for me. She went in but came out instantly yelling,
“Mom I saw my younger self in the corridor.”
She refused to go inside the house. I was taken aback. I went in but there was nobody. I told her that she was hallucinating too much and it was all in her mind. I was irate for saying such things in front of her younger brother who had already started to feel scared. Earlier, she had told me that while she was listening to the songs and singing, she heard somebody singing along with her. Naturally I paid no heed. My school leave was over and I rejoined. My eldest son, who was in his teens, was home one day due to fever. When we returned in the afternoon, what he told me made my hair stand on ends.
Our washing line was in the lane right behind his bedroom. When he got up to draw the curtains early in the morning, he saw me taking the clothes off the washing line. I told him that I didn’t go out at all.
“Seriously mom, I saw your side face. Are you joking?”
It was mind boggling. I thought he was joking. I smelt a rat. My husband never believed in such things. When I informed him, he chastised me saying that kids were thinking such things because of the horror movies I let them watch with me. But it was more than that. Some people are gifted. All my three children have the psychic ability of clairvoyance- the ability to see incarnate beings we commonly call ‘Supernatural things’. My eldest son has the strongest sense of all. He saw the most apparitions. Once while strolling in the lane outside the lounge, he saw a very tall shadowy figure appear suddenly before him. Then he saw his two small cousins, who had visited us a day earlier, playing in the dining room. He would not feel scared but said that he was disturbed because of those sightings and could not concentrate on his studies. You can understand my predicament. I had started to feel scared but being a parent, I had to keep a brave front before my kids otherwise they would’ve felt more frightened. Things got really scary one night that shook my husband and made him believe too otherwise he would always laugh it away.
My youngest child slept with us while I had advised my daughter not to sleep alone. She moved to her brother’s room. One night we heard her terrible bawl. We hurried to his room, she told that she saw ‘an ugly woman with long hair and nails’, sitting on her brother’s bed and was about to touch him when she turned on the light to drink water. From that night we told the kids to sleep with us. Life became so tough that it’s inexpressible.
When my younger kids had to go to the washroom at night, or wanted something from their rooms, my husband or I had to accompany them. Even I would feel scared at night to step outside our room alone. I never saw anything but knowing that there are ‘others’ living with you is enough to take the life out of you. If I had to go somewhere, I would take all my children along. My worst fear was that they would get possessed. I would often wake up in the middle of the night to check on them. I never felt more helpless in my life. We stopped inviting guests lest they experience something bad and stopped sitting outside in the evenings too. We were confined within the four walls of our house. My kids became quiet and listless.
We discussed our problem with somebody who told about a priest. He came in few days and revealed that there were few families of Jinn who lived underground there long before that house was built and were still living. My husband and I were perplexed. Those happenings had badly affected all of us mentally. He performed a ritual, said that he had caught them and left. We were relieved for some time and life gradually moved towards normality but the apparitions started happening again.
There was a door next to the French window in the lounge that opened to the lane outside. My youngest son used to roller skate there. One evening, as he opened the door and stepped out, he screamed frightfully as he told that he saw a black dog in a cage outside the window. I was at my wits end. We had neither a cage nor a pet. I checked out in disbelief but I could see nothing. My son shut the door instantly and drew the curtains. Regretfully, he could no longer do skating. Then on a Sunday, we had just finished lunch. My daughter was in the lounge. I went to my room but heard her shouting frantically. I rushed out. She was sitting on the sofa crying hysterically. When we asked her what had happened, she said,
“Mom I saw the same ugly woman crouching on that cushion and she jumped towards me.”
She was pale and shivering with fear. We looked around but obviously perceive nothing. My husband kept a guard who informed that he would hear me calling him from the kitchen window at wee hours! I told my husband to shift from that ominous house before anything worse happened. We had learned that those things could take any form and doors or walls meant nothing for them. I had a feeling that they wanted us to vacate. You can imagine that shifting again within a year was not a piece of cake. We could neither stay at some relative for an indefinite period of time nor get a reasonable house of our choice in a short time. Luckily, those things had not harmed us so far because we would recite Holy Verses but we were all very scared.
Finally, after two and a half years of ordeal, we left that house. We felt as if we were released from a prison. Those incidents have an indelible impression on us. I learnt one valuable lesson that whenever your children feel uneasy about something and tell you bizarre stuff, you must take them seriously instead of brushing them off. It seems like the story of a horror movie and if I had mentioned some more incidents that occurred in that house, you would have termed it sheer fabrication but unfortunately, it’s true.
Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Book Review: Blood Flag
This is a book review/book report on Steve Martini’s newest contemporary legal mystery/thriller Blood Flag. I don’t know if it's a review or a report or a hybrid or neither. But I’m going to proceed anyway since I have in fact written a book report in my past life, the last one being in fifth grade for a Laura Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie book. I loved that series. However I have never written a book review, not even in college.
All that aside I read fiction for one reason and one reason only, to be entertained. This book did that for me. It was a page turner and I read it in two days. Martini has written a number of books with San Francisco criminal defense attorney Paul Madriani as the main character and I have read him before and liked him. That’s why I chose this book to read.
Here our hero Madriani starts our representing a sixty three year old woman charged with voluntary manslaughter for allegedly ending her dying father’s sufferings with an overdose of insulin. Attorney Madriani in investigating the case finds out that his client’s father was a World War II veteran, fought in Germany, and somehow has a connection to a war souvenir called Blutfahne. That’s German, Ich spreche kein Deutsch, so thank the gods the author tells us that Blutfahne means Blood Flag, a Nazi holy relic consecrated in blood the equivalent to the proverbial Bloody Shirt in American folklore. This leads Madriani to believe that who ever overdosed his client’s father did so to silence him about the Blood Flag. From there the leads spin out into a web of international mystery and intrigue with numerous entities seeking the Blood Flag each for their own perverted reasons. The author weaves all this cleverly together and does not overwhelm the reader with mind boggling scenarios. In other words it’s easy to understand and follow. That’s what makes it a page turner and that’s why I recommend it to readers who like contemporary thrillers and/or murder mysteries.
All that I have said above I believe to be in the nature of a book report. Now as to a book review, I will point out a few things which I have gathered from a five minute cursory reading of a definition of a book review on the internet. This book has no agenda. It does not delve into the relationships between men and women, or between any ethnic, religious or social groups. Nor discuss one’s problems of sexuality. It doesn’t dive into anyone’s psyche or psychoanalyze any characters. It doesn't seek to bolster any political beliefs or preach political correctness. The author is not trying to prove anything about human nature. It’s not literary and not meant to be. It’s a mystery.
And the author’s thesis is the mystery itself. So like a good mystery writer he goes about solving it methodically. He does so with an opening that hooks you from the start just like an good opening statement from an attorney does, after all the author is an attorney. Then onto the middle where he builds his case to a climax, which is what trial lawyers do. Then the resolution where everything is tied up neatly and comes to a satisfactory ending, no dangling loose ends, again just like a trial lawyer does. His trial lawyer background wrote this book for him.
Now as to what the book has and doesn't have. It has no obligatory sex scene. There is nudity though. Only once and it fits. Oh ya one will have no trouble visualizing the nude scene. It has no descriptive excessive violence and gore though people do get killed, tastefully somewhat. It has one car chase scene. This book doesn’t have purple prose wordiness, just everyday language. And finally this book doesn’t get off track, has no flashbacks, has no jumping around of events, not a bunch of sub stories, and stays right on target to the end.
In summation this book does what it sets out to do. Gives you a mystery that you can’t put down. It’s weird, fascinating, somewhat historical, and contemporary entertainment. I enjoyed it and could relate to it. After all I had a Blutfahne once.
P.S.-My wife said that those weren’t blood stains on it. She said they were coffee stains. Maybe I had ein Kaffeefahne.