January 22nd, 2019
Vietnam, Flower Power & Opium
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, then ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ filled my head after Vietnam. Well, not directly after.
Directly after, I decided to get a job in the newly established computer field. That’s where the money was being made. Next I would take time off and go to the Woodstock Festival. That was the plan. Woodstock was summer of ’69. I got out in October, 1968. After being home just a few weeks, I knew Woodstock wasn’t for me.
In Greenwich Village, flower power reigned.
Hippies wore bits of military gear, decorative war medals, jungle boots, and flowers were every where. They were too happy to be trusted. OK, picture this. One day, bugs, napalm and bodies. Next day, signing discharge papers at Fort Lewis, WA. The following morning getting out of a cab on the Lower East Side, in New York City. The quick transition may have been a shock to my system, but I don’t recall that it was. A few years ago, a relative said when I first got back, I’d sit in the middle of the room shouting “WOW” “POW” “BANG” and stuff like that, over and over. I dismissed that as his vivid and looney imagination, until another relative mentioned the same thing. I don’t remember doing that at all.
All that to say, I never fit in, before or after the ‘military conflict’. Vietnam was never a declared war you know, and to the mighty warriors go what belong to others. That has been the way of our masculine controlled human cultures for generations. The rising feminine energies may curtail the planet plight we males have created, in time for relatives down the line to begin harmonizing with each other. Time reveals truth.
Growing up, alienation wasn’t alien to me.
As a youngster I observed that my physical lineage was visually different from most other family members. I knew something wasn’t copacetic, but I wasn’t going to announce that concern to others. When this fact became an obvious truth, no one spoke about it. I was discerning when it came to family matters, and certain topics, like who my real parents were, were kept off the table of discussion.
Like I said, the hippies appeared way too happy, for me to relate with. We did dope in Vietnam, but it was different. It was cruel and masculine and downright scary at times. Not all the time.
Smoking and injecting the opium created different results. Smoking it was OK. Shooting up was nodding out-smiley-mellow. We listened to The 4 Tops, Aretha, and The Temptations. The Temps sang, ‘I wish it would rain’. That song was my favorite. I didn’t go to Bangkok on R&R (Rest & Recuperation) because I was too strung out from the opium. Didn’t want to leave getting it, to chance. I loved the rush shooting through my body, and the smell, that sweet pungent scent coming through the pores.
I am tripping right now, sitting here, two-finger typing!
I pulled the tail on Betty, our 175mm self-propelled howitzer. Biggest artillery cannon in the Nam. We had 2-M110 8 inchers and 2-175 mm howitzers in B Battery. We(Betty), were the fastest gun crew at getting our rounds off, while stoned. Don’t know how we achieved it, but we did.
Beatrice was the other 175 mm.
During the Tet Offensive, rain poured buckets on us. In a fire mission I slipped into the gun well and injured my knee. Got passage on a C-130 Cargo Plane to the Nha Trang Hospital. where I stayed in a tent on the hospital grounds while getting care. The city of Nha Trang was off limits to us patients and concertina wire prevented us from going into the town. Two weeks later I was ready to return to my unit (the 5/22 Arty), but delayed leaving because Nha Trang was a restful respite. I met a soldier there, on his third tour. He spoke Vietnamese and had an arm flesh wound that had been treated. Paul was waiting for his ride back to Pleiku. He asked me if I wanted to get a beer and some marijuana in Nha Trang. I followed him through a distant opening in the wire and wound up at a little bar. We entered through the beaded curtains, sat, and in Vietnamese he ordered two beers. He then said he wanted to buy weed and exchange his highly valued American MPC (Military Payment Certificates) for Vietnamese Baht. Black Market exchange rates benefited both parties.The proprietor bought out two bags of pot. We put them into our large fatigue side pockets. Paul laid a large pile of MPC on the counter. The owner counted it and was going to take it into the back to get the Vietnamese currency. Paul slammed his hand down on the money and demanded the Baht be bought out. The Baht and MPC was laid side by side. Paul pulled out another wad of MPC currency and laid it down. The owner counted it and disappeared in the back. Paul picked up all the cash, we walked out, then started running. Locals appeared, screaming at every intersection to block us. We kept running, this way and that. I asked Paul what they were shouting. “They are going to kill us”. We hit the highway just as an Engineer Battalion was rolling up. They stopped. A few brothers jumped off their trucks. We said the Vietnamese were going to kill us. One of the engineers stopped a 3-wheeled taxi. We jumped in. “Di Di Mau! Di Di Mau!” (Go! Go! Faster!). I looked back and saw the Vietnamese crowded around the soldiers. They were pointing our way and shouting at the GI’s. I recall how small the Vietnamese people appeared beside the taller and broader Americans. I flew out the next afternoon, fearful I would get my due, if I hung around. To be honest, I didn’t know a crime was going down. Some times we don’t see what’s coming, but have to make quick decisions, once it is upon us.
We changed fire bases often. As we moved further North, our opium supply dried up. This was another time I knew death was close at hand. Withdrawal sucks. I feel for addicts that want to stop. Smoking Thai Stick didn’t close the mellow gap. The mouthfuls of Darvon the medic gave us helped some, but not enough. After recovering from that close-call, I never shot-up again. Lesson learned. Some friends weren’t so lucky. A few years later, me and a girlfriend were visiting Coney island. We ran into Crazy Cat (his nickname), a Puerto Rican from my unit. He was with his wife. She was pushing a baby carriage. He was nodding out and wanted to hook up. I declined the invitation.
Geez, that time period was not that long ago, when measured against the life of Mt. Everest.
Back to Woodstock. I couldn’t imagine laying around, smoking dope and being so happy at the same time. So, Woodstock was out.
With the VA Education Stipend I attended Control Data Institute and got a Computer Technician Certificate. That was my first job out of Vietnam. It didn’t last very long. Looking at scopes and meters didn’t appeal to me at all. I got jobs easily enough after that, but never held onto them. Then I started selling.
My first sales position was selling puppies at Puppy Palace on Long Island. Shu and Barry, the owners, bred Chow-Chows. If a parent walked in with a child, I’d just pop the puppy into the kid’s arms and they’d leave with the dog, if not then, usually later. Such an easy sale. A woman once returned a Vizsla after having it a few months. She went to remove the food bowl while the dog was eating and got a chunk removed from her face. (Don’t know if the dog swallowed, after taking the bite). I loved that dog and ran with her every morning before we opened. A hunter purchased her a few weeks later.
I tried selling portable fire extinguishers to Greek and Jewish businesses in Astoria, Queens. I’d walk in and they’d speak only Greek or Hebrew. That job lasted 2 days.
I did wind up doing well in sales though, face to face and in tele-sales. What worked for me was listening, hearing and tuning into the other person without revealing much about myself. I have done that in my life to keep folks at a safe distance. It doesn’t serve me now, but ruts are difficult to climb out of, some times. I have had many sales jobs (most were commission based) and as many memories, positive and negative. My longest and most fun-filled stint was as the West Coast Reseller Representative with the Boxlight Corporation, in Poulsbo, WA. We sold digital projection equipment all over. For awhile folks called projectors Boxlights. It was like calling ear cleaners Q-Tips. A head-on auto collision bought that position to a crashing close.
Like I say, ‘Life goes on, then it doesn’t’.
What I mean is, ‘Life goes on and on and on. Just because we are not sensitive enough to observe the continued change, doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. My dad was buried in a waterproof sealed coffin, in the 80’s. If we pried that box open today, we will observe change. Call it life, death, what you will, change continues with consistency.
Why I keep coming back to Vietnam is puzzling to me. It’s not planned. I pick up the pen and here we are again. Vietnam! Oh well . . . !