by Jeffrey Paolano
With amazing rapidity, the uniforms of the American armed forces have morphed over the past several years. In comparison to the camouflage and sweaters of today, in 1967 we were required to wear dress blues to leave the base, in the U.S. and overseas. As I navigate the streets and airports of New York and other cities I am infrequently able to identify the patch of the fighting Sea Bees. And following the search through the unfamiliar military insignia displayed upon the camouflage now worn by most military personnel, my mind carries me back to days wherein I slogged through the grass deep in the shit.
My story must be similar to many others, I can’t imagine, with eight billion on the planet that somehow I am unique. One might say, “Well you got this break, or this opportunity, or this advantage, unavailable to others, that helped propel you along the way.” I’ll grant you that; fate has favored me.
My story starts in Southeast Asia, for prior to my landing in that ancient land my being was but unmolded clay. At no time did my parents, teachers, coaches or any other authority figure provide any explanation of the reasoning behind the rules they laid out. There were the admonitions against drinking, lying, cheating, stealing and sex. There was the requirement to obey. But that was about it. It was in Southeast Asia that I began to learn the basis for morals and their importance in one’s life.
To help you to understand I will first provide what I hope will be a flavor of the state of mind of many teenage boys, barely civilized that found themselves in Viet Nam. Then I will tell you what happened to me in Country and subsequently in my life.
To have you comprehend a true appreciation for our circumstance I must give you a flavor of how teenage boys interpreted that place, so that as I recite to you the events that occurred in battle and the aftermath you may have an accurate perspective.
I remember spectacularly the fantastical nature of the circumstance. Born to split-level houses, freeways, brick schools and all the other amenities and accouterments of American life in the second half of the twentieth century, the living conditions in Viet Nam were caricature to such as me. A cartoon life; unreal, contrived of rice straw houses, dirt floors and communal food pots. Consider, as an illustrative example, the irritating clicking noise the natives call a language. We looked with disdain upon the repulsive gobs of masticated betel nut, masking the pain of rotting teeth, the drooling red saliva on almost every jowl.
At the time, I would be best described as a displaced high school jock. I had no contextual reference for adopting an understanding or tolerance for the culture of a foreign people. My exposure to other cultures consisted of the observations I made of the pictures in the National Geographic magazines I stole from the school library so I could pull my pud to the array of bare breasted maidens of other lands. They, too, were caricatures to me reinforcing their illusoriness.
Although potentially lethal, the time in Viet Nam was to me a game. The government put us in a fantasy wonderland of strange buildings, unfamiliar landscapes, and wildly diverse characters. The government gave us guns, grenades, canons, airplanes, helicopters and mortars to blow the hell out of everything we saw. We did not create these machines of death, our leaders, our elders – our betters, if you will – did. If they thought it was right and just why would we not?
The brass ring was to survive three hundred and sixty-five days; manage not to get your face shot away, or your guts or a leg, or an arm or a hand, then you got to go back to the world in one piece whole and happy to pick up your life.
Every forty-five days we got five days to get our rocks off. (Nowhere else in my world was sex so easily available; its availability in Viet Nam was a part of the gloriousness of the experience). We’d drink all the cheap liquor and beer we could handle and tear the shit out of a couple of bars, beating the hell out of whoever happened to be there, escaping with the Shore Patrol and the native police on our tail.
Let’s digress for a moment and say a word concerning the artlessness of the Americans. Possibly there are sophisticated nineteen-year olds who are street wise and who know the depravity of which humans are capable. Such people do not volunteer to go to war, nor were they swept up in the draft. The Americans of which I speak never previously saw a prostitute flaunt her wares as they did in Viet Nam. In the world even the prostitutes conducted themselves with greater restraint. No US shill touts their wares. The girls these guys knew in the main had to be wooed, cajoled, and lied to, if not they would be considered sluts. The girls acted coy, innocent and reluctant. All of which was swept away in a five dollar transaction in the Nam.
The only liquor these men had had was what their older brothers had given them or what they could get a bum to buy them or what they could steal from the old man. To possess hundreds of dollars with the cost of a fifth of Jack Daniels pegged at ten dollars, where a tall-boy can of beer could be had for a dime and a carton of cigarettes cost two dollars was like the heaven of which high school boys dream.
Take for instance discordance in thinking wherein the Vietnamese plowed with water buffalo, pulling their carts by hand. All their buildings were either hundreds of years old and looked it or were constructed like shit. On the other hand, we had six-by trucks, they had three wheeled trucks, we had jeeps, they had bicycles and scooters, whatever they did have in the North or South someone gave to them, they created nothing on their own. When the Americans came we built air bases, roads, bridges, buildings, and bladder farms, anything we wanted. The Americans were real people, serious people, people who could accomplish. The Vietnamese were a joke to us. There was no possibility we could take these people seriously.
Another point of contention were the RVN soldiers whiling away their days washing and pressing their uniforms, with their polished mirror boots lined-up at the ready while the soldiers slapped around in flip flops constantly cutting one another’s hair in preparation to run at the first opportunity, especially in the dusk. We had traveled half way around the world theoretically to help these people maintain their freedom and we had to carry the load.
The soldiers would occasionally scold at an American in their annoying clacking, and then the American would crack the butt of his piece against his head. Then he would drop as though his bones had gone to mush all in a heap. The others would cause a row and several Americans would have to crack heads till they settled down. Sometimes a RVN would raise his piece to threaten an American but his pathetic gesture would be swept away.
The fighting prowess of the Communist was about the same calibre. We only got into trouble when our chain of command fucked up (which they did with appalling frequency). We always defeated the gooks or killed in ratios of 20 or 30 to one. The same did not hold for the ROK Marines, who to my eye were sufficiently professional to fare well in comparison to the USMC. The only knock I had on the ROK Marines was because they were stationed on our base we were obliged to accept a pallet carrying a gross of cases of their beer in the rotation. The beer was rice beer. After consuming five or six cans of the stuff, the next morning you felt as though a spike was driven into your forehead. We did everything we could do to get rid of that beer as fast as possible. Threw it in the ocean, buried it in the boonies and sold it to the gooks. Anything we could do to get a load of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the favorite or Aussie beer, Fosters, which is also very good.
The last ingredient in this stew was the American conscripts. Now I don’t know how the draftees felt. My boys were all volunteers and had signed up for the adventure one way or another, so I had no way to relate to a guy who was forced into the war or his thoughts. I suppose they were some pissed at having been compelled into the quagmire and maybe that was why so many took to using drugs. Probably, it also had to do with why so many of them died, one way and another, either at the hands of the Vietnamese or at the hands of the Americans because they went out the gate under the influence and the Americans who were with them didn’t want to get killed because some asshole was high. Anyway, I don’t know what they thought. I didn’t have much to do with them, as we didn’t think much of them.
In a word, we were ignoramuses, given hellacious firepower by our parents and told to have fun in a country we thought was made in Hollywood. For a nineteen-year old it was an unbelievably great party, not costing a cent. In fact I got paid to play.
Eighty yards apart, the AKs’cough and the balls’ whizz sounded to me simultaneously, in real-time. Although I couldn’t say what, if anything, was real once my left hand began its shake and my left eye its twitch.
My knees slowly bent, dousing my ass in the thousand-year old paddy cesspool adorned of floating turds and ammonia piss.
Ricki Dicki and Kanon close on, slowly sank in unison.
Now so positioned as to only be barely able to see over the paddy dike, we hoped the enemy could see us no more.
A burst chewed the water about us. We in response immersed further into the filth.
In silence I led the two on a slow duck-walk to the mudshit mixture composing the slanted dike wall.
I raised my sixteen over the dike and sprayed. The AKs coughed. Ricki Dicki caught a round over each shoulder through his battle shirt, not even grazing the skin. Not even a scratch. Ricki Dicki was our simpleton. There appears a replication of the sort in almost every group. The fella whose mind can’t hold a thought, who smiles at all and somehow stumbles through by sheer luck or so it seems. To us he was the “kid,” the flake, the dope who everyone looks after, the mascot, the butt of jokes and the gopher for whatever you need. Apparently the basis for the bromide God, suffers drunks and fools. Everyone felt an obligation to care for the dipshit. We treated him with disdain but should anyone from outside the group abuse Ricki Dicki we would all rally to his defense.
Ricki Dicki’s lips parted in a grin as big as the moon. He howled with laughter, as well as the unmitigated joy and unalloyed elation at his head having not been shattered, splattering his grey brains out over the recently planted green rice shoots. With his back to the dike wall he continued his unabated celebration.
Kanon reached over to pat his chest, attempting to calm him down, that is to say shut him up. He pounded with increasing force, hoping Ricki Dicki would get the idea before he had to shout, “Shut the fuck-up,” thereby, drawing more unwanted and unneeded attention.
I moved; crouched along the dike wall, smelling of the accumulated feces of people, water bull and fowl, mixed into the muck.
For the many millionth time in the nine months since my arrival in-country the voice in my head said, fucking filthy people, live like animals. They were, to me, bête noire.
Raising my right hand, I signaled for Kanon to move on down to where the dike wall corners so we can triangulate our fire.
I motioned the now quieting Ricki Dicki to stay close on my ass. I slided along hoping to spot something to waste.
Failing, I popped a grenade, held it for a frightening long count, then heaved the bitch. The explosion was deafening, regrettably there was no responding fire to reveal the Cong’s location.
I rolled on my back, bumped Ricki Dicki in the chest with the butt of my weapon, indicating to him he should check he has a full magazine. Raising his weapon, he tapped on the magazine to signal to Kanon to do the same. Kanon nods.
Sinking down against the stinking dike wall I wondered if there was anything else to do before going forward. The hesitation was to waste a little time before I make a move that may kill me and my two friends for what I consider a dumbass adventure, by dumbass politicians for the benefit of dumbass millionaires, with a bunch of dumbass kids dying for no good reason.
I jumped up, spraying the two huts in which reside (unknown to me) the Keyong family, father Bangoong, pregnant mother Rabididi holding what appears to be a one-year old, unnamed as yet as the Keyong family are Buddhists.
The Americans advanced on the huts continuing to replace exhausted magazines in order to keep the spray up. When we reached the hut’s entranceway, we observed the (unknown to us) Keyong family ripped to pieces, brains splayed, blue, white, red intestines exposed with a variety of limb meat chewed to a hamburger consistency.
We spun about firing upon the second hut, in which we found nothing.
There is no responding fire; the tension greatly relieved, and in consequence we began to laugh uproariously as a form of nervous physical emotional expulsion, pleased that the enemy have gone, thus ameliorating our jeopardy.
No thought is given to the unimaginable terrorizing fear the (unknown to us) Keyong family endured at Charlie’s hands only to be slaughtered by the liberating Americans.
Scraggly little people, chewing beetle nuts, dropping babies in dirt floored huts, eating with their hands from communal pots seeming to us to desire to fight for their freedom and rights held little interest for us.
We simply went about the business of counting the bodies, firing the straw huts, coordinating our compass bearings with the map markers then setting off in the direction of the rendezvous point.
As always I thought, How the hell do these people live like this, fucking animals?
I think of the people caught in the middle of the war as commodities for which the battles are fought, trading them back and forth.
Kanon had a flask of Jack Daniels. The bottle circles twice. We lit cigarettes then set off on a trail atop a paddy dike, at interval but lackadaisical, sloppy, thinking the thing is over. Thinking all we had to do was walk the clicks to the rendezvous.
When the AKs’ barked the rounds bit into Kanon’s face, tearing away the jaw, the nose and his left eye. He stands perfectly still. We watched him for the moment, watch the red and white goo slather from beneath the rear of his helmet down over his shoulders until his body tilts then slumps to the side, sliding down the dike wall mud through to the sewage below.
Stunned for the instant, we regained our senses and sprayed fire all around, not knowing where the yellow shits are but hoping to hit something, or at least back them off for the moment.
Ricki Dicki crumpled. I dropped to my knees then crawled to him. Frantically, my hands and eyes poked about his body. My hands swished away blood to reveal wounds. He has taken one in the right leg and two in the left.
I tore the battle bandage from the rubber around my helmet, did the same for Ricki Dicki, applying the dressings to pressure stave the blood flow. I used the long tails as tourniquets, with a round as a twist.
Even so, blood still spreads seeped through the greens and out onto the ground. I removed the K-belt and unzipped the armor, flung his helmet without reason into the paddy sludge.
The sour, sweet, repellant, organic stench of his evacuated bowels, both feces and gas, temporarily nauseated me. His prostrate had released, drenching his crotch with ammonia reeking piss.
I removed my K-belt, unzipped my armor, and raised the screaming Ricki Dicki across my shoulders, fighting the twitching jerk of his legs and flail of his arms.
The enemy did not fire, they know as do I the distance to the rendezvous, as well as the wounds Ricki Dicki had sustained and the fact that he is too heavy for me to carry the distance. He will die, I will die. They know we will suffer more this way. I should think they laughed and chortled at the thought, hating us as they did.
I slung Ricki Dicki up on my shoulders, right hand holding his left shoulder, left hand between the crotch and over his left leg.
The shit and piss gave off a strong pungent sweetness, causing me to retch until I became accustomed to the tear-inducing odor.
I dog-trotted, slow pace. The trot drug me forward, easing the burden. My mind told me the quicker I cover the ground the greater the chance I will survive.
My lungs were afire; they felt as though they were being raked from within. The ligaments in the fronts of my thighs were searing molten strings with the effect of cramping the backs of my calves.
Sweat coursed from every pore of my body, soaking through my underwear and uniform. The weight of the cloth was exaggerated.
About my head, over Ricki Dicki’s piss/shit soaked crotch, blue and green bell flies buzzed light then buzzed again by the thousands. Some crawl into my nose, some into my eyes and some into my mouth.
My boots slipped and slid in the muck and mire, working my ankles into painful connective tissue.
At no time never did I give thought to putting Ricki Dicki down. I did not think it even though I believed he would die. I did not think it even though I believed the effort would kill me. I did not think it even though I knew the exertion was futile.
I’d give over my life, but not his. For him I would endure all, no weight too great, no obstacle too overwhelming, and no challenge too daunting. He was primary.
I did not think my life worth less than his.
I thought ultimately in terms of my obligation to bring him in from the storm, to get him to refuge, to bring him to safe harbor.
I thought of the honorable exchange, the noble bargain. I knew he’d bear the burden for me, unquestionably without the slightest doubt, I knew this in my bones.
Ricki Dicki would suffer the unimaginable for me.
I could do no less for him.
I stumbled now into the switch grass that caught on my uniform. The tiny stickers imbedded in the material producing a friction, slowing my advance.
It was then that I heard the sweetest words anyone has ever said to me, sweeter than my mother’s good nights, sweeter than my wife’s pillow whispering, sweeter than my mistress’s erotic musings, sweeter than a coach’s atta boy, sweeter than my father’s praise, sweeter than any other words ever uttered by anyone: “Hold up asshole, fucken’a,” the sentry’s sweet song.
I knelt, rolling Ricki Dicki onto the ground while the holler went up, “Corpsman, Corpsman.”
I drank Irish whiskey, just to be a pain in the ass when everyone else pontificates on the attributes of Scotch.
I’ve never compromised to casual clothes in the office. I maintain with the hand-tailored suit, the handmade Italian shoes, the English shirt and tie. My haircut costs a Benjamin every other week. I have the corner office. My wife selected the furniture.
I was there because of a Wharton MBA and because my prospective father-in-law, a Wharton Graduate School professor, wanted his daughter to have anything in the world her heart desired.
My soon to be in-law put his case in the following manner succinctly, avoiding any troubling sense of humanity or familial grace. I listened to his proposition through the miasma of deceit this slimy reptile has created about his being, obscuring the true intentions of the viper due to the opaque haze created of good manners, gentlemanly appearance, refined gesturing and intelligent speech in which the dross is being couched. To my mind, holding reaction in abeyance until the full measure of his proposal is exposed provides for me the most profitable path. I’d learned in ‘Nam and in the intervening years that the effect of my reaction is magnified and amplified by its timing and placement.
“Lon, you’re a top student. As a result, you will be getting many job offers. You’ll have your choice. But I would like to suggest to you something a little radical, offbeat you might say, may I have your ear?”
“Frank, I’m always interested in what you have to say,” I spilled the formulated words as a matter of obligation rather than choice.
“Some friends in the financial community are looking to hire someone to take on a task that is not of interest to many people of your calibre.” My thesis advisor, my finance’s father and my father-in-law to be, all wrapped into one, took a draught and placed the tumbler back on the magazine he used as a coaster.
Then he stood, took up the poker, and proceeded to have a go at the logs and coals until a fair blaze erupted.
As he replaced the poker he said, “Within the investment community, there is the area of commodities, and within commodities there is a narrow focus on the subject of exotic commodities. Many people of your generation eschew this line due to the extraordinary amount of travel, diplomatic involvement, and in-depth research; however, for these very reasons the pay is, shall we say, extravagant.” By now he had moved back to his seat in the overstuffed chair and settled himself comfortably, appearing quite at ease.
Apparently, my father-in-law to be didn’t care if I was home with the kids, home with his daughter, whether I missed family affairs. All he wanted was that I produce a prodigious amount of money.
Clearly, he would not have broached this subject without having discussed the matter with my finance, that is to say his daughter, and had her approval.
What’s the bottom line? No one really cared if I was around much.
“Lon, I recommend this opportunity to you because you’ve a way with people, shall I be blunt in saying, a cold way. Not that you are not a generous or charitable man, no one could fault you there. You’ve a crust on you that I have not been able to perceive any person has been able to pierce, not even my daughter. I believe over time the virility, the good looks, the suave style and physicality that attract my daughter will, shall we say, wither. My daughter will seek solace elsewhere. You will seek your comforts elsewhere. The family will hold together for financial, moral, and parenting reasons, but the marriage shall be a hollow shell. There is nothing unique in what I say. What may be unique here is rather than having a tragic, horrid, offensive ending we might create a path where all parties are satisfied. I believe such a path begins with you on a job that is significantly demanding enough to keep you occupied and challenged so that when you deign to spend time with the family it will be what people call quality time. All will be able to live under such an arrangement with gentility as well as I might say profitability.”
Considering what he said, I believed he deserved a like frankness in kind, so I questioned, “If I may say so, you are a little on the frigid side in your calculations of the future. Apparently, you have little regard for the concept of love, of people growing closer, increasingly attached, more devoted to one another. What has bent you to this brutal thinking? Has your marriage been so unrewarding? Has your love dried to dust?” Normally, a person might think the remarks rather tart; however, he was pursuing a rather acerbic course himself.
“Let’s not be overdramatic here, my life experiences and yours have been very dissimilar. I prefer to think the war corrupted you, giving you the benefit of the doubt that you did not appear from the womb in this state. It has not been my lot to experience the horror of armed conflict. The question as I see it is whether we can finagle a way to make a productive match between you and my daughter as well the rest of the family, something all can enjoy and revel in, not something that will end with recrimination and vile clashes in a courtroom and beyond. Why not leave the soppiness behind, shall we, and be realistic? Let’s create a functional arrangement.”
I slid my fingers along my tie, watching closely as the waiter places the tumbler of Irish whiskey on the starched linen square. “Thank you,” I said very precisely at exactly the appropriate modulation as proper when addressing staff.
Deliberately I reached out, slowly turning the tumble and with it the linen square, sliding the square across the polished surface of the cordovan darkened table top until the square was parallel with the perpendicular edge of the table spaced exactly one inch away, exactly one inch from the corner and exactly one inch from the lateral edge of the table. I did not drink of the beverage.
“Excuse me,” I said, cutting into the presentation underway through the efforts of a member of my negotiating team. “Thank you Mr. Hinderstund,” I said dismissing him.
I reached into the left inside pocket of my suit jacket, with my right hand. I withdrew a small notebook and a Monte Blanc pen. Until this point I had not carried into the negotiations either papers, calculator, lap top, pen or any other equipment.
I opened the small notebook in such a way as to make the appearance that I was thumbing through a number of adorned pages, when in point of fact every page in the small notebook was blank. At length I made the impression that I had located the page I sought and placed the Monte Blanc thereon and closed the small notebook. I then returned the notebook and the pen to the inside left pocket with my right hand.
Drawing my fingers down the edge of my tie I addressed the pompous dictator, “President Argonne, we have spent considerable time addressing the benefits that will become accessible to your countrymen from the sale of the Vanadium ore. Even so, the Parties have failed to reach an accommodation. I wonder if are we on the wrong tack. Possibly another approach would be more productive. Let’s say we organize a regime change? I say it straight to your face no subterfuge, no hidden agenda. I hire mercenaries for the purpose of clearing you, your family, and your cronies from the government. For good measure I’ll have you slaughtered under mysterious circumstances into the bargain.” Reaching forward I grasped the tumbler and slowly raised it to my lips for a sip before returning it to the linen square.
I was as solid as ice and as frigid; there was within me no visible emotion, no thought of honor or grace. I appeared devoid of righteousness. Worshipping my only Goddess, to wit the mercenary necessity of achieving an excessive bonus, without any qualifiers of virtue or values my characteristics are base.
The President leapt to his feet and sputtered while the skin on his face engorged and his eyes bulged, “Are you mad, to say such a thing in my Palace, in front of my security, in the depths of my capital?”
“I think you’re an ass, Mr. President. I think your guard would as soon cut your throat as look at you. And they know as well as I, that I will pay them well to off your dumb ass. They know from me they will actually receive payment, while from you they will only receive duplicity. Additionally, they know if they ice me, they will be eliminated in turn and no power on earth can stop it.” Then with the back of my cupped fingers I stroked my tie smooth.
The three other members of my negotiating team were adorned with fright masks as they backed towards the door. Two of the President’s security forces blocked their exit.
“These folks have nothing to do with this; any interference with them will only bring vengeance down on your head.” There was the possibility that I had misread this man during the bargaining and had overpitched my hand. My team was paid to inure the danger inherent in the trade. Still it would be a shame to have these innocents injured for my blunder.
The President waved his hand absentmindedly as though he is unaware of the movement. The security guard moved to the side to allow the members of my negotiating team to pass out of the room.
“You’re not as dumb as you look,” I said, relaxing back into the upholstery of the couch.
“You are one crazy fuck. These men will slice you apart with their knives and take days to do it.” The President now stood over me. I could see the heave of his chest and a ring of perspiration seeping through the pima cotton of his shirt under the arm pits and along the bottom of his pecks.
“Why don’t you ask your boys to step outside?”
“Why don’t you kiss my ass?” The President straightened. He stood at full height and motioned for the waiter to bring him a drink. The waiter placed the drink upon a linen square lying on the polished surface of the table. The President reached down, grasped the tumbler and raised it to his lips. I gained gratification in hearing the tinkling of the ice cubes in the glass due to the tremble of the President’s hand. He moved his left hand through an arc, the security men filed through the door.
“I’ve listened to your proclamation of devotion to Allah and how he guides your actions; His Will Be Done, it don’t mean shit to me. I’ve listened to how the people love you and you owe them your allegiance. I want to puke every time I hear it. I’ve listened to how you are the Messiah of this country ready to lead it towards the future. All I see is you, your family, and friends stealing everything you can get your hands on, leaving the people destitute. Well, I don’t give a fuck about your people or any other God damn thing. I get paid if the deal gets done. I want paid. If the deal doesn’t get done you get dead because I am one vindictive sonofabitch. Even if I get offed you get dead the contract is already let.” I never let my eyes leave the President’s face. I held his sight steady, a glare, really, diamond hard, without fear or sympathy. “Now tell me what you want for the God damn Vanadium ore? I’ll take one straight, reasonable answer or I walk, without the deal with all of the consequences. If we can’t get it from you the people I work for will get it from your replacement.” The statement was matter of fact, emotionless.
Plainly I had passed over the edge with only success or failure before me all other options exhausted.
“Put ten million in Ireland.” The President said it with resignation, acknowledging he has played out the hand and almost over played.
I reached with my right hand into the left breast pocket of my jacket and pulled forth the little notebook and the Monte Blanc pen. I opened it to the page held by the pen and perused the blank page for several agonizing minutes, and then returned them to my pocket.
“Eight.” I put the number knowing I can rake the delta into my account.
Quietly, the President said, “Eight.” He placed his drink on the table, missing the linen square, and walked from the room.
Hundreds of thousands of minutes pass in the intervening years since I grasped the brass ring and returned to the world to pick-up my life; in many of those minutes I replay the snips and snatches of memory encapsulating my behavior in Country. Now having gained a greater sophistication concerning foreign cultures and folkways, having developed an understanding of the burden various people about the earth shoulder. Understanding as I now do the deprivation under which they struggle due to cultural constraint, governmental barriers, deficient education, and lack of resources, I have now an empathetic streak for their plight. Were I to venture into that vile place of long ago as I am now composed, my actions would be quite different, however, I am not fool enough to suppose that because I have learned much my actions then are to be subject to rebuke. My actions were a result of my knowledge and maturity in that place and time. They were honorable if nothing else at least in intention and are therefore not to be ridiculed or compose a plinth for shame on my part.
Even so, in a stray moment my mind flits back to those days, my eye surveys the crowd looking for a face from those days, and I am tuned to the mention of a remembered name. I don’t speak of those days for I am well aware no one in my social group, family or the occasional late night bartender has any interest in the war stories of an old war from an old man
But still…in a stray moment I think on those days and late one night, in my corner office that looks out over the cityscape from on high I sip an Irish whiskey as I await a phone call from the Far East in consequence of a purchase of a rare commodity necessary for some manufacturer but so entangled in custom and politics as to be almost impossible to extract. The call will be the culmination of months of work to bring the parties to this juncture.
There is self-satisfaction, may I say a pride. I have done well. I am at the top of the heap. Professionally, the recognition of my work is incessant. My achievements are lauded universally. In the charitable arena, my largesse is recognized as generous by any measure. My home life is satisfying and rewarding. My mistress is well managed, ensconced in her apartment and appropriately ladened with jewels. Happiness and contentment reign throughout my life. Looking out through the glass that divides my domain from the bull pit, I see a lone janitor, pushing his cart along the aisle collecting the diminishing paper refuse due to its being replaced with bits and bytes. An unidentifiable something catches my subconscious, the slant of his head, a shoulder movement, his gait, something draws my attention. I move my feet from the credenza to the floor. My large leather office chair comes upright. My focus is laser like. I stand to improve my view, the way he bends, his frame, maybe the shape of his head. Unaware of myself but focused only of his image, my stance is bent at the hips, all self-consciousness evaporates. My usual attention to self-presentation is allayed. I, in a rare and unusual moment, am no longer conscious of my importance. Rather I am minutely focused on his import. I emote a countenance carried forward by urges generating an unaccustomed mood.
Now I am more intrigued. My head bobs about attempting to improve my sightline. There is irritation with the glare on the glass that impedes my view. I damn the grey tinting with artful etching on the glaze which prohibits my full observation.
Absent mindedly, I put down my drink. Beginning a walk out into the bull pen, I bump my thigh against my desk as I round its corner then experience a slight difficulty in opening the door as my distraction is so complete I have no remnant of attention to apply in recalling its operation.
Approaching the man, I believe I know him, have interacted with him. I’m drawn to him almost magnetically. My breast beats palpably.
He turns towards me. My heart flips, stops, I know it I feel of it in my breast. My body flexes in shock. Here is a phantom of the past; here is a man who identifies with the me of another incarnation. Here is a man who knew a better me. Unfathomably, it is Ricki Dicki. I tremble, my emotions overwhelm me, my tongue goes dry, my stomach contracts, my testicles recede.
I place a hand on each of his shoulders, “Is it you? How? Is it you? Ricki Dicki, god damn!” I grasp him to me.
“Fucking Jesus, you gone pussy, Luckman?” Hugging me back, on my cheek I feel the tears that roll down his face, “Jesus fucken’a, Luckman.” I feel as though I melt in a spasm of joy. There is in me an ineffable delight I have not experienced prior, an actual glow of warmth and bliss.
Life, hot, boiling, turbulent life, flows through me.
Through Ricki Dicki’s grace my redemption is at hand.
I am resurrected.