Saturday, October 29, 2011

1st Aviation Brigade HAWK Magazine

As I explained in Hell on Earth, a love story, my first writing job after my caseworker got me back on track was writing for HAWK magazine after being assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade. But I really wasn’t a writer at that point and I definitely wasn’t a photographer.

About a month after being assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade I was given my first assignment. My order were very simple: Fly to Pleiku, home to the Flying Dragons of the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, use up the two rolls of film I had been given, and come back with a story.
Oh yeah. And don’t come back with any standard helicopter pictures, whatever that meant.

What could possibly be standard about any picture I took on my first helicopter flight—one which was not being conducted a few hundred feet over some famous harbor or amusement attraction but rather at several thousand feet above rice paddies
from which an occasional flash could be seen that would quickly be attended to by one of the two gunners accompanying me.

I didn’t know what my
bosses were talking
about until I got back
to learn that most of
my pictures were one
variations or another
of this:

The 52nd CAB was involved in much of the heavy fighting in the area but was also engaged in a lot of humanitarian works, as were most of the units serving in Vietnam.

The story I put together wasn’t too bad for a first ever effort but the pictures were hopeless and magazines, especially military magazines, are very dependent on pictures.

I couldn’t fly back just to take more pictures so I was in a real quandary until the Brigade historian came to my rescue. He was an artist, a very good one, and was assigned to record as much of the brigade’s activities as possible through his paintings.

I went to him, explained my dilemma, and he went to work. Before long—actually a much shorter time than the three days it took me to take several dozen pictures of treetops—he brought me the finished product, the concept of which actually gave me the title for the story.

It was two dragons—one the good flying dragon that performed good deeds for the Montagnard people living in and around Pleiku and the other the bad flying dragon that made life miserable for the enemy that surrounded the people of Pleiku.

Several years ago I located the website for the 1st Aviation Brigade and recently learned that the artist/historian who came to my rescue is registered with it. I'm excited about being able to send him this particular blog post.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The French Revolution in a modern world

Most of my posts have something to do with Hell on Earth, a love story. But I don’t think the novel or anyone in it had anything to do with the French Revolution, with the possible exception of Foo Ling who, as we know, could have been anywhere, anytime, wreaking havoc. Nevertheless, I think the French Revolution is always something worth looking at

The American Revolution is what you get when intelligent men and women are willing to risk everything they have to be free.

The French Revolution is what you get when the rich and powerful become so arrogant that the poor and the weak are willing to risk everything just to get even.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dreams: Can't sleep with them, can't sleep without them

There’s no figuring dreams. They come and go as they please, when they please, if they please. The dream itself determines the setting, the situations, and the eventual outcome. Our minds are just the screen that the dreams need to bring them to life.

Nevertheless, practically everything in a dream can somehow be tied one way or another to what’s going on in our real-life physical world. It’s the epitome of using someone for everything it can get and giving nothing back in return.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Peerless Wine Store

I only mention the Peerless Wine Store in one line in Hell on Earth, a love story, which is kind of unusual because I could probably write a whole book about that one job. The thing is, delivering booze for the Peerless Wine Store was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had.

Lowell seemed to have an almost unparalleled number of bars for a city its size. But sometimes a bar on every corner is not enough. That is why there were more vans delivering booze in Lowell than most cities have delivering pizza and the Peerless Wine Store was just one of the many enterprises dedicated to keeping shut-ins, pie-eyed.

On just a single beer run I was likely to deliver a bottle of whisky to the house where Jack Kerouac lived as a boy, deliver a case of beer to a house across the street from where Kerouac might have been drinking at that very moment, or deliver three bottles of wine to a kindly old lady—unscrewing the top off one before hiding the other two behind the sofa, and then finally make one last stop at the house of Mrs. Roussamanus to deliver her gallon jug of wine.

We never talked and I don’t even know if she spoke English but Mrs. Roussamanus was one of my more interesting customers. Anna, the owner of the store told me everyone in her family had passed away. About once a week she would call the store to have a gallon of wine delivered. She was a massive, friendly, lovable woman, probably in her 70’s but possibly in her 80’s who suffered from an illness of some kind that made her whole body shake like a rustling fruit tree in the middle of a hurricane. Anna said the wine just helped her to get through the day.

She understood the language of tipping and always took good care of the boys who delivered her wine. This is how the wine deal would go down.

I’d put her gallon jug of Port on the table, assume the ready position and wait. As I was doing this she would have already begun her approach, shuffling and lumbering across the room like a several hundred pound bowl of jello, grinning in anticipation because she knew I was anxiously awaiting the prize she was about to throw my way. By the time she reached the table her whole body would be pulsating like a jackhammer but her arms and hands would be shaking the most. I glanced down at what I knew to be my tip as the moment of truth grew near. The only question was would we be able to complete the transaction.

I was in position; my feet firmly planted on the linoleum floor and my hands at the ready for the missile that I knew was coming. Her large trembling hand closed in on the unsuspecting banana lying innocently on the table. Suddenly with her grin now an uncontrollable smirk, and in one surprisingly agile motion her hand dropped down, scooped up, grabbed what was once a banana but was now a weapon and tossed it across the room to where I stood waiting. I threw my hand out in a calculated response, intercepted and seized that banana like I would the brass ring on a merry-go-round, pulled it down out of its mid-air trajectory, stuffed it into my pocket, thanked her, turned and walked out the door. My job was done.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


A similar version of this post was originally published under the title, Memories of hand-in-hand images, in October 1988 in the Virginia Beach Sun.

There is this elderly couple that I would occasionally observe walking through the lobby of a building where I delivered mail. I remember them stepping out of the elevator, arms locked together, and taking short, shuffling steps to where I would be distributing the mail. Neither of them walked with the greatest of ease, and one could easily and humorously speculate as to who was helping whom.

There are not many details to my recollection of this couple other than that short shuffle that I would sometimes observe. But I thought about them the other night a while back at—of all places—a skating rink where kids, mostly teenagers, were whizzing around just as smooth and as graceful as most people only dream about.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Fall

Life is all about waiting for the other shoe to fall and getting out of the way before it hits you. The first shoe is just the set-up—the act of a straight man and who ever remembers the lines of the straight man?

The second shoe is the punch line and is accompanied by a drum roll. Battaboom!

A fire alarm went off the other night while my wife and I were staying in the Emily Morgan Hotel across the alley from the Alamo. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a warning that the Mexican army was back in town but I was absolutely positive that there wasn’t a fire. That’s because I, like most people, have a long history of dealing with fire alarms going all the way back to my early days at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. And the thing is, there is never a fire, it is always a drill.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Purgatory vs. Transient Barracks

In Hell on Earth, a love story, Hank spends a little time in a transient barracks when first arriving in Vietnam. There is also a strong suggestion that Erebus, home to his caseworker and others managing the sentences being served on Earth, might be some type of Purgatory

I don’t think anyone has ever had a real good idea of just what Purgatory is, where it is, or why it is. It is a place we can easily accept in general terms—a kind of halfway house on the way to heaven. However when we get down to specifics—tolerable pain and suffering to pay for minor sins—pain and suffering that can be reduced to some extent by deeds and prayers we do or someone does on our behalf, well the whole idea gets a little bit complicated.