Continuing Saga

I got myself fired. Wow!

I'd been working in construction these last few months, and was doing well getting reacquainted with production carpentry. But, as things go, I finally got so fed up with the whining and simpering of one individual that when he yelled at me, that last straw on this camels back, I could only grip him by the shirt at his shoulders and lifting him up to his tip toes walk him backward to a wall screaming, "Shut the Fuck up!"

I finally let him go, and, as the rodent he is, he scurried out of the project, into his car and off home to lick his bruised ego. Needless to say, I was fired for unbecoming actions on my part. Personally, I have no regrets. This person has been a nattering irritant in my life and the forceful demonstration on my part certainly has proven he doesn't want to be around me. Which is exactly what I wanted. Now I lost a very well paying job but that was the price in order to extract myself from the negativity and "pity poor me" attitude; that is to say, his unending line of "Sorrowful Jones" Bullshit.

I'd gone back into the carpentry trade because the caretaking job I had performed for nine years ended with the sale of much of the property that I'd cared for; the family took another course of action, the lease expired and I moved on. Through the VA I'd bought a house and now am "mortgaged to the hilt." This required me to enter into the construction workforce and make an earning slamming nails and pushing lumber.

You know, the first few weeks were almost unendurable. I had not hurt so much since Airborne school, April 1966. The kind of pain suffered best positioned on a bed, printed, sedated and medicated. And this was after another successful half Ironman finish. (Although I did not qualify for the 2000 Hawaii Ironman.) I had forgotten how exhausting and debilitation construction work was. When you've done it most of your life, at least from youth to middle age, you've inured yourself in the condition necessary to complete the tasks. Then take a nine year break, even as a field laborer, which basically what was what I did, mostly caretaking the fifteen acre Macadamia and Coffee farm.

Getting up each morning to the creaking, stiff joints and bone aching muscles was so unpleasant at times I fought a battle against "FIJFI" and proceeding down the hallway to a wakeup shower with soothing hot water to help lubricate my physical pain.

"FIJFI," was a term used by my teams. In fact, we had it along with "WTFO" embroidered on our Jolly Green Team hats. The terms, (not unlike "SNAFU," "TARFU," "FUBAR," "DILLIGAF" and "SOL") were all expressions of the exasperation that the military mindset can drive you to in order to deal with the sometimes conflicting commands, enemy cunning or just plain sloppiness which occurs when you blow your shit into the wind. All it does is come back with greater force and splattering stink.

It was also a way of expressing profanity on the radio without getting a reprimand from command who would be monitoring the missions progress while we attempted the rescue. Air America had their way as well since the embassy in Laos could also monitor their radio transmissions as they ferried cargo, men and munitions throughout Laos during the "American War" as the Vietnamese refer to it, or the "Second Indochina War," as history views it or least accurately of all "The Vietnam War," the American point of review.

I was asked by a friend how I would describe my expectations concerning this return trip. What were my motives and how did I think I could accomplish what I had set out as the parameters of the tour? Well, I had to think long and hard about that one. It required that I move from the superficiality of the arrangements of the trip to the motivation which brought it on. Beyond Dead Danny and a sense of missing something into the fathoms of the human psychic and its formation as we proceed through life either as a passenger or driver.

I allowed myself to consider this question as to motives, motivation, will and willingness to do that which may initially be uncomfortable; to venture into the woods, and in this case, the Jungle, with the faith that somehow you'd eventually come out the other side. Another friend stated that the immersion into the culture may be so overwhelming that the struggle to swim up through the miasma of psychological imbroglio could overcome me. Yet, with a caveat, he continued that to reach the surface free of the millstone which became ever more leaden each subsequent year I forged my chains of suffocation, could be like a new birth.

All this reminds me of Plato's allegory of the cave: in the separation from the illusions projected by the ShadowDancers onto the "screen" of the cave walls for the propaganda of state and the delusions of the mass, the "soul," as well as "sole," searcher must leave the comforting darkness of the status quo and enter, however hesitantly, venture into the scintillating light, and then must resign themselves to the alienation from that which once succored. The effort is its own reward. And so, I have formulated this as my outlook from introspection.

When we returned from Vietnam, it was with WAR as the paramount memory. And subsequently, for the years since our personal involvement, the state of Vietnam has always been identified as WAR. Even upon hearing about the fall of Saigon in April 1975, and the supposed "peace" which was to follow, the country remained as Vietnam - WAR. And although I have read voluminously about Vietnam, it has always been with the concern of WAR. The WAR became Vietnam and there were no other substantial emotional variation to the theme because it had been so seared upon my psychological stance that to consider otherwise was without merit or substance. And so the place geographically referred to as Vietnam has remained thus for nearly thirty years.

What to do? There had to be a willingness to begin the process to determine to change the perspective of Vietnam. To transmogrify the WAR somehow; changing from that past to a recognizable present with a preferred future as my reality. And that began a few years ago when I decided to get my legs waxed for my upcoming Ironman triathlon in October.

NOTE ON WAXING: Sissy's need not have warm wax applied to very hairy legs and then have the cooled pad with congealed wax embedded with abundant protein filament RIPPED from the skin. OW!!! Damn that hurt! Anyway, the indigent goes this way, because I wanted this I looked for a salon, that's a hang out where women gab, gossip and guffaw at men verses a saloon, where men confer, confirm and console themselves concerning women, which provided full leg depilatory. When I eventually found that salon, the person who began my treatment was Vietnamese.

As we talked between my muted grunts of macho minimized revealed pain, her story unfolded: a young, frightened Vietnamese women who turned to the Americans and received a job in the commissary. From there she learned enough English and began to translate for the Americans who eventually placed her in a job for none other than John Paul Vann. When I learned of this, I began to talk excitedly about Neil Sheehan's recently published book on Col. Vann, The Bright and Shining Lie. After our session, I went to the bookstore and purchased a copy for her. Later I gave her the book and she was most surprised at the gift. Through this lady I met another Vietnamese, an artist whose works I had earlier admired but did not know her nationality. I met the artist who would become a good friend and during this last year was my principal instructor in Vietnamese language.

I wanted to learn Vietnamese because of two reasons, both connected with the war. The Jolly's that worked Laos and N. Vietnam flew out of Thailand. The base I left to fly over the "fence," that is the Mekong river, was Udorn. And it was at Udorn that I attended language lessons at the Thai University there.

Upon even being able to present myself to Thai's using introductory phrases of congeniality and social respect; there was a dynamic change in our relationship. And though so many times I could only proceed but hesitantly, with many mispronounced words and broken sentences as I searched for an appropriate word through a limited vocabulary, they, the Thai's, responded enthusiastically and with consideration. I was later told by a Thai with excellent english speaking skills, that the people really appreciated that I even TRIED to learn their language and their response to my infantile yet earnest use of their spoken word substantially impressed them. Later, when I traveled with a Thai vaudeville group, (and that's another story we at this point will not diverge upon), I visited towns in northern Thailand which had last seen a white man in the fifties and he was a French missionary who could not speak their language and they were fascinated that I could. And still to this day, when I enter a Thai restaurant I greet the establishments workforce with the traditional Thai "wai" and "Saw-wa-dee," the greeting of one Thai to another. And this simple, yet expansive, presentation never fails to elicit respect.

The second reason is the result of the first. And confirmed by Ward Just in "To What End That," I could not travel back to Vietnam without first trying to learn some polite phrases and social customs. And during this last year I have learned both and more. This is an important aspect of reformulating my psychological attitude towards Vietnam & WAR. You see, when the military sent us over THERE they neglected to teach language and culture of the country on which, through which and over which we would prosecute our warfare. Instead we used their interpreters whose English was as limited as my Thai and whose motives for being there were often nothing more than mercenary.

That the GI could not speak the language built the first and foremost of the cultural barriers which prevented us as soldiers from gathering FIRST hand information. This left us not only vulnerable to miscommunication and hearsay and lying but also a sense of isolation from the indigenous, for whom we were allegedly over THERE to protect and free for the glory of democracy. (Here's another point where I will not diverge; that is, Vietnamese cultural history and THEIR application of democracy.)

I wanted to be able to converse in Vietnamese and so I undertook the difficult, sometimes very frustrating, but now at the point of rewarding task of learning some bits and pieces of Vietnamese spoken word. Along, with the second reason was the need to prevent my "separation" physically from the population. I had to be able to see with perception, smell with discrimination, hear attuned to the environment and the lullaby quality of their language and feel the countryside separate from the past mode which was ensconced in a military vehicle speeding through or over the people below. I want to touch the road, to feel the landscape and to sense the people's attitudes and I could not by duplicating the pasts travel modes. Therefore I adopted riding a bicycle as the most advantagious of modes to experience Vietnam the way I perceived it was best to change the pasts psychological confines.

Yes! Riding a bicycle in South East Asia is dangerous. Yet I can tell you that living here in Hawaii with it's road system is dangerous also. It is all relative. Now, if you were an inexperienced rider, then I'd say do not do this. Yet, I am a very experienced road and trail rider. So, my abilities to do this tour this way is precisely up my alley or another alimentary sense when after a very long ride you extract your seat post from your throat.

Its 0400 and I am completing the packing. We leave in an hour for the airport. All I can say is that I am so anxious, more in a good way than sour, and am very nervous, stomach and all. My friend and fellow PJ Jim Nash is caring for our pets and place while we travel. It has been most important to have two days of reminiscing and rehashing of the "Old Days." We recognized that we were now the ol' warhorses we used to hear "war stories" from. And now we are them!

I realized in my approach to this, that as I write these last few words that the person who so does will not return from this trip. I expect a most profound development in my outlook and joy in life.

To all you out there who have emailed your support, "Thank You!"

Ride On!

Doc Johnson
02 Feb 2001

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