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Tactical Reasons…a fiction

March 26, 2013

Chasing The Dragon

The dragon is of such immensity that human vision, even that of gifted men, seers and scholars, can encompass only bits of the beast, must imagine its presence and in dreams alone can its totality be suspected.

In Vientiene there was a whorehouse called Madam Lulu’s.  It was run by an old French woman and you couldn’t get laid there.  The only service offered was fellatio.  It was a marvelous place:  a girl could have a career as a prostitute at Madame Lulu’s and retire a virgin.

One of the girls taught me to chase the dragon.  Her bar name was Aron, her real name a secret she would tell the man she loved, if he thought to ask her.

Aron cooked number two heroin over a spirits burner and inhaled the fumes through a beaten silver tube decorated with demonic monkeys in bas-relief; ape devils from the Ramayana.  Say Asia to me and I think of Aron sucking dreams through her monkey-chased tube.

I still had this habit when I was advising a unit of Royal Thai Border Patrol Police.  I was supposed to be teaching them intelligence gathering techniques.  One hundred meters down the road across the border in the Kingdom of Laos was a Kuomontang base that was actually a refinery, opium into heroin.  They too had an American advisor, a spec five named Reed.

The KMT paid the Thai general in command of the district a percentage and the real purpose of the Border Patrol station was to make sure the cut was straight.

We had a phone line run in between us and Reed called every day.  He was always hungry to talk to another Westerner.  By then I found most Americans boring. Their world view was so simplistic, everything in straight lines and I considered Reed’s calls a burden, like being polite to an idiot relative.  He called the day before his death and said, “They’re holding out.”

“I know.”

“The chinks won’t pay.”

“Get fucked,” I said.

I had taken to telling Reed to get fucked automatically when he used words like chink or gook or slope, which he did a lot.  He ignored it thinking it just one more example of my weirdness.  I considered him, a man with a Kowloon Chinese wife who still said gook, insane.

“They’re mounting up here.”
I said nothing, find it difficult to talk to people who use phrases like ‘mounting up.’
“Think it’ll get down to shooting?”
“Probably some, part of the bargaining process.”
“What you going to do?”
“I’ll be with my people,” I said.
“Are you straight?”  Reed asked.
“Relatively,” I said.
The shooting began that night and ended about dawn. I took four men out in a looping flanking movement and there was a lot of noise and nonsense, some actual contact, much shadow shooting.  Reed was killed somewhere in there.  Two days later when a new deal had been cut and we were anti-communist allies again I went over to bring Reed’s body back to Thailand and ship him home, another martyr of the holy war.

Jump School
I had to join some people in the field, had to do it by parachute and I’d not had jump training.

They gave me a day.  I went to a little airstrip where a guy in cut-off fatigue pants and a t-shirt told me about capewells and streamers and tree landings.  He made me jump off an oil drum to practice the roll and showed me how to exit out the side door of a little, gray, Cessna with no markings.

We went to lunch and that afternoon I made my first jump, a static line.  I had a dummy ripcord, was supposed to pull it and show the jumpmaster I knew how.  I had to go freefall as there was the possibility of people shooting at me on the way down.  The idea was to fall as far as possible before opening the canopy.

On the ground jumpmaster said “Okay,” and gave me another chute and I went up for my first free fall. It was my last jump.  The next morning someone had changed their mind and I went somewhere else to do something altogether different.

Tactical Reasons
By then I understood that it didn’t matter much to the people on the ground who came into the village, us or the enemy.  In any case they were shit out of luck.

I did notice some variations in the atrocities suffered.  They, for example, didn’t rape as much as we did.  Or burn and destroy property, but they did tend toward the more symbolic such as cutting out the tongues of those who spoke for the government.  Our mutilations were done to the dead, a matter of trophies.

Both sides tortured when it seemed the thing to do.
The group I was with considered itself above such things.  We never raped except as an occasional, individual aberration.  We did mutilate the dead, remove heads and genitalia and so on, but this was psychological warfare and was done to dead soldiers.  We had little to do with villagers. We did torture, not out of meanness or boredom, but only when we needed information.  We always had tactical reasons.

Later, in another country, there was a bounty paid on enemy heads, a considerable sum for the local troopers and I once packed a basket of heads for a fifteen year old who’d taken so many he couldn’t carry them all.

He was too happy to contain himself, grinning and dancing down the trail.  His family was in a camp.  The head money would do wonders for them.

In Action

What I heard mostly was the roar of blood in my ears, a saline rush.

In action the problem is confusion.  Nothing goes the way it’s planned, you spend your time dealing with surprises and fuck-ups and you reach a point when you simply can’t see or hear any more.

I used to check out, become a droid going through the motions, doing what I was supposed to, even though my personality, my identity, my emotions had gone south. The overall situation was of no importance.  I dealt with what came before me.

Once I saw my wrist break open and blood come out.  The droid decided that, as the blood wasn’t spurting and the hand still functioned, it was unimportant and dismissed it with less exasperation than I would feel over a flat tire today.

I was in this state when I first actually saw someone go down by my hand.  Usually we received fire from foliage whereupon we would fire into the foliage until the incoming fire stopped.  This time I was there and he was there and he dropped.

I suppose it was some aspect of the droid state that drove me to go over and examine the corpse I’d created.
A boy, young even to me, and I was a child.  I opened the shirt carefully rather than ripping it.  We were strangely gentle with the dead though we gave the living hell.  It was necessary for me to see where I had violated the body’s integrity; let the air in, the vitality out.

I was regarding the holes when taken by an unusual quality of the chest; a certain fleshiness about the upper ribs and the droid informed me that if I sat this boy up this fleshiness would stand out to become breasts and this wasn’t a boy at all.

An Encounter With The Enemy

You came upon it sometimes, stumbled over it
without warning.

He had landed against a tree trunk and was sitting there watching our approach.  His leg, attached by skin and muscle, was twisted up beside him so that his sandaled foot was touching his ear.  His other leg was down the path.
We all stepped over it.

A middle-aged man with some gray in his mustashe.  As we neared, he closed his eyes.

“I’ll get it,” one of us said pulling a Siamese bush knife, more like a long-handled cleaver, from a basketry sheath at his back and the rest of us moved on.

He caught up and later we learned the bush knife wasn’t used.  He’d put it away, got out his morphine (we all carried lots of morphine) and put the man to sleep.

Thanksgiving, 1970

In Bangkok you look for something beyond what you came for and think you’ve found it for a while because you need that something more.  In the end it’s the same as New York,
Seattle or Hono.  Just close your eyes and pump.

Starry Night
I was sitting in the radio shack with the talker when I heard the mortar round hit, heard one out by the perimeter and then I was blown through the wall and into the side of the bunker next door.

You’ll have to consult Hemingway to read about being in the center of an explosion.  Look in A Farewell To Arms, page 54 of the Scribner’s edition.  I don’t remember,
haven’t the slightest idea.

I do remember a notion of suspension, of being neither here or there and impact and falling to another impact.  No pain to speak of, but a humming vibration over my skin like the play of static electricity, St. Elmo’s Fire.  And an inflation that rose from my belly up through my chest and rattled out past my lips.  And the sound in my head, a sort of whistled whine – not one but a keening chorus.

Quite a fight I was later told.  Parts of the camp were overrun, lots of screaming and death, that sort of thing.  I remember a couple of running men stumbling over my body.  They paid me no mind.  A vague thought that I should move, at least get out of people’s way, but I couldn’t.  My dazed and perplexed body was as futile as a jellyfish on the shore.

Not that it worried me.  I had no worries.

I was loopy.  A projectile of some sort – shrapnel or a piece of the radio shack or a piece of the radio talker – had collided with my skull at that point where my forehead bends back to provide a roof for my brain.  It removed some skin and hair, left a modest hole and knocked me loony.

I lay there and looked up.  The night was full of lights; lights that sparked and lights that screamed, lights that billowed and grew, lights that sprang to life and drifted slowly down and arcing, staccato lights, red and yellow, that sped across my vision and died in flight.

Casualties
That lieutenant wasn’t too bad, but he got himself killed making a career move.

An Army career is much helped by citations for valor in your file.  To be cited, an officer must be recommended by two other officers who observed this valor.  Officers stuck in the rear would, in the evenings and on weekends, talk their way into a quarter-ton, find out where the nearest action was and drive that way until they heard gunfire.

This was one of the game’s rules.  You had to be able to hear gunfire.  When they heard shooting they would cite each other and go home.
But the lieutenant and his two friends took a wrong turn and got too close to the action.  Perhaps it was over-enthusiasm.

They all got iced by some raggedy-assed guerillas with no careers to speak of.

American Son

I asked mama once.  She said he was a GI.

Zippo Inspection

I’d never heard that sound coming from a person or anything before.  Not of man or animal, but mythic, the shrieking oarlocks of a black river crossing.  A comet fleeing God’s humor I trapped and lashed to kill the flames, or the sound.

The next day the parched, peeling skin of my fingers felt newly born, unadjusted, horrified at the touch of life.

Realization
The sounds of shelling rose with the sun.  To the east a big fight was going on between an allied army and the enemy and we were on a long sneak around the battle’s flank.  Our business was to approach from the enemy’s rear for some spying and back-shooting.  We were men in green with packs and guns and things.

It was rainforest there:  the canopy high above, rather dark below with little undergrowth, just the tree trunks, moss and ferns.  Easy marching more like being in some huge, dimly lighted and pillared ballroom than in the bush.
We moved silently without speaking, communicating with hand signals.  That was our way.

The elephants moved silently too.  Heading northwest away from the shooting and air strikes toward Laos or China, they were suddenly among us.

Elephants had not been mentioned in training or on exercises or at field meetings, but we all reacted the same way as if there was a section covering it in SOP.  We stepped next to the nearest tree trunk and waited.

They paid us no mind passing through our ranks more a geological process than animal and it wasn’t until one stalked past, so near I had to look up to the eye, that the
realization of life occurred to me peering into that bristled intricacy of wrinkles centered with sorrow.

The Tyranny Of The Dead

Standing lonely above them, their staring eyes shaming you
so recklessly erect.
You dare exhale, arrogant blood rushing, fleeing the
malignant heart.  Awkwardly alive, so temporary, fragile,
the brain-bearing crown wrapped in steel despite futility.

You feel the folly of persistence, a traitor to your
calling, belted and strapped into the tools of trade,
seeking bubbling lips, signals of failure you must pop once
again, finish the trial.

Sloe-eyed dogs tentatively nose those waiting wrapping,
dismayed by their own hunger, joining you in the guilt of
the cognizant.

AWOL

I don’t know.  I think it was because of the kids.

I had a thing for the kids, they broke my heart.  I guess I was just weird.  Guys would talk, you know, about the little girl.  Charlie would talk the little girl into carrying a bomb up to the big soldiers and exploding it.  Would blow up the soldiers and the little girl and the guys used to say what a terrible thing it was to do to the soldiers.  I used to think what a terrible thing it was to do to a little girl.

I had an attitude problem.

My room was in a converted go-down.  It was like a longhouse, open to the ends, dark inside as the forest.  The center of the building was open and dirt-floored. The rooms-for-rent, more closed-off stalls, built of planking against the walls.  There was a communal water supply where you washed with water dipped with aluminum bowls, and two propane tanks with burners for cooking.  Bargirls lived there and shop girls and factory workers and a couple-three women who cared for the bargirls’ children; lots of children half Thai and half Anglo or black or Mexican.

Mornings I would fill a teapot with Polaris water and go down to the burners to heat it for Nescafe.  I wore a t-shirt and wrap and flip flops and would squat waiting for the water to boil.  The children stopped their play and came to witness me, the pale thing among them.  I’d stopped shaving and they had never seen a bearded man.

Later I put on pants and went to the market for beer and cigarettes, liter bottles of Singh, short packets of Gold Citys.  In the room I smoked and drank and practiced thinking about nothing.  The door would be open for the breeze and the children would stand there watching the hair grow on the farang’s face and dreaming of their fathers.

Early Out
The captain of intelligence was afraid of me, thought I was probably instinctively homicidal.

I wound down somewhat earlier than the rest, decided not to play anymore.

The rifle belt with its paraphernalia of death made my back ache.  The helmet hurt my head.  I decided not to bear them any longer.

They gave me a sugar billet when I came back from deserting.  They knew what was going on, but didn’t know what to do about it; send me to the doctor or prison or what so they made me this captain of intelligence’s driver, easy duty, and hoped it would go away.  Not that they were concerned about me, it was the medals I wore that demanded deference.

And I knew secrets.  If you’re not willing to shoot them, you must be careful with people who know secrets.

So when I stopped the quarter-ton so the captain of intelligence could go confer with a contact, when I was supposed to dismount and take up a defensive position by the road, when I didn’t, but kept my seat and smoked a cigarette while waiting, the captain didn’t say a word.

Back In The World

I cannot bear the long pain farther, my skin jumping over
the bloodless veins; blinking, crusted eyes since the
shuddered waking.

The moon is dulled, the wind speaks to others I hear
flaming children, see black hair fanning a shattered skull.

Feet edge toward the soundless and eye-gouged dream.  Among
them once again.

 

From my book Dancing The Maze by Pretend Genius Press.

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