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(Background To The “Lost” Novel)
The “Lost” Bunch & Cole novel: In the early 1990’s Allan Cole and his late partner, Chris Bunch, finished a novel they titled “Freedom Bird” – after the name Vietnam War era soldiers gave to the chartered airliners that ferried them home to America when their tours ended.
The novel tells the tale of three young GIs who meet again after more than a year’s separation – they’d all flown to the warfront together - and they are glad and surprised to see that their friends have survived. The gladness is leavened with sorrow - two other friends were not so lucky and flew home early in flag-draped caskets.
Each man could not be more different. The only things they share in common are their age, the Army, uncertain futures, and the ghosts that
have followed them home from Vietnam. One man is Jeffrey Katz, the son of a prominent Los Angeles physician, who dropped out of medical school to become an Army medic. Another, a much-decorated paratrooper, is Tyrell Harris, a young black man from a segregated town near Memphis. The third is a be-ribboned staff sergeant - Steve Applegate - nicknamed “Nebraska” after the farm state he hails from.
While toasting the memories of their absent friends, they make a pact to hold a wake of sorts, before heading off to their separate homes. Over a three-day weekend they determine to party it down in San Francisco – their disembarkation point – and spend every red cent of their mustering out pay. Secretly, each young man prays that those ghosts and all their doubts and fears of uncertain futures will somehow magically vanish during those three days.
But there is much more than mere magic at work here. Because when they land in San Francisco it is July, 1967 – in a time that would become known as “The Summer Of Love.” And they are greeted by
incense-perfumed streets, incredible music, beautiful girls, mind-bending drugs, and a world that is totally different from the one they left a little more than a year ago.
When the long weekend ends none of the young men will be the same person he was when he entered that world three days before.
THAT WAS THE STORY, and it was good one and well executed, the two writers believed. However, other pressing work interfered and over time the book was forgotten. Eventually Allan and Chris went their separate ways to pursue personal projects. The only remnants left of the book were corrupted computer files on ancient floppy discs. Chris died a few years ago, and that, one would think, would be that as far as the book is concerned.
Then a friend in Europe emailed Allan. While moving she found a battered manuscript Allan had lent her, titled “Freedom Bird.” Did Allan want it? Damn right, he did. Allan begged her to send it to him.
When it arrived, he began turning the yellowing manuscript pages and the story jumped out at him just as fresh and original as when he and Chris had worked on it all those years before. Allan contacted Chris’ widow, Karen, to get permission to revive the work and finally – voila! Here you have it.
In all its Summer Of Love glory.
Peace, brothers and sisters.
Read and enjoy….
* * *
(THE SAMPLE CHAPTERS)
A MODEST DISCLAIMER:
The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste...
* * *
WEDNESDAY DAY ZERO
"Fly Trans-Love Airways...Gets you there on
"mutants revolve your head and nervous system, do
acid, do the holy cities. spinspiril. do yurself and bod. create
free forms, novas, do free.
* * *
It is July, 1967
And we are at 28,000 Feet
* * *
… AND THE 707’S cabin was quiet except for the high whine of the engines. Here and there seat lights pooled the darkness. Some men were trying to read. One just sat staring, his face empty.
There were nearly a hundred and eighty men on the Braniff flight. In a long line they would be hard to
distinguish as individuals except by their race. All of them wore short-sleeve khaki uniforms, sleeves marked by rank. Mostly Army, some Air Force, a scattering of Marines.
They were all about the same age - very early
A stewardess exited the rear galley carrying a tray with three ice-filled plastic glasses and five airline bottles of Scotch.
She stopped at the first lightpool five rows up. Three young men stopped their quiet conversation as she put the glasses and bottles on their tray.
"Welcome to tomorrow," she announced.
"Thanks. But, I wasn't trying to be poetic," she said. "We crossed the International Date Line about five minutes ago and we jumped a day. It's Wednesday now."
The young black sitting next to the window thought for a moment. "Are we past Guam yet?"
"Oh yes. Hours ago."
"Whew," the third said in exaggerated relief. "Guess we stand a chance of makin' it." He was a solid, rangy blonde who, in overalls, could have been a 4-H Club Poster Boy.
"Why is Guam so important?"
"The last time we came through,” he said, “somebody counted the engines and came up one short... so the Army - in its kindness - thought we'd better stop for refreshments. They picked Guam."
"I've only embarked there once," the stewardess said. "We didn't layover, but it also didn't look like it was one of the party spots of the Pacific."
"You got that shi... stuff right" the dark haired soldier laughed. "We never met any of the natives. But we saw some sailors... some Air Force. And some pretty lonely dependents."
"How long were you stuck there?"
"Long enough to find to meet a whole lot of mosquitoes and find out nobody would let us get into trouble. Then they bolted us back on the plane... and sent us to our – He raised his voice slightly – “DES-tiny."
The stewardess' professional smile vanished.
"That's not what I'd say about Vietnam," she murmured. "Excuse me. I've got to go help clean up the forward galley."
She walked away. The two soldiers on the aisle leaned out, looking at her shapely form. The black started to do the same, then caught himself.
"Nice legs," the dark haired soldier said.
"Bet they go all the way up to her ass," the blond added.
"Speaking of which, Nebraska, we gotta start watchin' our own ass. You too, Mister Goddamned Tyrell Harris."
"I ain't done nothin' else for fourteen months, the black said in a deliberate drawl. "What else is new?"
"What's new is that every fu... dammit, I'm doing it, too... is that we're all garbage mouths. I go back to LA, walk in the door, and say to my dad, 'Hey, asshole, how's it hangin'' and he'll have a coronary."
The black smiled. "You got a point, Jeff. I talk like that, and Momma'11 have the preacher over with a case of Lifebuoy soap. I've got to remember, we're all going be civilians. Cleancut, upstanding American soldier boys who've done their duty to their country and all."
The dark haired man was still staring down the aisle after the stewardess.
"So she doesn't think Vietnam was all that airborne ranger, huh? I woulda just said It Sucks."
He lifted his glass. "Like I heard somebody in a movie say once... departed friends."
They drank. All three of them were more than a little drunk. The subject they'd all skirted for hours had been opened.
"You're sure about Atherton and Mills," Nebraska - real name Steve Applegate - asked. He looked to be the youngest of the three, but was the highest ranker - the three stripes and a rocker of a Staff Sergeant were sewn to his sleeve. On his left breast he wore two rows of ribbons.
"Sure about Mills. About three months after I wrote to his unit, I got a letter back. It was from his brother. KIA for sure. He told me the letter from his CO said he died of..." and the dark haired man's voice mocked officialese "...wounds suffered in an enemy ambush. He died without pain."
"Yeah," the black guy named Tyrell Harris said. "Nobody ever kicked without a smile and a prayer on his lips. At least the way they tell it."
The dark haired soldier's hands unconsciously touched the single metal device on his left breast, a Combat Medic award. Specialist Four Jeff Katz.
"So what," he said. "If you got hit, would you want anybody to know what it was really like?"
"Fu... I mean, hell, no. Damn glad the Army went and lied about things when I zigged when I should'a zagged," the black said. As stated: he was Tyrell Harris. Of the three, he would have stood out the most. But not for his color. Like Katz, he was a Specialist Four. But he wore three rows of ribbons, including the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Above the decorations were paratrooper wings and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. The overseas cap on the seat beside him had the round red-white-blue "glider" patch of an airborne soldier. He was related, in a sometimes roundabout and sometimes scandalous ways to a family that had fought in every American war from before the Revolution onward.
"About Mills, I don't know," Jeff said, returning to the subject. "The letter I sent got bounced down to 193rd Evac, then returned to me."
"You didn't have his home address."
"Course not. Don't know if I would've written if I'd had it. Who wants to know for sure? Better thinking he got a glory wound, went home, got out and is chasing women up and down the entire state of New York."
"Yeah," Nebraska agreed. "Better like that."
They drank and refilled their glasses in the suddenly uncomfortable silence.
"You know," Tyrell said, ostentatiously changing the subject, "I've been thinking."
"I could'a guessed," Nebraska cracked. "Smelled the woodsmoke burning."
"Screw you," Tyrell said giving Nebraska the finger. His lingo dropped into GI slur. "First thing I do, when I get home and send this uniform off to the Salvation Army, I'm gonna go out and buy me an M-14."
"For chrissakes why?"
"Shut up. Gonna get the whole damned thing chromed. Barrel, receiver, all of it. Get me a stock custom-made out of teakwood."
"Uh-huh," Jeff said skeptically.
"I'm gonna get me a little stand made out of marble. Then I'll put that rifle out in my momma's rose garden..."
"Yeeaahh?" Jeff said. He couldn't help but be caught up in Tyrell's mad dream.
"... And every morning... just when the sun comes out, I'm gonna come out and piss all over the son of a bitch!"
The three laughed and drank some more. Then Nebraska turned serious. He leaned across the aisle to Jeff.
"How well you know San Francisco?"
“Pretty good... I guess. I've been there half a dozen times with my folks. Couple of times by myself... before I became... unattached to college."
"What's the best hotel in town?"
Jeff considered. "The Mark... Mark Hopkins. My folks used to stay there. Or maybe the Fairmont."
"Thanks." Nebraska settled back.
"What's a shitkicker like you want to know about hotels? Especially expensive hotels?"
"Part of my plan. After we have that drink when they turn us loose... and you guys head for home, I'm gonna get me a suite in the most expensive hotel I can find... For three days…. I've been saving for this son of a gun a long time.
"Then I am going to throw me the biggest, best party I can. Callgirls... and I don't care if they're a hundred bucks a night so long as each one's prettier'n the last. The best booze. Hit the topdollar nightclubs. I am going to swing!"
"Why, Nebraska, you decadent bastard," Jeff said in vast admiration.
"I didn't know farmboys went crazy," Tyrell said.
"Not crazy at all," Nebraska said. "Look. I'm goin' back to Grainton. Back to daddy's farm. Probably gonna marry the girl I was going out with before I went in... She lives 'bout three miles away.
"That's gonna be my life. That's the way I want it." Nebraska said this firm, unbudging. Then: "... But something you city guys might not know. Farming ain't exactly the most lively way to spend your life... sometimes.
"So ten, twenty year from now, I'm sittin' on the combine seat... goin' up and down and back and forth and out of my tree... I'll get this secret little smile on my face.
"And people will wonder, and maybe even ask. But I won't tell them that I'm thinking back to those three days in Frisco."
"I will be a son of a bitch," Jeff said slowly. He toasted Nebraska with the dregs of his scotch. "Damned if that isn't the most sophisticated idea I've heard since the first sergeant decided I was a troublemaker."
"Thank you, son," Nebraska said. "Only thing... kind of a pity you guys couldn't do the same thing. Be a lot more fun. Hell, I'm gonna get the suite anyway. Hotel's on me. I'm gonna be Fat City... besides, my dad sent me a money order last month."
He turned to Tyrell. "How about it? Memphis'11 manage to get along without you for 72 hours, wouldn't it?"
"Naw," the black said. "Women'll be whoopin' and cryin' in the streets. But let them wait... I'll give my momma a call from Oakland."
He stuck out his hand. "Staff Sergeant, you got yourself a Party Point man!"
"What about you, Jeff? Prob'ly need a medic sooner or later. Shit... Ooops. This is hard. Anyway, I forgot you have some kinda big family deal, don't you?"
Jeff hesitated. Then reached a decision. He twisted the caps off the two remaining bottles and poured drinks. "They'll be too busy schmoozing and talking about real estate to miss me. Yeah. Yeah, I'll hang out with you."
He lifted his glass. "San Francisco, here we come... right back where we never started from," he sang, then knocked the drink down.
The stewardess came back down the aisle, and stopped by them again.
"You three look like you just solved the world's problems," she said.
"Better than that," Jeff said. "We've just made a pact... Set the plan. For three days we're… gonna rock… gonna roll. Gonna tear the town down.
“Look out San Francisco!"
"It's a good town for a party," the stewardess said. "I ought to know. I live there."
"Hey," Nebraska said. "Maybe we could give you a call. You could show us some hot spots. That is, if your boyfriend don't mind."
The stewardess caught the emphasis on boyfriend. She grinned and ruffled his hair. "Nice try, GI."
"Miss," Jeff said. "Don't listen to him. Here I am. I saw you when I walked on this plane, and there were little bluebirds singing, and flowers blooming, and I fell in love forever and ever.”
He came awkwardly out of his chair, knelt and took her hand.
"I'm housebroken, no bad habits, over 21, and a good Jewish boy with a foolish career ahead of him as a doctor making tons of money. Couldn't you find it in your heart to let me worship you from afar?"
The stewardess laughed. "You were doing okay until you hit the doctor bit. 'I don't care/Too much for money... and she hummed the second two bars of the verse.
"Go back to the flowers and bluebirds. It'll get you farther. Especially in San Francisco... these days."
"My heart has been torn apart," Jeff muttered and sat back down. The stewardess moved past him, toward the rear of the plane. Her hand, seemingly by accident, brushed across his cheek.
Jeff put his hand to his cheek. "Damn," he said, almost in a whisper. Shook his head, and looked at Nebraska.
"So what've you got in mind? Once we get out of these monkeysuits and start looking like real people?"
"I read some magazine stuff about Frisco. Said North Beach is The Place. Topless bars and all kinds of loose women."
"Your information's got a long beard on it, son. It's totally nude, now."
Tyrell blinked. "You mean... nothing? Nothing at all?"
"That's what I heard."
"How do they get away with that?"
"San Francisco's different," Jeff said. "Not as uptight as other places. Plus I bet they're paying off the cops. They've got one dancer... Carol, uh, Doda, that's her name... got a 44 inch chest."
"Forty-four inches? Lord Above, that'd be a mouthful," Nebraska marveled.
Tyrell turned serious. "Uh... is there going to be a... problem? With me being...?"
"A black cat? Hell no. Only color San Francisco knows is green. You got dollars, they'll decide you're an African prince or maybe a jazzman, and hand you the keys to the city."
"Maybe," Tyrell said. "I'll believe it when I see it. Lot of crap back in Memphis about them being integrated. But there's streets you'd best not walk down and bars you damn well don't go near. Classy joints, too. If you're like me, you don't walk in the front door even if you're the star act."
"Everywhere isn't the south," Jeff said. "Loosen up. We see any white sheets... me and Nebraska will ratpack 'em. I've been known to walk drag, Tyrell, and you don't see any CO patch on my ass."
"Besides," Nebraska put in. "You're airborne. You got steel teeth. Rip 'em in half the long way, right?"
"Right," Tyrell said.
"Not to mention that this shit... there I go again... I mean, stuff... is getting way too serious... and we're low on scotch," Jeff said, and got up.
"Hey," Nebraska said.
"Give it another try."
"You don't think I'm walking back there just for my good looks do you? Ah feel good/Doo-ah-ooo-ah-ooo," Jeff chanted, and headed for the galley. But his heart was fluttering like the first time he was under fire as he made his way back.
He heard the two stewardesses talking, and stopped, just outside its entrance.
"Am I getting old," Jeff’s lady of interest was saying, "... or was this flight the rowdiest ever?"
"Nobody told you?"
"Nobody ever tells me anything."
"This is a real special flight, Sam. Every one of these guys is getting out of the service."
"Okay. The company goofed. Somebody did tell me that."
"Bet they didn't tell you how it worked. When their tour was originally up in Vietnam, all of the guys on this plane would have had three, four, five months left to go in the Army.
"So the Army offered them a deal. Extend your tour for a month... and get a discharge. The boys on this plane are the ones who survived that month… Those thirty days in the jungle…"
"Jesus, mercy," Jeff's object of interest said. "Hey, there young man. Want to play dice with your life? You willing to gamble another month for a Get Out Of Jail Free card?
"You know," she went on, "I never used to be anti-Army. But seeing these guys board, and they're* all happy and really just a bunch of kids. Then we pick up the ones coming home at Tahn Son Nhut. Same guys... just thirteen months different.
"A lifetime different. No wonder they've been calling this flight the Freedom Bird.
"Now this kind of thing... it really..." she searched for a word to describe her disgust. She found Jeff's: "... it sucks, that's what." She said it with such force she surprised herself. She laughed to cover her embarrassment. "Of course, these days there's a lot of that going around."
Jeff heard a giggle. "Samantha, you have a very dirty mind."
Laughter... and Jeff stepped around the corner.
"Uh... could I have some more gruel? Please?"
The other stewardess moved past him, indicating the drink tray. Next to it was three nearly-full trash containers of empties.
"Take whatever you want," she said.
A red light flashed on a panel.
"Oh Lord," the stewardess said. "My master's voice. Are pilots born Nazis or do they learn that in flight school?"
The other woman, the one Jeff had heard called Samantha, shook her head. "What can you expect of somebody who can't talk without moving his hands?"
"Excuse me," the other stewardess said, and headed for the plane's cockpit.
Jeff fielded five more tiny bottles, and looked for an excuse to say more. Samantha gave him the opportunity. She looked at the bottles.
"You order five scotches every time. How come? Why not six?"
Jeff suddenly felt a lot more sober.
"Well... see, fourteen months ago, back in Oakland, before they sent us over, me, that blond-headed guy Nebraska and old Tyrell Harris got together. There were two others with us. Dick Mills and a guy named Atherton.
"We got along fine. For starters, we all thought the Army, well... We used a rude word - sucked. I saw your big ears." He shrugged. We’re just home and haven’t been verbally potty trained yet.
"Anyway,.. All That. And we were all planning to get out of the Army when we came back... which separated us from the lifers going in.
"We got friendly. Then we got stuck on Guam, and got a little tighter... And we thought it'd be cool if we all got together at the end of our tour... and had a drink.
"Sort of like one of those promises you see made in the old World War II movies... Hell. We were kids.
"Anyway. There were five of us... then..." Jeff's voice was suddenly hoarse. He pushed on. "But... only three of us caught the Bird."
Jeff found his vision blurring. He turned away, blinking rapidly. Then he turned back.
The stewardess had a Kleenex out, and was dabbing at her own eyes.
"It gets real smoky back here," she explained. "The air conditioning... you know."
"So anyway," Jeff went on. "We're sort of drinking... for a couple of guys that didn't seem to make it. I guess... I guess maybe we're still kind of... childish."
"I don't think so."
The enginewhine was quite loud in the galley.
"Uh... you know," Jeff said, "I've never been able to figure out what you say... you know, like in a bar, when you see somebody you... you think you might like. So...
"I guess I might as well mess it up big, then. And go back and get real shit fac-. Uh... Sorry... drunk.
"But... I'm going be in San Francisco for three days. And... If I wanted to call somebody... and maybe have dinner with them. Or maybe just a drink or lunch... uh... what would happen if I asked? Oh. I'm Jeff Katz, by the way. "
He put out his hand.... hesitant. Samantha grabbed it and give it a firm shake.
"Glad to meet you, Jeff Katz. Now, for your questions:
"First, you really are drunk. Second, if you did ask... and somebody took out a napkin... like this... and wrote down Samantha Vaughn, 834-2258... like this... and passed it to you, saying that she's got a week's downtime... Why, you'd probably lose it or forget where you put it when you got straight."
She handed the napkin to Jeff. He put the bottles down on the galley sideboard, and took out his wallet.
"If... If I asked, and somebody did something this wonderful..." he glanced at the scribbling on the napkin... "I'd have that name Samantha Vaughn, uh, 834-2258, tattooed on my mind.
"Plus stuck right here. In front of that driver's license that proves to God, man and any MP that I'm a real live California civilian and back in The World again... And I'd call. God would I call! At midnight. At three a.m. At dawn."
"To use the GI vernacular - you are pushing it again, Jeff. Just call. Once. And see what happens."
He picked up the bottles. "You know... fourteen months of nothing going right and everything going wrong and pretty damn' bloody... maybe things will go right.
"We are going to by God San Francisco."
Samantha smiled. "Maybe. Like the song said, ‘I believe in" magic.’”
"Now... get back to your seat, soldier. I've got work to do."
Jeff Katz went back to his seat. Not drunk, not sober, but certainly not touching the 707's rubber matting as he went... And in thrall with a beautiful woman who actually used the word “Vernacular.”
* * *
THURSDAY DAY ONE
"...Oh Lord/ Pride of Man/Broken in the dust
. Somethin' s happening/But you don't what it
is/Do you, Mister Jones..."
"...Jeans of blue/Harley Davidsons too/Old Angel,
young Angel/Feel all right/On a warm
* * *
THE BIG OLIVE drab buses from March Air Force Base groaned through the gates of Oakland Army Terminal - past the MP shack - and made a creaky, brake squealing stop in front of the OARTS Admin Building.
The driver of the lead bus pulled the door handle, and shouted: "Okay. We're here. Everybody out."
In a worm-fight of dufflebags and struggle, the soon-to-be-civilians clustered there way off the bus.
Jeff paused by the driver. "I," he announced, "am not short. I am next!" And he kissed the driver on top of his baseball cap.
"Lucky fucker," the driver muttered.
"How long will it be before they' turn us loose?" Tyrell asked.
"Three days. Maybe. If they've got their heads out. Which they don't. So that means three days... if you're lucky."
The statement hit the young men like a howitzer as they saw their plans for a three day party about to explode. Nebraska was the first to recover. A determined, pure farm stubborn look came over his face.
"Nobody, but nobody stops this party," he announced. "Least of all the U.S. Damned Army!"
"What are we going to do?" Jeff asked.
"Hide and watch," was all Nebraska said. "You'll get the drift."
There were shouts: "Gentlemen. If you'll all form up... please have the six copies of your separation orders ready... Three ranks..."
The first sergeant looked tired and hung over. Almost everybody in the formation in front of him was also tired and hung over.
"Okay. I need a section leader. Who's senior?" Quick looks around at stripes. SP/4's... a lot of Sergeants or Specialist Five's... One of the looks fell on Nebraska. Just as he knew it would. He'd already checked the rank terrain. "Staff Sergeant. You. You look senior."
Nebraska was ready. He put his duffel bag down and doubled to the front of the formation. "Sarn't Applegate, Top. "
"Fine. Take charge of these men and march them down there... past the barracks... we'll assign you bunks later... turn right and go down three rows to Bay D as in Delta."
"Uh... right. First Sergeant."
Nebraska turned, frantically sifting his mind for what command elements he remembered from Basic Training.
There was a change in the formation of exhausted, wrinkly-fatigued soldiers. From shambles to motley.
"Left... sorry, Right... Face!"
The group of men turned. There was snickered order from the ranks: "Right shoulder... dufflebags!"
"You men in the ranks! This is not a joke," the first sergeant shouted. "You're still in the Army, goddammit!"
Someone shouted: "What're you gonna do... send us to Vietnam?"
Laughter... and the first sergeant seemed to shrink. Without saluting he spun and went up the steps into the admin building. Most likely in search of the hair of the dog that bit him.
"I got your bag, Nebraska," Tyrell shouted. "Oh yeah. You want your camera?"
Applegate caught the Petri as it sailed through the air. "Now," Jeff observed, "let's see if the Old Man's Driver remembers which foot to start off with."
"Knock off the shit," Nebraska said. "Okay," he commanded. "Grab your stuff."
Suddenly he found the whole thing damned funny. "Forward..." and his voice went falsetto, "... HOOP."
And the shambles shambled forward.
Outside Bay D, a master sergeant was giving out The Word to a rigidly-formatted, bright-green-new-fatigued group of soldiers. They all looked pretty much like Tyrell, Nebraska and Jeff had fourteen months before.
The master sergeant wore sharply creased khakis and rows of ribbons. None of the new soldiers could... nor would they bother to... read the ribbons and realize that none of the decorations were for anything other than Time Served Somewhere or Awards of (Dubious) Administrative Merit.
"You troops better get your heads out," he shouted. "Get your heads out! Because you are all going to Vietnam, goddamit! The Viet Cong do not play games! You straight up and fly right... or you will all be fucking dead, I promise you!
"We just got a shipment of combat soldiers. Real soldiers, just back from Nam. You look at them. Real close. "These guys lived... They were Strack! They got their shit together! And they lived! Do like they do... and you'll live, too, and come back home."
Jeff heard what sounded like a marching cadence.
"Now you take a look at these soldiers... and learn to soldier just like they do!"
The "cadence" became audible.
"Hep, hoop three four, hep five two one... change step, hep! Hep two, hep three, cadence, cadence, cadence call."
A ragged shout:
"FUCK THE ARMY."
A shout from their still unseen leader:
"Column right... wanderin’"
And the formation hove into view.
The master sergeant had time to pick up some details:
The staff sergeant evidently in charge of the formation was walking backward, shooting photographs. He saw one man in the front - also walking backward - animatedly talking to a friend. Some idiot to one side was skipping like a goddamned schoolgirl.
The shambles came closer. The leader slung his camera, and prepared to bring his men to a halt.
"Hippity-hop! Platoon... stop !"
The master sergeant heard his Vietnam-bound trainees look at the old pros and start laughing. It was the sound of discipline crumbling.
"Holy shit," he muttered to himself. "We gotta get rid of these clowns. Yesterday!"
And, ignoring the soldiers he'd been haranguing, . he tucked his clipboard under one arm, and scurried away, looking for the first sergeant. Desperate action was required.
"Sergeant, you know you're entitled to a full physical when you're being released from active duty?"
"That'll take... 48 hours."
"How do you feel?"
"You look great. You got two arms, two legs, a head and I guess the rest under those shorts. You got any problems you want to tell me about? Medical problems, I mean?"
"Sign here... and here. You're A-l, like they used to say, properly attested to by a Captain in the United States Army, Medical Corps. Right?"
"Thank you, sir."
"Be a sonofabitch," the clerk said. "Harris, it says here you got the Silver Star, right?"
"But there wasn't any award ceremony that I can see. "
"We were mostly in the field. So we didn't do parades," Tyrell said.
"You want to stick around? We could get a ceremony up... maybe by tomorrow afternoon?"
"Didn't think so. Sign here."
The finance clerk owled through the pay records. Twice. Frowning.
"Uh...some kind of problem?"
"Yeah," the clerk said. "Look. According to your records, you qualified for Pro Pay, right?"
"First in my class, first on the test."
"Fine. Which you draw when you were up at Lewis, and then they send you to Vietnam. You get that for... let's see, three months, and then no more. You got any idea what happened?"
"Sort of," Jeff said, tentative. "First sergeant didn't like me."
"Well... he came in on sick call. Said he had a cold, and wanted some penicillin pills. Had the clap, of course. Didn't want to get in trouble with the Old Man."
"So we give him a shot in the butt and somebody gave him his pills. The pills turned out to be Pyridium. Which made him pee bright red. He thought it was gonna fall off for a couple days.
"Top thought I did it. So he decided I was superfluous to the TO&E, and cut my pro pay." Jeff shrugged. "Shit happens."
The clerk laughed, then went through the pink payment vouchers again.
"Problem is, he didn't back his act up. Nobody ever cut orders like that."
"Which means you're gonna get... oh, $350 more than you thought you were gonna, on separation pay. Unless you think that's unfair."
"I never argue," Jeff said, "with a dedicated professional."
"Great. Have a drink for me when you're out of this fucking Army."
"I will do that. Believe me, I will do just exactly that!"
Nebraska pivoted and saluted the first sergeant, standing on the Admin Building steps. The topkick returned the salute.
"Men... I want to thank you," he said. "This is the fastest out processing we've ever managed here at Oakland. Normal proceeding would have taken 72 to 84 hours. But thanks to your cooperation, all of you are finished in record time.
"You have all your necessary paperwork now. You are free to leave. There are pay phones inside the barracks if any of you wish to call a cab, or if you live here in the Bay Area. There will be two buses in half an hour, for San Francisco International Airport.
"But any of you who have already made other arrangements... you can still draw bedding from our supply sergeant.
"And we have steak on the menu tonight."
He sounded almost as if he were pleading.
"That's all. Group... Ten-hut! The mess hall will open in ten minutes. Dis-missed!"
The Oakland Army Depot Permanent Party had all the steak they could eat that night.
Only five men from Nebraska's shambles stuck around for chow.
The shabby yellow cab had barely stopped in front of the green Admin Building when it was Combat Assaulted by three men wearing newly-issued green Class A uniforms.
Jeff, Tyrell and Nebraska hurled their dufflebags into the cab's trunk, piled inside and shouted: "SAN FRANCISCO," to the driver.
The cab accelerated for the gate.
A Military Police first lieutenant, resplendent in greens, armband, spitshined boots and pistol belt, was giving watch instructions to the MP gate guard as the cab pulled through. His black plastic nametag read SANDERS.
Lieutenant Sanders glanced up. And saw three clenched fists sticking out the open window, one brown, two white. From each fist protruded a middle finger.
Before he could pick up his jaw, before he could shout an order, before he could remember his olive drab sedan with the red light on top, the cab was out the gate, out of his jurisdiction, out of the Army, out of his life.
For the moment...
"Not many cities as pretty as this one," the cabbie proclaimed proudly as the cab pulled through the toll gates onto the approach to the Bay Bridge.
San Francisco spread in front of them, the Bridge arcing high over the blue Bay waters that echoed the bright blue, cloud-spattered sky above.
The city's low hills and buildings were golden in the late afternoon sun, and the Golden Gate was a graceful draftsman's sketch to the right.
It seemed to wait, expecting and promising.
"People from around here call it The City. They don't need no other description.
"Yeah. Pretty. Shines like a woman in the night. And delivers what she promises and don't look like a harridan in the morning.
"Ain't but a few cities as beautiful. Paris, maybe, from some views. Copenhagen. Hanoi, possibly. Saigon. Before the Americans."
Tyrell looked at the driver's hair. It was gray, and it hung from his shoulders and was held in place with a flowery headband.
"You," he asked - a tinge of skepticism in his voice - "were in Vietnam?"
"That I was, mister. Back when the French had it. Second, no third time I shipped out. Carrying U.S. War Surplus guns to the Fightin' French. Didn't do 'em a hill of shit. But yeah. I been in Saigon - San Francisco's better, though. Always glad to come back. Always sorry to be leavin'. Where you three want to go? The Airport?"
"Mark Hopkins, please," Jeff said.
The driver half-turned, looking astonished. "You sure?"
"Damn. That's a new one. Most GI's coming out want to go to the airport. Bus station. Some, North Beach, looking for a party. Others, that mebbe got more on the ball, the Haight. But the Mark... sure. Why not."
Nebraska frowned. "We were gonna go to North Beach, later. Is there something the matter with that?"
There was a silence. Then: "I don't rain on any man's parade. But... let's say North Beach used to be interesting. Back in what they called the Beat Generation days. Now... hell, I'm starting to sound like a frizzly old fart croakin' about Them Wuz Th' Days. Life... and a party... is what you make it and where you find it."
"What's about that other place... I think you called it The Haight?"
Another silence as the driver thought. He shook his head: "I'm not gonna tell you. Maybe I can't tell you. Don't have the words. Maybe nobody can. And I don't want to give any preconceptions. But... the Haight's... interesting. Changing some, from what it was.
"But everything changes. When I feel like that... it's time to move on. Go somewhere else. Maybe back to Torremolinos for awhile. Maybe I just get twitchy when I start feelin' rooted. Forget that shit. But if you got the time, check the Haight out. Like I said, it's interesting."
That was it. Evidently the cabbie had said all he intended.
The three recently ex-soldiers stared out the window, as San Francisco drew nearer.
"Now," Nebraska said. "If we can't find a party in a town as pretty as that, we're even dumber than we look."
"Speaking of which," Jeff said, "we do look pretty dumb. I mean... in this uniform?" He plucked at one of his sleeves and made a face as if he was smelling something evil.
"What's the matter with it?"
"First, we're civilians, right? I am not going to wear this fucking - goddamit I got to stop that cussin’ - uniform one second longer than I absolutely have to And that second stopped when we drove out the gate and flipped off the cop lieutenant.
"Next, I'm getting sick and tired of going somewhere and somebody spots me for a GI and figures I'm nothing but a sucker.
"Third, there's a bunch of people who ain't real big on Vietnam. Remember? Even Stars & Stripes has run stories about them. Why cruise for trouble?
"Let's do it right. Dump anything that's got U.S. Army on it. Socks, low quarters, jockstrap... hell if I want anybody to look at me and think Grunt."
Jeff leaned forward. "Mister, we changed our mind. You know any real good clothes stores in Frisco?"
"Don't be calling it that to the natives. Makes 'em hostile," the cabbie advised. "Clothing stores? How much money you want to spend?"
"We don't care. A good one. One that'll sell us clothes so nobody can think we look like GIs. You know. Wild clothes. Like, maybe, those suits the Beatles used to wear. Edwardian, I think they called them?"
The cabbie glanced in his rear view mirror at the three men, noting their carefully-cropped hair.
"You don't want anybody to look at you and think soldiers, huh? I got just the place. Wild it is..."
"Shitfire," Nebraska muttered. "Not this wild!"
He turned to the clerk and held up the garment. It was a mail shirt, constructed of small metal rings.
"People really wear something like this?" he wondered.
"It's very, very popular right now. At a party, you will be the center of attraction, I can promise you. My... friend just bought one last week."
The clerk looked quite average to Nebraska, if you ignored his gauze tee-shirt and paisley bellbottoms with hugely flaring bottoms. He had short hair and a moustache. But for some reason, his voice made Nebraska uncomfortable. It was... too smooth. As if he was taking acting lessons, Applegate thought.
Tyrell came out of a dressing room. He wore a natty, narrow-lapelled suit, tasty Italian half-boots, a lacy shirt and a tie that would shame a color wheel.
Nebraska whistled at all the glory.
"There it is," Tyrell mocked. He struck a pose and warbled: ‘Reach out, an' I'll be there.' All I need is a three cats for the harmony and some doo-wop girls and I'm set!"
"Yeee-ah," Nebraska said. "Won't be any trouble pickin' you out of a crowd. What do you think of this?" He held out the mail shirt.
"That, my friend, is out there. Way out. Are you planning' to look up King Arthur while you're here?"
"It would certainly show off your chest to its maximum advantage," the clerk purred. "And remember, it's better to be blatant than latent."
The store phone rang. "Excuse me." The clerk went behind the counter and picked up the phone. "White Swallow Boutique. This is Roger. Oh! So you finally decided to wake up, you lazy bitch! My. You do, do you? How much would it be? Mmmm. That is. expensive.
"But it's blonde, you say? Two... no, three grams would be perfect. Now, about tonight..." and the clerk's voice sank to a intimate tone.
Nebraska leaned over to Tyrell. "Is he, uh..."
"You asking me, brother? I’m not from the big city. But if he isn't, he'll surely do until one comes along."
"I heard Frisco's got a lot of... guys like him. And there were always these jokes goin' around. But..."
"Nebraska, does it bother you?"
Applegate started to answer, then thought about it. He grinned. "Naw. Not unless he wants to double-date with me."
"So don't buy that Knight of the Round Table thing. First time you try to get out of it you'll either cut your self on the can opener or rip your nose off."
Tyrell walked to a rack. "What about this little item?"
It was a two piece ensemble, denim jacket and bellbottom pants. Except that it looked like somebody at Levi Strauss had gone nuts with the Clorox bottle, all shades of brown and tan.
"Looks like one of the Jersey cows we got."
"Jersey bull, remember? Think about it. I'm not sure what that dude meant by blatant and latent, but like they say, it pays to advertise. You need this..."
Tyrell went into motion, selecting clothes as he went. "This... naw, you're too straight to wear it. This. These two shirts. Man, you honkies not only got no rhythm, but you don't know how to dress, neither."
"Hang on there, Tyrell. This shit's expensive! I'm gonna wear it for three days, then what? I put this on and go parading through Grainton, hell Omaha, and there'd be a lynch mob."
"Got you covered on that, too. Stash it for five years, and it'll be the height of fashion in Nebraska. Word travels slow when it's going by Pony Express."
"Funny. Real funny," Nebraska growled, knowing it was true. "Where the hell is Jeff?"
"Waiting for my cue," was the answer, and the store's other dressing room opened.
"What is this," Tyrell complained. "First the farmboy dresses up like Sir Galahad, and now you're trying for Errol Flynn."
"And what, exactly, is wrong with that," Jeff asked. "Consider the rep."
Jeff wore a silk peasant shirt, with belled sleeves, a deep vee neck, red velvet pants and floppy boots that came nearly to his knees.
"This, like that guy'd probably say, is definitely me." He pirouetted like a ballerina.
Tyrell just stared at him. Jeff looked at himself in the mirror. Yeeck! Maybe he had drifted a tad. Tyrell steered him to the rack. In a few moments he was outfitted from toe to neck.
Then Jeff saw the jacket. Denim like Nebraska's. And treated with the same mad Clorox bottle. But this was midnight blue with swirling patterns drifting into purples. The sleeves and pockets and arch of the back were studded with rivets. Now this was a jacket! He lifted it from the rack and tried it on. Fit like it was born to him.
"What do you think?” he asked Tyrell, putting on a James Dean swagger and leer.
"Rebel Without A clue," Tyrell said. But Jeff knew there was more envy than bite.
"Awright. Knock off the crap," Nebraska ordered. "I want a drink. Let's pay for this stuff and get out of here."
They piled clothing and went to the counter as the clerk ended his phone call. "My," he said, We have some big spenders today."
"Let me ask you something," Jeff said. He went back into the dressing room and came out with the brand new set of Class A greens. "Do you have a trash can where I can dump this?"
"I shouldn't say anything," the clerk said. "I should just let you be foolish. But I am soft hearted." He smiled at the three, and let the smile linger on Nebraska.
"I will buy that uniform. Twenty-five, no, thirty dollars."
"What the hell are you going do with it?" Tyrell wondered. "Against the law for a civilian to wear Army uniforms."
"It's not for me. My tastes are a bit loftier. But you have no idea how many of these hippies come in here, looking for something unique. Old band uniforms, military wear, anything that, in their words, will ' freak the straights.'"
"You've got a deal, brother," Jeff said. "Hey, guys. Not only can we dump the monkey suits, but pick up a buck. You in?"
Nebraska was shocked. "We can't do that. It's government property."
"Sorry for breaking my promise, and I'll buy the first round," Jeff said. "But fuck the government!"
"Come on, man," Tyrell said, coming down on Nebraska's side. "You have to put it on for the plane ride home or you don't get standby. And what about the Reserve meetings? Remember... you two draftees have Reserve meetings to think about."
"First, all I have to worry about is a PSA puddlejumper to LA, which is going to be twenty bucks or so. Second, I'll worry about the Reserves when I worry about the Reserves. This is San Francisco, son. And I am Freddy Feelgood for the next three days."
Jeff looked at the clerk. "Start ringing it up, my friend.”
"Thanks," Tyrell said. "But you didn't have to cut in."
Jeff gave the shrug of a man whose pocket was fat with unexpected cash. "Consider it a gift from my old first sergeant. Plus, Nebraska said he's picking up the hotel tab. We'll gang up on you for dinner. Okay?"
"Damn. I've got some generous friends," Tyrell said. "It'll be hard adjusting to those tightassed peckernecks back home. Hey, Nebraska, mind if I practice my yowza bosses on you... since you're the closest thing to a redneck around?"
But Nebraska was not listening. "Would you look at that," he said softly. "Come here, come here, little one. I am the cat and you are a bowl of sweet cream."
Indeed, the "sweet cream" was walking down the street toward them.
Floating would have been a better description. The girl's bare feet were in contact with the pavement, but it seemed as she flowed toward them that she'd mastered levitation.
She was perhaps fifteen or sixteen. Her blonde hair fell long and straight like a waterfall to either side of a dreamily-smiling heart-shaped face.
"What's she wearing?" Jeff whispered. "Looks like my grandmother's tablecloth."
She wore a white lace dress with a neckline just above small, pert breasts. She was visibly not wearing a brassiere. Around her neck hung a coral necklace, with a tiny brass bell at the center.
"Is she wearing anything under that," Tyrell wondered.
"Skin colored panties?" Jeff ventured... hoping otherwise.
The girl floated toward them carrying a single, freshly-cut flower. She went into a graceful hover in front of them.
"Peace," she said. "I'm Sunshine."
"You surely are," Tyrell managed.
Sunshine held the flower out to him.
"You guys are soldiers, aren't you?"
Oh shit. Jeff thought. Now we're going to get the lecture on how we're monsters who go out and kill Viet Cong babies. Howinhell'd she spot us? The dufflebags? Couldn't be. We saw some longhaired guys carrying them. Oh. Yeah. He ran his fingers across his nearly-crewcut head. A dead give away. But what could he do, buy a damned wig?
"Uh... yes," he managed. "Or, rather, not any more. We're civilians now, honest. Discharged just about an hour ago."
"That's groovy," Sunshine said. Her voice was tinkling bells and a forest brook. "Soldiers need love, too... Don't they?"
This, directly at Tyrell. She came very close to him, and touched his arm.
"Yes ma'am. I'm Tyrell." was the best Tyrell could manage.
"Far out," Sunshine said.
"Ty...rell." She trilled the syllables. "That's psychedelic."
Tyrell, who'd been named after his paternal grandfather who reputedly was more than a bit of a bastard, had never considered his name psychedelic. Whatever the hell that meant.
Sunshine stroked the front of his outfit.
"That's an out of sight suit," Sunshine said. "It makes you look really sexy. Maybe we could get together, sometime. Trip out and maybe... you know."
She giggled. "You guys ever go to the Haight?"
"No," Jeff said. "Not yet, anyway."
"You ought to. It's a real turn on. Really what's happening."
She dug into the tiny purse hanging around one shoulder that no one had noticed. Took out a pencil and a rather battered business card. She used Tyrell's chest as a desk, and he wanted to kiss the top of her head and work south from there.
Then she gave him the card. "Tonight. At the FBI Girl. A party."
Jeff, maybe, was the closest of the three to coherent. "Sunshine... what is an FBI Girl? Not J. Edgar Hoover's daughter or something like that?"
Sunshine giggled again. "It's a place, silly. Near the Haight. It's got food... and bands... and really groovy people."
"Is it... a special party," Nebraska wondered. "Maybe you shouldn't be inviting just anybody, I mean." He felt momentarily protective. This could be his little sister. Then he glanced down her inviting neckline. The hell it could be.
"Yeah. Special. Every party is special. Tonight it's for Mulberry Street. The Dead are in town, maybe they'll come down. Or maybe the Airplane. It'll be groovy."
"Doesn't sound like we'd be welcome," Jeff said, wondering what an airplane, let alone The Airplane would do at a party. And Dead? Come to think about it, why a party for a street? This was very, very strange.
"Oh no. Parties shouldn't be just the same old people. You can't change like that. And we've all got to change our heads so we can change the world. Right?"
"Somebody said there'll be tripper's punch" she said. "That'd be far out. Tyrell, maybe you and me could trip together tonight."
Tyrell's mouth was very, very dry.
"... If I'm there," she said. "If not... some other time. I know we'll see each other again Tyrell. Here... down in Sur, maybe Morning Glory Ranch... that's our karma. Isn't it?"
"Uh... yeah. Sure. Karma all the way," he said.
"Groovy." Sunshine smiled once more, and made the peace sign. "I love you guys," and hover went into forward motion and she drifted on.
There was a long very complete silence.
"What was that all about?" Nebraska wondered.
"Beats me," Jeff said. "And what is this tripping she wants to do with you, Tyrell?"
"I'm new, myself, remember? But whatever it is, I'm her man. She's..." Tyrell caught himself. Glanced around at his friends waiting for The Stare.
But all he saw was smiles. Nebraska clapped him on the back, nearly knocking him off the curb into the street in front of an oncoming bus.
"That cabbie was right," he said. "This is a magic town. You get a stew's number, Jeff, and somebody falls in lust with you, Tyrell. And we haven't been in town longer than an hour.
"Now, all I gotta do is connect, and we're there!"
Tyrell smiled, an apologetic smile that neither Nebraska or Jeff caught. Then he turned and stared off down the street, at the small figure of Sunshine gliding away.
One way or another, he was going to... to take a trip? No, just trip. And damn, damn, damn, he prayed. I'd pure love for it to be with her.
He carefully put the flower in his breast pocket…
|Last Revised: January 29, 2011|