MEMORIAL DAY AND OUR TROOPS


 

 

6/1998-Solana Beach, CA. 

                ONE EVENING, Rudy and I were sitting on the porch, it was in summer and we would sit out till after eight o’clock at night talking about different parts of Maurice’s life.  He is really busy in the summer, he works one day a week gardening for a man in Fairbanks ranch, and he spends a lot of time delivering furniture for the shops in Cedros Design District, and helping his friends with their gardens. He never seems tired; he likes to sit on the porch at dusk, watch the sunset, have a jigger and tell stories.  I had not met a man that could tell me things like Maurice.  There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t talk about. I will tell you in the next series how I met, ‘the happiest man in the world.’

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          “ Maurice, how old were you when you were drafted?” I asked.

          “ Well,  I was thirty-one years old, that was in 1941, you know when the war broke out. I had to leave my wife, and that bothered me, but I wanted to go overseas, there were so many nice real young boys, there were two boys from Chicago that were only eighteen years old, they lied to get in, and they were the best soldiers you ever saw, they weren’t afraid of anything.”

          “ Where did they send you, I mean after you left San Diego?”

          “ Well first I went to Camp Roberts for training, thirteen weeks, but I got out in nine weeks, then they send me to Fort Ord to get my gear and rifles and clothes to go to New Guinea to fight the Japanese. We left San Francisco on April 21, 1942, I remember going under the Golden Gate Bridge, cause we hit a bad storm there. We was on a luxury liner and then we were sideswiped by another ship.  I was in the bed at the time, and water started coming in through the porthole so I run for the door, to get on deck but I couldn’t get it open. I thought we were hit by a torpedo, then I got sick, I was real sick. Well anyway, then we finally settled down, and I think we hit coral sea  without any escort or anything and finally got into Adelaide, Australia after twenty-one days at sea.”  Maurice paused like he had to catch a breath. I watched his face, thinking he may want to stop.

          “ You remember so much, do you mind talking about it?” I asked.

          “ No, I don’t mind, it changed my life, everything about it.”

           “ Where did they send you after that?”

          “ Well we trained for awhile in Adelaide, the people in Australia were so happy to see us.  I remember they met us at the beach with tea and cookies cause the enemy were getting real close. Then we went up the coast to New Guinea to Port Moresby, we got there on Thanksgiving day 1942. As soon as we got off the ship the bombs hit us, it was the hundredth raid that night. Then the next morning we were supposed to get to Stanley Range, but we were in such a hurry because the enemy had built cement pillboxes. So we got in this plane, a hull, and they flew us, twenty-one at a time. When I got to the island of Buna, there were dead soldiers all over and so much jungle. At night the tide came in, so I found a mound to lay my head on, but my whole body was underwater. We were losing men so fast, so on Christmas 1942 General McArthur ordered us to advance, regardless of the cost of lives.  My division was one of the first divisions to stop the them, the Thirty-Second division. After we were immobilized, and a lot of our men were killed, they sent in the Forty-First division to take over. I got pictures, you want to see them?”

          “YES, RUDY,” SHOUTED. Maurice went inside and Rudy and I sat there just talking about how soft our lives had been, never having been in a war.  Maurice came back with a Life Magazine, from 1942, the headlines were Attack at Buna.  We sat next to Maurice on the couch and he sifted through the magazine showing us the photographs of his division. He picked out one photo in another stack in his lap and told us his wife kept this one, she was sure it was Maurice. It looked like him to.  The soldiers were young, but they didn’t look young, they looked like men. The things he told us that night were hard to believe. They didn’t get supplies at first, they had to wait till everything was shipped to Europe, and then they got what was leftover which wasn’t much.

       “I ate cocoanut bark for two weeks and had to drink my own piss to stay alive, there was no water. I can remember so well the first enemy I saw, sneaking through the jungle, he was only thirty feet off, and I don’t know if I shot him, but he dropped, and I don’t like to think I killed anyone, and it bothers me to this day that I had to kill, but that’s what we did.  The Japanese were good soldiers, they had better ammunition than us, their guns were always real shiny. We fought all day, and we always ran out of ammunition before they did. Christmas day of forty-two we went into a trench to get ahead, the fellow ahead of me was cut wide open, and the guy behind was shot, and I just laid there on the ground. If you moved you’d be shot. It was so bad, I laid there all day and night. “

          “ Did you think you were going to die?”

          “ I didn’t let myself think that,  I made a promise to God, that if I ever got out alive I’d never complain about anything in my life again because nothing could be worse than that day.” 

          “ You kept the promise didn’t you,” I asked. 

          “  Yes, I have.”

          “ And that’s why the war changed your life?”  

          “ That’s right, every day is a beautiful day after you’ve lived through a war, at least for me.”  

         BUNA  came into our conversations many times over the years. The things they did to survive is what he remembered; like brushing his teeth with black charcoal because it polished the teeth even though they made them black. They bathed in dirty streams, or in the puddles in the street made by the tires of the trucks. They had to relieve themselves in their pants because moving was dangerous.  They didn’t have modern medical supplies. When Maurice had cavities he was sent to the infirmary and the dentist told him to just grit his teeth, there was no Novocain. He got gum disease, leg rot, malaria, and he lost his sense of smell. 

      “But it was much worse for some of the men, so bad you can’t imagine.” He talked about the kinship amongst the troops, it was unlike anything he’d ever seen or experienced, all the guys looking out for each other. Buna was a strange place to be, I’d never heard of it before Maurice told us. After they took over Buna, one of the beaches, was named Maggot Beach, because so many dead  Japanese and American soldiers laid there, in the hundred-degree heat, and the flies got to them, and it was a terrible sight, it smelled so bad he remembered.  Maurice was sent to the hospital for two weeks, then he started working in the kitchen and got to be the first cook.

          2001. OUR CONTRY IS AT WAR AGAINST TERRORISM. Rudy and I wanted to know Maurice’s thoughts on the way it is now, and how he felt.  We sat in his living room watching the news and talking in those first few weeks after the attack on America. It seemed like Maurice couldn’t believe what had happened, I’d never seen him speechless. He didn’t know what to say for a long time.    

          “The ground troops are the only way to get this enemy. Now with these terrorists– we have a different war. I don’t know what our government will do but  they should give our troops overseas that die big funerals, news on the television and newspaper, that’s the right thing to do.  In WW11 they didn’t do that for any of us, they just wrapped the dead in a tarp, and dug a little hole in the ground. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of boys, all they got was a stick where you was. I think they got some of the dog tags mixed up, you didn’t know who was who. When you think about what we went through, and how close you were to each other, everybody was so close, and if someone was shot, you couldn’t stop and help them, you had to keep going.  The natives were so nice to us, so good to us, they picked up the wounded guys and carried them to the hospital, they wouldn’t do that for the Japanese. Now everything is on the television so you’re part of it.”  Maurice began to weep silently. I hugged him. Rudy interjected. 

            “What were the natives like?”

          ” Back then we called them headhunters. They didn’t wear any clothes at all, but after we got there some of them started wearing our clothes. They lived in bamboo huts, pretty neat to live in, Rudy, you would have liked those tents. Anyway, they had these powwows, they’d catch a monkey, and hang him up, build a fire under him, and cinch the hair, then sit down and eat the monkey raw, I saw a lot of that. You didn’t dare look at the women, they’d shoot you with an arrow, they had poisonous arrows, the women were so terribly dirty, but they seemed to be happy.  After we took Buna, they liked to shoot up the trees and show us how they got the coconuts, they were so fast. I guess some of them are still alive today, the jungle was so thick and full of mosquitos, a lot of them had malaria, they had no medicine, they ate herbs and things, to make them better. I’ll never forget them, they were so good to us, when they took me to the hospital they put me on a  stretcher one time, they were so careful, didn’t move me at all.

          “ You couldn’t speak at all to them?”

          “ No, they had their own language, I couldn’t understand it, no one did.”     

 Maurice went into the house and came back with a photograph of a female headhunter. It was strange to think of this person as a woman, she was so primitive. Rudy loved the photograph. Maurice gave it to him. t.  Rudy knew he would never see anything like it with his own eyes, so he cherished that picture and the story Maurice told us as if it was his own experience.    

           THEN THE LIGHT OF DAY TURNED FOGGY.  Maurice said it was time to go in because it was getting cold.  He told us how much he loved us that night, and what good friends we were. When Maurice talked of his experience in the war, it was like a chiropractic adjustment on my struggle, and I had renewed strength to just keep writing.

          It was the first time for Rudy to hear first hand about WW11 because his father had been stationed here making torpedoes. My father enlisted but they wouldn’t take him because he didn’t have citizenship. It bothered him too, he was the kind of man that would die for this country in a heartbeat.

           A year or so later, some woman came to know Maurice and asked about his experience in the war. She said she would write a book about it, and so he gave her the photographs and Life Magazine and waited to hear from her. She never came back, and Maurice was really shocked because she had seemed so sincere.

         I wanted to know more about his life after the war, but the time didn’t come until one night when Rudy and I got into a nasty fight. To be continued.

 

 

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HOPSCOTCHING THE TRUTH TWO


Three days later: The door is locked now, it will pop open now and then, in my interior rearview mirror. My secret can only be revealed after mounds of trust have been sifted and sealed. The former LouLou trusted, effortlessly, so the truth is I cannot behave that way anymore. Or can I?
It is the most destabilizing force of emotion to accept I trusted someone who betrayed our thirty-five year “Huckleberry Friend” song. I don’t know how anyone else adapts to this. I’m kinda staring out the window, like a cat staring at an unreachable mouse. When I’m in this mood I listen to Bobby Darin and Tony Bennett, I’m a bleeding nostalgic.  Photo Credit Philip Townsend. ” London in the Swinging Sixties.”

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME.


RELOCATION  isn’t just about the physical exertion of packing, and unpacking,  I’m learning this as I swirl onto the 10 Freeway in a cavernous flow of luxury automobiles headed west from downtown LA. Self-doubt is not an option driving the freeway, you have to be a lioness or a cougar, imagine me more like an indoor cat going outside for the first time.  On the 4th of July my transport from Santa Fe, NM to the city of Angels, ended in the late afternoon as I pulled up in front of a new place to call home.   Fireworks beginning, palm trees rippling, dogs barking, and sirens escalating, all a safe distance from my front door.  Noise in Santa Fe is Church Bells, bad-ass guys on motorcycles and an occasional siren. First step to ‘when in LA,’ block out the noise or turn up your head set-by the way everyone is strapped to a headphone. I noticed this phenomena on the few trips I’d made to LA while deciding if I should move back after twenty-five years.   20180704_140814(1)

As I entered the 1940s period bungalow for the first time all was very familiar. Thirty five years ago I lived in the same compound. Mine was across the common garden area, but the floor plan is the same with a built-in vanity, windows on every wall but one,  fireplace, and a small kitchen. It’s like a doll house, four-hundred square feet. The landlord  delivered a newness to it with  freshly painted walls, polished wood floors, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom. I set my luggage down, took a shower and bounced. 

 

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I headed for Westwood Village, where I spent years eight through thirteen.  I remember the Dog House, Mario’s, Fedway, Capezio, Bullocks and Desmonds where I worked one summer in Women’s Apparel. The best of all was Ships. My gang used to go there for breakfast in our pajamas to celebrate one of our birthdays. The Village is so close to  my defining history, why I ended up there and why I left. We lived on Hilgard in what was then called the The Hilgard House, a microcosm of modern living in a new hi-rise with a pool. It was like living with a family; unguarded neighbors that knew my name, a Fred McMurray type Building Manager, a few famous actress’s, and me, one of four or five blossoming teenagers.

I drove past the renovated building now condominiums renting for seventeen times what I expect my mother paid in 1962. The neighborhood hasn’t been gentrified! It is still  a quaint collection of Mediterranean and Mission style homes and four-flex’s.

I stopped in front of the second Hamburger Hamlet location, now Skylight.  It took about five minutes to decide I’m going to love this first experience in Los Angeles.  On the 4th the restaurant was empty, the room exposed and free of human camouflage. The brick walls remained, giving off some whiff of history and the rest of the room was finished in youthful coziness.  Coming from Santa Fe, a city of minor extravagances, the two mirrored lit up bars, stacked with more choices of liquor than what I know existed is my focal point.

” Hi, how you doing? Do you know what you’d like to drink?”

” Well looking at the selection, what do you suggest?”

” What do you like?”

” Wine, white wine by the glass.”

“That’s easy.”

They don’t have as many wines as they do Bourbons, so I ordered Sonoma Cutrer and a seafood pasta dish.

” I grew up here, right here in the village.”

“No way, that’s cool. I’ve met a few guests who lived here a long time ago and they tell me stories.”

” What happened to Westwood? Last time I was here, around the late nineties, it was really depreciated and unkept.  It looks better now, but not completed you know?”

” Yeah, Westwood went through some really hard times. We opened this a few years ago, and now more restaurants are coming in.”

” So you’re busy during the week?”

” Oh yeah, we get a lot of businessmen, and some students, you should come back and check it out”

” I will, it has an openness about it, room to move.”

I was the only customer until the staff’s friends showed up to have a party of their own. The high-kickers in mini shorts, and skimpy tops, they were cute, like cut-outs from a magazine.  I’d been on the road all day, and skipped the meals, so when the seafood pasta arrived, not only was the dish plentiful, it was deliciously fresh and spicy.

After dinner, I strolled along Westwood Boulevard, in a cube of surrealism, the homeless man hunched over his life remains in garbage bags, a Security Guard in front of an abandoned storefront, students striding along as their phones lead them,  What happened to Westwood? Why are the store displays bland and conventional, street art,  vendors and performers absent? The unmistakable sense of abandonment piqued my curiosity so I drove around the neighborhood, simmering in the memories of my gang.  What a utopian place to go through puberty; the College boys spilled out after classes and we waited to see them, on Saturdays we’d meet at the UCLA cafeteria and test our flirting finesse.  We spread out on skateboards along Weyburn and Westwood Boulevard flexing our budding egos and breasts. They are the flagship years of my life, maybe that’s why I came home, to flex my bruised ego and budding independence.

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When I laid my body down on a blanket, with fireworks as my backdrop, it was like a celebratory musical overture to a new beginning. The painfully hard wood floor slapped the idiocy of not bringing foam or a sleeping bag. I’ll buy a bed tomorrow and my furniture will arrive Friday. The first night faraway from my La Posada de Santa Fe Hotel family, friends, my old Discovery SUV, my house, my cat, and my best friend who initiated the change is not in my head! To be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RELOCATION


 

When I look beyond the quarry of my chains and rowing towards a redefined life my soul is nourished.

Santa Fe has star power and can shower your life with photographic moments on the half-hour. You are accepted and expected to be liberal, intelligent, and artistic.  Like any city, village, or town you have some culture to conform to, or else you won’t be taken seriously.  In Los Angeles, I learned you have to be able to put on cinematic charisma to get a conversation going with a stranger.  Here in Ballston Spa, invitations arrive with New York common sense, and some realistic hesitancy. It’s about pre-screening, they need to know you won’t mess up their life.

 My direction is following Lawrence Durrell, “Spirit of the Place,” and living where I would never expect to live.  I wish I could control my impractical, impulsive, and annoying spirit of adventure. I think about architecture, Jewish deli’s, Italian restaurants, at least five movie theaters built in the 1930s, and neighborhoods of unfamiliar lighting, expressions, and conversations. Gambling on yourself is how much you can adapt, change, influence, and accept the days of your life.

In my syndicate, there must be a dozen pals with the same unsolved equation. Is it age that blocks me and maybe you from relocation, or is it the trauma and stress? What liberation to just pack a suitcase and board a plane like in the movies. Separation from the familiar. Ask any soldier what it’s like to come home.