“Sitting on a park bench,
“Eyeing idle girls with bad intent.
“Snot running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.” (Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”)
(Email from Aaron, 9/28/13)
Pretty cool huh? I can send you emails. they only cost me a quarter a piece. weve been playin the Wii lately. im really good at Wii bowling.
yesterday i bowled a 300. one time between the 300 game and another game i threw 22 consecutive strikes. i wonder what the record is. probably hundreds. i won a couple sodas for bowling the hi score. man was that diet coke good. its great when the carbonation burns the back of your throat when you drink it.
today when we went out for yard i ran a mile and did some pull ups. felt good. another fella here runs all the time so i ran along with him. it will be nice when i get some running shoes. i will be able to run further and faster and get a better cardio workout.
found a book with edgar allen poe stories. so ive been reading it. his short stories like the pit and the pendulum, the cask of amontillado, and the tell tale heart are pretty cool.
they have a big garden here out beside the yard. they’ve been feeding us lots of tomatoes and squash baked with brown sugar and its really good.
andrea wrote me and sent me some pictures to. she and her cats and her dog chaos are doing pretty good. she likes her job. i was really happy to hear from her. hopefully i will here from albert again soon to.
its kinda funny. lately ive been trying to draw some maniacal punk guy smashing a guitar in a comic style sequence. just gotta show the guitar smashing against the tree!
alright my session on the computer is up so i gotta send this.
take care love u bro
It was good talking to you the other day, hopefully you get transferred soon before sitting too much longer at Oakdale. For some reason, I always assumed Oakdale would be a slightly better situation than it has panned out to be, but I guess I was more ignorant in that regard than I wanted to assume.
I’m glad you getting some sunshine and regular outdoor time; shit, by the time you get this you’ll probably be nearly assigned and ready to be moving on.
So … it appears Oakdale has ended up being slightly better than I was anticipating in the previous paragraph. I always thought the mental health center (is that the right term?) was where you needed to be there … at least temporarily. You’ve got a complicated mind, and you need, perhaps, a little bit more help to figure out exactly what’s going on up there.
But wait, that sounds wrong. Except for the fact that I feel the same way myself sometimes … as if it would be nice to get some advice on how to manage all those seemingly abnormal thoughts that tend to roll around upstairs in my head …
Anyway, it was great seeing you last week – finally in person! And we could hug without Tazer threats! I was expecting you to call me this week, but I’m sure that will happen here in the next few days.
I want to visit you again within the next week or so … this time we should play a game of chess or whatever else is available. And I’ll get some cash on hand or whatever so we can actually use the vending machines. So until then, take care of yourself, and call me if you haven’t already done so by the time you receive this letter.
Also, here’s what I’ve written recently …
CHAPTER 4: BRIEF EXCURSION
Randy called Rose every chance he got, and always wished every phone call could last longer than it did. She wrote him about once a week, and sent him pictures of herself that he would hold close to his face when he was lounging in his bunk, longing for her and imagining how wonderful it would feel once they were together again. If no one was around, he would start to touch himself as he pictured her naked, moaning like she did when they fucked back home.
Afterward, he would savor every bite of the chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies she had sent.
He sent her back pictures of himself wearing his helmet, fatigues and boots and holding his M-16. He’d have Ray get a good shot of him with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, looking like a tough and rugged military man.
After their fourth week in basic training, they were allowed to take leave for the weekend. Randy joined Ray and a few other recruits, including two Hawaiian brothers from his barracks, on a weekend pass that their drill sergeant had okayed.
The bunch of them hopped on a bus that took them up scenic Puget Sound into Seattle, where they started off by chowing down some lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Randy’s fortune cookie informed him:
“Go sideways if bad luck awaits ahead.”
They went to check out the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, and Randy and Ray took pictures of each other wearing their khakis in front of all the tourist attractions. The Space Needle fascinated them as they walked toward it, but they decided not to take the official tour because it looked too crowded and the line was way too long.
Instead, they wandered around downtown Seattle, stopping at a couple dive-looking bars for cheap beers along the way, until deciding to book a room at an eight-story downtown hotel, where they all shared a single room to cut costs.
Randy was feeling a bit woozy as they shared one more round at the hotel bar, and could barely make sense of the story as one of the Hawaiian brothers talked about how he had seen some guy a couple doors down from their room who had a hooker with him.
He had to hold himself up against the hallway wall as the stumbled back to their room, the other guys joking about how much they should offer their neighbor for a chance with the callgirl. He managed to get his shirt off before passing out in the middle of the floor, and grinned stupidly as the other men’s cackling laughter echoed in the back of his head.
“Hey man, get your ass up,” Ray said, nudging Randy in the shoulder with his bare foot.
“Yeah, c’mon man, we got to get out of here in an hour,” said the shorter Hawaiian brother. “Plus we don’t want that pimp coming after us.”
“What the hell you talking about?” Randy asked as he sat up slowly, speaking through what felt like a sandbox, but what just his hungover mouth.
“We all went and fucked that hot-ass hooker last night man,” the Hawaiian said. “You fuckin’ missed out, bro.”
“It’s true,” said the taller Hawaiian.
Randy looked up at Ray. “Is this shit for real?”
Ray exhaled smoke out the window, turned to Randy and said, “I don’t fucking know, I puked in the toilet and fell asleep on the bathroom floor.”
Everyone roared in laughter as they arose from their hazy hangovers.
After leaving the hotel, they decided to explore downtown Seattle a little bit more. They wandered randomly for blocks, finally ending up in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s version of skid row, though none of them would’ve known it was called that.
The Hawaiian brothers wanted to check out an adult-novely, peep-show place replete with peeling paint and worn, torn semi-nude paper pictures of alluring young vixens adorning the outer doors. Randy and Ray briefly walked inside with the other guys, but once they saw the curtained booths and the strange setups involving binocular-outfitted pornography machines, they felt all weirded out and told the others they would be waiting outside.
After about 10 minutes, the other guys came out within seconds of each other, all looking slightly perplexed.
“So what was it like in there?” Ray asked.
“Oh shit, man,” the shorter Hawaiian brother said. “I started watching a sexy video in this booth, and then all of the sudden someone stuck their hand in through the curtain next to me and I fucking yelled ‘Get the hell out!'”
“Jesus Christ!” Randy said. “Whose hand was it?”
“I don’t know, but I wasn’t gonna wait around to find out.”
“Yeah, we all got the fuck outta there after that,” the taller Hawaiian said. After fumbling about a bit while either lighting up or finishing off their smokes, they all silently started moving on down the road.
The streets of Pioneer Square were adorned with castaway day-old newspapers, broken wine bottles, empty crumpled brown-paper bags and other fluttering bits of trash. Every open business place, jammed between those that were closed or boarded up, was either a cheap-looking bar or some store selling junk jewelry, and the stink of the inner-city pollution and car and factory exhaust made Randy realize how lucky he was not to have ever called this place home.
After wandering for a mile or more, they finally came across a decent little street-corner dive bar, where they bellied up to bar and ordered beers, Bloody Marys and burgers. Someone plugged a few coins into the jukebox, and Jethro Tull sang about some pathetic bloke sitting on a park bench as they finished up their food and ordered another round.
They decided to have more beers for dessert, since they had nothing else in mind really, except to get back to the base eventually by the end of the night. They kept plugging money into the jukebox, laughing about the night before and chatting with the other patrons who rolled in.
Some red-haired guy sitting at the end of the bar struck up a conversation with Randy and Ray. He seemed a bit older and was somewhat homely, with acne scars and a general lonely look to him, but as he told them a few dirty jokes they all had a few good, woozy laughs together.
One of the Hawaiian brother had puked in the corner after they all did shots of tequila, and those two and the other guys were huddled near a window, looking wiped out.
“Well, we gotta figure how to get our asses back to Fort Lewis soon, man,” Ray said.
“Shit,” Randy said, “this is going to be one long bus ride.”
Their new acquaintance piped up. “Let me take you guys … I’ve got a big car, we can fit four in the back. And I’m not doing anything else right now anyway.”
Randy and Ray looked at each other, slapped each other high fives, then slapped the red-haired guy a double high-five as James Brown sang about how he was a sex machine in the background.
“Fuck yeah!” Ray yelled. “Come on boys,” he shouted at the others, “we’ve got a free ride home!”
Once they were on the outskirts of Seattle, as the sun was setting and the city’s awakening night lights dimmed behind them, their excitement waned into more of a half-drunken group stupor.
Some disco-funk tune Randy had never heard before was noodling out of the speakers when he noticed that the Hawaiian brothers had passed out in the back seat. He was squeezed in the front seat between Ray and the driver, his head swaying back and forth listlessly as he listened to them talk excitedly about the burgeoning national disco scene.
“Well, I just gotta ask you boys something,” their driver said suddenly, cocking his head sideways. “What do you guys think about gay men – do you like them at all?”
Randy instantly tensed up and straightened himself up in his seat. “No! I mean, no, not really.” He cast a sideways glance at Ray. “We don’t really care for them much, I’d say.”
After a few moments of silence, Ray said “Why, are you gay or something?”
The shorter Hawaiian brother snuffled and snored loudly in the back.
“Actually … yes, I am,” the driver said. He stared straight ahead, his right arm locked onto the steering wheel. “I hope that doesn’t bother you guys too much.”
Ray kind of nudged Randy with his elbow real lightly, but other than that had turned and was staring out the window, offering no help whatsoever.
“Well,” Randy said, feeling about as awkward as he thought was possible. “We’ll get along with you just fine as long as you don’t try anything with us.”
“Sure, no problem,” the guy said, looking Randy in the eye. “You don’t need to worry, man.”
Randy helped with directions as they pulled into Fort Lewis, and their new strange friend drove as close to the barracks as he could. The drunk boys in the back seat mumbled their thanks as Randy, Ray and the driver helped them out of the car, and as they were all walking off Randy said … “and thanks for not touching us or anything.”
The guy rolled his eyebrows and smiled, then got into his car and drove away.
The following night, after slaving their asses off out in the field, Randy enjoyed a shower, his only solitary time of the day, and was drying himself off with a towel as he walked back to his bunk.
As he approached his area, he saw some dude who everyone called Red slinking away from his own bunkmate’s lower locker. He noticed some cash in Red’s hand, but ignored it, and collapsed into bed, exhausted.
When he woke up the next morning, he decided he needed to make things right, and he told Red’s bunkmate Joe what had happened.
Joe ruffled quickly through his belongings, and as Red walked back from the shower, he stood up, shoved him in the chest and yelled “Give me my money back you son-of-a-bitch!”
“What?” Red was perplexed, caught half-naked and vulnerable.
“You heard me!” Joe said. “Randy fucking saw you, man.”
“Fine … Jesus,” Red said. “I’m sorry, I was fucking broke.” He reached up into a bag in his bunk, flashed Randy a fast, nasty glance, and quickly handed Joe the cash.
“Won’t happen again man.”
There you go bro – hopefully I’ll be seeing you shortly after you read this, and talking to before then. Also, let me know if I’m resending any of the writing I’ve done … I’m keeping track but it’s a little hard keeping everything organized all the time. My brain can be a tad bit lacksadaisacal at times, you know.
I’m sending you a copy of that picture you drew with this letter, I’m hoping to visit you again here within a week. Until then, stay cool …
Hey bro – our last visit was really super, man. It was a lot of fun playing “Othello” with you. Thanks again for the soda and candy bar. Nothing like a little caffeine rush and sugar buzz to get you going while you have a conversation and whatnot.
I’ve read the last bit of the book that you sent a couple of times, and I’ve got to say “Wow! I love it bro!” This is the best part yet. You are writing in a way that makes me feel like I’m right there with Randy, Ray and the Hawaiian brothers on their weekend adventure. For a minute I thought I was reading some Steinbeck. It’s that good, or great.
It’s nice how you set the mood by describing their surroundings and background music. When I read “The streets were adorned with castaway day-old newspapers, broken wine bottles, empty crumpled brown-paper bags and other fluttering bits of trash” I can see the street and feel the wind and hear the bits of trash, and even imagine them swirling in the wind. Very cool, indeed.
And then the part about how “Jethro Tull sang about some pathetic bloke sitting on a park bench.” First of all, good use of the word “bloke,” I’ve never even heard that word before. And second, I like how you leave it to the reader to figure out the song’s name, which is of course Aqualung.
So yeah, I’m really looking forward to our next visit. We should play Othello again, or if Atticus is with you we can play Sorry! It’s all good. They bring new movies in here for us to watch. This last Saturday I got to watch Iron Man 3, which was cool. When I was in county jail I thought I’d never see it and my heart was broken. Now I feel like a new man.
That money is in my account now. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into handling my financial affairs. Altogether I’ve been very pleased.
Well, I’m going to sign out for now. I look forward to reading more of “The Book” when you can send it. Take care, I’ll see you soon.
My dear brother,
First of all, I just gotta say that it’s nice to be able to visit you regularly now. That game of Sorry we played about 12 hours ago (as I’m writing, probably several days by the time you receive this) was epic – down to the thinnest wire! It’s always a pleasure to see you in person, to look you in the face, to shake your hand and give you a couple of hugs. And the M&Ms aren’t bad either …
I’m happy that you seem to be maintaining so well … and it seems like your situation has been improving as best as possible. I’m just glad that you’re taking the necessary steps to keep yourself afloat, and not wallowing in misery and making anything worse. And thanks for your encouraging words regarding my new job, and your thoughts as to the changes that have affected my life recently – I always appreciate your insights. Not many other humans out there know me as well as you do.
Good to hear you gotta see Iron Man 3 – I’ve loved the whole series, Robert Downey Jr. (that spazz) is perfect in the role.
Well, apparently you’re inspiring me to write more than I think I am these days … I’ve spit out a couple more pages, so here they are … (once again, let me know if I’m ever resending anything).
After lunch the next day, the first thing Randy noticed back at his bunk was the cheese spread splayed over his top blanket.
Red, sitting several feet away, grinned and chuckled as he looked toward a window.
Randy, charged on the angry blood that suddenly filled his veins, hopped down from his bunk and stood in front of Red.
“You want to fuckin’ fight or something, man?”
Red stood up and looked him back in the eyes. “I didn’t think squealers liked to fight.”
A few other recruits who had been watching the developing scene stepped in just as the two started grappling, breaking them up before anything more than a few bumps on the bunkbeds’ metal frames could happen.
Red had no problem with Randy after that; the brief blowoff of steam had settled whatever it was that had been brewed up. The close quarters had that effect on the recruits in general. They rapidly became friends, or sometimes enemies, and the situation could be reversed on any given day, but they all had to get along in the end or suffer the consequences. It didn’t exactly help that their intense physical training kept everyone’s tempers short.
Later that week, the recruits were issued their gas masks. They were taught how to keep the filters clean and how to keep the mask sealed tightly to their faces, so they would be able to breathe in case they were attacked with chemical weapons during warfare.
As part of their final lesson, the sergeant marched them to a building called “the gas chamber.” From outside, it looked like a regular warehouse, a place where a decent lunch might be served inside, or where ammo or food might be stored.
“Line up and get inside!” The sergeant yelled. Once everyone had marched in, he slammed the door behind them. “You got two minutes to get your goddamn masks on. Do it!”
True to its name, the building started to fill with gas. Everything seemed blurry as Randy rushed to secure his mask, and his eyes started to burn and fill with tears as tightened it to his face. He figured he must have done something wrong because he was already coughing and choking, struggling to get a clean, full breath of air.
“Get your asses out the side door, you dumb-fucks!” someone yelled. Randy thought it was the sergeant, but he couldn’t tell who the hell anyone was or what the hell was going on. He heard everyone around him coughing and gagging as he stumbled his way toward the dim but promising light of the door.
By the time he shoved himself out the door amidst a mass of fellow slobbering saps, the inside of his mask was slathered in snot and saliva. But he barely noticed as he ripped it off and instantly focused on sucking in every bit of the crisp, beautiful air floating immediately outside the ghastly chamber.
“I’m breathing again,” he thought, “Thank you God!” He repeated the phrase in his mind a few times, averting his eyes away from the poor bastards who hadn’t paid enough attention in training and were now gagging and vomiting. A few of the men were actually sobbing, tears streaming from their eyes, as they finally managed to slow the agonizing wrenches wracking their bodies. Misery followed them in a cloud of lingering gas stench as they stumbled back to the barracks.
That same week, the recruits had the pleasure of learning how to crawl through mud underneath barbed-wire fences while carrying their M-16s. And the guns had to remain free of sand or dirt, otherwise they were forced to clean their gun and go through the course again. Randy managed to make it through the first time, unlike a few of his unlucky comrades.
As sort of a grand finale to their grueling week, the sergeant commanded the men to report to grenade training. He acted as if he were offering them the opportunity of a lifetime as he issued the command, not quite showing them that he was proud by any means, but letting them know they had accomplished something that made them worthy of not being called “dogs” for the moment, at least.
Randy was sort of scared about the whole grenade concept. Being in the vicinity of bits of red-hot shrapnel flying around at deadly speeds didn’t exactly sound like fun.
Once they were lined up, the drill sergeant ordered Randy and a couple other recruits to get down into the small, open-faced dugout in front of them.
“Look at me!” the sergeant barked. They all looked up at him, scared enough to act like obedient puppies. “The object of this lesson is to throw your grenade into one of those two barrels.” He pointed at a couple barrels sitting about 35 feet away. “And throw them before they blow you and your fellow soldiers to high hell, for God’s sake!”
Randy watched, crouched, and covered his ears as the two others pulled their grenade pins and tossed them toward the barrels, getting close but not quite inside. The blasts seemed loud, but the dugout absorbed the impact as they crouched down inside it.
“Private Harris!” Randy looked up, and the sergeant was staring him in the eyes. “I’m going to hand you a grenade. Hold the handle closed tight, then pull the pin and throw it when I tell you. Understand!?!”
“Yes sir!” Deadly fear, tinged by a strange sort of excitement, coursed through Randy’s blood as the sergeant handed him the grenade. He felt almost giddy for a second and had to squelch an odd urge to laugh. He froze for a second as the sergeant told him to pull the pin, then ripped it out and waited for the command to throw it.
He realized later on that he should have thrown it right then, rather than wait for another nonexistent command.
“THROW THAT GODDAMNED THING!!!” the sergeant screamed down at him, and Randy immediately threw it as hard as he could. The grenade blew up farther away from the barrels than all the others, but Randy didn’t give a shit because he was just relieved that the lesson was finally over.
CHAPTER 5: BRUTAL TRIGGER
“Oh that’s right, Private Pyle, don’t make any fucking effort to get to the top of the fucking obstacle. If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now, wouldn’t he?” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket,” 1987.
By the halfway point of their basic training, the recruits had learned to march in step almost perfectly. With less than six weeks left to go, Randy felt like everything seemed to be coming together seemlessly. The graded tests he would need to pass for graduation would be coming up soon.
One day, during one of their indoor lessons, the sergeant picked Randy out from among a seated sea of fellow recruits during a camouflage exercise. A pair of privates rapidly painted his face, holding up a mirror so he could watch as his features became grey- and charcoal-colored.
The sergeant guided him to the front of the small stage and pointed toward his face. “This is what you will look like when you’re hiding in the jungles of Vietnam! And you better learn to hide, or you might not make it back!”
Randy noticed a few of the guys from his barracks sitting together on a bench, looking a bit bored. The sergeant’s voice drifted off, and he realized his face was just as dark as all the black recruits sitting out in the crowd, then had to stifle a giggle as he suddenly thought of himself as Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer.”
A manic feeling bubbled up from within his gut, and he tried to stifle the laughter that was trying to rumble up from his stomach as he looked out over all the recruits’ faces.
The sergeant paused and looked over at him, and Randy felt like he had been put on the spot.
“Mammmmy!” he belted out in a singsong and seemingly comical voice, raising his arms and smiling broadly in his best impression of Jolson in one of his old minstrel acts.
His barrack-mates had noticed it was him by now, and burst out in laughter along with a bunch of other recruits.
The sergeant looked less than impressed. “OK private, that’s enough, step on down now.”
So there we go … I’m really starting to enjoy writing this all out. It’s a challenge, but an interesting one, and seriously, all your input and insights are helping me along the way. It may actually be up to you to continue prodding me until we get this whole thing written out.
And yes, traumatic experiences lie ahead in this story. But as I rewrite this, I can just put myself outside of it all, and view it as a semi-factual account of what happened, without taking any of it personally, as I’m sure you can too. A true story indeed, but one which includes details that I attempt to re-create by imagining what it must have been like for dad during these intense times of his life.
I love you Aaron – Brittany says “Hi!” and I’ll talk to Atticus about coming along with me next time. I think you’ll be impressed by his Sorry capabilities … and I think you’re the perfect person to introduce him to Othello, which he’s never played. I’ll (hopefully we’ll) be visiting you again within the next couple weeks.