Sunday, December 26, 2010

More from the archive…

Those Bastards © Solomon 2006

It’s Veteran’s Day. On this day, for many years, I always made a point of visiting my beautiful friend, George.

George never really came home from ‘Nam. I mean, he did come home in the most basic sense, but until the day he died in his comrade’s arms, he still had those night terrors and visions of running through the jungle and finding his foot in a snake pit as mortar rounds thumped and burned all around him.

He enlisted in the late-sixites to prove something to his dad. By the time he returned to upstate New York in the seventies, both his dad and mom were dead. So, he went way up to the real north country to run with a bunch of vets, all crazies on Harleys. They called themselves The River Rats. It took about a year for my friend to realize that he was not yet ready for any sort of society, even that among those criminals. He built himself a shack up on the mountain that looked down on Bell Hill, and became the Hermit of Ellenburg. The place was so cold that he burned through a dozen tin stoves in one winter. He’d burn one out and chuck it out back by the creek and go down to the general store for a replacement. He did quit his drinking and drugging, but he was alone aside from his mutts.

Well, after a spell, he came down from the mountain and that’s when we met. We became fast friends, and remained so for more than a decade. He seldom spoke of his experiences in the war or of the first couple of years thereafter. He did sometimes mutter about those dreams, but he clearly had no wish to delve into a past that he’d just as soon did not exist. He tried to move forward, and he did pretty well, once he got his balance back. He married, got a couple of good and longtime jobs. He put everything together with no help from the government.

No help from the government, indeed. At the age of fifty-two, he was driving home from work and started to feel a pain in his chest. He was having a hard time breathing. George figured that he was having a heart attack or something. He was having a heart attack. Fortunately, or so he thought, he was just a few hundred yards from the local VA hospital. He tossed his unfiltered Camel out the window, and rode up the hill in time to get to the front desk before he collapsed.

When he got to that desk, just before he did collapse, he was told that this institution was not an acute care facility. I was not there at the time, but I have done business at this site. I’m quite sure that at least one MD and several other health care professionals saw what was going on. Anyhow, after he hit the floor, the helpful front desk attendant called an ambulance, and George was taken on the ten minute ride to the nearest hospital that actually took care of people having heart attacks and such. There he stayed for a few days, until the VA decided that he was all okey-dokey, and should go home and stop costing them money.

Two days later, visiting his Army friend Bill, then suffering from terminal cancer perhaps related to Agent Orange (or it might have been the smokes, booze, heroin, or all of the above and much more), George started to gulp for air and seized his chest. He died in Bill’s arms within a few moments. In a sad sort of way, this was fitting. Neither Bill nor George liked to talk about their experiences in Viet Nam. They didn’t hang out with the sad sacks that would go on and on about the raw deal they got. In silence and with tears withheld, they just knew each other’s stories, and in silence and tears finally shed, George’s story ended in the embrace of one of the few folks he knew that really understood.

So, it’s Veteran’s Day, and I’m thinking of my beautiful friend. I miss him. I shall never know another of his like. I’m also very angry. There are generations upon generations of cold-gutted bastards that so have ill-used children in their wars, tossed human flesh with their careless hands upon the flames of their failures. The callous ministries and accountants that administer these abominations and their aftermath are as ancient as civilization. They will likely continue to thrive. Yet, today we must understand that George is gone, and cannot be replaced.

Hic Finis Est


When It Dawned on Me…


Still stumbling thru old files. It was on a day, half a decade after the the fundamental catastrophe, that I started on my present spiritual path. I'm a slow learner. For a long time, I moved with tremendous imprecision. Today I'm almost steady, but still searching. I used to call myself an atheist, a sort of Taoist… now, I'm informed that I am just a Ist. Yam whad'I'yam, as Popeye said, great biblical scholar that his cartoon creator was. A wise man, that Elzie Segar.

Whatever. It is well to remember all the courage and loss of that day, and keep it all safe in our hearts, to do the right thing.


9/11/01, My Cousin, My Brother © Solomon 2006

On 9/11, I was sitting in a meeting in a cozy executive office with a colleague. It was about 9:AM. There was a TV on with the sound off. Over my colleague's shoulder I saw the image of what appeared to be a small plane smash into one of the World Trade Center towers. We turned up the volume to hear the news, but I was interrupted by my cellphone. My Sister was calling from Boston. She said that she had driven our cousin to Logan to board that airplane. Lisa was dead, immolated and smashed, along with 93 other folks, including the hijackers. It was no small aircraft.

I excused myself from the meeting, missing the strike by the second hijacked plane on the South Tower. I moved like a robot. My brain and emotions were frozen. I got in the car and went home to watch the terrible news and let the reality unfold and soak into my marrow, allow it to stew, gestate, evolve. I thought of my many friends who worked in or around the towers as I saw them fall. My heart was crushed.

It was a few days later, when it was possible to communicate with Manhattan, that I learned of the adventure of my friend, Morley, on that miserable day. We had met in college and stayed in touch over now several decades. He is among my chosen Brothers, near as close as blood, quite close in spirit.

Morley is a bigwig at the World Bank. He then mainly worked in Seoul and London. A few days each year, however, he showed up at the NYC office in the WTC. There were about ten employees up on the 100th floor. They had a custom of picking business cards out of an old bowler hat, the kind that British bankers used to wear, and the “winner” got to go across the street to Building #7 to pick up coffee and bagels. On this terrible day, Morley was the lucky winner. All of his co-workers perished in the fire, steel, and ash.

As Morley crossed the street, he heard nothing as the blast of the tower’s entrails gushed from the lobby. It was truly a deafening roar. As he came to his senses, he did detect an strange odor. It was the aroma of hair and wool burning. It was his hair and his fancy suit that was afire. Next to him was the Lebanese fellow (!) who was dishing out bagels and lousy coffee a moment before the immolation. The counter was upended and lying against the shattered rear wall of the deli. The Lebanese guy had shards of glass in his bleeding face, but he was still moving. Morley heard a voice: “Get up! Come with me! Don’t look up and don’t look back!!!” Morley was grabbed by his collar and wrenched off the floor along with the counter guy. It was a cop or somebody in uniform. The back of this guy’s uniform was on fire, but he was on a mission. He saved at least two lives, whoever he was.

My chosen brother did not perish that day. He survived to endure his very poor hairstyle and put on a new suit for the funerals that came after 9/11. No evidence of my cousin’s disaster, other than the video and the airline’s manifest exists, today. Well, I suppose her ashes are buried on that site and some still waft on the wind ‘round the world. My heart is no longer shattered, but it aches at the hate that is in this world.

Hic Finis Est