Thursday, December 16, 2010

I was really good at being angry.

I set aside my earlier efforts at writing a longer Shadow story because I just wasn't getting anywhere with plot development. The level of coherence you need to tell a novel-length story just wasn't happening, and I hoped that when things slowed down over the winter I'd be able to string better thoughts together. And at last, some plot elements are beginning to peek out from my subconscious and wave at me timidly.

But the earlier efforts just took the form of essays, giving depth to the backstory of Shadow, the main character. Shadow is a half-mad desert hermit, and his earlier life ... looks a lot like mine. So the essays are basically meditations on things that happened to me when I was much younger.

This is one of the milder ones.

I Was Really Good at Being Angry

Sometimes it seems like it's all about Viet Nam.

No, I've never been to Viet Nam. I don't actually even know many people who've been there, though I notice that as years pass the number of people claiming to seems to be on the rise. Funny, that. I was around during the war, and back then even the guys who'd been there would deny it. Now the lies go the other way. Everybody has forgotten what a horror show that war was, and how useless. Everybody, I suspect, except the ones who really were there.

But anyway – Viet Nam. See, in the late sixties and early seventies there was this war, and nobody seemed to know why there was this war, or even exactly where it was. Commie-haters would go on and on about why Viet Nam was so important. All I knew was that it was vital not to get into conversations with those people, because hitting them was wrong and sometimes punishable by law.

See, the only really important thing about Viet Nam was that there was still a military draft. So while it was possible and even encouraged to enlist in the army, it wasn't necessary for you to enlist in order to end up in Viet Nam. All you really needed was bad grades in school and no pull. I met both criteria brilliantly.

My older brother joined the Navy. But then my brother was a genius, as he must have told me a thousand times. A real technical nerd. He loved radios. The recruiter promised him that the Navy had lots and lots of radios, and that he'd have no trouble learning things about radios he'd never even be allowed to talk about. And navy guys mostly didn't go to Viet Nam. Well, it turned out a lot of navy fliers did, and all too many stayed there forever. But tech nerds? Not so much. So it sounded good to him for that reason, too. But mostly it was the radios.

My brother's problem was that it turned out he actually was a genius. In another family he'd have ended up in Princeton or something. But Navy geniuses don't get to play with radios. They sent him to a school where he learned how to operate nuclear reactors, and then they put him in a submarine that didn't come up for three months at a time. At that point my brother set his genius to developing strategies for getting the hell out of the Navy. The recruiter did get one thing right, though – he wasn't allowed to talk about it afterward.

Me? Not so genius. My grades were in the toilet. Nobody in my family had ever been to college or ever seemed likely to. Certainly I wasn't going to.

I thought about it for a long time. This was the problem – I was going to be drafted, and when I got drafted I was going to go to this place called Viet Nam, which I wasn't even sure where Viet Nam was and certainly wasn't mad at anybody there. But when they sent me, I'd go. And when people there tried to kill me, I'd try to kill them right back. I knew this.

I knew it because, even though I was afraid of little brown guys with black pajamas and outlandish rifles, I was even more afraid of my own government. So when they sent me there, I wouldn't run off to Canada or pretend to be queer, or anything like that. I'd just go. Because I was afraid not to.

I thought about that, as I said, for a long time. The more I thought about it, the more angry I got. I got really angry. Back in those days, I was good at being angry. But it didn't help at all.

Finally I did something proactive. I learned how to type. I actually took two classes in typing: guys were allowed to, but in both classes I was the only guy there. Speaking of being queer – I got called that a lot during that period. But I figured, how many guys know how to type? You don't hear about the ones who can, getting shot at very much. There was another reason, of course. I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway when I grew up and my longhand sucked. But mostly it was Viet Nam.

The typing thing didn't keep me out of the war. That was something else. But later, the typing thing helped a hell of a lot. Hey, how many guys know how to type?

You ever notice how, now, everybody knows how to type? Heh.

It's kind of ironic, if you hold it in just the right light. As much as any other single thing, my future career was determined by the fact that I was afraid not to go to Viet Nam.


MamaLiberty said...

Ok guy, the hook is set.

There had better be more worms on this line...


Love, MamaLiberty

Joe in Reno said...

Seems to me most novels are really just linked and edited essays. Sometimes the not particularly linear ones are really good. For instance Zenna Henderson's "The People".