For one thing it wrought purty damned good health and vigor and confidence and success. Hard for me to sum up what I was up to and had been doing but the catchall, Multiple Media Guy, filled the bill. I circulated and yakked and took pictures. Jay Prather was a captain when I was a lieutenant and he asked me if I remembered the time I threw a phosporous grenade out the helicopter so I could take a picture of it exploding.
Jay Prather, Noel Keller, Jim Griffin
Jay was flying in the lead chopper and I was flying wing and when the grenade went off Jay thought we were under fire and he got very excited. He was not happy with me and when we got back to the base it was decided that I would fly as a co-pilot for two weeks. I told him I still have the picture. Here it is.
John Calvert and his wife, Jim Allen
Attention on deck! All hands report to the rewardroom for chow. C rations heated on the hot manifold of the chopper engine. Trade you a rice and noodle for a can of spam. Save the crackers and sliced peaches for dessert.
Actually it's Basque style. One dish at a time. With replenished bottles of wine. Bread and butter. Meanwhile each person gets up and introduces himself and tells what he's been doing all these years. Austin Bates related the story how he and his wife ran into a Vietnamese lady at the market and turned out she was the wife of Colonel Chieu, the Vietnamese province chief we worked with in Baxuyen when we were flying out of Soc Trang in the southern Mekong Delta.
Colonel Chieu and his wife live in Arizona now and they visited Austin Bates and his wife. Colonel Chieu's wife used to accompany Madame Nhu, whose husband was President Diem, on trips to outlying villages to try and convince the people to hang in with the Republic and not go for the Viet Cong overtures. We called Madame Nhu the dragon lady in homage to her beauty and regal bearing, giving her the nickname from Terry and the Pirates.
Austin was one of the pilots who flew her around and he said one time a 91 year old man spit in her face when she was walking through his village. Ironic, considering how some of our soldiers were spit on after they came home from Vietnam.
Soup, beans, stew, rice and clams and shrimp, salad, and by the time the steaks arrived I don't know how anyone could stuff any more into their mouths. Luckily I paced myself, remembering how in Vietnam when we were fed at the villages it was considered good manners to at least eat a bite of everything and my that dog was stringy. A skinny cur they grabbed off the street when we arrived.
But with a leetle beet of wine the meal went down fine, jes' fine. Bill McFall, old Texas Aggie tried to give me the longhorns behind my head but he wasn't counting on my shaggy mane. He did approve of my dapper duds, though, wanting to know where I bought my sharp threads. Always get them from my tailor, I told him, Saint Vincent his own self, and the beautiful thing is, if I spill wine all over me and wreck the clothes I can take them back in any town in the country, Vincent has his outlets everywhere.
I walked out to his car with Noel Keller, but it was a slow walk for Noel gimps around with a cane. Did twenty years as a pilot, retired, loved flying so much he took up gliders and became an instructor and had a student prang him in, messed him up bad, leg smashed, vertebrae crushed, no one thought he'd ever walk again. But 17 years later he's walking and, upon arriving at his van, he shows me his favorite locomotor: a three wheeled bicycle built for him by a guy in San Diego; seat, upright handlegrips with brakes, and the pedals down on the front wheel. He rides it everywhere, miles and miles, goes to bike rallies, while in Reno took the Truckee River trail. Makes me want to put a bike rack on my car and have it with me wherever I go.
One time Noel Keller called me up. He was one of the honchos at the helicopter base in Santa Ana California and he told me I'd be interested in this: He had replaced the electric clothes dryers on the base with solar powered dryers. I said that was great and asked him how he did that. Clothes pins and clothes lines he said, laughing. That was probably against some kind of Orange County ordinance but the military arm of the U.S. government can probably sidestep those nuisances.
I decide to hoof around the glitz a bit. Outside Circus Circus I spot two coins on the sidewalk which isn't a concrete gob of blob but granite stones worn smooth from millions of feet pounding the beat. My lucky day. I got my two cents worth. I slip the coppers into the slots of my penny loafers and with a sign of good fortune filling me from head to to, right down to the very sole, I go inside the casino. The usual tawdry and noise on the ground floor but upstairs is where the real action takes place. Packed with parents and kids and clots of teen-agers roaming the midway waiting for the show to take place in center ring where the trapeze is set up. A man and woman are stretching, loosening, getting ready for the gymnastic ballet balancing act they do, the woman contortioning into pretzel shapes while balancing bowls on her head and her feet while upsidedown standing on one hand on the hand held by the man slowly climbing up one side of a set of stairs and once on top, shifting her to his other hand, then back down, one careful foot at a time, each move by both of them deliberate and smooth without a tremor of a doubt. No cameras allowed in Circus Circus. You'll have to take my word for it.
Outside the cars roar past on Virginia Street, dragging the gut, each one blasting its own soundtrack, enough of a show people lean against the buildings and watch and listen. One block away the roar is shallow, the lights dimmer and the bed in the motel firmer.