Figment of Reality

I guess everyone needs to express their existential unease at least once. This is mine, and it’s been in process for over 16 years now. I think I knew what I wanted to say, but it took a long time for me to learn to say it. Also, this quick note: although I had a few very real, very vivid scenes to start with, this story is just that, a story. 

The photo, by an anonymous VQ-1 airman looking west from the barracks next to mine at Da Nang Air Base, shows an illumination shell (center), flares shot by individual Marines, a Cobra gunship in action (far left), and a diving F-100 Super Sabre (Upper right: I saw orange-flamed Sabres fire blue-flamed rockets around that mountain pass many times.) It was nights like these that inspired this story. There were many of them in late April and early May of 1970.

“Like a soft winter wheat carpeting my inner prairie of history and belief, Figment Of Reality became part of all I knew. A tectonic animator of perception, it grew to enable my need to challenge the steep topography hidden in the human terrain. And on those hazardous slopes, I encountered reasons enough to write about the arbitrary nature of existence, the catastrophe that is war, and, since I brought it up, wheat.”

Read More »

Come The Revolution

Published in the 2018 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology. This memoir is about my first few days in a Navy squadron and the changes I went through after meeting my militant first roommate. The photo of me was taken near my barracks at NAS Atsugi in the Fall of 1969 using my camera. I don’t remember which one of my new friends snapped the picture.

“Hill spoke: “Smitty, come the revolution, you’re gonna have to go up against the wall.”

I looked at him askance before inspecting an empty locker. “Well, you wake up cheery,” I said.”

Read More »

Noms de Guerre

Published in the 2019 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology. This memoir is all about transit; from civilian to sailor, from teenager to man, and from voiceless cog to celebrant of attainable freedom. Photograph of the USS Sanctuary off the coast of Da Nang, 1969, by William P Jones, MD.

“One thing I knew: Ferguson was on to something. All of us lined up at morning muster had signed away our lives. No exaggeration. The Navy now owned us physically, and even mentally.”

Read More »

In the Grip of Something Larger

I like birds and birding. My wife and I maintain a lot of feeders in the back yard which allows us to observe each species’ different ways. We are also able to develop relationships with family units that make our yard their home. This is important to me. I have always felt a deep but respectful connection with creatures in the wild. In this short story, I experiment with magical realism via a small gray bird.

The photograph is of a Brown Shrike. It was taken by Dr. Callyn Yorke at the Son Tran Mountain wildlife preserve on a rainy day in Da Nang, 2017. (http://avconline.avc.edu/cyorke/Vietnam2017.html)

“Taking a sip of coffee, my gaze lands on a bird feeder hanging in the shadows of a cedar tree. A chickadee swoops in, grabs a sunflower seed, and hustles back into the foliage. There’s no telling how often I have seen that little ritual, but this time it brings a blurry, long-ago memory into focus.”

Read More »

The Most Amazing Thing I Have Ever Seen

I have described this scene to dozens of people over the last 50 years. No pictures of it. My pocket-sized Minox camera used 8mm film. It would not have done this scene justice even if I could have found the presence of mind to go get it. Hopefully, this memoir will remind us how nature can surprise with not only awe-inspiring beauty and majesty but take us somewhere beyond as well.

The photo is by James Smeaton via Pexels.com. (https://www.pexels.com/photo/awe-beautiful-eyes-beautiful-girl-big-eyes-2709127/)

” “Look at this,” I say, trying to speak loudly enough for the entire shop to hear. What comes out is a reverent whisper.”

Read More »

Duck Power

This memoir is about my stunted attempts at political activism while in the service. The drawing is my version of the G.I.’s Against Fascism logo.

“A lot of history went down between my enlisting in the Navy Air Reserve in March of 1968 and arriving in San Diego in September of 1969 to find out where on Earth I would be stationed.”

Read More »

Convolutions of Fate

In this memoir, I recount the somewhat crazy end of my tour of active duty in the Navy. I hope it also conveys the conflicted emotions that often accompany personal gains and losses. The photo at left was taken by my friend, Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class Doug Honspberger, as we were going ashore at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

“Knowing how capricious and potentially ponderous military justice could be, I began to succumb to the cold weight of helplessness. Then the memory of a funny, system-defying friend forced its way to the forefront of my consciousness. While having a muted chuckle about his antics, I remembered who I was and what I had learned about how the military works.”

Read More »

Solemn Mysteries

Published in the 2019 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology. This memoir is about fulfilling the trust a broken veteran put in me, and how I needed to trust someone as well. The photo is of a certificate I received after undergoing the Order of Neptune ritual while crossing the equator between Singapore and the Sunda Strait aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14).

“Welcome back,” I said.

His eyes reddened, and he gave me a strained smile. “Thanks, I guess.”

Read More »

The Giddy Elation of a Close Call

This memoir focuses on the feeling of close calls in a combat zone. They were relatively rare, as I was in a situation where I did not go looking for trouble; I just waited for it to come to me. And it did. However, I was in no way a combat soldier and did not live the constant terror of being hung out to dry while being in the field. Compassion and respect for those that did. The photo at the left is the scene looking west from my barracks at Da Nang Air Base. Rockets came at us from the nearby hills. Photo by Scooter Smith.

Read More »

Dime Bet

An amusing memoir from my high school years. Those who know me as a citified new media artist, or more recently as a soft, old, bald guy may not recognize the Scooter revealed here. And yet, sometimes the improbable is true. To keep the story moving, I had to trim a few anecdotes and some fascinating history about the families mentioned in the story who settled this area. Maybe later. The photo of the dime comes courtesy NCG Coin Explorer. The Yampa valley photo in the background courtesy The Unknown Real Estate Agent of Maybell, Colorado. Compositing by yours truly.

“Dave stood still as a tombstone in the middle of Moffat County 10, a graded dirt road traversing far northwestern Colorado north of the Yampa River. At fifty or so yards away, the weirdness of his body language didn’t immediately register. So for a couple of seconds, I remained immersed in the smell of sagebrush and sun-baked, cream-colored clay while searching the roadside skirting the broad, high desert valley.”

Read More »

Beginnings: An Impression of a Julie Beth Wileman Painting

This essay/memoir is about the memories my sister’s painting evoked. To see “Beginnings” and more of her work, visit https://www.juliewileman.com/

Many of the works are for sale, and she takes commissions.

“One of my comrades says something about how times like this make our efforts and separation from loved ones worth it. Transfixed, I can only nod in agreement.”

Read More »

The Nadir of the Thin Man

This memoir is about when I helped ensure that a man was able to maintain his dignity in a time of crisis and how it unexpectedly enriched my life. Some names and locations have been changed to shield an identity. The image at left is a poster for The Thin Man from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

‘”Were you a friend of Rick Hansen on Bell Street?” he asked.

“Still am,” I replied.

“I thought I recognized you.” He paused. “You ever . . . ?”

He let the question hang. In that lull, I recalled who he was.”

Read More »

Hog Wild and Dotty

This memoir relates a few experiences with wild pigs and one very close call. My photo is of our dogs, Dotty (left) and Mabel, waiting to go, just go please, in our utility vehicle. Mabel is cute and shy, but Dotty wielded an outsized personality that shone as fearlessness and an endearing elan. At the end of the story you’ll find two links to segments that further illustrate some of its elements.

“Along the way, I began to notice a lot of fresh pig tracks of various sizes and caught the smell of their feces. Unlike other animals, hogs defecate where they sleep. So, clues like that usually meant a sounder, numbering anywhere from a handful to many dozens of swine, camped here for a day before continuing to forage after sundown.

Then we came upon a fresh pile of scat. Somehow, I made it fit the narrative in my head: they were here last night, not now.”

Read More »

Stand To Your Glasses

We just passed Vietnam Veterans Day last week (March 29, 2022), placed perversely on the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. This falling in the midst of another terrible war, this time in Ukraine, wraps my heart in melancholy. Tonight, I take a drink to honor fallen friends and to mourn all the combatants and non-combatants caught up in the latest maelstrom.

Then, in a movie on Turner Classic Movies, I hear the song sometimes called “Stand To Your Glasses.”

The photo, by an unknown squadron mate with my camera, is of three VRC-50 “Foo Dogs” drinking, 1969: from top to bottom, Airmen Beeman, Gleason and Smith. We always had reason, I guess. See Come the Revolution below.

Read More »