Figment of Reality

This short story/essay is an existential scream from deep in my soul. I’ve been trying to birth this “muddle of memory and metaphor” for many, many years. The photo, by an anonymous VQ-1 airman, shows flares, Cobra gunships, and assorted noise looking west from my barracks at Da Nang Air Base. It was nights like these that inspired this story. We had a lot of them in April and May of 1970.

Although this story is informed by reality, including a reference to the death of a Viet Cong sapper under the wings of one of VQ-1’s EA-3B Super Constellations, keep in mind that this story is more poetry than fact. Anyway, when I wrote this, I imagined it to be about an Air Force unit flying Caribous, not a Navy squadron.

“It had to be OK because Figment of Reality imagined these tales of fear and death again and again. Of armed teenagers angry, afraid, and unable to understand. Of more nights of rockets, mortars, machine guns, and terror. Of running to warn my comrades who work on warplanes in the black night. Of flares creating shadows dancing macabre under olive drab wings.”

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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.”

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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.”

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The Bet

An amusing memoir from my high school years. Those who know me as a citified video animator, 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.

“A single paltry dime was our standard wager for every outlandish thing we bet on in an attempt to relieve the boredom. We were young, broke, and hungry for diversion. I’m not kidding. We gambled on games of pick-up sticks.”

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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.

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The Power of Hug

I wrote this essay/memoir in mid-2019 as a reaction to the shaming and derision Joe Biden was receiving for caring enough about people to love them; to hug them. The photo of my father was taken by an unnamed friend of his in Sasebo, Japan, 1945.

“My father chose to be a hugger, but behavioral norms change. Today, our culture is flirting with the idea that people who hug others, regardless of intent, should suffer societal censure. While there are justifications for this, I sense a net loss for humanity.”

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Path of the Painter

I’ve been writing a lot of memoirs. They seem to require an economy of writing that doesn’t interfere with the story. As a mild rebellion, I wanted to let loose with description. The result is this short fiction about the contradictory soup of friendship, love, and the imperative of ambition among and within those who must create art. Image from photo by Katarzyna Gonsior on Unsplash.com

“Astrid seemed too pretty, too gentle, too in touch with her feelings to be the paramour of the Painter. I knew that part of me and saw this immediately. But oh, how I was smitten by this precious gift. I promised the Painter that I would not become lost in a trackless wilderness. This time.”

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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.

“Welcome back,” I said.

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

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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.”

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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 was taken of me nearby in the Fall of 1969.

“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.”

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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.”

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Satin Jacket

This is an anecdotal memoir about the sex lives of techies in the film and video business in the 1980s. Well, kinda. The photo at left is of the logo on the back of my satin jacket.

“I was short, losing my hair, and sported a large Seventies mustache. But with this jacket, suddenly I was a thing.”

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