Letter From Milo: Scared Shitless

February 19th, 2018

A while ago, I went to the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital to see my physician, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, and hit him up for some new meds, preferably industrial-strength opiates. Dr. Frankie is a notoriously easy touch when it comes to handing out pain-killers. But just to be on the safe side, I Googled some exotic diseases and their symptoms to help make my case.

When I walked into Dr. Frankie’s office, he said, “Dude, we’ve got to make it quick. I’m meeting a nurse from ER for a nooner at the Diplomat Motel and I don’t want to keep her waiting. How are you feeling?”

“Not too good. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a case of Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia and I need something for the pain.”

“No problem. I’ll prescribe some shit that’ll make you feel real good. Hey, you’re a smoker aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“How long have you been smoking?”

“I started when I was three, about the same time I started drinking.”

“It’s time you had a chest X-ray. I’ll set it up.”

Two days later, as I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, I got a call from Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “I’ve got your X-ray in front of me and it looks like you’ve got a spot on the lower right lobe of your lung.”

“Ah, fuck!”

“I’m going to order a CAT scan so we can get a better look.”

“Doc, should I be worried?”

“If it was me, I’d be shaking in my boots and crying for my mama.”

I’m not the kind of guy that rattles easily. Anyone that reads my blogs knows that I’m a badass, tougher than concrete, meaner than a snake, as fearless as an Acapulco cliff diver. I’ve stared death in the face more often than a mortician. I’ve survived growing up on the mean streets of Gary, Indiana, a war in Southeast Asia, 30 years of marriage, the Bush administration, and a career in the advertising business.

That said, the possibility that I might have lung cancer scared the shit out of me.

After giving it some thought, I decided to keep the information to myself. I didn’t tell anyone, not even the lovely Mrs. Milo. I figured the situation would upset her worse than it upset me. I knew she’d be angry with me for not telling her, but I didn’t want my wife to worry until I knew that there was definitely something to worry about.

I had to wait three weeks for the CAT scan and, trust me, it was a very long three weeks. Everything slowed down. The days dragged by. I felt like I had a ball and chain attached to my leg. My thinking was scattered and murky. The words biopsy, major surgery, chemotherapy, and painful lingering death were never far from my mind.

My wife sensed there was a problem. Every few days she’d give me an odd look and ask, “Milo, are you okay?”

“Sure, babe, I’m fine. Everything’s peachy. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you’re acting weird. I’ve seen you staring off into space and muttering to yourself. Plus, you’re drinking more than usual.”

“Heh, heh, you’re probably just imagining things.”

There were a dozen other miserable-looking fuckers hanging around in the waiting room of the Radiology Department when I arrived for my CAT scan. And all of us were there for the same reason. Doctors had found something in our bodies that required further investigation. We were all hoping for the best.

Later that day, a few hours after the CAT scan, I was in my back yard, enjoying a cigarette with my afternoon whiskey, when the phone rang. It was Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “it was a false alarm. Other than a touch of emphysema, your lungs are clear.”

“Doc, that’s great news.”

“Well, I’ve got to call a couple of other guys who won’t be as happy to hear from me.”

That night, at supper, I told my wife the story. As I suspected, she didn’t take it well. “Oh, you’re such an asshole! I’m your wife! We’re partners! How could you keep that from me for three weeks?”

“Honey, it wasn’t easy.”

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Letter From Milo: Fortunate Son

February 12th, 2018

We had a 2nd Lieutenant, let’s call him Lt. Smith, who served as my platoon leader for several months. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, considerate of his men, easy to talk to and not too eager to cover himself in glory. He was an educated man, with a degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Lt. Smith was madly in love with his college girlfriend. Whenever I talked to him the discussion would invariably turn to the love of his life. He carried a photo album of her and would whip it out at the slightest sign of interest. The photos depicted an attractive young woman in a variety of settings, on campus, at the beach, on the ski slopes.

“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Lt. Smith would always ask me, after showing me her latest pictures.

“Yeah, she’s a real looker.”

“We’re going to get married when I get back to the world.”

“That’s great, sir.”

“We were going to get married before I came in-country, but I thought it best we wait, just in case.”

“That’s real sound thinking, sir.”

One day Lt. Smith got a letter from his beloved, which mentioned that she and a few girlfriends were going to spend the weekend in upstate New York attending an outdoor music festival. As it turned out, the festival was Woodstock.

Just to remind those of you whose memories are shot, whose brain cells are fried, or who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Woodstock was the blow-out party of the 20th Century. It was a life-changing event for many people, changing their attitudes, redefining their reasons for existence and altering the trajectory of their lives. Lt. Smith’s girlfriend was one of the people who went to Woodstock and never looked back. Lt. Smith, who used to get a letter from his girlfriend every other day, never heard from her again, at least while he was in Vietnam. I’ve never seen a sadder man.

Incident #2

Packages from home were always a welcome treat. We called them “Care Packages” and they usually came from parents, grandparents, wives or girlfriends. The packages contained everything from homemade cookies to bottles of whiskey, porn magazines to editions of hometown newspapers. My father once sent me a wicked-looking Buck knife with a fine leather sheath. I lost it a couple of months after it arrived.

There was a guy – let’s call him Freaky Joe – who received a package from his girlfriend that contained a set of Day-Glo paints, which were very popular in the 60s. The paints glowed in the dark and were used for decorating t-shirts, making posters and face painting. I knew a guy in college who liked to get stoned, use Day-Glo paint to paint his teeth different colors and then go out at night and smile at people.

Freaky Joe spent one afternoon smoking reefer and painting a Claymore mine with his newly-arrived paint set. A Claymore mine is a plastic shell filled with C-4 explosives and packed with hundreds of BBs or ball bearings. It was attached to a long cord that had a manually activated detonating device at its terminus. When the device was set off, the Claymore exploded with devastating power, shredding everything in its range.

Freaky Joe was sitting with a goofy smile on his face, a Claymore in his lap, painting stars, half moons, polka dots and stick figures all over the mine’s outer shell. When asked what he was doing, Freaky Joe replied, “Just fucking around.”

That night Freaky Joe’s squad went out on night ambush. This was an exercise where a squad of eight men went out in the evening and set up an ambush along a well-traveled trail. Anybody who came walking by was in trouble. To be fair, the other side did the same thing.

Freaky Joe had his own idea of how to run a night ambush. He hung the painted Claymore mine in a tree, about head high. Then he went off about 40 yards, found a good place to hide, and waited for some poor soul to come by.

A while later, a lone Vietnamese came strolling along. He might have been an NVA regular, a Viet Cong, or just a luckless farmer. The man saw something odd hanging in a tree, something unexplainable. It was a group of stars, half moons, stripes and stick figures, all twinkling and glowing in the dark. His curiosity obviously piqued, the man walked up to the glowing vision and pressed his face close to see what it was. At that point Freaky Joe activated the Claymore and blew the man’s head off.

The boys got a good laugh out of that one.

Incident #3

Every couple of months my company would be taken out of the field and sent back to Division Headquarters in Chu Lai for three days of rest and relaxation that was known as “standdown.” There was plenty of relaxation but very little rest. It was basically a three-day beer bust, with lots of reefer and opium to grease the skids.

One of the best things about standdown was that Division HQ provided live entertainment, in the form of rock, country or R&B bands. The bands were generally from Australia, South Korea or the Philippines. I don’t remember if they were any good, but they were always fronted by attractive female singers.

One of the rumors going around was that these singers also doubled as whores. We had just finished watching a performance by an Australian group that featured three very good looking singers. They played mostly Motown stuff and did a credible imitation of the Supremes. When the show was over, I huddled with a guy named Duffy and a 2nd Lieutenant, whom I’ll call Bruce Diksas to spare him any undue embarrassment. We decided to take a shot at the the Aussie Supremes.

Lt. Diksas, being an officer and a gentleman, was able to commandeer the company jeep. Then he, Duffy and I went in search of the women.

“Oh, man, round-eyed women.”

“Yeah, and two of them are blondes.”

“Shit, man, I haven’t seen a blonde in eight months.”

“Did you bring the weed?”

“Brought a bottle, too.”

“Oh, man, this is gonna be great.”

“Fucking blondes, can you believe it?”

We finally located the entertainers’ compound. It was a heavily guarded area of Airstream trailers enclosed by barbed wire. The only reason we were able to get inside was that Lt. Diksas pulled rank, telling the MP at the gate that we were searching for an AWOL and had information that he might be in the area.

When we located the Aussie Supremes’ manager, a greasy looking guy who resembled a debauched Oliver Reed, we made our offer.

“We’ll give you a hundred and fifty dollars each for the three girls for the night.”

The manager lit a cigarette – I remember it was a Salem – and considered our offer. He pursed his lips, rocked his head from side to side, squinted his eyes, and then finally broke our hearts.

“I’m sorry, lads. That’s a nice offer, but the girls are playing the Field Grade Officers Club this evening and I’m sure we’ll get a better deal.”

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Letter From Milo: Pills

February 5th, 2018

I used to take pills strictly for recreational purposes. Now I take pills because I have to.

Every day I take Nifedipine and Metoprolol for blood pressure, and Levothyroxine for low thyroid levels. I also swallow an aspirin every morning, just in case.

I understood and accepted the blood pressure issues. A lot of people of a certain age struggle with that problem. But a malfunctioning thyroid was news to me. Before my physician at the VA Hospital, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, told me about my thyroid, I had no idea that there was a problem.

“Man, I didn’t even know that I had a thyroid.”

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll give you some pills and you’ll be as good as new.”

“Ah, shit! Are there any side effects with this thyroid medicine?”

“Yeah, you’ll have more energy and you’ll lose weight.”

“I hate to lose weight. I’m kind of skinny already.”

“Dude, being skinny is a good thing. It makes your dick look bigger.”

“By the way, Doc, I need some more pain pills.”

“What happened? I prescribed a shitload of pain pills for you a couple of weeks ago.”

“The, ah, dog ate it.”

“Damn! How’s the dog?”

“The dog’s feeling real good right now.”

Until a few years ago I never took any medication at all. I was as healthy, rude and rambunctious as a North Woods wolverine. I ate what I pleased, drank to excess, smoked like Bogart and entertained impure thoughts on a regular basis. I enjoyed years of low-life splendor and had planned on enjoying many more, perhaps even picking up a few new vices when I reached my Golden Years.

And then something happened.

My doctor said there was a problem that required immediate attention – and it involved major surgery.

“Ah, fuck! Do I have any options?”

“Sure, you’ve got some options.”

“Well, what the hell are they?”

“You can ignore the situation, eventually get real sick, and die miserably in a couple of years.”

“What else?”

“We can do the surgery right away, fix the problem, and you’ll be able to live out a normal life span.”

“Okay, what are my other options?”

“You have no more options.”

I won’t lie. The thought of major surgery scared me so badly that I briefly considered giving up smoking, drinking, abusing drugs and eating red meat. I asked the doctor what percentage of patients died on the operating table while undergoing this procedure.

“About two percent,’ he replied. “But those numbers are skewed towards people who are in bad shape when they finally come in for surgery. Those numbers don’t apply to you. You’re in real good physical condition, everything considered.”

The percentages the doctor mentioned should have been a comfort to me, but they weren’t. I’m a veteran of this life, an old hand. I’ve seen too many aces turn up on the river to have absolute faith in odds, percentages or probabilities.

Despite my fears and misgivings, the operation was a success. Pain was minimal and the recovery ahead of schedule. I was the new, improved and upgraded Milo 3.0. In a couple of months I was up to my old tricks again, doing the same stupid shit I had always done. If there was a lesson there, I never learned it.

The only difference in my life before surgery and after surgery is that now I take pills.

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Letter From Milo: Hard Time

January 29th, 2018

The numbing isolation, the sterile atmosphere, the eerie silences, the wretched food and the uncertainty of what lay ahead, all combined to make being locked up in the Gary, Indiana City Jail a horrible experience.

Due to my age — I was in my mid-teens — I was locked in a cell in the Isolation Unit to keep me away from older, hardened criminals. At the time, I was the only prisoner being kept in the Unit.

The worst thing about jail, I decided, was the lack of stimulation. There was nothing to do and nobody to talk to. It was the most drab, boring and lifeless place I had ever been. Everything was painted gray — the walls, the ceilings, the bars and cots. The only breaks in the stifling expanse of gray were a few spots on the walls and floors where the paint had chipped and flaked away, revealing the rusting metal surface beneath the coat of paint.

On my second day in jail, another prisoner was brought into the Isolation Unit. I heard a commotion in the gangway and then, a moment later, saw two cops half-dragging, half-carrying a limp, sobbing woman past my cell.

I was standing at the bars, watching as they hustled her to a cell. As they passed, the woman turned her head to look at me, her face a mask of smeared make-up, scratches and bruises. She continued crying after being locked in her cell, her heaving sobs slowly giving way to quiet weeping before subsiding to sniffling and hiccups.

She was just a couple of cells away from mine, so I called out to her. “Hey, lady, are you okay?”

“Mind your own fucking business!” she called back, then, began crying again.

“Jeez, lady, don’t get all worked up. I was only trying to be friendly.”

“I’m sorry,” she blubbered. “I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just having a real bad day.”

“That’s okay. I haven’t had a good day since I’ve been here.”

“How long have you been here,” she asked, still sniffling.

“This is my second day.”

“I saw you when they brought me in. You look kind of young. What did you do?”

I didn’t want to tell her about the small-time shit I had really done, so I lied. “I, ah, robbed a couple of banks.”

I heard an odd noise coming from the direction of the woman’s cell. It was a swishing, rasping sound, like someone tearing paper or ripping cloth.

“I don’t mean to stick my nose in your business,” the woman said. “But if I were you I’d consider another line of work. Bank robbers don’t last long.”

“I didn’t plan on making it a career.”

“You ever do any pimping?”

“No, but I’d like to look into it.”

“Let me know if you ever decide to pimp. I need a new one. I just shot mine about two hours ago.”

Thoughtlessly, I blurted out, “Why’d you shoot him?”

I immediately regretted asking the question. I had just met the woman. I didn’t know her well enough to ask such an insensitive question. She must have had a very good reason for shooting her pimp, otherwise why would she go to all the trouble. I figured it was a private matter, something personal between a man and a woman, and certainly no business of mine.

I was on the verge of apologizing for prying into her affairs when she said, “You want to know why I shot Leonard?”

“I didn’t mean to get personal. I was just…”

“I shot Leonard because he sold me to some bastard from Minnesota. The shitbag was going to put me in a trailer and drag me around to farm worker camps so I could fuck fruit pickers all night long.”

I heard the ripping sound again. It was definitely coming from the cell where the woman was locked up. I was going to ask her about it but she started talking again before I could say anything.

“Leonard told me I was old and worn out. He said my best days were behind me. He said I wasn’t bringing in enough money anymore. He had the nerve to tell me it was strictly a business decision. He said that a smart businessman has to rotate his stock and keep the inventory fresh. Can you believe that shit?”

The woman fell silent for a moment, then, I heard that puzzling tearing sound again. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked her about it. “Hey, lady, what’s that noise?”

“What noise?”

“That ripping noise. It sounds like somebody’s tearing newspapers or something.”

“Oh, that. I’m just trying to fix my dress. The cops ruined it when they arrested me.”

I heard the sound again, then the woman said, “You know, I was only 17 when Leonard found me. I was still in school, working at the Tastee Freeze in Miller Beach. I was just a dumb kid. I didn’t know anything. In three months Leonard had me working the streets. I spent eight years with him. He beat me, cheated me, abused me and just generally treated me like shit. And then, when I had given him everything I had, when there was nothing left to give, he turns around and sells me to some cocksucker from Minnesota.”

The woman began crying again, carrying on for a minute or two. When the tears stopped, she said, “Hey, I never did get your name.”

“It’s Milo.”

“That’s a fine name, a solid name. It sounds like a name you can trust. Milo, can I ask you to do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“If I tell you my name, will you promise to remember it?”

“No problem.”

“You swear it? You swear you’ll remember my name?”

“I said I would.”

“My name is Frances. Frances Higgins.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“Please don’t ever forget it, okay? Frances Higgins.”

“I’ll remember.”

“I know you will. I’m tired. I’m real tired. I’m going to take a nice nap now. It’s been good talking to you, Milo.”

“Good talking to you, too, Frances.”

I heard some scuffling and grunting noises coming from the direction of Frances’ cell. It sounded like she was settling in for her nap on the creaky metal cot. I wanted her to get a good rest so we could talk more when she felt better. There wasn’t much to do in jail other than talk, and it seemed like Frances had a lot of interesting stories to tell.

A couple of hours later the fat turnkey came by with supper. He slipped my aluminum tray through the slot in the bars, then, pushed the food cart toward Frances’ cell. Suddenly, the sound of food trays falling to the concrete floor rattled through the gangway. I heard the turnkey yelp, “Sweet baby Jesus,” as he rushed past my cell, a look of horror on his jowly face.

In a short time the gangway was filled with uniformed cops and plainclothesmen, all of them milling around Frances’ cell. I tried to find out what happened but my questions were ignored. I had to rely on overhearing the cops to figure out what had caused all the excitement.

“You cut her down.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Wait until the ambulance gets here. They’ll cut her down. That’s their job.”

“Stupid bitch.”

“Well, she was smart enough to make a noose out of her dress.”

“What was her name, anyway?”

“I can’t remember. Her street name was Francesca. That’s the handle everyone knew her by. She’s been around forever.”

After a while the cops began drifting away from Frances’ cell, heading back to the desks and cubicles they came from.

“Hey, officer,” I said, as one of the cops passed close to my cell.

“What do you want, punk?”

“The lady’s name was Higgins. Frances Higgins.”

The cop stopped for a moment, glanced at me impatiently, and said, “Nobody gives a fuck about her name.”

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Letter From Milo: Poor Wayne, Dead and Gone

January 22nd, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I was sharing a few bottles of wine with a very good friend, who I’ll call Bruce Diksas, to spare him any embarrassment. We were mildly intoxicated, sitting in my back yard, enjoying the fading sunshine and the early evening breezes.

Later, there were steaks to be grilled, potatoes to be baked, a salad to be tossed and more bottles to be opened. There may have even been a little something to smoke, too.

It should have been a wonderful evening – except that it wasn’t.

You see, there was a phone call we were going to make and neither of us was looking forward to it.

“Should we give him a call now?”

“Let’s wait a while. Have another glass of wine. We’ll call in a few minutes.”

“Good idea.”

“Man, I hate this shit.”

“I’m not too fucking happy about it, either.”

The call we were fearful of making was to our old and dear friend, Wayne Gray, who was dying of lung cancer in Venice Beach, California. We had made the same call the week before and it was heartbreaking. His ex-wife, Mila, who had taken Wayne in when he needed help most, was in tears when she answered. She was so choked up that it was difficult to understand her, but she managed to convey the information that Wayne was too weak to use the phone. Besides, he had lost the use of his voice. He had also lost the use of his arms and legs.

“Tell Wayne we love him!” I shouted into the phone before losing the connection.

That was not a good day. When I told Bruce what Mila had told me, he sadly shook his head. Neither of us spoke for a while. There was nothing to say.

My intuition told me this was not going to be a good day, either. I had a hunch Bruce felt the same way. Between the two of us there were a lot of long silences, plenty of sighs, much head scratching and a fair amount of gazing off into the distance. Finally, Bruce broke the silence. “Hey, did I ever tell you the story about the time this mean-looking biker caught Wayne giving his girl a back rub in Oxford’s?”

“About 100 times. But I’d like to hear it again.”

“It was about three in the morning. We had been drinking most of the day and were having a nightcap at Oxford’s. Wayne spots this chick and…”

Wayne was one of the first people I met in Chicago. And, for a time, he was my roommate. In the early ‘70s, Wayne, Bruce and I shared a coach house on Burling, just south of Armitage. The rent was $80 a month, roughly $27 each. Some months we had trouble coming up with the money. Those were not our peak earning years.

It was through Wayne and Bruce that I met everyone of consequence on the North Side of Chicago. They introduced me to bartenders, drug dealers, bookies, gamblers, artists, writers, musicians, cab drivers, hot dog vendors, quite a few very attractive waitresses and a good criminal lawyer. Many of these fine folks are friends to this day.

“Should we make the call?”

“In a minute. Let’s have another glass of wine first.”

“Good idea.”

“Hey,” I said, “did I ever tell you about the time Crazy Angela tried to do Wayne in with a beer bottle?”

“About 100 times. But I wouldn’t mind hearing it again.”

“It must have been about five in the morning. I was asleep when these wild noises woke me up. They were coming from Wayne’s room. So I get up to check it out and there’s Crazy Angela sitting on top of Wayne and smacking him with a beer bottle. Wayne’s trying to reason with her but she keeps on trying…”

Wayne was an extremely intelligent man but he hid his intelligence behind an endearingly goofy exterior. As a young man he felt the call and spent a year or two in a Benedictine monastery before coming to his senses. He explained that he was concerned that his fondness for fucking women might interfere with his responsibilities at the priory.

Wayne went on to earn a Master’s Degree in mathematics and, for a time, made his living in the insurance business. His true calling, however, was massage. When he and his then-wife, Mila, relocated to California, in the early ‘80s, Wayne bought a first-class massage table and set himself up as an unlicensed, unbonded, independent, outdoor massage specialist on the Boardwalk at Venice Beach. Rumor had it that his favorite customers were women.

Bruce reached over with the wine bottle, filled our glasses, and said, “Fuck it, let’s make that call.”

“Might as well.”

When Mila answered the phone she said that Wayne had passed away a few days earlier. She told me that she hadn’t called me because she was still in shock. She had Wayne’s body cremated and planned to take his ashes back to her home in the Philippines. When she died she was going to have his ashes buried with her.

The Old Bastard in the Shiny Suit came for Wayne on the evening of August 5th, 2010. I wish I could have seen him once more before he died. His friendship was precious to me.

I believe it was W.C. Fields who said, “It’s a tough old world. You’re lucky to get out of it alive.”

After I told Bruce what Mila had told me, neither of us spoke for a while. We were each sifting through our memory banks, calling up bits and pieces of Wayne’s life. Finally, I broke the silence.

“Hey, did I ever tell you about the weekend Wayne worked as a doorman at the Black Pussycat tavern on Clark Street.?”

“About a 100 times. But I’d like to hear it again.”

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Letter From Milo: Word for Word

January 15th, 2018

I published my second indie e-book, a novel called “Wassermann Gardens,” two years ago, and nobody seemed to give a shit.

The book did not appear on any best seller lists. The paparazzi aren’t hounding me. I haven’t heard from any film producers. None of the talk shows invited me to make an appearance.

Needless to say, I was hugely disappointed. Where’s the fame? Where’s the glory? Where are the money and the chicks?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Indie e-books don’t sell nearly as well as traditionally published books.

I tried to go the traditional route with my first book, a novel about a young gambler, which I titled “Schoolboy,” by trying to find a literary agent to represent my interests. I made contact with an agent in New York who said he might be able to sell it if I made a few “minor” changes.

“What kind of changes?”

“First, the story’s too long. You need to cut about 20,000 words.”

“Are you shitting me? That’s a fifth of the book.”

“Second, I think you should consider using a pen name.”

“Change my name? Why in the fuck would I do something like that?”

“Your name’s too hard to pronounce. It won’t fit on a marquee.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen.”

I spent some time trying to find another agent, but found the process demeaning, beneath my dignity, and gave it up after a few months. Taking the advice of a friend, I published “Schoolboy” independently, as a digital book. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 30 other sites.

About a year ago, I was contacted by the owner of a small-time Los Angeles publishing company, which served mainly as an outlet for his own writing. The publisher, who I’ll call Jerry, was a fan of my blogs at The Third City. He asked if I had any full-length manuscripts that he could consider for publication.

I sent Jerry a copy of “Wassermann Gardens.” He called me a couple of days later, raving about the book.

“Oh, man,” he exclaimed, “this is a great story. It’s got everything, natural disasters, violence, madness, disease, young men in desperate circumstances, a bloody escape attempt. It would make a wonderful movie. I’ve got some contacts at the studios. I’ll see what I can do. I’m thinking Shia Labeouf in the lead role.”

“Ah, Jerry, let’s concentrate on the book. We can worry about the movie later.”

“Sure, sure, no problem. I’ll start the editing process…”

“The editing process?”

“Yeah, it needs to be edited. I’ll send the first few chapters in a week.”

When the edited pages arrived, I noticed that Jerry had added a sentence to the opening chapter. The scene is about two men finding a suicide victim. The sentence Jerry added had one of the men asking, “Did he shit his pants?”

I immediately called Jerry. “Why did you put in that line about the guy shitting his pants?” I asked.

“I thought it added a little color to the story.”

“Jerry,” I said, patiently, “every man shits his pants when he dies. People that have seen a lot of death, like the soldiers in the story, know this from experience and would never ask such a thing. It is, in fact, a ridiculous question.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t mind you doing an edit, for grammar or punctuation, but please don’t add anything to the writing. I don’t want or need a co-writer.”

“Sure, no problem.”

I couldn’t believe it. When the next edited chapters came in the mail, Jerry had, once again, added some of his own writing. And the sentences he inserted into the manuscript just didn’t work. They didn’t make sense. I figured he didn’t understand the story or else his writer’s ego made him want to leave his own fingerprints on the novel. Either way, it was unacceptable.

When I called him I said, “Jerry, you’re a hard-headed fucker. I asked you not to add any of your own writing to the story, but you did it anyway.”

“I’m just trying to make it a better book.”

“You’re making it worse. Publish it as is, word for word, or I’m out.”

“But I always edit the writers I publish.”

“Well, then, we’ve both wasted a lot of time. Goodbye.”

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Letter From Milo: Sweet Dreams

January 8th, 2018

I’ve always considered myself fortunate in that, unlike many veterans, I don’t think I’ve had very many lasting effects from my tour of duty in Vietnam. There are a few health issues relating from my exposure to Agent Orange and I’m still leery of crowds and averse to loud noises. But, on the whole, I think I’ve escaped relatively unscathed from that wretched experience.

Some vets weren’t so lucky. The hard luck stories of Vietnam veterans have almost passed into the realm of urban myth. I don’t know the truth of the matter, but ‘Nam vets allegedly had higher murder, suicide and incarceration rates than the general public. They were more likely to die from auto accidents, drug overdoses, domestic disputes, alcohol related accidents and broken hearts than the average Joe or Josephine.

If there was any credence to the stories, the streets of America were littered with the bodies of Vietnam veterans.

The physical toll on veterans was bad enough, but even worse, in my opinion, was the mental damage. To hear tell, our nations mental hospitals were crammed with crazed, drooling, haunted, deranged ‘Nam vets, all stuffed to the gills with every medication known to man. The ones that weren’t institutionalized were living in caves in Idaho, wandering the streets with all of their possessions in shopping carts, or begging for spare change at busy intersections.

As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself extremely fortunate that I wasn’t permanently physically or mentally damaged in that war. I wasn’t shot or blown up, bitten by a step-and-half snake (if bitten, you can take about a step and a half before dying) or hurt in any of the dozens of ways it was possible to be maimed. Contrary to many opinions, my mental capabilities seem to have survived without major damage, too. In short, I don’t exhibit any of the after-effects that plague so many veterans.

Except one.

You see, every few months I have this horrifying dream about Vietnam. It’s not a violent dream. It’s not about combat or violence of any sort. The dreams works on a deeper level, but it still terrifies me.

In this dream I get drafted again. I’m not the 19-year-old kid I was when I first got drafted in 1968. I am what I am, an aging man, balding, burned-out, gaseous, funky and dealing with health issues. There is no way on earth I should be draft material. Plus, I had been drafted into the Army 40 years earlier. How could I possibly be drafted again? It’s like double jeopardy. But, hey, this is a dream. It’s not supposed to make sense.

Anyway, in this dream I’m standing on a street among a large group of young men, moving slowly toward a line of yellow school buses. We are being herded onto the buses by a bunch of tough looking drill sergeants, all wearing Smokey the Bear hats and mirrored sunglasses and smacking riding crops into the palms of their hands.

“Keep it moving,” they bark at us, “Come on, shitheads, we haven’t got all day. Keep it moving.”

Now, the last thing I want to do is get on one of those buses. I know that if I get on a bus I am totally and completely fucked, as doomed as a man can be. The next stop would be Vietnam or some place exactly like it. I also know that this time I won’t get out alive.

I decide to reason with the drill sergeants. I’ve got paperwork with me, discharge papers, birth certificate, etc.

“Look here, fellas,” I say, trying to get them to look at my papers. “There’s been some sort of mistake. I’ve already been drafted once, 40 years ago. Plus, I’m too old for this shit. This can’t be right. It’s probably illegal to draft somebody twice. I mean, there’s got to be an age limit…”

Nothing I say makes a bit of difference. The drill sergeants have a job to do and that’s to fill up the buses with cannon fodder. They’ve got their orders.

“Keep it moving. Let’s go. Single file. There’s a war going on and we don’t want you boys to miss it. Keep it moving.”

As I get closer to the buses I begin to panic. I know that once I get on a bus I won’t get off again until I’m in a war zone. I think about running, but I look around and see that there are soldiers everywhere, all carrying automatic weapons, just waiting to shoot anybody who tries to run away. There’s nothing I can do. I am truly screwed.

Soon there is just one other poor bastard between me and the door of a bus. I start to hyperventilate. I’m close to tears. I’m falling apart. There’s no hope for me. It’s all over. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am facing certain doom. The Fat Lady is practicing her scales.

Just as I get ready to step onto the bus I wake up.

At first I don’t know where I am. I’m drenched in sweat, gasping for breath. Then, I realize where I am and begin to calm down. I’m in my bed, in my little bungalow on the north side of Chicago. My wife is sleeping peacefully next to me. My children are asleep in their rooms, blissfully unaware of their old man’s nightmare. The dog is sleeping at the foot of the bed. I don’t know and don’t care about the cat’s whereabouts.

And there is not a bus in sight.

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