THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN: LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
13. A Geographic
Eventually my mother decided to take what is known in the alcohol business as a "geographical cure." She was now in the sweet wedge of her cycling shame. By trying to use willpower to rescue herself yet again from yet another series of disasters and the evident "bad luck" that lay at the root of her unmanageability, she was, like all of us alcoholics, going to metamorphose. She knew what the answer was, so she tried to become a person who would defeat her outrageous fortune. She became at least outwardly optimistic and full of resolve. Neither of us knew that she was suffering from a disease and was well beyond the point where strength of character would do any good. I, too, was optimistic as I helped her move out of New York City to the high desert of Palm Springs, California, for her "asthma." After the events of my sixteenth birthday, we both felt guilty as hell. So the curtain went up again on another fresh start; new beginnings with the old solutions of regret and reform.
Though I didn't know it, my needs were becoming the same as hers. But I was still young, and my only discernible addiction at that point was to cigarettes and the ever-shifting vicissitudes and emotionally chaotic situations provided by others.
There were a lot of good reasons to go to California. My mother loved the West. She was really a lot more comfortable there than in New York. She had spent most of her time in California when she was a singer. She had met my father there. They had romanced during the filming of The Grapes of Wrath, and went on to spend a lot of time in Cuernavaca while he was writing The Pearl and a little screenplay called The Forgotten Village.
My maternal grandmother lived in the San Bernardino Mountains just west of Los Angeles. When we weren't sent off to camp, my brother and I had spent many summers with her. She was a great lady and perhaps the only really functional adult I knew in my immediate family.
A far as I was concerned, an abrupt move was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, the doctor was the late Milton Brothers, Joyce's husband, and like most doctors back then, knowing very little about the real underlying nature of alcoholism and addiction, he advised the move as well. And what a benefit to me. At last, I would finally be near blonde girls, cars, and sunshine. My father and I had become essentially estranged since I had left his care and the dubious protection of various boarding schools. The sting of family court was also an injury not to be easily suffered. I was more than content about the prospects waiting for me in California. At age sixteen I was ready to begin my adult life.
With a deep voice and an East Coast flair, I gave myself a headstart and told everyone that I was twenty-one. Since I loved music, this fantasy kid was a graduate of Julliard. After first scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins for a while, and working as a stock boy at the Palm Springs Bullocks Department Store, I started working in radio. Because we were raised on American Bandstand, being a disc jockey was a goal for anyone from the rock 'n' roll generation. After doing that sort of thing for a while, I fell in love with broadcast news.
Since I worked in radio news, I was also friendly with most of the Palm Springs police force. In fact, they comprised most of my drinking associates. That proved to be fortunate since Mom's new leaf fell quickly with the last of autumn and the cops were often called to my mother's address to quiet some drunken tirade.
It was a new twist for me. Police coming to the house was more of a California phenomenon than a New York City scene, to be sure. Sometimes, loving any sort of vexing engagement, she would call the cops herself, and they would now and again find her brandishing a gun like Annie Oakley, at some invisible foe. Eventually, she knew each of the cops on a first-name basis. After all, it was Palm Springs. To me, her behavior was as scary as it had ever been, and made what was to come in the mail that summer of 1964 look like a cakewalk. GREETINGS: We've drafted your ass.
The draft blew my cover. On my twenty-third birthday I turned eighteen. It came as a big surprise to the police I was used to drinking with, especially the one whose wife I'd shacked up with for a brief while. As for me, I had always wanted to see the Orient, and what's more, found war movies stirring. Even though I had totally emancipated myself by then, and had my own apartment, my life was actually beginning to get quite boring. Living alone with my dog and pretending to be older than my years just wasn't making it. I was already drinking a lot by that time, but I rather felt it was only to obscure my mother, who was acting more and more like a trapped animal when she was drunk. The alcohol seemed to help me deal with a murky legacy and the fear of some unnamed failure insinuated by my father.
Actually, as far as my father was concerned, my deficiencies were not entirely unnamed. They were the usual failures of sons. I was a lazy, ungrateful, self-centered bum; probably unworthy of his name; and, of course, "just like" my mother. In some ways, he was right, but I don't think he appreciated how badly I wanted to get out from under the barrage of everyone's hysteria, including what I thought was his less-intoxicated style. Little did I know how he had long been medicating himself and passing his ups and downs off as righteous indignation or the license of poetic depression.
I wasn't particularly afraid to go to Vietnam. After all, I like to travel! I even became convinced that the war might help me where I couldn't help myself. Though it was an incredible idea, for a while the war did help. However, the pressure-detonated issues of Vietnam with their multiple time settings would continue to explode in mine and other people's faces for decades to come. Nonetheless, the war presented a somewhat unique solution for the impasse in the two John Steinbecks' relationship.
In retrospect, it seems that within moments of bending over and coughing for an army doctor, I was on my butt in Saigon. This swift move is not just the compression of hindsight, but directly due to the fact that on receiving my draft notice, I had reopened talks with my father and asked him to use his influence with President Johnson to get me out to "Our War." This attitude so stirred my dad that a detente immediately fell in place. Now here was the sort of son he wanted, goddamn it!
After basic training at the improbably named post of Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, I went east to New York to visit my father and tour his personal study of the psychology of war and manly patriotism, mostly based on John Wayne movies.
Dad had been sort of a correspondent during the Second World War, and compiled a book called Once There Was a War that was full of the kind of absurd human detail that he loved and was famous for.
I remember one story in particular that always appealed to me as an inveterate escape artist. Apparently there was a disgruntled Italian American soldier who dearly missed his girl back in the Bronx. One day on the beach south of Naples along with some other grunts, he was charged with guarding and loading a battalion of Italian Fascist troops onto landing craft to be taken out and put on bigger vessels where they would be taken to POW camps in the United States. Being awfully homesick, he became suddenly inspired. He stripped down to his skivvies and bolted away from the beach, screaming Italian obscenities. He was immediately apprehended by the MPs, thrown into the line of captured soldiers, and boarded for home!
Whether or not this really happened was never the important part of getting a story or even veiled political advice from Dad. Not being too literal in deciphering the message was. He would not have found it amusing if I managed to escape from Vietnam or even the draft, so one had to be very careful as to just what was being advertised when it came to following the thread of what he did or did not approve. He thought of both my brother and me as "goldbrickers," which is something that we are both sore about. If he only knew the energy it took being his son! Hell, I was volunteering to get killed over it.
He took me to Washington to meet the commander in chief. I was photographed in uniform in the Oval Office shaking hands with President Johnson, the only man who could rival Dad for jug ears and that larger-than-life stance that some men of that generation seemed to have the patent on. Father's relationship with Lyndon Johnson was anchored not just in Democratic politics, but also in the fact that his wife, Elaine, and Lady Bird had gone to school together at the University of Texas. After our visit with the president, we went back to Sag Harbor, Long Island, where now I was treated as sort of an equal by my father and we drank and talked politics and war for a solid week.
Sleeping very little and grinning at each other like fools who had never had any differences about anything, I felt that this was the way it always should have been. Past behaviors were erased by the masculine import of patriotism.
My father was a master of implicit bonding and charming lies; and even if we both knew them to be lies, well, one had to suppose that, too, was part of real war and a warrior's passage in a kind of tribal bullshit humor. He bought me a lovely Colt derringer as a personal sidearm. For close-in fighting, don't you know. I mean two lousy shots for chrissake! We were obviously in some reverie of war fought in the mists of make-believe, groping toward a kind of manhood embroidered only in daring dreams of childhood glory. It is sad to say here, but fantasy, particularly heroic fantasy, can be a really terrible thing to have to negotiate when enlivened by the mind of a noncombatant.
Later, my brother and I (he became a helicopter door gunner through a similar "bonding experience") began to believe that at this point Dad had probably placed an order in his head for a new piano to pedestal the picture of whatever son would be killed overseas. I mean he could be very romantic. But then of course, so could we.
The war turned into a moral quicksand for Dad as for many others. Though he himself knew better, he was somewhat blinded by the heady association with power. Not since FDR and Adlai Stevenson had he been so near a presidency. But he did know better. Some years earlier, during the Kennedy administration when Pablo Casals accepted an invitation to play the cello at the White House, my father had written a piece about the danger of artists getting into bed with politicians, no matter how benign or lofty the atmosphere might appear. He was not snowed by that Camelot, but the many invitations to spend weekends with Lyndon at Camp David were irresistible to him.
These two men prided themselves on being rough-hewn, as compared at least to the East Coast establishment. Of course, Johnson often preferred to be downright vulgar, which was not exactly my father's style, but both of them had a need to exaggerate the difference that they felt separated them from their more "sophisticated" critics. They were both good men who more than anything wanted to be liked, but they also had a tendency to overcompensate in order to bathe their sense of inferiority as country boys. I think that at least part of their friendship was also due to the fact that they unconsciously recognized how easily hurt they could be despite their braggadocio. This was true in spite of the fact that by then the president of the United States and the Nobel Laureate were in charge. There is no doubt that they genuinely liked each other and it was a plus that they could share the sometimes hilarious burden of being married to Texas women as a binding factor of real consideration.
In the face of what he considered Communist aggression, my father was becoming more and more conservative. He actually identified I. F. Stone as the voice of Hanoi, and the man's venerable newsletter as the party line. That was about as extreme as he got though, as he preferred dark disagreement to real political argument. He also liked the peasant disputes he could have with his Russian writer friends. He naturally felt more comfortable with that sort of poetic guttural passion than wading in against the critical bite of sharp political scientists. Someone like Susan Sontag would have killed him.
In any case, with me now sporting my army uniform, we whipped each other into an extraordinary sentimental froth. By this time in the visit, patriotism had turned downright Darwinian. The hegemony of the tide pool, the amoebae's thrust to the sky was the real issue here, by God! We took lots of late-night walks, drinking and giggling to near oblivion in the starlight. We had huge impassioned conversations about things that neither of us knew anything about. Indeed, this really is what men like to do. We reviewed the myth of of our civilization back to the slime, and on up to what I would discover "Over There." And after all, that was why I was going to Vietnam, by God: to observe, to learn, perhaps to die. Perhaps to dream? Of course, the extreme foolishness of the war sank any such vainglory or romance.
I didn't know what would happen then, but now, in trying to understand and still appreciate the past, it has became very hard for me to surmount the assault of time and what feels like the perpetual disillusionment of this our age. For a variety of reasons it sometimes seems like so many of my experiences and the once-cherished moments of young adulthood are somehow missing in action.
I had never known anything like stability, and I didn't pursue it. I was young and durable and not very sensitive to the subtle fears that were by now deep inside me. So I of course liked this adventure, the best distraction. However effective in the short term, the technique of derring-do was inevitably to cause further numbing. Perhaps that was the idea. But before I would come to any real conclusion about that, this war and national agony took all precedent under the usual banner of responsibility and glory.
And so, along with so many others, my golden youth was aroused and then served up to the Asian crucible where the major amalgam was death and destruction and where any hint of personal regeneration was subtle if not impossible to measure. In the end, like the rest of the walking wounded, I came home to a country filled with anger and shame. The general population tried to hide its killing with ignorance, thus killing many more of its own with neglect.
I spent almost six years in Vietnam, and in a way, So what! So I've been in a war, I've flown a plane, and I certainly learned that given my background, a taste for ashes is easily acquired and one that doesn't quickly fade. Though the war co-emerged with so many other things in the middle of this century, it remains singular in its illusive moral. Even now, I try to fathom something of the purpose of this minefield which tore so many lives apart. For so many of us, Vietnam was like a spiritual concussion grenade. For some the ringing in the ears will never clear. Still, I was to go back to Vietnam many times; from California, from India, Cambodia, Laos, from Hong Kong, and Thailand, but it was my first trip there in the army that sank the barb. It also encouraged a variety of behaviors that nearly killed me. War is dangerous; especially in a world where even love can kill, quite accidentally.
When I arrived in Vietnam, the newness of the Asian noises filling the air and the smells that mingled jasmine and shit, French bread, opium and incense completely thrilled me. I was wide open, and here, every minute was crammed with more seconds, more milliseconds, than an entire day back home in the states. Though I had traveled a lot for my age and felt rather worldly, I turned my head to take in everything with the dizzy focus of a four-month-old bird dog.
To be sure I was naive, but hardly anyone knew much about Vietnam when I first arrived in the summer of 1966. Well, people like David Halberstam, John Paul Van, and Daniel Ellsberg did, but they knew nothing about us, and we understood nothing about the war.
When I write about these times, it permits things to come out and lets them melt under my tongue, like sublingual vitamins. Now they are safe to examine, even play with. I don't think that I reacted to my circumstances the way most soldiers did. In fact, I'm sure of it. As the first days rolled by, the Vietnamese sunrise brought me even more things for my mind to grab and savor, and I did it with an avid panoramic awareness, like a child memorizing all the shiny metal objects worn into the asphalt of his neighborhood like they were jewels. Smooth and small, they don't exist for most of the people who move over them thousands of times a day. The Vietnamese themselves seemed oblivious to the textures. They laughed politely at me. I was charmed.
Because of my radio background, I was able to become a journalist for Armed Forces Radio and Television in Vietnam; a war correspondent for the Department of Defense and the people who brought you Good Morning, Vietnam. It was the early days of the electronic entertainment business in this ancient nation.
The ground for a huge station was being bulldozed and prepared, but when I arrived we were still broadcasting our FM/AM radio signals out of the basement of a Saigon hotel. The TV operation was literally up in the air as we went flying around in circles over the jungle in old prop-driven airliners, beaming down Love American Style, or the Dean Martin Show. We had plans to cover the entire country with ground stations to accommodate the big buildup. Within a year, there wasn't an inch of the conflict that couldn't enjoy that goofy girl Carol Burnett, or venture out of the jungle with Star Trek, and for the really gung ho, there was always Combat, with Vic Morrow. (I always thought it was weird that this poor guy would eventually be killed pretending to be in Vietnam during a Twilight Zone remake.)
Zone was also very popular with the troops, and why not? The basic idea for my unit's mission in Vietnam was to try to convince everyone, including ourselves, that we weren't really there at all! And if it turned out we were, well, the war was really just sort of Research & Development and maybe at worst, an exciting nine-to-five job with a few nasty occupational hazards. If our network mission succeeded, then after shutdown, one could just kick back with a cold beer and listen to the radio or watch the tube. The PX made sure to sell all the booze and paraphernalia you would need to support this idea. They also had the TVs, stereos, and refrigerators, and even Weber barbecues. Nothing was going to spoil consumerism in the abstract, though it turned out to be US that got consumed.
After I had been in Vietnam a few months, my father couldn't stand it anymore. He had to come, too! He asked my "permission," whatever that meant, and before Christmas 1966 he arrived at Ton Son Nhut airport in Saigon with my stepmother, Elaine.
After a few months, I had been removed to the field, as they say. But now I was permitted to come down to Saigon from my mountaintop station near Pleiku to visit my father the VIP. It was quite peculiar seeing him in that environment, outfitted in dashing camouflage ascots and drinking with generals and colonels while extolling the common man; the technique that was his trademark.
The army was getting to know me a little bit so I was only allowed to spend a few days with Dad, and then I returned to my mountain where he would come visit me in a fortnight or so after touring the front. Of course, there was no such thing in Vietnam, so basically VIPs were shown the toys and technology and maps and zeal of a military caught in a situation that it did not understand at all. Since our leaders were oblivious to our doom, there was a lot of nudging and confident winking that punctuated the sort of briefing that my dad and other visitors received.
From the South China Sea to the Cambodian border in the west, the Central Highlands of Vietnam represented the most beautiful, varied, and dangerous real estate of the war. This had been true for the French as well as the Americans. My little twelve-man unit had put up a small television station in an eighteen-wheel trailer. The site was on top of "Pussi Mountain," so named because of a vague significance that its sensuous curves held for love-starved soldiers. From its crest at about 3,000 feet, it overlooked the Fourth Infantry Division's base camp sprawled out on the plain below us. The countryside looked more like the African veld than what we think of as Southeast Asia. Getting up in the dawn light, I almost expected to see zebras and gazelle crossing the vast grassy expanse that led to the low hills of Cambodia in the west. This was also Montagnard country where the men dressed in colorful loincloths and carried crossbows and the women were bare-breasted as they slashed and burned for their crops in the ancient way.
Dad arrived at a small, dusty airstrip near Pleiku City where I picked him up by jeep. When I was just a little boy, he used to drive me around the moors of Nantucket in a jeep he bought from army surplus and memories of that time came to me as he climbed in, now dressed in his new combat fatigues.
It was a forty-minute drive through the countryside over roads covered with potholes, mortar craters, and deep furrows from previous rainy seasons. If I close my eyes, I can still see all of its snags. With the exception of the occasional convoy bracketed front and back with helicopter gunships, there was almost never any traffic on it. As a result, the road made you feel very exposed, so the technique was to drive very fast in a zigzag to avoid obstacles and possible bullets. For young and old alike, the drive was forty minutes of torture, but I couldn't help being amused by my father yelling at me to slow down as if we were on the Long Island Expressway or somewhere normal. Here, I was able to look at him and just grin as I pushed down on the gas peddle. Yup, this was my jeep, on my road, leading to my mountain in my war ... Pop.
Eventually we careened up to the top in a cloud of red dust. My father gingerly climbed out to meet the commanding officer, Captain Luckey, and the rest of the boys. Immediately he began to regale the unit in that special way he had that made them feel part of something very manly and full of ironic adventure, something almost secret. His "aw shucks" humility was very engaging and warm. Again, it made people feel as if they were part of a wonderful conspiracy of imagination and action that might be a little risky, certainly to be kept private, but the right thing to do in the eyes of those who knew the secrets of real life. He could pull this off with just the lift of an eyebrow, and all my life I saw hundreds of people tumble for it and be tamed into a submissiveness a sheepherder would admire.
As the first nightfall crept over the plains, my father and I stared out over some bombing far in the distance. It looked like the kind of fake thunder and lightning you see offstage in an opera. After checking our trip flares and claymore mines for our night defensive positions, we broke out the booze. With a nudge and a wink, Dad slipped me a couple of pink pills which I of course took immediately. Practiced as I was with survival kits, I soon realized it was pure speed; something very close to methamphetamine to be more precise. I would eventually learn the underlying significance of this gesture when it was later revealed to me just how long and often he had been taking these little beauties. For the moment, however, it was just part of this undercover fellowship that he transmitted through his bright eyes. We all talked late into the night.
The next day and evening, our little festival continued. Though one cannot discount the effects of speed and booze, war itself delivers an altered state of consciousness of the most compelling and bizarre variety. I've often thought that when a child or cadet looks into an old soldier's eyes, even if the war has been horrible, the younger man sees a queer faraway look on the veteran's face when he is asked, "What did you do in the war?" Survivors of combat have seen a bluer sky and a greener tree than most mystics. Glimpsing this, the kid knows that something very important had gone down; something more scary and unutterable than even sex, though it is mixed with something like that, too. Later, when I worked at the Pentagon around hundreds of professional soldiers who had never heard a shot fired in anger, I used to get chills knowing that more than anything, they wanted a taste of that look and would eventually, without any doubt, help perpetrate more wars to get it.
Our little unit was small and intimate and Captain Luckey, outside of being charmed by my father's presence, was a kind and loose commanding officer. But this second night was much different than the first. At about ten o'clock, the field radio started going efficient on us, reporting an attack on Pleiku City. Then we were probed by something as a trip flare went off in our outer perimeter wire.
With a shout we all flew to our combat stations. I had an M-79 grenade launcher, and Dad picked up an M-60 machine gun. As I jumped into my hole, the man in there before me set off our claymores with a roar, and I started lobbing grenades out towards the tripped flare.
Captain Luckey immediately got on the radio and called in the Fourth Division artillery which started laying illumination rounds over us as well as walking fragmentation up the slopes of the mountain. Time does funny things in these situations, but soon after the first illumination popped, I looked back over the edge of my hole. I saw my father behind some sandbags overlooking my position with his M-60 at the ready. There was nothing particularly awkward here. We both knew and liked guns, but there was something so incredibly touching and hilarious about the consistently operatic quality in which all our metaphors had crystallized. I mean, who, in God's name, was producing this movie? And what an amazing feeling to see him ready in his helmet and flack jacket protecting my back as I then continued to lob out more grenades. Despite the grandiosity that we were both capable of, this was a rare and oddly distinguished moment in our lives, and one that I continue to interpret in revolving waves of symbolism and flat-out caricature. For just a few moments it seemed that the entire North Vietnamese army and the American military-industrial complex had conspired to let us see through the parody of our true relationship, using perhaps the only tools that could nauseate our sentimental, overcompensating temperaments into a genuine clarity. The result of course was laughter. The probe turned out to be just that and of no consequence, but it had been enough to bring us to a brief moment of nondiscriminating awareness for each other. I saw the mirth in his eyes and felt a brotherly love in my heart. When I recall it into the forever present, my greed and longing for a feeling of connection with my father disappears. In those moments, everything is enough.
When I landed back in California after my first year in Vietnam, having been discharged, it was the same eighteenth day in June it had been the year earlier. As I wrote at the time, the weather, the air base, even the hour was the same, yet everything had changed for me, for my country. About half the soldiers were the same ones who had been with me going in the other direction that 365-day circle back around the Sun. We had all separated to different units. I hadn't seen any of them for exactly a year, but here we were again. Though I really didn't know them, they were obviously the same people, and yet they didn't look the same. Their faces were no longer the faces of boys. Grim experience had replaced any innocence. An odd mask of unsettled sureness that probably went back to the Trojan War sat where pure anxiety had once flashed. The other half of the men, well, they just weren't there, and the hushed presence of their absence was partly responsible for the new look on the faces of those of us who were left. I went into the jet's lavatory and looked at myself in the mirror. I started to cry, though probably not long enough, for the child I had lost somewhere. Then I went back, tightened my seat belt, and tried to go home.
Back home, things had really started zipping along. Within the first month of my return I was being chased around in the midnight Pennsylvania woods by an aged hippie wielding a bowie knife. He had discovered that I was a GI, and he felt a duty to eliminate me as a baby killer. "Ecology," he said. I was on my second acid trip ever, and boy, was I surprised. I felt a bit misled by the flowers in his hair. Maybe this was the New Left that I'd heard so much about. Though he was certainly a lunatic, he surely represented some unclaimed point man in the moonlight. In any case, I was resilient. The war had been bad.
I remained in the army for about six months after my return to America. It was like being dropped from one war zone into another. I went from a hell realm of bullets to a realm of confused and jealous gods with their "living room war," and bad-to-worse news bulletins. Once again though, I was eager to immerse myself in the "whatever," and it was obvious, at least to me, that in either theater, I was a volunteer.
As a reporter for the army in Vietnam, I had gone out looking for a good human-interest story, and I found instead more marijuana than Cheech and Chong's best dream. My research soon stopped being objective. The irony of it all: this amazing dope was right there where they had sent us to win hearts and minds. My square mind was immediately vanquished, and then my heart broke.
Now the counterproductive nature of the serendipity which found us slogging through a garden of sheer escapism was a pretty well-kept secret until I got back to the States. In 1967, people had somehow concluded that, quite apart from your domestic variety Communist-drug-addict-hippie-vermin, we in the service were high-minded scouts who were defending the integrity of our shores and interests with sobriety, M-16s, and probably Jesus. Hearing that, strictly speaking, this was not the case, an editor friend of mine asked for more detail. I wrote an article for the Washingtonian magazine called "The Importance of Being Stoned in Vietnam," and the cat was out of the bag.
My attachment to sincerity has always been a serious impediment. I was foolish enough to have written and talked about these things before I was actually out of the military.
After almost being court-martialed, I was called to testify in front of the Senate Armed Forces Sub-Committee on Drug Abuse. Though I testified in depth to a number of written questions, I basically told them that there was a lot of dope around, a lot of people were smoking it, and I didn't see that there was really any problem. I was careful not to bring up the Age of Aquarius or anything like that. Astrology was to wait in the background for another administration to bring it into the firmament of government and policy.
After this testimony. I felt a noble sense of solidarity with my peers, but I have to admit to a few shaky moments. Just a couple of days later, while driving my car, I turned on the radio and was immediately zapped with, "Today, Four-Star General of Army, General William Westmoreland, issued a statement saying, 'Private First Class John Steinbeck's comments on the use of marijuana in Vietnam are baseless.'" Talk about the long chain of command. Fortunately, a week later, on Pearl Harbor Day, my hitch was up and I was honorably discharged with a Good Conduct Ribbon.
Somewhat inadvertently, I had become news. It seems that I had become a spokesman for dope and its place in our society. So, advertently, I wrote a small book about my year in Vietnam. In Touch was nothing if not earnest. The war was ugly and ill-conceived, but I thought that the rift in the generations was due to simple misunderstanding, and that much could be healed with my unheated declaration of the facts. I knew nothing about the pathology of control and the substance abuse of power. I was too young to know, much less understand, that rage was an excruciatingly specialized style of addiction. Pressure and conflict were like alkaloids that offered a unique sense of well-being to whoever might develop the habit.
To be honest, I really didn't know much of what had been happening "back in the world." As I began to reconnect with my friends, it became obvious that my stint in the army, especially in Vietnam, was truly time spent somewhere off the planet.
America had become extraordinary. It was bursting with excitement. I had gone to Vietnam as a Hawk, and though I had turned into a veritable Turtle Dove, I still had a conservative streak. My love for history was one of the things that had kept me sane during the war. For some sort of cover -- and protection -- I became a student of the scene, a meteorologist for the changing wind, a wind that sometimes knocked you down, but once again, I was basically eager. This was my time, and I was a quick study.