Gumma

GUMMA

 

            Good evening and welcome back to the Preparation H Sports Center here in beautiful Sun City, Arizona! I’m Gene Dobbs, with my co-host Stu Noodleman. We’re ready for the last fight of the night for GUMMA: Geriatric Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts! What’s on the schedule, Stu?

            Stu: Well, Gene, the final fight of the night is a grudge match between Don “Shutdown” Trump and “Cryin'” Chuck Schumer. They’ve been literally dying to meet in the ring since just after the election of 2020 when Schumer lost his mistress to the fabulously wealthy Trump. Schumer called him a “Russian pussy-grabber” and Trump knocked his teeth out on the floor of the House. Schumer’s been screaming for revenge ever since.

            Gene: “Literally Dying”?

            Stu: That’s right, Gene. The doctors have given Cryin’ Chuck six months to live and Shutdown has promised to kill him tonight if Rudy Giulani doesn’t stop him.

            Gene: Well, Shutdown’s pretty out of shape, but Cryin’ Chuck has been training hard, doing daily walks around the Atria Assisted Living Facility, pumping massive amounts of styro-foam and pounding gallons of Geritol. I hear he’s been dominating the shuffleboard court, too.

            Stu: Okay! They’re coming out now… still coming… Don’t they make motorized walkers yet?

            Gene: Now they’re being helped into the ring by their managers who look a bit concerned. Oooops… My bad. Those aren’t managers! Those are the Visiting Angels!

            Stu: An ambulance is standing by, and I can see half a dozen medical technicians ready to go if needed.

            Gene: They’re taking the paddles out, so maybe they’re expecting a little cardiac action tonight.

            Stu: Chuck and Don have moved into the center of the octagon and Shutdown is giving Schumer the stink eye. Or he thinks he is. That’s the camera-man he’s looking at, but I guess his eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.

            Gene: Trump has pushed his walker aside and is walking around the ring with his hands in the air shouting, “Make MMA Great Again!”

            Stu: Boy is Cryin’ Chuck steamed, Gene. He’s threatening to take Trump behind the arena…

            Gene: That won’t be necessary tonight, Stu! They’re cruising for a bruising on live TV! Now the ref is reading the rules… they’ve declined to touch hands… Trump is yelling something about how his hands are “Too yuge for Chuck.”

            Stu: And Here We Go! Shutdown Don is wearing the red trunks with the yellow sweatshirt and Cryin’ Chuck is in the blue yoga pants with the red and white shirt.

            Gene: Uhhh… Not so fast, Stu… Schumer is bare-chested for this match.

            Stu: Really? I see an awful lot of red.

            Gene: Look closer.

            Stu: Well… Oh, Holy Mother of… That’s the worst case of shingles I’ve ever seen! That’s gotta hurt!

            Gene: Damn, Stu. Your eyes are as bad as theirs. You might want to get out the binoculars and take a closer look at the Donald.

            Stu: But it just looks like an ordinary baggy pale yellow sweatshirt! Ohhhh, crap… I see it now. That’s… that’s sickening!

            Gene: That’s right, Stu! Shutdown’s bare chest looks like forty pounds of melted cheese!

            Stu: Hand me that wastebasket… I think I’m going to barrrffff.

            Gene: There’s the BELL and Shutdown’s moving aggressively toward the center of the ring! Still moving… almost there… You want some water?

            Stu: Cryin’ Chuck is standing against the octagon, adjusting something in his pants. Here comes the ref. Apparently, a portion of ballistic diaper was sticking out. Now Schumer’s limping toward Trump. Uhhh… Who’s that in the wheelchair on the side of the cage, shoving something under the wire?

            Gene: Looks like Nancy Pelosi. Is that a switchblade?

            Stu: Not sure, but the referee is trying to wrestle it out of her hand. She’s a tough old bird… Owww! He really didn’t have to hit her that hard.

            Gene: Cryin’ Chuck is wind-milling his right arm over his head, warming up his haymaker… He’s in a crouch now, waiting for Trump. And waiting… Looks like maybe he can’t straighten up.

            Stu: Chuck’s no fool, Gene. Now he’s circling Trump with that piercing look in his good eye, a harsh stare that has plunged more than one Republican into abject terror. Trump is yelling “Russia THIS!” and pointing at Chuck. We’re in for a fight!

            Gene: Here it comes! Cryin’ Chuck swings and misses! Shutdown counter-punches and misses! Schumer lifts his leg for a round-house kick, but his hip locks up, and now he’s standing on one leg as Trump advances… still advancing… here he comes… Schumer throws a brutal left jab left as Shutdown connects with an awesome hammer-fist

and… HOLD ON! What the Hell? Oh! My! GOD!

            Stu: The fans at home aren’t going to believe this!

            Gene: They’ve fallen and they can’t get up!

            Stu: It’s a double knockout! The referee is giving them an eight count! And… This contest is OVER! The ref has called it a draw!

            Gene: Here come Visiting Angels, rushing into the octagon with walkers, warm milk, and Inogen oxygen. Don has dropped his gloves and is taking out his mouthpiece. Ooops… his teeth, too! Schumer’s looking for his hair. Looks like he just put Don’s “yuge” glove on his head. Where are his glasses?

            Stu: Joe Rogan is in the octagon with a microphone. Let’s see if we can get a few words from these geriatric gentleman gladiators.

 

            Joe Rogan: Don, tell us what you were thinking when you saw Chuck loading up that left jab.

            Trump: Well, Joe… I have… the… best… moves… just tremendous moves… (pant, pant, pant) but… I… didn’t… think… he’d connect… so hard.

            Rogan: And how about you Chuck? Did you expect such a lethal hammer-fist from the other side of the aisle?

            Schumer: That’s the… kind of… move… you… might expect… from someone… with a… defective… (pant,pant,pant) sense of morality!

            Trump: That was a legal move and you know it, Cryin’ Chuck! Rudy said so!

            Schumer: It’s irresponsible to hit a fellow human being with hands that big!

            Trump: More Cryin’ from Chuck.

            Schumer: Why I oughta…

            Rogan: Okay, okay. Fight’s over, guys.

            Trump: Meet me out back of Trump Tower and I’ll take you to the woodshed, Cryin’ Chuck.

            Schumer: I’ll be there! And I won’t need Nancy!

           

 

The End

(For now)

The Superman Contest

The Superman Contest

 

When I was five and a half years old, my family lived in a big two-story house near Mission, Texas. My brother Lee was eleven and my youngest brother, Lowell, was only one, so my brother Lynn, four years old, was my best friend. We spent more time playing with each other than any of the kids we knew, which wasn’t many because of our constant moving. Lynn and I were best buddies.

         Television was in its infancy, so we had to wait until four o’clock each day to watch our favorite TV show featuring the greatest superhero of all, Superman. We sat quietly enthralled as Superman resolved one crisis after another with his awesome powers, flying through the air at supersonic speeds to catch a falling Lois Lane or crushing a bad guy’s gun like so much putty. Plus, he had x-ray vision, and that was just cool.

         As soon as the show ended, we’d rush into the kitchen and tug at Mother’s skirts, pleading for her to “Make capes for us! Make capes!”

         Mother would take a couple of dry dishtowels and tuck them into the back of our shirt collars, securing them with safety pins. Then Lynn and I would dash into the yard with our arms outstretched, swooshing around the trees and bushes, swishing air through our teeth for effect. Though cursed with limited earthly powers, we imitated Superman in every possible way. We were two Supermen, battling the dastardly forces of evil that threatened to destroy our yard.

         But one day it dawned on us that something was wrong with our play. There was only one Superman, and here we were, running around like there were two Supermen. Only in Bizzaro World could such abject nonsense persist. One of us, it seemed, was going to have to play Jimmy Olson or Perry White. It just wasn’t right to have both of us skipping around the yard with our capes flapping in the breeze.

         “Let’s have a contest,” I suggested. “Whoever wins the contest gets to be Superman.” Lynn agreed. It was the American Way.

         I’m not sure which one of us thought up the idea (probably me), but we decided to hoist a rock into the air and take turns dropping it on each other’s head. The brother who survived the test with the most composure and grace got to be Superman.

         We scoured the yard and garage for a suitably large rock and a good length of rope. Lynn threw one end of the rope over a low-hanging tree branch and I began tying the rock onto the other end. When I was done I stared hoisting the rock into the air. Lynn stood under the rock, bravely waiting for the inevitable.

         Now, Dear Reader, you might think that I would never drop a large stone on my brother’s cranium, but I assure you that I had every intention of letting go of that rope. I also knew that my turn would be next, after which we’d decide who performed most like the real Superman. But before I could release the stone, it slipped out of my poorly tied knot and scored a nasty bull’s-eye on the crown of Lynn’s head.

         Lynn’s hands flew to the top of his skull as he left forth a cry of such anguish that it could have bent steel. Blood gushed through his fingers as he bolted for home, his little legs churning as powerfully as a locomotive’s wheels. He was moving faster than a speeding bullet, and with a well-timed leap I figured he could clear the roof of our house in a single bound.

         Once Mother’s initial shock had subsided (a few more years and she wouldn’t bat an eyelash at our injuries) she tenderly applied iodine and a few Band Aids, patching Lynn up as good as new. For many years thereafter, I could easily see the purple jagged scar that marked the top of Lynn’s head like a lightning bolt.

         After the Superman debacle, Mother gently suggested that we play Davy Crockett (ABC 4:30 pm) Davy was an extraordinary frontiersman, trapper and “Indian fighter” but he was still just a human being from planet earth. We could plausibly have a whole carload of Davy Crockett’s running around the yard.

         But there were still important decisions to be made, such as which one of us got to wear our only coonskin cap, and who got to wield our only genuine tomahawk.

My Nha Trang Vacation

My Nha Trang Vacation!

 

In June of 1963, our family of five had been living in Saigon for six sweaty months. We were familiar with the city, but had never been anywhere else in Vietnam. Saigon had been mired in turmoil since we arrived, and the day school let out for the summer a Buddhist monk immolated himself in protest, not far from our house. Angry demonstrations were common and the city always teetered on the edge of violence and political insanity. We needed a break.

         My father, Doc, decided that our best bet for a little relaxation and some quality beach-time would be a few days in Nha Trang, a small resort town north of Saigon, on the coast.

         As every Brat knows, military vacations are not the same as civilian vacations. Being in the military gives a soldier certain advantages, but these advantages are not always so advantageous. A simple plane flight to vacation-land might be on a commercial airliner, but more often than not, it’s on some sort of military standby junket or a US-Government-issue plane (God help you). My family had experienced our fair share of both.

         In typical cheapskate fashion, Doc arranged for us to fly to Nha Trang on a bare-bones military transport plane, for free. The plane was old and the seating was primitive: both sides of the interior featured worn wooden benches, designed for the hard-assed soldiers of a much earlier generation, maybe World War I or the Spanish-American War. I think I may even have seen Lindbergh’s initials carved into one of the benches…

         The trip got off to a tenuous start when the crew outfitted our whole family with parachutes, which led us boys (me, 13, Lynn, 11, and Lowell, 9) to a lot of wild speculation. We knew that parachutes were exciting and beautiful, but Mother seemed a bit nervous about strapping on the silk. The crew was very nice, calmly explaining that the chances of having to bail out into a snake-filled Vietnamese jungle, teeming with Viet Cong, were very slim (maybe one in twenty), which did nothing to quell Mother’s fears. Maybe if they hadn’t winked at us boys while they explained this…

         Fortunately, Mother had a fresh pack of smokes and this was definitely a smoke-all-you-want-we don’t give-a-crap flight. Doc seemed amused, but tried not to look at Mother because of the recrimination in her eyes that suggested she harbored a burning desire to throw him out of the plane without a ‘chute.

         While we kids prayed for a flack-attack (so we could bail out like seasoned paratroopers, floating safely to earth near one of the strategic hamlets) Mother lit up and hunkered down. Doc looked on patiently, and I imagined he was counting the money he saved by flying us in like so much contraband.

         After a bone-rattling flight of less than an hour and a hair-raising landing that left my stomach in knots, we skidded to a halt at the military airstrip outside the town. We stripped off our parachutes and caught a cab to the slightly decrepit Hotel Nautique, Vietnam’s version of the Bates Motel.

         We dumped our bags in our rooms and took a walk around the town. I immediately began scanning the area for a covert place to buy cigarettes, hoping for the rest of the family to be distracted by a display-case of trinkets in a shop or a one-legged beggar fluent in French. But it was not to be. Buying or smoking cigarettes in this situation was impossible, and I resigned myself to a nail-biting vacation from nicotine.

         When dinnertime rolled around, Doc hustled us down the street to “Jacques,” a restaurant he claimed was world-famous for it’s lobster. A waiter (who looked more like Uncle Ho than Don Ho) seated us at a table in the nearly empty restaurant and Doc ordered for us all. He ordered just one lobster for all of five of us.

         I knew then that my father was a cheapskate of Biblical proportions, the Navy’s own Jack Benny. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him squeeze a 10 piaster note until the water buffalo mooed and gave milk. I figured we’d each get one tiny mouth-watering bite of this fabled lobster and then be force-fed bread and water: typical grim fare for POWs. Some vacation.

         While we contemplated the small bowl of butter that had been placed beside our plates, Uncle Ho sashayed out of the kitchen with our lobster and I realized how wrong I was.

         We were going to need more butter. Lots more.

         He staggered to our table and set the platter down. We stared in awe at the tail of what must have been the biggest lobster in existence, bigger even than the giant lobsters we had once seen in a holding-tank in a mid-town Manhattan restaurant. This antediluvian crustacean was enormous, served bottom-side up on a huge platter. The tail had been split open lengthwise, revealing mounds of succulent white meat.

         We grabbed our forks and knives and fell to devouring the beast, slashing off burger-sized chunks of flesh and wolfing it down, rivulets of butter dripping down our chins. But even after an arduous full-scale assault by three hungry boys and two adults, we came nowhere near finishing it.

         Score: Doc, one. Me, zero.

         After dinner we went back to the hotel and fell into bed sated, swatting at the flies and mosquitos that hummed in through the holes in the screens. Did you know that if you pull a sheet over your entire body, mosquitos can pierce your skin right through the sheet? No? Neither did I.

         The next afternoon, Doc arranged for a boat trip, a “Three hour tour”, to a small island offshore where we could swim and relax. Our boat was about 30 feet long, with inboard engines and a small platform on the back where we could practice diving. We dropped anchor near the island and we boys wasted no time jumping into the warm, sparkling shark-and-barracuda-infested water. It wasn’t deep; the bottom was only about 10 feet away and the island was an easy swim if we wanted to try it. We soon discovered that the water was also full of small invisible jellyfish. We couldn’t see them so avoidance was impossible. With every stroke we felt tiny little lumps of clear jelly rub against our limbs and bodies, each touch delivering a small jolt of pain.

         But we had fun anyway, cruising through the water with the snorkels and fins, chasing after schools of colorful small fish and diving off the platform. Mother and Doc downed cocktails and talked with the Skipper, a heavyset gruff-looking Frenchman who drank too much and joked about the sharks he said were everywhere (har har har). This put Mother completely at ease (ha ha ha). Fortunately, we never saw a shark, but a few sinister-looking barracuda cruised by, ignoring us as we frolicked carelessly in the water, getting zapped over and over by the jellyfish.

         But the thought of a shark approaching our small (3) group didn’t faze me one bit. I wasn’t a particularly fast swimmer, but I figured I could swim faster than Lowell, and maybe Lynn, and that was all that was required. Although Lynn and I would surely mourn Lowell’s demise at the hands (fins? teeth?) of a Tiger Shark, we wouldn’t for a second hesitate to clamber aboard the boat without him. Sorry, Lowell. “Survival of the fittest” and all that…

         Our shark-less fun went on for a few hours without a cloud or a drop of sunscreen in sight. As far as I knew, there was no such thing as “sunscreen,” anyway.

         The Skipper finally pulled up the anchor (while he was still sober enough to do so), we climbed aboard, and the boat puttered back to the village. We were tired, and water-logged, but happy. And it was at the entrance to my hotel room, that I discovered the awful truth when I brushed against the door.

         “Ow! I think I’ve got a sunburn,” I said.

         My mother looked at me, then at my legs.

         The expression on her face told me everything I needed to know.

         I hurried to the bathroom mirror and took a gander at my face and shoulders. It takes a while to redden up thoroughly after hours in the sun, but I had done it in record time, a testament to my complete lack of melanin and good sense. I was as red as our well-boiled feast of the previous night.

         My legs stung like hell and I realized that taking off my shorts would be impossible. Mother slathered the burns she could reach with Noxzema, a greasy white salve, the presence of which does nothing except inform onlookers that they are, at the very least, better off than you.

         Score: Doc, two. Me, zero.

         All night I wallowed in my bed, an instrument of torture that with every move I made popped the scores of large blisters that had sprung up all over my body. My face was burned, my shoulders were burned, my arms were burned, my back was on fire…

         Doc and Mother had spent the afternoon sitting beneath the umbrella on deck, so they didn’t get toasted at all (at least not in the “sunburn” sense of the word). Lynn escaped the worst of it and was an attractive light pink (WTF?). Lowell, who had apparently won the DNA lottery (My great-grandmother was Cherokee; Lowell got it all), showed not a trace of anything resembling sunburn. He was as brown as an old pair of shoes.

         For the next two days, I rode around Nha Trang like a stiff, afraid to move lest I break a blister and leak fluid all over myself and the cyclo seat. We visited pagodas and temples, markets and restaurants, and I suffered in silence, enjoying it all through the pain.

         Our return flight was just like the flight to Nha Trang, including parachutes, chain-smoking, and another hair-raising landing. It took a week to recover from my sunburn, and even today I can see a few scars on my legs from the blisters that popped during my visit to the beautiful coastal town of Nha Trang. The scars are souvenirs that I never have to worry about losing.

         My Nha Trang sunburn was just one of many I acquired as a youth, and the benign skin cancers that I now suffer are a tribute to my time in the sun as a Military Brat and surfer. But, as my wife likes to remind me, the cancers that result from too much sun are easier to deal with than the ones that result from too little.

         But what does she know? She’s as dark as my youngest brother, and browns to a lovely, healthy brown in the sun. The word “Sunscreen” is not in her vocabulary, nor is the phrase, “Red as a lobster,” or “That hurts like hell!”

         But there’s an upside to my pain: my dermatologist’s children have beautiful teeth.

 

        

A slice of untold history from the Vietnam War

The reader reviews on Amazon.com and the comments I’ve been seeing on my Facebook page have been overwhelmingly positive, which allays many of the fears I’ve been entertaining lately. About the time “Saigon Kids” was set to debut I realized that, as much as I might want to see my book in print, publishing my memoir was also a thing to be feared.
Saigon Kids is a history book of sorts: a slice of untold history from the Vietnam War, stories about the kids I went to school with and their struggles to lead a normal life (in a country that was turning into a madhouse), and more personally, the history of my family. Readers who are total strangers get to learn much more about me and my family and friends than I am sometimes comfortable with, but I suppose this is the price one has to pay to publish a memoir. I’ve read hundreds of memoirs, and in the best of them, I have begun to feel like I know people I have never met, and probably never will. They are all friends, these memoir-ists, friends I’ve never met, but people with whom I now have a bond, of sorts.
Another aspect to this memoir is that although there are millions of military, Foreign Service, and Diplomatic Corp Brats from the Cold War era, little has been published to reveal the trials and tribulations these Brats experienced on a regular basis, stateside, and overseas. A few self-published Brat memoirs can be found if you look hard enough, but there are none I know of available in Barnes and Noble or independent booksellers. Certain themes in Saigon Kids will be familiar to any Brat, but the events described in the book are unique to that time and place.
I only hope that the larger community of military Brats will discover and enjoy “Saigon Kids.” In many ways, it is their story, too.
Les Arbuckle
October 16, 2017