Recovery

You may see an albino squirrel cross in front of Friday traffic.

It may pause on brick pavers or cross a puddle that dries on the steps as you enter the suburban library, the one designed in 17th Century French-Italianate taste.

Do you feel the hug as you sink into the reading room leather?

Can you hear Billy Collins read his poem lying across two pages

of this week’s “New Yorker?”

Maybe it’s the current “Atlantic” essay, it beckons your attention with the call,

“Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.”

Does anyone notice the elderly visitor who comes in from the November wind?

He may wonder where he’ll sleep tonight as he studies today’s “New York Times”

page by page.

Hear those toddlers giggle as they sing at the Storytime program downstairs?

 

“New Yorker” ages, archives as years pass and the poem preserves.

To make room, shelves of expired periodicals are put out for recycle.

A nursing home administrator parks in the alley, retrieves the boxes of magazines,

returns to stock the day room at the senior center.

 

Weeks follow.

 

The aged “New Yorker” lies atop a pile on the end table by the couch.

A volunteer from the rehab program turns pages as she talks with an elderly resident.

We overhear Billy’s old poem, “Forgetfulness,” rise from the mildewed pages

as the woman reads aloud to the widow, a retired English teacher with dementia.

https://poets.org/poem/forgetfulness


			
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A Living Map of a Middle American Town Drawn by a Paper Boy, 1959

IMG_3310

Topography: It starts on the flat surface of the sidewalk under the marquee of the Idol Theater. There’s a stack of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, secured by a wrapped strand of fence wire that I cut with my pliers. On weekdays the paper arrives already assembled, ready to load into my canvas bag to start the morning delivery. However, on Sundays several sections arrive separately and need to be inserted into the latest news, a thicker, heavier pile of newsprint.

It’s September, Lodi School resumed the day after Labor Day, following the annual Lodi Fall Fair and Medina County Fair. This Friday night the Lodi Tigers will open their final football season, before the school district consolidation, joining with Leroy and Seville to become Cloverleaf. This team will close their history with an undefeated championship season, including a humbling of Milan, 74-8, and Huron, 80-0!

It’s dark. Papers must be delivered before going home and then off to school.

Contours: I start walking east on Wooster Street, passing a 4-unit motel by a small parking lot behind Zsarnay’s Shoe Repair. By the front door, a couple candy vending machines, clear glass bowls on iron pedestals that accept pennies for the purchase. Crossing Wooster, it’s on to the Elliot Funeral Home, then I cover the residential customers on South Market and Academy Streets. Heading back to the Square, I pass Hower’s, where the Tanner sisters sell clothing, and make my way south on Harris, opening screen doors one-by-one to deposit the morning news. The first house belongs to Mr. Waite, who I’ll only meet in person once, for he always puts the weekly payment in an envelope taped to his door when I collect on Saturdays.

A common out-building on Lodi’s residential streets, small barns, left over from the era of horse-drawn carriages and buggies. Some of my customers park their cars in these wooden structures with lofts.

Done with Harris Street, back to the Square, I pass the firehouse, with the jail upstairs, Park Restaurant, Fetzer Ford, Benton’s Variety Store, Leatherman’s Hardware, and Chapman’s Barber Shop. My own haircuts were scheduled too frequently for my taste, and performed by Dallas Warner as he cranked up or down the leather seat and I studied the cast iron foot rest. A couple years later I migrated to Paul Snyder’s little shop on Church Street, behind Mrs. Musser’s news stand. Paul only charged a dollar and he had a stack of “men’s” magazines for boys to enjoy.

Turning the corner onto Bank Street, passing Philip’s Drugs, dropping papers off on both sides of the street, which doubled as US Routes 42 & 224 until the bypass had been finished. One of the residences on Bank still had a sign in front advertising “Tourist Rooms.” Because of Lodi’s place at the intersection of two major car and truck routes, plus Ohio Route 76, our town supplied three small motels, nine gas stations, including three of them as truck stops, and nine places to sit and dine on cooked meals. This was before fast food, drive-through windows, and I was headed toward my favorite of Lodi’s restaurants, the Aldo Diner.

I don’t know if the Aldo was open all night, like the Hob Nob or John’s Place further down the street, but when I arrived with the paper the lights were on and the windows steamy from the heat off the grill and fryer. It was L-shaped, an eight-stool counter parallel to the front and Bank Street, then the booths and dining room tables perpendicular toward the back. Lodi Equity and the C. W. Sommers auto dealership sat across Bank, the “Nickelplate” railroad tracks were immediately west of the parking lot. I once sat in Mom’s Edsel station wagon stopped at the crossing and spied a hobo, riding tucked in a corner under a coal hopper. We were less than a half-mile from at least one hobo camp that I knew of. A couple of characters who roamed the Square, Johnny Muskrat and Alex, might have called the camp their home, I never knew.

I was earning money, so I could afford my own breakfast, hot chocolate and home baked meringue cookies displayed in a clear glass jar on the counter next to the cash register. I’d lift the thick lid, help myself, and peruse the reports and opinions on the Indians or Browns of the day by the Plain Dealer’s Gordon Cobbledick or Hal Lebovitz. After viewing the funnies, I’d even scan the front page. I’m sure I was the best-informed reader of current events in the sixth grade, including teachers.

Back to the job, as dawn starts to light the town, a trek up Elyria Street, passed Perkins Jeweler by the Black River bridge to Lodi Hospital, where I peddled extra papers that I had “borrowed” from a pile on the stoop of Musser’s newsstand. Back down to Medina Street I’d pass the Isaly store. Later in the school day several of us might lunch on fries and coke at Isaly’s. At the Lodi Trailer Park, where none of my customers’ doors were locked, I’d open them and drop the paper in on their living room floor. Almost finished by now, I’d return to Wooster Street, passing the office of the weekly paper, The Lodi Advertiser, Bartholomai’s Hardware, Rowland Drugs and the only bar within town limits, Lodi Grill. By this hour of the day they already had customers sipping 3.2 beer and I was tickled I had legitimate reason to be the only minor present. On Saturdays when I collected it was usually packed.

Lodi citizens who imbibed on stronger drink could go just outside the corporation line to Smitty’s or Lee’s 6% up on 42, or in the other direction, passing Jim’s Place to the Shady Glen, where Hollywood matinee idol Tyrone Power once stopped to rest.

Onward, passing Western Auto, Baily’s Variety, Harry Hall’s Barber Shop, Piatt Electric, where I later purchased my first 45 rpm records, Joe Warner Insurance, and the A&P and Underwood groceries side-by-side. Lodi’s third grocer, Scott’s IGA was across the square next to the post office. Completing the list of stores with food, Mack’s Food Center was a mile away on 224 towards Homerville. Finally, crossing Church Street to Musser’s and Stick’s Restaurant next to the Idol and home in time to leave for school.  Mrs. Musser was so patient, allowing me to stand and read her magazines and paperbacks while only purchasing nickel candy bars.

Fold: Is this memory unique? I don’t believe so. There were hundreds, thousands even, of Lodi-like towns in Ohio, all over the Midwest during the ‘50s & ‘60s, and the decades before. But this perspective, I’m grateful to say, is one of many such recollections of those who celebrate a place in a time. This one is mine.

Idol Theater before closing in the ’70s. Storefront on the left housed Stick’s Restaurant until circa 1964, then decades of vacancy.

Idol Theater 1

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I Stare at the Catfish that Rises to the Surface

bike on fire

I Stare at the Catfish that Rises to the Surface

 

Waves of crickets

blow over my ears,

a cicada tide comes near.

 

September summer season,

school bus parades,

Friday night drums,

nests and floods

on fire.

 

Fly eggs squirm, maggots

in a possum, dead

at Clifton and Woodland, hum

another calendar retreat.

 

The crow is one with memory,

a bicycle, two tubes of air,

some vacant house,

three busted windows

haunt windy streets for repair.

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https://orangeacorn.wordpress.com/2019/08/12/stop-thanking-this-veteran-for-his-service/

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STOP THANKING THIS VETERAN FOR HIS SERVICE

mem

PLEASE, Stop Thanking Me For Serving In The Military

That son of a bitch, I’m gonna shoot him down.

Who?

That fuckin colonel up in that spotter chopper, he’s gonna get us killed.

DON’T MAN…you’ll go to the stockade if you do, they’ll send you to Leavenworth for life.

I don’t care, they’ll never know who shot it down…Charlie, they’ll suspect.


DON’T MAN, think about the chopper pilot, he’s not giving you the order to go into that wood line, he don’t need to die.

 

STOP IT! ARE YOU THANKING ME FOR MY MURDEROUS DESIRE TO KILL AN AMERICAN OFFICER?

 

We were soaked, first from the all night monsoon falling on us again as we staked another ambush patrol where two rice paddy dikes intersected three clicks southeast of Binh Phouc. Then, soaked in our sweat as the south Asian sun baked morning into afternoon while we inched along a trail approaching a nameless nipa palm-lined stream that we crossed, raising our weapons above our heads to keep dry. We forded the water in single file, one hand grabbing the fatigues of the trooper behind in case of a deep spot or strong current. Then, to continue down more paths, constantly vigilant of the trip wires, stopping all progress as we exploded the booby-trap grenades at the end of the wire. FIRE IN THE HOLE!

Some of us had read Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22, an anti-paean to the absurdity of war penned by a veteran of our fathers’ generation. We were composing the words of our own senseless Baby Boomer war novel. Every day our question…WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR?

As we passed a vacated bunker of hardened mud, two feet high, deep enough for a NVA regular to lay in wait, we saw a hand on the ground, severed at the wrist, decaying, with no trace of the body from which the hand had been. Someone had folded the fingers over before rigor mortis stiffened the signal, one finger remained upright, the middle digit, a FUCK YOU greeting to all that passed.

Please don’t thank me.
I dislike being thanked, because I never intentionally gave anyone, or my country, a gift.
I was drafted, thus forced into combat labor, without my consent, for two years.
I often refer to it, not-always-snarkily, as being human-trafficked.
By the way, the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy was one of the causes of our War of 1812.
As sincere as your words might be intended, I didn’t get drafted in order to give you a gift.
Consider, as a citizen of US in 1968 I was forced by law to be conscripted in service of the US Army in an undeclared war. Just how removed is this abduction from the practice of human trafficking?

 

On the edge of a paddy stood a farmer’s hut, deserted, but only for a short time. The peasants had vanished, leaving behind household items, a few chickens that appeared disease-ridden, and their water buffalo, a beast of burden common in the Mekong Delta. We helped ourselves to souvenirs, set the thatched roof of the hut aflame with Zippo lighters and shot the beast on our way out.

What exactly are you thanking me for…stealing a peasant’s farming tools, his silk pants, shooting his livestock?
A high percentage of the US Army recruits during the late-60s/early-70s were drafted. Ground combat units such as the one I was assigned were composed of nearly 100% draftees.

Charlie was watching us, quietly. The number of booby-traps told us we were close to their stockpile of rice, to their arms cache, to their bunkers where Viet Cong slept during the day so they could mortar our position at night, or blow up a bridge on Highway 4. We often patrolled with a Tiger Scout, or chu hoi as the Vietnamese called them, repatriated former(?) Viet Cong presently working for us. On this day Duc was our boy walking point, a human mine detector. We generally walked along the raised earthen dikes that separated the paddies where rice stalks grew, filling deeper with water by the day with the monsoons. Each trooper walked leaving a gap of 5-10 yards between one another (“Don’t bunch up, one round will get you all!”). I pulled up the rear, constantly spinning around to check for any activity behind us. I noticed a halt in this procession, Duc had stopped and was very deliberately inspecting the trail before him. Our entire squad, ten of us or so, focused on this teenage boy who spoke no English. Carefully he inched ahead, probably looking in vain for a trip wire that wasn’t there. Then, all of a sudden, I watched a cloud of earth rise from up underneath him on the dike. It grow higher and wider, raising Duc in its grasp a few feet above, then dropping his body into the paddy. I saw all of this before the sound waves of the explosion reached my ears, no more than 50 yards away. Duc’s weight had probably triggered a pressure-detonated booby trap wired to a retrieved 60mm mortar round that had failed to explode upon previous initial contact and re-engineered by Viet Cong for this purpose. As our medic rushed ahead to treat him, he never lost consciousness, although he did lose a lot of blood. His legs were as mangled as if dogs had finished chewing on them. We radio’d for a chopper to medivac him to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and took a timely break until it landed.

After Duc’s dust-off our patrol continued, and we knew there was bad news ahead. The 2-seat Huey circling overhead offered our battalion CO a commanding view of the wood-line ahead of us, and the order was to penetrate and make contact with the enemy. Our squad was being led by an overweight lieutenant who had been in college ROTC in Texas only a year before. We called them “shake-&-bakes” and held no confidence in them as leaders of men. At this time I took over as radio operator, which placed me directly behind the Lt in order to facilitate communication. It also put me in direct conversation with the voice overhead ordering us to proceed toward some mystery mayhem. At his next command to go forth, I pressed the microphone on the receiver and spit and croaked into the mouthpiece, UH, BRAVO-1, SAY AGAIN, UNABLE TO RECEIVE, YOU’RE COMING IN BROKEN AND DISTORTED, basically indicating we couldn’t follow orders we couldn’t receive. This exchange would repeat a couple more times to convince the CO we couldn’t hear his orders. As the Lt listened to my attempt to sabotage a direct order from his boss’ boss, he turned around toward me to grab the radio and in his reckless twirl he set off another booby trap, this one a small buried grenade that sprouted black smoke and jungle dirt to rain all over both of us. His back was peppered with dozens of pieces of shrapnel, but that was the extent of the damage, truly he was the walking wounded. So, with another medivac en route, we paused for another break. Upon arrival, the Lt insisted on throwing down the yellow smoke grenade himself and guiding in his own dust-off. Now, the remainder of our squad needed to get out of this wood-line, and with the Lt evacuated, there was no one in charge. I handed the radio to a trooper in exchange for his M-79 and started through a path, soon to spy a trip wire. With the intention to withdraw safely back so to explode this booby trap, I crossed a clearing and felt my right leg on fire, a burning that I tried to run away from except I was no longer on the ground. My legs were running, my body was rising, I was being moved against my will, I fell, and seconds later, as our medic cut away my pant leg I recognized I had set off the explosion. I was hospital bound, with an applied empty tube of morphine pinned to my shirt to alert the hospital staff of my sedation. The third dust-off of the day landed, and as they lifted me onto the floor of the Huey slick, Duc was still there, lying next to me, alert, with an angelic smile as he recognized me as a fellow traveler.

I was thankful. I had my legs, my dick, my balls, I believed I’d be OK, if only this pain would subside. This intense pain reset every cell my body possessed. This sharp, ceaseless burning…I couldn’t even identify its source, this sensation transformed my every thought. The hot shards of metal tearing my flesh off the bone changed my outlook immediately, like a transfiguration. I didn’t want anyone to experience this, not the Viet Cong, not the juice head rednecks we despised back in the base camp, not even the battalion colonel whom I had wanted to assassinate just a few minutes before, I didn’t want ANYONE to ever feel the pain I was in at the moment.

Hey Larry, just to let you know, I’m OK, and after this week of clean sheets and three hots daily in Saigon’s 3rd Field Hospital, they transferred me to Okinawa, via Osaka, Japan. The severity of my wound requires surgical care unavailable in- country. Once they mend my leg I’ll be back with the unit, probably in a month. Say HEY to Howard and Buck.

Naively unaware of my condition, I wrote my buddies in 3rd Platoon that I’d see them soon. But injuries in a tropical climate, especially flesh-wounds caused by shrapnel, tend to infect more extensively and require longer healing times. Fact was, as much as I hated this war, we all hated it, as dangerous as life was for us, every day, every night, I sincerely wanted to go back, not to the country, but to THEM. They were my boys.

THIS is why I don’t want you to thank me, not unless you were there, in a war zone, looking out for your buddies.
I suspect that I react out of the frustration of trying to talk to people who cannot understand.

No matter how sincerely well their intention, the phrase, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, still creeps me.

Most folks, strangers who thank me, never served themselves. When a Nam vet learns I served, he will usually greet me with a variation of WELCOME HOME, BROTHER! Frankly, I feel like only other combat vets have earned the right to thank me.

STOP THANKING ME FOR MY SERVICE…fatigued in Nam 1968all you’re doing is legitimizing the war machine, giving currency to the continued use of combat soldiers.
If you want to thank us, stop creating veterans. Stop allowing the invasion of other countries, cease the deaths and halt the wounding of our young. Let’s draft our citizens to serve, to build and repair our villages and towns and cities, a domestic Peace Corps.

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R.I.P. David, After All These Decades

David’s Gone Fishing

bike wreck

Where are you from?

I grew up in a small town in middle America in the mid-20th Century, 
a beach head of sorts for Appalachian immigrants, not unlike 
my own family, but mostly refugees from the Clay County coal towns 
that caved in closing.

When I was eight one of our neighbors, David, returned home 
as a quadriplegic. He was older, but barely a teen when he crashed 
his Schwinn speeding down Elyria Street’s hill, ironically in front 
of the hospital, his next stop.

A few years later I delivered the morning Plain Dealer to guests 
of that very same hospital.

David and a friend had been fishing that day, perhaps at some farm 
pond on the road to Chatham. Maybe it was the fishing hole 
in the branch of Black River that flowed through Richman Farms. 
As he descended the bricks of State Route 76 his pole engaged the 
spokes of his front wheel and the boy catapulted hard ahead of his 
ride onto the pavement above Perkins Jewelry, by the iron bridge.

Remember when you went fishing?

Did you ride your bike? Where did you fish, a lake or pond, 
a river or stream. Maybe you cast flies, repeatedly whipping the 
surface of a cascading brook for trout. Perhaps you surf-fished for 
whiting or Atlantic croaker, or on a Gulf Stream excursion for 
marlin.

David was an only child. His parents married well into their 30s 
and were pleased to be blessed with a son. The father owned a 
prosperous manufacturing plant common in small towns throughout 
the  industrial north, a supplier to the auto assembly plants in 
Cleveland.  They had the means to care for their boy at home, and 
as they travelled with him frequently, they installed a pneumatic 
lift in their driveway so to slide his gurney into their Oldsmobile 
wagon with ease.

The path to the bank of Black River started at the barbed-wire fence 
by the gravel township road. We waited until the bull was out of 
sight before crossing the pasture, dodging the cow pies wider than a 
skillet. Then, crawling under another fence, continuing the path 
through a blackberry thicket for a few yards to the sandbar by the
stream. Our forward hike startled the bullfrogs that dived in 
sequence  into puddles ahead of our steps. We had packed sandwiches, 
a bamboo pole, extra line and hooks, a scaling knife and a tobacco 
can for bait, having filled it before dawn with nightcrawlers fused 
together in a mucousy bond of worm lust.

David’s parents encouraged neighbor kids to visit. He spent his days 
in a parlor off the living room, lying on his gurney next to a large 
aquarium, tropical fish in bright clear water. Nothing like the 
tepid creek he’d fished where thirsty dairy cattle waded.  
Often, we’d go visit as they returned from a Sunday drive to see how 
he got to descend to the driveway on the lift from the vehicle. 
He smiled a lot; he must have liked us.

Bluegills are a species of sunfish common in these waters. 
The stream is slow, shaded by willows and sycamore trees, and our 
catch of panfish would be on display en route home, tethered to our 
handlebars as trophies awaiting the frying oil.

Remember Saturdays in the fall, squirrel season? 
A Ford pickup passes with one or many severed tails bannering 
from the radio antennas. Or bucks in bondage on the front grills of 
Jeeps driving back from deer hunts.

What did David catch that day, hours before permanent paralysis? 
Bass was the holy grail, but carp and suckers often took the bait. 
Catfish were too bony to keep. We always found turtles, box 
turtles to taunt, but we kept a respectful distance from 
the snappers. And snakes.

I don’t know if David liked berries.  Wild strawberries had ripened 
the day he went fishing, smaller than cultivated berries, but 
sweeter  like no other fruit. We harvested berries all summer, 
raspberries, blackberries, elderberries by the drainage canal. Our 
bikes balanced pine-peck baskets filled to the top, one on each 
handlebar as we hurried home passed by tractor-trailers hauling 
down Route 42. 
Ricky, leading our convoy in front of me, skidded onto the gravel 
shoulder of the highway, smashing his fruit into blood-like 
puddles on the side of the road. Once arrived at the house we’d 
transfer our catch to pint and quart boxes and sell door-to-door 
to neighborhood pie bakers, fifty-cents apiece. 
I wonder which ones his mom spoon-fed to David.

During football season we gathered apples from the orchard behind 
our house, several heritage varieties all but disappeared now. 
There was a cider press in Medina that squeezed the bushels we 
picked into glass gallon jugs, charging only by keeping a 
percentage of the yield for their use. Just as with our berry sales, 
we marketed the fermenting apple juice house-to-house, 75-cents per 
jug, keeping some to drink before it turned vinegar.

I can’t recall when David ceased his smile, could no longer see 
his bettas and angelfish that glowed in the dark, but it was after I 
stopped delivering newspapers to his address. The Beacon Journal cost 
seven cents then, with the carrier getting two cents from the price. 
I saved enough to buy a fiberglass rod with a cork handle and 
lightweight cast aluminum reel that I aimed straight in front of my 
handlebars, above the front wheel, when I raced down Elyria Street 
with a bass hanging in the wind.
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These musicians kept our spirits up in Viet Nam

Robin

Good Morning Vietnam, Barry Levinson’s 1987 film featured Robin Williams as the deejay Adrian Cronauer during his deployment in the Republic of Viet Nam working for the American Forces Network (AFN/AFVN).

AFVN was real, and at its peak served over 500,000 servicemen, women and contractors.

From personal experience (November, 1968 through May, 1969) I can say it helped me and the grunts I served with in the Mekong Delta as a psychological and psychic lifeline..the hit music we heard when we turned on our portable battery-powered SONY radios was timely, as current as the Top 40 hits heard by our civilian counterparts on AM radio back home in the US of A.

Here are the hits I remember more clearly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

and of course, our driving theme song…

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