Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4
This text, made available by the Sixties Project, is copyright (c) 1996 by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., or the author, all rights reserved. This text may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. This text may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is a collective of humanities scholars working together on the Internet to use electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.
Welcome to the 'Nam, Part I
Stephen T. Banko III, Buffalo, NY
Saying the name wrinkled his face up much like his first prepubescent taste of okra. Looking over the bleak landscape did the same to his soul. His mind had conjured up dark images of forbidding jungle but as he looked across the landscape he saw nothing but a barren, sun-bleached wasteland as that looked as lonely and empty as he felt.
The jeep that dropped him off droned away behind a choking, khaki-colored cloud of dust. As the grinding of the gears faded into the quiet morning, he stood alone with his fears in front of a plain building. Only the dust moved.
Josh Duffy, with three full days in country, stood before a battered building as bleak as its surroundings. It was nothing more than four screens, a tin roof and a concrete floor nailed together around some darkness. A dust-frosted sign over the door conveyed a terse mission statement: "Find 'em; Fuck 'em up; Forget 'em."
Simple enough, Duffy thought, I think I can remember that.
He slung his rifle, shouldered his duffle bag, and entered the shack. His eyes needed time to adjust from the glare of the morning sunshine to the artificial darkness created by the wool Army blankets hung across the dusty-brown screens. When they did, he was sorry. The place was a shithole. At first he thought it had been ransacked and the filthy bodies strewn across the two dozen cots were dead. Only the hideous noises that rasped from assorted noses and throats dismissed that notion. The bundles of dirt and rags on the beds were alive and they might even be human. The room looked like a hurricane blew through an armory. Yellow belts of machine gun ammo were draped over mosquito nets or dropped alongside the guns. Rifles, shotguns and submachine guns hung on the walls or were propped against the screen walls. Loaded magazines lay scattered across the concrete floor. Ammo cans, canteens, hand grenades, machetes, claymore mines and knives of every size and description were scattered everywhere. The place was total chaos. The condition of the room was Duffy's first hint that many of the old Army rules no longer applied to this situation.
A grating noise coming from the far end of room got Duffy's attention. He tiptoed through the debris and saw a scruffy soldier sitting by the rear door, running a thick-bladed hunting knife back and forth across a sharpening stone. Duffy half expected him to have a patch over one eye and a parrot on his shoulder.
Surely, these men couldn't be soldiers, he thought, and certainly not our soldiers. The man sat serenely, stroking the blade, as if entranced by the shrill sound it made. He was dressed only in fatigue pants, faded from olive drab to merely drab. His feet were bare, except for some once-yellow shower shoes which did little to hide several raw, angry-looking sores. His stare was vacant, his eyes unfocused and as flat as glass. It was fixed on something Duffy couldn't see. His face was ravaged by the same purpled sores that had eaten into his feet. His hair might have been blonde once but now it was vaguely neutral, leaning to dusty gray. His hands manipulated the knife skillfully, like it was an extension of his fingers. He completed another dozen strokes before looking up at Duffy.
"Hey, buddy, where ya from?" he said, smiling and scrutinizing the shiny new green look of both the uniform and the man.
"Ah... Pennsylvania... Scranton," Duffy said. "My name is Duffy and I'm supposed to report to the recon platoon. Am I in the right place?"
"Troop, this is the 'Nam. It damn sure as hell ain't the right place. But it is the recon platoon. I'm Dennison. The guys just call me Denny. Say my man, you got any stateside groceries in that duffle bag?"
"Groceries? You mean 'food'?... no, man, we ate it all at the replacement station. Am I supposed to report to someone?"
"Yeah, probably, but everybody's asleep. Out on a 'bush last night, ya know?"
When Duffy's face betrayed that he didn't know, Dennison explained.
"Ambush, FNG! you know: you wait for the bad guys to come ditty-bopping along so's you can send their shit to Buddha? Take some advice from old Denny here: don't go wakin' nobody up to tell 'em you gotta report, you dig? Ain't nobody gonna cotton to that shit. 'Sides, what are they gonna do if you report late? Send you to Vietnam?"
Dennison laughed loudly at his little joke but Duffy didn't get it.
"Anybody mind if a real soldier gets some fucking sleep, troops?"
Duffy turned toward the sound and watched a pile of camouflage stir before finally exposing a tousled head and unshaven face.
"Sorry, amigo," Dennison said softly, "just bullshittin' with the FNG. We'll go outside, okay?"
"Fuck you, Denny," the talking head said gruffly, "I'm up now. I'll never get back to sleep in this heat."
Duffy was surprised a man sleeping in full uniform and under a poncho liner would bring up the heat but he decided not to mention it in the interest of personal safety.
"That's my man Sennett. He's from Massachusetts. The best fuckin' grenade man in the 'Nam."
Duffy extended his hand.
"Josh Duffy, Scranton, P-A. Nice to see you."
"Yeah right," Sennett said, still more asleep than awake. "How's everything back in the World?" He ignored Duffy's hand.
Since Duffy couldn't imagine either of these men in his world, he assumed no answer was needed. He was right.
"Okay assholes, now that you woke me up how exactly do you plan to make up for my loss of three hours of much needed sleep?" Sennett said.
"Well, the FNG ain't got no chow, but I bet he's got some cash," Dennison said. "Why don't he treat us to a little starch job at the Number One?"
Duffy looked to Sennett for help.
"What's an FNG?"
"You, pal --a fucking new guy."
"And a starch job?
"Denny's a little horny. He wants to head out to the Number One Laundry to starch up his trouser mouse."
"Number One Laundry? Horny people go to the laundromat here?"
"The Number One is a laundry in front and a whorehouse in back, shit-for-brains" Sennett said, opening the back door. "If you look across the barbed wire over there, you can see our friendly little orgasm garden."
Duffy looked across the flat, brown plain and saw a little building with walls made of flattened tin cans, mud and the corrugated tin roof.
"That little shack is a whorehouse and a laundry?" Duffy asked.
"Hey, don't knock it, man," Dennison said, "it's a damn sight better than ole Rosie Palm."
Dennison had made himself laugh again and bellowed loudly. Sennett punched him hard on the arm.
"Knock it off, you rotten-footed asshole. The guys need their sleep. 'Sides, I doubt if the FNG can buy the whole platoon a piece of nookie. By the way, my good man, how much money you got?"
Duffy hesitated but figured this was his new home, so what the hell...
"I got about a hundred dollars left," he said.
"A hundred dollars!!" Sennett said, before remembering a wakened platoon could pose a serious threat to his sport. "Shit, we can have us a good ole time."
Suddenly, Duffy felt his face flush, hot and red. He was a virgin. Twenty-one years old and a college junior before he flunked out and was drafted, and still a virgin. Vietnam was a long way to come to lose his cherry, he thought. But what the hell, it had to go sometime. Still, he was leery of strangers spending his money.
"How much of my hundred will it take?" he asked.
"Duffy, for twenty-five dollars Mama-san will make you a goddamned partner," Sennett laughed. "We ain't exactly talking Park Avenue call girls, you know."
"Okay, what the hell. Let's go."
While Sennett grabbed his grenade launcher and helmet and Dennison threw on a tattered fatigue shirt and gathered up his steel pot, Duffy's eyes locked on a small, unframed picture of a pretty blonde girl nailed over Sennett's bunk. Her soft, smiling face could have been lifted from the cover of "Seventeen." Sennett saw Duffy's stare.
"My sweetie," Sennett explained. He threw a dirty towel on the nail and it covered the picture. "She'd probably understand but what she don't know won't hurt her."
Then the three men walked into the fevered shimmer of the dry season sun, squinting in its brilliance. They started for the perimeter wire some five hundred meters away when Duffy asked:
"Shouldn't we be heading for the MP gate? At the replacement station, they told us the only legal way off the base was through the main gate."
"The trick word here is 'legal,'" Sennett said. "We'd have a little trouble explaining Denny's outfit, don't you think."
Duffy looked behind him as Dennison limped along on his crusty feet.
When they reached the first strand of barbed wire, Sennett called a halt and allowed Dennison moved to the head of their little file.
"That man's dick is like a divining rod," Sennett said. "Duffy, you pay attention to where Denny walks and you just follow him. Understand? Everywhere he walks, you walk."
"Sure, I understand. What's the big deal?"
' "There ain't no big deal. You just go where he goes, you got it?"
"No buts, FNG! Just do it, understand?"
Dennison started out in a crazy weave that carried the three men over a hundred meters of terrain to cross just twenty meters through the entanglement. Duffy grew more skeptical about the wisdom of the expedition with each step of the strange route. But what he was really nervous about was coming face to face with the demise of his virginity. Yet he carried on, sweat boiling from beneath the steel helmet under the searing January sun. His mind wandered back to that drive-in back seat where he'd almost made it with that girl. She wasn't only willing, she was damn near demanding. She had unnerved him and after a few tentative gropes, he stopped with her moans still echoing in his ear and her hands clutching his sweater in a frantic effort to drag him down on top of her. This isn't a good idea, he told her, trying to convince him as much her. You mean more to me than a back seat. But the back seat was what Susie wanted and when she didn't get it, she was pissed.
"Don't flatter yourself, Josh," she said. "The back seat is all you mean to me."
Sennett's command voice jerked him back to the present.
"I told you to follow Denny, you asshole! Get your head out of your ass and pay attention. And I ain't even bullshitting, FNG!"
What's the big deal, Duffy wondered. These assholes are playing some kind of cutesy game to jerk me around. They think I'm stupid but I know what they're doing. Still, he got back in line just the same.
The trip across the six-tiered obstacle covered 150 meters but they walked ten times that far. By the time they made it through the last break in the wire and on to the flat plain that stretched to the little village, Duffy's shirt was soaked with sweat. Dennison was sweating too, though not nearly as much as Duffy. Sennett looked remarkably fresh.
"Jesus Christ," Duffy said, as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, "I must look like shit. I can't go in there looking like this."
His two partners laughed.
"Shee-it, Duffy, Mama-san and her baby-sans don't give a shit what you look like. All they care about is what your money looks like," Dennison said.
"Hey, what the fuck was that little game back in the barbed wire? An initiation or something?" Duffy asked.
"You might say that" Sennett said. "It's just that --"
"We just crossed a minefield, buddy," Dennison said. "Ain't that a bitch?"
Duffy's knees felt weak and his stomach lurched. He struggled, trying not to vomit. But his fear passed quickly to anger and he seized Sennett by the shirt.
"Why didn't you tell me, you little bastard?"
Sennett dropped his weapon and thrust his hands upward breaking Duffy's grip.
"Hey, lighten up, FNG. It don't mean nothing. You were in good hands, pal. I figured you wouldn't make the trip if you knew. You weren't in any danger. Not really. Denny here knows more about this minefield than anybody, ain't that right, Denny?"
"Fuckin-A, man. I laid this field. Come to think of it, I laid everything else in and around Phu Loi, too," Dennison bragged with precise irrelevance. Shit, it's a piece of cake."
Duffy was still mad. Losing his cherry was one thing, getting blown to bits to do it was something else. His legs were still rubbery and his anger still seething but when Sennett and Dennison broke into laughter, so did he. This was going to be some year, he thought. Each step toward the venal shack carried Duffy closer to the loss of something he knew he wanted to keep without really knowing why. He wanted to be excited, full of anticipation. But he felt only dread that swelled inside him with each footfall. Instinctively, he reached to his neck to grab the silver medal, never realizing the contradiction of asking God for strength at a time like this.
Duffy had never been to a whorehouse. He passed through the blue and white plastic strips that were the door and instantly regretted he'd started with this one. The room was basic. A low table of blonde wood stood in the center of the small room, ringed by a half dozen lawn chairs. Two other doorways were covered with the stained plastic strips. The plywood walls were decorated with several pictures of American movie stars cut from magazines. When Duffy's eyes made the adjustment to the dim indoor light, he stared into steely gaze of Henry Fonda. Nice touch, he thought.
An old woman broke through the plastic on one of the doorways like she was leading her team through a crepe paper hoop before the big game. She smiled and Duffy nearly puked. Her mouth was an ugly mixture of yellow and gold swirling in a liquid mass of mahogany. He was aghast when she threw her arms around Sennett's neck and gave him a big wet kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, Mama-san you glad see number one GI, huh?" Sennett said. "We want cold beer chop-chop, okay?" "You got boo-coo money, I got boo-coo cold beer," she said, flashing another multicolored smile on her way back through the plastic curtain.
"What the fuck was wrong with her teeth?" Duffy whispered after she left.
"Nothing, man, that's just beetle nut juice," Sennett said. "They all chew it. Gives 'em a little buzz and helps 'em make it through the day, you know? Sure does fuck up their smiles though, don't it?"
"What was all that 'boo-coo' shit?"
"Means 'a lot,' "Dennison. "Some kinda French talk or something. Mama-san means if you got the bucks, she's got the beer."
The old woman returned with three frosty bottles of Budweiser. She also brought three tittering young girls. They were dressed in silky black pants that hung loosely around their legs and gauzy white cotton blouses through which an odd nipple or two protruded. They quickly erased Duffy's "Suzie Wong" notions of lithesome geishas with long, silky legs peeking through slit skirts and pointy, proud tits just aching to be squeezed. These girls looked like schoolgirls --very young schoolgirls. Their round, squat faces bore permanent smiles flashing a gold tooth here and there. Each of them had shoulder length, straight, black hair which framed skin of sun-bleached orange. Duffy found the perpetual smiles annoying. These girls were whores, living in filth, amid the chaos and brutality of a war and still they smiled. He felt like they knew something about this place he didn't and it made him squirm.
"Hey, Sennett, these girls drink beer or formula?" Duffy asked with a nervous laugh. "We supposed to fuck 'em or burp 'em?"
"Who gives a shit, Duffy," Sennett said. "Just relax and enjoy it. Never know when or if you'll get another chance."
"When I was in grammar school, the nuns always had dibs on our lunch money to sponsor pagan babies," Duffy said. "I wonder if these are the babies?"
"I like this way better," Sennett said, laughing. "It's more direct and you don't have to wait for Heaven to get some appreciation."
The three Americans settled into lawn chairs and the three Vietnamese girls continued to talk their gibberish and giggle incessantly. Duffy took a long drink from the cool bottle then brought it up to his forehead. The cold glass took some of the sting out of the sunburn scorching his face but it did little to mask the fear that was curdling inside him like spoiled milk. Next to Duffy, Dennison was already in the swing of things, with his little Vietnamese friend bouncing playfully in his lap while he groped at her tiny tits. Across the table, Sennett lit a cigarette and put his arm around the waist of his "date." The girl waiting for Duffy's action stood next to his right shoulder, occasionally mashing her crotch into his elbow. The first time she did it, he jerked his arm away and drew a sharp look from Sennett. Duffy looked the girl over carefully. Her face was only marginally ugly. With enough beer, she might pass, if she lost the smile. She was as flat chested as a choirboy and Duffy found her just about as sexy. But, he told himself, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Two more beers and she might just get to be acceptable. If only he hadn't seen her feet.
Getting nowhere with her crotch, the girl switched to her minuscule tits. She rubbed them furiously up and down Duffy's arm and in his embarrassment, he looked at the floor and got a look at the ugliest feet he'd ever seen. They couldn't have been four inches long but sprouted five ridiculously long toes arrayed in a perfect one hundred and eighty degree arc around the foot. The space between each toe was an inch wide. A sinfully cool mouthful of beer was working wonders on the inside of Duffy's mouth but when he saw those toes he couldn't restrain his laughter. The beer sprayed out in a fine mist that covered the table and all those seated around it.
"What the fuck's the problem, Duffy?" Sennett said. "You ain't used to drinking or what?"
But Duffy was already beyond talking. He was convulsing in laughter, pointing to the girl's feet. He laughed so hard he fell out of the lawn chair and on to the concrete floor. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He came face to face with the feet of the girl on Dennison's lap and the belching laughs began anew. Duffy's girl didn't know what was wrong with this crazy GI but she knew he was making fun of her. She stormed out of the room and brought Sennett's wrath on Duffy's ass.
"Okay, asshole. What the fuck's the problem?"
Duffy managed a few disconnected syllables in reply.
"Her feet... d'you see her feet?... her toes... looked like a fuckin' duck... all them like this?..."
"Jesus, man, you gonna fuck this up for all of us, FNG," Dennison said. "You can't go insulting these girls. You know some of 'em speak English, Duffy. They're gonna be pissed."
The two remaining girls had broken off their ministrations to the two GIs and were standing and pouting on the other side of the table. Sennett grabbed Duffy by the shirt and lifted him up.
"Hey, Duffy, you some kind of faggot, or something? So they ain't beauty queens. And this ain't Never-Never Land neither. You don't wanna fuck, okay, but don't go messing it up for us."
Duffy shook himself free.
"I'm paying for this little party, remember pal? I'm just having a little fun, all right? You assholes can walk me through a minefield, use my money, jerk me around anyway you want but when I have a little fun, right away I'm a faggot? Fuck you, Sennett, get that little bitch back out here. I'll show you who's a faggot."
As if hearing her cue, the little Vietnamese girl came back through the plastic strands. The smile was gone, replaced by a scowling pout.
"Okay, baby, where do you want it? Here? Or you got someplace private where we can go and make plans for the prom and all that shit?"
Sennett mumbled something to the girl. She took Duffy's hand and led him through another set of plastic. Once in the room, the girl took off her shirt, revealing her boyish chest. Quickly, she stripped off the black pants and climbed on to a wooden pallet covered by a thin mattress. The hot, airless room smelled of sweat and stale urine. She laid back, propped her head up on a pillow, and spread her legs. Duffy started to undress, got as far as his shirt, then just pulled down his pants and climbed between her legs. He had to play with himself to get it hard, while the girl watched utterly disinterested. When he was ready, he thrust it into her with a heave of anger, fear and muddled passion. Her expression didn't change. He pumped furiously, the sweat beading quickly on his forehead and dripping steadily on to the little girl's chest but if she minded, she never let on. She stared into space, having tuned him out so completely, he was barely even there. Duffy might as well have been jerking off. He thrust harder and deeper, ever more desperate to make her emote. His pumping became more angry, more urgent, more bootless.
"Come on, you little bitch, show me those golden teeth!" he growled, sensing and fearing the climax was already near. "Come on! Give me something!"
He tried to kiss her, to at least imitate affection but as his mouth came near hers she bit deeply into his lip. The warm, sweet, salty taste spilled into his mouth.
He came in a shuddering, violent, confusing spasm and rolled off the girl instantly. Free of him, she quickly rose and walked to a small pan of water in the corner of the room. She squatted and splashed away what little of him had intruded into her being.
Duffy lay motionless on the bed. He had given this girl who he used to be and she had given him nothing in return. Now he wanted it back. He wanted it with everything he could feel but it just made the hurt even more painful. So he just lay there, paralyzed by his guilt and his loss, pants and his innocence bunched around his knees as he stared at the silver roof.
Her grating, guttural voice broke the trance.
"GI gib me three dollah," she said.
He sat up and stared at her. She no longer looked young. She was hard and evil and ugly. He looked a long, hateful stare at her in the hot stink of the tiny room.
"GI gib me three dollah!" she said, louder this time.
Duffy stood and pulled up his pants. He took some crumpled bills from his pocket and threw them on the pallet. She snatched them up, inching closer toward the plastic curtain. The mask of her smile was gone, replaced by such a look of such utter contempt it made Duffy afraid.
"GI make no good fuckee," she snarled. "You boo-coo bad fuckee." Then she disappeared through the strips.
Duffy went to the basin in the corner, dropped his pants and splashed his groin, an act of hope signifying only his despair. A familiar and comfortable chapter in his life had ended, he knew. And a strange, new chapter was just beginning. He was more afraid than he'd ever been in his life. He tried to will another way out of the room, a way to avoid Sennett and Dennison and the whores; a way to get back to his old world; a way to return to the who he was. Instead, he straightened his sweaty uniform, trying desperately to recapture his clean, comfortable former self. But he knew the change wasn't physical and went deeper than appearance. He'd lost any claim to who he used to be. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and walked through the plastic, still fumbling with his buttons and dribbling a skinny trickle of blood down his chin. He dreaded and loathed whatever it was that waited for him on the other side and was sick with the certainty he'd wasted a lot more than money. But this poor little kid in the corner wasn't to blame. He walked to the bed and laid a ten dollar bill on the bed, knowing that sweat soaked pallet would never pass for a collection plate.
"Hey, Sennett, here he comes!" Dennison said, his smile brimming with all the pride and confidence of his absolutely invulnerable stupidity. "Welcome to the 'Nam, Duffy. Welcome to the 'Nam."