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Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book

Volume 5 Number 1-4

March 1994

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.

The Lie of Sergeant Bobby Tumulty, Part I

Sean Connolly, XYZ Productions, Baltimore, MD


"He was a secret Onanist. What American isn't, especially every Irish Catholic American? They live a shadow existence. They are obsessed to know the truth which they can't run away from fast enough. It's an odious paradox and Wesley McManus was the epitome of it, the apotheosis! He loved to take a philosophical perspective on life. Of course, it was a ruse; of course, it was a specious aristocratic pose; of course, it was the methodology through which he escaped the consequences of his lies; of course, it was the reason why he could not have any sympathy for another human being; it being the precise reason why he could not conjure up the image of his girl friend the day he came on board with the Special Forces in Bad Tölz. He had been sitting on the train staring into one of his shallow daydreams when, suddenly, he could not remember what Frieda looked like. Of course he couldn't; he barely existed himself. He dwelled in an arational half-life in which these dreamy notions of being floated about in his addled brain like so many particles in a cloud chamber. Notions he picked up in some mediocre college in upper New York State where he became enamored with the Cartesian riddle: O, cogito ergo sum, he went around saying, no doubt. Not that he mastered the subject or disciplined his mind in any way; no, he was too much the Romantic hero who had to flunk out of the place in the hopes that his grand failure would redeem his craven existence. What courage does it take to muse over the cogito as if it were some popular ballad? How dare you defame the..."


"He! How dare he defame the foundation of modern Western thought! But defame it he did, whispering its name in the same way he coaxed the spermatozoa out from his testes thinking the cogito were just another reductionist verb in the diagram of existential being, thinking any cognition, any dumb thought, any spark in the brain would prove he existed, or any spark anywhere: in his touch of Frieda, in his walking in the rain, in his pants, as if any action were the proof of existence--how addictive! How obvious, how literal, he couldn't see beyond the calculations of the brain to apprehend the meditative nature of thought, could not..."

"Perhaps we can talk less about thinking and try to bring a more analytic approach to what took place between you and Wesley McManus."

"Precisely. And, you, of all people, certainly should understand the consequences of barging unawares into thought. Wesley McManus, however, preferred not to know. He preferred not to know the distinction between the meditative nature of thought and the architecture of what was thought. He preferred not to know that the very essence of thinking was identical to the very essence of being. He..."

"Please, sergeant, confine yourself to the relationship you pursued with Wesley McManus and not to the more abstract kind of thinking you might have pursued in your professional capacity as a military analyst with S-3."

"But he was incapable of pursuing a relationship precisely because he was incapable of thinking, which is to say, he was incapable of existing. Take his equally existentially bereft descriptions of Frieda. They were deliberately vague. They were wrapped up in his misty paranoid feelings of dread, sexual hunger, and anal expulsiveness. The fact that she preferred order to chaos oppressed him. His fear that she would desert him for some urbane German businessman was the key to his untenable Oedipal position. Simply put, Frieda was his mother. She was older and held the upper hand when it came to money. She chided him as she would have chided her darling son, and he frequently put himself into the position of a child--all of this he readily admitted! What he had refused to admit was that he was in search of a critical reader with a psychoanalytical bent who would..."

"A critical reader, I don't understand?"

"He was part of a developmental program conducted by Seventh Army in Heidelberg and Special Forces, Tenth Group, in Bad Tölz which solicited candid dispatches from demographically significant enlisted men to establish a continuous psychological profile for the purpose of understanding the motivational requirements of..."

"I see. Go on."

"This he saw as a way of soliciting the truth of his existence. He thought a critical reader with a psychoanalytic bent would give him a free ride on the couch by analyzing his behavior, his symbology, his rambling, his self pity, his complaints, his whimpering, ha, he thought this psychoanalytic gratuity would free him from what he currently was! That this mythical analyst would liberate him from his contradictory mess of a personality. Or that, finally, he would be written off into some Romantic bedlam! But what he did not realize was that none of this would happen. No, never! Because what he unconsciously feared (and this was the real continuous dread he was always whining about) was that he would be discovered to be the exact person that he currently was! Yes! No, not a genius, not a failed wretch from an impossible marriage, not some masculine bravado but simply a psychologically arrested adolescent with an overly active imagination and a wretched education, still incorrigibly lazy, spoiled rotten, a typical product from the suburban middle class. And this you could have told him if he had only listened!"

"You keep saying you when I think you mean to say I. Is there some other..."

"You must admit that Frieda was a very charming person. What she saw in Wesley was beyond you. He certainly was not brilliant. He had the audacity to go to the opera without knowing a thing about it. And all the emotional piffle he babbled out day and night, God, it must have bored her to distraction. Perhaps it was merely sex, he was the carnal toy with which she amused herself. It would...."

"Sergeant Tumulty, I'm afraid today's session has come to an end."

"Thank you. You have been very kind. And civil. And quite polite."

"Yes, you have been."


"He couldn't contain himself. He presumed his dispatches were The Confessions of Wesley McManus. They were awash with one dripping rhapsody after another, one idiotic reference to some unread text after the other, page after page of such simpering dreck--and half the time he would be reminiscing about his adolescent days in the hills of Pittsburgh, going on about the flames from the steel mills fluttering across the sky and getting drunk in the bars with the mill workers; God, what was one of the phrases he used? Oh, yes, 'drunk on the sweet suffocation of the workers' despair.' Come now. Was he pining for Karl Marx? Was he trying to connote a moment of metaphorical intoxication? Was he trying to coin a cliché better than 'drunk on the pure mountain air'? If so, where then was the critical distance? What irony did he bring to the scene? None, absolutely none. It was worse than that: he had a sentimental attachment to the obvious; the obviousness of things lent him a certain cachet, that is to say, lent him the momentary aura of existence. An aura no one could accuse him of expropriating because the obviousness of its obviousness was not worth the breath of its mention! Don't you see, don't you see; it would be the obviousness of someone standing there and of someone coming up to the someone standing there to announce, Why, yes, you are standing there! This was the absurdity of his existence, as if he could absorb..."

"But you are standing there, sergeant. Won't you please sit back down in the chair that has been provided for you?"

"Why should anyone talk to you? You don't understand. No one can take his existence from the obviousness of things, as if his existence were a passive absorption of the obviousness of the obvious. A being so constituted would have lost his active participle, a being without its ing, a mere be; the ing left to its own devices as if it were the semen spurting out during a nocturnal emission, an ing inging. And who was this curious half being, this be? A be who said he wished for equity among the classes of American capitalism but who could not see beyond the privileges of his own middle class. A be who, instead of working for the elimination of the managerial class' paternalism, absorbed their arrogance. Who clutched at totalitarian ideologies instead of freeing his mind to think on its own. Who reveled in the smarmy bonhomie of barbarism, who chose mysticism over enlightenment, excess over stoicism, self pity over purity of soul--oh, if only he could have opened his eyes to the wonder of what an unfettered heart and mind could accomplish. We could have worked together. We could have restored the ing to his half being, to his little be. Why couldn't we have loved one another like human beings were meant to love one another? But, no, he was content to be obsessed with himself! He was too busy absorbing the charm of the moment to actually notice the openness of anyone nearby. Too busy pining over the damned soul of the drunken proletariat to recognize another's brilliance and wit, how dare he refuse your loyalty, your friendship, your charm, your honesty! God, you were obsessed with him night and day! Obsessed, obsessed, obsessed..."

"Obsessions are often elaborate disguises, sergeant, and I'm sure you are aware of this. From now on I think it is imperative to focus on the physical manifestations of any desire or idea you may have had toward this Specialist McManus, or toward anyone or anything else for that matter. Do you understand?


"Do you understand?"

"'The ineluctable modality of the obvious,' as James Joyce wrote."

"Then you will be sure to bring the actual book to our next session."



"...using you as if you were another one of his barbarian buddies."

"We must move on here, sergeant. You say you were following Specialist McManus and one of his enlisted friends? He was not an officer, this... this Parker?"

"No, he was a millionaire, an idiot savant, a barbarian, a psychotic, a charlatan, he, Wesley, they both assumed the world had no reason to exist except to serve as a stage for their..."

"You were following them for what reason?"

"Specialist McManus was busted to PFC for falling asleep on guard duty. They were getting drunk. Someone had to take responsibility for their actions."

"In what way?"

"They were running amok on Leopoldstrasse in Munich."

"In what way could you have taken responsibility for their actions?"

"They were terrorizing pedestrians, grabbing their newspapers..."

"Sergeant, in what way could you have taken responsibility for their actions?"

"They wanted money. They chased after you calling you a thief. They followed you into the park. There was a lone wolf baying at the moon. Why, listen, if even the thought of stealing something were to cross your mind, you would have confessed such a shameful thought to your mother. A luminous moon..."

"Sergeant, exposing yourself like this will only destroy any progress you've made. Sergeant Tumulty, I've rung for the hospital police. Please put your penis back into your..."

"Major Rankin! Assistance alert!"

"Take this sergeant away and put him into restraints."

"Yes, Ma'am."


"It was the end to the endless possibility. There was nothing to do but to embrace the inevitable."

"Where and when, sergeant?"

"We had been reassigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they had assured us of a victory, a violet victory. A violet as dreamy and fatuous as the winter sky. There was a false horizon. You were standing outside in the cold and bitter damp. The darkness was a heavy purple sky falling on the creamy violet twilight. You were shivering uncontrollably on the steps of the library. The sky and the land were absolutely bereft of any voyeuristic possibility. For the body to become its own audience, and that was the only possibility, there had to be an equal mixture of pleasure and pain, hot and cold, guilt and liberation, but, no, the bitches threw you out into the cold because they had reserved the entire library, the bitches, the wives of the soldiers from the 101st who were bound for Vietnam, the bitches had to occupy the entire library so they could sit and meet and acquaint themselves with one another's dread, the bitches. You could feel their terror in your bones. They came at you. They were..."

"Calm yourself, sergeant. Explain who came at you and why you felt a terror in your bones."

"It was a dream. They came at you in a dream. Your arms were flaying at their fangs. You were screaming and yet it was as if you were dead. You were walking across a fetid moor when the dogs attacked you. The dogs, they were all bitches, they grew out of the earth somehow. They were putrid. They were covered with excrement. It was horrible. They came at you and their fangs were dripping with a purple pus."

"Control yourself, sergeant, or else I'll have you restrained."

"Again, as if you were an animal."

"And again and again until it is no longer necessary."

"You don't care. No one cared and yet the sky was evil. The purple above and the violet below: they were straining against each other, grating like two thick panes of corrugated glass, neither giving an inch, neither admitting the other existed! The lower was a cool violet flesh and the upper was a purple bloodless flesh. It was almost dark. A violet sheen covered all the wooden buildings on the main post. There was an evil at the movie theater. A Disney film about the respectability of a purple dog and his violet master. The cool violet respectability was coddling the evil in the vain hope that it would sweet talk it into nonexistence, which merely reaffirmed its matrix. Surely the cool surmise of a corpulent mind determined to eradicate all possibilities but the one it served was more the nature of evil than a passionate love for all possibilities. There..."

"Sergeant, would you please articulate one possibility, say, one which involved a decision that may have involved other..."

"There was absolutely nothing to do at Fort Campbell except to get drunk and fatigue your hand on a numb penis. Now, where were you? And why were you standing outside the library? You were watching the sky. You were transfixed by the agony of the violet and purple sky. You could see your dream across the false horizon: you were in a prison. You were eating something from a deep broad dish, spooning it out with a plastic spoon. It was your father's cool violet flesh. It was creamy like yogurt. You were dipping into you father's creamy violet flesh and lifting the spoon to your lips. It tasted like yogurt. God, it tasted... No!"

"Calm yourself, sergeant. Take your time and begin again."

"We had arrived by train, you and your mother. You did not see her but you were sure she was there. You could feel her presence. Then you were walking across the moor. The earth was spewing forth eggs and semen. Each egg and sperm had a face. They were smiling, male and female, like the Cheshire Cat and the Mona Lisa. Then the dogs, the bitches, attacked. You were flaying at the purple pus dripping from their fangs when suddenly you were in a European courtyard. It was night and the cobblestones were damp and cold. You were on your knees sobbing, weeping in your hands. A crematorium was nearby. There was no odor because the bodies were reduced to a cream by some process of refrigeration. Then you were in the prison spooning a cool violet cream out of a dish. It had the sweet tang of yogurt. You were devouring it, eating your father's violet flesh... You remember walking through the night in your sleep toward an inevitable conclusion, a..."

"Sergeant, could your father's flesh have been the flesh of many fathers or was it...?"

"No, the guilt would have been too much to bear."

"Too much to bear?"

"You don't understand. People sit down and die from too much guilt. But, listen, there you were standing out in the cold and you started to walk away. It was as if you were under a spell. You went to the cafeteria. It was oppressively warm, a bear hug of steam taking your breath away in a box made out of glass, concrete block, and linoleum. Violet and purple paste dressed in drab green sitting at square tables in a dreadful cube, plastic tables and chairs, you could not have so much as made a dent in the place. It was not designed for people but for the machines that were meant to clean it, scrubbed clean daily to appear as if it had just been built yesterday, a perpetually new cube, always existing in the obviousness of the here and now that it had to have been ignored to have existed at all.

"You didn't exist and you didn't want to eat but you ordered something, the special, perhaps. You didn't remember. You wanted to appear civil and inconspicuous, that is, not to have been forced to have made a decision. Making a decision was impossible. All that existential merde about choice was not choice but a peeling away of skins. Like an onion, you peeled away one layer and then another and another and one day you realized what was left. And it wasn't until you sat your tray on the table that you realized that you had ordered Salisbury steak and French fries covered with a brown gravy. It all tasted the same, only the texture varied. Someone came up to the table and sat down next to you and devoured you with his dark eyes.

"'I've seen you in the library,' he said. 'You actually read. An intellectual, I'd guess by the poor way you take care of your body.' He smelled like a lilac, a forest of lilacs as violet as a summer afternoon. He whispered, 'But plump can be lots of fun, right?'"

"Sergeant, you realize, an admission of homosexuality will provide the legal framework to have you discharged under section eight of the Military Code. But for our purposes, I think it was obvious, to use one of your favorite words, that you did, in fact, make a decision."

"No. It was inevitable. He called himself Sig."


"Sig left at sunset. You remember the orange splotches of light on the greasy face of the clock. He got up from the counter and left you sitting there. He saluted you with his pack of cigarettes and hummed his little good bye, 'I'll be right back, right back.' But you knew he was not coming back, you both knew. It was the end of another wretched weekend and he was torturing you, leaving you to go in search of a party, leaving you to sit by yourself in the diner with those moribund people, those people who were as white and stiff as starch, who said nothing, who chewed, who stared out through a filthy window at a blank billboard. It was mindless. It was the silence of a floodlight glaring on a concrete wall. It reflected the final dregs of the rosy sun onto the face of the clock in the diner, a clock without time, its hour and minute hands both suspended in eternal resignation at the six as the second hand swept on endlessly. You spilled your coffee and the guilt you endured was unbearable."


"You made the mistake of ordering something to eat."

"'You want your burger steak smothered in onions?' the boy asked. His face was a rash of red pimples. He studiously picked his nose with one hand and threw a large oval of frozen ground meat on the grill with the other. It made the sound of a plastic plate clattering on the floor. He came over to hear your reply. He had the bright dumb stare of a puppy looking out from behind the oily hair straggling down in front of his eyes. He didn't want a reply, he wanted a confirmation, wanted to smirk again and again over the curious desire of smothering a piece of dead meat with a pile of onions, a phrase, no doubt, no one in the Clarkesville Diner had ever heard until they picked it up from some jingle they heard over a Memphis radio station.

"'Please, let it breathe a little.'

"'What's that you say?' and his stare was as blank as the faces of the three enormous girls at the end of the counter. Their teeth were round and rotten and often missing and you could hear them sucking the ketchup from each individual French fry before they masticated the crisp pulps of grease with savory smacks of their lips. Of course, the boy dismissed you with all the puerile disdain he could muster and you endured the guilt the cretin masses spit back in your face when you toy with their ignorance."

"The guilt the cretin masses spit back in your face?"

"On the face of the clock behind the counter you could see the reflection of the door swinging into the fumes of the diner and in walked a painted girl in a blue pants suit who came and sat down on the stool to your right. Her lips and eyelids and lashes were an outrageous farce of red and black and green. She purred, she squirmed on the stool, she whimpered, she pouted; finally, she whispered into your ear.

"'Hi, I'm Alex. I came to bring you to the party,' and she dragged you from the stool and out into the cold. We collided with someone you could not see and who begged his pardon in a wry Yankee accent. She burrowed her hand into your trousers worming a finger up into your rectum and skipped you down an empty street, laughing, giggling, poking you, pinching you, sticking her slobbering tongue into your ear and whispering in a fake Mexican accent: 'Did I ever tell you about semen and weemen?' We skidded down a dirt slope and fell into the clutches of a singing, drunken oaf. He spilled his beer all over us. He pushed us through a door to a shack which opened into a large ramshackle bar.

"'It's Bobby T,' shouted PC from a crowded table. He and Dennis Massey and the others were the rowdies Sergeant Wesley McManus associated with, who looked the other way when he promoted himself to sergeant. They were sitting there with their whores. The whores were everywhere. Their genitalia were sown into their faces. They all stood up and saluted you with their beer bottles. You couldn't see Sig. You asked them to stop it, to stop torturing you, but they swarmed all over you and carried you to the table. They sang some filthy song and Alex milked your penis under the table. You reeked of beer and shame. You looked into another room and there was a chorus line singing:

"'Hurry up, hurry up
We are the easy women,
Easy to love, easy to forget.
Get it up, get it up
There's no time to lose.'

"'I'm sorry, baby, I'm sorry, I really am,' said Alex. She whined and talked baby talk. 'PC told me you were the wrong person. But don't worry, baby. I'm going to finish you off: there now, there now,' and she left you with a sudden sharp sting:

"'We love the curly hair boys
And the runaway boys,
Easy to love, easy to forget.
Get on the bandwagon and ride the wave
We'll settle your crave for an easy grave,
Easy loving's the name of the game.'

"You saw Sig. You saw him hanging up the phone and dancing with Alex. He was gloating at you.

"'Stop it!' you shouted.

"'Easy, my friend, you mustn't ruin the party.'

"'We'll tickle you to death
Till your heart's black and blue,
Easy loving's the game
Easy women's the name.
Easy to love, easy to forget.'

"'Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!' You were on your feet trembling, shouting down at these whirling fragments of time skidding all over the floor."

"What were you trying to stop, sergeant?"

"They were gaping at you and Sig came over to your side. He said something to the owner of the bar and he walked you to the door. You began to sob. You begged Sig to take you back to the base. We walked outside. It was cold and the dark was merciless. It wouldn't leave you alone. You heard a car scraping up the dirt on the road and its red and white lights came rushing down the slope at you and Sig. He opened the back door and we climbed in. 'Fort Campbell,' he barked, throwing some money on the front seat and backing out of the door, slamming it."

"Sergeant, I doubt seriously if any of this took place."

"It did. It did. It...."

"Please explain to me the whirling fragments of time. What were they?"

"Everything was dead. Even the time was dead: no one was allowed to be there. They could only be the wishes of themselves. They had no active participles. They were absorbing one another's wishes. Their ings were..."

"Sergeant, won't you please try to control your sobbing."

"You can't. You..."

"Would you please say I?"

"Say I."

"Just the word I."

"The word I."

"Just the pronoun, sergeant. Use it in your own sentence."

"Eye will stop sobbing."

"Very good sergeant. Now, let us examine this man's curious name, Sig. Don't you find it perhaps rather telling that backwards it spells GIs? And..."

"No, no..."

"And that he and the easy women, because of their sexual exhibitionism, are often seen as the personification of societal guilt? Couldn't it be, sergeant, that your description of that Sunday evening in Clarkesville, Tennessee, was more of a dream and that its psychological theme was the unbearable guilt you keep referring to? A guilt associated with the death of a large number of GIs? More than likely an accidental occurrence in..."

"It happened, it happened, you where there, you were..."

"That's enough for now, sergeant. I want you to think about the things I've said. And, for our next session, I want you to bring the book you quoted from during our second session."

Continue to Part II

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