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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 II

Sean Connolly, XYZ Productions, Baltimore, MD


"You had discovered how much you loved things."

"What things, sergeant?"

"Things in themselves! There you were sitting in the library at Fort Campbell paging through the Sunday New York Times, feasting your eyes on the sheer abundance of beautiful things: all the ornaments, the decorative curios, the embellishments, the antiques, the arabesques, the objects d'art, yes, they were the splendid beings of a civilized psyche! Page after page unfolding one verisimilitude after another, the verisimilitude of the ideal, its genius captured in time and space. There it was, there it was, you remember picking up the entire bulky edition from your lap and giving it a hug.

"They kept interrupting you. You had to put them off. You had to tell them, no, not now. Not tonight. You told them you were leaving. You told them you would write. Of course, they wanted you to accompany them to the men's room. They wanted you to stroll off into the sunset for a moment or two. And when you refused they smiled like coy children and suggested you might be feeling guilty. Guilty, ha! You hoarded no guilt. What did they think you were--culturally depraved? You were no Christian spiritual miser seeking expiation for the flesh that you were. Shame on them who abhor their flesh! Shame on guilt for even mentioning its name. You there, guilt, you totalitarian prig from the past! You sociological anachronism! You naughty thing, you! Go fetch yourself, go feel guilty in an alcoholic corner with your self pity dribbling all over yourself! Guilt is for the dunce!"

"Sergeant, I fail to see where this is leading us."

"Precisely because you have never asked the question, Who are you? The exact question you asked yourself the night before you were reading the Times in the library. You had written the three short words on a memo pad in your office: Who are you ' ' You tore away the memo sheet and folded it and slipped it into your breast pocket. All together, three short words, no question mark (why beg the obvious?), it probably took you no more than five seconds, that is, the writing itself. However, the tearing away of the memo sheet, the folding, the unbuttoning, the peeling open of your starched pocket flap, the insertion of the less crisp, less stiffly folded memo between the starched laminated cotton cloth of the pocket, the rebuttoning, well, that, of course took much longer. The craft, what you are condemned to do after the stroke of genius, well, that always required much more time and effort."

"Sergeant, these sessions are not being held for the purpose of your self indulgence. Are you aware that you are acting out the very behavior you have condemned in Wesley McManus? Could you please explain this?"

"Most assuredly. The two of you were both transitional beings. That was precisely the answer to the question in your breast pocket: a transitional being! You had discovered this while leafing through the pages of the Times Sunday Magazine. You allowed yourself to totally absorb the cachet of its being. Your eyes, you remember, were fondling the authoritative éclat of the advertisements, the impeccable drama of the headlines, the luxuriant arrangement of graphic and copy, the typographical elegance. Of course, you did not read the incidental prose. Conversely, you simply glided your eye over its hypnotic obviousness, momentarily nodding drowsily at each prosaic event, at each syntactical formula, at each narcotic assurance that order had prevailed until--page after page of such languorous graphic persuasion--you became blissfully transitional. Yes, it was civilization at its zenith. No lust, no elixir, no aphrodisiac had held you more in thrall than that concise presentation of what it meant to be a transitional being. It was what you were! It beheld the aura of the possible! It was its own ideal! Yes, fondle thyself!"

"Sergeant, I'm afraid this session will have to be terminated prematurely if you continue in this mode of regressive behavior. I think it's time now to move away from focusing on the men to focusing on the units, specifically the 501st Artillery Battery and..."

"By all means and you assured them you would write to them the moment you stepped on Vietnamese soil. They were homosexual pests. They were pleading with you for a fond farewell, coming up to you while you were reading the Times, begging you for the chance to stick their penises between the lovely turn of your thighs (so they were always saying). But their lust was not for you; no, like the boys in a circle jerk they were after the applause of their very own orgasms. Oh, very good, Jerry! Good hit, Tom! No, they did not..."

"Sergeant, I'm..."

"... they did not want to be fondled, caressed, kissed, massaged, listened to, cajoled--none of that. No, they simply wanted to get off. Well, get off! And, please, let them stop pestering you. As a transitional being even homosexuality may have already fallen behind you. The club of clubs in this homophobic society has become an endless quest for the beatific orgasm, whereas you lusted after the self, the very ing of being!"

"Sergeant, please open the book you brought with you and show me the phrase you quoted during the second session."

"It will become quite obvious: place the book on its spine on your desk and let the pages fall open. It always falls open to the same pages. Read the bold type: the ineluctable modality of the obvious, a phrase only James Joyce..."

"But, sergeant, this is not what James Joyce wrote."

"It most certainly is. It is unthinkable..."

"Sergeant, please read it for yourself. It says, the ineluctable modality of the visual, not the obvious."

"But it was obvious what you saw."

"The point is that you are denying what is there. This entire session has been devoted to your denial of what is most obvious. Your self-indulgent behavior..."

"The naked truth was that you saw it with your very own eyes. You did, you did. They had their genitalia sewn into their faces. You saw the photographs. You could see the difference between the natures of a fixed and transitional being. It was obvious! There were things, horrible things, things not in themselves, but things arranged according to the aesthetics of fascism, a fascistic fascination with the pornography of death in which..."

"Calm down, sergeant. What is most obvious here is that you have substituted the guilt and sexual mayhem of the pornography of death, as you've termed it, for the guilt and terror you have suffered by your decision to..."

"You have substituted nothing. There is be ing or nothing. Be ing! Be your very own ing, a capital ING, a proper noun..."

"Sergeant, I've rung for the hospital police. They will take you upstairs for shock therapy. The therapy will be necessary to unlock your inability to focus on your denial of the obvious. This will not..."

"Major Rankin! Assistance alert!"

"Be Ing!"


"What do you mean by the naked truth, sergeant?"

"You took off your clothes and left the hooch for a stroll in the brilliant sun. They had turned God into a seeing eye dog and his final solution was to be consumed by the machines in the sky as they swooped down through the smoking excrement rising up from the human solution. You jumped a deep dry ditch..."

"Sergeant, pray tell, who are they and how did they accomplish all those feats?"

"They were the writers of the latrine. God is dog spelled backwards, one had written, and another had written, God is an all seeing eye dog. Every morning they burned our wastes. There were no septic tanks or plumbing on the 101st's side of the Bien Hoa Airbase in Vietnam, and, on that particular morning, after all else had failed, you took off all your..."

"After all else had failed?"

"That will be explained momentarily, unless, of course, you prefer an immediate explanation, which, of course..."

"Please continue with your story, sergeant."

"On that particular morning, after all else had failed, you took off all your clothes and went for a stroll in the dust. The sun was brilliant. They had pulled out the open steel drums from underneath the latrine and they were dousing them with kerosene and igniting them when the whole latrine went up in flames. The smoking trails of excrement and graffiti rose up into the sky where the jets sucked them into their engines as they swooped down over the base to land every twenty seconds on the enormous runways. Into the boiling drums they threw their pictures of the mutilated bodies and the ears and the penises they had cut off from the dead. You ran away and jumped over a deep dry ditch and stood in line at the mess hall. Standing in line, you thought, was a presumption of innocence.

"But it was the presumption of knowledge and they shooed you away and you ran down the hill to Wesley's Bar and No Grill to confess to Mai, the bartender, and all she could do was giggle at you. You wanted to tell her about the obviousness of the numbers, about the ineluctable modality of the obvious numbers you entered as the firing coordinates for the 501st and 509th Artillery Batteries but all you could say was eye dog. You no longer saw anything. Colloquially, time stood still. You saw an act of perspicuity perceiving its transparency in a timeless eternity. You saw the resonant ing of your being falling away. You saw the large black and white glossy photographs of mutilated bodies whose limbs and organs were rearranged according to the aesthetics of a fascistic cubism. A fascism gorging on itself, bundling up the bloody human fragments from the citizens of a pornographic city and dumping them into a pile. A man with violet eyes and a gorgeously brutal face had sewn various genitalia into the face of a scarecrow he had assembled from the mutilated bodies. You were shouting at Mai to warn her but all you could say was eye dog, eye dog, eye dog."

"Sergeant, are you saying e-y-e dog or are you using the first personal singular pronoun, I?"

"An I can not be a dog. Only the wolf is free."

"One thing at a time, sergeant. Spell eye dog."


"The numbers you entered as the firing coordinates for the artillery batteries, from whom did you get them?"

"From the officers in the field."

"Not from Wesley McManus or one of his friends?"

"Absolutely not. That would have been absurd."

"The man named Parker, he never mentioned..."

"He was an incompetent, an alcoholic, a latrine lawyer, in fact he wasn't there. Dennis Massey and Sammy Jones got up from their table and told you to put on some clothes and you told them the naked truth eluded them. They laughed. Wesley McManus walked right past you and said, The Naked Truth rides again. He wanted..."

"You had exhibited yourself without clothing before?"

"Yes, but only as a demonstration of complete honesty. Wesley knew this. He wanted someone to watch the bar as he was making a quick run to the PX. You knew he was up to no good; you knew he had promoted himself; you knew he was a Marxist manqué spouting social justice one moment and conspiring with the Vietnamese fascists the next to buy and sell anything on the black market; you knew PC and the man with violet eyes and a gorgeously brutal face would one day take away his bar and turn it into a charnel cabaret; you knew the reason the 501st and 509th Artillery Batteries were bombarding each other was because the numbers from the field were obviously incorrect; you knew this, you knew this, it was as obvious as the eye of God who sees and knows all; and, yet, no one believed you. Nothing you could say or do..."

"Sergeant, I'm afraid we've run out of time."

"You might as well have not existed. They could not bear to see the naked truth and they locked..."

"Sergeant, we will continue at our next regularly scheduled session."

"... and they locked you in the storeroom where you remained..."


"... you remained until the end of your tour of duly."

"Sergeant, I am giving you a direct order: vacate this session room immediately!"

"Only the wolf is free."


"'You are nothing,' you shouted out from the dark storeroom. It was night. You could hear the ammunition dumps exploding from the other side of the airbase. It was a clockwork sound from miles away. In the absolute dark it was your only sense of time, a time utterly arbitrary, repetitive in the most monotonous way, a sound from some distant past which had been and forever shall be your only affirmation. You were nothing but the shadow of this sound, this time, this self. 'You are nothing but the shadow of a self,' you shouted out again."

"Sergeant, with whom were you speaking?"

"You were speaking with yourself."

"And who was answering?"

"Wesley McManus."

"The two of you were living in his bar, you two, and no one else?"


"And what did he answer?"

"'I am nothing but the shadow of a self? My, my, what shall I be next?'"

"He was under the impression that you were speaking with him because you had begun to refer to yourself in the second person singular?"


"Sergeant, why must you refer to yourself in this manner?"

"To say I, to say me, is an obviety. What..."

"An obviety?"

"An obviety is an instance of the obviousness of the obvious. To utter such, to say I, to say me, would be to refer to a self which already existed in itself and for itself. An I or a me takes this obvious assertion of existence for granted because no one contradicts the assertion. However, if the assertion is made manifest by only looking into a mirror or by denying the assertions of others who contradict the assertion of your existence, then you exist as a you. When no one believes you you do not exist. You become a creature of your own repudiation: you repudiate the I or the me which is not, has not, will not be believed. You repudiate yourself daily in the act of creating yourself anew. As a transitional being you incorporate the ing from the being of the past and future into the be without an ing which then becomes the active participle of your being, your existence. A you can only be what you are told to be. However, to be is to participate in being; therefore, it is a constant struggle to transform the be into being. You must be an ing or cease to exist. To be an ing is an imperative. Be Ing! Be an ing full of inging. An inging ing. An ing that ings. An ing inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inging and inginginginginginginginginginging..."

"Sergeant, are you describing the act of masturbation?"


"Did you masturbate with Wesley McManus?"

"No, he said that it was disgusting."

"With anyone else?"

"In Vietnam with the man who had violet eyes and a gorgeously brutal face. He taught you to taste your father's semen. To taste the repudiation of his flesh in your flesh. The man with violet eyes and a gorgeously brutal face came by one morning before anyone had awoken and ordered you out of the bar and into his European car. It was..."

"Sergeant, did this man order you to supply the incorrect firing coordinates to the 501st and 509th Artillery Batteries so that they would unknowingly engage in friendly fire and sustain a high number of casualties?"


"Who did?"

"You did."

"Who is this you?"

"The same you who offered up the lovely turn of his inner thighs to the man with the violet eyes and the gorgeously brutal face. He had come by one morning long before anyone had awoken and ordered you into his European car. It was a precarious dawn and the sky still held a luminous moon. He pointed this out to you and told you this story: In the beginning all the canines sang before the moon. One day the bitches conspired to tame the dogs and drive out the wolves from their lovely valley. The dogs rose up and chased the wolves into the hills. But night after night they could still hear the wail of the wolves. So all the dogs gathered in the valley and cried out to the wolves, All ye, all ye, in come free/ All ye, all ye, in come free. The wolves came running back and the dogs slew them. All but one. The lone wolf who lives in the mountains and who still sings the songs of the past. He sings of their great deeds and the cowardly deeds of the dogs. He has been banished from history. Only the wolf is free."

"Were you seduced by this silly fairy tale, sergeant?"


"What did you do?"

"He used you as he saw fit. He repudiated you. He drove the bitches from the simpering buttocks of your easy women. And when he had spent himself he tossed you on the floor."

"And did you make any reply?"

"You said, 'Wesley McManus is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He has promoted himself and forged his army records.'"

"And you so testified at his court-martial?"


"Thank you, sergeant."

"Thank you?"

"Yes, you may return to your quarters. You will no longer be required to undergo shock therapy. In two week's time we will meet a final time to settle the disposition of your case."



"Sergeant, why did you feel that you could not be yourself unless you took off your clothes?"

"But don't you understand: it was an obviety."

"What I understand, sergeant, is that you have coined a word to explain the curious existence you have coined for yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Precisely, sergeant, what does you mean?"

"You mean..."

"No, sergeant, what does the pronoun 'you' mean, what does it signify?"

"It means you do not exist. It signifies, it asserts the denial of the denial of your existence."

"A denial of a denial is an affirmation in my book."

"It's not as obvious as you would think. You can not simply assert that you exist. You become lost in the cogito: thinking presumes a being who is capable of thought prior to the act of thinking, which is to say, existence precedes thought; but this can not be asserted until it has been thought. You must exist before..."

"Sergeant, translate cogito ergo sum."

"You think..."

"No, sergeant, translate it literally."

"'I think, therefore I am,' you said."

"You said?"

"You must exist before you can think. Yet your ing, your active participle, must have become part of your being before you can exist. You must..."

Sergeant, you have made this distinction quite clear. You have also made it quite clear that the you which asserts you, the ing of your being, the ing of the self which you call the thinking you, is the act of masturbation. It is an act which you associate with a great darkness which seems to encompass everything from excrement to death. Sergeant, were you abused as a child?"


"When you were a young adolescent did any man or woman forcibly make you the object of their sexual advances?"


"And no one ever referred to your buttocks as the easy women?"


"Sergeant, it will be my recommendation that you be released from the hospital and sent back to your unit, or reassigned to a new unit, as soon as possible. My report will stipulate that your appearance before the summary court-martial of Wesley McManus in the buff was the result of the severe cognitive dissonance brought about by the error of entering the incorrect firing coordinates for the 501st..."

"But it wasn't. It was..."

"Sergeant, what was or is is no longer a matter of discussion. As for the fact of your existence, sergeant, allow me to demonstrate it. I will slap you across the face, sergeant, and you will sit there and not so much as raise a finger to me. If you raise a ruckus, I will have you court-martialed and thrown out of the army with a dishonorable discharge under section eight of the Military Code. Now, raise your face, sergeant: right side first. There, take it like a man, sergeant. Now the left side. And back to the right side. The left side again. And again on the right side. The left side. And again on the right. Again on the left. Again..."

"You bitch, you bitch..."

"... on the right. Again on the left. I'm not the bitches, Bobby. Again on the right."

"You bitch, you bitch, you loved him."

"No you didn't. Again on the left. Again on the right."

"I didn't. I didn't do it. He brought it on himself."

"You see, sergeant, you do exist after all."

"I, I, why am I saying I? It's a lie. It's the big lie."

"You may go now."

"All ye, all ye in come free! All ye, all ye in come free."

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