Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter
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They Call Me Chilly
Fiction by Dan Duffy
They call me Chilly at the Greek's, because I was known to sleep in the outside stairwell next door on winter nights when I was too confused to make it home. The brothers never said boo when I started coming in clean for work, not word one all these years, just began charging me for coffee and leaving the regular number of sugars. They introduced me to their mother, who is there sometimes. On Christmas I have the Catholic sisters on Wooster Street pray for her intentions. She is Orthodox and I was a Protestant, but it gets the point across.
I work in the offices over the furniture store across the street. This month it is a woman in Santa Barbara, Grenada, who cans jellies and makes doughnuts in her kitchen. USAID, the development organization, is giving her half the money to build a bigger kitchen out back, a concrete slab with a corrugated metal or fiberglass clad steel structure. That is what we call a facility for a process line, abroad and here. Where I live in the woods is zoned against them, but Westbrook nearby is full of small factories, and the other towns too. Most country people worldwide get their cash in such places. Thoreau had a pencil factory like that, and Robert Frost set half his nature poems in Vermont's small mills.
I find machinery in the U.S. for people with small factories in poor countries. I know what they need. I worked for a development agency in a poor country overseas from 1966 to 1975. I did research in the field, identifying local leaders, small politicians, entrepreneurs, and influential opinion leaders for a computerized portrait of that whole part of the country. I liked the work, interviewing, walking out into the villages alone at dawn, trading information with people. It's 1990, and I get work from the same international development group, still in research. Now I work the U.S. I haven't risen through any ranks in life. I don't actually have a job. I'm grateful for my contract work. I lived in a hole in the ground outside of town in the 70s, drinking some years, others not at all.
U.S. process machinery is built to supply a continental market without using labor. I could pick up the phone and get five quotes on two lines that would make 5,000 doughnuts an hour and 3,000 gallons of preserves and employ one man part-time. But the executive in Santa Barbara wants to work up to making 50 dozen doughnuts a day and 200 pints of jelly. She now employs her family and wants her neighbors to work for her, too. After a week on the phone I found a place in Georgia that the national Baptists opened after the Civil War that makes small-production preserves process equipment. The idea was that the ladies at local congregations in the broken states on the losing side could work together and make a little money selling jelly to the North. It worked out, and is still a good idea. In the same week I also found the company in Seattle that makes the doughnut machines you see in the window at tourist places, or on the street, very reliable Rube Goldberg devices that make product at just the rate my client needs.
I started being unemployed in Viet Nam in 1972, when my program stopped. I stayed on in Cholon, the Chinese-speaking part of the old capital, at an orphanage, and walked out to a listening post in China with three spooks after Saigon fell.
What I did in the war was draw a fucking map. No, I'll try to say this without saying "fucking" once. When the Maryland cops picked up Ollie North naked in Bethesda at two in the morning, waving his automatic, I hear all he said for hours was "Fuck." I don't know if Ollie did ops himself in the program or he is just thinking too much about his contract workers, but he is clearly still locked in the obscene things we did. Ollie was an executive. I was in research. He was Army, I was USAID, we were both ultimately CIA. What I did was draw a map, finger people, identify targets in every village for assassins who came around later. They came in the dark, alone, silent, without a uniform, and gutted the body so it would stay sunk in a paddy. The idea was to sap the political will of the communists by killing them all.
When the Cold War ends all over and we recognize Hanoi, I'm going straight to the new embassy to talk about trade. It's hard to guess what Viet Nam can sell to the U.S. I haven't looked into the rice market. I suspect that Viet Nam would have to grow some standard rice and take the commodity price, a tough strategy without a lot of cash to spend on losses. A more appropriate approach might be to seek specialty markets for the rice they actually eat in each village, which is as distinct as the pizza at each joint in New Haven and overall as different as our pies are from what you get in any other American city. Selling chewy rice you eat with rotten fish, I'd like to try it. That would be to start. There are going to be third-party investors willing to buy machinery from here for factories there, and one day those factories will be making things at quality in volume. It's going to be Korea over there, not just another third world country. I might make some decent money.
So I may walk into a paddy from the tree line again, make friends and go on towards the hooches to find the man in charge. Everyone I know who was there is still walking step by step, looking for a trip wire, or standing in place in an unnatural position because they felt a mine trigger click down to arm and they don't want it coming back up to ignite. I wasn't combat, but their experience is the one we all use to think about ourselves. I didn't step on any booby traps because my informants told me where to walk. My informants are in holes in the ground. Put it all behind you, that's the healthy way, but I'm not healthy and I'm not going to be and neither is anybody else who was there. I want to cause normal life. Back to Viet Nam, that's my plan, I want to turn my social science business end on the U.S. for the people of Viet Nam, to help them sell what they've got.
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