Monday, March 28, 2011

Grunt

I was at the barber’s the other day. The barber shop, located in a strip shopping center near my office, is part of a national chain. The barbers don’t seem to stay around long. They always do a credible job, although I’ve only had the same hair cutter on one or two occasions. This time, my hair cutter was an older man of Vietnamese heritage.

After inquiring how I wanted my hair cut, he asked if I had been in the armed services. I told him that I had.

“Navy or Air Force?”

“No, I was in the Army.”

He asked if I served in Vietnam and smiled when I told him I had.

“What did you do there?”

Tiny hairs on back of my neck abruptly rose at his question. The last time I was in a barber’s chair with a Vietnamese barber was on the Army base in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. Even though I knew the man was friendly, I had a difficult time not reacting when he shaved me with a straight razor. After all, the Vietnamese were our enemy, and I couldn’t help but fret that the man so close to my jugular vein with a straight razor might be a barber by day and Viet Cong by night.

“Infantry,” I answered.

“Oh, what weapon did you carry?”

“M60 machinegun,” I said.

“Then you weren’t an officer.”

“No, a private.”

“When were you there?” he asked.

I had to think a minute before answering, “Parts of 1970 and 1971.”

“I was an officer from 1971 to 1975,” he said, still not offering if it was for the North or the South. “Where were you in Vietnam?”

“We operated in triple canopy jungle off of Firebase Betty, not far from the Cambodian border. At least during the six months or so I spent as a grunt patrolling the Jolly Trail System. Later, I got a job as a company clerk on Firebase Buttons, near Song Be. Did you lose friends or family in the war?”

“My family survived. I lost a few close friends. I was drafted into the Army after two years of college. Following the war, I was imprisoned for three years. When I got out, I escaped the country on a boat. The journey took fourteen days and there were many of us on board.”

“I’m glad you made it,” I said. “Sounds like you should write a book.”

“A book, yes,” he said, smiling, his accent making his words hard to understand. “America lost many men—58,000.”

“Vietnam lost 1,500,000 people,” I said.

“Yes, from both the North and South.”

The half-grin on his face looked contrived, almost as if he were trying to keep from crying.

“No one even remembers the war anymore,” I added. “It was a senseless conflict. I didn’t believe in it, even then, and that’s why I refused to be an officer.”

“I hate war,” he said. “I worry about our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

After dusting loose hair off my shoulders, he led me to the cash register, nodding when I said, “Nice talking to you.”

As I walked out the door, I realized we’d never exchanged names.

I was shaking when I reached my car. More than forty years have passed since boarding a jet plane leaving Vietnam. I’d almost forgotten. Funny how old memories come flooding back when you least expect them.

Eric'sWeb

The story above really happened. Some of my Vietnam stories were fictionalized in my novel A Gathering of Diamonds. Tom Logan, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, battles his demons as he participates in an epic adventure and the romance of his life, high in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ghost of a Chance Revisited - a trip to Caddo Lake


 I grew up in the sleepy little northwest Louisiana town of Vivian, a few miles from Caddo Lake. Caddo, as many of you may know, is the largest natural lake in Texas. It also crosses the state line into Louisiana. The lake is, quite simply, one of the most mysterious spots on Earth. Giant cypress trees with bloated trunks and branches draped with Spanish moss, grow in dark water, and the place is alive with garfish, gators and colorful waterfowl. Caddo stretches for miles, through endless canebrakes and hidden pools, so large and winding that even the United States doesn't have an accurate map.

The first offshore oil well was drilled from a wooden platform in Caddo Lake. These tiny structures still dot the water, some converted to duck blinds, while slow moving pumping units occupy others, sipping oil from a subsurface anticline called the Sabine Uplift.

Caddo Indians once occupied the area. Legend has it the lake was formed by a monster earthquake. When the Tribe's powerful chief had a dream, he awoke his people up in the middle of the night, moving them to safety. Next morning, as the story goes, Caddo Lake had formed following the earthquake, possibly the New Madrid Earthquake, the most powerful ever felt in the United States - so powerful, the Mississippi River flowed backwards for two days. I don't know if the old Chief's prophesy was true, but it's a fact that the area is littered with shards of broken pottery, arrowheads and other artifacts.

Caddo Indian's aren't the only history makers at Caddo Lake. Potter's Point was the home of Robert Potter, a Texas hero, along with Sam Houston, and the primary influence for the historical novel Love is a Wild Assault (wonderful! Out of print. Grab a copy if you can find one). Nearby Uncertain, Texas is a great place to visit. The model for my fictional town Deception, Uncertain was an overnight stop for riverboats on their way up from New Orleans

One of the riverboats that plied the waterways from New Orleans to Jefferson, Texas was the Mittie Stephens. It caught fire and sank one night, reportedly loaded with a fortune in gold to pay Confederate troops stationed in Jefferson. Neither the boat nor the gold has ever been found.

Buck McDivit, my cowboy gumshoe from Oklahoma, comes to east Texas to meet his only known relative. His Aunt Emma is murdered before he gets there. He soon learns he has inherited an island in Caddo Lake, along with a marina and fishing lodge. This is when his troubles begin.

Many things haven't changed in the Old South. Racism still abounds in Deception, led by racist judge Jefferson Travis, and his two skinhead reprobates Humpback and Deacon John. Buck also meets beautiful Lila Richardson and is instantly enamored. Oh, and he gets drunk and sees a ghost his first night in town.

Ghost of a Chance is now available for the first time in ebook form. It's available, complete with new cover and newly edited, 71,000 words, at Amazon.com (Kindle version) and Smashwords.com (Nook, Sony Reader, Kindle, etc.) for the ridiculously low price of $1.29.

If you have an e-reader, please check out Ghost of a Chance. If you don't, loosen up and buy one. If you're an avid reader, you'll be glad you did.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mama Mulate's Creole Zucchini Casserole - a weekend recipe

Mama Mulate is a character in my French Quarter murder mystery Big Easy. When she’s not mixing voodoo potions, or teaching English at Tulane University, she’s likely in her kitchen, whipping up a meal fit for a Mardi Gras king. She has a garden behind her house near the river in New Orleans, where she grows her own herbs and vegetables. Check out her recipe for Creole zucchini.

Ingredients

• 2 zucchini squashes, ¼ inch slices

• 1 onion, chopped

• 2 cloves garlic

• 3 tomatoes, chopped

• 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

• 3 Tbsp butter

• 2 Tbsps flour

• 1 Tbsp brown sugar

• ¼ tsp oregano

• ¼ tsp basil

• 1 bay leaf

• ¼ tsp salt

• ½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

• ½ cup bread crumbs

Directions

Cook zucchini (about 5 minutes) until tender, but firm. Drain and arrange in greased 2 quart casserole dish. Melt butter over medium heat in medium saucepan, and add flour. Stir until smooth and bubbly.

Add tomatoes, onion, and cloves of garlic, green bell pepper, brown sugar, salt, bay leaf, oregano and basil. Cook for 5 or 6 minutes. Remove bay leaf and cloves of garlic. Pour mixture over zucchini. Top with bread crumbs and cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 30 minutes.

Eric'sWeb

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ides of March

Seer
Beware the Ides of March.

Caesar
Well, the Ides of March have come.

Seer
Ay, they have come, but they are not gone.

Eric'sWeb

Life on Earth

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense - M. Twain

Eric'sWeb

Archimede's Last Breath

The last breath expelled by Archimedes before he died has supposedly mixed and remixed so perfectly that every time anyone on earth takes a breath, that person is breathing at least a single molecule of the same air that Archimedes last breathed. What is the significance of this fact? Nuclear contamination and radiation, no matter how contained, will eventually affect every living being on the face of the earth. Ask the Finns about what happened after Chernobyl.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nuclear Meltdown

Natural disaster in Japan results in meltdown at two nuclear reactors. It reminded me of the Chernobyl disaster that occurred in 1986 - a disaster resulting in short-term heartbreak and long-term heartache. Chernobyl/Concrete Sarcophagus is a short story I wrote in 1986. It's short, less than 3,000 words, but still manages to address such diverse issues as marital infidelity, parental preference, the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan, Nazis, bravery and untimely death. 99 cents on Amazon.com.

Eric'sWeb

Monday, March 07, 2011

Read an Ebook Week

This is Read an Ebook Week, and all my ebooks are steeply discounted on Smashwords.com. That's not all! Many of the ebooks on the site are also steeply discounted. All ebook formats are supported, including Sony, Kindle and Nook. So much traffic today that it briefly crashed the site. If you are a reader, and you like ebooks, check it out for a once-a-year bargain hunt.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Marching in the Venus Parade

As a freshman in college during the 60s, I joined a precision marching group called the Fusileers. The college I attended required two years of ROTC and the national paranoia concerning Vietnam hadn’t yet set in. Besides, we got to do some neat things like taking trips to Mardi Gras and march in parades.
In 1965 I went with the Fusileers to New Orleans to march in the Iris and the Venus Parades. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Venus is one of the older Krewes, or carnival clubs. We arrived at Jackson Barracks, an old army post on the Mississippi River named after Andy Jackson, in an old bus we called the Golden Goose. The night before the parade most of us left the barracks on foot in groups of five or six and made our way toward Bourbon Street. My group stopped at a neighborhood bar, drank Regal Beer for twelve cents a glass and sampled the gumbo. We made it to Bourbon Street around dark.
I bought a fifth of Early Times at a drug store a block or so from Bourbon Street. Most of us got separated in the throngs of people crowding the French Quarter. John T, the last member of the Fusileers that I’d arrived with to the Quarter disappeared down Conti, towing a college girl he’d just met. It didn’t matter because I wasn’t alone.
Comforted by the gentle caress of Early Times, I followed the drunken mass of humanity pressing against me to the entrance of Pat O’Brien’s Irish Bar, the crowd funneling into the courtyard informing me that I’d found the place to be. When I finally made it into the enchanted courtyard I realized my instincts had been correct. The courtyard was a compilation of flowing fountains, Spanish tile, potted plants and lingering mystery. I soon found my own college girl in the mass of humanity packed into the magical place. Or I should say she found me.
“Can you help me?” she said, grasping my hand a bit too tightly.
“If I can,” I said.
Blond hair draped her shoulders laid bare by her orange, University of Tennessee sleeveless tee shirt. She was looking me straight in the eyes as she squeezed my hand, so close I felt as if she were reading my mind.
“Can you go into the men’s bathroom and see if my boyfriend is there?”
“How will I know, even if he is?” I asked.
“Call his name, Tom. Tell him Susie is looking for him,” she said.
The mob in the men’s bathroom didn’t respond when I shouted out Tom’s name nor did anyone even give me a glance when I told them Susie was looking for him. I didn’t even feel like an idiot because everyone else seemed far more screwed up than I was. Susie grabbed my arm, pulling me close when I walked out the door.
“Well?” she said.
“He’s not in there,” I said.
“You sure? Maybe passed out in a stall?”
“No,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t let go of my arm.
She didn’t, drawing even closer, one arm around my waist, her dark eyes darting around the people in the courtyard.
“Can I stay with you?” she asked.
“Sure.”
“Then let’s go into the bar. I’ll buy you a Hurricane.”
She pulled me into Pat O’Brien’s where dueling pianos were serenading loud and boisterous patrons from some university or the other. The tables were full, standing room only as she ordered drinks at the bar.
“What is it?” I asked when she handed me the icy glass filled with a syrupy concoction.
“Hurricane,” she said. “The signature drink of New Orleans. Don’t drink it too fast or you’ll be sorry.”
“Wow!” I said, sipping the alcoholic nectar through two red straws that I couldn’t from my lips seem to unlock. “I wonder what happened to your boyfriend?”
“He’s a chicken shit,” she said. “A man was following us. Someone in the crowd told us he was a professional boxer.”
“What did he want?” I asked.
“Me,” she said. “Tom got scared and deserted me. When we finish our Hurricanes will you take me back to my room?”
“Sure,” I said.
“You can keep the glass. It’s a souvenir. Why don’t we just go ahead and leave? We can finish our Hurricanes on the way to the hotel.
She began pulling me through the crowd toward the exit. She let go of my arm when we reached it, recoiling when she saw a short, prematurely bald man glaring at us. Before I knew what had hit me, the man smacked me on the bridge of the nose with a round-house right that snapped my head back. The unexpected punch sent my glasses flying across the crowded bar and the Hurricane glass crashing to the tile floor.
As a freshman in college, I was around six feet tall and weighed about one hundred thirty pounds. I must have looked meaner than I really was because the man who had sucker-punched me had hurried away, melting into the Mardi Gras masses outside on the street. Susie, my new Tennessee girlfriend, quickly clutched my arm as someone from the crowd retrieved my glasses and handed them to me.
“Let’s hurry,” Susie said. “My hotel isn’t far away. We’ll catch a cab.”
When a cab pulled to the curb in the darkened outskirts of Mardi Gras mania, I held the door for her as she entered.
“I can’t go with you,” I said. “I’m a soldier. I have a twelve-o’clock curfew and need to get back to the barracks.”
Her dark frown and tightly crossed arms were like a slap in the face as the door shut and the taxi hurried away into the night.
Though I truly don’t remember how, I made it back to Jackson Barracks, albeit without my Hurricane glass, before the witching hour. Cut nose, broken glasses and the recent memory of Susie’s warm breasts pressing against my arm were my only souvenirs.  I stayed up the rest of the night reading the Terry Southern erotic classic Candy, thinking of Susie and what might have been.
Mardi Gras that year was my first taste of crazy and surreal Carnival. I’d lapped it up, maybe because I had viewed it through tired, near-sighted, hung-over eyes. Even though my feet hurt like hell the next day, after the seven-mile parade that lasted six hours or so, I would gladly have done it again. With another seven-mile parade on tap for the next day, I never made it back to Bourbon Street, or to Pat O’Brien’s.
Soon after the trip, things got worse in Southeast Asia. John T dropped out of school, was drafted, sent to Vietnam and dead within the year; one of the war’s many victims. I didn’t sign up for the third year of ROTC and quickly forgot my childhood dreams of becoming a soldier. I had my face rubbed in my childhood dreams when I was drafted shortly after graduation and quickly learned the truth about the old saying, “don’t wish too hard for anything. It might just come true.”
###

P.S. - Though I didn't attend my first Mardi Gras until I was seventeen, I'd already visited New Orleans many times. My brother Jack and I spent time there with our Aunt Carmol, a schoolteacher. My first wife Gail grew up in Chalmette, a suburb of the city. Though my first French Quarter Mystery, Big Easy wasn't published until 2006, I knew I was destined to write a series that would include the dirt, trash, innuendos, and accusations about people, places, and events I'd gleaned through years of listening to the people around me. Hope you'll give them a read and see for yourself. Eric



Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.