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 60’s, 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 begun to set in. Besides, we got to do some neat things like take trips to Mardi Gras and march in parades.


In 1965 I went with the Fusileers to New Orleans to march in the Venus Parade. Although I did not know it at the time, Venus is one of the older Krewes, or carnival clubs. Our group spent the night at Jackson Barracks, an old army post on the Mississippi River named after Andy Jackson.

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 and drank Regal Beer for twelve cents a glass and sampled the gumbo. We made it to Bourbon Street around dark.

Much time has passed since then and even the best memories fade. As I remember it, open containers of alcohol were legal. 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 in the Quarter with disappeared down Conti, towing a college girl he’d just met.

I found my own college girl but we were separated in the crowd pushing shoulder-to-shoulder in two directions, up and down Bourbon Street—though not before a jealous suitor sucker-punched me and broke my only pair of glasses. Somehow I made it back to Jackson Barracks before the midnight curfew and stayed up all night reading the Terry Southern classic Candy.

Mardi Gras that year was my first taste of Carnival, crazy and surreal, and I lapped it up, maybe because I viewed it through tired, near-sighted, hung-over eyes. Even though my feet hurt like hell after the seven mile parade that lasted six hours or so I would gladly have done it again. Soon after the trip, things got worse in Vietnam.

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 a 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 I quickly learned the truth about the old saying, “don’t wish too hard for anything. It might come true.”

Eric'sWeb