The Tan An Run

vietnamese mural
O my sweet Lord, I swear it was just one of those things that popped up from another denotational shadow of myself through no fault of my own.

A buddy & I “borrowed” a 3/4 ton (military, of course) pickup and eased our way over towards Tan An.  It was a target acquisition duty you see.

We knew a buy nicknamed “Tiger” (like a million other pint-sized salesmen/middleman for the VC).  Tiger had access to some of the finest grass in Vietnam.  And, that was saying something if y’all will recall.

Such an honerable mission and we drew it down into the bar ditch sewers along old highway 1.

Tig was an easy find along Tan An’s town center.  A soldier in uniform was his instant target.  He knew everyone he ever made a deal with

His toothy grin washed across his entire face.  Tig was dark complexion and walked like one who knew the test of his meddle.

“Eh…GI!!”  “You come boom-boom??”  to which we replied, “Hell NO!  We want some smoke & damn fucking good smoke at that!!”

Tiger looked abashed & shouted he had the bes’ dam’ shit in fuckin’ Nam!!!!!

We sat at a sidewalk table & dickered just a little.  But at 20 bucks MPC for a large grocery bag full to the top, wasn’t too much to dicker about.

After the deal was struck Tig turned to me kinda personal & slyly says, “Want some fine opium?”  It took me aback a little.

“Crystals?” I asked.  “Tar,” he said, “black tar”.

I didn’t know what it was or what you did with it but I asked anyhow, “How much you little thief?”

“5 dollah…MPC.  Tube, little tube.”

Tiger blended into the streaming throngs of Asian bodies forever on the move at that point on earth.

This was the main street of Tan An where just a few months before the VC came swarming across the town killing anything military and many, many civilians.  The was the same street the crazy Seals from Dong Tam had blasted their Jeeps mounted with .50’s up and down & around daring the Charlies to come out and play.

The VC knew better because the sleek Cobra’s were circling ourside town just waiting to pounce.  When the Seals could coax any Charlies out to play with them, the Cobras would literally scream low down the streets, their minnigun s with the smooth ripping sound of death.

Popping rockets the choppers broke left or right, twisted high & back in a tight little circle which brought their nose right back at what they had just left.  VC liked to wait till a gunship made it’s run & pop-up to spray it’s tailfeathers.  This little tight circle often caught the boys just as they jumped-up and smoked them in the miniguns.

O, God, those had been manic days and long nights of red hell.  But, except for the .50 cal. pockmarks on every building and the frescoed tops which had been ripped apart by 20 mike-mike cannons, the town was quiet and brim full of hospitality for any GI with money to spend.

Tiger was back post haste.  He never left money in the lurch.  He put the big bag on the table along with a half size grocery sack, “Good GIs come back!!” he stated.  Then he slipped me the tube of pure tar opium.  Completely unrefined it was the straight dew off the poppy’s bud.  What power it held I could not even imagine…but I would quickly find-out for whom the poppy blooms.

In the ol’ Ruff Ridder 3/4 town driving is like zig-zag dodge & slam the brakes…the bluff the moped bastards, all the while with full pucker-power watching for that kid with the grenade.  When slowed by traffic kids would jump the running board wanting cigs or “C”s.  Hollar them off or sweep them with the door; I often had a dream of a tiny hand reaching in as a round chicom grenade rolled off the soft fingers.

Clearing town and nearing my moments of unforgettable infamy, we sped up & I enjoyed the unfolding mystery of the big Delta country.  The Mekong Delta is a living thing.  People, animals and the water upon and the earth itself is always in motion.

Life down there is hard, dangerous at best and cheap at all times.  Everyone must constantly work to assure food on the family table.  I hated being there but I was never endingly impressed at just how close the Vietnamese wrapped the circle of life about them.

An average farm family might enjoy 2-3 acres to support them.  The paddies covered everything except perhaps a third acre.  The house constructed of scrap wood, flattened-cans, all kinds of scrap iron, bannana fibre and fronds, old military materials, and virtually anything of substance, stood as the castle over the empire.  Always Nuoc Mam would permiate the air.

Prominately in front of the house was a large hand dug muddy pond.  I took me awhile to realize the miracle of this simple water hole.  It is the height of earthy genius.  It is, to the  Western mind, at once beautiful and stomach-turning gross.

This pond was the home of Vietnamese carp and other species of fishes providing invaluable proteins.  Other creatures such as giant waterbugs were attracted and eaten as delicacies.  Crayfish and water grasses helped support the fish and domestic ducks which swarmed the pond & surrounding paddies and any waterways adjacent to the property.

So far so good.  The pond also served to clean clothes, dishes and bodies.  Any scraps of food went into the waters.  Kids would often jump into the water to cool themselves.  Adults washed faces and hands and in the evenings would strip and wash the dirt, heat, and stress of the day, from themselves.  But every paradise has it’s own little corner of hell.

Built of heavy bamboo gracefully arching out from the pond’s bank for some 10 or 12 feet to a height of around 5-6 feet was an alluring little walkway.  Sometimes, but not often, the furthest reach of this little highway over the waters would be enclosed.  It is actually a nice architectual attachment completing the serenity of the scene…and the cycle.

This little highway to heaven was, of course, the crapper.  And, so closes this magnificent circle of life.  (Note: when the bowel movement hit the water the fish would roil the waters almost as if Moses himself were working it.)

Through this idyllic landscape we smoked and drank our leisurely way back to war.  We passed vast rafts of ducks numbering in the thousands flowing down the roadside canals.  Near hamlets were little mud & sandbag towers manned by the evil looking local militia.  Clothed completely in black identical to the communists, the only visible friendly sign was the M16 they carried.

I rolled the little tube of black tar in my hand as we combined our knowledge of the substance.  We came-up with zip and progressed to nothing at all.  Removing the lid I smelled the contents which was no help as it was a simple fresh plant & tar smell.  We had two real guesses: mix it with the smoke or somehow mainline it which was way over our heads.  Later there would be pipes & other handy little tools in circulation.  At this time we were just a couple of country bugs without any useful knowledge.

The tube was entirely full so I finally hazaarded a lick.  This as we were leaving the Tan An ‘burgs left me unphased.  After several minutes I attempted a larger lick and then another.  All this left me feeling maybe screwed on the 5 bucks but it was a small loss.

In the dry season it was hot but not that humid.  A nice breeze flowed through the rumbling pickup as we bounced along.  I was comfortble, in charge of the world and all it’s environs.  I was completely unaware my mind was quickly approaching terminal velocity, lift-off city, and a drug induced blackout.

Right there, at that unseen tipping point, my driver had to pee.  Stepping down to the muddy roadside a light head nearly overwhelmed me.  Whupping it out I cut lose a river (O, how nice a young prostate/bladder are always un-appreciated).

As my mini monsoon flooded the little ditch I could clearly hear giggles & tiny laughter.  On a slight rise in front of me centered in the small paddy a slap-dash gazebo sat.  In the welcome shade sat 4 mama sans of undeterminate age but clearly amused by my show.

I was long before de-sensitized to urinating in front of indigineous peoples.  Neither was I angry be the butt of their little joke.  Far from it, I thought it was hilarious also.  My brain now was beyond restraint.  A riotous idea,a prank, would make the day even better..

As I waved and laughed with my new ladies, my left hand snaked my loaded for bear M16 from it’s ready perch beside the seat.  Still waving to a now concerned crowd, my right hand hefted the gun, my thumb flipped the fire selector to full auto.

Even though I was operating in extreme slow motion I can picture the scene clearly yet.  I appreciate this memory greatly
for it has often provided a profitable moment of contemplation whilst thinking of some other equally sHtupid thing.

The first rounds were into the muddy ditch but the rise of the barrel was precipitious.  As the 16 rose it’s trajecttyy the paddie errupted into little geysers  mud.  What captured my complete attention was the behavior of the ladies.  The two on either side were making a grace ful sideways movement away from my stitching line of fire quickly sub dividing the gazebo’s floor plan.  I vaguely recalled a Hestor Williams 1940’s swimming movie which entailed tall bathing suit clad ladies in a long line.  Alternating right and left they gracefully fell away in the water
My ladies were performing the exact same movement.  I was instantly immensly proud of them for they were performing as pros.  The last bullets ripping into the exact center of the gazebo emptied the clip and all stood quietly.

The driver herded my hot weapon and my butt back into the truck and off we went leaving forever my little Esther Williams swimmers.  We attempted a mock seriousness for a couple of minutes,  The rediculousness of the situation kepto overcoming our good sense and we would crackup at the memory.

Driver decided to spend the night at Dong Tam as the shadows were getting long.  By this time I was merely popping one eye occassionally above the black-out line.  From somewhere old, smart, wise Huen appeared and took over my well-being.  Somehow she took me down to out neighbors lot…the super heavy weapons section.

Like our outfit, they were seldom on Dong Tam unless someone had a major breakdown.  Huen pulled pushed, punched and led me by both ear and hair to the sand-bagged conex used  as a bunker.  It had 4 rows of sandbag which left the interior not a heated death trap.  Huen pushed me onto one of the build-in bunks.  All the time she kept up a continuous litany of “AIEEE, Lum, AIEEe!!!!”
,
Huen backed-out admonishing me to “got sleep…get sleep!”  “WHAM !!”, Huen slammed the doors and  I heard the latches outside lock.  Huen’s now distant “AIEE” was the last sound I did hear as I slid into a completely dreamless sleep.

As far as my sleep it was sweet, innocent, uinterrupted.  At around 5-6 AM I woke to see the doors swung wide open.  I got up & studied the landscape outside but decided to wait just here for dayliight.  Laying down I was soon into the oblivian as black & tarry as the Poppy juice itself.

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