SOG Vietnam

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All the weight

Not much of a park, Bernal, one block by two, benches, swings, a jungle gym, receding grass. Cathy and Lynn sipped coffee in the window of the corner bar & grill. Lynn chewed her fingernails. When they spotted Stew, flapping his arms at his sister, Cathy overtipped the waitress, explained they were dealing (not drug dealing) with a couple of crazies and would she glance out now and then and if she heard or saw any trouble don’t come out (“You can bet on that,” said the waitress), just call the cops.

In natural light, Stew’s face was a heart-attack, Jennifer’s Dresden china. Stew shoved his hands in the cloth coat pockets, no doubt where the gun was, an awkward move; Jennifer stepped in front of him, screamed, “You leave him alone!” held her arms out, palms forward, almost a gesture of surrender but she meant Stop.

I hope the waitress has a high threshold for trouble.

“Stew,” said Cathy through Jennifer’s body, “maybe she ripped the piece off and you didn’t know it.”

“I was there, I was there.”

“Ok. Keep the weed, keep the petty shit.”

“He needs that gun. We need it. Go get one from Russia or wherever.”

“I don't care what you do, Stuart. Hold up a liquor store, shoot yourself, kill somebody. But not with Jimmy’s gun, don’t drag us in.”

“You think he’s a chump,” said Jennifer. “I told you they don’t know who you are. They’re the big pu-lit’i-kul revolutionaries. You don't know what political is, bitch. My brother that’s who.”

“Stu, Jimmy and I got you out of jail. We got you free legal help. I haven’t done anything but good to you. Don't blow it. Don't let her push you round. ”

“Nobody pushes me, man. I push. I push. I do the pushing.”

Cathy surveyed the park.

“What you looking at,” said Stew, saw Lynn for the first time, “Who’s the broad?”

“Little Lynny,” said Jennifer. “She tags along.”

“Do me this, Stew, could you take your hands outa your pockets? I’ll feel better.”

“You packing?”


But thanks for asking.

Stew’s hands were raw steaks. His right coat pocket sagged more than the left.

“How do we know you’re not MI?” said Jennifer.

MI, MI. Military Intelligence.

“It wasn’t me who bugged your teddy bear, Jen. That was your dad. Or SOG.”

Stew whirled around his sister more lithely than he seemed able. “SOG!” His coat flapped. “How do you know about SOG? You tell her about SOG, Jen? Fuck, how many people know about SOG, what about this one? She know? This shit’s getting out of hand. Who do you know? Fuck, SOG.”

“They make little tiny batteries,” said Cathy, “that’s all I know. They fall out of teddy bears.”

“Tell her,” said Jennifer. “So she gets it.”

“Nobody gets it. Her boyfriend didn’t get it, don’t get me wrong, Jimmy’s ok.”

“He’s a jerk,” said Jennifer.

“You antiwar people you don’t know what you’re protesting. Oil slick. The deep shit, the truth, that’s past you, another planet. You’re against what’s on Mars and you never been there. You’re in the world. Nam’s not in the world. Another universe.”

“Where they cut people’s heads off,” said Jennifer.

“Heads. Ears. Bullshit.”

“He said you did.”

They did. Penny ante Lurps. I didn’t do that.”

“Dad said.”

“Fuck Dad. He wanted souvenirs. Jen’s into that, man. Minor atrocities. She operates on a low level.”

“Stew. Jennifer,” said Cathy.

“Special Operations Group,” Jennifer said.

“If you’re gonna run your mouth, Jen, run it right. Studies and Observation Groups.”

“They make batteries?”

“They cut off heads,” said Jennifer. “Spook the gooks. Disunite the body and the soul, it goes against their religion. Stick em on pikes outside the village.”

“She thinks I spent my time slicing pieces off gooks.”

Clearly she did.

Stew rotated on one foot, examined the ground for what. “You do too. You think it’s a war crime, Jen and my dad think it’s cool. Nobody’d want to kill me if I was one of those.”

A drug was either kicking in or wearing off.

“One of which those?”

“Hootch burners, ear choppers, gooks outa helicopters. That’s fucking war since Alexander the Great. Give the rank and file something to do.”

“And the SOG on the battery is what?”

“Jen gets it screwed up. That’s the SOG in San Francisco. The one that’s after YOU. The SOG that's after ME is the SOG I was in.”

“The one in San Francisco?” said Lynn.

“Studies and Observation Group, ladies. In the war on the other planet.”

His eyes contracted. Does that mean wearing off or kicking in? He studied Cathy like elephant grass moving against the wind. “What’s the fucking point. Missouri, same shit. You don’t know what you’re up against.” He walked toward the swings. A five-year old jumped off, ran to his mother, they moved to a bench a half-block down. Stew sat on the swing, gunman at play. The women followed.

“When was this?” asked Cathy.

“SOG? January 64.”

“That was before the war.”

“There WAS no before the war. There’s no war in Vietnam. War fucking everywhere. Ignorance.”

“He showed me the ears.” Jennifer faced Stew, who rocked back and forth like a kid who hadn’t learned to pump. “He said you cut them off.”

“That’s my Dad.”

She stamped her foot, turned porcelain red. “Tell her who she’s dealing with. He sent Dad ears in a box. It was cute. He wrote DRIED FRUIT on the outside.”

Lynn did not scream Ears in a box!

“Dad’s who they started the war for,” said Stew, “and they wouldn’t send him.” He let go the swing chains, floated. “So he sent me.”

“He was on a Hatchet Team. Killers.”

“I said that’s where I got the ears, Sis, why don’t you shut up and listen. I bought em. He wanted ears I got him ears. I didn’t cut no fucking ears, they cut em.”

“You bought them?” shrilled Jennifer.

“I’m a keen disappointment to my family. No, I didn’t buy em, I took em off a dead Lurp. Jerk from Milwaukee. He didn’t need them, he was dead. In the boonies so long he had a bone in his nose.”

“What’s this got to do with SOG?” asked Lynn who wanted to say something. “And what about Jimmy’s gun?”

Stew clutched at the swing uprights for support. Cathy ran simultaneous tapes: Stew drops from a heart attack, Lynn runs for an ambulance, Jennifer screams at the medics, I sneak the gun from his pocket as they put him on the stretcher. But Stew kept living.

She wants the gun,” he said. “She thinks heads and ears makes a heavy dude. You want to know what’s funny? Dead bodies. What’s that guy doing in that funny position, oh, he’s dead. They swell up with gas. A room full of fat guys, that’s funny.”

“What the hell are you talking about,” yelled Jennifer. “Tell her what you came here to tell her.”

“You want to hear a funny story?” said Stew.

“He’ll kill you if you rat him out for the gun.”

The five year old across the park laughed. Stew reached in his pocket came up with his hand, made a gun with his fingers, shot the kid, opened his hand, popped something from his palm into his mouth, swallowed.

“Let’s come to an agreement,” said Cathy.

Stew looked at her with eyes of Spanish leather. “Make you a deal, just to fuck with Sis’s mind. She don’t have the big picture, which is not Lurps with ears that don’t belong to them. I’ll tell you a story. You believe it, I give you the gun.”

“What the fuck are—”

“What I said. Fuckin with your mind.”

Cathy ran many tapes. They cancelled each other out.

Jennifer, morose, took the other swing.

“Paradise Island. Genius funny. Jerry Lewis funny. You think I’M wacko? Major General John K. Singlaub, that’s wacko. Global, four-dimensional, geopoLITical headcase, commander SOG Operational Staff Directorate Op-31 Maritime Studies Group, M’am!”

He saluted Cathy. Jennifer looked away.

“The Group that brought you the Tonkin Gulf Incident. But that’s another story. Pair o’dice Island. Operated jointly with Op-33 Psy Ops group headed BY Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bowen SIR, inventor and sole member OF Patriotic Sword Patriotic League, no, Sacred Sword Patriotic League, phantom, invisible, mass-resistance movement inside North Vietnam fighting atheistic communist tyranny. Nonexistent.”

He panted, considered what. “My granpa was a fisherman. Out of Eureka. Mom’s dad. Owned his own boat. Salmon, albacore, bottom fish. Good guy. Fuck you you don’t think that’s relevant. You, whatsyourname.”

“Lynn,” said Lynn. Stew slid from the swing, Bigfooted toward her.

“You know shit about fish, right.”

Lynn did not need to nod. Her body nodded.

“I kidnap you, blindfold you, haul you in a boat up the coast to what’s that place? Stinson Beach. Smells different.”


“SMELLS different. The stuff that smells. Redwoods, Mt. Tamalpais.”


“Then I ship your ass down to Half Moon Bay. Smells different. No redwoods.”


“Different to you, pussy from San Francisco.”

“Yes, it would. Be.”

“NOW you got a brain twice the size of Psy Ops 33. Wrap yourself around the untainted, Thai-heroin-pure imbecility of this operation. They take a boat up north of the DMZ, they land, they grab some fishermen, everyone’s a fisherman on the coast, they don’t go inland, they grab whoever they can get who don’t shoot back, Wang and Wong and their buddy Hung, blindfold them, very important, put em on the boat, cruise back at least 100 miles south, cause you got to go NORTH of the DMZ to fish for North Vietnamese peasants, they arrive at this island, the EAST side of the island, are you following me, the EAST side of the island which faces AWAY from the mainland, and BOOM off come the blindfolds and Welcome to —”

“Paradise Island,” said Lynn.

“Don’t talk. Other people talking makes me crazy. You’re stupid and you’re not listening. No. Welcome to a LIBERATED ZONE INSIDE NORTH VIETNAM. You have not been travelling south, you totally ignorant North Vietnamese peasants, you have been travelling NORTH, up the coast of your own fucking country; welcome to the stronghold of the Sacred Sword Patriotic League which has only one member, Lieutenant Colonel Bowen SIR, which is going to free you from communist tyranny. See? There’s the flag of the Sacred Patriotic Sword League flying nobly above the stockade. What do you mean, free, asshole, thinks Wang, You just kidnapped us, for one thing.”

“They’re on an island for another,” said Cathy.

“Of course they’re on an island. Wang looks at Hung, Hung looks at Wong. You notice, they say, that when the wind blows from the EAST it smells just like it does when it blows from the WEST, meaning like the ocean both ways, it does not smell like the fucking paddies which are to the WEST of the beach in most of the North Vietnams we know. They don’t even have to say it, they know it. Welcome to Disneyland. The Liberated Zone is contracted to some South Vietnamese payola building contractor, who is told to make it look like NORTH Vietnamese architecture, HE doesn’t care, he uses AMERICAN cement, which is the only cement he can steal in South Vietnam, do you think American cement SMELLS like North VIETNAMESE cement. Does Tiawana smell like San Diego? What is WRONG with this picture?”

“The buildings are new,” said Cathy, getting into it.

“The BAMBOO is new. The dental chair is new. The medicine cabinet is new. Everything’s beautiful. They have died and gone to Sacred Sword Heaven. Big dining room, they eat banquets, four times a day, pork, seafood, served in the authentic North Vietnamese style except the seafood is frozen, comes from Hawaii, they see a bag of rice says USAID, oh yeah, we LIBERATED that from the communists, come in here get your teeth fixed, now repeat after me: Long Live the Sacred Sword Patriotic League, here’s a packet of goodies for your family, and now we’re taking you back north, I mean SOUTH, to spread the word that the SSPL is coming to your town with hot food and false teeth. They bundle up Wang and Wong who have to be too simple to know that the seawind on their left cheeks going TO is on their right cheeks coming FROM, and Wong turns to Wang and says, You know if they took us as far north as they just took us south to this American Yankee banquet center, we’da been at Ha Tin where I was born and my wife’s family comes from and that wasn’t no Ha Tin and I may be an ignorant fuck who bows to hearthgods and worships trees and shit but Ha Tin and that fuckin island are two different places.

“And Hung says, But look at all this cool stuff we got, known as luxuries impossible to obtain in the North, medicine, sewing supplies, and a radio that for some reason only picks up the frequency of broadcasts from the who was it, Patriotic Sword Party, and the minute I get home I’m turning this shit over to the village commissar and get promoted to head peasant. I sure miss that pork and rice with fish sauce and frozen peas, says Wong, Maybe we’ll get kidnapped again. You think these slopes fish with radar? They NAVIGATE by the moon and stars. Moon and stars don’t belong to OP-31 Maritime Studies Group. The not-so-moronic peasants OWN the moon and the stars over there, they know the angle the waves hit the shore. The kelp. Aftershave lotion from Saigon. American soap.”

“Are you done?” said Jennifer.

Cathy shook out a pack of Kools, offered one to Stew.

“Nigger cigarettes.” He lit a Camel. “Joke: Hung turns to Hong, says Whatdya think’s on the other side of that bamboo fence they won’t let us get near in the middle of this island that’s supposed to be on the mainland? Answer: Lieutenant Stuart Jeb Warden on operational assignment FROM 5th Special Forces Group typing up requisition forms for frozen shrimp from Taiwan and radios from Japan tuned to one frequency. SO?”

“Do I believe it?”

“Mission District reject’s tall tale.”

Cathy orbited some narrative center of gravity that was neither Paradise Island nor a gun.


“A honest broad, first time for everything. Gotta see a man about a fix. Here, catch.”

He tossed the gun to her. Amazingly, she caught it, handed it off to Lynn, who dropped it on the grass and then into her bag.

“You stupid braindead mindless fuck asshole,” screamed Jennifer, “how you gonna help me without that, you dipshit —”

“Cut off your own ears, sis.” He pulled the cloth coat around him. “You and me, Cathy, we’re different,” he said. “You’re a traitor to your country, which is cool, that’s your trip. Not me. Not yet anyway. I need you off my case.”

The first shadow of Mt. Sutro touched the park. Cathy and Lynn cut across Precita between two parked cars. Lynn thought to mention that one had government plates, a grey Chevrolet whose balding driver held the Wall Street Journal open in front of him. But her mind was focussed on the weight in her purse, the weight in general, all the weight.