Thursday, April 27, 2006


The next morning when I arrived at the funeral home I found out that the six men would be Ed`s pallbearers. They were Nam veterans, men from the bar where he had been going near his home. I followed the procession to Ed`s church for the Catholic service, then to the cemetary.

At the burial site I felt a weakness in my knees, a void somewhere within. Death touches us so deeply. There is really no one`s death, no one who we love, that is not also our death, a piece of us. The stark reality of our own existence, the barest time left to us, brings a shudder to our souls. That little conceit buried deeply in our hearts, “Thank God it`s not me.” I felt that cravenness, that recreant scream inside.

It is not death that makes cowards of us all, it`s the living with that knowledge. All of what the world knows of us, all of our personality, our character, is nothing more than our feeble attempt to deny our finiteness. And yet, in our time on earth, we are sometimes fortunate enough to be touched by another`s struggle. The basic humanness of it.

Whenever I think of Ed, who he was, three thoughts run through my mind. First, our cat Rennie. No one outside the family could get close to him, except Ed. No one paid attention to him, except Ed. Second, my son Sean. Children are not easily fooled and Ed was always Sean`s favorite among my friends. Third, my brother Mike,our companion at the Nixon Inaugural Protest. Mike has told me many times that Ed was the only one of my friends that treated him as an equal, even when he was not much more than a child. So, goodbye, my friend, sometime soon we`ll have a beer in heaven.

The End.



Two days later, I received the news of Ed`s death. According to his Mom, it seemed likely that I was the last person to speak to him. Patient notes indicated that he had slipped into a coma in the evening of my visit. His Mom asked if he seemed peaceful when I saw him, I told her yes. There was no need to mention the war.

Ed`s funeral was held in Kensington, within blocks of his home. Barbara, Sean and I came in separate cars so that I could stay awhile. As we entered the viewing room I had second thoughts about my decision to bring Sean. Which was more important, our coming as a family or his being shielded from these images? I had mixed feelings as we approached the casket.

The coffin was closed, an American flag fully draping it. On top of the flag, to the left, was a picture of Ed in an army dress uniform, something I had never seen before. I felt relief for Sean, yet confusion about the military pomp. I believed that the last thing Ed would have liked to define his life was his involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet, it wasn`t my decision. I had only to respect his parent`s wishes.

After a prayer at the casket I brought Barbara and Sean to where Ed`s parents were grieving. They hadn`t ever met Barbara and hadn`t seen Sean for a few years. Sean brought a smile to Ed`s parents, making me feel more comfortable about my decision to bring him. I walked my family out to the car and stood outside while they drove away.

I lit a cigarette, standing outside the small funeral home. A tap on the shoulder turned me to face two friends from the National Guard, men who had joined the reserves in the same month that Ed and I had enlisted.

“Hi, Bob, Jim. Thanks for coming.”

“How ya doin` Vince?” said Bob, as we shook hands. “Man, this is such a shame. What happened? Was he sick?”

“Yes, he`d been sick for awhile” I replied. “He had liver and kidney problems.”

“Damn. Such a waste. Ed was a good man. I just can`t believe this. Did he suffer much?”

“Yeah, I think he`s been suffering for awhile now” I replied. “Maybe since the war.”

I finished my cigarette and led them into the funeral home, pointing out Ed`s parents for them. Sitting down in the smoking room, I met John, the only one of the old gang to come that evening. I had known John would come; he was a good man, always had a good heart. Before we had a chance to speak, the priest had arrived for the evening prayers and we joined the others in front of the casket.

Along with family and friends, I noticed six men standing near the casket, dressed in jeans, some in army fatigue jackets. I had never seen them before, wondered who they were.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Not long after the cookout, maybe two months, I was at home with Sean near dinner time. Barbara was in the kitchen, making dinner, Sean and I were watching television, Bugs Bunny, a personal fave of ours. The phone rang and I leaned over Sean to answer it.

It was Ed`s Mom. He had been taken to Veteran`s Hospital two days before. It seems that Ed had been having difficulty for months with water retention and was taking medication for it. For the last week the medication didn`t seem to be working. Ed`s body swelled, he was in great pain, but he refused to go to the hospital. I asked her if he had been going to the bathroom, she said he had been trying, she didn`t really know. She did know that he hadn`t gotten out of bed for days and she could hear him practically crying at times. He wouldn`t eat, wasn`t even drinking much, just beer and water.

Ed`s Mom finally couldn`t take it anymore and against his protestations, she called an ambulance service to have him transported to the hospital. She was afraid that he would refuse to go but by the time the ambulance came he was in such great pain that he had little to say, no protests, just groans of pain. I asked her if he was allowed visitors, she said yes, they were giving him pain meds. I told her not to worry, I`d leave right away.

I kissed Sean and Barb, whispered to her where I was going and saw my pain reflected in her face. “I`ll say a prayer. Tell him we`re all thinking of him.”

It took about forty five minutes to drive to the University of Penn`s campus, where Veteran`s Hospital was situated and another twenty minutes to sign in and find Ed`s room. He was lying in the bed closest to the door, on his back.

I bent over the bed and saw he was sleeping so I grabbed the nearest chair and sat next to him. As I saw the size of his body beneath the light sheet my hope for him vanished. In three days there should have been some reduction in his fluid retention, that much I knew. Yet his whole body was swollen, not just his stomach. Ed`s face was red, his mouth a grimace in sleep. His chin seemed to rest on his chest, his body so distended that his neck could hardly be seen. I couldn`t help but sob, then saw that I had awakened him.

He spoke softly and I bent close to him to hear his words. “Aw, Vince, I don`t look so good huh?”

“Well, you`re here Ed. They`re taking good care of you.”

“It`s too late this time. I can see it in their eyes.” I was about to protest when he continued, “You know, I don`t want to die, not really. Aw shit, maybe I do. I knew what I was doin`, I knew I shouldn`t be drinking, not like I was. That fuckin` war. Shit.” He tried to shift his body, failed, and I tried to fix his pillow, make him more comfortable.

He looked up at me, directly in my eyes. It took all of my strength not to turn away. “Vince, you know those statues I brought back from Nam?” I nodded yes. “Well, it would give me pleasure if you would take them, give them a home. The Buddha needs to feel useful, to be around love and peace. I think I failed him in that regard.”

I could no longer hold back the tears, letting them fall on the sheet covering him, sort of an anointing. “Ed, you didn`t fail anybody. You did your best. That`s all God asks of us.”

He grimaced in pain, closed his eyes, seem to try to speak. I bent closely but couldn`t make out the words. His face seemed to lighten as he fell asleep and I stole away from the pain, wiping the tears from my eyes.



I heard very little of Ed for many months after that. It seemed as if each of us had moved forward, although in different orbits. I was very busy, finishing graduate school, my internship, working to support my family. I seldom stopped to see the old gang and when I did, there was no info on how he was doing. I left messages at his house a few times but we never seemed able to hook up. The war was over, America had withdrawn from Vietnam, but I had doubts if Ed was free of his demons.

A few weeks after I had defended my dissertation and had gotten my diploma in the mail, my wife and I invited a few friends over for a cookout, a kind of celebration. The guests were mostly friends from school, a couple from the old crowd. Ed came with our friend Monk; I was very happy to see him. He told me he wasn`t working but was taking two courses at school which qualified him for government benefits. His eyes were glassy and he had put on weight. The weight was shocking and worrisome to me. Ed had always been a strongly built, stocky man. He brushed off my questions about his health, saying what he needed was more exercise. I accepted that, what choice did I really have, what right.

I went into the dining room and got my diploma. “Yo, Ed. Take a look. Finally!” I said as I handed him the red booklet holding it. He opened the booklet and gazed at the diploma.

I saw a frown on his face as he said “I don`t understand, Vince. I thought you were getting your doctorate in Psychology. This says you`ve earned a Doctor of Philosophy, a Ph.D..” I started to explain how the Doctorates in Liberal Arts were Ph.D.`s, then it struck me. Ed was a philosophy major and I may have inadvertently taken away one of his dreams. Although he hadn`t as yet finished undergraduate school, he always had that dream to finish a doctorate in Philosophy, a Ph.D., something that would make him stand out. I felt foolish and put the diploma away, telling him I knew he`d get one of them someday.

I grabbed him by the shoulder, led him outside, introduced him around. Ed seemed to shrink a little and found Monk near the bar. He made himself a vodka and ice and sat down. My son saw him and ran over, excited. Sean had always felt close to Ed and he gave him a hug, bringing a big smile to Ed`s face.

“Wow, Sean. Look how big you`re getting`! Pretty soon I won`t be able to beat you at arm wrestling.”

“Yeah, Uncle Ed, I can already beat my Dad.”

“Well, let`s see how strong you are”, Ed laughed, as he put his arm on the little table next to him. He bent his arm low to accommodate a seven year old`s, said ready, set, go. Ed pretended to struggle letting Sean all but pin him, then brought his arm forward until Sean`s hand was inches away from the table. Sean struggled, not giving in and Ed gradually gave him purchase, allowing his own hand to be pinned. Sean jumped up and down, shouting “I won, Uncle Ed, I won!” Ed laughed, rubbed Sean`s hair and got up to get himself another drink.

About a half hour later Ed and Monk came up to me at the grill, where I was just finishing a bunch of hamburgers. Ed said sorry, they couldn`t stay, had to get somewhere. I asked him to give me a second to get the burgers off the grill, then found them saying goodbye to my wife Barbara and Sean. I walked upstairs with them and put a couple of cheeseburgers and two beers in a bag, handed it to Ed. As always, one for the road.


Monday, April 24, 2006


When Ed returned to Philadelphia he used his G.I. benefits to return to college. Both of us were busy and we saw each other about every two or three weeks. It seems as if he was doing fine, though he was drinking more than usual. Our trip to Washington was the longest time we had spent together in ages.

It was shortly after this that he borrowed his father`s car and drove up to my house in the northeast part of the city. Ed seemed happy. He had sold much of the grass to friends, a little at a time, to help himself financially and said he was doing well in school.

Ed pulled something from his shirt pocket and handed it to me; it was the paper that came with his monthly check from the government. I was surprised at the amount he was getting and looked it over carefully. It seems as if there was a bookeeping mistake, Ed was receiving benefits as if he was married and had two kids. I asked him how long he had been getting this larger amount and he replied, since the beginning of last semester. I said “Ed, have you called them, tried to straighten this out?”

“Naw, why should I? I`ll let them catch their mistakes. The hell with `em.”

“I don`t know, Ed. Once they catch it, you`re gonna have to pay all that money back. And I don`t know about penalties or how much time you`ll get to pay it back.”

“Well, Vince, I`m not goin` to worry about it. I`m doing good, have enough money that I don`t have to work. I`ll just leave it alone.”

Ed offered me ten dollars that he had borrowed, then asked if I had anything to drink stronger than beer. I poured us two glasses of jug burgundy and he drank his quickly, saying he had to go.

The next time I saw him was many weeks later. On the way home from a night class I stopped at the old neighborhood bar. All the boys were there, playing the bowling machine. Ed was sitting by himself, not in the game. I said Hi to him and bought us a drink, a beer for me and a vodka and ice for him. Ed was obviously drinking heavily, slurring his words. Not falling down drunk, but sad, within himself.

I asked him what was happenin`, he replied “I`m not in school anymore. The government caught their mistake. I can`t receive any cash benefits `til I`ve repaid what I owe them.”

“Aw, man, I`m sorry. I told you that might happen.”

Ed glanced at me, then seemed to focus past my shoulder. “That`s real helpful. Thanks for bringin` it back up.”

I didn`t know what to say, told him I`d be around if he wanted to talk. He nodded, finished his drink. I patted him on the shoulder, said my goodbyes to everyone and went home to my family.

It was shortly after this that Ed went to the West Coast, visiting some friends of ours. I heard nothing from him for months, then he was back home in Philadelphia, living with his parents. I stopped there to see him and was stunned by how he looked. His body was bloated, face puffy and red. We grabbed a beer and sat on his front steps.

“Ed, man, you don`t look well. You`ve been sick?”

He lit a cigarette, then replied “Yea, out on the Coast; guess I was drinkin` too much. I felt a lot of pain in my sides, like near the kidneys? I couldn`t piss, just kept swelling up. Finally, Jack took me to the V.A. hospital out there. It seems like my liver is going.”

I lit a cigarette myself, shook my head. "Aw, man, what did the Docs say?”

“Well, there was this one young Doc, a nice guy. He got me on the right meds, got me stabilized. When I was getting discharged he stopped to see me. He asked if I smoked grass, I told him yes. He was really serious, said to me to smoke all the grass I wanted but to stop drinking. Otherwise I`d be dead in a couple of years.”

"Ed, I`m really sorry, But what are you doin` with that beer then?”

“Just beer, Vince. No hard stuff.”

“You gonna be able to do that Ed?”

Ed took a swig from his can, “Fuck it. I don`t really give a damn.”

I looked at Ed, asked if he had been over to see any of the guys in the old neighborhood. “Naw, I`ve been hangin` around here. There`s a bar down by the El, at Cambria. A lot of vets hang out there. I feel comfortable there.”

“Are you drinking a lot there Ed?”

For the first time he looked me squarely in the eye. “Vince, I appreciate your concern, but this is none of your business. I gotta take care of myself.”

I nodded, finished my beer and went inside to say goodbye to Ed`s parents. Coming back outside, I gave Ed a hug, told him to call me and drove home.


Sunday, April 23, 2006


In the middle of a dream, I heard “Yo Vince, you OK?” Oops, I had fallen asleep at the table. I looked at my watch, it had only been about fifteen minutes. “Yea, Ed” I replied as I closed my eyes, trying to catch the wisp of my dream.

My son was there, only much older, in uniform. Looking at him, then over his shoulder, I could see a sniper, aiming. I tried to stand, to scream, to warn him. Then, I was awakened. The overt meaning seemed obvious, my inability to help him scary. Present circumstances held me to that vision, I`d lost any other detail. So be it; move on!

Ed seemed ready to leave so I said my goodbye to Breeze and went to the Camaro, checked on Mike. In a few minutes we were on the road, northward to home. Breeze had given Ed a large coffee which I sipped gratefully as I saw both my passengers fast asleep.

I turned the radio off, opened my window further to stay alert. I thought about the day, what it meant to America. Maybe not much immediately; it would be easy for Middle America to look with derision at the pot-smoking draft dodgers, self-centered long hairs, afraid to serve their country. I had no doubt of how the TV networks would portray the demonstration. Ten seconds of Jerry Rubin, some closeups of guys burning their draft cards, lots of pics of pot smokers, then a pan of the White House, featuring the mounted police. Finally a fade to the Lincoln Memorial, being desecrated by the presence of these crazies.

Yet, for me, there was an inkling, a specter of change. There would be little in the news about the thousands of families, people of all ages, that had joined the demonstration. And, most importantly, the media could not for long disregard the protests of soldiers who had been there. People like Ed and his friends in the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. Men and women who had served their country and had found their leaders wanting. This was not a political problem. Both Democrats and Republicans were equally guilty in their faltering attempts to win this quagmire of a war. And yet, our young men and women continue to die. The future of our country I felt strongly, was in the hands of these brave men and women.

Thinking of them brought me back to Ed and his return to the United States. I laughed as I remembered his tale. Each vet was allowed to bring home his/her footlocker containing their personal items. Ed had found out that these footlockers were inspected by native Vietnamese for contraband, there being not enough Americans around for this task. Knowing this, Ed came up with a plan to get thirty pounds of grade A marijuana past their noses and onto the plane home. There was no further inspection on the West Coast, as far as he knew.

Ed wrapped the grass in blankets, with incense, and put his clothing over it. Then, the master stroke! He bought various religious statues; Buddha, Cao Dai, and put them on top of his clothing. Ed was willing to bet that the inspectors wouldn`t disturb the statues and he was right! A nice windfall for his return to civilian life.


Saturday, April 22, 2006


Shortly after entering Maryland, Ed directed me to exit the interstate at a sign that read Fort Meade. We drove for about ten minutes, then started seeing the signs that said we were entering a military reservation. I felt a little uneasy as we were just returning from a large anti-war protest and we were approaching the home of the National Security Agency. I would think that there would be extra guards, etc. around Fort Meade and I didn`t know what their standing orders were.

Whatever, Ed directed me down some back roads, I had no idea if we were on or off base. On a lonely road, not a building in miles, I could see some lights ahead on our right. Ed told me to pull in and I entered a small dusty parking area, just one other car parked, a Chevy Bel-air. The small one story building was obviously a bar, neon signs in the windows advertising Budweiser, Schlitz beer.

Before leaving the car I checked on Mike, let him know we`d be right back, put a jacket over him and locked the car, leaving the windows slightly ajar. As we walked to the bar`s entrance I reached for a cigarette in my pack and realized I was carrying the last of our joints in my Marlboro pack. I showed it to Ed, then field stripped it, scattering the marijuana to the winds. I just wasn`t going to sit in a bar at Fort Meade with a joint in my pocket!

Ed seemed to understand and led me into the bar, just one small room. To the left was a shuffleboard table and a pinball machine for bowling, standard equipment for any neighborhood bar in America. It seems wherever men congregate, there are ways to compete.

I knew the rules, had spent many an hour on the bowling machine. Six of you would put your coins in, bowl ten frames on the machine. The lowest score, to the general derision of the others, had to buy the next round of beers; the next lowest had to put in the coins to play the next round.

Back in our local bar in Philly, the players fell into two catagories: First, there were the regulars, players who took competition seriously, who couldn`t stand to lose no matter the game. These were guys who would spend hours perfecting the slide of the quoit on the machine, just practicing so they would never have to buy the next round of beers. It wasn`t the money for them, just the feeling of being a winner. Then, the rest of us, usually three or four, who would take turns losing, buying beers, inserting coins. I always felt a sadness when seeing the elated faces of the first group, their excitement over getting free beers, winning in a game that was preordained. A sadness over what must have been missing in their lives that they could invest so much time and energy for these fleeting moments.

In the middle of the room were three worn tables to sit, laminate worn, chairs old and rickety. To our right was the bar, about twenty feet long, maybe ten or twelve high backed chairs. The only other person in the bar was the bartender, no patrons. He was a tall black man, well built, with a slight belly that all bartenders seemed to carry. He looked at us warily, two freaks entering an empty bar, then his face seemed to light up as he recognized Ed through the hair and beard.

“Ed, what`s happenin`?” he said, offering his hand, then coming around the bar for a bear hug. He held Ed at arm`s length, smiled, “You made it back.”

“Told you I would, Breeze. And I told you I`d stop by when I did. By the way, this is a good friend of mine; Vince. Vince, this is Breeze. He`s the guy that filled me in on what to expect in Nam, how to stay alive. A good man.”

I shook Breeze`s hand in that new convoluted way we all did, then sat at the bar as Breeze poured three mugs of beer. “I guess you two were at the rally? Wish I could have made it.”

Ed raised his mug in salute and took a sip. “To everyone who served” he said, as we repeated the mantra and drank to the heroes who had sacrificed themselves in so many ways in service to their country.

I grabbed my mug and walked to the jukebox, giving them time to talk. I was out of place in that conversation, hadn`t earned the right. There was some Marvin Gaye on the jukebox, “What`s Goin` On”. I put a quarter in and sat at one of the tables, listening to the rage in the man`s soft voice, waiting for Ed and Breeze to catch up.


Thursday, April 20, 2006


Getting back in the car, I was pleased to see that Ed was back with me, tired, drained but alert. I handed him one of the coffees and checked on my brother, who continued sleeping in the back of the Camaro.

“How you feelin`, Ed” I asked.

“Pretty good,Vince. Thanks for the coffee.” Ed reached into the glove compartment and grabbed a pack of Marlboros, lit two, handed one to me.

“Ed, what effect do you think today is going to have on the war?” I asked.

He sat back quietly, smoking. “I think the demonstration today has already changed the course of the war, Vince. Washington was only the major protest. I just heard on the news that there were demonstrations all over the country. Not just New York, LA, Chicago. Even smaller towns, even the Midwest. Draft cards being burnt, people just saying it`s enough. Man, I can`t tell you how happy I am.”

Ed lit another cigarette and continued. “When I was in Nam, I met all kinds of people, guys who enlisted, guys who were drafted. There were fervent supporters of the war, guys who really believed that we had to make a stand against Communism. And there were others like me who were just trying to survive, to get back home. In the beginning there were a lot of debates, arguments. But war wears you out. And I think what got most of us together was how the war was being waged. I think the political decisions being made in Washington were what caused all this unrest. If the grunts in Nam could sense that the U.S. was committed to winning the war, that there would be an offensive into the north, they would have supported the administration. But all we did was tread water, try to keep our place. Gets you frustrated; instead of being angry at the Viet Cong, you start thinking about everybody around you, dying. Dying for nothing. And that you might die, for no reason. Is your life really worth nothing? I think that`s how I became committed.”

Ed turned on the radio, fiddled with the dial, found a Baltimore jazz station. They were playing “Clifford Brown With Strings” soft, sad, beautiful. It seemed a perfect choice for tonight. Clifford was a Baltimore native, a brilliant trumpet player, who had died in a car crash, 28 years old, never to give us all he had. Just like the tens of thousands of young Americans who had given their lives in this senseless war, never to see their kids grow up, never to work and love, never to create. The music brought a deep sadness to me, as if for the first time I could understand Ed`s heart. I think he sensed this as he spoke, “On the way home, let`s stop for a beer. There`s a place I want to show you.”


Tuesday, April 18, 2006


As the shadow of the Washington monument grew longer, I could feel my energy waning. It had been a long day for each of us and it was obvious that Mike was also worn out. Ed would soon be feeling the aftereffects of the acid and would need a safer environment in which to return to us.

It seemed a good opportunity to start the trip home and I received little argument as I led us back to the Watergate Apartments and our car. It took nearly one and a half hours to reach Interstate 95 North proper. As anyone who traveled through the nation`s capital in those days quickly understood, the small signs that mapped the meandering route that the still uncompleted interstate traveled through Washington were often missing or hard to see. It seemed that we were like trailblazers or worker bees; each car of a large caravan moving north, taking turns getting lost, then settling back in the pack.

I felt relief as we approached the interstate; it was at least another four hour drive back to Philadelphia and I wasn`t sure if I would have any company for the trip. Mike had settled into a deep sleep in the back seat and Ed was lost in his thoughts, his eyes closed, breathing deeply. I pulled into the first reststop, asked Mike and Ed if they needed to use the bathroom, then entered alone. After using the facilities I entered the small restaurant and ordered three large coffees to go.

As I waited in line to pay I could see the haggardness in the waitresses` faces. They had probably been overwhelmed now for hours feeding an unlikely band of long hairs, both men and women, dressed in jeans, tiedied shirts, remnants of military uniform. And they all seemed to know each other, no hassles, just smiles, knowing looks. I was approached by an older couple who were standing just behind me in line.

“Pardon me, but were you at the demonstration today?” the man asked.

I smiled, nodded, “Yes sir, I was”.

“Are you a veteran?”

“No, I`m a National Guardsman, but my best friend is with me in the car. He served two tours in Vietnam.”

The man`s wife seemed to urge him on. “My eldest son died in Vietnam. He was there three weeks. Never left his base camp. An incoming mortar shell killed six of them.”

I looked at him, unsure of what to say, how to respond. I could see the mounting tears in his wife`s eyes. “I`m very sorry sir.”

His wife neared and took my hand. “Please tell your friend that we are proud of what you are doing. My son`s legacy lies with all of you. Something has to be done to stop all this killing.” Her husband spoke, as he must have done so many times, trying to understand the loss of his son. “Bob was drafted as soon as he completed college. University of Maryland, Philosophy major. He was going to go to graduate school, extend his deferment, but we ran out of money. He told me not to worry, that he would complete school after the Army. Now he`s gone.”

I placed my hand on his shoulder, “I`m so sorry for your loss, sir. And I hope you can understand that we have no disrespect for anyone who`s served. It`s just that we don`t want to see more death, more lives devastated.”

The man forced a little smile and took the check out of my hand. “This one`s on me son. Please tell your friend to hang in there.”

His wife drew my face down and kissed me. “With all of your help, maybe this war will end before my Jimmy is old enough to enlist. He doesn`t understand the fruitlessness of this war. He wants to go over there and kill those people who took his brother`s life.”

“Well, Ma`am, we`ll continue to do everything we can. And maybe you could take him to talk to some vets in the group that my friend has joined, the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. I think they can help Jimmy understand.” The couple thanked me and paid my check and I left the reststop, silently saying a little prayer for both their sons.


Sunday, April 16, 2006


The parade wound its way back to the monument area. There was no finishing point, no judges. Just a winding, snake-like, people joining, dropping out.

The three of us left the parade at the Lincoln Memorial and climbed the steps to view the great man. Of all the memorials in Washington at the time, Lincoln`s was, for me, the most imposing. We sat at his feet and Ed opened his wallet and removed a hit of blotter LSD, offered me half. I declined, laughing, “Are we goin` to hire a driver to get us home?” He put half the piece in his mouth, sat back, waiting for the rush.

Keeping one eye on him, didn`t want to go searching again, I joined my brother who was standing back, gazing at the immense statue of “The Great Emancipator”. Mike majored in history in college and shared what he knew of Lincoln, the good and the bad. I was pleased to see he was thinking clearly, pretty sober. I`d probably need his help keeping an eye on Ed in the next few hours.

Mike and I spoke of earlier times; our age difference precluded our hanging around together but there are always stories. The one he always delighted in was his tenth birthday. He laughed as he recited the tale, smiling at my discomfort. I had bought him a brand new Wilson basketball for his present. Course, he didn`t play basketball at the time while, at sixteen, I was in love with the game. He always said it was the nicest gift I ever gave myself for his birthday!

We talked of when I scored the winning basket with 16 seconds left to capture the Philly summer league championship and of the game when he scored 17 points that summer. He was so proud of that game, playing with the older guys, getting hot, making every shot. Ah, the love I felt for him.

By this time Ed was rushing from the acid, smiling, in wonder. From our vantage point at Lincoln`s feet, he looked down at the vast expanse, the hordes of people.

“I knew this day would come” he said.

“Does it help, Ed?”

“Yes, a lot, Vince. Thanks for comin` with me.”

“No problem, Ed. Just stay with me here, no wanderin`!” We spent the next few hours tagging along as Ed roamed, seeing everything and more. I wondered what he must be thinking, of Vietnam, of this demonstration.


Thursday, April 13, 2006


Ed and I finished in the bathroom and waited about 50 feet away, just out of the growing line. We sat down on the grass and I looked at this long-haired smiling man, proudly wearing his Army shirt with the insignia that identified him as serving in-country. Outside of my family he was the person to whom I felt closest.

I asked him how he was feeling, he said “Cool”. Ed lit a joint and continued “I`ve been waiting for this day forever, seems like anyway. Over there you don`t really know if anybody cares.”

Taking a hit from the joint, I tried again. “Ed, why`d you go back?”

“Because I was fucked up. Too much speed, too much anger. I lived in constant fear over there. Driving a gas truck every day, six hours north, six back. Then maintenance on the truck, fix any flats, fill the damn truck for the next day. You had to do speed to stay awake, except when you were getting shot at. I always thought of myself as one of those moving ducks in a shooting gallery? That`s what we all were. Dead any second. And the shooting was all comin` at me. I couldn`t do nothing but drive, get outta there. And vow I`d get a chance to shoot back some time, kill some of those bastards.”

I passed the joint back to him and opened a beer, saluting him. Ed stood up, said “By the way, where`s Mike?” Uh oh! We had been sitting for 15 or 20 minutes, no Mike. I fought my way through the line, got into the men`s room; nada. Ed circled the building and we met about 20 minutes later. I could feel the panic in my stomach; this was my younger brother who had been drinking and smoking, messed up, something he wasn`t very used to. I tried to think where he might go, how he might try to find us and decided my best bet was at the car near the Watergate.

Getting directions, we walked the first few blocks back, worry pervaded. Then, like a miracle, I turn a corner, dodge some people, hear a voice, laughing, “Yo Vinnie, Ed!” My brother is in a mob of crazies joining a counter parade. And he is marching under a sign that says “Kensington Gays Against The War”.

Ed and I practically fall down laughing, both from relief and from the sign. Ed had grown up and spent all of his life living in Kensington in Philly. This was a poor white neighborhood. In those days, you could spray a machine gun in Kensington and not hit a black or Hispanic person, never mind a gay man. Ed and I rush over to Mike and join him under the banner as we become part of the counter-protest parade, just a few more gays from Kensington!


Monday, April 10, 2006


As we entered the monument area, I was struck by the enormity of the crowd. There were people as far as the eye could see, literally tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Not all freaks, there were people of all ages; children, senior citizens, all ages in between. Some were facing a stage where various speakers were condemning the war, urging the protestors.

We walked over and listened awhile. The longer we listened, closely crowded, I began to feel a vibration, something emanating from the listeners. It was an undercurrent of potential violence. In contrast to the many people strolling the area, these listeners were deeply committed. One of the speakers, I think from the Chicago Seven, not Kunstler, maybe Jerry Rubin, was driving the crowd. There was little humor here, more a call for revolution, whatever it takes. Lots of grass, not many smiles.

I looked past the stage, to the White House, wondering if Nixon himself may have seen the horde of humans on the monument lawn, what he must be feeling. In front of the White House, encircling it, were hundreds of mounted police officers, no more then five feet apart. I could only hope that there were cooler heads on the podium and that the mounted police could withstand jeers and taunts without breaking ranks.

It may be that the leaders on the podium had a good handle on what was going in the crowd; Rubin finished and a distinguished looking black man, Rep. Dellums from California, addressed the crowd in a more deliberate understated fashion. It was interesting to see the power that the crowd had invested in the speakers. Dellums was able to mellow the crowd somewhat, but I truly felt that a confrontation with the police would occur if the speakers demanded it. And I wondered if I would join them.

Just about this time, Mike said he had to urinate and it seemed a good time to leave the speakers. The three of us walked to a small building housing some statuary. Men`s room to the left, women to the right. As we joined the men`s line I was astonished to see that nearly half of the people in line were women! This was something new, something I had never seen before and I smiled at two young women in the line directly in frint of us. When I asked them if they knew this was the men`s line, they laughed and said if I had seen the size of the women`s line, I`d know why they were here. And you guys are in and out so fast with the urinals; it only seems fair that we use the stalls. I agreed and offered them a beer, gladly accepted.


Saturday, April 08, 2006


On the occasion of Richard Nixon`s second inauguration, I accompanied my brother Mike and my best friend Ed on a trip to Washington to join the protest against the Vietnam War. It was a warm day for January and our trip down Interstate I-95 was uneventful. Music on the radio; FM free form music was fairly new. The front seat passenger, mostly Ed, was responsible for the station search. As we traveled south from Philadelphia, fewer and fewer rock and roll stations were to be found. It wasn`t until we reached the outskirts of Baltimore that Ed could relax his search. My brother Mike was much younger than Ed and I and he seemed excited to be joining us in this adventure.

Provisions in the car consisted of a cooler of beer and marijuana. Many younger readers may be outraged at me driving under these conditions but that was the way of things at the time. Furtively passing a joint, bending down to take a swig of beer. It soon became evident that most of the cars heading south on I-95, cars bearing Pa, New York, Jersey, Mass plates, were full of long hairs, bending like chickens feeding, like those mechanical birds that everyone had in their homes, dipping, dipping, finally the beak in the water.

Lots of smiling and waving, car to car. Peace signs, V`s everywhere, like a Masonic symbol of brotherhood. Around Baltimore, much less hiding. It`s become evident to the pilgrims that there are too many of us! There are many State troopers parked on the side of the highway but it seems as if they have been given orders, “Let the crazies through”. Few of them are cruising, no one is being stopped. Peace signs are replaced by beer can salutes. Lots of smiles, Further!

We arrive in Washington, start looking for a place to park. Ed has an idea. Let`s find the Watergate Apartments, where it all started. We ask for directions from a well-dressed couple and amazingly, we are parked a block from the Watergate in 20 minutes. Joints rolled and in Ed`s pocket, a six pack of beer in my hand, we turn a corner and it`s like Woodstock revisited. The Grateful Dead blasting on radios, thousands of people, beer and that evil smoke.

In the midst of all this, I looked at Mike, saw an abandon in his eyes that gave me pause. My brother was six years younger than I, two years out of college, an Oriental History major, and was teaching middle school in New Jersey. All of this craziness was new to him and I couldn`t help but feel responsible for his safety. Yet he seemed to fit in, was laughing, looking around in wonder. I relaxed, passed a lit joint back to Ed as we followed the crowd heading to that vast expanse of green in front of the White House, the home of our national monuments.

I looked at Ed, thought of how momentous this day must be for him. He and I had joined the PA National Guard together in 1963. As the war in Vietnam became larger, as U.S. involvement became more than advisory, our unit was placed on alert status. We began attending meetings every other weekend, ostensibly to prepare for the eventuality of being activated for the war. Most of these meetings were spent at our local armory. Ed and I were truck drivers for Headquarters company, along with most of the college graduates in our outfit. I had always wondered how this amalgam happened and had posed that question to the others. The answer was simple; when enlisting, each of us was permitted the option of picking our specialty, our area to receive advanced training. The road that got you back home as quickly as possible, out of active duty, was to become a truck driver. Driving required the least amount of training, the least intelligence. For that reason alone, most of the college grads in our troop were truck drivers.

Ed was a union printer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, making great money, driving an Austin Healey [wow, what a car, put my MG to shame]. While taking his annual physical for the paper it was found that his blood pressure was extremely high, so much so that he was given two weeks off work and put on medication. The time off planted an idea in Ed. He researched Army regs and found that his blood pressure disqualified him from active duty and that he would be given an honorable discharge from the service if activated.

Ed also realized that his blood pressure would qualify him for long-term disability if he could get that kind of insurance. Through mutual friends he met an examining Doctor in a bar in center city and over a vodka martini and after a large money exchange, Ed was certified to have normal blood pressure and shortly received his disability policy. Within months Ed applied for disability and was approved. His life then consisted of getting up around noon, having breakfast and driving to the golf course, playing with some of our friends who also had lots of time on their hands.

It was then time for the second part of his plan. Ed stopped going to most of our National Guard meetings and when he did show, he was drinking heavily and was passively belligerant to the officers. Eventually, the company commander released him for assignment to active duty and Ed arrived at Ford Meade MD, for his active duty physical. Unfortunately for him, the months off from work golfing and relaxing had taken their toll on his blood pressure, which was now normal. Ed was in Vietnam in 3 months, driving a gas truck up and down the length of South Vietnam. Like many others working 18 hour days over there, he began to use vast quantities of speed and marijuana.

I can still remember the first time I saw him after his tour of duty. I was a graduate assistant at Temple University, in the Ph.D. program and Ed came to the Testing Bureau where I worked. He was utterly psychotic, paranoid, seemed schizophrenic. That`s what speed can do to a man. I referred him to a place where he could get help and spent many a night talking, over grass and beer.

Eventually, Ed`s head cleared a lot from not using speed and his anger and frustration surfaced. All of the months driving up and down the length of South Vietnam, being shot at, never knowing when the truck might explode, had caused a fundamental change in this Philosophy major. He wanted revenge, wanted a chance to fight back.

Rather than serve his remaining year safely in the U.S., Ed volunteered for assignment as a machine gunner on a helicopter and returned in-country. He spoke little of those times but when I next saw him he was a deeply committed anti-war activist. It was for him that Mike and I were here now, to protest this evil war, this thing that had killed more than 50,000 young Americans.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Time For A Respite: Relax, Enjoy

(Deabler, 2006)

V & Ayn

Wednesday, April 05, 2006



Death is that which hovers
wherever people are.

That knowledge of our finiteness,
that makes us human
and produces our neuroses,
is also what drives us to write,
and all our attempts
at immortality.

V [circa 1978]

Sunday, April 02, 2006

REPOST Following the "Genesis" Post

……the only way to work on perfection is in the form of an objective work that is fully under your control and is perfectible in some real ways. Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection, or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life. In this way, he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience. He takes in the world, makes a total problem out of it, and then gives a fashioned, human answer to that problem. This, as Goethe saw in Faust, is the highest that man can achieve.
{Ernest Becker, “The Denial of Death”, page 185.}

Freud also saw the value of creativity in the individual`s struggle to defend himself against being overwhelmed by his knowledge of his mortality. He believed that all of man`s defenses arise from that most primal defense, that of pure repression. Be they hysterical, intellectual, obsessive, compulsive, depressive, etc. postures, man must limit his conscious knowledge of his mortality by restricting his lived experience to a safe existence shared by the vast majority of his comman man. Yet Freud, perhaps influenced by his single-minded devotion to his life project, understood sublimation, the ability to cathect neurotic energy into creativity, as the one defensive posture that seemed to have no life-diminishing properties.

Unfortunately, I believe, that very creative process that allows man to live a less “neurotic” life comes with a terrible burden. The very striving to leave something of value behind, to outlive us, brings into clearer focus the dilemma of our mortality. As the Artist, in Rank`s sense, attempts to create, he becomes terrified at his temerity in doing what is God`s work. It is here that many artists shrink from their creative urges, and fall back on their more neurotic defenses in order to shield themselves. Some others bow to their lack of courage through psychotic breaks with reality.

I`ve always found it interesting that Freud and Jung had such terrible panic attacks when approaching Rome. Yet neither man seemed able to relate their terror to the symbology of Rome as the seat of a major religion. Because of his devotion and single-mindedness to psychoanalysis, Freud seemed unable to reach a personal resolution with nature and its Creator. Even Jung, who always relied on God, could still faint away with the burden of life.

For me, what ultimately resolves the terror inherent in sublimation for many artists is their understanding of their place in the Creator`s plan. As Becker describes the insight of Rank and Kierkegaard in regards to creativity and immortality, ……”one should not stop and circumscribe his life with beyonds that are near at hand, or a bit further out, or created by oneself. One should reach for the highest beyond of religion; man should cultivate the passivity of renunciation to the highest powers no matter how difficult it is. Anything less is less than full development, even if it seems like weakness and compromise to the best thinkers”……….{Becker, op cit, page 174.}