Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Smart We Could Have Been


KHUK KHAK, Thailand - Lately, like, in the past year or two, I've experienced a number of people reminding me of how smart they are. I sat and listened to their self-stories of I.Q. testings in the third grade, what they got on their S.A.T.s, entrance exams, how they performed on a Yahoo intelligence test, a Facebook questionaire, how close to genius they must be.

I could have simply said to each of them, right then and there, 'Mine's higher', or reminded them of some stupid shit they've pulled, but who am I to burst anyone's fiction? And to the pup who was bragging about the forty women he'd slept with, I could have told him, 'I stopped counting at 250,' but I didn't want to throw a wet towel on his story.

And to the Gee-How-Smart-I-Am people, I could have added, 'Mine was off the charts. Broke the machine. Needle went wayyyy into the red. They said I was so brilliant, they had no idea of how smart I really was.'

Well, that's what I could have said, or wish I'd said, as 'come back' as they say here for 'reply', but like I probably mentioned previously, and as Manny always used to say, 'You're slow. You're wayyy too slow on your feet. You never gonna make it at this pace.'

So, in fact, I'm a lot slower than most people, the guy who doesn't get the joke, the guy who asks, 'what happened?', late on the scene, bottom third of the class, couldn't find the party, never read the instructions, almost didn't graduate, had to re-take the final...

My degree? Mechanics.

"Is that deisel or gas?" the guy asked, like he thought I'd be good on a VW bus.

"Quantified Interstellar," I could have said. Could have just said, 'Quantum,' I guess, but again, didn't think of it until many days later.

Like Manny, my high school guidance counselor, and my birth doctor all said, 'You haven't got what it takes." Except for Manny, those weren't their exact words, but to give you an idea, my counselor suggested I might have a future in Vietnam, which, at the time, was blazing.

(there he goes, taking the story off into the 'Nam. How long is THIS going to last?)

"You could go to the 'Nam?" she suggested both as a question and a career option. And my birth doctor suggested to my mother that I could be given up for adoption, "you know...if you don't want to keep it," they said he said. "And if we can find some takers."

They didn't have to tell me. I was there. I heard him say it. Verified it in a past-life regression session. I wanted to look him up between that stint with the circus, parole, and the 'Nam, but everything was coming too quick in those days, everything too quick, and my math teacher in middle school sarcastically nicknamed me,'Quickness', and like I said, I was slow, except after those first few times in front of the bench.

"You here for a case?" asked the judge between items on the docket. I had a briefcase, and had dressed like a third-year law student.

"Yes, your Honor," I replied.

"Who's?" the judge asked, flipping through a stack of files.

"Mine," I said.

Upshot of it was, her near-respect soon turned to disdain as she read my file.

"I see here you said you're a rocket scientist," she said. "You must think you're pretty smart."

"YESDRILLSERGEANT!" I almost blurted out, but repressed.

Same thing Manny used to say. God, I got tired of hearing that. "Oh, no, Your Honor," I told her. "I'm not smart. If I was, I wouldn't be here."

She said she couldn't have agreed with me more, sentenced me to fif..five years, suspended it on an option to the 'Nam, which I took, and...the rest is history.

Good news was, didn't have to pull time in the joint. Bad news was, I had to pull two tours in the Nam.

You might be probably thinking, 'going to a war during its heighth isn't very smart.'

And you'd be right. It isn't, especially if you enlist. But going as a medic was, as it turned out. Enlisting, in and of itself, was pretty idiotic, but was perfectly understandable given my dim prospects for a future in the circus and the socio-cultural programming of who's fit for duty in America.

When does a person become the programmer? Ask a VA shrink.

"Ha ha ha," said the jerk with my orders. "You thought becoming a medic was smart, huh? You thought you'd be hanging around educated people, nurses, and drugs, right?"

I thought so, but they put me in helicopters. Grunts on the ground said, "ain't no fuckin' way I'd fly," but I loved it. Good news was, I got to fly. Bad news was, we got shot down.

(end 'Nam digression, return to story)

So, just like Manny, the juvenile home people, and the Ringmaster predicted, "Instead of hearing the man say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the next gonna be somebody,' you gonna hear The Man say, 'All rise!'

Sure enough, their prophesies fulfilled, their prescription's definition's boundaries I couldn't escape. Nobody in those days was thinking outside the box. Thinking outside the box is something that wouldn't occur until decades later.

Same way here. People ask, 'You work?'

I, uh, stammer and glance away if I'm having a slow day, which is usually every day, but if I'm quicker on my feet and have done some preliminary rehearsal, I tell them, "Yes. EVERY day!"

'What you do?'

"I'm a doc..a, I'malmostretired."


What? You wanted a story about elephants and coconut palms from Thailand? You can write this shit from ANYwhere, man. Don't matter where you are, Manny would say. You're going to be doing whatever you're doing.

Ok. So why not the tropics? Tom said Pine Ridge had two feet of snow.

Or maybe you wanted a story about Li An Song Nu Kyi, a fascinating figure, and boss of the plane production company after the shower caddy venture tanked, not because of market or sales, but because it wasn't fun anymore. It became quite tedious long before the 493rd caddy, the production cut-off.

People still ask, "You still have caddies?"

The plane production is in it's fourth year now, going on five, if I can get the crew back together. It's worse than a band. In a band, you've got egos and attitudes and people trippin' on themselves, and with a crew of Myanmar, you've got all of that, on top of the language problem and illegal immigration status. It's one exasperating episode after another.

The squadron's doing ok, though. We've got some really capable people on board in command positions, a little reckless at times, but they can think for themselves and get the job done.



Go on.

"Go on," she said, showing interest, but caught glancing up at the clock.

"I guess I'm eating into your lunch hour," I said, looking over my shoulder at the clock and letting her know I was paying attention to her eyes, the new VA shrink, undergraduate work at Purdue, six years med school at Indiana University, psychiatric internship at...I forget, Chicago or somewhere, doesn't matter, what mattered is that I know those schools, taught at one of 'em, played her hometown, Elkhart, in basketball, which she found remarkably interesting and strangely coincidental, there in her office, where she asked what I taught and was wondering about why I hadn't had an appointment in five years, and my comment, 'the intake nurses wanted me to report back on the new shrink.'*

"Oh,no," she said, dismissing my concern for her time. "We started late."

She'd been on the job for three weeks, the degrees conspicuously large on the wall. I told her they had a high rate of turnover in her position.

She didn't say anything, but let the air fall silent, a cue that I was the one to be doing the talking in that setting. She had already revealed too much, but could rationalize it as establishing a friendly but professional doctor/client rapport. I explained, "South Dakota winters are tough."

When our time was up, leaving her only 35 minutes for lunch, I told her I'd see her in six months. She seemed surprised. "You don't want another appointment for six months?" she asked.

"I'm going away," I replied. "Someplace warm...for my mental health. South Dakota winters are tough."


"That was a long time ago, man," my friend said in my kitchen, implying that it was time to let it go. Well, you could say that about Wounded Knee, the Holocaust, the Wells Fargo guy riding shotgun who got shot with an arrow in the teeth, the treaty, birth on Earth, or any other traumatic event.

Good news is, there's treatment, except for the Wells Fargo guy. Recent research says you tell your story, find new activities to plunge into, and surround yourself with friends and a network of support. Exercise and eat right. Go shopping.

Bad news is, when you're in that space, you don't feel like doing any of that shit.

Good news was, there was cardiac recovery. Bad news was, the study control group was already all hospitalized.


Am I doing any writing? Like, a book? Yes and no. A manuscript in the works? Well, there's the screenplay, 'Stinky Boy', and the talking medicinal plant story that has the potential of becoming a major motion picture and viral box office hit, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail series that I uh..uh

am working on, and of course, there's that Big One out there, you know, like a trophy fish, just waiting to be caught, or in my case, to be written, since you said 'writing', but, ah, everything in it's own due time, right?

No, it's not...none of this is actually ON PAPER...HA..but they're ideas, and ideas are good, right? ideas while walking down the beach.

- end

*"How is he?" the nurses asked excitedly in the lower hallway of Building A, their eyes alive with the prospect of new gossip, "the new shrink."

"He isn't a he," I told them. "She's a she. And she's young. Just finished up her internship."