Monday, April 20, 2009



Khuk Khak, Thailand - There are some things I do spontaneously…three. Wake up. Write. Jump up at the sound of a crash.

Don’t have to try, don’t have to think about it. Happens by itself, like what do they call it?...channeling, or spontaneous combustion. And wouldn’t that be something?…sitting there talking to someone, and all of a sudden, they bust out into flames? Burst.

First, you'd probably think, 'What the...?', and then you'd probably try to put it out.

You can probably think of some things you do spontaneously, too. Without thinking, without trying.

Like Bruce Pretorious and Bill Cantrell spontaneously made the football and basketball teams each year.

Or, not like that. Not like that at all, nor like your sympathetic nervous system. Waking up? Everybody does that, except the people who don’t, so that would be in a different category, and I didn’t really spend that much time thinking this through before I began writing, spontaneously.

We were talking about spontaneous. Writing and jumping up at the sound of a crash would be learned, wouldn’t they? That’s what I mean, learned responses. Like, a child could probably learn to write, eventually, without being taught. 300 million monkeys, and one of them is going to write, you can bet on it.

And a child wouldn’t naturally* jump up at the sound of a crash, although experiments have demonstrated that newborns will react with shock and fear at the sound of a balloon being popped close to their ear.

Which reminds me of the time in the ‘Nam when they lit off those two 109 mm howitzers on a night fire mission from the artillery pit right next to my ear, twenty, thirty feet away from the medevac hootch.

Have you heard this one already?

I was already under my cot, prayingandcryingandthinkingaboutmom before the second volley went off, and I realized it was out-going.

Or maybe Augie, my crew chief, sitting in the dark on the side of his cot, said, “That’s outgoing, man.”

Still, it was nerve-racking, and I stayed down there, huddled in a fetal position until the end of it, about ten or twelve volleys, maybe six hundred, I don’t know. But that was spontaneous, too, not recalling the movement from lying prone in a slightly disturbed dream state to quivering jellyfish under the cot.

So it’s not just newborns.

I was chickenshit, don’t mind telling you, but just didn’t try to think about it. Went into the medical corps for three reasons; you wouldn't have to kill anyone; two, there were doctors and a higher mentality, higher educated group than, say, the infantryman, not to put down the grunt, but the stats speak for themselves; three, there were nurses, and that speaks for itself; and three, they were the guys with the drugs.


Well...Ok? This was the thinking of an eighteen-year old, inasmuch as it hasn't changed that much. Still don't want to kill anyone, still looking for intellectual stimulation, still chasing the nurses, and still looking for the guys with the drugs.

And dad gave me the soundest advice a father could ever give a son. He told me, “Try to get into a line of work where you don’t have to take a life.”

Did I tell you this already? Are you sure? Stop me if you have.

Well, that turned out to be great advice. And going as a medic was a good way to go, if you had to go.

The Medical Corps was appealing for the three above reasons, and later, another benefit became apparent, years later, after seeing what being a killer had done to some of my fellow servicemen, and yet another benefit to continue aiding victims throughout life. That’s the spontaneously jumping up I was talking about...about which I was referring.

Well, I’ve got to tell you, as ingrained as that reaction is, today I sat having a late breakfast of rice and fish at the Bang Niang fresh market, a huge, dark, open-air pavilion of fresh meat and produce, and flowers and vendors selling Thai sweets, and five or six breakfast places where they serve up a bowl of rice and whatever you want with it from a half-dozen big aluminum pots…chicken, fish, pork, all piping set-you-on-fire hot, all highly suspect.

Well, I was sitting there at one of the tables when there was this loud WHUMP, and everybody in there started leaning and looking, stretching their necks.

‘Oh shit, there’s been another accident,’ I thought, but wasn’t sure. Yeah, sure. A wreck, out on the road, a half block away, the way everybody was moving and looking like people do when they’re attracted to the scene of an accident.

I stood up, couldn’t really tell, but people were clustering out at the intersection.

Sat back down, thinking, ‘This is Thailand. Let the Thai handle it. You don’t have to involve yourself. Besides, your kit bag is back at the house. Finish your rice.’

So that’s what I did, resisting the urge to go out there. I finished my breakfast, got a sack for the cat, bought some flowers, got on my bike and left, casually. Brovic’s Emergency Roadside Outpatient Medical Service was out of service.

At the intersection, a covered truck was in the ditch after striking a light pole, skidmarks diagonally across the road. The two occupants were on their feet being helped shakily to a truck that would take them to the hospital. They weren’t bleeding, but dazed and hurting. She was holding her hip, and he was holding his arm.

I kicked myself for recently writing and publishing something I soon regretted, acting spontaneously, and today, kicked myself again, but for using restraint, acting against spontaneity.

Rule of thumb; You engage. If your friend is on fire, you try to put it out. If you're a writer, engage the reader.

Jump up! That’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s what you do!

Write! That’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s what you do!