107.   Laundry became a priority 🧺

Two days out, prior to approaching California’s coastline, laundry of all things, became a priority.

Our washing facility certainly didn’t resemble a laundromat -size wise- by any means; it looked like the busiest time ever as we each took our turn.  Thankfully it all worked out and blood was not shed on that day. 😁 

Packing my belongings of course included all the acquired souvenirs. In Japan I had purchased an AKAI reel-to-reel stereo system (more on its important use later down the storied road) and a couple of half gallon bottles (1.75ltr) of Johnnie Walker.  I paid just about half the price for these than I would’ve paid in California.

Okay I know, that was then and this is now but oh, how we older folks love to say it anyway, “Remember when you could get a gallon of gas for approximately .35¢?  Or how about picking up a .23¢ loaf of bread and a mere .44¢ for a gallon of milk?” I know, it just sounds better now but if only you could take your current wallet to that place back in time, well …

If you’ve been with me through all this then you already know, most of us were employed through the Union and that meant this assignment was over once we disembarked at the port in Oakland.  

If anyone had intentions of joining another ship -or this one if available, a check-in/re-registration for reassignment was necessary.  That wasn’t me … and considering the way this assignment began?  I had to get my butt home as soon as possible! 

nO matter where I’ve gone in this world, the homecoming -to me- has always been sweeter than where I’d been. I was looking forward to being with my family once again. 

The final dinner I served to my officers.  I asked the Skipper while he was still seated as was the rest of the dining room, if my service in all this time had met their expectancy …his expectation most importantly. 

He said, “Fiji.  It was top-notch!  In fact we all would love to have you continue on with us.”  The room of Officers applauded along with the Captain. I noticed a figure at the door looking in -it was Phil with a big smile on his face, he gave me a thumbs up! and silently moved away.  I remember feeling quite satisfied.

With empty cargo holds, we near-completed our cross Pacific trip in about a week and a half.  A warm feeling washed through me as I observed our approach towards the Golden Gate.  Her lovely bridge provided great happiness; a reassurance, testimony if you will, that I had returned safely to my home in America.

I also knew that once my sea legs touched United States soil, I’d have to rent a car and drive to Los Angeles …to my wife and three children.  

We were all lined up, chatting excitedly while waiting our turn to collect final salaries and sign release papers.  The Union’s responsibility for our welfare was over once I signed my name on the dotted lines.  

My pockets were now loaded with cash – it’s how they always paid us and this morning, all accounts were fully settled.  Pockets full wasn’t something you wanted to make public knowledge (common sense, right?) as we were advised of those lurking about the shipyard with that knowledge. 

I definitely didn’t want to meet any of them!

|||

_______________________________________________________________________

93. Children Shouldn’t Play With Hand Grenades

In bewildering fascination, Saigon, formerly the capital of French Indochina, held me captive for about a week.  The rich blend of people, some in fancy western threads and others staying true to their native attire, were walking about in a fairly normal city scene.  

Some were shuttled around in decent cars and yes, there were clunkers to be seen as well.  Others took cyclos without a second thought and there were quite a few people going about on bicycles.  Then of course there were the troops going from here to there on foot and in military transport.

The smells coming from restaurants, fresh food vendors and street-food stalls were definitely interesting and I found some delicious too.

While sitting in a local bar on yet another sweltering hot evening, engaged in the usual sipping of ice cold beer, I was startled by what I was certain to be the sound of an explosion.  A little shaken to be sure but more so curious, I walked over to the open doorway and peered out.  A couple of more distant bangs followed.

The scene outside was that of the city’s people going about their daily routines, intermixed with our G.I.s and some foreign visitors … and children playing around the streets.  I then heard a siren in the distance.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary I returned to my table, not really sure what to think or how to react.  I say this because most everyone else in the bar seemed relatively calm about the boom and bangs.   

Timing such as it was, these bangs became the discussion at our table.  My friends and I were told by a couple of Marines standing at the bar, to be aware of the children and youthful people here; perhaps an occasional grandparent too.  They must’ve sensed my concern.  

There have been occasions wherein children pretending to play ball outside, were actually culprits of (most likely forced) no good actions.  They were usually near an establishment where a good number of G.I.s were to be found.  A ‘ball’ would roll inside.  

Now either someone will pick it up and roll it back outside or it was ignored but sometimes, before one could realize it, kaboom!  Not only the visually dense population of American and Allied troops but the average citizen of South Việt Nam, all were targets in this damned war.  

And as was the wartime usual, you couldn’t really trust anyone.  Decidedly we were unable to distinguish the difference between North and South Vietnamese citizens; who had the grenade … or worse?

As if on cue, a ball rolled in through the open doorway and right then and there, my heart stopped beating.  I was sure of it because I don’t remember taking another single breath!

After what seemed like forever but only a moment or two later, a youthful lad came in after it and took it back out straight away.  Clearly I’m still here to say, that wasn’t a hand-grenade, or for that matter any other exploding device that evening.

Towards the end of our Việt Nam stopover I wanted to stay back in the city for an overnight.  Though I knew I’d have to rise before the morning sun to get back to the ship via the 5a boat at shore, I will admit I chose to engage a female companion and so retained a hotel room.  

It was after only a few minutes of being in this room (probably for the best) when the moment about to be, was disturbed.  There was sudden (again with the heart-stopping) and loud non-stop banging.  I instantly opened the door to see guns staring me down.  

There were 4 that I could see and two of them were pushing their way into my room; these gunslingers didn’t wait for an invitation to enter.  They briefly looked around.  I definitely wasn’t going to argue or question these 2 Vietnamese (n or s? don’t know) soldiers with -credit to my imagination- itchy trigger-fingers on those cold & scary (what looked like) AK-47s, surely loaded and ready to shoot!

No English was spoken and they left shortly after arrival, taking the girl with them.  The only conclusion I arrived at was the girl must’ve been North Vietnamese, posing as a South Vietnamese family girl.  Or was it the other way around?

Okay I’d finally had enough of my own shenanigans; no more shore time for this boy, I would stay in the ship for our remainder of this Việt Nam stopover.

|||


 

 

 

 

75. Cry Baby, Cry!

1963 – it was in the beginning of October when we discovered Diana was once again with child.  Thankfully I was still working at the Hotel Miramar and this, so close to home.

fullsizeoutput_1dc5

One day our landlord informed us of our (one and only) neighbor making complaints to him, about us.  To be exact the man next door said there was too much noise coming out of our apartment. Really?

He said our neighbor stated, “The children are always screaming, the baby’s crying and I can’t get any sleep, they keep me up all night!”  What?  

I looked at Diana, she at me, we then looked at him and both said in surprise, “The baby’s not even here yet!”  The owner assured us he knew what the man complained wasn’t entirely true.

“I can see that your baby is still baking,” gesturing with his hand towards Diana’s belly, he spoke with a smile of confirmation.  He also told us he knew the man enjoyed the drink rather a bit much.

Diana spoke up as any defending mother would, “I promise you our kids are very well-mannered.  They play quietly for the most part, more so than most anyway.”

Once more in agreement the landlord said, “We have not heard your kids screaming at any time.  Of course children will make noises and occasional squeaks. We all know this.  My wife and I have the impression this man isn’t completely stable.  It’s rather sad.  We were hoping he’d always just live quietly in his own space and mind his own business.”

And that’s probably exactly what this man was trying to do but the little squeaks and occasional louder squawks were possibly not doing him any favors.  We’ll never know.

More curious than ever and fueled by the knowledge that our neighbor was not pleased with us, we’d look out in his direction more often.

I’m sure you can understand why.  After what my family and I recently experienced at the Pico apartment, there was a slight hovering factor of uncertainty.

This man lived alone and never really seemed to come out of his apartment.  He was an older German man, tall and of medium build.  Diana being home more than I told me that whenever she saw him which was rarely, he always wore his large military coat, even in the heat of summer.  

Diana said she wondered how he ever got food into his apartment as she never saw him bringing up any groceries, nor was it noticed that anyone visited.

Well, now that you know what I know of the back story we’ll get to the interesting part.

It wasn’t long after the landlord spoke to us when one day this man came to my front door and started pounding severely on it.  It didn’t even start off as a friendly little knock.

You know the kind, pounding which suggests, “Hey it’s getting a bit loud over here.  Would you mind keeping the little brats quiet?” or something to that effect.

No gradual escalation, just straight up violent.  Of course Diana didn’t open the door … he’d go away.  Then about 2 weeks later, wherein he had done this same thing a couple more times, we’d had enough and placed our own complaint with our landlord; this was becoming a very uncomfortable situation.

It was the wee early hours of the morning when I was startled awake by what sounded very much like a gunshot.  No one came busting in through our door or windows so I wasn’t too concerned and fell back asleep.

It was about 9:30 in the morning, we were up of course, when we heard a serious pounding on the neighbor’s front door and apparently after no answer, the sound of something being busted.  

I’m saying it was the front door being kicked in.  Shortly after that there was a serious knock on our door.  It was the Santa Monica police asking us if we heard or saw anything during the night.  I told them I thought I heard something like a gunshot.

Not much later, two detectives came to us and asked a few questions.  It turns out this neighbor of ours wrote a final note, took his Luger pistol and ended his own life.   What?

A terribly sad thing about all of this -aside from the tragedy itself-  is that his note stated he couldn’t take the noise of the crying baby any longer.  Our son and daughter were 3 and 2 years of age at this time.

Diana and I both witnessed the sheeted body being brought out of the apartment, not giving us a good feeling at all.  And then it happened.

The man’s body must’ve not been securely strapped on to the gurney because as the coroner’s staff started down the steps, to our and everyone else’s horror, the body slipped right out of their control and completely off the gurney.  

It was surreal almost, seeing the corpse in a bit of a rigid state, as it tumbled down the stairs.  Just try to picture the scramble which took place right afterwards and so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Suddenly Diana burst out into a hysterical and seemingly uncontrollable laughter.  It must’ve been a whammy, what else?

While there weren’t any immediate neighbors, the ones in close proximity were chatting away after the fact.  Diana spoke for a few moments with them.

Naturally the police had asked them too if there was anything noticeable about the man, providing any clues to his state of mind.  One person said they were aware that he seemed to always be upset.  

He briefly spoke to that person at some point saying, he was upset by his neighbor’s crying baby.  He said he couldn’t sleep at night.  This person said they told the man to look at Diana’s belly and he’d see for himself that the baby hasn’t been born yet.

|||