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.

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59. I’m Movin’ On Up!

I had put in just about three months work at that little Indian restaurant before it met its end.  Sometimes I’d walk past the establishment and see the sign still up on their window.  It was a bittersweet experience after all.  

In conclusion of the Department of Labor’s investigation, Jack and Bill were made to pay me an amount equivalent to that of lost back wages and I soon received a payment cheque in kind retroactive to my hire date.  

I continued to work the breakfast and lunch shifts, Monday through Friday at the hoppin’ Italian joint on Market close by to the sea and still pulling in a very decent wage.

I continued also to reside at Lalit’s hotel until about the beginning of May.  The time had come that I required a little more living space and so after a fond farewell to my first-ever landlord and first American residence, I moved my digs about 3 blocks up Jones towards Turk Street.  

Now I would pay a rental rate of $2.50 per night; yes I was still in a hotel but hey, it was spacious and I even had my own private bathroom now.  How ‘bout that!

I didn’t want to go too far away from the main bus line of Market Street; getting to work without freezing on the wide open street that Market is was indeed priority and yes, I did invest in a very warm coat.

I stayed on with the Italian restaurant about another 6 months.  One time I remember asking for a couple of extra days off; a Friday and a Monday so that I would have a long weekend to go off on an adventure with a couple of friends.  Thankfully this was not a problem for them; I was a loyal and good member of the crew after all.

The three of us took a drive south down the 101 to Los Angeles for a limited but leisurely  weekend, stopping along the way to enjoy whatever caught our fancy.  This would include scenery to be amazed by and filling of the car’s gas tank or ours.  Gasoline was about .25 cents per gallon at this time.  Remember the days of ethyl?

When we finally reached downtown Los Angeles, we were able to get a very nice hotel room.  Though it was costly between the 3 of us sharing it was easily affordable.  Wish I would remember the name of that place.  

We drove what we thought was all over, taking in the sights of the city of Los Angeles herself, dipping into Koreatown and Chinatown, though by no means would it compare in scale to San Francisco’s -we just had to know- and then off into Hollywood we went.

Speaking for myself it was a fun weekend, exploring a completely new part of the state and I’m beginning to feel as though California would become my indefinite home.  

I noticed the sunshine here in southern California felt just a bit different … warmer at least to me.  We also drove into Santa Monica and then visited the beach.  Of course we indulged in the usual beach food, hot dogs and what not.  

Back in the city of Los Angeles, the memorable meal of this weekend had to be at a cafeteria where we ate one of our meals in but again I’m not recalling a name.  It sticks in my mind however as an establishment serving very tasty food.

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