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.






69. Westside Beach – the Future is Looking Good

The second thing to be done was to make sure Diana would be a stay-at-home mother in our new life in Santa Monica.  I went into town and registered with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. And from my experience with the Union in San Francisco I knew I had to do it this way.  

While it wasn’t mandatory, it was what I knew at least back then, as the way to protect my job, wages and get medical insurance right away, much needed also for this new family of mine.

Everyday I’d go into the Union Hall to see the day’s posted jobs.  Right away I went out to the Hotel Miramar as a banquet waiter.  I saw it posted everyday that week and I went there everyday.

The job was comfortable, all the people were nice to work with and I of course had become quite experienced in dining room service, so it was a natural fit.  The clientele who frequented the Miramar were fun people as well as great tippers!

Hey that counted for a lot as I have a new family to take care of; tummies need filling and rent needs to be paid.  We hadn’t yet bought a car, we really didn’t need it at this time.  Whenever she needed to grocery shop Diana’s father or his girlfriend would take her to the market or what have you.  Otherwise she didn’t mind walking or taking a bus to run any other errands.

There were many different groups who frequented the Hotel Miramar while I worked there, although before and after they came too I’m sure.

The airlines’ stewardesses and pilots were arranged through their respective employers to stay there when on stopovers in Los Angeles.  Boy did they know how to have fun, spending much of their time out at the cabañas by the pool.  Happy news for all, there were no restrictions on pool hours, it was open around the clock.

Some other of the many groups frequenting the Hotel Miramar all year around were the Santa Monica Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, the SM Chamber of Commerce, and many various Jewish groups -they’re definitely a joyous bunch!- just to name a few.  

I recall a few times where the partying members would get me out there dancing in their celebrations and I learned some of those famous songs of theirs.  Ha ha – sometimes a line or two of those songs would escape my mouth all these years later and my kids just look at me like, “Dad you’re not Jewish!  Where did that come from?” 

It wasn’t long before I was hired as a full time staff member of the hotel and made the Banquet Captain.  Better pay, naturally more responsibilities like calling up staff request for each separate banquet and paying said staff via pay vouchers and division of tips.

I too of course worked my share on the floor and when there were no banquets booked I turned my attention to room service.  One time I remember so clearly as I was on room service week, rolling up with a breakfast cart, I knocked on the door of one suite and Richard Nixon opened the door.  He was there with his family, vacationing I guess. I was motioned to enter and I set up the meal in the dining area.

There you have it, not so much a great celebrity story but a very brief tale out of nowhere.

With cash in my pocket every night, I always made a very good salary working there at the Hotel Miramar of the early sixties and I was able to comfortably support my new family.  

At the time, this was my greater goal.