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Excerpt from “Donny Wilder” a work in progress

Donny is telling his father what it was like “over there.”

“It must’ve been pretty bad over there. I was worried sick, watchin’ the news.”

“Well, that’s all pretty much in the past for me now. I’ve had six years of college to put all that behind me.”

“I could see on the news it was awful.”

He wanted to hear about it. People don’t want to talk about it, but they have a morbid curiousity to hear about it. I felt like a kid, telling my father how I had been abused.

“It’s a shitty place to kill and be killed, and thick; you have to hack your way through it. The sky clouds up and the trees get nervous and it rains, comes down like crazy, and it goes on and on. You think it’ll never stop. It’s hot and it stinks and it’s always humid. There’s always slithery things and aggressively curious rats, and insects like you’ve never seen before moving around you. I lived with my weapon in one hand and my knife in the other. I used to wake up in L.A. still feeling my rifle and my knife in my hands…”

I watched my father looking into me as I spoke. I knew he saw a change in me. Of course, I was not the same boy they had hugged and kissed good by. What I had done, what I had seen, what I had endured in the bloody, rotten, filth of those jungles had roughened me. He saw I had become a grown man, but he could see what had come with it. He saw that war is a test a man takes and then carries the results around with him for what’s left of his life. You can’t describe it. That’s why they say, “If you weren’t there, then you don’t know, so shut the fuck up.” Men who don’t go to war are victims of their own slovenly complacency, preserved for them by heroes who resent them.

“…the pure obscenity of war.”

“Ah. That’s my educated Donny talkin’ now.”

“Maybe. The obscenity begins where the marching and the brass bands and the relentless training leave off. That’s when the education begins.”

“Now, you’re getting’ over my head.”

“War is over everyone’s heads, pops. It’s a lesson. Not everybody gets it.”

“A lesson. What’s the lesson?”

“For whom? The governments that finance it? The generals who plan it? No. It’s for all the young, baby-faced guys who endure it and pay for it with their lives. Their receipts are written on their faces and their psyches. The lesson is desperation.

“One of my friends, Bobby Whitson, just a young kid from North Carolina, he had been blown to pieces, and as I held him, his life pulsing out of him, he said, “It ain’t so bad, Donny.” His grip loosened on my hand and… and he was gone. I could see by his eyes… I could… Oh, God, he wasn’t in there anymore.”

“I’m sorry, son. I’m so sorry.”

A drowning man forgets all he’s ever heard or been told about swimming. His desperation forbids it. Only when he stops thrashing and realizes it’s not so bad is the lesson learned.”

“If there’s a lesson, why in hell does it go on?”

“Every generation has to learn the morbid desperation of war. When the crippled no longer walk the streets and the battle-beaten men who sit in the wards, blank and vacant-eyed like clocks that can never be wound again are gone, it’s the next generation’s turn…”

And he saw what I had become in the loftier, more civilized state of learning at U.C.L.A., and how the more cosmopolitan society of Los Angeles had polished me. He knew it was that dichotomy with which he had now to become acquainted, and he would. My father had always been patient with me. He could see well into people, and that’s what he was doing as I matched a gruesome description of Viet Nam to what he had imagined. My father doesn’t see who I see in the bathroom mirror.

“… and the sound of a helicopter can be the answer to a desperate prayer, or the sweaty, merciful awakening out of a brutally bad dream .”

“Damn.”

“It could have been worse. I made it through in one piece.”

My father stared at the floor, picturing what I was telling him. We sat quietly for a while. Then,“The Army treat you okay?”

“The Army doesn’t treat anybody, pops. You keep up or you’re kept out. You have constantly to qualify to die for your country.”

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REPETITION AS LITERARY MISCHIEF

REPETITION AS LITERARY MISCHIEF

I read something a while back on the use of repetition: that is the use of a word or a sentence too many times for emphasis. The rule seems to be “no more than twice”, especially with a sentence. Rules can be frustrating. They can be inhibiting for a writer. So, one way to get a bit of gratification out of rules can be to break them, which I do often. I’ve written this to demonstrate how practical, gratifying even, it can be to break a rule.
All the great painters broke rules to introduce the next period of painting style, and since I’m a painter as well, it rubs off into my writing (and, of course, other things). Nothing ever happens at only one level.
Here are four examples by which I’ve repeated a sentence. My reason for breaking this “no more than twice” rule is to set the reader up for the last time the sentence is used. It’s a bit of literary, rule-breaking mischief.
The following excerpt from the book, “Kirsche” introduces Mitchell’s relationship with Burns. The reader will recognize the sentence.

He was sitting on my bed with his feet up, a bottle of wine on the side table, again with one glass. He had a fresh haircut. He stood and walked across the room to show me his suit. “How do I look?”
“Very German.”
“Of course.”
I sat in his place on my bed. “Why are you here, Burns? How did you know we’d land in Lausanne?”
“Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m here to brief you on the next step.”
My mind closed and exploded open again. “The next step? What step? There is no step. I got her to Switzerland, and now you have her. I’m done. That was our deal, Burns.”
“I know. I know, but that wasn’t all the deal. We got you out of France and we’ll get you out of Switzerland.”
“When. When God damn it, Burns.”
But it’s going to be via Singapore.”
“Singapore?”
“Yep.”
“Burns, you son of a bitch. That’s why she chose me. Of course, to get me to Switzerland, too. To deliver me to you.”
“Now, don’t get riled up, Mitchel. It was the safest way out. She didn’t know why. She was following orders.
“No. I’m not going to Singapore. Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to Singapore. You son of a bitch, Burns. Tell me why. Why by way of Singapore? It had better be good. Burns.”
Burns relaxed in a chair and proceeded to tell me in detail everything I didn’t want to hear. I was glad to see him.

In the preceding passage I’ve used the sentence twice, once with a slight variation. It may or may not have gone unnoticed. In the proceeding passage I use the same sentence once more for emphasis. The reader is now “set up” for the last time I intend to use it. This last time is the bit of literary mischief I referred to. The rule is broken. Again, the reader may or may not notice.

“Of course. We have to know how it works if we want to defeat it. It’s a secret weapon, Mitchel. It flies to its target and it doesn’t need a pilot. There’s never been a weapon like that before. The first to have critical information are the first to bargain with it.”
“You son of a bitch, Burns.”
“Mitchel, it’s not the same back home in Wisconsin. Most of the men are gone. They’re fightin’ or bein’ trained to fight. Most of the women are workin’ in factories day and night. The entire might of America’s armed forces is in the hands of our women.”
Burns scratched his head. “Kinda like the wives who loaded their husband’s rifles when the Indians were circlin’ the wagons.”
“How do we leave here, plane, car, dog sled?”
“You’ll be driven to the airport and flown to an airstrip where you catch a Lib out of Switzerland.
“A Lib?”
“A B-24 Liberator, long-distance bomber. Ford makes’m. Makes’m one an hour, twenty-four hours a day. It’s a hell of a piece of work. You’ll only touchdown for a few refueling stops, so you can figure on bein’ on a plane for a good while. You’ll land in Singapore at Changi. It ain’t much, but it’ll land a B-24. We’ll have a man there to meet you and put you up. He’ll give you a weapon and all the papers you’ll need. And the appropriate clothes. That’s the last you’ll see of’m.”
“A weapon? God damn it, Burns… ”
“You hang on to it. Might do you some good. Get used to wearin’ it in your pant waist in back. Always keep it on you. Y’got that? Always keep it on you.”
“Yeah, right.”
“Say it.”
“Look, Burns, I-”
“Say it.”
“Alright, I’ll always keep it on me, for Christ sake.”

Now the reader is set up. He’s read the sentence three times. That’s enough to make it repetitive, and as I said, the rule is broken. In this last passage the sentence is used again. By now it is understood the sentence is used to reveal how Mitchell is manipulated by Burns, and how Burns is an irritation to Mitchell. In the following passage the repeated sentence is the pay off in which Mitchell is faced with the grand frustration brought upon him by Burns. Mitchell’s escape to England and Kirsche’s life are at stake.

I walked the streets for hours, sweating, cursing Burns and the doctor. I searched for his bent figure plodding in the heat. I checked every sidewalk table, every restaurant. My anxiety became a dripping desperation.
When I had no other option, my only hope was he would be back in my room, waiting for me. It was my only hope. I swore I would never leave the United States again.
I ran into Burns on the street on my way back. “Gather up the old man and get out here, fast. We got about fifteen minutes to get out to the airfield. Them flyboys ain’t gonna wait unless they see us comin’.
“He’s not here. I’ve been everywhere to find him. Maybe he’s back by now.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ. Did Ulrich get him?”
“How should I know?”
“Okay. Get your things. If he’s in there, drag his ass out. We’ve got to move, now. They’ll wait if they see us comin’.”
I ran to my room and that’s where I found him. He was cowering on his bed. His nose was bleeding, his hands covering his face. Kirsche stood over him with a pistol aimed at his head.
“You hit him? You hit this old man?”
“Mitchel, Ulrich is dead. I shot him. I’m free, Mitchel. We can be together now. We can go anywhere.”
“Put the gun down, Kirsche.”
“He betrayed the Fuhrer.”
She sneered at him. “Traitorous, Jew pig.”
A car horn sounded. Burns was fired up.
The doctor was shivering with fear, his hands covering his bloody face. I could have shot him myself.   “You fool. Why did you leave?”
He could barely speak. “N-no. I w-went to the la-lavatory.”
Burns laid on the horn.
My hand went back and grabbed my gun. I drew a bead on her ear. “Drop it, Kirsche. Please, don’t do this. Let him go.”
“You won’t shoot me, Mitch. How could you hurt me?”
Burns, you son of a bitch.

And that’s that’s the last time I repeat the sentence. The rule is broken, the reader is set up, my literary mischief is done. The practicality is how Mitchell’s frustration is transferred to the reader. I guarantee you’ll feel the frustration.

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The Absence of Her Presence

I suppose there is some emptiness now, yes.

   A house full of art and furniture,

   stuffed with her absence,

   bursting with just me here now.

The rooms always the way I leave them,

   never the way she did;

   her mess of makeup,

   her piles of pots and pans in the sink.

I should mow the weeds away

   from the Adirondacks and paint them.

   They look worse off than I do.

I bought a seersucker suit I can’t

   bring myself to wear:

   somehow it doesn’t make sense.

Nothing makes sense,

   the wine before bed time,

   sleeping in pajamas now.

What can I do? There’s nothing I can do.

I suppose there is some emptiness now, yes.

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THAT SUMMER blocked by Oyster for erotic content and by Apple for having all caps in the title.

Concerning your book

THAT SUMMER

BOOK ID: 39746

Draft2Digital’s automated content review has detected possible technical issues that need your attention. As a result, we cannot send this book to the following sales channel until you have corrected the matter:

Apple

The types of material at issue include:

  • Metadata Issue: There is an issue with your metadata that prevents distribution.

To proceed with publication, please correct these issues in the source document and resubmit it for publication. If you need assistance, you can contact Customer Support by replying to this email.
Draft2Digital’s automated content review has also detected material in your book, THAT SUMMER, which appears to violate our vendor’s content requirements. As a result, we cannot send this book to the following sales channel:

Oyster

The types of material at issue include:

  • Erotica: The content is primarily of an erotic nature, intended to stir sexual desire.

If you believe that your book has none of the content listed above and wish to contest the issue, please reply to this email and we will investigate further.

The reviewer included the following note:

Current Apple guidelines prohibit titles in all caps, please fix

Sales channels not listed above continue to receive this material at this time.

*MY REPLY*

Dear Draft2Digital,

 

I am confused as to whether the questionable content in my book, “THAT SUMMER”, or my alleged intent (by an electronic machine) is the actual issue. Or perhaps the machine was aroused, in which case you have a much greater problem than the contents of my book. I can assure you by giving you my word on the matter: my intention was to paint a slatternly picture of the character, not to arouse sexual desire in the reader.

I can also assure you my intentions, as long as they are in question, on the matter concerning “THAT SUMMER” are to leave the caps in the title and the content intact.

Sincerely,

R.Harlan Smith

ps: Maybe you can point out the Caps in the title for me.

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Beaches

by

R. Harlan Smith

Once upon the good old days on Miller Beach

When school was out with nothing more to learn or teach,

You played along the shore with all your pretty friends

Regardless of a world where space and time descends.

Such seasons fade as night persists to day, although

I still recall your small transistor radio.

 

Abandoned to the joys sweet summer’s green age brings,

You tanned and talked of boys and other teenage things,

Then blending noisy Rock and Roll commotions

With glistening skin and fragrant tanning lotions,

You freed them to the breeze across the sunny sand

To me, your small transistor radio in your hand.

 

We lived in worlds of yours and mine too far apart.

At best, you stayed a secret of my dreaming heart,

But as the world of time and space went passing by,

We lived our lives to complicate or simplify.

A million miles from here, a million years ago,

Yet still I hear your faint transistor radio.

 

I sailed away toward the Mediterranean seas

Where rows of olives grow to scent the morning breeze,

And there a vast and placid azure mirror lies

In calming smooth repose, between Athenian skies,

Afar from frigid Indiana sand and snow,

Away from you and your transistor radio.

 

Along some cold and jagged weather ragged reach

Of stormy Winslow Homer watercolor beach

The gale blew windward strong to meet my bow with rain,

I beg don’t get me wrong I’m not one to complain,

I wept. Don’t ask me why, it was so long ago,

The memory of you and your transistor radio.

 

Now, here upon this dry and ancient desert plain

I rock and think of you and watch the monsoon rain.

No way to navigate this old Sonoran sea,

No Miller Beach, no sweetly scented melody,

I have my little cat, my pipe, and coffee near,

Transistor music ever gently haunts my ear.

And even though my table waits with cups for two,

There is no you, my love. Oh, God, there is no you.

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To Hell With This

TO HELL WITH THIS

 

Monday, June 1, 2015

It was on a Monday, June first, her first day as a tour guide, a few minutes past noon, when Mandy looked up at the Statue of Liberty and noticed something was not proper. She sat in the sunny grass with her cheese-stuffed bagel, and as soon as she was able to chew and swallow, she said, “That’s not proper.”

Mandy’s job was to inform her tourists the statue was a gift from the people of France. She was designed by Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor, and the interior support structure, one hundred and thirteen tons of steel tubing, was the work of Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel tower fame. She stands three hundred and five feet and one inch from her base to the very tip of her torch, and her skin and robe are made of twenty seven tons of eighth-inch copper cladding. They listened, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, and awe-struck. They all agreed it was remarkable.

Mandy informed her supervisor. “There’s something that isn’t proper,” she said.

“And what might that be?” he asked without even taking the cigar out of his teeth.

“It’s quite obvious,” she explained. “Her torch-bearing arm is slanting a tad forward.”

“Impossible. Quite impossible. Sheer Nonsense,” he said. His telephone rang and he dismissed her with a wag of his hand that said, “Out. Out.”

 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Tuesday morning, Mandy could see clearly the statue’s torch-bearing arm was now becoming slightly bent at the elbow.

“Oh, this is surely not proper,” she said. “This is not proper at all.”

Something was amiss. Mandy was sure of it. And it could very well be a danger to her tourists, so once more she approached her supervisor with the added detail of the bending elbow, upon which she was promptly given notice and relieved of her name badge, her ferry pass, and her job.

Women are not well-regarded in the workplace, she mused, but men like him suffer. I shall let him suffer, and I shall return to waitressing where I’ll be tipped daily and fed squarely at least once a day.

 

June 10, 2015

The matter of the Statue of Liberty went unnoticed for days until June the tenth when it became obvious from across the river. People in their office buildings gazed curiously now at the statue with an attention she had not known since since the day of her dedication in 1886. They arrived at work and gathered at the windows with their coffee to see the lady’s torch was no longer held high. Her elbow was indeed bent, and the danger of her collapse ended all tours until further notice. The structural engineers who were hired for exorbitant amounts to brave the interior found no stressed joinery or twisted metal that would account for this strange phenomenon. The Statue of Liberty soon became the talk of the town, and then the country, and then the world. Something was happening with the Statue of Liberty.

 

June 15, 2015

On June the fifteenth, in the dark of night at a very early hour, a clatter was heard, said to originate from Liberty Island, and rumored to have registered a three point seven on the Richter scale. Someone along Brighton Beach said it sounded like the pots and pans of Hell’s Kitchen had fallen into the streets of New York, and as the sun rose, all the world could see our Lady of Liberty had dropped her torch, her books of the Rule of Law, and her robe. Some said there was a pleasant smile on her face. Others said it was mischievous, and the morning sun shone down on the exquisite nude form of our sweet Lady Liberty.

 

June 15, 2015

It was scandalous. What could anyone do? She couldn’t be covered for decency’s sake. Those who were not amused looked away. Hundreds of boats crowded the waters with cameras and news teams from every country on earth. A team of Japanese, multi-lingual lip reading experts trained their lenses on the statue’s face, waiting for an utterance. It was agreed, late in the day, the giant woman was beginning to bend at the waste and knees, and her arms were moving slowly away from from her sides. As night fell, no one knew what they might find in the morning.

 

June 22, 2015

On June 22, a general agreement was reached. She was beginning to squat. “My God, she’s beginning to squat,” someone whispered. The authorities were running around in circles. Everyone had an opinion, but the consensus was the statue was about to leap from her pedestal into the water, and it was on this assumption all the boats were ordered clear of Liberty Island.

 

June 30, 2015

But the Lady of Liberty was a lady. By the end of June she had stepped carefully off her pedestal and dipped one foot into the water as if to test the temperature. By then the Japanese lip readers had recorded on film a clear statement from the lips of the Statue of Liberty. It was in all the papers. “The Statue of Liberty Speaks”, ran the headlines, and the sub head printed her words in red: “A l’enfer avec cette.”

 

July 4, 2015

On the fourth of July, the Statue of Liberty was last seen ducking under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge where a squadron of F-16 fighters locked their rockets on her before she could get to open sea.

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The French Underground

THE FRENCH UNDERGROUND

Hunter said, “May I ask how you and Margaret met? I love a good love story.”
Gamar smiled his handsome smile. “A skeptic and a romantic, eh? What a combination. Well, I’ll tell you. It was a rainy night. I was up on a hill overlooking a French  village south of Cherbourg.”
Margaret said, “And there was a tree. A wonderful, old tree.”
“Oh, yes,” Gamar laughed. “ A very big, sheltering tree, but not from the rain. It sounds like a wonderfully romantic setting, doesn’t it? But let me begin at the beginning. I can even tell you the exact moment I knew this was the woman for me.
“It was August, 1944. I was with four of our brave citizens. We were behind the front lines of the German defenses. We knew the 101st. Airborne was coming from the southeast, from what you now know as Utah Beach, barely twenty kilometers away, but the Nazis did not. You should have seen things change when they got the news. One minute they were eating our food and having their way. The next minute they were scurrying around like cowardly vermin, moving their men and machinery into defensive positions. They were going to meet the Americans head on. The advanced German lines were only a day’s drive to the south. They could have fallen back to strengthen their own lines, but they did not. What fools.
“We hid ourselves around Nazi checkpoints outside the town. We were determined no Nazis would get out alive. My group was watching a gated checkpoint the Nazis had fortified with sandbags and two heavy caliber machine guns on half-tracks. We were at the front door. The war would be over for us when we heard the first American tanks at our backs. I can’t tell you how we felt, knowing the Americans were coming.
“It had begun to rain just before dawn. We were wet and cold and miserable, cursing the Nazis even for the weather. We blamed everything on the Nazis. Then we were discovered by a German patrol. Bullets were flying everywhere. It was every man for himself. I got away and took a position behind a fallen tree, smashed and uprooted by a bomb. It was a perfect vantage point overlooking the square down below. A rugged cart path a stone’s throw to my left sloped down into the village a half kilometer below. I could see everything.
“As I approached the tree I was startled to see a dark figure already hiding there. It was still very dark, and I could barely make out anything in the rain. I froze and waited. He was alone and he wasn’t a German soldier.”
Hunter said, “In the dark? How did you know he wasn’t a German?’
Margaret spoke up. “This person was facing the village. A German soldier would be facing the other way, you see, watching for the Americans.”
Gamar said, “One must experience such things to know such things. It’s one of the secrets of survival.”
Hunter said, “I’m curious about something.”
“What might that be, my dear?”
She said, “This is 1986. If you fought with the resistance, you’d have to be at least sixty years old by now.”
“We are,” Gamar said. He took Margaret’s hand. “Margaret is sixty-three, and I am sixty and two months.”
“Geez,” Hunter said.
It was at this moment when I began to wonder about Gamar and Margaret. Gamar was, as I have said, a much healthier man than I remembered him to be. It was obvious they were both very well preserved. They were more erect and much more limber than the usual sixty-year old. You could see by their movement, their general demeanor that they were much more physically capable than the usual restrictions of aging would allow. One makes mental notes of such things without thinking, but I had taken for granted that Margaret was little more than half of Gamar’s age. And, Gamar, I guessed him to be pushing fifty at the most. It was the fresh food, I thought, the healthy Mediterranean air, their easy life here.
Gamar went on. “I had to make contact with this person crouching under the tree. I couldn’t take any chances. He could turn and shoot in a second if I coughed, or if my knee popped. I gathered three pebbles and tossed them in quick succession close to his head. Had he been a German soldier he would have shot first and asked questions later, as they say, but the three pebbles was well known among our people. He turned and waved me in. I heard a cork squeak out of a bottle. What a relief. And Voila! That very person sits here beside the lovely Hunter.”
Margaret smiled and nodded.
“As I said, we were cold and miserable, cursing the Nazi bastards even for the weather. Margaret shook me awake and motioned toward the bottom of the hill. Five German artillerymen had harnessed the starved skeleton of a horse to a small field Howitzer. They were coaxing the animal up the cart path toward us. The rain was muddying their way, making it impossible. Their progress was a slippery, agonizing struggle.
“The horse, pitched against a load completely beyond its means, was being brutalized by the officer in command while the others manhandled the wheels over the slippery ruts. We watched them struggle and curse for half an hour as we finished up Margaret’s sausages and wine. In the meantime, the rain had become a downpour by the time the Nazis had barely made half their way. Finally, Margaret raised her rifle and released the safety. There was enough light now for a clear shot. She took careful aim, and I must remind you the target of a man at that distance is no mean feat. I asked her, ‘Will you kill the one in command?’ I had a particular dislike for German officers. I still do. She said, ‘I am the one in command.’
“I knew at that moment this was the woman for me.
“I watched, breathless, as she took aim. Which of them would fall?
“The shot spat out and the horse crumbled, relieving itself of its entire intestinal tract as its body was so suddenly relaxed under the strain. The Germans had no idea what had happened. They were left supporting the entire weight of the cannon. It was impossible for them. The cannon careened back down the hill, dragging the limp carcass of that pitiful animal and its steaming entrails along with it.
“The officer was furious, screaming and struggling to stay on his feet. Margaret took aim and dropped him. His body slid down to the foot of the path and became a thing in a mud puddle beside the road. I can tell you, when men march off to war, they’re not thinking about the ditches they’ll die in. She let the others escape so as not to reveal our position. The Germans were very good with their mortar fire. They ran for it when the Americans rolled in. Their command had collapsed. The resistance people picked them off.
“The people of the village filled the streets. They gave gladly to the Americans what they had hidden form the Nazis. It was all they had left. That shows you how people are.
“After that, Margaret and I became inseparable. We’ve been together ever since, as you can see. And that, my dear Hunter, is how Margaret and I met.”
Hunter shook her head. “That poor old horse.”
“Ah,” Gamar waved his hand. “We decided it must have been a Vichy horse. That made us feel better.”

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