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#Vienam War

  • Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

    Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn     

         In March of 1968, Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. His announcement sparked hope among many youths who faced the military draft, Vietnam War, campus protests, conflict with parents…and other societal issues that prompted raging tension that spread across generations, races, and politics.  Following is a scene from my novel, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn, where three young people hint at the issues, conflicts, hopes, and fears of that era.

           I drove the Camaro back to Katie's house with Erica riding next to me. From the back seat, Katie ordered the radio turned up to nearly full blast. Janice Joplin was singing about Bobby McGee (“That’s my Family Song!” Katie shouted) and Erica surprised me with a hair-flying Joplin impersonation, changing the lyrics from “Bobby McGee” to “Katie McGee,” so I chimed in with my best Bob Dylan voice.

         "Holy shit! It’s Joplin and Dylan!” Katie said. "What an act you two could put together!"

         When I found myself quickly imagining what it would be like to be in a band and on the road with Erica, I knew my mind was hopelessly working overtime.

         "Do you do any other impressions?" Erica asked.

         "Let’s see… how about Bobby Kennedy?" I asked.

         "Oh, I just love him," Erica said. It was the same simple, sincere tone she had used in talking about the Beatles' song "In My Life."

         I jabbed my right forefinger in the air and said in my best nasal stammer, "I would just like to shay...uh...that if you feel...uh...that way about him, then it's...uh...worth it for me to…uh…try to impersonate him."

         "Not bad, not bad at all!" Katie said. “It’s like RFK is here in the car with us, isn’t it E?”

         Erica made a mock squeal and shouted, “Bobbyyyy!” Then she quickly turned serious and said, "I think Kennedy has character, something that makes you believe in him, and he seems so empathetic to people less fortunate than he is…which is practically everyone, of course.  But my parents sure don't think much of him."

         "Oh, my parents can't stand him either," Katie said. "Dad says, 'Bobby Kennedy's a shanty Irishman born under a shamrock.’ I try to stay out of it myself, but I like what Kennedy says about Vietnam. It's a shitty mess there, I don't know if anyone can really stop what's going on."

         "Or anyone could stop it," Erica said flatly.

         "Maybe, but not soon enough," Katie said. "Not before Brian gets there."

         They exchanged a few more thoughts about their fears and their anger, and I turned off the radio as they spoke so I could listen more closely. When they stopped talking, Katie hummed to herself, Erica looked out at the black New Jersey night, and I drove, thinking about the words of two high school girls—two girls I barely knew, but two girls who clearly had thought about the war, its impact, the politicians leading our country—speaking personally, passionately, and I found myself considering, probably for the first time ever, how anonymous soldiers are to the people who are not fighting, to the people safe and secure in college classrooms, eating at burger joints, driving around in Austin-Healeys, sitting on fire escapes, and how blank the faces are that cross the TV screen—until you see the face of someone you know and love preparing to leave his home and family to go into battle for them and for millions of people he will never know.

     

  • March Howls, 1968

    Excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

          March howled through the Ides, each day bringing grisly new horrors. We plucked pistachios from a huge bowl in front of Bingham's color TV, sucking the sweet salted green nuts from their red shells, spitting the hulls into a wastebasket, fingers and lips stained blood-red with dye, we judged…and we theorized about the slaughter we were seeing:

          Bingham: "Soldiers do what they have to do."

          Bobby: "Overdo it just a little, maybe, bro? This war gonna kill us all; everyone in this fucking room."

         Bingham: "Who's to say we overdo it?"

         Moon: "What the hell, man, we are to say…I mean, someone gotta say somethin!"

         Fish: "Stuff happens. It’s war."

         Me:  "Does that mean it has to happen again and again?"

         Bobby: "All them people bein mowed down every day, like the cows in that movie Hud.”

         Moon: "Yeah, but those cows had a disease, man; all that these people have is slanty eyes."

         Bobby: "Sometimes that's all it takes to build the wall, right, brother?"

         Moon: “Say, you got that right—slanty eyes, different religion, different language, diff…er…ent skin. Just about any goddam thing’ll do if people want to hate bad enough. And one thing you can count—people sure enough want to hate.”

         We watched and thought and surmised and wondered and assured and speculated; to me, the world seemed increasingly littered with garish obscenities, human slaughter, human suffering, personal loss, vanishing youth:

         The Erica I met that night with Bingham was gone; the night of winning pool was an innocent piece of history; my Bob Dylan story seemed juvenile; Sally-Boy was a lingering dream becoming less real than our fire escape; the Fish I knew was morphing into something unrecognizable before my eyes, his wild mass of hair suddenly neatly trimmed; ancient Vietnamese watched their culture explode; young servicemen returned limbless…or not at all…and we sat in the now-vulnerable room of a college campus and watched life change while we ate pistachio nuts and, eventually, washed their red stain from our fingers.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved