I had just been on R and R, rest and relaxation. What the hell is that? You sure can’t relax and it ain’t no rest. It is like that Joe Sputnik cloud hanging over you, the old Li’Abner character. You have to go back to that hellhole called Vietnam.
She had that classic Vietnamese look, probably from the Cholon district of Saigon. Saigon is one of those cites that isn’t prettty but, has am energy that is hard to beat. The endless long buildings, slapped together like so much local on steroids. It is like a jungle without the vegetation. The narrow streets are like tiny alleys of a laboryenth. The alleys are everywhere, with a possibility of eats from carts, gourme for sure. Mostly little over ladies weilding spachalas moving with intension to feed all for a few piasters but dollers are better. She’s standing looking at me. She has that look, a look that she thinks American GIs like: big, ugly platform shoes. Leather. She kept glancing at me. She’s thinking how to approach. I am so damn tired that I’m not sure I even want to think about a women. Oh wow, it was a glorious first night.
Fast forward 30 years. There she is again. Probably my imagination. But, the classic look, a little more business like but could be her. Suddenly my entire tour in Vietnam flashes forward. We are in a restaurant, Mai’s on Clement Street in San Francisco. Mai’s is one of those restaurants that serves it all, want eggs and sausage, you got it I always laugh. They probably have a Mexican cook.
She glances at me with no recognition. thre’s an entourage with her. She’s a Grandmother. Probably her daughter, mid thirties. Her son-in-law I guess, two small girls. Amerasian, beautiful children. Her grandchildren I surmise.
The thing about Asian Women with black eyes, they can look at you while not looking at you. You never know really. I once knew an American love that could do the same thing. She was an opera singer and had trained herself to look at her audience but then not really looking. It was a kind of communicating she said. I was skeptical. I would occasional catch het looking at me but not looking if you get my drift.
Mai’s is a small restaurant. I’m sitting in the middle, reading the paper, multitasking, writing on my iPhone, Buffy Saint Marie is playing overhead. How do I know? I gave the CD to Mai and everytime I’m in, she plays Buffy. Mai’s husband’s father-in-law was an ARVN (Army of Vietnam), the South Vietnamese Army. Mai’s husband and I bond over the fact that we are two old soldiers who did our duty. Nobody cares and we hardly do anymore ourselves but there’s something shared that passes between us. I always feel somewhat guilty. We made a lot of promises to these folks and then split. But, who the hell knows, many came to the states and have been very successful. Maybe our most successful immigrant group. Would they be better off back in Vietnam had we not interfered, many hanging out in rice paddies. I asked them often. Nothing is ever very definative. I constantly patronize whatever they do, restaurants, nail salons. What the hel!.
I can’t help myself, keep glancing across to the family, just a few breaths away. Their food comes. The daughter is sitting closest to me. She is obviously Amerasian. How do I know? I just know, beautiful coloring. They are chatting, mixing Vietnamese and English. The daughter uses her folk to divide her eggs, which are over easy. She makes a sandwich. I smile. Who the hell does this? I do for one.
I’m back in Vietnam. It is a time when everything is suspended. It is three days of heaven, war is forgotten, I’m with this fabulous woman. I’m twenty. I’m in love. I am crazy. Saigon is behind us. We are on beautiful beaches in Vungtal. We are laughing, making love everywhere. I am AWOL but don’t care. We laugh and cry. I leave and go back to war. It is all a blur. The Army busts me but in a couple of months I’m back at Sergeant. I want to go back to Saigon and find her. “Forget her. She’s a prostitute.” Not to me I say. Finally the memory fades but I never forgot. I’m through with my tour. I go to Saigon on the way home. I can’t find her. Nobody can help me. I catch the big iron bird back home.
Buffy is singing Until It Is Time For You To Go. Seems pretty appropriate. The Grandmother looks long at me. A broad smile creases her face as suddenly a long lost memory maybe intrudes. She looks at her grandaughter and gives a big hug. I smile at her.