Monday, February 23, 2009

Cleveland in Winter, Circa 2009

Cleveland skyline along the shores of Lake Erie.

On a recent trip to the Cleveland, Ohio area, where I spent the greater part of January and into February, I had a chance to wander around downtown and venture into suburbia as well. I hadn’t been to Cleveland in a while, not since the old truck driving days of the 1980’s when I worked in that industry and went there on a more regular basis.

I actually was housed South of Cleveland in a suburban area called Brecksville. By the looks of it, Brecksville was quite affluent, or at least put on the face of affluence, with houses with large lots set back far from the road. Acres of lawns and mature trees abounded.

It is here that the Department of Veterans Affairs has a facility that spread across many acres of prime land along the Cuyahoga River valley. It was being rumored, while I was there, that the facility would be closed down and programs there phased out or transferred to other VA facilities. The buildings and the land they were on would then be sold for development to the city or to investors willing to pay a high price.

Of course with the current situation in the economy and money for major building projects in short supply as buyers think twice before spending and investing, it looks like a project of this magnitude would be on hold for a long time.

I remember years ago, back in the 70’s and 80’s when 3M, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, a grade A number one Fortune 500 major player corporation and was headquartered in Saint Paul, Minnesota, had a moratorium on building any new structures. They owned a lot of land in outlying areas of St. Paul. And back when they acquired the land, for virtual pennies, it was far away from the city center to be considered worth very much. Over the years, as urban sprawl caught up to the times, 3M did build on these parcels, but now have moved most of their manufacturing to Mexico.

Back to Cleveland. I would take the bus, the RTC, and catch the route 77F which went to the center of downtown and Tower City. Tower City was designed as a tourist destination. Shopping, high end shopping, high end night spots and an entertainment district. Major hotels. The whole deal. Out front is the transportation hub located along the blocks that surround the Town Square, a four block square area of public park space with statues, lawns and art architecture. Tower City has vacancies. The people aren’t coming there in droves, never did.

Nearby this area are the sports stadiums for the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, Indians baseball team and an AHL hockey team called the Lake Erie Monsters. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, made famous in the TV show put together by Drew Carrey, claims Cleveland as the Rock and Roll capital of the world.

The Great Lake Erie sat frozen in January, but is formidable and part of the allure of cities like Cleveland spaced out on the great lakes. Milwaukee, Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Duluth to name a few. Similar cities that grew largely because of the commerce generated by shipping on the great lakes and access to the Atlantic ocean.

The shipping made large scale heavy industry the standard for their economy over the years. Steel mills and other related and not so related plants for manufacturing were built and operated and hired hundreds of thousands of people, driving an economy that the world accepted as the standard of the richest nation on the globe.

Riding on the bus, I saw a different story. Empty hulls of brick and mortar. Twisted steel and broken windows of graffiti festooned old buildings.

I got off the bus and got on the light rail for a trip East of the downtown area and saw more of the carnage. Amidst the empty buildings of commerce sat the dilapidated housing that goes along with a failed economy.

Many buildings sit empty and dilapidated in our cities across this country.

Yes, I realize that January is the time when things don’t look their best. I know the brown and black snow banks and piles of debris, when they are gone, will brighten things up a bit come Spring, but there was no mistaking the emptiness and lack of industry, commerce and desirable housing. It was sad to see in any town. It was sad to see it in Cleveland.

I got off the light rail at University Circle and walked a ways to find a cup of coffee and a bagel. A row of small businesses were intact, a good sign, but nearby, crumbling sidewalks, retaining walls and potholed streets showed years of neglect. The sidewalks hadn’t been cleared of snow for pedestrians, probably because of the lack of operating funds for general maintenance in our great cities, but I walked anyway, trying to place my foot in the tracks of those hardier than me that actually made the tracks, probably by necessity, as they traveled to what work they could get.

Another bus and a trip East on Cedar Street. Past shopping malls empty of cars and corporate giant stores claiming the biggest sale of the century. I walked inside the confines of these malls to save my lungs from the bitter cold, but even the mall concourses were cold as the heat had been turned down to conserve money, the money that was missing from the coffers, usually generated by throngs of eager shoppers spending a day at “The Mall”.

I saw it in Cleveland, and on the way home, I lay over for five hours in Chicago. I had taken the train for this trip, and Just outside Union Station, where the hustle and bustle of one of the premier cities in the world sets the pace as the city of big shoulders, the recession-proof city, Chicago’s streets and diners were empty of trade. At the crosswalks, there was no problem crossing against the onslaught of people coming the other way.

No bobbing and weaving required to cross the once busy boulevards. And this was a weekday, a nice weekday weather wise, with a bright sun and virtually no wind in a city known for its cold winter lake shore breezes. The streets should have been full of workers on their lunch hour and students from the colleges and universities like Chicago Circle and Roosevelt.

The economy is not only slow now, but this grind to a halt has been an ongoing affair for years now. In the middle 1980’s, when the service industry popped up as America’s major commercial industry and jobs of manufactured goods were taken overseas at a much more grander pace than ever before in this nations storied history, we lost all we had and that’s when the buildings started to crumble all over a great nation.

What’s my point? Simple really. It’s over, and it will not return. Capitalism won not only this round, but this war. It’s over. There will be no rebuilding of infrastructure to return the likes of General Electric to our shores. When I was just out of high school, I took a job at a place called Raulands. Raulands made picture tubes for Zenith, a premier name in the manufacturing of televisions here in America.

I ran a department, as an eighteen year old, checking the necks of the glass housings for the picture of the now antique television set. I went up in the corporate world quickly as I spoke English, had a high school diploma and was white. That’s the way it was then, and that’s the way it is now. Except now, the labor actually takes place in another country.

I can hardly believe it is cheaper to send material overseas to China, have the Chinese labor prepare and assemble this material into a finished product, then ship it back to the United States and it is still cheaper than making the stuff right here on our own shores!

Capitalism has produced this and is the cause of death to labor in America. Death to our cities, death to the people, death to a way of life and an American dream. As profit drives everything, when any venture ceases to be profitable, that industry ceases to exist. The bottom line, the only figure worth calculating in the heads of the wealthy investors who are immune from losing any of their hard earned millions by way of tax cuts and bailouts, is the bellwether for all things financial.

Poster from the movie, The Magic Christian.

I remember the movie, “The Magic Christian”, a satire on greed from 1969. In the movie, people are actually lured into a swimming pool where septic and cesspool waste had been pumped, to retrieve Pound Notes, all to prove that man will do anything for money.

As money is considered to buy happiness, it is more strongly associated with a roof over the heads of the families struggling not to mention its use to buy sustenance in this day and age. People would attempt to retrieve Pound Notes, or Dollars or Euros from said pool full of vermin to feed their families if such an opportunity was set before them.

This idea proven throughout history as the Dakota women who were sent to Crow Creek in 1863 sold virtue of their children to ward off starvation and survive, only to find that the future held no better a plight because of the greed of the settlers for the land and its minerals.

What are we willing to do to stop the greed? That’s why wars are fought, for control of the money or land and rights that produce wealth. Not to mention the war materials and profiteering, the easy money, that is to be made from war. This country has what is has left because of war. Take away the government contracts for the Defense Department and you’ll see an even greater recession and depression of the economy.

I don’t want to eat a bowl of boiled rice every day and consider that my only meal. But if it would stop war and bring back the working classes and a sense of prosperity to these shores, I’d be willing to try it. Get rid of TV and walk to everywhere you need to get to? Or don’t go anywhere at all? Haul your water from a nearby well? I don’t think it will come to this in my lifetime, but if the view from the tracks in Cleveland is any indication of the future of man in America, this reality may not be far from the truth.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Qwest Pay Phone Use

This is an amazing story. It may prove me to be totally out of touch with reality, or prove Qwest to be at the top of the 'rip off the unsuspecting consumer who doesn't comply with their world' list. I am already in the camp of the latter mentioned group.

David versus Goliath. The customer versus the Behemoth Corporation. The poor dumb sap versus the assholes of corporate America.

I was at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the VA, last Tuesday, February 17, 2009. I had completed my visit to the doctor late in the day, around 4:30 p.m., and was diagnosed with pneumonia. I was waiting for a prescription of antibiotics and wanted to call the good wife and tell her where I was so she wouldn't worry about me and tell her what was happening. Simply communicate as I had been gone all day and it was getting late.

I had left my cell phone in my car which was parked way off in the hinterlands of the huge VA parking lot. Minneapolis is a major metropolitan area and serves a lot of Veterans. The parking lots seem to be oceans of cars and it is hard to find a spot close to the building. I left my cell phone in my car because they ask that you don't use your cell phone in the hospital medical center. I complied.

A pay phone was available and I had a shitload of quarters along with some dimes and nickels in my pocket. I swear the damn change grows in your pockets. And where does all that lint come from? I think the lint is the disintegrated missing socks from the dryer, but I digress.

The phone I used looked very similar to this one.

I used the pay phone. I dialed the number, in this case, Barb's cell phone, and placed my call. The automated voice gave me options. I chose the option that said to get an operator who will tell me how much money to deposit to complete my call.

When connected to the operator, I said I wanted to pay with coins at this pay phone. He told me that I needed to hang up and dial the number I was trying to call and it would tell me how much to deposit. I had done that, but I didn't argue. I'm an old gray haired man who was born in the 1940's. What the fuck did I know about it? I hung up and started the procedure all over again.

With the same result, I get the same operator. He tells me, in a confused sort of way, that he didn't know how much to deposit. He asked me if I had a calling card or a credit card. I said, "Yes, I have a Visa card." He told me I could use that to make the call.

Now I knew I was gonna get ripped off. I thought maybe I'd get charged $5.00 or even $6.00 or $7.00 for this short, less than three minute call, to Barb, at a number with a Wisconsin exchange, (I was in Minnesota at the VA). But I gave the number and expiration date willingly as communication was of paramount importance to me. I didn't want to walk to the car and get my cell phone. It was cold outside, Winter in Minnesota don'tcha know, and I didn't have much energy and I was thinking the cold air wouldn't be good for the pneumonia I was just diagnosed with.

I made the call. Told Barb I was going to get a prescription and head home. The call lasted all of 2-3 minutes, max.

I look at the on line balance of my check book and see a charge for $21.16 for this call. Twenty one dollars and sixteen cents for a freakin' three minute call! I didn't call the Fiji Islands. I didn't call The Ukraine, I didn't call Bora Bora. I fucking called Wisconsin from Minnesota. Bordering states.

I go to the Qwest website in a number of different ways. I wanted to lodge a formal complaint. There is NO e-mail contact for Qwest. I did find a corporate office address in Denver. I settled for a compliance customer service e-mail I finally found after searching for a half hour. Now, we'll see if anyone answers me.

Here's the deal as I see it. They are corporate leeches. They suck dry everyone they can at every turn. They rip you off on every type of service they offer, usually with their small print and hidden charges. They arrange their billing statements in such a way as to extract maximum money from the unsuspecting consumer. They are the lowest life forms on the planet. The greed is so intense that I believe them to break and bend rules as often as they can and are never held accountable.

Veterans fight, soldiers and civilians die so corporations can rip people off and feed their greed and cheat the public legally.

I've asked them to respond, and if I didn't write to the correct department, I asked them to steer me to the department that is appropriate. If I don't hear from them, I will write to the FCC. I promise to spend the rest of my life waging a war of words and mud slinging towards Qwest.

Twenty one fucking dollars and sixteen cents for a three minute call by a disabled veteran trying to communicate with his family from a VA hospital. So much for fucking honor.

What do I want? I want to pay a more reasonable price. I want to be ripped off at a different level. I want to be ripped off at the jackass level, not the imbecile level. In my perfect world, Qwest apologizes and credits my account. In a good world, Qwest reduces the charges to three bucks or less. In my fantasy world, Qwest is under indictment for fraud and illegal overcharges and loses a class action suit that forces them into complete bankruptcy with all assets divided amongst the homeless.

A long time ago, I played in a blues band called The Dump and Shortcake Band. We wrote many of the songs we did ourselves, and taping sessions were ad lib at times. Here are the words of a couple of lines of a song we called "Big Bucks":

Tell Ma Bell just where it's at

Tell Ma Bell she's a too darn fat

Tell Ma Bell that we ain't gonna pay that bill

I got no big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big bucks

Big bucks, in my pocket

Big bucks, like a rocket

I got no big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big bucks

(Lyrics by Bruce Anderson and the Dump and Shortcake Band, all rights reserved, copyright 1976)

I think it's time to get the band back together.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Birthdays, Anniversaries and Special Occasions

Birthday girl Alyssa with Gracie Jayne.

They have these stores, especially in all the big malls. Hallmark stores. They have gifts for people. Totally useless mundane things to give someone, and as their motto suggests, "Only when you care to give the very best." I don't shop there.

I know I should put forth a little more effort and get cards, birthday cards, thank you cards or just thinking of you cards, for special people in my life. Today is my daughter's birthday. I wrote on her Facebook Wall, and I'm sure I'll text her cell so she gets to see it at work, and then I'll call her this evening when I know she's home. I also bought her a gift, and tomorrow, we're going over to her place and do something of a celebration. Food and hopefully cake. I heard my wife talking to her and the suggestion being made about which high end bakery or patisserie she would prefer her birthday cake come from.

Now that's what I like best, the cake. And if people you love didn't have birthdays, when would you eat chocolate chocolate cake, (yes, I didn't stumble and fat finger mambo the word chocolate twice, it is called chocolate chocolate for a reason!). This will be my first cake in a long time and I am getting ready.

Birthday girl Alyssa with one of her furry friends.

I know I can't compensate for all the birthdays I missed for my middle born Alyssa. Ironically, her birthday falls on the day I went to Vietnam, 40 years ago. Yesterday was the anniversary of the day I was sent home in 1970. Little did I know when I started being a dad that these dates would be remembered way deep inside for the rest of my life. I cheated poor Alyssa. I was on the road as a truck driver or was working away from home or just flew the coop and on some fascinating journey in the desert running away from reality instead of being where I should be, where I wanted to be but was powerless to be, being home with my wonderful family.

I'm sure glad things are changing in my life. I'm fortunate to have the wonderful family I have and really blessed that they are still around after the way I must have treated them by leaving town on birthdays or other special occasions. Mia Culpa.

The Birthday Girl with a smile on her face.

Most of the time, I never knew what was bothering me and even if anything was bothering me. I have learned that these anniversary dates hide out in your brain and become who you are. They form you, at least they did me, and are so ingrained in my subconscious that I just accept that weird feeling of anxiety and depression on the days both preceding and following them.

That's all over, or at least isn't an issue this year. I apologized to Alyssa for missing so many birthdays. I'll be there for this one. She loves me and I know she tries to understand. And I'm not going to let a little bout with pneumonia pose a distraction either.

If I hurry, I can get to one of those Hallmark stores before the day is over and get a nice card. My favorites are the ones that are blank inside. The prose written is usually so phony. I mean, we just don't talk like that to each other. And the funny ones? Let me tell you a secret, they ain't funny. She likes dogs and wolves. Maybe I'll find one with nice pictures. She'll cut out the pic and put it in a frame and hang it in her bathroom along with the artistry of her offspring which graces the walls of the throne room. I mean, with four kids, you gotta be creative to find places for all the artwork brought home from school, and Alyssa does a good job of giving those kids recognition!

This year feels good. Despite the war, despite the lousy economy, despite the gloom and doom in the news about the state of affairs in the wide world, this time around it feels good. We have peace on earth here at home and it comes from love. The more we love, the more peace we have in our family. The better our own circle is and becomes and the more it might be spreading out into the lives of others we associate with on any level, especially the children and especially when we eat that delicious chocolate chocolate cake.

Birthday girl Alyssa posing as my boy, Al.

I know she's gonna hate me for posting this picture of her from way back. You see, she liked to road trip like I do. She lived on the road for a spell before she started her baby factory. She deserves a lot of credit for holding out and making things work. Keeping a home, a job, being a Mom and keeping a kennel and a husband on the same piece of land is quite an accomplishment. I do believe the son-in-law might sleep out with the dogs now and again. At least if he's smart he does.

Happy Birthday, Alyssa. Thanks for waiting for me to get ready and thanks for loving me.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Influenza 101

Wow, that was a rough week. I started feeling the chills and fever last Thursday. Last night I finally got some sleep and woke up this morning feeling better. Not 100%, but better and able to function. I believe today's activities will have me going to the VA and get checked out anyway. My chest is still full of junk. I'm sure I'll get the lecture about the flu shots they offer, but I've never taken one and for some reason, don't want to start now. Besides, the flu shots aren't for every type and strain of flu that can come around.

I didn’t go to the doctor before now because even though I was on my death bed, the VA clinic is only open on weekdays from 8 to 4:30. So, hard to get sick over a long Presidents Day weekend. I’ll go today. In a little while. It will be an all day affair waiting to be seen without an appointment, but that’s no problem. I was sitting around doing absolutely nothing since last Thursday. I’m used to sitting in a mindless void for hours on end.

While on my recent visit and stay at the Louis Stokes VA Hospital just outside of Cleveland in Brecksville, Ohio, I had plenty of hours to kill, sitting around, and I didn’t have the chills and fever and harsh hacking unproductive cough like I endured this past week. In Cleveland, I had some other folks to talk with. I also found, or was reminded of, something I like to do, read.

Since I have spent many hours on line reading blogs and news articles, I rarely see a newspaper anymore. I never did like reading the everyday mystery novel. So, I didn’t read much in the way of books, especially since I was reading the news on line.

My selected reading material was weird in a way, weird when compared to what other folks were reading at any particular coffee shop. I’d look around and see Evanovich and Custler, Grisham and Steele, or any number of books by political heroes and villains ranging from the lowest dregs of the Bush administration to the exalted glory of Barack Obama.

Nope, while these authors graced the backpacks of the studious coffee house trade, you’d see Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” in my hands, or nothing at all. A children’s book you say? Well I’ll lay to it that it be a good yarn and Long John Silver a character never to be forgotten, Matey. And when I finished that one, another of similar theme would take it’s place after a long break from carrying a book at all.

So, I can get by with a little wait at the VA clinic. I won’t read on the bus or the light rail, the trips aren’t long enough to allow for pulling out a book and starting a page. Besides, I like to watch the cityscape go by from the windows of the bus. As the daily commuters wonder about the bus passengers, “I wonder where they’re going and why they don’t drive?” I can do the same, “Why are they driving right down the same street as the bus?”

My experience at Cleveland was a mixed bag to be sure. I went to voluntarily immerse myself in a program designed to teach me some techniques and give me some tools for self help in many areas of my life. I felt I needed this help and I had full support from my family and friends. And even though it was a long time away from home, it seems well worth the effort. I came home motivated to make some major changes in myself. The main thrust of the whole ordeal for me was the loss of some weight and blood glucose numbers well into the normal range. The dosage of the medicine I had been taking for diabetes has been cut to less than 1/3 of what I was taking. To take less medication anytime is a great triumph in my mind.

Showing myself resolve to work that hard to achieve some goals really inspired me. My family saw this and was pleased as well. Not so much that I was sick with diabetes before, because I am still a diabetic, but that I am in control for now and have been dealing with real true lifestyle changes.

The set back of being sick this past week put my walking regimen on hold, but that will get back as soon as I gain some strength. I haven’t quite been eating well balanced meals either, but rather not eating at all. That won’t hurt the waistline.

I do want to tell you about this VA hospital in Ohio. It was an amazing experience on the level I described above, but also on another completely different level was the actually day-to-day living on the ward and the personalities of both the patients and the staff. It is a unique character study and I plan on writing about this in the next post. So, stand by please.

My oatmeal has been steaming in the covered pan long enough to achieve the firmness and texture I like, so I’ll go eat now, then it’s off to the doctor to see if I’ll live another day.

Peace to all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

1969 in Hong Kong

I've been away from the computer. Never laid eyes on a screen for over a month. Cell phone too. I used a land line to call home and stay connected with family. I'm home now, and grounded, for a while anyway, and this story told me that it needed to be told. I went to Hong Kong twice in the latter part of 1969. Here is a part of what happened there.

Her name was Yau Su Quen. She told me to call her Suzannia. Suzannia Yau. She spoke perfect English as she was a college student in Hong Kong. Her dream was to some day come to America and she knew she needed to speak the language. Besides, Hong Kong in the late 60’s was still a British Colony and most people learned to speak some English.

She worked at a tailor shop. One of many small storefronts where one can get a custom made suit. She greeted customers and assisted the tailor by writing down measurements as he deftly moved the tape from shoulder to shoulder and every part of the body to achieve the perfect fit.

I wandered into this particular shop on the recommendation from a hotel clerk and another GI who had taken the advice and gone there. He came away with two beautiful suits and seemed pleased. My goal was to get some good looking clothes for when I got back to the world. Back to the world was to go home after spending a year in the rice patties and jungles of Vietnam during the American war in Vietnam. I was there for all of 1969. I had spent ten months in the field and finally took a break and went to Hong Kong.

The Armed forces had deals with allies in the region. A soldier taking an R&R could go to Thailand, Hong Kong, Kuala Lampur or even Australia. I went to Hong Kong because it was available without waiting. I had no preconceived notion to go there at all.It was the luck pf the draw.

All the soldiers fighting in the war got an R&R, or Rest and Recuperation. This was a six day vacation to unwind and not get shot at after having to be on guard in a war zone. Talk about culture shock! One day behind a 50 caliber machine gun, the next in a bar surrounded by beautiful girls. Most guys I knew spent the time drinking and subsequently drunk and buying prostitutional services. This was the big money makers for the hosting countries, booze and women. I will admit, I partook some, but I did not make that the main focus of my trip. I mean I did go into the tailor shop to get a suit made, right?

Another vacation that was available to me was a seven day leave. As an NCO, or non commissioned officer, a sergeant, I was allowed one seven day leave for every year I spent in a combat zone. Since I had achieved the rank of sergeant and was a leader of men, I was allowed this leave and took it. So, I went to Hong Kong a second time because when I was ready to go, a flight was available without delay and I wanted to get out of Vietnam.

The first trip was so pleasant and I was familiar with the surroundings and protocol it seemed natural to return. Besides, I had a friend in Hong Kong now. Suzannia.

When I walked into the shop, I didn’t know what to expect. When she greeted me and spoke English I was surprised. Now here I am, twelve thousand miles from Chicago, my home town in those days, and twenty years old, standing in front of a very young and beautiful women who seemed about the same age as me, who smiled at me, and was able to communicate in very agreeable fashion. I talked about the tailoring and a suit, but talked and talked with Suzannia and quickly made her acquaintance.

We ended up taking a walk later that day. We walked and talked for hours. She showed me around the hustle and bustle of the Kowloon Peninsula. So many people. So crowded with people. Open air markets all over the streets. It was like being in a foreign country. Oh, that’s right, I was in a foreign country. But not in a war with a rifle and on alert fearing for my life. Rather, just visiting and I had a guide to tell me what people were saying, reading signs and taking me to places to see things off the beaten track.

Suzannia wasn’t poor, but she didn’t have much spending money. She lived with her family in a small apartment high above the city. Chickens in cages in the hallway were butchered at the kitchen sink. Herb boxes growing on windowsills. Every bit of space and every resource used to its fullest. The city buses were all double deckers, and they ran in bunches, more than one bus at atime, all going to the same place.

There is a ferry that crosses the harbor and goes to Victoria Island. They had classes of travel. Ten cents bought passage in steerage class, which was below deck and under the waterline. For a quarter you could travel above the waterline on deck. Suzannia had never spent the quarter and used the upper class drayage. Her first trip across the harbor on deck was with me when I paid the fare, fifty cents for "Two, please"

One day while walking, I smelled delicious smells and figured out the sweet frying fat and sugary coatings and fillings of a bakery. I saw a large neon sign. It was a busy sign. A lot of writing, all in Chinese character. I asked Suzannia to translate the writing and tell me what it said. She said very simply, “ABC Bakery” We went in and I gawked at all the sweetness to devour. The clerk behind the counter spoke a dialect that one customer didn’t understand. Suzannia, also versed in the many and diverse dialects of the Chinese, stepped in and translated. It was my turn, and I pointed to what I wanted. Suzannia asked me how many I wanted and then told the clerk.

I was so young and already shocked from the Vietnam experience. I didn’t pay as much attention as I think I should have. At least I don’t remember all I wish I could now forty years later. But I can still see her. She was pretty. Small and slight. Her clothes draped over her and flowed.She always wore a dress that was slender, close to her body. I also don’t remember making a distinction between Southeast Asian, or Vietnamese, people and Chinese based on looks and features. As a dumb American, I saw them as Asian. This time spent in Hong Kong was probably the first time in my life I paid attention to anything that remotely resembled observation, and then it was an insignificant amount I carried away with me in my own mind. But Asian or whatever, if my minds eye told me she was beautiful, I went with my minds eye and I was so pleased to have this beautiful young friend show me around and spend time with me while taking a break from a war.

Seems so crazy to say that, but imagine the force of such a statement. Taking a break from fighting in a war. No wonder most guys sought out the liquor and the promiscuity. Get drunk legally and have the company of a sex partner, all night, every night, while you are young, with raging hormones, and a lifetime of memories and future nightmares to start to try to forget.

As we walked, we talked. I do remember her asking me about my family and my childhood. We compared fathers and their treatment of their respective children. Her brothers and sisters, my brother and sister. Where we were in relation to age, how we celebrated birthdays and occasions. I’m sure I told her I was a Catholic. I don’t remember what or if she practiced any religion, but I’m sure she did.

I was there over Christmas. I went shopping and bought her a gift. I bought a set of hair clips and combs made of Mother of Pearl. She had such beautiful hair. Long and fine, but it shined so. Silky to the touch, wispy when she walked and as she explained things to me and turned her head, I saw her hair bounce and shimmer like waves with no direction but all in one motion, then gathering itself and looking like it had never moved at all.

I can’t quite remember the details, but I know we were walking deep into the heart of Kowloon. I told her I bought her a Christmas gift and she told me she had bought something for me as well. We would bring them the next evening when we saw each other again. We did, and we walked and stopped at a park and were seated on a bench.

Her dark eyes sparkled like shimmering diamonds in the reflection of the night’s lights. Two more stars were her eyes, her face was like a flower. I gave her the wrapped gift and she gave me one of similar shape and size. I said Merry Christmas and it was understood that these gifts were given to celebrate Christmas.

She held hers and I started to open my gift. I was still a child. Not one year before I had spent the Christmas holiday with my family and opened gifts like any child would have, with excitement and enthusiasm, and I was given a gift and wanted to see it, hold it, feel it and grab a hold of a sensation or feeling like I was home, back in the world, with friends and family.

I looked at her and she was still holding her gift. I asked her if she was going to open it and she told me that her custom was to never open a gift in front of the person who gave it. I was devastated and thought that to be foolish. Judgmental of her custom and selfish in my own glory I wanted to see her face and wanted to see if she liked the gift I had given her, and if she was pleased. I look back on that and think about how uncaring and thoughtless I was to argue with her custom. It is one of those little things that I remember doing that haunts me still. I’ll always wish I could do it over, take a mulligan on that one.

She relented without as much as a whimper and opened her gift. To her, I had spent a fortune. She told me she had dreams of such finery and that to receive these items of beauty was such an honor. I felt I had done good. I saw her smile and her big white gleaming teeth added to her beauty. If the world had stopped that day, I was fulfilled seeing her smile and being with her at such a delicate moment in my own development.

It was time for me to open my gift. I tore off the wrapping and inside was a box about six by ten inches. I opened the box and there was a plastic box inside of that with a lid. I opened the lid and saw a book. The book had a strap over the page side and a snap as a closure. It was a diary. Suzannia told me that I had an interesting life and that I should write about it. She suggested I write in this diary every day and tell the story of my life as I lived it.

I remember writing in that diary. On the first page I jotted, in my best handwriting, where and when I got the diary and from who. That is the only page I ever made an entry, the first page. I saw Suzannia the next day and maybe one more brief visit after that and I left Hong Kong and went back to Vietnam to finish my tour of duty. I went home a month or so later and started another chapter of life, life after war.

I did get the diary home. I had it around for years. I met Barb, my wonderful faithful loving wife and still held the diary with the thought that someday I’ll write in it, making those entries every day to "Dear Diary", telling all my secrets and making note of the highs and lows.

Sometime many years later, amidst all the moves, the diary was damaged after a stint in a storage room and it had turned to mildew. The pages were tattered and the entry I wrote, that one page, was still there, but torn and illegible. My finest handwriting was not very good at all. I forgot about the diary after that and lost track of it. It is gone from my life except the memory of it. I have on very few occasions told the story about Suzannia and the diary, but not often. It has been a memory until now.

My memory was jogged as I waited for the train in January. I was leaving for the trip I just returned from, to Cleveland, and took Amtrak. Barb was there to see me off and a couple of friends showed up to tell me they loved me and they supported my actions. One friend gave me a journal, a diary, and told me what it was and what it could be used for.

I haven’t written in it yet. That was over a month ago. But it spurred the thought in me of Yau Su Quen. The fantasy of meeting her again by chance, a fairy tale. A story from whence movies are made perhaps.

I spent my time in Cleveland attending a program at the VA hospital there. I made some headway into survival and I returned home the same man that left, only a little wiser and better for the experience, recalling memories of Hong Kong in December of 1969.