The flight was four and a half hours? For most of it you couldn’t see anything. A lady who had the window seat fell asleep reading Michelle Obama’s book Marion lent her.

Mandy is tossing and turning while Alicia holds her fast by making fine adjustment to her bed, a cradle constructed of warm arms. The three year-old is snuggling and listening to the beat of her momma’s heart. There’s no more comforting music on the face of the earth than the soft thumping rhythm of a loving mother’s heart. I can see it from my seat all the way across the aisle, even in the dim blue glow that allows you to nap. These two are one.

When they announce landing at Baltimore, we start to descend through the clouds, and I can see streaks of something rushing by the cabin window.

“Is that rain?”

“I can’t tell.”

We land and get rolled through the airport. Fortunately, the wheel chair people know where we’re going, and all we have to do is catch up.
On the way to the Marriott, it starts snowing. Pretty soon it’s all over the ground. Lots of deciduous trees and brick houses with peaked roofs. Some houses have porticos and Greek columns and look highly substantial. This is not the architecture of Southern California.

And it’s snowing, it’s snowing! The flakes are so big!

“I’m excited,” said Mandy, “I’m excited!”

This is a case of seventy-two year-old and three year-old being at exactly the same place at exactly the same time. Newness and discovery effect all ages equally.

When we arrive, we have to hang around the entrance and main desk for a while.

“It’s going to take a minute, Honey, while they look for adjoining rooms.”

So I look around and see big black and white piks of famous people on the walls next to the front desk. They’re so big; you can see them from across the room.
“Look, Honey, that’s Eleanor Roosevelt cutting a giant cake.”

Then there’s a picture of a handsome black dude wearing tweeds with a Meso-American statue and a big smile on his mug. He looks familiar, like I’ve seen him before. So I take a few steps closer, to the read the small print. My English-teaching jaw drops.

‘It’s Langston Hughes! Look, Honey, it’s fr*cken Langston Hughes! He was a bus-boy here in the 20’s!!

Marion may be a marriage and family therapist now, but before that she taught English. People from different backgrounds can still have the same heroes and heroines.
“I taught the Harlem Renaissance when I was in San Francisco, she tells me. “I still have the syllabuses somewhere in the garage.”

Whoa. Langston Hughes, former busboy for the Marriott Wardman, later collected Meso-American art and wore tweeds.”

Right now my imagination takes play and I want to see Langston Hughes be our busboy. After all, (my imagination says) it could happen. We have four days here and plenty of opportunities to eat at restaurants and see busboys. Just imagine what you could say if it was the 20’s again.

“You know, I was in D.C. the other day, doing a big business deal lobbying for the NRA, and guess who was bussing my table?

“I dunno, J.B. who was it?”

Langston Hughes! You should have seen him clear that messy table in double-quick time! His movements, the way he wiped up the spills, the technique he used when stacking the dirty plates on his forearm, he was….oh… I’m at a loss for words.”

“Poetry in motion?”

“That’s it.

This morning Marion woke me up early. She had plans. After her plans came to fruition I decided to call her a new name. We’ve gone through a few names for each other, and here I was naming her again. Mandy was watching My Little Pony at the time, one of her favorites. Marion isn’t one of my favorites, she’s my all-time favorite. A man knows when he's found his bashert. When I tell her this and rivet her with my eyes, she blushes.

I love it when she pulls a feminine move like blushing.

Tonight, we went on a custom private tour. Guide lady knew all the history of the city and times.

We saw the Lincoln memorial, and it was impressive. So big! Like the Parthenon, even though I’ve never seen the Parthenon.

Next, we walk to the Vietnam Vets Memorial. From here it looks grey because there are so many names carved into the panels of polished black granite, they break up the shine. During the day, these panels reflect the trees and lawns, the other monuments, the visitors. But now it’s a winter’s night, dark and cold. Bare trees cast black angled shadows across the cold polished granite. Visitors in the distance searching its length for names have no substance, no exact form, but you see steam rising like ghosts from their dark hollow hoodies when they kneel on one knee to read the names of lost loved ones from the bottom row.

The granite walls start off pointed and increase in size as you walk the length. There are flowers in a small gutter on the bottom on each panel in various states of decay. A fresh red carnation stands up by itself. I couldn’t read most of the names, so I reached out to touch them.

“You can feel the names,” I said. “Do people make rubbing of the names they know, like people made rubbing of stones in ancient cathedrals in Europe?”

“They used to, at first. But now they take pictures with their phones.”

Carving stone and waging war is a subtractive process. Remedies for changing the rock are almost non-existent. Only the marks of the MIAs and Dead get changed.

“See here, where one is marked with a star? That’s recent. It used to be marked MIA, but now it’s years later and the Vietnamese have turned over more evidence. They had to change the mark.

There are trees not far away, and a statue of some figures. It’s by itself, but close to the long vet’s wall of inscribed stones. Guide says it’s for the nurses.
Life-size bronze nurses are holding and caring for the wounded. Compared to the regularity and sheer numbers of names on the wall, these figures are more personal. Maybe it was the warm bronze, or maybe it’s the intimacy between the figures, so close they’re touching.

I can’t reconcile the differences here. Of the men, most were drafted. That doesn’t make their sacrifices any less heroic. But all of these nurses volunteered. What does that say about commitment and courage?

I photographed a note on an 8x10 sheet of paper I found among the dozens of dead flowers and bouquets surrounding the bronze soldiers and nurses. The paper was laminated in plastic to protect it from the rain, but I could still read every line.

"Thank you. I can’t remember your name. But I wanted to say thanks, for saving my life.

0ne of Many.”

The Three Infantry Men

A couple is circles and moves on. Three bronze soldiers appear out of the darkness in front of some trees.

If these three soldiers are emerging from the darkness and trees, it’s because their enemy rules the night. And if they found themselves in Vietnam because of the moneyed interests of their nation rather than to prop up liberty and a democratic government, then they had the Heart of Darkness to fear as well. When I looked at statistics, I wondered if these young men, like in most wars, were poor. Maybe they were patriotic and wanted to serve, or maybe they wanted a ticket out of a chaotic home life. During the Civil War, people rioted in New York City when rich people bought their way out of the draft. I had a feeling it was still going on. If you were rich you could just see a doctor and he’d say you had bone-spurs or something. The government sacrifices it’s unhappy and poor to die for love of country, while the children of its rich skate.

I’m in a bit of a turmoil. I never served, which is odd, because when I was at San Diego High School, I was ready to serve, and I mean real ready, because of my mother.

My mother had been a master sergeant in WW2. She was a radio operator and on a train to the East Coast for the North Africa Invasion when one of them came down with the measles, so they quarantined the car and they never made it. Later she had a heat-stoke on an airbase in Arizona, so they cut her loose.
Growing up, we’d watch Bob Dale’s movies from the 30’s and 40’s in the afternoon. Charge of the Light Brigade with Errol Flynn, Back to Bataan with John Wayne, Run Silent Run Deep, with Clark Gable. The kid next door, Lee, and his little brother, Tom, would forage old mop sticks in somebody’s trash and make horses out of them. Out first neighbors had fences made of redwood crossbars and uprights. Those were the Russian guns. We charged them heroically and where magnificent in our deaths.

We dug trenches in our back yards, complete with foxholes camouflaged, in January anyway, with Christmas trees. Many a water line was disturbed. Many pairs of socks were lost when hand grenades were constructed. We’d attach Bobbi-pins and pull them out real man-like with our teeth. Stores of food were requisitioned from various mother’s pantries. Many butts were spanked in response. Sorry, twentieth-first Century moms and dads, that’s how they did it in more primitive times. That’s why you are to be respected, because you finally figured out, getting a beating from someone, even your parents, gets compliance, but not respect. You took the high road. We fell back into our monkey-brains and took the low.

t San Diego High I took ROTC, because I had every intent to serve. By the time I was a senior, I was C company commander for half the year and shared it with a freckle-faced red-haired guy named Shivel. When EZ Marc and I got our notices to go up to LA for the physical I pass, no problem.

At City College I got a 2S deferment because I was in school. Within those first two years I’m looking for a new identity, since Mod Man is nearly over the hill. The beatniks fade when the hippies are newly invented. Oh boy, oh joy, I become one. Love, Peace, and all that.

Wear black and white Love beads round my neck to symbolize the old Ying and Yang. Read the I Ching and Tibetan Book of the Dead, underground comics, wore pins that read Peace, Imagine, and Enemy of the State, listen to the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Quicksilver Messenger Service, you name it. Sported Patchouli oil, a US Army field jacket, hid lenses, granola crumbs, Botan rice candy wrappers, left over bags of Crackerjacks, roaches, and rolls of Tri-X in its’ many pockets.
Somewhere in the process I realize that love is more important than patriotism, especially when the politics are evil. And this 1940’s glorification of war was just Hollywood’s scheme to help out the war effort, not a representation of truth.

Then one day, Dad dies. This leaves my mother alone with me on her hands. Turns out, she tells me, I can keep going to State. She’s applied for a sole surviving son exemption, but we don’t know how long it will last.

Two years later, and she’s gone too. Then I graduate. At the same time, Nixon halts the war.

I skate.

So basically, I schlep guilt over not serving, when all these people did. And to find out my Uncle Dan did, and my brother John too, makes it even more touching. Their names could have been carved here too. That didn’t occur to me until right now. I share blood with people who served in this terrible war, and they seem like loving and decent men.

It would have broken me.

The Intruder

Alicia and Mandy’s room adjoins ours, but with two doors back to back, which is a good thing when Marion went off one day.
I’m reading the room-service menu, and suddenly, a scream from the bathroom.

“What is that thing?”

Ahhhhh, it’s coming over here!!!”

I look up and I can’t see anything, but imagine that if I interpret what I’ve heard correctly, we have a problem, Huston, because the audio is Marion's voice, and it’s coming from the bathroom, and my algorithms have figured that from the modulation and tone she’s in panic mode, and it’s probably because she’s on the toilet and can’t dash to safety from whatever it is.

“Is that thing a cockroach?? AHHHHHH!!”

“Here I come, Honey. Don’t move!”

“Who’s moving?”

And that’s where she is and this thing is large. I mean thick and large and ugly.

“I think it’s a water bug, Honey, that’s why it’s so big.”

“I don’t care what it is, get it out of here!”

I grab one of those water glasses they have near the coffee, and I chase it around the tiles for a while. It is a water bug, an alert water bug the size of a Panzer tank and hard to corral. I finally capture him, but in the process, he loses a leg. I feel sad for the sucker. I’d feel worse if he’d cried out. Lucky for me he didn’t, it would have broken my heart, but in a minor insect unfeeling sort of way.

I get my trusty Nikon out, adjust for a close-up, and take his portrait. His leg has hairs and spikey spurs on it, and right now it’s about an inch away from his body. I can still get his body and leg in the same picture, so let’s go for a close-up.

“Sorry, guy,” I’m thinking, “But you scared the woman I love, and in the process of kicking you out of here, you got a little mussed up. ( I like how I’m using the phrase ‘mussed up” instead of “tearing off one of your six feet, probably the one you eat with, so now you’re going to starve to death”, it shows I’m ready to distance myself from the guilt of causing the accidental death of an insect) So we’re calling the concierge and kicking you out.

By now, Marion out of the bathroom, lying on the bed with seven down pillows, and on the phone.

“No, I can’t take another room. My daughter and granddaughter are in the next room. It is imperative we be together. Keep looking.”

“What are you doing?” she hoots my way, when she sees the flash go off in a mirror.

“I’m taking a picture.”

“He’s taking a picture,” she relates to whoever it is on the phone. “He’s caught it for you! Yes. Yes. It’s under a glass.”

She covers the receiver with her hand when I get back to her side.

“What is this, she whispers. “Hotel Eight or something?”

“I know. This is crazy. When we went to Rosarito Beach one time we stayed in a cheap hotel where they hadn’t changed the bed linen. Little
curly hairs and sand appeared when I turned down the sheets.”

“That’s disgusting.”

She went back to the phone.

“No, we can’t do that. Is there a tub in the bath there? We can’t do that either, I need a tub. We came all the way from California, arrived on the redeye, drove for an hour through a blinding snowstorm, and now I can’t sleep. This ruins our whole vacation.”

She looks up at me and winks, covers the mouthpiece and whispers, “I want the room for free.”

The manager of housekeeping shows up at the door. He’s tall, well-dressed, and full of apologies. When he takes the five-footed insect away, he backs out the door while looking at Marion, as if he’d just had an audience with the Queen. Royal protocol requires you to never turn your back on a monarch. These hospitality guys are well trained. Working with Queen Marion is working with someone important. You have to be diplomatic.

“Now stay in touch,” Queen Marion tells him. “Don’t make me fetch you.”

“You’ll hear from me, I promise.”

Marion goes to sleep with a smile on her face, and I’m pleased the whole thing is over.

The next morning the room phone rang. It was the manager of housekeeping. For the remaining three days we were to have sixty dollars per day in room service for free.

Thank you, Your Majesty, for bestowing upon us this gift.

Work it, Your Majesty; work it until you get everything you want.


https://youtu.be/OtVuivhlwEg Everything She Wants